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leberwurst proletariat

Month: May, 2014

The Bad News

The Milky Way and Andromeda are the dominant members of a small family of galaxies known as the Local Group. Whereas the universe is expanding and galaxies are generally getting farther and farther away from one another with time, the galaxies in the Local Group are bound together by family ties in the form of their mutual gravity. Our relatives aren’t going anywhere.

And there is the problem.

Andromeda and the Milky Way are actually heading toward each other in the do-si-do that constitutes life in a galaxy cluster. Recent measurements with the Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed that they will hit head on in about two billion years. Since galaxies, like atoms, are mostly empty space, they will pass through each other like ghosts, but gravity will disrupt the stars and strew them across space in gigantic spectacular streamers. Eventually they will merge into a single giant galaxy.

The bad news is that we will be dead. Earth will have been boiled and sterilized eons earlier as the sun swells and dies. The good news is that the collision will be a fiesta of new stars forming as that disruptive gravity collapses and then condenses clouds of gas and dust. New worlds, another chance. Maybe.

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kommunistischtennisspiel

Berlin, Volkspark Friedrichshain, Tischtennis

 

original german communism

We don’t like samba

Trailer for the upcoming documentary about social struggles in Brazil

Dialectics

vishniac_warsaw
Two schlemiels from Chelm went for a walk.
The first one said, “Look! Bear tracks!”
The second one disagreed, “No, those are deer tracks!”
They were still arguing about it when they were hit by a train.

The Universality of Marx

Paradise-Found_Dolphin-painting
by Loren Goldner

(The following article originally appeared in New Politics, 1989 – an oldie but goodie)

A strange anomaly dominates the current social, political and cultural climate. World capitalism has for over fifteen years been sinking into its worst systemic crisis since the 1930’s, and one which in its biospheric dimensions is much worse than the 1930’s. At the same time, the social stratum which calls itself the left in Europe and the U.S. is in full retreat. In many advanced capitalist countries, and particularly in the U.S., that stratum increasingly suspects the world outlook of Karl Marx, which postulates that capitalism brings such crises as storm clouds bring the rain, of being a “white male” mode of thought. Stranger still is the fact that the relative eclipse of Marx has been carried out largely in the name of a “race/gender/class” ideology that can sound, to the uninitiated, both radical and vaguely Marxian. What this “discourse” (to use its own word) has done, however, is to strip the idea of class of exactly that element which, for Marx, made it radical: its status as a universal oppression whose emancipation required (and was also the key to) the abolition of all oppression.

This question of the status of universality, whether attacked by its opponents as “white male”, or “Eurocentric”, or a “master discourse”, is today at the center of the current ideological debate, as one major manifestation of the broader world crisis of the waning 20th century.

The writings of Marx and Engels include assertions that the quality of relations between men and women is the surest expression of the humanity of a given society, that the communal forms of association of peoples such as the North American Iroquois were anticipations of communism, and that the suppression of matriarchal by patriarchal forms of kinship in ancient Greece was simultaneous with the generalization of commodity production, that is, with proto-capitalism. Marx also wrote, against the Enlightenment’s simple-minded linear view of progress that, short of the establishment of communism, all historical progress was accompanied by simultaneous retrogressions. But most of this is fairly well known; this is not what bothers contemporaries. What bothers them is that the concept of universality of Marx and Engels was ultimately grounded neither in cultural constructs nor even in relations of “power”, which is the currency in which today’s fashion trades.

The universalism of Marx rests on a notion of humanity as a species distinct from other species by its capacity to periodically revolutionize its means of extracting wealth from nature, and therefore as free from the relatively fixed laws of population which nature imposes on other species. “Animals reproduce only their own nature”, Marx wrote in the 1844 Manuscripts, “but humanity reproduces all of nature”. Nearly 150 years later, the understanding of ecology contained in that line remains in advance of most of the contemporary movements known by that name. Human beings, in contrast to other species, are not fixed in their relations with the environment by biology, but rather possess an infinite capacity to create new environments and new selves in the process. Human history, in this view, is the history of these repeated revolutions in nature and thus in “human nature”.

What bothers contemporary leftist opinion about Marx is that the latter presents a formidable (and, in my opinion, unanswerable) challenge to the currently dominant culturalism, which is so pervasive that it does not even know its own name.

Today, the idea that there is any meaningful universality based on human beings as a species is under a cloud, even if the opponents of such a view rarely state their case in so many words (or are even aware that this is the issue). For them, such an idea, like the idea that Western Europe from the Renaissance onward was a revolutionary social formation unique in history, that there is any meaning to the idea of progress, or that there exist criteria from which one can judge the humanity or inhumanity of different “cultures”, are “white male” “Eurocentric” constructs designed to deny to women, peoples of color, gays or ecologists the “difference” of their “identity”.

