Whither the critique of political economy in post-Marxism?

In my dissertation, I made an argument that the decisionism of Badiou, Zizek, Laclau and other so-called ‘post-Marxist’ theorists is derived from an intra-theoretical debate amongst left-Heideggerians, specifically against the pervasive authenticity politics and existentialist politics of the time. I argue that Lacan’s ‘ontology of lack’ was the alternative formula that enabled these thinkers to posit a break from Heideggerian ontological politics which opened the door for a politics based on the decision and the event.

But in more ways than one, this argument is too theoreticist. If we want to take these theories of decision and the event seriously, we have to read them as a historical materialist response to the transformation of class composition concurrent with the shift from Fordism to neoliberalism, or with the shift to societies of control.

At the same time, decisionism and evental politics among post-Marxists should not be reduced to a vulgar refusal to confront political economy, rather, it is a response to a more general premise of political economy which is the fact that the proletariat is now an evanescent figure which must be invented, i.e. the proletariat is not automatically derived as a result of class conflict.

The disappearance of the masses and the rise of structural unemployment are two such features of this shift in political economy. The irony is that post-Marxist sought to move away from existentialist politics but find themselves embroiled in existentialist politics by embracing decisionism and the event. At least this is the accusation today’s historical materialists make.

Near the end of his life, Sartre said, to paraphrase, “I was a moralist in a political age.” What if today’s post-Marxists remain within this same impasse Sartre faced?

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