communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Redemption Through Discourse?

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by Peter Osborne (2017)

‘After us, strictly speaking, there will be nothing’, Theodor Adorno wrote to Max Horkheimer on 17 August 1954, from the Hotel Reber au Lac in Locarno, where he was spending his summer vacation.[1] It was less than a year since Adorno had taken up a permanent professorship at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt—a position to which he was entitled under the terms of the law governing compensation for acts of National Socialist injustice. The occasion for his pathos was the fact that the young Ralf Dahrendorf—only recently appointed to the Institute for Social Research to oversee a project on the political attitudes of students—had resigned to take up a position in Saarbrücken. Dahrendorf was a significant loss, not only for his academic abilities and interests (he had completed his PhD at Hamburg on Marx’s theory of justice), but also for his anti-fascist pedigree. The son of a Social Democrat deputy in the pre-1933 Reichstag imprisoned towards the end of the war as an underground agitator, Dahrendorf had himself been arrested in late 1944, aged 15, for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. He was sent to a concentration camp in Poland. Almost a decade after the war’s end, finding such suitable candidates for a junior position in the Institute was proving difficult.

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Science fiction when the future is now

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nature journal

AlphaGo, fake news, cyberwar: 2017 has felt science-fictional in the here and now. Space settlement and sea-steading seem just around the bend; so, at times, do nuclear war and pandemic. With technological change cranked up to warp speed and day-to-day life smacking of dystopia, where does science fiction go? Has mainstream fiction taken up the baton?

Nature asked six prominent sci-fi writers — Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard — to reflect on what the genre has to offer at the end of an extraordinary year.

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Winter in Catalonia

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Don Quijote en la playa de Barcino, Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau

by / 

Narrative Confusions

In Catalonia morbid symptoms abound.1 The population lives through bitter division. The Catalan leadership is in prison. The left is divided. On December 21st, all political parties in the self-declared Catalan republic will participate in elections forced on them by the Spanish government. In the confusion of the interregnum of the Spanish state, all actors struggle to find a narrative form that might elevate their mission of establishing a new regnum.2

It is no wonder the world struggles to discern the narrative form of the Catalan independence struggle. Official European opinion, never a good reader, discerns a morality tale of the dangers of populism and nationalism, in which a reluctant Spanish hero is forced to put into place a rogue separatist government. Meanwhile, unofficial opinion is rallying to the Catalan cause, interpreting it in the register of a great epic of national liberation and the struggle against Francoism. Horrified and enthusiastic spectators alike cannot but observe the Catalan secession drama through the lenses of its key antagonists: the gobierno of Mariano Rajoy in Madrid and the independentistas lead by Carles Puigdemont’s now deposed govern. But the very nature of an interregnum is that governments cannot truly rule, and that people do not wish to be ruled. In the interregnum genres fail, and when the epic fails, the result is invariably tragicomic. The greatest reflection on that is Cervantes’ Don Quixote.3

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The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015

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This paper answers fundamental questions that have preoccupied modern economic thought since the 18th century. What is the aggregate real rate of return in the economy? Is it higher than the growth rate of the economy and, if so, by how much? Is there a tendency for returns to fall in the long-run? Which particular assets have the highest long-run returns? We answer these questions on the basis of a new and comprehensive dataset for all major asset classes, including—for the first time—total returns to the largest, but oft ignored, component of household wealth, housing. The annual data on total returns for equity, housing, bonds, and bills cover 16 advanced economies from 1870 to 2015, and our new evidence reveals many new insights and puzzles.

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by Òscar JordàKatharina KnollDmitry KuvshinovMoritz SchularickAlan M. Taylor

NBER Working Paper No. 24112 / Issued in December 2017

Reading Adorno’s Fascist Propaganda Essay in the Age of Trump

Writing shortly after the end of World War Two, just as the enormity of what had transpired begun to set in, Theodor Adorno turned to the writings of Freud to help account for the convulsive power of the fascist spell. Drawing on Freud’s studies in the psychology of masses, he was able to render an account of the psychological conditions for the rise of a charismatic leader, as well as the arsenal of gestures used by the leader to bewitch and to mobilize.

In an era marked by the rise of a paradoxically international right-wing populism, and in the midst of ethno-nationalist tumult in the United States, this roundtable reflects on the legacy and contemporary utility of Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda.

Might Freud and other psychoanalytic theorists still have something to offer to social and political philosophy today? How can Adorno’s analysis of Fascism in the 1930s and 1940s inform our analyses of contemporary right-wing movements? These are the questions discussed by this roundtable, featuring J. M. Bernstein, Chiara Bottici, Vladimir Safatle, and Jamieson Webster.

