Platypus has posted video of another workshop from their March convention in Chicago with a speaker from News and Letters Committees. There were three speakers on this panel, Politicizing G8 and NATO: Rulers, Domination, and Emancipation. The second, Fred Mecklenburg, is from News & Letters.
I didn’t find the other two speakers very interesting. The discussion of what is the correct object of critique is on the wrong ground. Bernard Harcourt set the ground by starting from the wrong question, “What should be the object of our critique?” In his reasoning, “capitalism” is “not specific enough,” a claim he justifies largely on the basis that people mean various things by the word. (His reasons for rejecting other objects of critique were equally misguided.) This then becomes an excuse not to oppose the system of capitalism as a totality, in keeping with what he does not mention, the postmodernist opposition to a “grand narrative.” His rejection of what is supposedly “not specific enough” is essentially the expression of a vulgar, unexamined concept of the relationship between universal and particular, in which the particular must be separated from the universal and the universal must be discarded. I believe that this is what the questioner from the audience was getting at when she raised the 1992 trial of the cops who beat Rodney King.
The correct question is not what should be the object of criticism–I agree with Marx’s call for “ruthless criticism of everything that exists”–but rather the method of criticism. Harcourt’s discussion is an object lesson in the need for a dialectical approach that works out the relationship between universal, particular, and individual in the examination of every particular and every universal.
Thus a critique of capitalism fails if it is made into an abstract universal, as is common in Left rhetoric; and the existence of conflicting claims about the nature of capitalism (as exemplified by John Sargis’s confused description of capitalism as a sector within market economy) calls out, not for avoiding the word, but for examining the concept, as the word “critique” should imply.
Harcourt’s dismissal of NATO as an object of criticism is even more threadbare. His argument is essentially that U.S. “defense” spending dwarfs that of other countries, including the rest of the NATO allies. Therefore, NATO is apparently not worthy of discussion. He did not even attempt to explore the ways in which NATO is a form of deployment of U.S. power. An actual criticism of NATO could begin with such an exploration, and necessarily would broaden into its role in the capitalist world order, thereby calling into question that world order. That is how Mecklenburg began, as I see it, from a very human standpoint of the actual conditions of the lives of people on the lower rungs of present-day society. He related that both to the world order in which we are living and to the ongoing events in Syria, which were so misunderstood by the first speaker, who portrayed the Arab Spring as an effort to integrate the Arab nations into “the new world order.” Mecklenburg–in contrast both to Sargis and to some leftists in the Chicago coalition to protest the NATO summit, who actually wanted to support Assad as some sort of “anti-imperialist” opposing NATO–took the vantage point of the people in the streets in Syria and pointed out that there has been zero NATO intervention there.
I don’t mean for my comments to take the place of watching the video, but just wanted to make the point about the need for a dialectical criticism of everything that exists.