Monday, September 23, 2013

Ponderous Titles Abound

"The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital,” – Monthly Review, Vol. 65, No.3, July-August 2013.  Double-Issue

Culture is somewhat of a strange beast in the U.S. left.  Many on the left only read non-fiction.  Music, fiction, theater, art, dance, even film – all strange worlds to the hard-core.  Yet culture is part of the ideological spectacle we live in.  This is balefully recognized by some.  Monthly Review’s (“MR”) latest ‘double-issue’ attempts to do so, but only comes off missing the mark and seeming dated.  MR is an academic Marxist journal that is by turns illuminating, explanatory, connective, repetitive, blind and deadly dull.  Their attempt here to ‘talk about culture’ is almost comical.  Unless culture has been redefined. The title might have been, "The Dominant Communications, Technical and Cultural Apparatus of Global Monopoly Finance Capitalism from the 1950s and 1960s" just to make sure that every point was made in the title.

The issue starts with a long discussion by R McChesney and JB Foster covering what they consider MR’s historical cultural analyses.   And historical it is.  They apologize and at the same time defend themselves from accusations that they ignore culture.  They publish for the first time a chapter on culture left out of “Monopoly Capital” by Baran & Sweezy, originally published in 1966, which contains some interesting insights on the ‘products’ of the ‘apparatus,’ but from 1966.  Then comes an article on Brecht.  Remember, Brecht wrote in the 20s.  Three articles on communications follow which are really looks at consolidated control of the media, written in the 1950s and 1960s.   This is part and parcel of a standard view of the media oligarchy. And an article on advertising from the 60s – which, again, is part of capital’s monopoly practices. 

The sub-title should have been “Into the Archives.” 

One thing about Marxists, we sure love the past.  Some people I know even live in it more than the present, or the future.  Not to say that this is a bad thing, but sometime the weight starts to tip the boat.  This boat has tipped and is taking water.

I guess when you are talking about ‘cultural apparatus’ you aren’t going to get a lecture by Zizek.  You might even be tempted to wonder – well, ‘what’ are they trying to put across with their vast ‘cultural apparatus’ other than selling more cars?  You might expect a discussion of present various artistic movements, in popular music, in art, in film, in television, in books, in theater – or the lack of them.  (See review of “9.5 Theses on Art”, below) After all, the seductive thing about television is not usually the ads. (see review of “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” below)  You might wonder why slightly more recent attempts at Brechtian  theater – like El Teatro Campesino and the San Francisco Mime Troupe – aren’t mentioned.  Those are in the 60s and 70s, after all. (See review of “Oil/Jungle,” below.) You might expect references to the cultural work of Trotsky and Gramsci, who pre-date all of their preferred sources, who are mostly post-war Euro-Marxists.

In other words, what are the ‘clothes’ dressing this apparatus?  What color is the machine? The flesh of this "Apparatus" is missing, as the 'communications systems' seem to be the main focus. I don’t expect people to be good at everything, and culture is tricky.  In fact, no one is good at everything. Which might be why it is missing in this MR.

Oddly enough, stuck amongst the McChesney/Foster article is a 1957quote from Sweezy about technology which I find more interesting than the rest of it.  I will quote in full:  “…Sweezy put the invention of the computer and the emerging communications revolution at the center of a technological revolution that would be every bit as profound as that wrought by the steam engine.  To those who found this hypothetical, if not preposterous, Sweezy responded, “Come back in 30 years.” 

30 years later is 1987, about 10 years after the invention of the personal computer, so he was accurate.  I know I got my first dual floppy-drive portable with a tiny 5 inch monitor in 1980.  It was the Osborne, and heavy as a suitcase. The first Apple was introduced in 1977, the first desktop IBM was introduced in 1981.  Now it is interesting that McChesney/Foster bring this up, because MR has not really investigated this issue at all.  Being in the midst of a tech revolution like this would counter-act any ‘tendencies’ to stagnation, and actually put them in abeyance for awhile.  It is no secret that many of the dominant players in industrial capital are now technology firms.  While financial capital has stolen the lion’s share of profits, industrial capital has not withered and died in the process.  Perhaps an analysis of the growth of ‘overall’ profits in different sectors might be in order. IE what is the total pool - has it grown - not just 'who' is making the most now.  After all, tech firm profits are some of the best in capitalism.  (See review of “The Endless Crisis,” below.)

So time to layoff the old stuff and invent the new!

And I bought it at May Day Books!
(Mayday carries MR and a line of other progressive magazines you can’t get anywhere else, especially in one place.  Copies of this issue of MR are for sale for $6.)

Red Frog
September 23, 2013

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