communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Month: April, 2016

Build the hacienda, burn down the palaces

arton420-ce1bb

Translated from the French by edicioneschafa, revised by ill-will
Original text found at Lundi Matin.
  1. What we’ve been living through is new. It is certainly not just another “social movement.” “Social movements” have a frame, so that everything escaping it is defined as a boiling-over or a break-away [débordement]. Yet what we’ve experienced since March 9th has been an uninterrupted series of such boiling-over breakaway moments, with the old forms of politics chasing after them from behind. The call to demonstrate on March 9th was a breakaway from the unions by the YouTubers. The demonstrations since then have seen constant breakaway marches led by the “youths”: the traditional image of union marches headed up by the various union bosses was systematically replaced by hooded youths defying the police. Nuit debout overflows every recognized political frame, while the “wild marches” that leave from its site at place de la République are themselves a breakaway from Nuit debout. We must continue to begin—or in other words, continue to break away, to remain on the move, to surprise.
  2. Attempts to assimilate the new into the already-known are part of the arsenal of neutralization. Just as the demonstrations against this new Labor law have little to do with the struggle against the CPE, Nuit debout bears very little relation to the Indignados of Puerta del Sol [Madrid, Spain]. Whereas [the occupation at] Puerta del Sol declared itself pacifist, [the occupation at] Place de la République had, last Friday, hours-long clashes with the police. “Everyone hates the police” has become a noted chant hit. Whereas [the occupation at] Puerta del Sol called itself “apolitical,” we have lost count of the calls by unions and the speeches by unionists at place de la République. However, Puerta del Sol was really occupied, which is not the case with place de la République. At Puerta del Sol food was made for thousands, people stayed day and night, the police were not making daily evictions, nor ordered to takedown this or that, or to stop folks from cooking. This last difference indicates a path to follow: if we want to make place de la République more than just an interminable general assembly where curious on-lookers are giving a first-hand look at its powerlessness and the inconsistency of its “decisions,” then we must really occupy it; this means building real spaces and defending them from the police.
  3. What place de la République really constitutes is a public counter-space. Since the public, political and media space that exists has become an integral lie, we have no choice but to desert it. Not by falling back into silence, but to positively desert it by constructing another. And speech is like freedom: when you first take hold of it you start to say or do some dumb shit, but that’s not what’s important. What matters is to not to dwell on that first fuck-up. We must instead say that we have a long way to go, that these past weeks comprise our first few breaths. It’s been years now that a coalition of forces have made the situation unbreathable, between the “threat of the National Front,” “war on terrorism,” “crises”of all kinds, the state of emergency laws, climate apocalypse and the permanent campaign for the next presidency. What characterizes the reigning public space is that it offers a space for nothing but contemplation: what we witness, what we hear, what we learn never becomes an act or bears any consequence because we face it all alone. As was made evident in exemplary fashion the night of the ‘nightcap at Vall’s place’, what is vibrant and powerful about a counter-space is the capacity for acts to follow speech. Consciousness and the capacity to act are not disjointed. This is the way that a counter-space can positively destitute the existing public space. Hence the great curiosity and jealousy of the media.
  4. The conflict around the El Khomri law is not just a conflict around the “work” law, it’s a conflict around the possibility or not of governing, which is to say, a political conflict in the true sense of the term. No one can stand to be governed any more by the puppets in the [National] assembly, which is why, in our point of view, the law cannot pass; yet the government itself cannot afford not to pass this law—this means, it has been factually destituted [destitué de fait], and can no longer govern. This refusal is even seen in a union like the CGT, whose rank-and-file can no longer can bear to be governed as it had previously been by its management. If one listens to the speeches people give at place de la République, most fall into either one of two camps regarding this question of destitution: some wish the moment of destitution to be followed by a constitutive moment where they a new constitution could be written and a new society founded, where as others think the destitution should be without a conclusion because it is first of all a process of construction, and that  for fiction of a single society we must substitute the reality that there exists a plurality of worlds, each of which express and incarnate their own idea of life and of happiness. Those of us writing here share the latter position.
  5. Let’s be pragmatic: no one’s going to be able to write a constitution until this regime has been overthrown. And being that you do not overthrow a democratic regime democratically, i.e. that it will defend itself against any fundamental challenge until its very last riot cop, the only path leading to a new constitution is an insurrectional path. However to lead a successful insurrection, like that of Maidan for example, place de la République must be really occupied, barricaded, guarded, etc.; also, all political and existential sensibilities favorable to insurrection must be able to find each other; to this end, for the desperate search for a consensus never to be found in the middle of Paris, a consensus of a more or less frightened metropolitan petty bourgeoisie, we must substitute the material existence of a plurality of spaces, of “houses,” where each of the sensibilities of the insurrection could come aggregate themselves and enter into a fusion. Those who are passionate about writing a constitution are welcome to build their own house where they can write up as many drafts as they like. And as for those who want to put the constitution into place, well we’ll discuss this when Valls and Hollande will have already taken their jet to take refuge in the USA, Africa or in Algeria.
  6. A poster in the Parisian metro a few years ago declared, “Who organizes spaces, rules over them”; it was decorated with a majestic lion supposedly representing the sovereignty of the RATP Group [management of Parisian state-owned transport]. What is the power to be found in place de la République? It resides the management of the place itself, and the forces of order who impose respect thereby. Power is thus this grand empty esplanade; the flux of cars and their din; and the anti-police vans posted on all sides. How can an assembly seriously claim to be sovereign which then debases itself by respecting the real sovereignty that dictates its every move? Impossible to take it seriously. But we would not have gathered together, nor been as numerous and determined as we’ve been, if we weren’t very serious. By serious, here we mean that we have taken it upon ourselves to manage this place, to  express our intention to hold out by constructing the means for doing so, to refuse to be added to the list of mediatic flashes in the pan that let themselves be swept away at the first attack. We we are going to be able to welcome comrades from all over, we have to escape the precarity that imposed on us by the current forces of management, and to arrange things as we see fit – we have to be constructive, in other words.
  7. We are in the middle of a ford, at the heart of peril: there are too many of us to simply return home and not enough of us to throw ourselves into an insurrectional assault. We must “shift into second gear” as some say. To hold out till the end of April is already not bad. We cannot count on the union bosses, because even if a few strikes that can be re-directed spring up here and there, by nature these strikes will be against their will. However we know the danger that awaits us if this situation closes up again, a danger we already struggle against even now: that of the electoral system, the democratic blackmail of having to choose between the plague and cholera, between Alain Juppé and Marine Le Pen. Those who are apt to join us are precisely those whom are disgusted by such a reality, those who cannot bear for politics to be reduced to the insignificant process of voting. Politics is in what we plan, in what we build, in what we attack and in what we destroy. Shifting into second gear means: build the hacienda, burn down the palaces.

