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Stanley Aronowitz

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Stanley Aronowitz (1933-) 

Biography

Stanley Aronowitz was born in 1933 and grew up in the Bronx, New York City. He attended Brooklyn College until he was suspended for leading a sit-in in the Dean’s office to protest the suppression of the radical student newspaper. After leaving school he became a steelworker and then a union organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers (now UNITE) and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.

Aronowitz received his B.A. from the New School in 1968. Following this he became associate director of the anti-poverty organization Mobilization for Youth, where he was also a community organiser. In the early `70s he founded Park East High School in East Harlem, the first post-war experimental public high school in New York City, and taught community studies at the College of Staten Island. He has since taught at the University of California Irvine, the Center for Worker Education at City College of the City University of New York, where he teaches in the Graduate Center and is currently Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Urban Education.

Aronowitz was a New Left activist during the `60s, organising the New York New Left movement. He was the chief New York organiser for the Independent Committee to End the War in Vietnam, an editor of the influential journal Studies on the Left, and taught at the radical Free University of New York. He is presently an elected officer of the CUNY faculty and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress. Like Michael Apple, Aronowitz has been a Union organiser and activist all of his professional life.

He was deeply influenced by Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilisation and One-Dimensional Man and in 1972-3 he met Marcuse who had responded to the manuscript for his first book, the acclaimed False Promises: The Shaping of American Working-Class Consciousness. Marcuse invited him to present a series of lectures at San Diego in 1974 and they remained friends until Marcuse died in '79. He has written 23 books in all. Among the more recent are From the Ashes of the Old (1998) - an analysis of the state of the labour movement, The Last Good Job in America, (2001)- essays on culture and politics and The Knowledge Factory (2001) - a critique of the corporatisation of higher education; Implicating Empire: Globalization and Resistance in the 21st Century (2002);Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered (2002); and Debating Empire (New Left Review Debates) (2003); How Class Works (2003); Just around the Corner: The Paradox of the Jobless Recovery (2005) and Left Turn (2006). Each of his books has advanced his and our understandings of the state of the Left in contemporary life - the success of the Right, and the inability of progressive social movements to coalesce in the formation of a broad coalition for change.

He has also written about science and technology, philosophy and culture and has edited four volumes (a collection of 90 plus articles) on C. Wright Mills in their Great Sociologists series by Sage Publications.(2004).  With Fredric Jameson and John Brenkman, he is a founding editor of Duke University's Social Text, a journal that is subtitled "Theory, Culture, Ideology." He has written that with this publication their "objective was to interrogate Marxists' habitual separation of political economy and culture and to make a contribution to their articulation, even reunification."

His analysis of the failure of the New Left to capture the public imagination, the co-optation of middle class black America by the Democratic Party and its failure to contest the ideologies of the New Right have been very influential in Left political theorising. In 2003 he ran for Governor of New York under the Green Party and was endorsed by Ralph Nader. He led the fight to maintain the official ballot status of the Green Party and ran a grass roots campaign based on a radical democratic program that combined opposition to corporate power and plutocratic government with commitment to a sustainable environment, racial equality, feminism, gay liberation and individual freedom. His campaign was a model for leftists running for public office: radical, honest, grounded in the issues, inclusive and accessible. Aronowitz's reflections on the campaign, written just weeks after the polls closed, gives readers a sense of the opportunities and challenges of independent political campaigns in a time when most progressives still cling to the Democratic Party, but when the total inability of the Democrats to offer a real alternative to the Republicans becomes clearer with every passing day.

He is a proponent of a reduced work week and works actively with the Basic Income Earth Network based upon the philosophies of André Gorz

He lives in Manhattan. He was married to the writer Ellen Willis, with whom he had a teenage daughter. He also has four older children. Helen died in 2006.

*[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koqfxZPHjCU&feature=related]

Work

Stanley Aronowitz's thought extends over a considerable number of topics, initiating, engaging and continuing a public debate on class, culture and identity, consequently reflecting deeply on major issues in cultural studies,  postmodernism, identity politics, education, literature, intellectuals and his own life.

He started his professional academic career from the foundation of solid worker experience coupled with a profound commitment to labour activism and organisation. His theoretical meanderings have, since that time, led him on a search for meaning to the social and political struggles of our time, grounded in a Marxist frame of reference. He has spent his professional working life critically engaging with four separate but related aspects of culture and public life:

      • The history and development of emancipatory ideologies and practices
      • The history and role of the labour movement in public life
      • The role of Education as an instrumenmt of resistance to capitalist hegemony
      • The relationship between ideology and epistemology - in particular the episteme of science as it has penetrated spheres of public perception and understanding
His writings have, for almost 40 years moved relentlessly backwards and forwards between these areas of interest, linking them and interrogating their relationship in order to develop a unifying theoretical structure upon which a renewed progressive agenda might be built.
 
