The Politics of Subjectivity - Russell Jacoby

Russell Jacoby
Russell Jacoby

Jacoby's critique of the fetish of subjectivity was a response to developments in the Sixties 'counter-culture', as theory came to be rejected in favour of explorations of personal subjectivity; feelings, behaviour etc. So it may appear to be outdated and irrelevant now. But his critique can still be applied to some political expressions today; both lifestylism and some insurrectionist ideologies fetishise personal revolt and certain 'rebellious' attitudes as forms of exemplary behaviour intended to educate and inflame 'the masses' in the radical path to follow (or, failing that, at least to show the inherent superiority of the activist role).

Submitted by Red Marriott on December 10, 2009

Similarly, those populists who seek to politically represent the working class and its 'real' immediate consciousness - and so fetishise working class subjectivity as it is - attribute, in prolier-than-thou style, something inherently radical to the role of being working class - leading "them to define the working class, its interests and consciousness in terms of their most immediate, temporary and shallow manifestations" (for example; So while the lifestylist and insurrectionist attribute something inherently radical to the political role - the populists, in addition, attribute something essentially radical to the working class role. Both idealistically misunderstand the relationship between subjectivity and objective conditions - and substitute a pseudo-autonomous identity for an analysis of social conditions.

[...] The prevailing subjectivity is no oasis in a barren and dehumanized society; rather it is structured down to its core by the very society it fantasizes it left behind. To accept subjectivity as it exists today, or better, as it does not exist today, is implicitly to accept the social order that mutilates it. The point, however, is not merely to reject subjectivity in the name of science or affirm it in the name of poetry; it is to delve into subjectivity seriously. This seriousness entails understanding to what extent the prevailing subjectivity is wounded and maimed; such understanding means sinking into subjectivity not so as to praise its depths and profundity, but to appraise the damage; it means searching out the objective social configurations that suppress and oppress the subject. Only in this way can subjectivity ever be realized: by understanding to what extent today it is objectively stunted. This is a notion that could be called an objective (or nonsubjective) theory of subjectivity. [...]

Today criticism that shelves the old in the name of the new forms part of the Zeitgeist; it works to justify and defend by forgetting. In making only a fleeting gesture toward the past, or none at all, social and psychological thought turn apologetic. [...]

The loss of memory assumes a multitude of forms, from a "radical" empiricism and positivism that unloads past thought like so much "intellectual baggage" to hip theories that salute the giants and geniuses of the past as unfortunates born too soon. The latter, [...] in the impatience to contrive new and novel theories, hustle through the past as if it were the junk yard of wrecked ideas. "In every era," wrote Walter Benjamin, "the attempt must be made to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overcome it."

The general loss of memory is not to be explained solely psychologically; it is not simply childhood amnesia. Rather it is social amnesia - memory driven out of mind by the social and economic dynamic of this society. [...]
(Social Amnesia - Russell Jacoby, 1975.)


The Politics of Subjectivity
The political left has not escaped the ravages of social amnesia and subjective reductionism. The very effort to think through and back, which ir, different forms belongs to the best of psychoanalytic and Marxist thought, is undermined by the individual in crisis unable to think beyond itself. Evidence of this is everywhere, in revisionist and conformist psychology as well as in the left. The crisis is no fraud; the chill of social relations numbs the living. The effort to keep psychically warm, to stave off the cold that seeps in, shunts aside any time for or possibility of sustained thought and theory. The permanent emergency of the individual blocks the permanent and social solution.

Within the left this assumes a definite form. Because the political left is a left it retains a social analysis of society. The very problem, however, is that this social analysis decays more and more into slogans, thoughtless finds of the moment. The individual stripped of memory and mind magnetically attracts reified slogans that serve more to sort out one's friends and enemies than to figure out the structure of reality. This is a dynamic that keeps society rattling along; the very breathing space that could give life to critical theory is lost in the desperate search for life itself. The search without reflection grooves along in the ruts of society.