The Construction Commission

Paris /  April 2016

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Abyss

chernobyl-cover

[Note: Author unknown. First published in L’Encyclopedie des Nuisances No. 8, August 1986. Translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, 1989.]

A bottomless chasm, or at any rate one that cannot be plumbed, we call an abyss. What of the gulf into which this society of dispossession is plunging before our very eyes? That there may be no end to this descent, or that it may end only with the self-destruction of the human race — these are, of course, mere hypotheses, much like the famous “China syndrome” itself. The crushing presence of such a possibility, however, already sits in judgment over all human actions and governs the construction of the various “safety barriers” whereby a world at war with its own power hopes to avoid a terrifying end by surviving in an endless terror. The real question is therefore: How many Chernobyls will be needed before the truth of the old slogan “Revolution or death!” is recognized as the last word of the scientific thought of this century?

That the demand for life itself has now become a revolutionary programme is demonstrated, at least negatively, by the following fact: carried farther and farther into madness by the necessities of their dominance, those social forces that would once have been described as conservative are no longer concerned even with the conservation of the biological bases for the survival of the species. Quite the opposite, because they are in fact bent on the methodical destruction of those bases. The dimensions of the gulf that they are digging for us are forever being calculated and recalculated, right down to the likely speed of our descent into it, right down to the bottom line — which is, in the event, the lifespan of cesium or plutonium. For this society is mad in Chesterton’s sense: it has lost everything except its reason — everything except that abstract rationality of the commodity that is its ultimate raison d’etre, and the one that has outlasted all the others. No doubt one could find other ruling classes in history which, having lost all historical perspective beyond that of their own survival, sank into a suicidal irresponsibility; but never in the past has a ruling class been able to press such vast means into service of such a total contempt for life.