Aronowitz first burst onto the critical theory scene in 1973 with the publication of his landmark book: False Promises The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness (1973).  There, he traces the development of working class consciousness from the post-Civil War era down to the present, showing how and why radical movements failed to overcome the forces that divide the workers. He studies the emergence of the labour unions, their co-optation and their decline as agents of social and economic change. Aronowitz also goes on to interrogate contemporary worker movements in the "afffluent society" and shows how the State's capitalist hegemony is maintained through education and puublic broadcasting. In particular he mounts a concerted attack upon the imagery of movies and television to demonstrate how the workers are kept immobile through the contradictions between the "false promises" of the consumer world and their humdrum everyday lives. He challenges the authenticity of the Culture Industry and shows, instead, how by comparison, the vitality and resistance of the British popular music scene of the 1960s arose from a culture intent upon breaking out of its classed social boundaries:

“...the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks cannot be understood simply as a further development of tendencies internal to Rock as it took shape during the late fifties and early sixties. Rather...these particular expressions of individual creativity by artists such as Jagger, Lennon or Davies are only comprehensible in relation to the expressions of social creativity unleashed in England at that time by “the deep, spontaneous revolt of working class youth against British bourgeois society which it articulated” and which, while economically rooted, took predominantly cultural, even sexual forms....English rock during this period directly assaulted the linguistic hegemony of standard “U” English with such striking success that one may even find impeccably educated, upper-class English youth affecting a Liverpool accent.”

We see here that he has already moved beyond both the inabilities of Adorno and Horkheimer to recognise the potency of popular culture on the one hand, and the strict adherence to the orthodox base-superstructure marxist model on the other. He clearly recognises that culture can and does indeed play a significant part in the process of social change. As he rightly points out, Culture is now firmly bracketed in the plural, in the form of a confrontation between dominant and subordsnate groups. Society is no longer seen as made up of the cultured and the uncultured. There are cultures, often opposed to each other - giving rise to what Roszak would call the youth counter-culture.  It will be noted that this oppositional model of culture is very different to that to which Adorno and Horkheimer tenaciously clung. The myriad pop groups who came to prominence at that time controlled their own material - a material which invariable grew out of a rich and fertile regional musical tradition. At the same time, the famous expansion of the clothing industry in Soho's Carnaby Street in "Swinging London" developed not from established rag-trade manufacturers, but from a burgeoning hippie cottage industry transported from the Portobello Road and Kings Road in Chelsea.

These aspects of popular culture were missed by Adorno and Horkheimer simply because they had decided a priori that all popular culture was the expression of a regime of exploitation and domination. Not only did the Frankfurt theorists fail to recognise the radical potential of popular cultural forms, but their continued reliance upon a determining economic base also failed to adequately theorize the ultimate failure of the traditional marxist model. In spite of their best intentions, they remained tied to an essentially pessimistic view of the world. By abandoning class as an important social category, and simultaneously decrying the very cultural productions which point to an oppositional tendency of resistance arising from class stratifications, they created for themselves a theory infused with despair - and this was their unfortunate legacy to an upcoming generation of social theorists like Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida.

What these theorists missed had been unravelled by the British sociologist Paul Willis, working at the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies with Stuart Hall. Willis studied 12 working class boys in a Midlands school - these were known as 'the lads'. These 'lads' knew how to achieve in school, they knew what to do to get qualifications but they chose to reject school and form their own 'Counter School Culture' as an act of resistance to imposed values and classed perceptions. Unlike Bowles and Gintis (whose Correspondence Theory suggested that schools and curricula are designed to reproduce a ppopulation of graduates that corresponds to the needs of capitalist production), Willis argued that these 'lads' were not forced, but rather chose to resist this imposition and in so doing unwittingly contributed to the classed limitations of their life chances. Aronowitz cuncurred:

“For working class children who know that social mobility is an ideology, and that they are probably fated to end up in manual occupations, the effort is to endure school rather than participate. Their energy and their sense of self are preserved by tuning out the rigors of reading and mathematics, since they do not regard these activities as important to their lives. Instead, the curriculum is perceived as a means of pressure to force them to abandon their secret world - to learn to regard their relationships with their peers as less significant than those with teachers. Many children who “fail” in school are trying to cling to childhood because they know it is the moment in their lives, however fleeting, in which authority has the least power over them...The rebellious students’ awareness that school represents the end of innocence is quickly transformed into guilt and regret for not having listened to their teachers early in life. By high school the failing students have developed a self image that corresponds to their class position.”

Here we see Aronowits beginning to challenge the role of normative State education as a means of social liberation. This theme is developed further in an article:"Technocratic Rationality and the Politics of Schooling", in:Social Practice, (1980). From this, Education becomes for Aronowitz a part of a larger discourse around the issue of technical rationality itself and its ability to colonise the entire field of epistemology. He tilts first at its impact upon science in another article: "Science and Ideology",in:Current Perspectives in Social Theory, (1980). It is a theme he will pick up and develop more fully eight years later in his book:  Science as Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society(1988).

