communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

A New Type of Human Being and Who We Really Are

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by Robert Hullot-Kentor (2008)

It needs to be noticed: We have New Left Review and October; we have Monthly Review and Critical Inquiry; there is Rethinking Marxism and Cultural CritiqueSocialist Review and ConfrontationCritiqueRadical Philosophy; the Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies and shelves and shelves of critical theory of all kinds. We have criticism of all things. Nothing is spared. A web search I tried last week of “critical studies”—leaving aside “cultural studies” and “critical theory”—turned up more than 31 million references. If we prudently discount 15 million of these references, we still easily have 15 million plus critical studies publications, programs and sundry essays: critical studies in television, of food, and culture; of science; of the arts, of media, across the disciplines; of society, of gender, in theatre and performance. And so on.

This capacious critical literature is certainly not homogeneous. Under any scrutiny, it polarizes out into the most remote extremes: On one hand, much of it amounts to fantasies of conceptual omnipotence; mental muscle magazines of self-obfuscation and academic self-advancement; administrative techniques for treating all things, all at once; a plausible way for anyone with an advantage of mental agility to get a hoist up on top of who knows what. But at the other extreme, an important part of this critical research and thinking, much for instance that can be found in volumes of Monthly Review and New Left Review, is of the greatest seriousness and responsibility, without which it is hard to imagine ever getting an education.

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Introducing Commune

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Commune Magazine

For a life worth living.

We are a year into the death, the real death, of liberalism. Or maybe two years? It was never more than our fair-weather friend, an often treacherous ally to the radicals who did the heavy lifting for social change it claimed for itself, in the labor and women’s movements, in struggles for civil rights that were for much more than rights, and struggles against the war that were against much more than war. Though liberalism’s death warrant was sealed long ago, when the capitalism for which it has long served as management team ceased to expand, we were surprised by the rapid progress of the disease. In any case, the shameful circumstances of its demise underscore how little we should mourn.  Read the rest of this entry »

Omnipotence or Fusion? A Conversation between Axel Honneth and Joel Whitebook

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Madonna Lita – Leonardo da Vinci 1490

Constellations Issue 23. Number 2 – 2016

Joel Whitebook: This discussion has a long history. In fact, it’s almost twenty years old now. It goes back to the academic year of 1995–1996, when I was teaching in the philosophy department in the psychoanalytic studies program at the New School, and Axel [Honneth] was the Theodor Heuss Professor for the year. Axel’s book The Struggle for Recognition had been translated into English and was being widely discussed. And in psychoanalysis, this was the heyday of the relational movement. “Relationality” had become the hot topic. Steve Mitchell and Jay Greenberg’s text had become something of a basic text of psychoanalysis which everybody was using. In The Struggle for Recognition, Axel drew on material from the relational psychoanalysts, from infant research, and from Donald Winnicott, and tried to integrate that into his analysis of the young Hegel and Aristotle. But the use he was making of analysis, the analysis he was appropriating at the time, was from this very lively world of relational psychoanalysis and infant research. Jessica Benjamin had tried to do something similar before that with her synthesis of Winnicott and Hegel around the theory of recognition. . .  [Read PDF]

 

The dangers of reactionary ecology

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Out of the Woods

Influential metaphors for understanding the environment serve as a bridge between traditional conservatism and outright ecofascism.

We have so far introduced the ideas of thinkers we find useful, such as Murray Bookchin’s philosophy of technology, and James O’Connor’s notion of the second contradiction. Here we want to look at how ecological ideas can be deployed to support deeply reactionary politics. We will do this with a critical introduction to the oft-cited, though less often read, biologist Garrett Hardin.

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The Authoritarian State (Horkheimer, 1942)

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The historical predictions on the fate of bourgeois society have been confirmed. In the system of the free market economy, which pushed men to labor-saving discoveries and finally subsumed them in a global mathematical formula, its specific offspring, machines, have become means of destruction not merely in the literal sense: they have made not work but the workers superfluous. The bourgeoisie has been decimated, and the majority of members have lost their independence; where they have not been thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, or more commonly into the masses of unemployed, they have become dependents of the big concerns or the state. The El Dorado of bourgeois existence, the sphere of circulation, is being liquidated. Its work is being carried out in part by the trusts which, without the help of banks, finance themselves, eliminate the commercial intermediaries and take control of the stockholders organizations. Part of the business sphere is handled by the state. As the caput mortuum of the transformation process of the bourgeoisie there remain only the highest levels of the industrial and state bureaucracy. “One way or another, with or without the trusts, the official representative of capitalist society, the state, must finally take over the management of production… All social functions of the capitalists are now discharged by salaried civil servants… And the modern state is once again only the organization which bourgeois society creates for itself to maintain the general external conditions for the capitalist means of production against encroachments either by the workers or by individual capitalists… The more productive forces the state takes over as its own property, the more it becomes a collective capitalist, the more citizens of the state it exploits. The workers remain wage laborers, proletarians. The relationship to capital is not abolished but becomes far more acute.” In the transition from monopoly to state capitalism, the last stage offered by bourgeois society is “the appropriation of the large productive and commercial organisms, first by joint-stock companies, later by trusts and then by the state.” State capitalism is the authoritarian state of the present. . . [READ PDF / Deutsch]