Social amnesia takes two forms within the left: the construction of instant and novel theories of reform and revolution, and, recently and increasingly, the hasty refurbishing of older slogans and tactics. Both proceed simultaneously because both live off the suppression of the past. The pop theories are fabricated out of scraps and pieces of personal experience and the morning news. Jaded ones are picked out of left archives and, once cleansed of their historical context, content, and critique, are restored to service. These forms of social forgetting render a discussion of trends in the left doubly irrelevant; not only is such a discussion distant from the immediate needs of the individual, but it is obsolete, examining political thought and slogans that have already been discarded and forgotten. So rapidly does the left change that discussion and analysis seem doomed to lag behind.

Evidently this is part of the problem: attending to the emergency of the individual has absorbed sustained political energy and theory. The slogans that replace and dislodge theory shift with the moment. These shifts are not made through choice, discussion, and thought, but "automatically" - thoughtlessly and unconsciously. If the latest political opinions are improvements over former ones, it is not because the latter have been surpassed, but because they have been forgotten. They pass as they arose, uncritically, and promise to return. The hex that haunts left thought is the hex of bourgeois society: memoryless repetition. Thinking falls under the sway of fashion: change without change. If ideas such as "smash monogamy" are not promoted with the same vigor as previously this does not mean that they have been critically transcended, but simply that they have been dropped, to be elsewhere and later recycled and reused. Inasmuch as this discarding and forgetting is a continuing process, an examination of slogans, even if they are obsolete -which is by no means certain - may indicate forces that are hardly obsolete, that are as vital as society itself.

This analysis does not intend to simply equate developments within the left proper with those outside it, as if the two canceled each other out, confirming the wisdom that it is best to do nothing. That a political left and nonleft participate in the same drive toward subjectivity, that both suffer from social. amnesia, is proof only of the virulence of society, not of the meaninglessness of political distinctions.

Further, it need hardly be said, the left itself is more and more fragmented; these thoughts are concerned with trends which tend to exert themselves, but are not evident everywhere. Such an analysis does not claim universal validity. It should be noted also that while it is impossible to discuss the left without drawing material from the women's movement, Weathermen, and so on, it would violate the very spirit and intent to read this as an indictment of specific groups. At best, one can say certain groups express with greater clarity trends that are present everywhere. But nothing more; neither -that such developments are restricted to particular groups or, more erroneously, that these groups brought them about. Here, as elsewhere, the issue is society as a whole.

The rejection of theory and theorizing is grounded in the affirmation of subjectivity. Theory seems politically impotent and personally unreal and distant. Only human subjectivity - the personal life - is meaningful and concrete. The personal is said (or was said?) to be political, the political, personal. The identity of the two eliminates the need to pursue either separately. Theory and critical thought give way to human relations, feelings, and intuitions. The immediacy of these cuts to the quick of theory and thought: mediacy. The presence of the here and now in the form of subjective feelings banishes thoughts to afterthoughts and second thoughts. It instills an immediacy that stills reflection.

The promise held out by a focus on human subjectivity is lost if no attention is given to its place within society in general. Here the relation of phenomena within and outside a left is at once critical and fluid. For the cult of human subjectivity is not the negation of bourgeois society but its substance. Against a Marxist dogma that proscribed all subjectivity in the name of science, its articulation within the left was progress; but when this articulation becomes an exclusive pursuit it courts a regression that constitutes bourgeois society's own progress. The fetish of subjectivity and human relationships is progress in fetishism. The rejection of theory which seeks insight into objectivity in favor of subjective feelings reconstitutes a suspect Cartesian tradition in the reverse: I feel, therefore I am. The inner drive of bourgeois society was to throw the human subject back on itself. Descartes's thought illustrates this tendency. "My third maxim was to endeavor always to conquer myself rather than fortune, and to change my desires rather than the order of the world."[1] Human subjectivity was left to shift for itself: to examine and transform the self, not the universe of the self. To prescribe more subjectivity as aid to the damaged subject is to prescribe the illness for the cure.