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Marxism, Psychoanalysis and Reality

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by Erich Fromm

During the last 35 years, I have written many works, in which — under different aspects — I tried to explain that there are not only points where Marxism and psychoanalysis overlap but that there is also an intrinsic interdependency between the two. This means, I do not only believe that a synthesis is possible but also an existential necessity.

Freud and Marx have in common that both — the first contrary to pre-Marxist sociology, the second contrary to earlier psychology — are concerned not as much with superficial phenomena as rather with driving forces, which act in certain directions and with varying intensity, and evoke phenomena that are changing and temporary.

Psychoanalysis is the only scientific form of psychology, as Marxism is the only scientific form of sociology. Only these two systems allow us to understand the hidden driving forces behind the phenomena and to predict what happens to an individual in a certain society when, under certain conditions, the acting forces evoke phenomena that seem to be exactly the opposite of what they actually are. In the field of individual psychology as well as in sociology, non-dynamic thinking is surprised when deeply effecting, existential transformations occur, while dynamic thinking, which recognizes forces that remain invisible from the surface, is able to predict probable transformations.

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Bitcoin Mania

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by Doug Henwood

Bitcoin, once a fairly arcane topic, is now everywhere.

The market pundit Robert Prechter, who is a great psychologist of financial markets despite being a devoted follower of Ayn Rand and believing in a piece of superstition called Elliott Wave theory, once argued that in the course of a major bull market there’s something called a “point of recognition,” when the general public gets on board. That means it’s getting late in the run and it’s time for pros to think about getting out (though a serious mania can go on well after John and Jane Q get involved).

It sure seems like we’re at that point with Bitcoin, whose price trajectory over the last few years resembles some of history’s great manias, like the Dutch tulip bulb frenzy of the 1630s, the South Sea bubble of the 1710s, and the US stock market orgies of the 1920s and 1990s.

What is going on? Before getting into the details, I should say that money in general is not a simple topic. Most people have a good understanding of how gold, which is something of a primal money, is mined, refined, and shaped into ingots or coins. Slightly less obvious is why it has a monetary status unlike, say, platinum. But it is rare, pure, easily divisible, and has been highly cherished throughout the ages.

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Where Millennials Come From

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by Jia Tolentino

Imagine, as I often do, that our world were to end tomorrow, and that alien researchers many years in the future were tasked with reconstructing the demise of civilization from the news. If they persevered past the coverage of our President, they would soon identify the curious figure of the millennial as a suspect. A composite image would emerge, of a twitchy and phone-addicted pest who eats away at beloved American institutions the way boll weevils feed on crops. Millennials, according to recent headlines, are killing hotels, department stores, chain restaurants, the car industry, the diamond industry, the napkin industry, homeownership, marriage, doorbells, motorcycles, fabric softener, hotel-loyalty programs, casinos, Goldman Sachs, serendipity, and the McDonald’s McWrap.

The idea that millennials are capriciously wrecking the landscape of American consumption grants quite a bit of power to a group that is still on the younger side. Born in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, millennials are now in their twenties and thirties. But the popular image of this generation—given its name, in 1987, by William Strauss and Neil Howe—has long been connected with the notion of disruptive self-interest. Over the past decade, that connection has been codified by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, who writes about those younger than herself with an air of pragmatic evenhandedness and an undercurrent of moral alarm. (An article adapted from her most recent book, “iGen,” about the cohort after millennials, was published in the September issue of The Atlantic with the headline “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” It went viral.) In 2006, Twenge published “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.” The book’s cover emblazoned the title across a bare midriff, a flamboyant illustration of millennial self-importance, sandwiched between a navel piercing and a pair of low-rise jeans.

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El Chapo and the Secret History of the Heroin Crisis

If you wonder why America is in the grips of a heroin epidemic that kills two hundred people a week, take a hard look at the legalization of pot, which destroyed the profits of the Mexican cartels. How did they respond to a major loss in revenue? Like any company, they created an irresistible new product and flooded the market. The scariest part: this might not have happened with El Chapo in charge.

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The economics of Luther or Munzer?

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by Michael Roberts (TheNextRecession)

Last week leading leftist economists in the UK held a seminar on the state of mainstream economics, as taught in the universities.  They kicked this off by nailing a poster with 33 theses critiquing mainstream economics to the door of the London School of Economics.  This publicity gesture attempted to remind us that it was the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church, Wittenberg and provoked the beginning of the Protestant reformation against the ‘one true religion’ of Catholicism.

The economists were purporting to tell us that mainstream economics was like Catholicism and must be protested against as Luther did back in 1517.  As they put it, “Economics is broken.  From climate change to inequality, mainstream (neoclassical) economics has not provided the solutions to the problems we face and yet it is still dominant in government, academia and other economic institutions. It is time for a new economics.”

