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Book Reviews


Steiner sets up a dialectic of civilization: the expansion of the limits of society, which goes hand in hand with the growing control of danger, leads to the progressive internalization of danger and the progressive destruction of limits. At the end of this process lies the unlimited exercise of power in the Holo- caust. In Steiner’s words: ‘What had in past ages been outside society, what was later inside society, will at one time be, when society has triumphed, inside the individual. This is the process. The process of civilization is the conquest of man through the powers of nature, through demons. It is the march of danger into the heart of creation (p. 145). In this triumph of nature over social limits, triggered by the transition from the limited to the unlim- ited universe of modernity, we come close to Steiner’s and to Canetti’s counter-vision of society which defines their eccentric position in relation to the dominant self-understandings of modernity. For both the mythical legacy of the ‘primitives’ needs to be rescued and preserved as a precious source of an alternative conception of human and social being. The merit of Mack’s study lies not only in bringing Steiner back into focus through his intellectual affiliations and friendship with Canetti but above all by bringing out the necessary and essential marginality of both thinkers, evident in their search for a position outside of the blindness of modern civilization and its social sciences. Anthropology as Memory marks a new and productive phase of Canetti scholarship, directing the task of recon- structing the intellectual horizon of his work in relation especially to his anthropological sources and of his world in relation to the émigré circles in England during the war years and after.

Reviewed by David Roberts

German Studies, Monash University email:

Stefan Gandler, Peripherer Marxismus: Kritische Theorie in Mexico (Argument Verlag, 1999)

This book – a reworked version of a doctorate thesis in the area of phil- osophy and history presented at the University of Frankfurt am Main – seeks to introduce and discuss the work of two Mexico-based unorthodox Marxist philosophers, Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez and Bolívar Echeverría. By drawing attention to the work of these two peripheral Marxists the study seeks to con- tribute to the critique of Eurocentrism and in doing so also sheds light on a little known chapter of the history of Latin American left-wing thinking. The two theorists discussed have in common that they came to Mexico as exiles, but they belong to different generations and came from different countries. Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez (b. 1915) reached Mexico in June 1939 after having fought in the Spanish Civil War. Mexico had, like the USSR, been

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a country that had supported the Spanish Left, and some months after the end of the Civil War then President Lázaro Cárdenas opened the country to Spanish refugees. Sánchez Vázquez was among the first to arrive, started to contribute to various magazines and, when USA policies in the context of the Cold War made clear that a return to Spain could not be expected, took up his studies again. Through his literary critiques and his studies on art and consciousness he gradually took an increasing distance from ‘socialist realism’

and official dialectic materialism. By the late 1950s, the revelations of Stalinist crimes and the Cuban Revolution led to a final break with the Spanish Com- munist Party in exile while the offer of a full-time post at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) allowed him to dedicate himself to an intense study of Marx’s writings. In 1967 he published the first edition of his main work, Filosofia de la praxis (The Philosophy of Praxis), based on his doctorate dissertation. In 1980, a second substantially revised edition would be published. In 1968, Sánchez Vázquez joined with the Mexican student movement, which was violently repressed in the Tlatelolco Massacre. In subsequent years, unorthodox Marxism would become increasingly influ- ential at the UNAM and Sánchez Vázquez became the publisher of the Theory and Praxis book series that made important European texts available to the Mexican and Latin American public, as well as containing local contributions. In 1996, he was invited to the Special Forum on State Reform, organized by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Although he did not travel to the southern Province of Chiapas, he sent a contribution. Two years later the UNAM honored him with the title of Doctor Honoris Causa and in Septem- ber 2000 the left-wing Government of Mexico’s Federal District named Sánchez Vázquez Distinguished Master of Mexico City. Bolívar Echeverría (b. 1941), of Ecuadorian origins, belongs to a different generation of exiles and shows a distinct trajectory. By the late 1950s he became involved in high-school protests and in discussions of the work of Sartre and other ‘exemplary’ existentialist philosophers, which brings his circle of friends to the work of Martin Heidegger. Ignoring much about Heidegger’s trajectory, Echeverría came to regard his work as about equally radical as the Cuban Revolution and decided to set out for Germany in 1961 in the hope of studying philosophy with the master in Freiburg. His hopes soon were dashed and he moved to Berlin where he became acquainted with the radical student movement and discovered Marxism. By 1968 he moved to Mexico since a return to Ecuador had become impossible in view of the authoritarian regime installed there in 1963. He arrived in Mexico just before the repression of the student movement in the Tlatelolco Massacre, which led him to return to Berlin to organize solidarity with the Mexican democratic movement. Back in Mexico, he became an assistant of Sánchez Vázquez and was involved in the edition of the Cuadernos Políticos, which appeared from