The wholesale rejection of theory incurs the constitutional failing of the individual retailer; apparently free to buy and sell he is a victim of objective laws without knowing them. The private individual, free to pick and choose, was a fraud from the beginning; not only were the allotments already picked and chosen, but the contents of the choice followed the dictates of the social not the individual world. The "private interest is already a socially determined interest, which can be achieved only within the conditions laid down by society and with the means provided by society.... It is the interest of private persons; but its content, as well as the form and means of its realization, is given by social conditions independent of all."[2] Even as society announced it, the idea of the individual as an autonomous being was ideological. The unemployed, like the employed, were to think that their lack of luck, or their luck, was due to private abilities and was not determined by the social whole. No less are the private hopes, desires, and nightmares cued by public and social forces. The social does not "influence" the private; it dwells within it. "Above all we must avoid postulating `Society' again as an abstraction vis-a-vis the individual. The individual is the social being."[3]

The fetish of human relations, responses, emotions, perpetuates the myth; abstracted from the social whole they appear as the individualized responses of free men and women to particular situations and not, as they are, the subhuman responses to a nonhuman world. As noted previously, a rat psychology befits humans only when a suffocating world has transformed men and women into rats. The endless talk on human relations and responses is utopian; it assumes what is obsolete or yet to be realized: human relations. Today these relations are inhuman; they partake more of rats than of humans, more of things than of people. And not because of bad will but because of an evil society. To forget this is to indulge in the ideology of sensitivity groups that work to desensitize by cutting off human relations from the social roots that have made them brutal. More sensitivity today means revolution or madness. The rest is chatter.

The cult of subjectivity is a direct response to its eclipse. As authentic human experience and relationships disappear, they are invoked the more. Autobiographical accounts replace analysis because autobiographies as the history of a unique individual cease to exist. "To get in touch with one's feelings" - a slogan picked up by parts of the women's movement - hopes to affirm an individual existence already suspect. Self and mutual affirmation and confirmation work to revitalize experience denatured long ago. Bewitched by the commodity, the individual turns into one. The atomized particle called the individual gains an afterlife as an advertisement for itself.

The exclusive pursuit of subjectivity insures its decline. Not against the drive of society but in tune with it, it judges a social product to be a private woe or utopia. What was exacted from the individual at the beginning of its history-that the individual's freedom, labor, and so on, were only subjective and personal - is promoted later as its salvation. That parts of the women's movement have made subjectivity programmatic, repudiating all objective theoretical thought, indicates only the extent to which the revolt recapitulates the oppression: women, allegedly incapable of thought and systematic thinking but superior in sentiments and feelings, have repeated this in their very rebellion. Yet the point is not to resuscitate an official orthodoxy that eliminated any role for the subject. Critical theory and viable Marxist thought have worked precisely against this orthodoxy; it is a question of restoring a subject-object dialectic. The alternatives of pure subjectivity and pure objectivity are the alternatives of positivist thought itself. Marxist and critical thought must use another logic, dialectical logic.

The promise of radical subjectivity to escape political and personal irrelevancy is unfulfilled. While there was positive progress against an older, scientific Stalinist orthodoxy, it repeated in reverse the same sin: an indifference toward the content of bourgeois society that perpetuates this content. "The passage to theory-less praxis was motivated by the objective impotence of theory," wrote T. W. Adorno, "and multiplied that impotence by the isolation and fetishization of the subjective moment of the historical movement."[4] Subjectivity that forsakes sustained theory gravitates toward slogans that are not the crystallizations of discussion and thought but secretions of the existing society. As such they serve not to popularize thought, but to replace it. From "armed struggle" to "smash monogamy" they are not necessarily wrong in themselves, but wrong insofar as they are blank labels, indifferent, or rather antagonistic, toward content. They are to be applied anywhere and everywhere, as if indifference to concrete and definite conditions were the hallmark of revolutionary theory and not its negation.

Blindness to content is the social logic of a society that deals in exchange values: how much? No matter their tone, blank categories of affirmation (or condemnation) of armed struggle, the third world, leadership, men, and the rest, do not resist, but succumb to the inner mechanism of this society. The preservation of concrete dialectical analysis, even in idealistic form - to follow Lenin - makes intelligent idealism closer to dialectical materialism than vulgar materialism that is primitive and indifferent. The former, in its loyalty to the particular, preserves what a crude materialism, blind to distinctions, loses. What Lenin said of idealism can be said perhaps, for the same reason, of pacifism. Intelligent pacifism is closer to revolution than simplistic armed struggle.