When nihilism in power manifests itself into the ravages of those state-owned Dadaists who scatter their geometrical rubbish over what remains of the city like so many territorial markers of bureaucratic abstraction, it suffices to note that all decadence is not equal even from a strictly aesthetic point of view. [Trans: an allusion to various modernist nonentities who ‘works of art’ have recently been imposed on the historic center of Paris.] But when this nihilism threatens to assume cosmic proportions in the shape of a “Star Wars” programme, it must be conceded that, albeit without abandoning the mode of farce, it has every prospect of extending the range of the macabre. Alongside such a project the apocalyptic fantasies of a Sade seem like the product of a distinctly timorous imagination. According to some experts, however, this system of automated apocalypse cannot claim complete infallibility because it cannot be properly tested under “lifelike” conditions. Such, at any rate, is the chief objection of one pundit who, in view of his contribution to the computerization of the Vietnam War, must be judged a thoroughly qualified connoisseur of high-tech extermination: we are speaking of David Lorge Parnas, author of “Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems” (Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, December 1985). French experts, meanwhile, estimate that in order to be able to rely blindly on a system of this kind, “We must be certain of having, in perfect working order, a logical base of more than ten million commands working in real time on a set of machines able overall to carry out a trillion operations per second; this raises the problem of the speed of political decision-making and the achievement of consensus” (Le Monde, 11 June 1986). But no doubt the promoters of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) will ignore such quibbles and rely instead on a procedure whose rigor was borne out by an official report on the in-flight explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on 28 January 1986: having been informed nearly nine years earlier about “bad design” in the part that proved to be at the root of the accident, the heads of NASA, along with the directors of the subcontracting firm involved, “first of all refused to address the problem, then refused to apply a proposed solution, and finally treated the problem as an acceptable risk” (Le Monde, 11 June 1986). Naturally, all risks are acceptable when things are so arranged that those who take them have no choice in the matter.

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Anarchists must say what only anarchists can say

110-10-freeway-interchange

by Monsieur Dupont

Part One

I stopped briefly on the bridge over the A14 near Milton’s Tesco and watched as cars, vans and lorries appeared and vanished like shooting stars beneath my feet. For once not content with the devil getting all the best lines I made a duce-like proclamation from my impromptu balcony, ‘every vehicle on this road,’ I said, contains at least one for-itself individual and yet from my perspective all this is just noisy, slightly vertiginous traffic of a somewhat sinister connotation.’

I could have made a subjective case here for the apparent divergence of traffic and personhood based upon previous theoretical reflections on a theme of alienation, but it would have been made against all objective evidence. Instead I wondered at the contrary tendency, that of the steady integration of individuality and production — someone once said to me, ‘I sat in my car in a London traffic jam and I looked, around me, at the other cars all stuck just like me and I thought, all of this, so much of it, how could there ever be a revolution? It is because all this modern life is so absurd that you can’t get rid of it, there’s no reality to appeal to.’ Of course, this comment is a misunderstanding of things in the style of not being able to see the wood for the trees. In another sense it highlights the childish despair of those who seem to want to change the world by changing appearances, who give up because of the impossibility of the (absurd) task they have set themselves. They can sense it but cannot grasp it: there is no clear blue sea between the commodity and the human being.

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Behind the New German Right

german-new-right

by Jan-Werner Müller

Throughout its postwar history, Germany somehow managed to resist the temptations of right-wing populism. Not any longer. On March 13, the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD)—a party that has said it may be necessary to shoot at migrants trying to enter the country illegally and that has mooted the idea of banning mosques—scored double-digit results in elections in three German states; in one, Saxony-Anhalt, the party took almost a quarter of the vote. For some observers, the success of the AfD is just evidence of Germany’s further “normalization”: other major countries, such as France, have long had parties that oppose European integration and condemn the existing political establishment for failing properly to represent the people—why should Germany be an exception?

Such complacency is unjustified, for at least two reasons: the AfD has fed off and in turn encouraged a radical street movement, the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” or Pegida, that has no equivalent elsewhere in Europe. And perhaps most important, the AfD’s warnings about the “slow cultural extinction” of Germany that supposedly will result from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming of more than a million refugees have been echoed by a number of prominent intellectuals. In fact, the conceptual underpinnings for what one AfD ideologue has called “avant-garde conservatism” can be found in the recent work of several mainstream German writers and philosophers. Never since the end of the Nazi era has a right-wing party enjoyed such broad cultural support. How did this happen?