A year later, in 1981, Aronowitz returned to the theme of Marxism's failure to ignite the workers and of the Left'sinability to exert its influence over Marxist orthodoxy. In his book: The Crisis in Historical Materialism, (1981), he begins by paying tribute to the black Marxist historian W. E. B. Dubois before moving on to to a historical analysis of the works of more recent American New Left theorists (like Frederick Jameson, Susan Buck Morse, Martin Jay, Russell Jacoby etc.) who brought recent new material to light through the European-American journal Telos. He reviews the works of Lukács, Korsch, Benjamin and Gramsci before attemting a comprehensive analysis as a means of unpacking the contradictions of the base-superstructure debate that has bedevilled Marxist theorising and which in his opinion has stymied the growth and development of a radical alternative Marxism. He notes that the failure of Marxism was seeded in the original struggle for dominance within the movement from its very beginnings:

"Trotsky's argument, reflecting the majority of the Bolshevik central committee, was that full cultural emancipation must await the victory of the world socialist revolution, or at least the securing of Soviet power within Russia. In his view, cultural revolution was antipathetic to the project of the consolidation of state power because it would divert the energies of the masses from the revolutionary tasks of defeating the enemies of the regime, and from reviving the productive apparatus that had been destroyed during the war.
From this starting point he traces (in a series of essays written over several years) the trajectory of the development of late capitalism, once again interrogating the role of cultural representations in the visual media in the reproductions of the social relations of capitalism, of an ideological shift  from production to consumption. This leads him to an in-depth analysis of the role played by culture in the theorising of the Left from the time of the Revolution - taking into account the writings of Lukács and Kautsky through to the theories of the Frankfurt Svhool and the emergence of the New Left ideologies born out of the turmoil of May '68. He concludes by conducting a review of the European philosophers of the new movement that was to be the seadbed of Postmodernism - Althusser, Giddens, Derrida, Foucault, and others. He concludes that there is hope in this new movement, and that one of the major battlegrounds in the struggle for hegemony will be in Education.
 
Two years later, Aronowitz returned back from his foray into the relevance of philosophical analyses of Marxism to the grassroots of his own personal experience.  In Working Class Hero (1983) he suggests that old fashioned and doctrinaire union policies have all but killed the labour movement, and suggests that they need to turn to the Left if they are to survive. He sees the need for them to organise into a new and coherent progressive bloc and become more of a social movement. He conducts an inventory of the contemporary labour movement, from its co-optation to an emergent radicalism that promises hope with the arrival of a new and powerful agency for social change. Bear in mind that this was written in 1981 - before the arrival of Thatcherism in Britain, the massive unemployment and homelessness of the late 1980s and early 1990s when the union movement was decimated by the policies of the monetarist right. He concludes his analysis by reviewing the relevance of class as a conceptual category in the dynamics of power.
 
This is followed, two years later by a further interrogation of the role of Education and the ways in which it is shaped by powerful State and capitalist agencies. Education Under Siege (co-written with Henry Giroux - 1985) The book charts the changing public perceptions of Education from the 1880s to the present, showing how, during the early 20th Century to the 1970s, school existed as a vision of opportunity and emancipation for the mass of poor and marginalised. Then things changed and education became as business models began to penetrate the school environment. Old notions of school as a social leveller were marginalised. Aronowitz and Girouux point towards an alternative perspective which reinstates education as a seedbed of critical citizenship and a place where the democratic public sphere can be reinvigorated. They do not propose a formulaic solution but rather develop a series of theoretical notions that might underpin such an educational reform.
 
In 1988 Aronowitz returned once again to issues of epistemology when he published Science as Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Society. Here he suggests positivistic science has penetrated deeply not only into industry, but into every sphere of epistemology, where its rationality has shaped not only the social relations of the production of knowledge in diverse fields, but the kinds of knowledge that count as knowledge within them. In this way, scientific rationality has achieved a pervasive influence over public life which corresponds to and is implicated in the reproduction of a wider set of social relations which are those demanded by capitalist production. In the light of the penetration of science into public life, it seems futile for scientists to maintain a posture of moral and ideological neutrality.
"... science itself no longer is only a hegemonic ideology of the new social order of capitalism and its industrial stage, but becomes integrated into the practices and discourses of production. The interchangeability of science and technology is, of course, either denied or ignored by most philosophers and scientists, but their growing convergence extends beyond the workplace. As scientific discourse permeates state and civil society, scientific culture spills over beyond the laboratory. Business dares make no decisions that are not grounded on mathematical calculation that provides  projections; legislators enact laws based on 'data' generated by scientifically trained experts...  (and) technological criterion of efficiency becomes the new cult of public and private schools. In schools, the idea of the liberal arts slowly gives way to occupational education."
Aronowitz suggests that two possible formulations for an emancipatory science have already been promoted - one by social ecologists, the other by radical feminists. Their critique is not so much based upon the uses to which science and technology are to be put so much as at the value-neutral claims of science and its presumption to stand outside of the social framework within which it operates and develops. The critique of the social ecologists and feminists adds considerably to our understanding of how value-neutral ideology is integral to normative conceptions of science. Feminist scientists and scholars have gone some way to articulating how a revised, emancipatory science might be organised, the kinds of posture it would take towards the world, and the kinds of research which would be permissible. An alternative, emancipatory form of scientific rationality would eschew the exclusive singularity of the objective perspective, recognising that such a perspective suffers from a structural inability to reflexively account for its own practices and to move beyond their instrumental use. One of the most obvious methodological inconsistencies about technical scientific rationality and hermeneutic rationality is their lack of reflexivity - their inability to apply their own methodology in critical self-analysis. Citing a distinction between what he calls an observer view and a participant view of science, much as suggested by philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend.
In 1991 he returned once again to the theme of Education - once again with his friend Henry. Giroux. Postmodern Education (1991). The book extends the arguments of their earlier Education Under Siege (which was named one of the most significant books in education by the American Education Studies Association) and takes up the issue raised by Lyotard of what constitutes legitimate knowledge. It extends its analysis beyond the usual and commonly debated issues of democracy, the role of the State and social, cultural and epistemological reproduction into a more prescriptive mode. The authors distinguish between transformative and conservative models of postmodernism (the latter prefacing a decentered philosophy that ignores issues of power) and project a conceptual framework for charting the directions future cultural theorising and practice might take.

