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Social Contagion: Microbiological Class War in China (Chuang, 2020)

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Chuang.org

The Furnace

Wuhan is known colloquially as one of the “four furnaces” (四大火炉) of China for its oppressively hot humid summer, shared with Chongqing, Nanjing and alternately Nanchang or Changsha, all bustling cities with long histories along or near the Yangtze river valley. Of the four, Wuhan, however, is also sprinkled with literal furnaces: the massive urban complex acts as a sort of nucleus for the steel, concrete and other construction-related industries of China, its landscape dotted with the slowly-cooling blast furnaces of the remnant state-owned iron and steel foundries, now plagued by overproduction and forced into a contentious new round of downsizing, privatization and general restructuring—itself resulting in several large strikes and protests in the last five years. The city is essentially the construction capital of China, which means it has played a particularly important role in the period after the global economic crisis, since these were the years in which Chinese growth was buoyed by the funneling of investment funds into infrastructure and real estate projects. Wuhan not only fed this bubble with its oversupply of building materials and civil engineers but also, in so doing, became a real estate boomtown of its own. According to our own calculations, in 2018-2019 the total area dedicated to construction sites in Wuhan was equivalent to the size of Hong Kong island as a whole.

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Capital Abandon: Some Words On and Oft Inspired by Jacques Camatte

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by Howard Slater, January 2020 (metamute)

While for many on the Left, the theory of ultra-left communist Jacques Camatte has long been condemned for its ‘nostalgia’ and ‘primitivism’, our current moment of climate crisis and a ‘generalised madness’ brought on by capitalism’s psyche harvesting reveals these works to have a powerful relevance. In this overarching account of Camatte’s project, Howard Slater, citing previously untranslated texts, draws out the former’s interest in unlocking the repressed communal dimensions of the human being as a marker of revolutionary praxis

‘What is important for us is to create new

emotional relationships for a redeployment of life

Jacques Camatte

The work of Jacques Camatte is still relatively little known in the English-speaking world and as a consequence rarely discussed by Marxologists. His work is more familiar to that mix of disgruntled anarchists and non-Leninist communists who had passed through the Situationist School: anarchists tempted by the revelatory rigour of Marx, and Marxists tempted by the communitarian and non-party dimension of anarchism. In more recent years Camatte’s work has found itself utilised and commented on by two divergent schools: the accelerationist and communising tendencies. This is perhaps testament to the resonant eclecticism of Camatte’s work, his deep familiarisation with the work of Marx and yet his ‘shocking’ rejection of one of its main tenets: class struggle.

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Planning and Anarchy

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by Jasper Bernes (2020) PDF

Central planning?! Computers can do it!!! Among the intuitions animating the contemporary left, we must rank rather high the felt sense that powerful new computing technologies now offer a solution to problems of calculation previously insuperable for the red-eyed central planners of “actually existing” socialist states. This is more or less the central thrust of Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski’s recent book, The People’s Republic of Walmart, recapitulating a line of argument expressed in prominent books like Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future and Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism. Walmart and other corporations demonstrate that “economic planning on a massive scale is being realized in practice with the assistance of technological advance, even as the wrangling of its infinities of data . . . are supposed to be possible to overcome” (Phillips and Rozworski 2019: 39) . . .

source: South Atlantic Quarterly (2020) 119 (1): 53–73

The Economic Origins of Mass Incarceration

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John Clegg and Adaner Usmani, Catalyst 2019

(Download PDF)

Mass incarceration is typically understood as a system of race-based social control. Yet this standard story mischaracterizes disparities in US punishment, ignores the sharp rise in violence beginning in the 1960s, and misunderstands the constraints that led state officials to respond with penal rather than social policy. We offer a new explanation for both the rise in violence and the punitive response. American exceptionalism in violence and punishment is explained by the peculiar character of the United States’ agrarian transition and the underdevelopment of its welfare state.

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The Temporalities of Capitalism (Sewell, 2008)

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by William H. Sewell, Jr

Socio-Economic Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 517- 537 (PDF)

See also: Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation 2005

The temporalities of capitalism are in certain respects unique. The temporalities of social life in general are ‘eventful’, i.e. irreversible, contingent, uneven, discontinuous and transformational. Although capitalist social processes are in certain respects super-eventful, the extreme abstraction that is a signature of capitalist development enables core processes of capitalism to escape from the irreversibility of time and to sustain a recurrent logic at their core. This means that the temporality of capitalism is composite and contradictory, simultaneously still and hyper-eventful. Recognizing this contradiction at the core of capitalism poses important conceptual and methodological challenges for those who study it.