The slogan of "smash monogamy" is of particular interest in elucidating the political content of a current slogan; to be examined is the extent to which such a slogan resists the drive of bourgeois society or, appearances notwithstanding, seconds it. From the start it suggests a violence that is hardly commensurate with its object, as if the forces out to sustain monogamy were to do so with cannon and gun. Rather to "smash" monogamy is to smash something unprotected, weak and frail, already despised and hated, openly or secretly. The open scorn and popular ridicule reveal the profound ambiguity of society toward its own product: maintaining marriage as a means of transmitting authority while suspecting it to be obsolete.

In fact, as discussed previously, the bourgeois family - and monogamy - as instruments of authority are being eclipsed by more efficient means: schools, television, etc. The father, as the wielder of the absolute power of condemnation or inheritance, is being phased out. The erosion of the economic content of the family unit ultimately saps its authoritarian structure in favor of complete fragmentation. Important in this context is that the family in its "classic" form was not merely a tool of society, but contained an antiauthoritarian moment. The family as an independent and (relatively) isolated unit preserved a "space" in which the individual could develop against the society; as a mediator of authority, and not merely an instrument of it, it resisted as well as complied. It supplied an intellectual, and sometimes physical, refuge which is the source of resistance. The notion -practically extinct?that you can always come home indicates the protection offered against social domination. Within this space, the family relationships not only partook of the prevailing inhumanity, but also preserved the possibility of something else and better. "In contradiction to public life, in the family where the relations are not mediated through the market and the individuals do not confront each other as competitors, the possibility exists for men and women to act not merely as functions, but as individuals."[5] The use of "sisters and brothers" by the left itself recalls the solidarity that at least for a moment was nurtured in the family.

That the family - and monogamy - was a form of humanity as well as a form of inhumanity is crucial to the Marxist critique. To lose this dialectic is to invite regression; it means falling behind bourgeois monogamy, not realizing its human moment but eradicating it in favor of a new and repressive equality. It is this repressive equality that inspires and fuels the hatred and attack on monogamy, as well as that on privilege and exclusion in general. It belongs to the bourgeoisie's most progressive and regressive program: progressive in its democratic content against feudal privilege, and regressive in that it is ultimately grounded in the market of "equal" exchange and works to further the domain of the market. This equality is abstract, as money is abstract; knowing neither quality nor content, it registers only numbers. In its indifference toward the actual content of life, a critique sustained by equality signals its bourgeois ideal "that tolerates nothing qualitatively different."[6]

In different guises - always resisted by Marx - it emerged within and outside Marxism, as in critiques of wage-labor, classes, private property - and monogamy. Such critiques were directed against inequalities and sought only equalization or democratization. In recognizing only privilege and inequalities they worked to level - capitalism's own task. In losing the dialectical moment, they regressed; not the abolition of classes but their equalization,[7] not the abolition of capitalist property but its democratization, not the abolition of wage-labor but its extension to all, were programs based on a bourgeois ideal of equality. Equality fixated on forms forgot the content that was inhuman, equal or not. A critique of capitalist property inspired solely by equality promises only an equality of domination, not its end. Rather bourgeois property contains both human and inhuman moments, as does monogamy. Marcuse's essay on Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts is emphatic on this: Marxism seeks the abolition of alienated labor and class property, not "labor" and "property" which are the praxis of free men and women.[8]

It rejects both of the abstract alternatives that a critique founded on equality proposes: the abolition of all property - primitive communism - or wage-labor for all - utopia as a workgang. Rather, Marxism seeks to realize the human and individual moment in labor and property that goes beyond formal equality. Marx ridiculed those who saw communism as the abolition or equalization of all property. In his piece on the Commune, he wrote, "The Commune, they explain, intends to abolish property, the basis of all civilization! Yes, gentlemen, the Commune intended to abolish that class property.... It wanted to make individual property a truth."[9] Or in the Communist Manifesto: with the end of capitalism "personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character."[10]