Aronowitz followed this by returning to his central theme - the politics of identity of working class culture in: The Politics of Identity, (1992). In line with other leftist Postmodern theorists (Giroux, Jameson etc.), he sees Postmodernism as the legitimate heir of the Marxist project. Acknowledging that the fluidity of Late Capitalism has displaced production as the key issue of development, and using an appropriately revised conception of Marxism that does not place work as the central component of public life he argues for:
“…the relative autonomy of labor, culture, and consciousness within the broad framework of marxist theory of capitalist development. That is, I take the aphorism 'all history is the history of class struggle' seriously. If this is the case, then the doctrine of subsumption must not be taken as an empirical description; rather it is a powerful tendency that becomes an aspect of the mode of production, but it is counteracted both by the historical cultures of the working class (which have their roots in precapitalist social formations as much as the culture that arises from the labor process itself), and by the formal and informal organization of the working class, which restrains the subsumption process and causes its retardation and deformation.”
A year later, Aronowitz returned to his preoccupation with the bigger cultural picture, Roll over Beethoven: The Return of Cultural Strife (1993). He acknowledges that the question of culture has become central for a new generation of scholars raised in a world of television and mass production. At the same time debates about culture have become a point of reference for criticism of current trends in academia and society, variously defended or derided on the grounds of "multiculturalism," "canonicity," and political correctness. Aronowitz re-examines these debates and traces the history of the cultural issue - in both its British and American manifestations - and relates it to the contemporary rethinking of the nature of knowledge and culture. ‘

Roll Over Beethoven
analyses topics as diverse as the history of American radicalism, the sociology of science, the impact of the Library of Congress on the organization of knowledge, and the institutionalisation of film studies. Aronowitz uses these critiques as a lever to connect once more with the role of Education in the process of social and political pacification, questioning the role of the University and the legitimation process by which canonical forms of knowledge are established and reproduced. Within this broad reappraisal of the cultural question he offers an interpretation of cultural studies that describes both the evolution of the field and the political and social contexts in which it developed. He argues that cultural studies exhibit a tendency toward transgression that is rarely explicit but always present and, at its best, not merely interdisciplinary but anti-disciplinary. He suggests that class remains a key and important variable in the social dynamic or American life and looks toward a renewed struggle from a reconfiguration and consolidation of the diverse and competing social and cultural  groups that capitalism has succeeded in creating.

Aronowitz extends this theme of the role and identity of the working class and problematises it his next work, The Jobless Future: Sci-Tech and the Dogma of Work, (written with William Difazio in 1995). There, they note a disjunction between the public perception of work as a necessary component of increased economic expansion, wealth and personal liberation and the social political and cultural context of work (and increasing leisure) under Late Capitalism. They note that even in the depression and massive unemployment of the 1930s, social unrest and transformation was contained. The New Deal was, to that extent a mechanism for keeping the lid on revolutionary change.

Throughout the economic boom times of the 1950s-1980s, the labour movement was co-opted by the industrial military complex and kept its demands to minor adjustments to the conditions of work (pay increases, safe working environments and reduces working hours). Similarly, throughout the economic flight of capital with its corresponding unemployment and homelessness and emergence of the Rust Belt of the 1980s, major social organising was constrained. With the advent and enormous expansion of public media, they see the media (and education) as key instruments in the pacification of the displaced working class. All of these factors and mechanisms indicate, for Aronowitz and Difazio, an impending conflict between the need for work as a dignifying activity and the increased unemployment created by global capitalism and the penetration of technology into productive life.

Under the dogma of work, to not have a job (unless disabled or retired) is an undignified stigma, yet increasingly we look into a future where not-working will become the norm for the majority of the population. Faced with this, the authors argue for a reconceptualisation of work, the reduction of working hours and the introduction of a universal minimum income. Tese preconditions offer the opportunity fore a completely revitalised democratic public life:

“Under these circumstances, we envision civil society as the privileged site for the development of individuals who really are free to participate in a public sphere of their own making. In such a civil society, politics consists not so much in the ritual act of selection, through voting, of one elite over another, but in popular assemblies that could, given sufficient space and time, be both the legislative and the administrative organs. The scope of popular governance would extend from the workplace to the neighborhood. For as Ernest Mandel has argued, there is no possibility of worker self-management, much less the self-management of society, without ample time for decision making. Thus, in order to realize a program of democratization, me must create a new civil society in which freedom consists in the first place (but only in the first place) in the liberation of time from the external constraints imposed by nature and other persons on the individual.”
These themes are taken up in more detail in Aronowitz’s subsequent works, Post-Work: The Wages of Cybernation (Co-Edited with Jonathan Cutler in 1997),  From the Ashes of the Old (1998) and The Last Good Job in America (2001).