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Fragments of Europe

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by Jacob Blumenfeld,  May 6th, 2014, Brooklyn Rail

Strolling down the promenade in central Madrid on a Thursday afternoon, I glance left and see a Museo del Jamón (Museum of Ham), I look right and find a shop full of Catholic kitsch, left again and it’s a bar selling overpriced tapas, right again and there are two glass doors brimming with hundreds of shielded riot cops about to explode onto the Puerta del Sol. They are waiting for the 20,000 high school students marching against austerity and cuts to education. If anything goes wrong, they are ready. Too bad though. The first windows are broken elsewhere.

With around 25 percent unemployment, and 50 percent youth unemployment, the prospects for a good life in Spain are not high. The economic crisis has crushed many dreams and evicted many locals, but the royal palaces and grand museums are still polished clean and packed with tourists. The squares are no longer centers of political discussion; that was already exhausted in 2011. Discussing ¡Democracia real YA! in public is a fine step, but it’s no substitute for the overthrow of economic domination. A social strike on the scale of March 29th, 2012, which shut down the economy in Barcelona and most of Spain, has not occurred since. People protest, barricades are built, bank windows are broken, buildings are claimed, squats named, centers socialized, pamphlets spread, and the museums are still full.

If Lisbon is the most beautiful city in Europe, it is also the most abandoned—decrepit, for sale, slowly decaying like Detroit. But this is not due to deindustrialization, urban politics, or endemic poverty. It’s a story of debt and crisis, capital flight and real estate bubbles, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Every once in a while, a protest or a strike will pass by your street or through a gorgeous square demanding this or trying to stop that. But to whom are they speaking when they chant? Is it Merkel, “Brussels,” the Portuguese, the rest of Europe? Who hears their provincial wails?

It’s Saturday in Berlin, the sky is half blue and half black, and right as I’m about to begin working my shift at the bar, lines of riot cops march down the street, van after van after van full, followed closely by a small demo, 200 maybe, mostly autonomists, antifascists, communists, housing activists and some locals holding signs about rising rent, gentrification, capitalism. Behind them, another few thousand riot police. Nothing happens, as usual.

A few days earlier, a nearby square occupied by refugees, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, was cleared. For almost two years, refugees lived in this Platz with makeshift tents, food donations, and some support from leftists. Politicians and policemen have been trying to evict them for a while, claiming health and safety reasons, but they were blocked thanks to the strong solidarity from anti-racist groups. But on this one foggy morning, the strategy was found: choose some leaders from the camp, make a deal with them, and then let them dismantle the camp themselves. And so it was done. When the activists arrived, the chaos was too far-gone. The police intervened later, after the fights within the camp had already broken up any hope of unity. The square is now a permanent police-zone.

Berlin has become a mecca for crisis refugees from southern Europe, with Spaniards, Greeks, and Portuguese competing for jobs with Polish and Russian immigrants from the former Soviet states, as well as the long-term Turkish community and, of course, the decadent Germans themselves. Along with floods of British partygoers, American tourists, Israeli exiles, and French Erasmus students, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Iran, and Syria are making a presence in this formerly homogenous place. Vietnamese and Korean zones exist on the outskirts, with the center of the city still negatively shaped by the history of the wall. With its low unemployment, cheap cost of living, and reasonable welfare provisions, Berlin is an ideal city for global surplus populations evading the terrors of economic and political catastrophe in their own lands. Germany itself has a negative birthrate, and so immigration has been encouraged by the government to make up for the gap in job-seekers. This process has reshaped Berlin from an Eastern outpost of the Cold War into a cosmopolitan hipster millennial party-town. The new class composition that undergirds this development has yet to express itself in struggle. For now, everyone is a member of the partying proletariat, no one a member of the party.

In a former nuclear silo an hour north of Berlin, 60,000 people dance non-stop for four days every summer to electronic music of every sort on 20 stages with no cops in sight, all self-organized by a bunch of older and younger antifascists, punks, and technofreaks. It’s a self-proclaimed communist holiday in which music, theater, cabaret, film, art, sculpture, workshops, dance, food, drinks, and fire are produced by each according to their ability and distributed to each according to their need. This communism lasts four days long. Then it’s back to work.

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Why not?

WhyRiot6

Why Riot?  by Phil A. Neel

Two years ago in Seattle, on May 1st, 2012, roughly four to five hundred people engaged in the largest riot the city had seen in more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of property were destroyed[i], a minor state of emergency was declared, and the next day’s headlines were filled with horror stories of crazy, “out-of-town” anarchists run amok.