A passage in The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts gives the fullest discussion of the communism that does not transform capitalism, but by equalizing universalizes it. To Marx it is no accident that the key to such communism is its critique of bourgeois monogamy. The passage is worth citing. Primitive communism:

wants to destroy everything which is not capable of being possessed by all as private property. It wants to do away by force with talent, etc. For it the sole purpose of life and existence is direct physical possession. The task of the laborer is not done away with, but extended to all men.... Finally this movement of opposing universal private property to private property finds expression in the animal form of opposing to marriage (certainly a [i]form of exclusive private property) the community of women, in which a woman becomes a piece of communal and common property. It may be said that this idea of the community of women gives away the secret of this as yet completely crude and thoughtless communism. Just as a woman passes from marriage to general prostitution, so the entire world of wealth (that is, of man's objective substance) passes from the relationships of exclusive marriage with the owner of private property to a state of universal prostitution with the community. In negating the personality of man in every sphere, this type of communism is really nothing but the logical expression of private property.... General envy constituting itself as a power is the disguise in which greed re-establishes itself.... In the form of envy and the urge to reduce things to a common level .., this ... even constitute[s] the essence of competition. The crude communism is only the culmination of this envy and of this levelingdown proceeding.[11]

The full content of the regressive critique of capitalism is here articulated; founded on the bourgeois notion of equality, and partly driven by envy and resentment, it works to spread capitalism. Blind to content, it registers only privilege and exclusion and seeks formal equality. The denunciation - of leadership, theory, talent, relationships between two people or between a man and a woman as forms of exclusion and privilege-is part of this "crude and thoughtless" communism. Privilege seen only as a violation of equality is privilege seen through the eyes of the bourgeoisie. "The developed modern state is not based .. on a society of privileges but on a society in which privileges are abolished and dissolved.... Free industry and free trade abolish privileged exclusivity ... and set man free from privilege.... They produce the universal struggle of man against man, individual against individual."[12] The logic of equality that sustains these critiques of exclusion and privilege is the logic of the market itself. I t seeks to level - a utopia of complete pulverization of human relations and an interchangeability of individuals. The universalization of alienation, not its abolition, is its unconscious goal; it promises as liberation an equality of domination.

The point is not the mindless defense of monogamy, bourgeois property, leadership. Rather it is to understand their dialectical content which will make their abolition not regressive but progressive. It is to understand their human as well as inhuman content: monogamy not simply as mutual oppression, but as the attempt at a sustained relationship between two people; theory not simply as elitism, but as necessary insight into objective reality; leadership not simply as manipulation, but as a rational form of organization. The inability or refusal to grasp the dialectical content, as well as the open resentment, make talk about their abolition suspect; they express the desire to break down privilege and exclusion not so as to liberate but so as to share the spoils. The envy which would destroy in the name of freedom is too often apparent, e.g., communal groups which systematically set out to destroy exclusive relationships as threats to their own. The endless talk on human relations within the insular group works to promote group domination; it flushes out the last hiding place.

The critique of unique and exclusive relationships as crimes against democracy and equality has been formulated by bourgeois society's own advanced representatives, notably de Sade. The human individual - and body - is rendered totally functional, subject to all and everything. The progressive and regressive elements of bourgeois society have rarely been so clearly articulated: equality and democracy serve as a critique of privilege, to make way for mutual and equal domination. The indifference toward the actual human content of relationships makes de Sade's program at one with the bourgeoisie's own dream of liberation: liberation as a spree in the bargain-basement of human sexuality. In "Yet Another Effort, Frenchmen, If you would become Republicans," he proposed:

Never may an act of possession be exercised upon a free being; the exclusive possession of a woman is no less unjust than the possession of slaves; all men are born free; all have equal rights: never should we lose sight of those principles; according to which never may there be granted to one sex the legitimate right to lay monopolizing hands upon the other, and never may one of these sexes or classes arbitrarily possess the other.... Love, which may be termed the soul's madness, is no more than a trifle by which ... constancy may be justified: Love, satisfying two persons only, the beloved and the loving, cannot serve the happiness of others, and it is for the sake of the happiness of everyone, and not for egotistical and privileged happiness, that women have been given to us. All men therefore have an equal right of enjoyment of all women.

That this is not just an equality of women for men, but all for all is clear.