The first of these comprises a series of papers on a wide variety of the topics that have occupied Aronowitz in earlier works, but in more detail. (Labour history, poverty, welfare policy, guaranteed income, education, the tenure system, the impact of computers and the issue of leisure time). From the Ashes of the Old details the history of the labour movement from 1945 to the present, contextualising it within the world economy and the development of technology. Here, Aronowitz places the co-optation of the unions under the microscope and interrogates the mistakes made that surrendered the progressive agenda of labour to big business. He asks the profoundly important question of “What needs to be done? and proposes a somewhat hopeful revitalisation of the labour movement itself – by recruiting the millions of non-unionised workers in the South and by attracting the white-collar middle classes who are being squeezed out by the global economy - alongside coalitions of other disaffected and marginalised groups  The book contains an impressive in-depth look at the workings and strategies of more than a dozen unions.

Finally, in The Last Good Job in America, Aronowitz synthesises all that has gone before to focus specifically on the multifarious ways in which the time available for public life, for a discourse on Democracy has been eroded by the economic order. He laments the ways in which the economic order has penetrated every corner of our everyday lives. He cites many instances – the poor, who must have two jobs to survive economically, the white collar worker who is tied to email 24/7. His friend and mentor Marcuse had theorised that capitalism now had the resources and means to eliminate poverty and to increase personal freedoms. Instead, from what he sees as the turning point in 1971, we have seen those freedoms systematically eroded and poverty increase. Schools and universities have been penetrated by big business, and the inner city bohemians who once served as the avant-garde moral and intellectual commentators on consumerism have been gentrified out of existence.

In contrast, he suggests that “the last good job in America” is his own. He has job security (tenure) a good income, possesses intellectual and political independence and has his reflective time rewarded. Everyone, he suggests, ought to be in the same position:

"Rather than proposing an equality of alienated labor, we should fight to universalize throughout society the autonomy and shorter working hours of the senior professoriate at research universities, not just for those in higher education".
He suggests (yet again?) that the only way to bring this about is by a radicalisation of the political left – a move towards greater civil disobedience and passive resistance, coupled with a major push at reorganisation and coalition-building. As one reviewer noted, Aronowitz might have to wait a long time!”

In the same year that he wrote The Last Good Job, Aronowitz ironically though not uncharacteristically cast his reflective eye over his own job in another book: The Knowledge Factory : Dismantling the Corporate University and Creating True Higher Learning (2001). Here, he returns once again to issues confronting tertiary education, demonstrating in the process how the those intellectual, economic and political freedoms which he touted in Last Good Job are, in fact, under siege in his own backyard. He begins first by contrasting Higher Education with Higher Training – suggesting that education (in the sense of teaching people how to think, question and challenge) has been replaced by curricula and pedagogies designed increasingly to produce cohorts for the labour market. He analyses the American academic system in detail, showing how outsourcing has narrowed the space for intellectual debate, before moving on to academic labour and the struggle of academics to retain those rights and privileges that have traditionally been theirs, of courses increasingly taught by adjuncts through the imposition of market economy on University budgets. Aronowitz also puts the curriculum under the microscope, showing how critical theorising and analysis has been both absorbed and watered-down to serve credentialing goals or eliminated altogether in its more radical forms. For instance critical pedagogy is taught as a theory (rather then being student-centred or dialogical or having a direct connection with real social, political or economic issues in real and marginalised communities) in ways that are inconsistent with its own basic premises.

He concludes by calling for the dismantling of the corporate university, for a return to the freedoms and values that once animated American academic and made it the envy of the western world.

All of this (some might say narcissism) was, of course, before the tragedy of the World Trade Centre. The latter event pushed Aronowitz – a committed son of New York – to reflect more intensely upon the events of 9/11 and the American imperialistic response. Three further books locate their analyses in the shadow of these events. Implicating Empire: Globalization and Resistance in the 21st Century (edited with Heather Gautney) (2002), Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered  (Edited with Peter Bratsis) (2002), and Debating Empire (New Left Review Debates), edited with Gopal Balakrishnan, (2003)

