communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Month: March, 2014

Michael Heinrich Understands Marx

Michael Heinrich: Value, fetishism and impersonal domination

Public Discussion With Michael Heinrich

 

Michael Heinrich: The bourgeois state: class domination on the basis of freedom and equality

Traditional Marxism, the New Reading of Marx and the Critique of Capitalism

 

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“The catastrophe will be terrible, and will go from bad to worse;

I am even tempted to say that it will be greater and more phenomenal

than the one touched off by the birth of Christianity.”

[Bauer to Marx, April 1840]

 

Cosmic Inflation of the Early Universe

science

(Less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe expanded faster than the speed of light. Tiny ripples in the violently expanding energy field eventually grew into the large-scale structures of the universe.)

Happy Purim

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Liberation Hamantashen

(Makes about 24)

¾ cup sugar
2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 17-ounce jar prune butter (lekvar). Can also use poppy seeds (mohn), apricot filling, or cherry pie filling.

  1. Sift the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Work in the shortening by hand. Add the egg and orange juice, mixing until dough is formed. Chill overnight if possible, or at least two hours.
  2. Roll out the dough about 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut into 3-inch circles (a teacup works). Place one heaping teaspoonful of the filling in each. Pinch three edges of the dough together (use a knife or spatula to lift the edges), but leave a small opening in the center; the resulting pastry will be in the shape of a triangle with a little of the filling showing. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with a cloth and set aside for ½ hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Baste hamantashen with beaten egg for a shinier crust, if desired. Bake hamantashen for about 20 minutes, or until delicately browned on top.

Tempworkers inquiry

Permanently Temporary, or The Logistics of Proletarian Defeat. 

“Temp labor is one of the fastest growing industries in the US. Increasingly, temp workers are part of a business strategy to keep costs down and profits high. From mega-retailers to mom-and-pop shops, temps are hired to do some of the hardest and most dangerous jobs. While more and more of the American workforce is comprised of temporary workers, they’re largely hidden from public view. Many of these workers stay silent, often having their livelihoods threatened if they speak out. Wanting to get a glimpse of this invisible workforce, VICE News traveled across the country, scouring warehouses, temp agencies, and temp towns in search of the people, who make our world of same day delivery possible.”

For more from VICE News on the plight of temp labor in the US, read “A Modern Day Harvest of Shame

Tomorrow

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Communism means the end of a series of mediations which were previously necessary (in spite of the misery they entailed) to accumulate enough past labour to enable humans to do without these mediations. Value is such a mediation: it is now useless to have an element external to social activities to connect and stimulate them. The accumulated productive infrastructure only needs to be transformed and developed. Communism compares use values to decide to develop a given production rather than another one. It does not reduce the components of social life to a common denominator (the average labour time contained in them). Communism organizes its material life on the basis of the confrontation and interplay of needs – which does not exclude conflicts and even some form of violence. People will not turn into angels: why should they?

Communism is not a set of measures to be put into practice after the seizure of power. It is a movement which already exists, not as a mode of production (there can be no communist island within capitalist society), but as a tendency which originates in real needs. Communism does not even know what value is. The point is not that one fine day a large number of people start to destroy value and profit. All past revolutionary movements were able to bring society to a standstill, and waited for something to come out of this universal stoppage. Communization, on the contrary, will circulate goods without money, open the gate isolating a factory from its neighbourhood, close down another factory where the work process is too alienating to be technically improved, do away with school as a specialized place which cuts off learning from doing for 15 odd years, pull down walls that force people to imprison themselves in 3-room family units – in short, it will tend to break all separations.

The mechanism of the communist revolution is a product of struggles. Their development leads to a time when society forces all individuals whom it leaves with no other perspective to establish new social relations. If a number of social struggles now seem to come to nothing, it is because their only possible continuation would be communism, whatever those who take part in them may now think. Even when workers are just making demands they often come to a point when there is no other solution but a violent clash with the State and its assistants, the unions. In that case, armed struggle and insurrection imply the application of a social programme, and the use of the economy as a weapon. The military aspect, as important as it may be, depends on the social content of the struggle. To be able to defeat its enemies on a military level, the proletariat – whatever its consciousness – transforms society in a communist way.

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Historical Materialism

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A young woman living in the town of Chełm had a very strange occurrence. One morning, after buttering a piece of bread she accidentally dropped it on the floor. To her amazement, it fell buttered side up.