If we admit ... that all women ought to be subjugated to our desires we may certainly allow them ample satisfaction of theirs.... I would have them accorded the enjoyment of all sexes, and, as in the case of men, the enjoyment of all parts of the body; and under the special clause prescribing their surrender to all who desire them, there must be subjoined another guaranteeing them a similar freedom to enjoy all they deem worthy to satisfy them.[13]

This is the full content of the bourgeois equality and democracy unfolded: a utopia of total fragmentation and mutual exploitation. The rights championed are the rights of money that have been doled out to all; alienation is transcended by universalizing it. As such, these rights, like equality, are informed by the market-and forget the market; focusing on the abstract, they leave to one side the concrete economic content. "Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society."[14] The rights advanced of late by some on the left -rights of homosexnals, of control over one's body, and the like - participate in the same dialectic of bourgeois equality and rights; they are both progress in freedom and progress in domination. The right to free labor was the right to wage-slavery. The right to freedom of speech is the right to read a massproduced newspaper. Their essential content was dictated by the economic-social structure of society, not by formal and abstract rights and equalities. And yet they were progress - against serf labor and state-run newspapers. So, too, with the newer rights championed.

This is not to argue that they are not worth struggling for; they are-just as wage-labor and freedom of speech were, and are. Yet not to be forgotten is the content; rights do not negate the prevailing society, but affirm and extend it. The right to "free" labor as that to free sex is ironic. It is the freedom of individuality which has already been killed in its substance. It is the gloss of freedom under conditions of its denial. When this content is ignored, then the relationship of these reforms and rights as part of a revolutionary process, but distinct from a revolution that would revolutionize the content itself, is mystified. Where these rights are announced as ends-in themselves, the democratization of reification is dubbed its dissolution. The glorification of the rights of homosexuals, control over one's own body, group relations, masturbation, and the rest confuse equality-within-alienation with liberation. To romanticize masturbation is to hawk the quintessence of bourgeois society for its negation. The systematic destruction of human relationships has left the decimated subject only with itself. The concept of freedom lies elsewhere; it is anchored in the sustained relation between two individuals; it can transcend and go beyond this - and ultimately must - but cannot bypass it.

It was this moment which was saved in the Marxist "abolition" of bourgeois monogamy, and this is why Marx and Engels spoke of monogamy as being realized, not obliterated.[15] The relation of two individuals, of loved and lover, belongs to the core of human freedom.[16] The positive content of this is unclear, as it must be till the liberated society has arrived.[17] Yet from Marx through Freud to the Surrealists and to the Frankfurt School, unique and individual love and relationships have been seen as elements of freedom, the rejection of a repressive civilization.

The drive to level, to reduce all to identical monads efficient and adept at shifting relationships with anyone or anything is the form of love of late capitalism. Unique love harbors a threat to this indifferent and collective form which is fabricated by bourgeois society or promoted by parts of the left. Eros is lethal for the repressive collective, and ultimately lethal for the lovers. The etymological link between (love) "potion" and "poison" indicates the psychological and historical one. Two people in love, by excluding the larger society, incite its wrath. "Two people coming together for the purpose of sexual satisfaction, insofar as they seek solitude are making a demonstration against the herd instinct, the group feeling," wrote Freud.[18] The antithesis between civilization and sexuality," he wrote elsewhere, is derived "from the circumstances that sexual love is a relationship between two individuals in which a third can only be superfluous or disturbing, whereas civilization depends on relationships between a considerable number of individuals.[19] When human relations fall under the dictates of planned obsolescence, the unique relationship between two individuals smacks of freedom and resistance - and foolishness, exactly as foolish as repairing an old commodity when a new one is cheaper. According to Horkheimer, "Realistic science has objectified sex till it is manipulative.... In the mass society the sexes are leveled so that they both relate to their sex as a thing, which they control coldly and without illusion." Freedom is elsewhere. "The lovers are those who preserve and protect neither themselves nor the collective. In disrvgarding themselves, they earn its anger. Romeo and Juliet die against a society for that which it itself proclaims. Insofar as they unreasonably sacrifice themselves, they assert the freedom of the individual against the domination of property."[20]

If the intensification of subjectivity is a direct response to its actual decline, it ultimately works to accelerate the decline. To the damaged subject it proposes more of the same. The objective loss of human relationships and experience is eased by their endless pursuit. A cult of subjectivity - complete with drugs - dopes the discontented into taking their own death, figuratively and in fact, for life itself. The immediacy of it all drives out mediacy of any of it. Sustained political and theoretical thought is not simply rejected but forgotten and repressed. The slogans and rhetoric that replace it are as vacant and thoughtless as the society that tosses them up. The specter not only of society, but of its opposition, that has lost its memory and mind, haunts history.