1974 until 1990 and became a major platform for debate among the Latin

American Left. Although the Mexican regime at the time was rather

Book Reviews


repressive, the country became a refuge for exiles from the Southern Cone countries where military dictatorships held sway. Echeverría also translated various important texts such as Marx’s Parisian Manuscripts. By the late 1980s he became a full-time teacher at the UNAM and increasingly dedicated himself to the study of culture from a Marxist perspective, in addition to focusing on the theme of mestizaje (understood here as cultural, rather than racial, mixing). This resulted in the publication of an anthology entitled Mod- ernity, Cultural Mestizaje and Baroque Ethos as well as a book entitled The Illusions of Modernity. In 1996 he participated in the Special Forum on the Reform of the State as one of the many Zapatista ‘advisors’. The study under review focuses on the main works of these two philosophers. In the case of Sánchez Vázquez the discussion thus centers on his Philosophy of Praxis, which is a critique of the common or everyday con- sciousness of praxis and seeks to elaborate a theoretical understanding, which greatly relies on the Theses on Feuerbach. The objective is to save the meaning of praxis from both mechanistic and Hegel-inspired idealistic readings by stressing the unity of the objective, material, aspect and the sub- jective, active, aspect of praxis in order to develop a philosophical con- sciousness of revolutionary praxis, that is, a critical consciousness. This entails a critique of ideology as the seemingly unmediated knowledge of the world guided by naïve realism according to which things reveal themselves unmedi- ated by human action, objectivism, according to which the meaning of things seems to be naturally give, and utilitarianism, which reduces the practical to usefulness. In turn, such ‘common sense’ views translate into pragmatic rather than emancipatory politics, in other words ‘practical politics’ and ‘practical a-politicism’. Such everyday consciousness, however, will not be overcome through a theory-immanent critique but, given the unity of the objective and the subjective resulting from the always present active element in the for- mation of knowledge, through the need to confront historically given circum- stances and the possibility to do so on the basis of already developed theoretical premises, which allows for a creative intervention, through politics but also in art. Such an understanding of praxis then opens the way for a discussion of the Feuerbach theses and transformative action, which centers on the over- coming of the materialism-idealism dichotomy. Praxis always is present in the creation of knowledge, but Sánchez Vázquez seeks an intermediate position between those who adopt a more or less realist position and those who emphasize the humanist aspect (Gramsci) by stressing the creativity of praxis and at the same time according primacy to the object. This leads to an interpretation of some of the Theses on Feuerbach. As to the first thesis, the active unity of subjective and objective aspects of praxis is highlighted. The second thesis concerns the truth-value of praxis and is interpreted in the sense that the ‘truth’ of a theory cannot simply be reduced to the criterion of its pragmatic utility. Theory by itself cannot provide the criterion (idealism),