This event, occurring on the tail end of the Occupy movement, also quickly became the post-facto excuse for extensive federal, state and municipal investigation, surveillance and ongoing repression of political dissent. Several anarchists in the Pacific Northwest wereput in prison without charge in the fall of that year, only to be released months later, still with no charges filed. Houses were raided in search of anarchist literature and black hoodies. Up to a year later, people were still being followed.

I was one of the five people originally charged for crimes on May Day 2012[ii]. I’ve since pled guilty to slightly lesser charges, in order to avoid going to trial on two felonies[iii]. I pled in the fall of 2013 and completed the bulk of the sentence in the winter, spending three months in King County’s Work-Education Release (WER) Unit. Technically an “alternative to confinement,” living in WER effectively means that you are imprisoned at all times that you are not allowed out for work, school or treatment (for mental health or drug offenses).

This puts me in a unique position. Since I am one of the few people who has pled guilty to certain crimes from May 1st, 2012, including Riot, I do not necessarily face the same risks in talking about—and defending—the riot as a tactic or the impulses behind it. This by no means makes what I say below an exhaustive or fully representative account of why others may have engaged in that same riot. They mostly got away—a good thing in and of itself, though federal charges may still be pending for one window that was smashed in an empty courthouse. But this also means that they cannot speak of or defend their participation without risking repression.

To be clear: I’m not speaking on behalf of any groups who wound up engaged in the riot that occurred on May Day 2012. To my knowledge, the riot was by no means planned ahead of time, and the anti-capitalist march that the riot grew out of, technically an Occupy Seattle event, was itself planned in public meetings. I’m not even speaking on behalf of this specific riot, but instead on behalf of rioting as such, in the abstract. The question “Why Riot” is not simply: why did you engage in this riot, but, instead, why riot at all? And the perspective given here is that of a rioter.

So I’m writing here for simple reasons: to defend the riot as a general tactic and to explain why one might engage in a riot. By this I mean to defend and explain not just the window breaking, not just “non-injurious violence,” and certainly not just the media spectacle it generates, but the riot itself—that dangerous, ugly word that sounds so basically criminal and which often takes (as in London in 2011) a form so fundamentally unpalatable for civil society that it can only be understood as purely irrational, without any logic, and without possible defense.

I aim, nonetheless, to defend and explain the riot, because we live in a new era of riots. Riots have been increasing in absolute number globally for the past thirty years. They are our immediate future, and this future will spare Seattle no less than Athens or London, Guangzhou or Cairo. . . [continue]

kiev-old-man-bashed-cop-with-brick

Loot Back: From Whom? A Response to “Why Riot?” by JF

Phil Neel’s bold and exciting piece of agitational material “Why Riot?” raises too many points to engage with one response. It’s raw honesty, sophistication, and visceral appeal speak for themselves.  As an initial response I will focus only on its conception of “generations,” an error of the piece which unfortunately seems potentially central to Ultra, and the rectification of which will determine the project’s direction. Admittedly this is not the central focus of Neel’s piece, and while it may seem tangential, I plan to return to Neel’s more central theses once familiarizing myself with his source material, and thereby connect the dots. I will also attempt in the near future to concretize some of the recent history presented below, which is admittedly schematic.

Neel echoes Ultra’s appeal to so-called millennials, or “Generation Zero”: “Our future has been looted. Loot back.” Ultra aims to appeal to this particular “generation” of proletarians, and Neel’s “Why Riot?” is thus far Ultra’s most explicit statement to this effect. Citing Blaumachen’s “age of riots” thesis, the piece is geared those who are not finding political expression through rallying behind demands, or joining/building political groups, but through mass actions of refusal of discipline, illegality, and attack against the forms of appearance of capital, or sites of proletarian social reproduction (smashing windows, short-lived blockages of the points of capital circulation, etc.).

Ultra seeks to be a voice for a new generation, defined as emerging from the 2011 cycle of struggles, and this is a very important and necessary project. However, Neel’s emphasis in “Why Riot?” on a particular generation of proletarian againstanother is a  mistake. It is wrong not from not only a simple class unity perspective (which is itself a valid objection), but more importantly, given how the class is stratified along lines of race, sex, ethnicity, language spoke, gender presentation, and so forth. Further, it is not an accurate history of how the past forty years of economic crisis have impacted the proletariat, nor is it a factual depiction of the present debt crises, both national and consumer. In Neel’s emphatic and effective appeal to the new generation, the “generation” becomes an abstraction from the reality of class society, its causes, its mechanisms, and its history, relying instead on tropes partially borrowed from the US right, which blame the debt and joblessness of this “generation” on the previous one, instead of on capital… [continue]

Hans-Jürgen Krahl oder Theodor Adorno

oder

The Second Coming

1. Mai in Berlin
(1. Mai 2014, Berlin)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?