see also: The Philosophy of History and the Authoritarian State (1971) by Hans-Jürgen Krahl

Bordiga and the Passion for Communism (Camatte,1972)

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Jacques Camatte’s 1972 essay on Amadeo Bordiga, discussing the Italian Marxist’s notorious “invariance”, his “hermeneutics” of “the precise connection between the proletariat and theory”, his “prophetic vision” of the communist future, his identification of the party with the class, his disdain for the cult of personality, his “anti-gradualism”, the impact of the publication of the Grundrisse and the Economic Manuscripts of 1844 on his thought, his precocious environmentalism, his anti-individualism, and his failure to recognize the significance of May ’68, pointing out that despite all his contradictions and limitations “his works are full of starting points for new research”.


Bordiga and the Passion for Communism

by Jacques Camatte

“Passion is the essential force of man energetically bent on its object.”
Karl Marx

Men are the products of their time: some are capable of representing it, because the invariance of their thought overcomes the ideology of the ruling class or expresses the impetuous assault of the oppressed class; others dominate it, because they are capable of perceiving the moments of discontinuity which mark the beginnings of the new stages of the process of becoming of a given mode of production (especially the new modes of production). In the former case we have the thought of continuity, in the second, that of discontinuity. In other words, we have traditional thought (in the non-pejorative sense) and revolutionary thought. Rare are those who are capable of thinking in accordance with both modalities, since this is not a case of a duality constituted by a spatial juxtaposition, but rather that of a contradictory duality. It is very often the case that the past and tradition weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living and prevent the emergence, the eruption, of the present and the future—which nonetheless operate in reality—in thought. This is true both during periods of social peace as well as in times of revolutionary unrest, the former favoring traditionalist expressions, while the latter are more likely to favor revolutionary expressions.

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A Happy Future is a Thing of the Past

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The Greek Crisis and Other Disasters by Pavlos Roufos  (2018)

Reaktion Books / UChicago Press / Amazon

Excerpt from Chapter 6: Years of Stone, pp. 96-102

The Beach Beneath

The movement that began in Syntagma Square in late May 2011 and very soon spread out to squares all over Greece (thus gaining the nickname ‘squares movement’), represented one of the most condensed moments of the struggle against the crisis, its consequences and management. Many have argued that it did not have a specific aim or demand; according to one’s politics, this observation had either a negative or a positive undertone. However, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the masses that took to the streets, occupied public spaces and fought for almost two months to defend them, were directly concerned with putting an end to the austerity policies that were underway. And these policies, as we have seen, were nothing but a systematic attempt to render people’s ability to survive in a way that was meaningful to them increasingly difficult.

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The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (Engels, 1876)

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by Frederick Engels (1876)


This article was intended to introduce a larger work which Engels planned to call Die drei Grundformen der Knechtschaft – Outline of the General Plan. Engels never finished it, nor even this intro, which breaks off at the end. It would be included in Dialectics of Nature.


I

Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.

Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch, not yet definitely determinable, of that period of the earth’s history known to geologists as the Tertiary period, most likely towards the end of it, a particularly highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone – probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. [1] Darwin has given us an approximate description of these ancestors of ours. They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.

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All the lonely people: Narcissism as a Subject Form of Capitalism

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by Peter Samol

(Translated and abridged from the German original: All the Lonely People. Narzissmus als adäquate Subjektform des Kapitalismus, Krisis 4/2016)

Sigmund Freud was the most astute analyst of the subjective conditions of existence in civil society. Psychoanalysis influenced by him represents the most developed theory about the sacrifices demanded of individuals living in our society. Freud understood his approach as a natural science approach. Psychoanalysis atrophied to anthropology where it could have been a critical theory (Adorno). This essay aims at a critical reconstruction of psychoanalysis regarding the term narcissism. This term coined by Freud himself characterizes a middle class subject form.