Together, these three books form a triumvirate that interrogates the state nof the world in the context of economic globalisatiion, the demise of Marxism as an ideology meaningful to the liberation project and the diminished role of the state in the face of transnationalism. Each is a collection nof essays from different Left theorists. The conclusion reached in each case is consistent - that there is no alternative other then the resurrection of the Marxist project albeit under a reconfigured understanding of present day circumstanes - and this alongside the need to also resurrect the left movement through a return to the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s. In each of his publications the nostalgia for this period lies just below the surface of Aronowitz's thinking. Critics have said that his theorising - while incisive, accurate and revealing, lack specifics for how the changes he recommends might be brought about:
"None of what Aronowitz has to say is without plausibility; indeed much of it is compelling, but it is an analysis that gives this reader the distinct impression that its subject matter is receding. The world, so aptly described by Aronowitz, is disappearing, leaving Aronowitz as a reviver of fading concepts, pumping energy into these concepts that have become "dark bodies" of absorption."
I share Stanley's nostalgia, as do many activists of our generation, but his analysis - while failing to offer concreate suggestions for direct action (which would in any case be counter-productive) - nevertheless moves with increasding clarity towatds a broad understanding of what needs to be done. And this, coupled with his own personal/political activism offers an exemplar that many of his critics might emulate. We appear to be facing dual and apparently insurmountable tendencies of environmental catastrophe and economic, social and cultural inertia. It is important that we immediately develop strategies of resistance. It may be the case that circumstances will force our hand, and that Aronowitz, Gorz and those of the Environmentalist-activist world will see their vision fulfilled, but it will most certainly not be without struggle and pain. Aronowitz's move towards the Greens, culminating in his race for the New York Governorship in 2002 ought to alert us to the importance and urgency of these matters. It is indicative of his growing realisation and his remarkable insight that what is necessary for resistance to coalesce and for change to happen appears to be already coming together with labour and disparate dissident groups in some instances already in the formation of a new alignment of the Left.
 
Throughout his long and prolific career, Stanley Aronowitz has steadfastly worked to articulate a contemporary social theory that accounts for the emergence and success of the Right and to explain the failure if the Left and the unions to resist the advance of monetarism, rampant individualism and what Michael Apple has called the Conservative Restoration . In three of his books, False Promises, Crisis in Historical Materialism and, Science as Power he explores and charts this process. The journey is often meandering, taking in a vast range of issues, examples and theoretical analyses, but the central theme is always consistent. How did we get where we are – losing so much ideological space to the Right - and what do we need to do to change things for the better? These recurring questions are raised once again in what one might call the Aronowitz Quartet in his How Class Works (2003). Here, he brings his very extensive grasp of political and social history to bear to acknowledge once again that the labour movement in America has failed to engage meaningfully with issues of social change, or to promote the ideal of a classless society by becoming a real social movement. As in earlier texts, he points to the new Deal as the foundation of this failure. He suggests that in place of the unions, a loose alliance of women’s groups, gays, environmentalists, animal rights activists etc have taken up the role that the unions should have occupied.

Again like Michael Apple (in Official Knowledge), he believes that the success of the right has been largely attributable to its assault on what stands as common sense, and that to achieve radical social change it is equally necessary for the intellectuals of the Left to address the collective memory and commonsense understandings of the community – even those these may be contradictory and inconsistent with progressive thinking.:
“The intellectual opposition contests the main narrative on several planes: for one, it proposes a past different from that promulgated by the leading institutions of collective memory, chiefly, the book, the school, and popular media. For another, it elaborates a cultural and social imagination that contradicts prevailing common sense”
Key to Aronowitz's theorising is his contention that it is not only income that defines the working class as suggested by normative “common sense” beliefs. Rather working class identity is shaped primarily by a relative lack of power and control over one’s labour. This is an important point, because it shifts our thinking away from the mirage of consumption back to the more important structural issue of power and hegemony. One of the major factors behind the success of the Right has been its ability to individualise identity – to fragment and render competitive different subject groups and different subject identities and then to capitalise on the fears and expectations thus brought into the light. To give but one example (used earlier by Aronowitz), the feminist movement has been co-opted to focus primarily upon the “glass ceiling” rather than to challenge broader issues such as the division of labour, the plight of poor, unemployed, of abused women or the needs of women of colour. In its success, the Right has been able to erase the history and contemporary awareness of class struggle and to link worker hopes and expectations to the development and growth of the “free market” global economy. Much of Aronowitz's effort goes into reawakening this collective memory of class struggle and tearing illusion of progress through consumption.

Having established an understanding of the history of class struggle, he suggests that real structural transformation is only brought about by broad social movements (remember that this is what the unions failed to establish). The loss or abandonment of a unifying conception of class has, for Aronowitz, been key to the Left’s inability to re-establish the social movement necessary to resist the Right and to bring about change. The Right’s ability to play upon the homophobia, racism and misogyny that are an inherent part of working class subjectivity has effectively stymied resistance to consumption ideologies. Identity movements of workers, gays, blacks etc.:

“….insist on their absolute separation from class politics… (and) lacking the concept of the unity of social and cultural divisions around the axis of power, they cannot grasp the notion of modality and must present difference in terms of irreconcilable binaries”
He goes on to show how the fusion of class and cultural identities has always been key to significant change. Using the example of womens’ suffrage he notes that it only became a powerful movement when it became clear that the womens’ struggle was in effect also a class struggle:
“It was only when these apparently separate movements of labor and women joined, took to the streets, and, through intense direct action as a public discussion, captured public opinion that sections of the liberal middle class and intelligentsia became convinced it was in their interest to support these demands and the ruling bourgeoisie yielded”
This analysis leads him inexorably to a critique of fashionable versions of Postmodernism which, though appearing to offer a new voice to previously unrecognised or silenced groups in fact stripped them of their true emancipatory potential by severing their relationship with issues of class.
“…the effect of their postmodern theory was to provide a new version of political liberalism. For by affirming the primacy of human rights and by their renunciation of class formation and class struggle they had deprived themselves and the movements they extolled of the levers of power, except those of incremental reform. Moreover, by renouncing class analysis and substituting the indeterminate plurality of struggles based largely on bio-identities, they were unable to answer the question, What issues are worth fighting for?”
This, plus the inherent sexism, racism and general conservatism of the union movement’s rank and file and its unwillingness to move to a broader conception of social change than that offered by capital has effectively left the Left bereft of leverage and has not only failed to prevent the realisation of progressive social change but has in contrast allowed for increases in economic disparities between black and white workers, women, and so on. The already poor and marginalised have been pushed further down the economic scale. Poverty, ill health, infant mortality and homelessness have increased disproportionately, and increasing numbers of the middle class have found themselves struggling to survive financially. He suggests that all of these groups will be left in permanent poverty unless there is a significant shift towards a social movement – which means once again embracing the unifying concept of class.