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No Bases, No Superstructures: Against Legal Economism

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Nate Holdren and Rob Hunter on rethinking the “base/superstructure” model.

via Legal Form

[Several recent posts on Legal Form have tackled the “base/superstructure” model sketched in Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, posing questions about its analytical usefulness, correct interpretation, and ongoing relevance. For these earlier posts, authored by Anandha Krishna Raj, Nate Holdren, and Matthew Dimick respectively, see herehere, and here. The present post responds to and builds upon these earlier posts.]

Three Different Accounts of the Relationship Between State and Civil Society

Capitalist society subordinates human flourishing and freedom to the accumulation of value. This proposition is central to Marx’s critique of political economy. Historically, critics of Marx have taken this view to mean that he is a fundamentally economic thinker, portraying his critique as merely economic, and thus necessarily inadequate or distorted. This criticism has motivated a number of attempts to theorize the relationship between economic relations and other social relations. Such attempts are premised on the recognition that the sum of economic relations is not simply the prime mover of every other social relation. Law, the state, culture and subculture, religion, gender, sexuality, and more all have specificities forged through concrete histories of struggle, just like (and in close connection with) economic relations.

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Theft Is Property! The Recursive Logic of Dispossession

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by Robert Nichols (2017) [PDF]

This article offers a preliminary critical-historical reconstruction of the concept of dispossession. Part I examines its role in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century struggles against European feudal land tenure. Drawing upon Marx’s critique of French anarchism in particular, I identify a persistent limitation at the heart of the concept. Since dispossession presupposes prior possession, recourse to it appears conservative and tends to reinforce the very proprietary and commoditized models of social relations that radical critics generally seek to undermine. Part II turns to use of the term in Indigenous struggles against colonization, both in order to better grasp the stakes of the above problematic and suggest a way beyond it. Through a reconstruction of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists, I seek to show the coherence and novelty of their formulation by suggesting that dispossession has come to name a unique historical process, one in which property is generated under conditions that require divestment and alienation from those who appear, only retroactively, as its original owners. In this way, theft and property are related in a recursive, rather than strictly unilinear, manner. Part III provides a specific historical example in the form of nineteenth-century US property law concerning squatters and homesteaders.

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Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide

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by Richard Flanagan, Jan 2020

BRUNY ISLAND, Australia — Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.

The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness — half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.

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Other People’s Blood

 

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by Tim Barker 2019 (n+1)

If someone were to make a movie about neoliberalism, there would need to be a starring role for the character of Paul Volcker. As chair of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, Volcker was the most powerful central banker in the world. These were the years when the industrial workers’ movement was defeated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and third-world debt crises exploded. Both of these owe something to Volcker. On October 6, 1979, after an unscheduled meeting of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, Volcker announced that he would start limiting the growth of the nation’s money supply. This would be accomplished by limiting the growth of bank reserves, which the Fed influenced by buying and selling government securities to member banks. As money became more scarce, banks would raise interest rates, limiting the amount of liquidity available in the overall economy. Though the interest rates were a result of Fed policy, the money-supply target let Volcker avoid the politically explosive appearance of directly raising rates himself. The experiment — known as the Volcker shock — lasted until 1982, inducing what remains the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and finally ending the inflation that had troubled the world economy since the late 1960s. To catalog all the results of the Volcker shock — shuttered factories, broken unions, dizzying financialization — is to describe the whirlwind we are still reaping in 2019.

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Automation and the Future of Work (Benanav 2019)

Technological Waste

by Aaron Benanav

Part 1: Automation and the Future of Work 1, NLR 119, September October 2019

Part 2: Automation and the Future of Work 2, NLR 120, November December 2019

The world is abuzz with talk of automation. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics seem set to transform the world of work. In the most advanced factories, companies like Tesla have been aiming for ‘lightsout’ production, in which fully automated work processes, no longer needing human hands, can run in the dark. Meanwhile, in the illuminated halls of robotics conventions, machines are on display that can play ping-pong, cook food, have sex and even hold conversations. Computers are not only developing new strategies for playing Go, but are said to be writing symphonies that bring audiences to tears. Dressed in white lab coats or donning virtual suits, computers are learning to identify cancers and will soon be developing legal strategies. Trucks are already barrelling across the us without drivers; robotic dogs are carrying military-grade weapons across desolate plains. Are we living in the last days of human toil? Is what Edward Bellamy once called the ‘edict of Eden’ about to be revoked, as ‘men’—or at least, the wealthiest among them—become like gods?