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The Scientific Standing of Psychoanalysis

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by Mark Solms  (2018) BJPsych International, Volume 15Issue 1,February 2018 , pp. 5-8

This paper summarises the core scientific claims of psychoanalysis and rebuts the prejudice that it is not ‘evidence-based’. I address the following questions. (A) How does the emotional mind work, in health and disease? (B) Therefore, what does psychoanalytic treatment aim to achieve? (C) How effective is it?

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The Market, the State, and the End of History (Agnoli, 2000)

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by J. Agnoli (2000)

The world market society, our present reality, is labelled globalization. Apart from its ideological status in social conflict – that is, the attempt of capital to make European labour accept unconditionally high unemployment and low wages – the term globalization presents something quite different; namely, the complete commercialization and commodification of social life. In other words, the so-called laws of the market, operating at a global scale, penetrate and condition everything from industrial production to cultural production. Bourgeois society rests upon the operation of these laws and it is these laws that transform bourgeois society into a world-wide ensemble of commodities. Clearly this the best of all worlds . . . [PDF]

 

Art and Religion (1842)

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Max Stirner, “Kunst und Religion”, this essay originally appeared in June 1842 in the radical newspaper “Rheinische Zeitung”, before Marx became its editor. Translated by Lawrence Stepelevich.

Hegel treats art before religion; art deserves this position, it deserves it even from the historical standpoint. Now, as soon as man suspects that he has another side of himself (Jenseits) within himself, and that he is not enough in his mere natural state, then he is driven on to divide himself into that which he actually is, and that which he should become. Just as the youth is the future of the boy, and the mature man the future of the innocent child, so that othersider (Jenseitiger) is the future man who must be expected on the other side of this present reality. Upon the awakening of that suspicion, man strives after and longs for the second other man of the future, and will not rest until he sees himself before the shape of this man from the other side. This shape fluctuates back and forth within him for a long time; he only feels it as a light in the innermost darkness of himself that would elevate itself, but as yet has no certain contour or fixed form. For a long time, along with other groping and dumb others in that darkness, the artistic genius seeks to express this presentiment. What no other succeeds in doing, he does, he presents the longing, the sought after form, and in finding its shape so creates the — Ideal. For what is then the perfect man, man’s proper character, from which all that is seen is but mere appearance if it be not the Ideal Man, the Human Ideal? The artist alone has finally discovered the right word, the right picture, the right expression of that being which all seek. He presents that presentiment — it is the Ideal. ‘Yes! that is it! that is the perfect shape, the appearance that we have longed for, the Good News — the Gospel. The one we sent forth so long ago with the question whose answer would satisfy the thirst of our spirit has returned!’ So hail the people that creation of genius, and then fall down — in adoration.

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A new beginning?

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(via Weekly Worker 2018)

Marcel van der Linden examines the state of the global labour movement

Traditional labour movements are in trouble almost everywhere. They have been severely enfeebled by the political and economic changes of the last 40 years. Their core consists of three forms of social movement organisations: cooperatives, trade unions, and workers’ parties. All three organisational types are in decline, though this is an uneven development, with vast differences between countries and regions. We are living through a transitional stage in which old organisational structures no longer seem to work well, while new structures are still in their early stages.

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Ordoliberalism and the Death of Liberal Democracy: An Interview with Werner Bonefeld

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(Salvage 2017)

George Souvlis: Can you tell us a bit about your intellectual and political formation?

Werner Bonefeld: One of my most important formative experiences was factory work. Studying was easy in comparison. I studied at the Universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Edinburgh. At Marburg the Marxism on offer was very dogmatic. It did not encourage people to think for themselves. I left after two years to continue my studies at the Free University of Berlin. In Berlin a few things came together, as it were. My favorite Professor was Agnoli, who was one of the most distinguished Marxists of his generation. He allowed his students to think. He welcomed it. He was a great orator. Part of the degree programme was to do work-placement. I first worked as a removal man and then as a research assistant at the West-German teachers’ union, for which I got paid. Never before had I earned money by reading and writing (my research was into alternative schooling as opposed to public provision). I quickly understood the meaning of Marx’s insight that to be a productive labourer in not a piece of luck but a great misfortune. One might add, nor is it an ontological privilege, as a whole tradition of historical materialism saw it. I studied in Berlin at a time of great restlessness, from the peace movement to the squatter movement in the early 1980s.

I met Kosmas Psychopedis in Edinburgh during the 1980s. He visited John Holloway. Richard Gunn and John Holloway were my PhD supervisors. Kosmas was a character, and a good friend.