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A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions

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by Kim Stanley Robinson (1991)

The covering law model of historical explanation states that an event is explained if it can be logically deduced from a set of initial conditions, and a set of general historical laws. These sets are the explanans, and the event is the explanandum. The general laws are applied to the initial conditions, and the explanandum is shown to be the inevitable result. An explanation, in this model, has the same structure as a prediction.

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How to Parent Like a Bolshevik

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Young actors in “The Blue Bird” in 1911.CreditHulton Archive/Getty Images

 Red Century

by Yuri Slezkine

The original Bolsheviks expected Communism in their lifetime. When that began to appear unlikely, they moved the deadline to the lifetime of their children.

“Fire cannot be contained,” Nina Avgustovna Didrikil, an employee at the Lenin Institute, wrote in her diary in 1920. “It will burst forth, and I am certain that if it does not burst forth within me, it will do so through my children, who will make me immortal.”

The path to the parents’ immortality was the children’s happiness. “You are happy, and you will be even happier when you realize just how happy you are,” wrote Didrikil in 1933 to one of her daughters on her 17th birthday. “You are the youngest and strongest, and the whole life of your society is young and strong. My wish for you, in your 17th spring, is that you continue to move closer and closer, in all your interests, feelings, and thoughts, to the camp of the youngest and strongest: to Marx, Engels, Lenin and all the true Bolsheviks.”

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Der Begriff der Arbeit in Karl Marx’ «Kapital»

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Karl Marx’ «Das Kapital» feiert 2017 seinen 150. Geburtstag. 2018 folgt der 200. Geburtstag von Marx selbst. Der Fokus der Marx-Herbstschule lag diesmal auf dem Begriff, der wie kein anderer sowohl Marx’ Kapital als auch die Geschichte des Marxismus beherrscht: Arbeit.

Der Arbeitsbegriff zieht sich wie ein roter Faden durch die gesamte Entwicklung des ersten Bandes, ausgehend vom «Doppelcharakter» der Arbeit, dem «Springpunkt, um den sich das Verständnis der politischen Ökonomie dreht», über die kapitalistische Anwendung, Verwertung und Ausbeutung der Arbeitskraft und ihre Kämpfe bis hin zum historischen Ursprung der kapitalistischen Lohnarbeit durch die sog. «Ursprüngliche Akkumulation».

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Just do it?: The Dilemma of Engagement

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by Simon Critchley (Artforum, 2017)

ONE BRIEF ANECDOTE amid the carnage; possibly a parable.

A few weeks back, I was involved-against my inclination, probably out of a misplaced sense of duty to students-in a debate with two theologians about the limits of secularism. This took place at the New School for Social Research in New York, where I have my day job. My intent was to say as little as possible, just respond politely to the theologians and make my excuses and leave to get a drink. (After all, it was Friday evening.) Inevitably, everyone started to talk about Trump and how depressed they are and what we should all do, etc., etc., etc. Inwardly, I sighed. I was tired. I’ve been tired a lot recently.

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Marx Collegium 2017 (Videos)

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Marx Collegium 2017 – After the eruption of the international financial crisis in 2008, Marx’s Capital received renewed academic and popular attention. Leading newspapers throughout the world discussed again the contemporary relevance of its pages. Faced with a deep new crisis of capitalism, many are now looking to an author who in the past was often wrongly associated with the “actually existing socialism”, and who was hastily dismissed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

For many scholars, today Marx’s analyses are arguably resonating even more strongly than they did in Marx’s own time. This international conference brings together several world-renowned sociologists, political theorists, economists, and philosophers, from diverse fields and 13 countries. Its aim is to explore diverse scholarly perspectives and critical insights into the principal contradictions of contemporary capitalism and, in so doing, to draw attention to alternative economic and social models.

The presenters will critically reconsider Marx’s Capital as a work that continues to provide an effective framework to understand the nature of capitalism and the transformations of our times.

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Autonomous Antifa: From the Autonomen to Post-Antifa in Germany

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AA/BO: Bloc of the “Antifaschistische Aktion – Bundesweite Organisation“. Northeim, June 4, 1994. (The organization AA/BO was founded in 1992 and disbanded in 2001.)

An Interview with Bender, a German Comrade 
by Paul O’Banion

Bender has been involved in the autonomous movement in Germany since the 1980s, and talks here about his experiences and observations from thirty years of organizing. He addresses the beginnings of the autonomen – the autonomous movement – how Antifa developed out of that in the late 80s and 90s, and has developed since.  He discusses where things are now, in a post-autonomous, post-antifa, German radical Left environment. He is familiar with the situation in the US, and offers lessons for organizing against fascism and all forms of domination. This interview was conducted via email, and Bender’s answers have been edited for clarity.