The AfD was founded in 2013 by a group of perfectly respectable, deeply uncharismatic economics professors. Its very name, Alternative for Germany, was chosen to contest Angela Merkel’s claim that there was no alternative to her policies to address the eurocrisis.The professors opposed the euro, since, in their eyes, it placed excessive financial burdens on the German taxpayer and sowed discord among European states. But they did not demand the dissolution of the European Union itself in the way right-wing populists elsewhere in Europe have done. Still, Germany’s mainstream parties sought to tar them as “anti-European,” which reinforced among many voters the sense that the country’s political establishment made discussion of certain policy choices effectively taboo. Like other new parties, the AfD attracted all kinds of political adventurers. But it also provided a home for conservatives who thought that many of Merkel’s policies—ending nuclear energy and the military draft, endorsing same-sex unions, and raising the minimum wage—had moved her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) too far to the left. Since there was a mainstream conservative view opposing many of these decisions, the AfD could now occupy space to the right of the CDU without suspicion of being undemocratic or of harking back to the Nazi past.

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Fictional Communists

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Who’s your favorite fictional communist? 

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KGB agent Leo Demidov, the hero in Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy of Soviet thriller novels, isn’t a terribly rich character in his own right. But the intrepid, thoughtful Demidov acts as a convincing stand-in for a generation of operatives who watched from the inside as the Soviet machine transformed itself and ultimately sputtered to a halt. His struggle to reconcile reality with party orthodoxy begins in the first (and best) book of the series, Child 44, which has Demidov investigating a serial murder case while he tries to maintain the official pretense that the USSR is a crime-free society. Nikita Khrushchev’s shocking repudiation of the Joseph Stalin personality cult gives its name to the second book, The Secret Speech, and Demidov’s disillusionment deepens accordingly. By the last half of the final book (Agent 6), Demidov hopes to escape his homeland once and for all, so he fights to outrun the ever-encroaching tendrils of the massive Soviet intelligence apparatus. Demidov isn’t just the central figure in a series of vibrant thrillers—he’s also a glimpse into what it might have been like to live through the USSR’s major political upheavals, which those of us in the Western world could only watch from afar. – John Teti

Here’s how good Dr. Strangelove is: It features my favorite Hollywood commie, and he never even shows up in the flesh. Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissov exists only as the other side of an exasperating phone conversation with U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers at his deadpan best), but he’s such a thoroughly sketched character that it’s hard not to fall in love. Found at an unlisted number (because, as the Russian ambassador sheepishly notes, this man of the people is “also a man, if you catch my meaning”), Kissov is drunk, partying, and delightfully petulant. (When Muffley explains he’s not calling just to say hello, the smashed statesman demands to know why he wouldn’t do just that.) Dr. Strangelove is an entire movie about how our poor, doomed world is light on actual villains but heavy on supposedly well-meaning idiots (and that the latter are just as dangerous as the former, when nuclear bombs are in the mix), and portraying Kissov as a childish buffoon, instead of a sneering supervillain, only heightens the human tragedy of the apocalypse to come. It doesn’t hurt that he gets (indirectly) one of the movie’s best punchlines: When nuclear expert Strangelove (also Sellers, also brilliant) demands to know why the Russians haven’t told anybody about their perfect, world-ending deterrent, the ambassador explains that it was going to be announced the following Monday. “As you know,” he says, with just a hint of a sigh, “The premier loves surprises.” – William Hughes

My love for Zangief knows no bounds. Though he’s now billed as hailing from the Russian Federation, Street Fighter’s premiere wrestler has deep Soviet roots. With the USSR’s full support, he traveled the world pile-driving rivals into oblivion for the glory of Mother Russia and nothing more. His hyperbolic patriotism led to some of the series’ funniest moments—like the time he celebrated his Street Fighter II victory with an ersatz Mikhail Gorbachev “in the appropriate Russian fashion” (doing a Hopak dance with the Soviet president, of course). But thanks to an endearing personality that’s as massive as his physique, Zangief’s appeal transcends geopolitics. There’s an earnest goofiness beneath all those bear-wrestling scars, which the artists at Capcom have continued to amplify throughout The Red Cyclone’s 25-year street-fighting career. In Street Fighter V, it’s gotten to the point where, whenever you choose to play as him, he responds by flexing every muscle and screaming “CYCLONE” at the top of his lungs while his eyes bulge and his entire body convulses. How can you not love this guy? – Matt Gerardi

