communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Month: December, 2015

China in the Era of Riots

NWF4_2

The following is a preview article from the forthcoming first issue of the Chuang journal.

Denim and its Discontents

 The story is now familiar: One morning in the spring of 2011, a migrant street vendor is harassed and beaten by police. That evening, rumors fly over the internet that the vendor has died. Hundreds of people gather in the streets, enraged by the apparent murder. They burn cars, loot ATMs and attack the riot police sent to disperse them. But they do not disperse. The riot spreads over several days, with participants growing into the thousands. Journalists who come to report on the events are held by security forces. Rumor of the uprising spreads over the internet even as the government uses all its resources to cut off access to the information.

Despite its striking similarity, this is not the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, harassed by police, whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring. The man in the story above was instead Tang Xuecai (唐学才) a Sichuanese migrant in the city of Guangzhou. The riot[1] took place in Xintang, one of the Pearl River Delta’s many manufacturing districts, this one specializing in denim[2], with the majority of the rioters themselves migrant laborers in factories making jeans for export. And, unlike the riots and strikes that followed the death of Bouazizi in Tunisia, the Xintang riot was ultimately crushed as police took control of the district, made mass arrests, and forced the majority of migrants back to work

Aside from this stark comparison, there was nothing particularly special about the Xintang riot. In a strictly quantitative sense, cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan in China’s Pearl River Delta (PRD) see more riots more regularly than even Athens. If one adds strikes, blockades and other such “mass incidents” to the list, Chinese protests regularly surpass global trends in scale and severity—especially since a lack (or exhaustion) of legal alternatives tends to transform what might be a benign picket or protest elsewhere into a multi-factory uprising that risks destroying millions of dollars of equipment. Yet we do not often see the avenues and alleys of Xintang as we see those of Athens, lined with burning cars as riot police advance and swarms of rioters scatter underneath the dim gold glow of a McDonalds sign. Instead, images of Athens burning are posed against the glowing skylines of China’s coastal cities, intercut with upward-trending graphs of productivity, profitability, progress.

Underneath the graphs, however, such “mass incidents” have been increasing over the last decade.[3] This rising unrest is, in fact, recognized by numerous official sources, such as the Annual Report on China’s Rule of Law (No 12). Other than attempting to tally and taxonomize the “incidents,” this report also noted that roughly 30% of them took place in Guangdong province, in which the PRD is located.[4] But many such reports, including this one, take only a small number of mass incidents reported in major media outlets and generalize from this subset. Others, such as the China Labor Bulletin’s strike map, mine reports from the Chinese internet in a much more systematic way, but the data stretches back only a few years.[5] Their map is also intentionally focused on strikes, rather than all “mass incidents,” and therefore often excludes forms of unrest that are initiated outside the workplace and do not take the form of labor grievances.

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Unpodemos

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nlr interview with Pablo Iglesias

You’ve written about the intellectual influences shaping Podemos’s approach, singling out the work of Laclau and Mouffe. There are three criticisms that could be made of them as strategic thinkers. First, unlike Gramsci’s writings, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy offers no analytical tools for grasping the tactics of the enemy—La Casta, or the liberal–conservative bloc of Centre Left and Centre Right. Second, their work has very little to say about capitalist dynamics, essentially treating the economic field as unproblematic—whereas the condition for the emergence of Podemos is the global economic crisis. Third, and again, unlike Gramsci, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy has much to say about discourse but little about deeds—the crystallization of a concrete minimum programme. To take the first question: elite strategy. In face of the incipient regime crisis, Spain’s rulers seem to have adopted an active policy of neutralization—eliminating potentially aggravating factors, such as Juan Carlos, replaced by a fresher-faced Bourbon, and building up Ciudadanos as a ‘clean’ liberal party; a much more effective operation than To Potami in Greece. As you say, Podemos’s space on TV has also narrowed. Have these developments altered the grounds for Podemos’s triple hypothesis? Currently, all four parties—Podemos, Ciudadanos, PSOE, PP—are around 20 per cent, which makes a lib-con majority of 60 per cent, against an anti-austerity vote of 25 per cent for Podemos and Izquierda Unida combined.