-Paul O’Banion

Talk about the autonomen: who you are, what political traditions and perspectives are you building on, and what has been your practical and theoretical activity.

Bender: When we talk about “the autonomen,” we speak of the 80s in Germany where the autonomen first appeared and had the character of a movement. It is one outcome of the dynamics of the so-called New Social Movements or, as you call it in the US, the New Left.

As in many other countries, the beginnings of the New Social Movements, from which the autonomous movement of the 80s was one result, was “the long year of ’68,” which in Germany is perhaps best characterised as an “anti-authoritarian revolt.” We have to remember, that the year ‘68 politically lasted much longer than one year.  The movement after ‘68 reached a kind of exhaustion, in which people asked themselves how to go on, which means: how to organize a movement in decline.

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Climate Change: What is to be Done?

Capitalism: Concept & Idea (audio)

The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) presents:

Capitalism: Concept & Idea

150 Years of Marx’s Capital: The Philosophy and Politics of Capital today

As a counterpoint to the retreat of the concept of communism from history to ‘idea’, this conference will mark the 150th anniversary of the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy by asking the question of the meanings of ‘capital’ and ‘capitalism’ today as at once (explanatory structural-historical) concepts and (political) ideas.

In particular: What is the current standing of the different philosophical interpretations of Marx’s Capital? What light do they thrown on capitalism today? How have historical developments since Marx’s day changed the concept of capitalism? Has ‘neo-liberal’ capitalism rendered the concept of crisis redundant, for example? Is capitalism governable? Or is capital itself now the main form of governmentality? What is the precise character of Capital as a text – in terms of theory and in terms of literature? What does it mean to be ‘against capitalism’ today?

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Angry Optimism in a Drowned World: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson

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by José Luis de Vicente
 

Reflections from a science-fiction angle on the scenarios posed by climate change and the defence of the imagination to help find real solutions.

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the world’s most highly reputed science-fiction authors and one of the key exponents of climate fiction. His work, set in the near future, brings us face-to-face with concepts such as the Anthropocene, terraforming and post-capitalism. With him we analyse the link between the ecological crisis and the economic one, placing the emphasis on the need for new political economics. We also explore the role of art and literature when formulating possible futures, the importance of the imagination for finding solutions and the defence of optimism and humour as we deal with the scenario confronting us. This interview, conducted by José Luis de Vicente, forms part of the catalogue for the exhibition After the End of the World, in which the writer is participating with an audiovisual prologue.

It is said that your Mars Trilogy of novels (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars, 1992-1996) is perhaps the most successful example in science fiction of the use of the notion of “terraforming”: the idea that man can transform a whole planet to make it habitable and reproduce Earth-like conditions. The Mars trilogy explores the idea that any terraforming project would necessarily be not only technical, but also political. As McKenzie Wark writes in Molecular Red: A Theory of the Anthropocenein your version of Mars, “questions of nature and culture, economics and politics, can never be treated in isolation, as all levels have to be organized together.

What is terraforming in the Mars trilogy as a political project, and what was it telling us about the transformation of Earth itself by the hand of man? 

About 20 years ago, I began to read in the technical literature of the planetary science community that Mars is unusual. It is on the outside of the sun’s habitable zone, and because it has water and other frozen volatile gases that we need for life on Earth, it might be possible to heat up Mars and release those gases to essentially recreate an atmosphere, and then introduce Earth’s genetic heritage, life forms and biosphere into the Martian context. In combination, you might get something new that would be like the High Arctic or Siberia; a human space that would be habitable without wearing space suits. Carl Sagan was actually the astronomer who was really important in pointing this out. It’s essentially a kind of science-fiction idea that was achievable in the real world.

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Platform capitalism and value form

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By Matthew Cole

According to the speculations of techno-futurologists, left and right, the machines are here to liberate us. Most of the discourse is dominated by the neoliberal right such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and Andrew Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England. Their arguments, avoiding questions of exploitation, are naturally popular with the establishment. McAfee’s best-selling book The Second Machine Age has been lauded by leaders at the World Economic Forum.

On the left, however, Paul Mason welcomes our new robotic overlords, in an intellectual synthesis that spans Marx’s 1858 ‘Fragment on Machines’ (treated by Mason as a prophecy), Bogdanov’s 1909 novel Red Star and Martin Ford’s 2015 Rise of the Robots, not to mention Andre Gorz. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams offer a more qualified welcome to the possibility of full automation and a workless future. But even the best of these analyses, and even the most alluring visions of networked insurrection and high-tech communist utopia, have to face up to how these technologies have been used, historically, to deepen exploitation rather than overcome it. It is far more likely, in short, that new technologies will intensify drudgery and further limit human freedom. And it on this basis that we have to evaluate the impacts of platform technologies on the capitalist mode of production.

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