As everyone knows, whenever a buttered piece of bread is dropped on the floor, it always falls buttered side down; this is like a law of physics. But on this occasion it had fallen buttered side up, and this was a great mystery which had to be solved. So all the Rabbis and elders and wise men of Chełm were summoned together and they spent three days in the synagogue fasting and praying and debating this marvelous event among themselves. After those three days they returned to the young woman with this answer:

“Madam, the problem is that you have buttered the wrong side of the bread.”

Frauentag

Berlin,  Internationale Frauentag

What then is gender? For us, it is the anchoring of a certain group of individuals in a specific sphere of social activities. The result of this anchoring process is at the same time the continuous reproduction of two separate genders.

These genders concretise themselves as an ensemble of ideal characteristics, defining either the “masculine” or the “feminine”. However, these characteristics themselves, as a list of behavioural and psychological qualities, are subject to transformation over the course of the history of capitalism; they pertain to specific periods; they correspond to certain parts of the world; and even within what we might call the “West” they are not necessarily ascribed in the same way to all people. As a binary however, they exist in relation to one another, regardless of time and space, even if their mode of appearance is itself always in flux.

Sex is the flip side of gender. Following Judith Butler, we criticise the gender/sex binary as found in feminist literature before the 1990s. Butler demonstrates, correctly, that both sex and gender are socially constituted and furthermore, that it is the “socializing” or pairing of “gender” with culture, that has relegated sex to the “natural” pole of the binary nature/culture. We argue similarly that they are binary social categories which simultaneously de-naturalise gender while naturalising sex. For us, sex is the naturalisation of gender’s dual projection upon bodies, aggregating biological differences into discrete naturalised semblances.

While Butler came to this conclusion through a critique of the existentialist ontology of the body,22 we came to it through an analogy with another social form. Value, like gender, necessitates its other, “natural” pole (i.e. its concrete manifestation). Indeed, the dual relation between sex and gender as two sides of the same coin is analogous to the dual aspects of the commodity and the fetishism therein. As we explained above, every commodity, including labour-power, is both a use-value and an exchange-value. The relation between commodities is a social relation between things and a material relation between people.

Following this analogy, sex is the material body, which, as use-value to (exchange) value, attaches itself to gender. The gender fetish is a social relation which acts upon these bodies so that it appears as a natural characteristic of the bodies themselves. While gender is the abstraction of sexual difference from all of its concrete characteristics, that abstraction transforms and determines the body to which it is attached — just as the real abstraction of value transforms the material body of the commodity. Gender and sex combined give those inscribed within them a natural semblance (“with a phantomlike objectivity”), as if the social content of gender was “written upon the skin” of the concrete individuals.

The transhistoricisation of sex is homologous to a foreshortened critique of capital, which contends that use-value is transhistorical rather than historically specific to capitalism. Here, use-value is thought to be that which positively remains after revolution, which is seen as freeing use-value from the integument of exchange-value. In terms of our analogy with sex and gender, we would go one step further and say that both gender and sex are historically determined. Both are entirely social and can only be abolished together — just as exchange-value and use-value will both have to be abolished in the process of communisation. In this light, our feminist value-theoretical analysis mirrors Butler’s critique in so far as we both view the sex/gender binary as being socially-determined and produced through social conditions specific to modernity.

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Sic 2: Sicker than Ever

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Sic: International Journal for Communisation: Order here

This Is Not an Editorial

Crisis has become a household word and the attack on the value of labour power an everyday reality. Such an attack had already been stamped on capitalism’s genetic code by the restructuring of the ’70s–’80s, but the crisis of restructured capitalism gave it an enormous impetus. From struggles of waged workers anxiously demanding to remain such and mobilisations of pensioners defending their survival, to the outburst of rage of the ‘feral class’ in developed countries, to violent workers’ riots in the South-East Asian global factory, and all the way through to the Arab Spring and its aftermath, hard evidence of the continuing conflictuality of social reality forces even the most unrepentant end-of-history sopranos to refresh their repertoire. Admittedly, not everything bathes in perfection. But it would seem that there is good news too: nobody has to worry about where this world is going, it is a one-way street, just keep on going. Some changes in management personnel are graciously offered, the persons reciting the ‘no alternative’ mantra can always be renewed and even bear the socialist flavour. Of course, the remnants of a once optimistic citizenism keep formulating ‘proposals’ – ever less far-reaching, ever more restrained – begging capitalism to mend its ways, but nobody seems to take these noble souls seriously enough, since they dispose of no high-placed interlocutor with a receptive ear. Still, there are struggles, outbursts, riots, serving as a reminder that class struggle is always there and that capital, today no less than yesterday, is a ‘moving contradiction’. Hand in hand with it, the critical theory of its demise is being produced: history in the making is also the making of theory.