136 Thesis Eleven (Number 71 2002)

but practice by itself cannot either (empiricism). This introduces a critical principle of uncertainty. The third thesis concerns revolutionary praxis, which involves both the transformation of circumstances and the transformation of human activity or of mankind itself. This finally ushers in a consideration of thesis 11 and the argument that this thesis does not imply an ‘end of philos- ophy’ but a renewed, active, philosophy. Such deliberations bring Sánchez Vázquez to a sort of midway position that rejects Gramsci’s absolute historicism and humanism, defends the relative autonomy of theory, but therefore also distances itself from the Althusserian view of ‘theoretical praxis’. His position, according to the author of this study, shows affinity with that of Alfred Schmidt and his views on how the ‘laws of matter’ come to be known through the active subjectivity of workers in the labor process. The trick is to develop a reflexive relation to this active inter- vention of common sense practicality, that is to develop an understood praxis. However, in contrast to Schmidt, Sánchez Vázquez underlines political and artistic practice rather than merely the economic aspect. At the same time, this implies that he rejects the idea of an ‘epistemological rupture’ à la Althusser and rather sees continuity, despite a shift of emphasis from creative and political praxis toward an analysis of the practices that sustain systemic reproduction. On the other hand, such considerations stress the creative and critical function of art, which involves a critique of socialist realism and Marxist dogmatism. However, this critique is limited in the sense that it does not lead to a full liberation from dogmatism. In spite of the view of conti- nuity of Marx’s work, his ‘mature’ work is conspicuously absent in Sánchez Vázquez’s ruminations. The neglect of the elaboration of the notion of alien- ation and its function in the reproduction of capitalist social formation through the analysis of commodity fetishism makes Sánchez Vázquez fall back on a strange mix of veneration of ‘Marxism-Leninism’ and ‘proletkult’ as a sort of spontaneous resistance to massification by professional con- sciousness manipulators who produce an alienated ideology. This last point leads the author of the study under review to some further arguments regarding the absence of references to Capital in Sánchez Vázquez’s work. Perhaps, he argues, this absence can be explained by Sánchez’s rejection of economism as part of the attempt to break with dog- matism. However, the stance against vulgar economism, which often goes together with the manipulation thesis, also stands in the way of a more sophisticated understanding of consciousness and ideology as it leads to the idea that ‘false consciousness’ is produced by manipulation instead of being the effect of commodity fetishism and therefore not as easily superseded as the ‘proletkult’ viewpoint, after which consciousness directly derives from economically determined class positions, would suggest. Thus, paradoxically, the effect of the rejection of economism, which leads Sánchez Vázquez to prefer the ‘more philosophical’ young Marx, is that economism creeps in again through the backdoor. Traces of dogmatism thus remain.

Book Reviews


On the other hand, the second edition of The Philosophy of Praxis (1980) reveals a further development and critique of orthodoxy in the addition of a chapter on the Leninist theory of party organization, which at least points out the historical limits of the model. The distancing from ortho- doxy also is revealed in the skipping of a critique of Marcuse’s view that Leninist theory turned the proletarians into the object rather than the subject of revolution. Whereas in the work of Sánchez Vázquez the concept of praxis remains a rather abstract one, Bolívar Echeverría seeks to develop a more down to earth notion of praxis by highlighting the notion of use value and develop- ing a critique of Eurocentrism. In his text entitled Postmodernidad y cinismo (Postmodernity and Cynicism), first published in 1994, the use value concept is employed to develop a critique of an abstract and universalistic praxis concept. Employing the notion of use value and Marx’s notion of the natural form of societal reproduction makes it possible to direct the attention toward the cultural or semiotic substratum that defines use values. To put it bluntly and in ‘my way’, capitalism as such does not explain why some people prefer dogs over hot dogs. ‘Consumer preferences’ are rooted in cultural history and will influence the process of production. In other words, the notion of praxis comes to include both production and consumption and, while acknowl- edging the dominance of exchange value under capitalism, the attention is directed to what is exchanged and how this influences production. The dis- tinctive use value of dogs and their hot variety prompts distinctive produc- tion processes, though both may be dominated by the logic of exchange value and capital’s expanded reproduction. A one sided emphasis on praxis as production thus can be shown to go hand in hand with a one sided Euro- centric view of modernization as it implies a homogenizing notion of mod- ernity which identifies difference from the model as a sign of pre-modernity:

dogs are pre-modern and hot dogs are the emblem of modernity. Including cultural features of consumption and use value points to another direction, that of alternative modernities. Instead of adopting a diachronic perspective which views difference from the model as a sign of ‘not yet having reached the standard’, this makes for a synchronic perspective that can account for different pathways in geographically distinct regions with different historical and cultural experiences. Instead of measuring such regions against a ‘uni- versal’ teleological and Eurocentrically constructed time-scale, it shows them, as we will see, as coping in distinctive ways with the preponderance of exchange value. On the one hand, this approach suggests a difference with that of Sánchez Vázquez in that the relation between productive and con- sumptive praxis is highlighted, whereas the former tended to focus on political praxis. On the other, this sets Echeverría off from the postmodern- ists who are regarded as equally abstract, universalizing Eurocentrists in their critique as the abstract universalism of capitalism. This prevents the post- modernists formulating a concrete critique of ‘real existing modernity’. Such

138 Thesis Eleven (Number 71 2002)

considerations lay the groundwork for Echeverría’s reflections on the ‘historical ethos’ of different societies. Echeverría comes to distinguish a ‘realistic’, a ‘romantic’, a ‘classic’, and a ‘baroque’ ethos in order to develop a materialist history of culture in a critical dialogue with, among others, Max Weber’s theorizing on the Protes- tant ethic. The objective is to explore the relation between historically con- stituted forms of use value and their semiotics, and the dominant exchange value form of capitalism. Thus, whereas the ‘realist’ ethos, characteristic of the ‘Northwest’, sacrifices use value in a naïve celebration of exchange value, the ‘baroque’ ethos, characteristic of the Mediterranean and Latin America, consists of a paradoxical mix between the admission that exchange value dominates and the attempt to live the ‘Truth in Falsity’. It is an attempt to break the rules of capitalist production, but it cannot overcome them. The Jesuit Reducciones in Paraguay in the 18th century are cited as an early example of the utopian attempt to develop a non-capitalism form of com- modity production and this seems to be the programmatic outcome of Echev- erría’s reflections: do away with capitalism, but not with the market. This, however, may come at a price since it is exactly the market, commodity exchange and fetishism that underlie alienation. Echeverría’s programmatic outcome thus stands in the way of seriously dealing with a radical critique of ideology as developed by Lukács. The author of the book under review contrasts Echeverría’s programmatic proposal of a market without capitalism with the pragmatic proposal of ‘riding the capitalist tiger’ as a momentary viable form of Left wing politics formulated by Joachim Hirsch. The latter put his suggestion into perspective by citing a limerick: ‘There was a young lady of Riga, / Who rode with a smile on a tiger, / They returned from the ride / With the lady inside / And the smile on the face of the tiger’. This suggests that there should be some sort of revolutionary praxis. Whether presenting it as programmatic or as pragmatic, both Echeverría and Hirsch seem to look for a way of at least acting under the present circumstances. The problem is that as yet no plausible alternative has been developed to the tiger swallowing the lady and comrade Lenin’s view of the withering away of the State and the organization of the economy after the model of the postal services, to which all would contribute according to capac- ities and receive according to their needs. Hirsch recommends a socially and politically regulated capitalism, for the time being, while Echeverría seems to accept the universality of the commodity form but wants to dissociate it from capitalism, which puts him into an awkward position in relation to chapter one of Capital. Anthony Giddens’ ‘third way’ has already, sufficiently, been exposed as a hoax, but does ‘grassroots post-modernism’ (Esteva and Prakash, 1998), to give one example, point the way to a new praxis, rooted in the ‘soil of cultures’? What would Sánchez Vázquez and Echeverría say about it, and what would the author of ‘Peripheral Marxism’ say? The book under review, which contains an extensive list of publications