Clearly the adversary plays a role and the terms of the confrontation have been changing. It’s true that the media terrain is much less comfortable for us now. Building up Ciudadanos was a smart move for them, not so much because it is taking votes from Podemos directly but because, at the level of discourse, it’s challenging our position as the option for regeneration and our place in the media. Now there is another party of ‘change’, which has very different features; Ciudadanos essentially emerged from the liberal establishment. So, yes, we are in the process of reformulating the Podemos hypothesis. Let me explain our thinking.

Our key objective was always to occupy the centrality of the political field, taking advantage of the incipient organic crisis. This has nothing to do with the political ‘centre’ of bourgeois discourse. Our challenge, in Gramscian terms, in this war of position was to create a new common sense that would allow us to occupy a transversal position, at the heart of the newly reformulated political spectrum. Right now, the political space that was up for grabs has been reduced as a result of these counter-moves by the establishment, including the promotion of Ciudadanos. So our task has become more difficult; it requires a new strategic intelligence. Also, these interventions by the adversary have created further contradictions within our field. We are facing three immediate difficulties.

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Winter Anti-Reviews 2015-2016, pt 1

(antifilm)

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

Star Wars: The Force Awakens –  Oedipal drama returns for millennials caught in the same cycle of struggles as their parents because they were unable to defeat capitalism in its previous incarnation due to incomplete development of the Force, i.e, class struggle. Syrian civil war reflected in the New Republic, First Order, Resistance triangle, such that militants, foreign agents, traitors, generals, pirates, and lovers have no clue what’s going on except they’ve seen it all before and it’s spectacular

Chi-Raq – Civil war as gun violence as male gang violence in black Chicago can only be stopped by female proletariat in their own self-abolition 

The Danish Girl – Mythical origin of trans identity as romantic tragedy for europeans losing their innocence in a world transitioning to capitalism

The Big Short – Marxist crisis theory as male hobby to make money 

Joy –  White female housewife crushed under the weight of patriarchy finally breaks on through to the freedom of entrepreneurial capitalism 

In the Heart of the Sea – Moby Dick without Loren Goldner is counter-revolutionary

Sisters –  Sex, drugs and party is not only for male dickwads but female cougars who feign transgression only to reassure traditional morality

Concussion – American football as capitalist sacrifice of flesh to the gods of war is confronted by medical ethics

The Hateful Eight – Politics as the necessary conversation between fractions of the proletariat with opposed interests can only end  in communism or violence 

The Revenant – America as the self-abolition of Man and Nature without the positive supersession into the Gemeinwesen

Point Break – Classic surf-noir film recycled for the eco-conscious cross-fit generation who dreams of having their cake and eating it too

How ‘South Park’ Perfectly Captures Our Era of Outrage

check-your-privilege

by James Poniewozik

If “South Park” were a person, it would be old enough to vote, though it probably wouldn’t. That scabrous cartoon has been a one-stop shop for anti-partisan satire and blasphemy on Comedy Central since 1997.

Few comedies can stay first-rate for that long. (Sorry, Homer.) Early in the current season, the show’s 19th, the creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to wonder how well the show’s offend-at-all-costs ethos has aged. “It’s like I’m a relic,” a recurring character says. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve outstayed my welcome.”

The character in question is a white restaurant owner who believes he is Chinese and speaks in a grossly stereotyped Asian accent. Maybe, that meta-lament seemed to suggest, the show had started punching down in its later years.Yet this fall “South Park” has gone and revitalized itself, by telling a more ambitious, serialized story and by asserting that it takes an outrageous comedy to capture an era of outrage.

This season, which airs its finale on Wednesday, is built around an extended satire of political correctness. South Park, Colo., is taken over by a new school principal — named, aptly, P. C. Principal — and his crew of like-minded, jacked-up frat bros, who believe that being p.c. “means you love nothing more than beer, working out and the feeling that you get when you rhetorically defend a marginalized community from systems of oppression!” They meet microaggression with macroaggression, bullying kids and adults who, say, refer to the transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner as anything less than “stunning and brave.”