Communisation is no longer being perceived as an exotic beast, and it even tends at times to become a fashionable word. Present-day struggles highlight the end of the classical workers’ movement, together with its ambition to take the supposedly good-by-nature core of the economy away from voracious capitalist predators and run it itself. It is almost obvious that the world of our days, matter and soul alike, is the world actually produced by and for capital; that, therefore, workers and their products would have never existed as such if capital had not called them into existence in the first place; that working people’s demands have nowadays become asystemic or, in other words, a scandal akin to high treason; that proletarians are forced to defend their condition against capital but, in this struggle, actions that hurt capital are also actions that tend to call into question the proletarian condition; that communism cannot possibly be conceived as a program to be realised, but only as the historical product of proletariat’s struggle against capital and, at the same token, against its own class belonging; etc., etc. All this is reassuringly easy to show, almost worryingly so in fact.

Logical obviousness is not the stuff reality is made of. The extreme segmentation of the proletariat in restructured capitalism can easily blur the distinction of who fights for what, and it is only a meagre consolation that the ultimate outcome cannot but be capital’s victory or destruction. On another score, we are no longer in the presence of a central confrontation between capital and labour amidst pre-capitalist or proto-capitalist social strata which might support or not support either of the protagonists. The whole of society has been taken over and reproduced by capital, and this means, among other things, that various middle strata, salaried or otherwise, cannot but be directly involved. In the really globalised world of restructured capitalism unification is only achieved by the construction of differences whose interrelation is conducive to the desired unifying result – targets being adapted or reset as the actual configuration of forces takes form. Zoning among regions of the world and within each region and each country seems much less stable than what, at some point in time, appeared as a well arranged fractalisation of the world, with its inevitable glue of authoritarianism and slaughter. In a context of protracted crisis, proletarians strive for survival and various middle strata strive to avoid proletarianisation and marginalisation, while the internecine strife of various capitals tends to indefinitely hesitate between two ‘pure’ but equally impossible outcomes: maintaining the instant global mobility of capital while at the same time postponing the massive devalorisation needed for any sort of fresh start; falling back into the warm embrace of states or blocs of states ready to decisively weigh, via bombers, tanks, secret services and all the paraphernalia, on the ever-renewed game of the appropriation of globally produced surplus value. The ‘normality’ of restructured capitalism was pointing towards an unimpeded global fluidity of capital and a repressive management of national spaces through states whose only really national element would be the ideology of their repression of the internal enemy. Its crisis is pointing to the practical difficulty of achieving a moving equilibrium: wide masses produced by both ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ capitalism as surplus population are showing no particular enthusiasm to disappear from the face of the earth, through a downward spiral of misery, just because capitalism tells them to oblige; numerous middle strata, from Egypt to the United States, are objecting to their squeezing by dominant capitals, being sometimes ready even to hit the streets; and, most importantly, in proletarian struggles the weakening or absence of mediation mechanisms is made manifest and the only dilemma posed seems to be outright confrontation or unconditional surrender.

The core of the capitalist powerhouse is exploitation of one class by another and, in this process, their reproduction as a class of exploiters and a class of exploited and the reproduction of the whole of capital’s society. Every cycle of struggles constructs the content of revolution adequate to a historically produced class configuration, and also of the counter-revolution corresponding to it. A victorious counter-revolution concluding a cycle of struggles is also a restructuring in view of a new cycle of accumulation: there is no such thing as a set of ‘objective conditions’ getting ‘ripe’ and pronouncing a verdict which would just have to wait a bit for the formality of its execution. The stuff reality is made of is class struggle, but not in a supposedly pure form: if any ‘purity’ is to exist at all, it will have to be historically produced by this very class struggle, in ways that constitute a breach from the routine cycle of capital’s reproduction. There is no linear development from present struggles to revolution, but present struggles, even through their limits and impossibilities, are the only anchor of the theory of communisation. The second issue of Sic is decisively focused on a critical appraisal of struggles of varying geographical locations and content; a discussion of communist measures may serve as a theoretical counterpoint; looking into the concept of conjuncture will deal with the necessary leap away from the internal causality chain of capital’s reproduction.