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The Center Has Fallen and There’s No Going Back

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PHIL NEEL in conversation with Paul Mattick

This month brings the publication of Phil Neel’s Hinterland, the first in the Field Notes series of books published by Reaktion Books in association with the Brooklyn Rail, to provide in-depth analyses of today’s global turmoil as it unfolds. I could not think of a better book to begin with than Neel’s insider’s analysis of the U.S. working class outside the big-city centers to which most media attention is paid. I’ve taken advantage of this occasion to ask Phil Neel to discuss some of the fundamental ideas of his book.

Paul Mattick (Rail): Near the end of the book, you make the fundamental observation, that “the character of production sculpts the character of class” in any historical period. How is the current form of production reshaping class relations, and why does understanding this require a focus on what you call the “hinterland”?

Phil Neel: This is a good place to start, because I want to be unambiguous that this question is really what the book is about, in the end. It’s a book of communist geography. There’s this new generation of thinkers who are trying to apply a rigorous Marxist method in ways that are neither frustratingly esoteric nor mind-numbingly dumb, and even while we all have our obvious disagreements, I think it’s a great thing. And the reason it’s possible is because so many of these questions that maybe thirty years ago were of purely academic interest are again becoming a lived experience. This itself is evidence of the basic thesis you mention above: the book represents a class position, not the product of some personal ingenuity. It’s something that I’ve articulated in a first-person narrative, but the basic ideas are wrought from collective experience. I think it should be read as a kind of collaborative text, formulated out of a whole horde of experiences and stories, of which my own are only a part. Stories don’t come out of nowhere, though, and when you trace things back, there is this basic scaffolding that shapes the really important things in life, and that scaffolding is economic.

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Destruction as the Determination of the Scholar in Miserable Times (J. Agnoli)

by JOHANNES AGNOLI (1990)

The determination of scholarly work as destruction originated with Johann Gottlieb Fichte; Holderlin drew widespread attention to the misery of the period. Fichte’s determination was based on the belief in the emergence of a new era; Holderlin, in contrast, found the period to be one of such misery that he asked himself what role, if any, was left for a poet . .  . READ PDF


[translated by Werner Bonefeld; first published in english in Common Sense 12, republished in Revolutionary Writings ed. Bonefeld 2003]

The Devil in America

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by Kai Ashante Wilson (2014)

for my father

1955

Emmett Till, sure, I remember. Your great grandfather, sitting at the table with the paper spread out, looked up and said something to Grandma. She looked over my way and made me leave the room: Emmett Till. In high school I had a friend everybody called Underdog. One afternoon—1967?—Underdog was standing on some corner and the police came round and beat him with nightsticks. No reason. Underdog thought he might get some respect if he joined up for Vietnam, but a sergeant in basic training was calling him everything but his name—nigger this, nigger that—and Underdog went and complained. Got thrown in the brig, so he ended up going to Vietnam with just a couple weeks’ training. Soon after he came home in a body bag. In Miami a bunch of white cops beat to death a man named Arthur McDuffie with heavy flashlights. You were six or seven: so, 1979. The cops banged up his motorcycle trying to make killing him look like a crash. Acquitted, of course. Then Amadou Diallo, 1999; Sean Bell, 2006. You must know more about all the New York murders than I do. Trayvon, this year. Every year it’s one we hear about and God knows how many just the family mourns.

—Dad

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Socialism in one apartment complex

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The House on the Embankment, Moscow, pictured in January 2007. 

Historian Yuri Slezkine in conversation with ‘Rīgas Laiks’ editor Uldis Tirons (via eurozine)

Moscow’s House on the Embankment was home to many of the first generation of Russian revolutionaries. Historian Yuri Slezkine, who has written the definitive account of the building, describes how it embodied the lives, hopes and fate of the Soviet project and its elite.

Introductory note

The historian Yuri Slezkine, professor of Russian history and director of the Berkeley Program in Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of those Soviet émigrés who have ended up in the US not so much trby force of circumstance as out of curiosity and thanks to a chain of coincidences. In the late 1970s, after graduating from Moscow State University, Slezkine worked in Mozambique, later moving to Lisbon and, in 1983, to Texas, to teach Russian at the University of Texas at Austin, where he gained a PhD.