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A Communist Life

by Felix Baum

Along with the return of economic crisis and social struggles around the world, the term “communism”—supposedly discredited once and for all by the experience of Russia and its satellite states in the 20th century—seems to be enjoying a certain comeback in recent years. Conferences on “the idea of communism” attract significant crowds, books by professed communists like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek find readers and grab media attention. However, more often than not this (surely limited) comeback does not seem to be driven by a genuine desire to retrieve the emancipatory content the term carried in the writings of Karl Marx and like-minded critics, as well as in practical movements from the 19th century onwards. Rather, maîtres-penseurs like Badiou and Žižek prefer to pose as enfants terribles, defending Maoism and flirting with Bolshevik terror, hence reaffirming precisely the unholy traditions with which a “communism” for the 21st century would have to break.

Paul mattick

In his new biography of Paul Mattick, a German-born worker who immigrated to the United States in 1926 and later emerged as one of the most important radical critics of his time, Gary Roth tells the story of a largely forgotten current in the 20th century that early on made a rupture with the statist caricatures of communism to which today’s media-savvy leftist intellectuals are still holding fast.1 Noting that this story is about “bygone eras in which a radicalized working class still constituted a hope for the future,” Roth steers clear of melancholy and nostalgia, instead seeking a justification for his work in the more recent reconfiguration “of the world’s population into a vast working class that extends into the middle classes in the industrialized countries and the pools of underemployed agricultural workers everywhere else.” In fact, though far from constituting a sustained, consistent assault on existing conditions, some recent struggles of parts of this class, most notably the “square movements” that spread from North Africa via Europe to Istanbul, exhibit certain traits—horizontal self-organization (or “leaderlessness), direct mass action against state forces, a focus on occupations—that point much less to the Bolshevik-Leninist tradition than to the one Roth describes, commonly referred to as council communism, though the resemblances should certainly not be exaggerated.

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The Apocalypse That Threatens

the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-romes-destruction-painting

by Paul Mattick

I grew up around adults who had made it through the Second World War—by leaving Europe in time, evading or refusing the draft in the United States, or by being among the lucky ones to survive a spell in a concentration camp. Many of these people expected a new world war in the 1950s, given the fierceness of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. rivalry, and were particularly apprehensive of a coming nuclear holocaust. Later, I met people who had left Europe for South America to be safer from radioactive fallout when the war came, and others who thought of moving—or actually emigrated—to Australia for the same reason.

As it turned out, the expected nuclear conflict between the great powers did not take place. Instead we had—developing out of the anti-colonial wars of national liberation that followed World War II—a series of murderous proxy wars in Asia, Africa, and Central America, in which local conflicts were provoked or magnified by big-power involvement. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 led to an apparent diminution of the threat of superpower mutual assured destruction, although both Russia and America continued to maintain fleets of planes, ships, and missiles armed with nuclear weapons, while the number of nuclear powers expanded. War continued on the periphery of the economically developed areas, as ethnically oriented forces fought to reorganize control of the Balkans, Central Africa, and various Asian countries, while what amounted to army-sized gangs fought over control of natural resources—diamonds and other minerals, oil, grazing land—in Africa and drug routes in Central and South America.

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The Year We Obsessed Over Identity

by Wesley Morris

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2015’s headlines and cultural events have confronted us with the malleability of racial, gender, sexual and reputational lines. Who do we think we are?

A few weeks ago, I sat in a movie theater and grinned. Anne Hathaway was in ‘‘The Intern,’’ perched on a hotel bed in a hotel robe, eating from a can of overpriced nuts, having tea and freaking out. What would happen if she divorced her sweet, selfless stay-at-home dad of a husband? Would she ever meet anybody else? And if she didn’t, she would have no one to be buried next to — she’d be single for all eternity. And weren’t the problems in her marriage a direct result of her being a successful businesswoman — she was there but never quite present? ‘‘The Intern’’ is a Nancy Meyers movie, and these sorts of cute career-woman meltdowns are the Eddie Van Halen guitar solos of her romantic comedies.