Sic is an international theoretical project, not a homogeneous group. Differences of opinion are welcome and eagerly put to discussion: they should come as no surprise. However, a common ground does exist, and it does differentiate Sic from other currents. For example, a transhistorical and teleological understanding of class struggle, which turns its back on any periodization of its content, will not be at home here; the conception of ever recurring proletarian assaults, identical to each other and with no actual history in between, belongs to those ready to interpret the possibly good one just like the others, with the only difference that it was successful instead of unsuccessful; the ‘proposal’ (whom to?) of models of society which would be ‘better’ than the existing one is none of our preoccupations; the faith in the demarcation and extension of a communist terrain, in a communist rodent diving into the capitalist cheese and gradually eating it away, is not ours.

Other than that, Sic is an open project. Openness is of course no panacea, and a helpful mutual explanation and understanding is not a specialty of the society we all are part of. A few months ago, the members of the French theoretical group Théorie Communiste (TC) decided to withdraw from Sic. This development was particularly important, as the theoretical elaboration produced by TC had been the cornerstone for Sic’s constitution. However, life goes on, and the proof of the pudding is certainly in the eating: the ability ofSic to host a creative collective functioning and theoretical elaboration will be the only decisive criterion for the future of the project (apart from any more general developments, needless to say). Withdrawal from the table neither disproves the pudding nor absolves anyone of past and present sins. As history will not care to give any verdict on the matter, suffice it to say that we wish a constructive continuation to both TC and Sic.

T.H.

Stalin Style

in situ.

Let them eat growth

Radicals are right to point out capitalism’s need for growth at all costs is the road to ruin, but does runaway climate change wreck the prospect of a communist society too?

A tale of two charts

Two charts have been doing the rounds. The first (pictured above) is from a newly published paper in Nature Climate Change. The authors show that the current emissions pathway is actually tracking above the highest of the IPCC’s four ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’, RCP 8.5. In layman’s terms, we’re doing worse than the worst case scenario: on course for 5 degrees or more warming by 2100, with ‘runaway’ climate change almost certainly following. For the authors, the likelihood of changing direction is sufficiently low, that:

…to continue to focus on a 2 °C (or more aggressive) temperature target as the singular inviolate metric of long-term success is to engage in a form of climate denial.

The other image was tweeted by economics professor Richard Tol, from a paper of his published last year:

A century of climate change is not as bad as a lost decade of economic growth http://t.co/MCSpOhlW76 pic.twitter.com/Od6mqVHCOZ

— Richard Tol (@RichardTol) February 26, 2014

Tol’s argument here is fairly consistent with mainstream economic thinking. The 2006 Stern review for example, says that “it is difficult to secure emissions cuts faster than about 1 percent a year except in instances of recession.”1 Indeed, a 1997 piece in Foreign Affairs, by Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling, even argued that because agriculture only accounts for a small percentage of GDP, it was rational, for developed countries at least, to allow a massive collapse in productivity as long as growth in other sectors more than compensated.2 It’s telling that this was written during the dotcom bubble, but the attitude of ‘let them eat growth’ is remarkably persistent.

Tol considers “a cost-effective emission reduction trajectory towards stabilization at 625 ppm CO2e”.3 This isn’t really how the climate system works. It can’t be stabilised at arbitrary concentrations that suit cost-benefit analysis, as once positive feedbacks kick-in, the climate will keep on changing over the course of centuries and millennia. This is also a problem with the Stern Review’s 550ppm CO2e target, and according to recent research, even the official 450ppm CO2e ‘2 degree’ one.4 James Hansen’s advocacy of reducing atmospheric concentrations to 350ppm CO2e seems the most prudent in light of the scientific evidence and uncertainty over tipping points. This is not compatible with economic growth, at least for several decades until the transition is complete.5

But in any case, Tol’s paper concludes that “it is unlikely that a benefit–cost analysis would justify stabilization of the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases (…) as that would require zero carbon dioxide emissions.” Those valuable fossil fuels do have to be burned, after all. He does concede that “catastrophic risk is a more powerful argument for more stringent climate policy, but to a limited extent as emission reduction has downside risks too” (emphasis added). Catastrophe is bad, but is it really as bad as forgoing GDP growth? No wonder we’re in the shit.

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Wir sind Jugendterror und Gemüsehändler

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Demonstranten verhindern Sarrazin-Veranstaltung

TUMULT IM BERLINER ENSEMBLE – 02.03.2014

(berliner-zeitung)

Eigentlich sollte Thilo Sarrazin am Sonntagvormittag im Berliner Ensemble auftreten. Doch daraus wurde nichts, weil Demonstranten den Saal besetzten und Sprüche wie “Sarrazin raus, das ist unser Haus” skandierten. Sarrazin wirft der Theaterleitung Versagen vor.