There are echoes here again of Michael Apple’s notions of multiple subjectivities and his insistence upon the need for the unions to shift towards a more radical posture with respect to the State as well as capital. Like Apple also, he is suspicious and critical of the notion of consensus politics, which he sees as masking inherent differences between different subject groups that need to be reconciled through a full exploration of their differences and similarities (akin, perhaps to Apple’s desire to see conflict resolution reinscribed into the curriculum). A broad social movement can only emerge, suggests Aronowitz, when these diverse groups re-accept the unifying issue of class as their common characteristic.

The potential for this already exists and the reality is to some extent already emerging. While the globalisation of the market economy has undoubtedly resulted in increasing political social and economic disparities, it has also spawned global resistance which is well evidenced at the huge and powerful demonstrations and a return to direct action at the Gatt Talks, at various international economic summits in Seattle, Rio, Paris, Genoa, Sydney and elsewhere. This resistance is increasingly co-ordinated to focus attention of sweatshop working conditions in the “developing” countries and the role of the multinational corporations in perpetuating economic slavery in the search for increased profitability in the production of consumer goods. He spends a considerable amount of time defining and describing this new “movement”, suggesting that (to put it rather simplistically) the Left is not Dead, but merely napping, and that the resistance to late capitalism is growing as the environmental crisis deepens and becomes more obvious. The question remains, however, whether the members of this new coalition of the Left will opt for real social change – with all of the painful struggle that will mean, or will once again settle for an amelioration of conditions.
 
Aronowitz’s historical analysis of social movements and of the labour moment in the United States is broad and detailed. His knowledge is breathtaking and his narrative is compelling as befits someone of his intellect, experience of union organising and political activism. From his extensive analysis he offers the possibility of hope for the formation of a new social movement such as that suggested above. But in order to succeed, such a movement must again embrace the notion of class – not to the exclusion of cultural difference, but as the glue that can bind together a meaningful accord between dissident groups. As he notes:

“Capital and other powerful forces are not fated to win…The ability of ruling groups to impose their domination depends to a large degree on whether an alliance of differentially situated social groups emerges to oppose them”
For the formation of a Left social movement to coalesce, Aronowitz suggests that three things need to happen.

First, there has to be a shift away from conceptions of class as related to income, jobs etc. and towards a reconceptualisation of the fundamental relationship of class to power – in terms of the ability of individuals to take and have control over their space and time. (Aronowitz tips his hat to Lefebvre in acknowledging the important ways in which the Right has controlled the creation and use of space in its own class interests).

Secondly, he believes that history should be taught not only across disciplines, but that it must also be rewritten from the standpoint of the oppressed. (This re-connecting Aronowitz to his interest and theorising on Education in its role as a transformative praxis). He makes the strong point that the official version (aka Apple’s Official Knowledge) of history is perhaps the most significant marker (and must therefore be a prime target) of hegemony. History needs to be excavated in much the same way that Foucault has demonstrated, in order to reveal its official use as an instrument of oppression. He suggests, following Benjamin, that our present crisis is a norm rather than an exception when seen in the broad struggle of oppressed groups throughout history, and it is important to reconnect ourselves with those who have struggled before us to maintain an awareness of the strategies used to have us think otherwise.

Finally, he suggests that much theorising is disconnected from the ordinary lives and experiences of everyday life – producing g theories about theories in a never-ending world of reflections. (Again Apple makes this same point). He exhorts intellectuals to think and behave imaginatively in a radical manner, but in ways that speak to the common man and woman in the street. Although the book does not give detailed prescriptions for political action, it does reconfigure our understanding in important ways. The question is how to progress the means by which his suggestions can be actioned.

 
In his next book, Just around the Corner: The Paradox of the Jobless Recovery (2005) he returns once again to the theme of his 1994 book Jobless Future, and to the theories of Gorz and others regarding the impact of globalisation. He challenges the assertion of neoliberal economists, politicians and right-wing social theorists that the negative impact of globalisation (increased unemployment, dislocation etc) is temporary and that through a process of "creative destruction" associated with increases in technology and greater world-wide consumption, neo-capitalism will once again provide wealth and job opportunities for all. He confronts the bland assertion that the export of manufacturing jobs from the United States only causes temporary and minimal dislocation as new, high-tech and knowledge-based employment opportunities expand. Job recovery, we are told, is always "just around the corner". In his now accostomed style of excavating history, Aronowitz amasses a formidable amount of economic date from over the last sixty years to demonstrate that this is a myth. Using international GDP/GNP figures he points to the fact that the history of American economic development over the last two decades has been quite mixed, creating the circumstances where a large proportion of working class Americans have experienced  declining real incomes while another group of highly qualified and skilled workers have enjoyed much improved in standards of living. Furthermore, the economic policy environment of taxt cuts and investm,ent incentives has resulted in greatly increased investment opportunities for the already-wealthy. Globalization, overseas outsourcing of jobs and increases in technology  ahave not brought prosperity to the vast majority of the population. 
 