But what’s funny about that scene — what had me grinning — is the response of the person across the bed from Hathaway. After listening to her tearful rant, this person has had enough: Don’t you dare blame yourself or your career! Actually, the interruption begins, ‘‘I hate to be the feminist, of the two of us. … ’’ Hate to be because the person on the other side of the bed isn’t Judy Greer or Brie Larson. It’s not Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. It’s someone not far from the last person who comes to mind when you think ‘‘soul-baring bestie.’’ It’s Robert freaking De Niro, portrayer of psychos, savages and grouches no more.

On that bed with Hathaway, as her 70-year-old intern, he’s not Travis Bickle or the human wall of intolerance from those Focker movies. He’s Lena Dunham. The attentiveness and stern feminism coming out of his mouth are where the comedy is. And while it’s perfectly obvious what Meyers is doing to De Niro — girlfriending him — that doesn’t make the overhaul any less effective. The whole movie is about the subtle and obvious ways in which men have been overly sensitized and women made self-estranged through breadwinning. It’s both a plaint against the present and a pining for the past, but also an acceptance that we are where we are.

And where are we? On one hand: in another of Nancy Meyers’s bourgeois pornographies. On the other: in the midst of a great cultural identity migration. Gender roles are merging. Races are being shed. In the last six years or so, but especially in 2015, we’ve been made to see how trans and bi and poly-ambi-omni- we are. If Meyers is clued into this confusion, then you know it really has gone far, wide and middlebrow. We can see it in the instantly beloved hit ‘‘Transparent,’’ about a family whose patriarch becomes a trans woman whose kids call her Moppa, or in the time we’ve spent this year in televised proximity to Caitlyn Jenner, or in the browning of America’s white founding fathers in the Broadway musical ‘‘Hamilton,’’ or in the proliferating clones that Tatiana Maslany plays on ‘‘Orphan Black,’’ which mock the idea of a true or even original self, or in Amy Schumer’s comedic feminism, which reconsiders gender confusion: Do uncouthness, detachment and promiscuity make her a slut, or a man?

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Federici vs. Marx (Gilles Dauvé)

“rough magic I here abjure”

Shakespeare,The Tempest, 1610

Caliban & the Witch is of undeniable interest for our understanding of social movements at the critical juncture between medieval and modern times, of the advent of capitalism, its sexual dimension, the treatment of women and the conversion of female and male bodies into a work-machine, among other things. But the book also sets forth a vision of past and present which is as questionable as the political perspective that this vision entails. (1)

How capitalism came about according to Silvia Federici

Federeci claims to be writing “against Marxist orthodoxy” (p.6), and Caliban & the Witch is commonly read as a complement (or for some readers, as an alternative) to Marx’s Capital, especially Part VIII. Federici writes:

“ (..) my description of primitive accumulation includes a set of historical phenomena that are absent in Marx, and yet have been extremely important for capitalist accumulation. They include : 1) the development of a new sexual division of labour subjugating women’s labour and women’s reproductive function to the reproduction of the work-force; 2) the construction of a new patriarchal order, based upon the exclusion of women from waged-work and their subordination to men; 3) the mechanization of the proletarian body and its transformation, in the case of women, into a machine for the production of new workers.” (p. 11)

So we expect to read what was missing in the accepted master narrative, especially as history suffers from a long tradition of writing women off. The question is, where does a counter-hegemonic history lead us? In Federici’s case, the author is not merely filling in gaps: her analysis of primitive accumulation amounts to nothing less than a conception of capitalism not just different from Marx’s but indeed opposed to it.

In order to understand the birth of capitalism, she emphasises the specific oppression that social groups, women in particular, were subjected to. That is what she is targeting, and her approach prioritises certain factors and downplays others.

The question is, what tipped the historical scales ?

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