Adorno on Hegel (1956)

Hegel: Three Studies by Theodor Adorno

Like other closed systems of thought, Hegel’s philosophy avails itself of the dubious advantage of not having to allow any criticism whatsoever. All criticism of the details, according to Hegel, remains partial and misses the whole, which in any case takes this criticism into account. Conversely, criticizing the whole as a whole is abstract, “unmediated,” and ignores the fundamental motif of Hegelian philosophy: that it cannot be distilled into any “maxim” or general principle and proves its worth only as a totality, in the concrete interconnections of all its moments. Accordingly, the only way to honor Hegel is to refuse to allow oneself to be intimidated by the virtually mythological complexity of his critical method, which makes criticism seem false no matter what, and instead of graciously or ungraciously listing or denying his merits, go after the whole, which is what Hegel himself was after.

The Author as Producer (Walter Benjamin, 1934)

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Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, April 27, 1934

The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers. –

Ramon Fernandez

You recall how Plato treats the poets in his projected State. In the interest of the community, he does not allow them to live there. He had a high idea of the power of poetry. But he considered it destructive, superfluous – in a perfect community, needless to say. Since then, the question of the poet’s right to exist has not often been stated with the same insistence; but it is today. Certainly it has rarely been posed in this form. But you are all more or less familiar with it as the question of the poet’s autonomy: his freedom to write whatever he may please. You are not inclined to accord him this autonomy. You believe that the current social situation forces the poet to choose whom his activity will serve. The bourgeois writer of popular stories does not acknowledge this alternative. So you show him that even without admitting it, he works in the interests of a particular class. An advanced type of writer acknowledges this alternative. His decision is determined on the basis of the class struggle when he places himself on the side of the proletariat. But then his autonomy is done for. He directs his energies toward what is useful for the proletariat in the class struggle. We say that he espouses a tendency. [1]

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A New Cycle of Struggles

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It’s 2019 and the world is revolting again. Go get it.

ediciones-ineditascrimethinc / guardian / it’s going down / jacobinbbc / nyt / climate strikes

 

The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry (Malm, 2013)

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By Andreas Malm, Historical Materialism 21.1 (2013) 15–68 [PDF]

The process commonly referred to as business-as-usual has given rise to dangerous climate change, but its social history remains strangely unexplored. A key moment in its onset was the transition to steam power as a source of rotary motion in commodity production, in Britain and, first of all, in its cotton industry. This article tries to approach the dynamics of the fossil economy by examining the causes of the transition from water to steam in the British cotton industry in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Common perceptions of the shift as driven by scarcity are refuted, and it is shown that the choice of steam was motivated by a rather different concern: power over labour. Turning away from standard interpretations of the role of energy in the industrial revolution, this article opens a dialogue with Marx on matters of carbon and outlines a theory of fossil capital, better suited for understanding the drivers of business-as-usual as it continues to this day.

 

Quaestio de Centauris (Primo Levi, 1966)

Primo Levi

by Primo Levi

My father kept him in a stall, because he didn’t know where else to keep him. He had been given to my father by a friend, a sea captain, who said that he had bought him in Salonika; however, I learned from him directly that he was born in Colophon.

I had been strictly forbidden to go anywhere near him, because, I was told, he was easily angered and would kick. But from my personal experience I can confirm that this was an old superstition, and from the time I was an adolescent I never paid much attention to the prohibition and in fact spent many memorable hours with him, especially in winter, and wonderful times in summer, too, when Trachi (that was his name) with his own hands put me on his back and took off at a mad gallop toward the woods on the hills.

He had learned our language fairly easily, but retained a slight Levantine accent. Despite his two hundred and sixty years, his appearance was youthful, in both his human and his equine aspects. What I will relate here is the fruit of our long conversations.

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Who Will Build The Ark? (Davis, 2010)

Noah's Ark

by Mike Davis (PDF)

New Left Review 61, January-February 2010

What follows is rather like the famous courtroom scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). [1] In that noir allegory of proletarian virtue in the embrace of ruling-class decadence, Welles plays a leftwing sailor named Michael O’Hara who rolls in the hay with femme fatale Rita Hayworth, and then gets framed for murder. Her husband, Arthur Bannister, the most celebrated criminal lawyer in America, played by Everett Sloane, convinces O’Hara to appoint him as his defence, all the better to ensure his rival’s conviction and execution. At the turning point in the trial, decried by the prosecution as ‘yet another of the great Bannister’s famous tricks’, Bannister the attorney calls Bannister the aggrieved husband to the witness stand and interrogates himself in rapid schizoid volleys, to the mirth of the jury. In the spirit of Lady from Shanghai, this essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable.