Although, as Slezkine explains, his wanderings were driven by a desire to discover more of the world rather than by the pursuit of a career, this experience, both academic and general, nevertheless exerted a fundamental influence on the theoretical thrust of his research. In the early 1980s Slezkine visited a number of indigenous Indian reservations in America, studying the impact of western colonial policy on what the Soviets referred to as ‘small peoples’. However, as a historian working and studying abroad, the system required him to cover Russian history in one way or another, and he began to study the Soviet Union’s treatment of its multinational population in the broader context of colonial policies, drawing parallels between the collective fates of national minorities in various imperial structures. This provided the theme of two of his books: Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Cornell University Press, 1994) and The Jewish Century (Princeton University Press, 2004). His most recent book, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press, 2017), which took Slezkine 20 years to write, is an exhaustive account of the most prestigious block of flats in the Soviet Union, situated on the embankment of the River Moskva, and of the first generations of its tenants – revolutionaries and functionaries and their families. Here, as in his previous works, Slezkine views national identity as a vital element of their life, but on this occasion his focus in on personal history: what went on in the kitchens and bedrooms of the nomenklatura, its members’ faith in a new utopian life, and the disillusionment that the utopia turned into.

Sven Kuzmins, Rīgas Laiks

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Prisons and Class Warfare

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Interview with Ruth Wilson Gilmore 

Clément Petitjean: In Golden Gulag, you analyse the build-up of California’s prison system, which you call “the biggest in the history of the world”. Between 1980 and 2007, you explain that the number of people behind bars increased more than 450%. What were the various factors that combined to cause the expansion of that system? What were the various forces that built up the prison industrial complex in California and in the US?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Sure. Let me say a couple of things. I actually found that description of the biggest prison building project in the history of the world in a report that was written by somebody whom the state of California contracted to analyse the system that had been on a steady growth trajectory since the late 1980s. So it’s not even my claim, it’s how they themselves described what they were doing. What happened is that the state of California, which is, and was, an incredibly huge and diverse economy, went through a series of crises. And those crises produced all kinds of surpluses. It produced surpluses of workers, who were laid off from certain kinds of occupations, especially in manufacturing, not exclusively but notably. It produced surpluses of land. Because the use of land, especially but not exclusively in agriculture, changed over time, with the consolidation of ownership and the abandoning of certain types of land and land-use. It also produced surpluses of finance capital – and this is one of the more contentious points that I do argue, to deadly exhaustion. While it might appear, looking globally, that the concept of surplus finance capital seemed absurd in the early 1980s, if you look locally and see how especially investment bankers who specialised in municipal finance (selling debt to states) were struggling to remake markets, then we can see a surplus at hand. And then the final surplus, which is kind of theoretical, conjectural, is a surplus of state capacity. By that I mean that the California state’s institutions and reach had developed over a good deal of the 20th century, but especially from the beginning of the Second World War onwards. It had become incredibly complex to do certain things with fiscal and bureaucratic capacities. Those capacities weren’t invented out of whole cloth, they came out of the Progressive Era, at the turn of the 20th century. In the postwar period they enabled California to do certain things that would more or less guarantee the capacity of capital to squeeze value from labour and land. Those capacities endured, even if the demand for them did not. And so what I argue in my book is that the state of California reconfigured those capacities, and they underlay the ability to build and staff and manage prison after prison after prison. That’s not the only use they made of those capacities once used for various kinds of welfare provision, but it was a huge use. And so the prison system went from being a fairly small part of the entire state infrastructure to the major employer in the state government.

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The Paradox of Social Democracy: The American Case

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by Robert Brenner (1985)

Part I

I A New Social Democracy?

A very long time ago — in the Palaeolithic days of the new left of the later 1960s — few red-blooded radicals would have been caught dead inside the Democratic Party. This was the era of the student and anti-imperialist movements, of SDS; of the militant Black movements, of SNCC, the Black Panther Party, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; and of the nascent rank and file movements among industrial and public service workers. In those days, it was strictly the politics of the streets and of mass direct action. ‘Power to the people’ definitely did not mean ‘part of the way with RFK.’ The Democratic Party was recognized as firmly wedded to American imperialism, as expressed in LBJ’s Vietnam War, not to mention Harry Truman’s A-Bomb over Hiroshima or his Cold War or Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs. Moreover, despite the fact that workers, Blacks, and the poor did vote, in their majority, for the Democratic Party, that Party was viewed as clearly pro-capitalist, anti-working class, and anti-Black. Neither workers nor Blacks controlled, nor even much participated in the Democratic Party. So, it was hardly surprising to the 60s radicals that the Party never tried to repeal the viciously anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, that it refused to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at its 1964 convention in place of the arch-segregationist official delegation, and that the Kennedy presidency failed to achieve a single significant piece of social legislation.

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