The tone of the slogans notwithstanding, their collaboration with society is barely hidden. Empty concepts, too often fired by resentment and envy, perpetuate the essential content of this society. A critique of monogamy, theory, leadership, relationships between two people as forms of exclusion and privilege is a critique that falls behind bourgeois society, not advances over it; it is akin to the "thoughtless" communism outlined by Marx. What is perpetually lost under the sway of immediacy is a dialectical analysis: monogamy as both human and inhuman -as the bad refuge from a worse world and a bad solution for a better world; theory as insight into objectivity as well as elitism. To see only one moment is to trade the worse for the bad: no theory instead of elitist theory, inhuman fragmented relations for damaged human ones. The dialectical path is elsewhere.

The depletion of political concepts in favor of psychological and subjective ones is a by-product of the scramble for the remnants of human experience. Yet the subjectivization of objective concepts is not the repudiation of the loss of human experience but forms its prehistory. The reduction of the Marxist theory of alienation to a subjective condition by liberal sociologists has its counterpart in the left in the reduction of oppression to a whim of the individual. Alienation becomes a headache and oppression mere annoyance. "I'm oppressed," announces someone, and that's that.

Inside and outside the left radical subjectivity announces its own end; it resists reification by colluding with it. Hence the totalitarian urge of radical subjectivity to control everything. Endless talk about human relationships within the closed group promotes domination. Bad subjectivity seeks the bad collective that secures subjectivity by annihilating it. "Collectivism and individualism complete each other in the false."[21] The bourgeois individual whittled down to identical monads pursues its last fragments in and for a public only too anxious to share the remains. The individual goes public in a desperate attempt to maintain solvency. Blank and vacant affirmations or condemnations of the women's movement, men, armed struggle, recent political and personal events serve as tools of interpersonal relations. Thought is reduced to slogans and slogans to symbols of mutual- and self-confirmation.

Rampant narcissism surfaces as the final form of individualism; it at once negates the ego and perpetuates its mangled form. Vague conceptions of guilt, the universal oppression of women by men, one's "own" oppression, function as instruments of an ego that is regressing in the face of a disintegrating society. That men, too, have suffered and died in the massacre of history is affirmed or denied, but is in any case irrelevant. What counts is the immediate, and here an economism-turned-feminism is promoted as if the blind endorsement of what every worker did or thought is improved when it is as blindly applied to women. Social analysis decays into group loyalty. The Jealousy with which the oppression of women, children, liomosexuals, and so on, is defended as a private preserve, off-limits to others, expresses an urge to corner the market of oppression.

Again, the point here is not to argue for a return to a "scientific" objective theory that proscribed any role for the subject; and again, the alternatives of pure subjectivity and pure objectivity are the either/or of bourgeois culture itself. The choice between instant subjectivity and instant slogans, between unorthodox individual needs and political orthodoxy is no choice at all. Nor are the practical and communal attempts to overcome the deadly privacy and coldness of existence to be rejected. Rather they are to be advanced; but advanced not by a mode of thought and action that damns them to be more of the same. The political and personal praxis that is sustained by bad subjectivity and abstract slogans issues into the very prison that is the bourgeois world. What is to be sought is a concrete subject/ object dialectic that reconstructs the new out of the decay; only the praxis that shuns the fetish can hope for liberation. There are no guarantees nor tried-and-tested methods. Mistakes have been and will be made; but the efforts must remain continually alive to the tension between the "personal" and the "political" without abdicating either or reducing one to the other.