Demonstranten haben eine Lesung des umstrittenen Autors Thilo Sarrazin im Berliner Ensemble verhindert. Schon als Sarrazin den Veranstaltungssaal betrat, stand eine Gruppe von zumeist migrantischen Demonstranten auf und hielt Plakate in die Höhe: „Wir sind Kopftuchmädchen“ oder „Wir schaffen Deutschland ab“, stand darauf, eine Anspielung auf Sarrazins früheres Buch „Deutschland schafft sich ab“, das nicht nur unter Migranten viel Unmut erzeugt hat.

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Sarrazin, der nun sein neues Buch „Der neue Tugendterror“ vorstellen wollte, wurde lautstark als „Rassist“ beschimpft und mit Buhrufen bedacht. Es kam zu Handgreiflichkeiten und Wortduellen mit meist schon älteren Zuhörern, die gekommen waren, um Sarrazin zu hören. Vereinzelt wurden den Protestierern die Plakate zerrissen, man schrie sich an unter Kronleuchtern.

Jutta Ferbers, Mitglied der Leitung des Berliner Ensembles, mahnte zur Ruhe. Schließlich gewährte sie einer Demonstrantin Rederecht, abgesprochen sei, dass alle Protestierer dann gehen, sagte sie. Die junge Demonstrantin trug ein T-Shirt mit der Aufschrift „Wir sind Jugendterror und Gemüsehändler“ stand. Sie bezichtigte Sarrazin einer rassistischen Ideologie.

Als sie abtrat, stellte sich heraus, dass die Demonstranten, die meist dem Migrantenverein „Allmende“ angehörten, keineswegs den Saal verlassen wollten. Daraufhin drohte Jutta Ferbers als Hausherrin damit, „die starken Männer“ zu holen, also die Polizei. Die Situation eskalierte erneut. Mehrere Gäste und Demonstranten schrien sich an, es gab weitere Rangeleien, Papierkügelchen flogen.

Gegenseitig warf man sich „Faschismus“ oder „Linksfaschismus“ vor. Nach einer langen Phase des Wartens erklärte Ferbers schließlich, dass das Berliner Ensemble einen Polizeieinsatz nun doch nicht zulassen werde. „Gewalt dulden wir in unserem Hause nicht“, erklärte Ferbers. „Wir beugen uns also dem Meinungsterror.“

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Offenbar hatte sie das mit BE-Intendant Claus Peymann abgesprochen. Sarrazin und die anwesenden Cicero-Journalisten, die das Podium darstellten, reagierten verärgert. Schließlich war das ihre Veranstaltung. Ferbers forderte daraufhin sogar Sarrazin mehrfach auf, das Podium zu verlassen. Dieser wollte das zunächst nicht tun. „Das Berliner Ensemble weigert sich, das Hausrecht gegenüber Linksfaschisten auszuüben“, sagte Sarrazin. Das sei ein umfassendes Versagen der Leitung des Hauses und bedürfe keines weiteren Kommentars.

Schließlich verließ er doch den Saal, woraufhin Mitglieder der Antifa das Podium erstürmten. Draußen posierte später die Migrantengruppe Allmende mit Victory-Zeichen. Vor dem Haus hatten zudem gut 100 Demonstranten hinter einer Polizeiabsperrung demonstriert. Die Besucher der Veranstaltung sollen nun ihr Geld zurückerhalten, womöglich wird es aber eine Veranstaltung an einem anderen Ort geben.

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Separation

dolphins class struggle

In the cauldron of the negative – Jean-Marc Mandosio 

The fear of seeing the situationist theses degraded into an ideology (as had taken place with Marxism, for example, or with surrealism) is the origin of this mistrust towards the very idea that there could be a situationist “doctrine”. However, to the extent that the situationists attempted to formulate a coherent and “unitary” critique of society, it is not illegitimate to try to isolate this coherence and this unity. Moreover, everyone knows that even a hallucination has a logical structure; so there might not be a “situationism” but there is of course a situationist system of thought, which was enriched and became more precise with the passage of time. In order to demonstrate the coherence (or the incoherence) of a system of thought, the best and indeed the only way to do so is to address it more geometrico, according to the “method of geometry”, as exemplified by Euclid, Descartes or Spinoza. . . This treatment will be applied here to a particular question, but one that bears a decisive importance according to the situationists themselves: the theory of revolution. Such an examination might seem “anti-situationist”, insofar as it reveals what we could call a logic of the impossible. 

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