Book Reviews


of both philosophers as well as references to comments, shows that outside the center worthwhile contributions to Marxist philosophy have been formu- lated, which contain points of departure for a critique of Eurocentric theor- izing that might be radicalized and expanded. As the author points out in his final chapter, the peripheral Marxists discussed have developed a critical view on the dogmatic naïve optimism regarding praxis, they made innovative con- tributions to the debate on ideology and its capacity to ‘naturalize’ existing social relations, and they contributed to a critique of Eurocentrism. As to the last point, the author notes that, although for Echeverría the development of the notion of a baroque ethos is a central objective, in his reflections on aes- thetics Sánchez Vázquez also distances himself from the Eurocentric dis- qualification of baroque art for not meeting the ‘standards of classicism’. Such critique might be further developed, for example, by looking beyond ‘phil- osophy’ and taking into account ‘anthropological’ works like Marshall Sahlins’ Culture and Practical Reason (1976) and the recent debates on culture, differ- ence and identity. On the other hand, the book charts a little known chapter of the history of the Latin American Left and might inspire further research on this subject. Throughout the book we find pointers to the Zapatista rebel- lion, but despite the fact that the author interviewed them, there is little systematic reflection on the views of the two ‘peripheral Marxists’ on the innovative praxis and the aesthetics of neo-Zapataism, which by now has generated voluminous commentary. Developing this question would have shed further light on the concrete relation between culture and praxis. What does the baroque ethos, for example, tell us about the praxis of a rebellion largely rooted in indigenous culture, without the aim of ‘taking power’, and taking place in ‘real time’, that is denying that history has come to an end and at the same time showing that geography has been transformed, to say the least? This invites further thinking about Theses 1 to 11, and newly emerging praxes.

Reviewed by Willem Assies

El Colegio de Michoacán, Mexico email:]

Dennis Altman, Global Sex (University of Chicago Press, 2001)

In the west, the 1970s was an influential period in the development of the conceptions of sexual identity and the sexual mores currently being dis- seminated by capitalism and other global forces. We may tend to scoff (or smile indulgently) at the naivety of some of the insights of that period, but we should not be too dismissive. Their legacy remains an important one that forms a solid base for theorizing global sexual politics. It is now generally accepted that the dichotomies public/private and sex/politics are more

REVIEWS Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World , trans. Sacha Rabinovitch, with a


Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the Modern World, trans. Sacha Rabinovitch, with a new introduction by Philip Wander (Athlone Press,


Fashions are fickle and intellectual fashions are no less seasonable, especially so in Paris grey-on-grey. French Marxist intellectuals of the 20th century were once compulsory reading for would-be revolutionary cadres in provincial cafes the world around. The cafes multiply and the books of French intellectuals are still to be found on the tables – some even read – but for now they are of the postmodern and post-Marxist variety. The post- humous reputations of the French Marxists have not fared well into the new century. The one notable exception who proves the rule is Henri Lefebvre (1901–91). Why so? Lefebvre was a member of the French Communist Party until 1958 (dates are never insignificant in the reckoning of the Cold War era and especially so in the heavily Stalinist mode of the French Communist Party). He remained a Marxist throughout his life and on the page, in over 60 books. Many of his writings are polemical and some comically so with the benefit of our backward-looking Hegelian spectacles; for example, this book closes with a polemic entitled ‘Towards a Permanent Cultural Revol- ution’ where he proclaims that ‘the concept of revolution – even of total revolution – is still valid; moreover a revolution cannot be other than total’. (With rhetoric like this, it is better that the 1960s are remembered by social- ists in elegiac rather than prophetic terms.) Slogans aside, Lefebvre was also capable of turgid prose, typical of the most earnest left scribbler endeavour- ing to mimick the dialectical acrobatics of the old Hegel and the young Marx. Yet many of his books have been and continue to be translated into English and he has multiple readerships across the academy and the fossilized ideo- logical divides of left and right. Even if the concepts of ‘totality’, ‘dialectical man’, and ‘revolutionare no longer endorsed it would seem that there is life in the old Lefebvrian corpus yet. For the present, in the Anglophone West, there are at least three main uses of Lefebvre’s ideas: the sociology of everyday life; the production of space; and a critical theory of modernity that opens up utopic horizons that

Thesis Eleven, Number 71, November 2002: 106–146 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Copyright © 2002 SAGE Publications and Thesis Eleven Pty Ltd