The line that inspired the Weatherman name suggested one metaphor for the path of theory and praxis: you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. In classical, Marxist theory this metaphor indicates opportunism, that is, subjectivism or the lack of principles; the willingness to swim with the current, be what it may. Obviously, Weatherman was a direct repudiation of social-democratic opportunism; not only by their actions and program, but also by their courage and dedication. And yet, as argued here, they as others unwittingly collapsed into a subjectivity and abstract sloganeering that is part and parcel of bourgeois society itself. The Lukacs of History and Class Consciousness suggested another metaphor for revolutionary theory and praxis; he wrote there of the sailor. The sailor, like the weatherman, takes exact readings from the wind -but with a decisive difference: "without letting the wind determine his direction, on the contrary, he defies and exploits it so as to hold fast to his original course."[22]


1. Rene Descartes, "Discourse on Method," part III, in Philosophical Writings, Norman K. Smith (New York, 1958), p. 113.
2. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (Middlesex, England, 1973), p. 158.
3. Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, ed.
Dirk J. Struik (New York, 1964), pp. 137-38.
4. Theodor W. Adorno, "Marginalien zu Theorie and Praxis," Stichworte (Frankfurt, 1969), p. 177.
5. Max Horkheimer, "Authorit5t and Familie," Kritische Theorie der Gesellschaf, Band I (Frankfurt, 1969), p. 346.
6. Adorno, Negativ Dialektik (Frankfurt, 1970), p. 148.
7. See Marx's comments on Bakunin's program in Marx and Engels, Werke (Berlin, 1969), vol. 18, pp. 14 ff.
8. Herbert Marcuse, "Neue Quellen zur Grundlegung des Historischen Materialismus," Ideen zu Einer Kritischen Theorie (Frankfurt, 1967), pp. 35 ff. English translation in Marcuse, Studies in Critical Philosophy (Boston, 1973).
9. Marx, Civil War in France (New York, 1940), p. 61.
10. Cf. Marx, Capital (Moscow, 1961), vol. 1, p. 763.
11. Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, pp. 132-33.
12. Marx and Engels, The Holy Family (Moscow, 1956), pp. 156-57.
13. Marquis de Sade, Justine, Philosophy of the Bedroom (New York, 1966), pp. 318-19, 321.
14. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (New York, 1966), p. 10.
15. For a good discussion of Marxism and monogamy, see the work from the 1920s by the Russian scholar David Riazanov, available in French translation: "Communisme et marriage," Partisans, 32-33 (1966), pp. 69 ff.
16. See the letter of Marx to jenny Marx cited in Alfred Schmidt, Der Begriff der Natur in der Lehre von Marx (Frankfurt, 1967), p. 113.
17. Yet if utopian thought is in order there is nowhere better to turn than to the most determined foe of bourgeois sexuality and civilization, Charles Fourier, and especially to his long-suppressed work, Le nouveau monde amoureux (Paris, 1967). Of particular interest is his notion of "pivotal love" (pp. 290 ff. ) - a love relation which is neither "simple fidelity" nor indifferent and brutal interchangeability. And see Freud's comments to Wortis: "We don't know what the future of monogamy will be, and cannot prophesy.... If socialism comes, we shall see what happens" (Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud [New York, 19541, p. 42).
18. Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (New York, 1960), p. 93.
19. Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (New York, 1971), p. 55.
20. Horkheimer, "Vernunft and Selbsterhaltung;" in Autoritiirer Staat (Amsterdam, 1968), pp. 111, 113. Cf. the beautiful aphorism of Adorno, "Constanz," Minima Moralia (Frankfurt, 1964), p. 226. It is translated in Reimut Reiche, Sexuality and Class Struggle (London, 1970), p. 163.
21. Adorno, Negativ Dialektik, p. 278.
22. Georg Lukacs, Geschichte and Klassenbewusstein (Amsterdam, 1967), p. 267; History and Class Consciousness (London, 1971), p. 262.

Source; Originally published as Chapter 5 of Social Amnesia - A Critique of Conformist Psychology from Adler to Laing; Russell Jacoby, Harvester Press, UK 1977.
A slightly different version appeared in Telos no. 9 (1971) and New Left Review no. 79 (1973).