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society (Marcuse, 1979)

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society, a talk delivered shortly before Herbert Marcuse’s death in 1979, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 3(3) 1992

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am glad to be able to address the wilderness class. Actually, I’m not sure what to say because I don’t see any more problems. As you know, President Carter has turned over some thirty-six million acres of wilderness land to commercial development. There isn’t much wilderness left to preserve. But we still will try, nonetheless.

What I propose to do is to discuss the destruction of nature in the context of the general destructiveness which characterizes our society. I will then trace the roots of this destructiveness in individuals themselves; that is, I will examine psychological destructiveness within individuals.

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Revolutionary Strategy in a Warming World (Malm, 2016)

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How can climate justice activists stop capitalism’s drive to catastrophe? The author of Fossil Capital considers lessons from past revolutions and proposes an action program for today.

Andreas Malm teaches human ecology at Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, and The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World.


Reprinted from Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution (Merlin Press and Monthly Review Press, 2016). 


REVOLUTION IN A WARMING WORLD
Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions

by Andreas Malm

It doesn’t take much imagination to associate climate change with revolution. If the planetary order upon which all societies are built starts breaking down, how can they possibly remain stable? Various more or less horrifying scenarios of upheaval have long been extrapolated from soaring temperatures. In his novel The Drowned World from 1962, today often considered the first prophetic work of climate fiction, J. G. Ballard conjured up melting icecaps, an English capital submerged under tropical marshes and populations fleeing the unbearable heat towards polar redoubts. The UN directorate seeking to manage the migration flows assumed that ‘within the new perimeters described by the Arctic and Antarctic Circles life would continue much as before, with the same social and domestic relationships, by and large the same ambitions and satisfactions’ — but that assumption ‘was obviously fallacious.’[1]  A drowned world would be nothing like the one hitherto known.

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Ecology and Revolutionary Thought (Bookchin, 1964)

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by Murray Bookchin [using the pseudonym Lewis Herber]

In almost every period since the Renaissance, the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science, often in conjunction with a school of philosophy.

Astronomy in the time of Copernicus and Galileo helped to guide a sweeping movement of ideas from the medieval world, riddled by superstition, into one pervaded by a critical rationalism, openly naturalistic and humanistic in outlook. During the Enlightenment — the era that culminated in the Great French Revolution — this liberatory movement of ideas was reinforced by advances in mechanics and mathematics. The Victorian Era was shaken to its very foundations by evolutionary theories in biology and anthropology, by Marx’s reworking of Ricardian economics, and toward its end, by Freudian psychology.

In our own time we have seen the assimilation of these once liberatory sciences by the established social order. Indeed, we have begun to regard science itself as an instrument of control over the thought processes and physical being of man. This distrust of science and of the scientific method is not without justification. “Many sensitive people, especially artists,” observes Abraham Maslow, “are afraid that science besmirches and depresses, that it tears thing apart rather than integrating them, thereby killing rather than creating.” What is perhaps equally important, modern science has lost its critical edge. Largely functional or instrumental in intent, the branches of science that once tore at the chains of man are now used to perpetuate and gild them. Even philosophy has yielded to instrumentalism and tends to be little more than a body of logical contrivances, the handmaiden of the computer rather than the revolutionary.

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A Sick Planet (Debord, 1971)

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Written by Guy Debord in 1971, this text was intended for publication in Internationale Situationniste 13, which never appeared. It was first published in the French edition of the present collection in 2004. It may also be found in Guy Debord, Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 2006, pp. 1063-9). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, published in English, 2008. PDF

‘POLLUTION’ IS IN FASHION TODAY, exactly in the same way as revolution: it dominates the whole life of society, and it is represented in illusory form in the spectacle. It is the subject of mind-numbing chatter in a plethora of erroneous and mystifying writing and speech, yet it really does have everyone by the throat. It is on display everywhere as ideology, yet it is continually gaining ground as a material development. Two antagonistic tendencies, progression towards the highest form of commodity production and the project of its total negation, equally rich in contradictions within themselves, grow ever stronger in parallel with one other. Here are the two sides whereby a sole historical moment, long awaited and often described in advance in partial and inadequate terms, is made manifest: the moment when it becomes impossible for capitalism to carry on working.

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