Having established a very strong theoretical foundation for his premise he goes on the suggest once again, the need to plan for long-term unemployment, and the development of policies to ameliorate this on a national basis (minimum guaranteed wage, reduction in working hours, etc.). The recent (2008) downturn (euphamistically called a near-recession") in the US economy, the failure of so many loan and investment companies, the sharp decline in the US dollar and the shift of the price of oil past the dreaded $100 a barrel mark (with all of the flow-on effects to prices of food and household goods) coupled with the now unquestioned impact of environmental factors, more imperialist wars abroad etc. would suggest that Aronowitz analysis is more of a prophesy-coming-true than a (mere?) critical analysis.
 
The apparent prescience of Just Around the Corner, together with the crisis that it articulates so clearly, collectively reinforce the point that, as Stanley Aronowits puts it, “This is a life and death struggle”, His premise that hat the cause of the global crisis is capitalism, and that it is imperative that we begin to imaginatively conceive what kinds of social structures and organisations might lead us out of the morass seems undeniable on the face of the overwhelming evidence that he has produced in his collective writings. In Aronowitz’s next book, Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future (2006) he attempts to do just this. His point is that it is no longer merely enough to protest, dissent or try to tear down the State/capital partnership. Without a creative blueprint for what organisational structures might work – socially, culturally, economically, environmentally etc., the ability to reach out to the community, to engage with commonsense meanings is severely restricted. The advances of the Right have so fragmented and displaced the diverse elements of the Left that there remains no centralised, unifying issue upon which they might come together to develop a wide and serious resistance from which to promote a utopian future. He suggests that in effect America has a “one-Party system” while maintaining the illusion of a contestable democracy. This system consists of the large capitalist corporations in association with the State bureaucracy which does its bidding. In the face of such overwhelming power, Aronowitz asks the important question of “What might be done in the absence of a radical Left party (America being the only major capitalist system without one!)?”
       
In characteristic manner, he begins by investigating how this came about, by delving into the histories of Anarchism, the Communist Party, Socialists, the Wobblies and the Trade Unions, and their relationship to the State through a series of crises and social transformations from the early 1900s to the present. Without going into this history here, save to say that he convincingly reasons the why these agencies failed to form a uniform social movement. They were either ruthlessly crushed or accommodated to policies of appeasement with capital for improved social conditions for their members. By the end of the 1950s and McArthyism, the Left was all but neutered.
From this broad analysis and his very extensive knowledge base, Aronowitz then begins to map out some of the necessary actions that must be taken if a broad social movement is to be created. He points to small, grassroots movements and acts of resistance that are emerging already – small worker co-operatives in the United States, in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia) and Western Europe (Mondragon ). He cites in particular the workers of the beleaguered town of Flint, Michigan, abandoned by General Motors and now home to a group of ex-employees beginning to develop radical proposals for redeveloping the productive base of the town.
In all of this he castigates Postmodernists who, he says, in abandoning the grand narrative of Universal Emancipation, have also abandoned the ability to respond meaningfully to global crises. The admonition to “act locally” for Aronowitz, stands as a sign of resignation. War, environmental catastrophe, cannot be solved by simply ”acting locally”. What bis necessary is a broad and more or less universal social movement which can bring different groups together under a broad agreement while simultaneously preserving and honouring difference. Social movements of the past have largely failed to do this consistently or over extended periods of time. For Aronowitz, present world circumstances leave no room for alternative, and the problem therefore becomes one of attempting to conceive the forms that such a movement might take.
The first thing to realise is that the retention of the State (the current centralised apparatus of repression is untenable. The State in its present form must be dismantled. But replaced by what? Aronowitz suggests that any new political formation will need to prefigure the kind of society we desire to have. He sees the need for a Federation of local groups with a raft of broad agreements in principle, but with representatives accountable to their local constituents rather than to a centralised “legal” system. He suggests that the seeds of such a potential movement are already apparent and that the means (mass communication, the Internet etc. are developing rapidly, and forms of Education – adult education as well as child education offer significant possibilities for developing both a clear awareness of political history as well as a visionary potential for the future. It’s an optimistic view, but as Aronowitz himself might say, “The alternatives do not bear thinking about. At the time of writing this, Stanley Aronowitz is about to publish yet another book: Against Schooling (forthcoming 2008). A paper of the same name is available at Workplace 6.1
 
To download a copy of the Aronowitz article click here

To download a critique of The Politics of Identity, Roll over Beethoven, and Dead artists: Live theories, click here

To download a KPFA MP3 interview with Stanley Aronowitz about the future of the Left (Left Turn) click here

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