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Defamation Poem by Jan Böhmermann

Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight,

Is Erdogan, the president,

His gob smells of bad döner,

Even a pig’s fart smells better,

He’s the man who hits girls,

While wearing a rubber mask,

But goat-fucking he likes the best,

And having minorities repressed,

Kicking Kurds,

Beating Christians,

While watching kiddie porn,

And even at night, instead of sleep,

It’s time for fellatio with a hundred sheep,

Yep, Erdogan is definitely

The president with a tiny dick,

Every Turk will tell you all,

The stupid fool has wrinkly balls,

From Ankara to Istanbul,

They all know the man is gay,

Perverted, louse-infested, a zoophile,

Recep Fritzl Priklopil

Head as empty as his balls,

Of every gang-bang party he’s the star,

Till his cock burns when he has a piss,

That’s Recep Erdogan,

The Turkish president

 

Exberliner.com /  schmähkritik /  thelocal.de / theguardian

 

 

Capitalism and Anwar Shaikh

(thenextrecession.com)

The most important book on capitalism this year will be Anwar Shaikh’s Capitalism – competition, conflict, crises.

As one of the world’s leading economists who draws on Marx and the classical economists (‘political economy’, if you like), Anwar Shaikh has taught at The New School for Social Research for more than 30 years,authored three books and six-dozen articles.  This is his most ambitious work.  As Shaikh says, it is an attempt to derive economic theory from the real world and then apply it to real problems.  Shaikh applies the categories and theory of classical economics to all the major economic issues, including those that are supposed to be the province of mainstream economics, like supply and demand, relative prices in goods and services, interest rates, financial asset prices and technological change.

Shaikh says that his “approach is very different from both orthodox economics and the dominant heterodox tradition.”  He rejects the neoclassical approach that starts from “Perfect firms, perfect individuals, perfect knowledge, perfectly selfish behavior, rational expectations, etc.” and then “various imperfections are introduced into the story to justify individual observed patterns” although there “cannot be a general theory of imperfections”.  Shaikh rejects that approach and instead starts with actual human behavior instead of the so-called “Economic Man”, and with the concept of ‘real competition’ rather than ‘perfect competition’. Chapters 3 and 7-8 emphasize that.  It is the classical approach as opposed to the neoclassical one.

The book is a product of 15 years work, so it has taken longer to gestate than Marx took from 1855 to 1867 to deliver Capital Volume one.  But it covers a lot.  All theory is compared to actual data in every chapter, as well as to neoclassical and Keynesian/post-Keynesian arguments. A theory of ‘real competition’ is developed and applied to explain empirical relative prices, profit margins and profit rates, interest rates, bond and stock prices, exchange rates and trade balances.  Demand and supply are both shown to depend on profitability and interact in a way that is neither Say’s Law nor Keynesian, but based on Marx’s theory of value.  A classical theory of inflation is developed and applied to various countries.  A theory of crises is developed and integrated into macrodynamics.  That’s a heap of things.

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France: uprising against the labour law

 Nantes312

riots, looting, blockades & sabotage

(via rabble.org)

It’s been kicking off all around France against the government’s attempts to introduce the so-called ‘El Khomri’ labour law, or ‘loi travail’. This piece of legislation is an all-round shit deal for workers, and involves such policies such as extending the working week up to 46 hours, from the current official 36 hours, and enabling companies to sack workers with minimal justification. Since protests began, the government has backtracked on a number aspects of the law, like a proposed cap on the amount of compensation an employer must pay to unfairly dismissed workers.

It seems that the students, who have played a major part in the resistance to the law, know very well what it takes to achieve results. Not a-b marches or shortlived occupations, but disorder, chaos, sabotage, property damage, disruption to transport systems, reprisals for state repression, joining the dots between apparently separate ‘issues’, and sustained struggle.

Here’s a bit of a run down of what’s been happening in France this past month in response to the ‘loi travail’, translated from Cette SemaineAttaque and Paris-Luttes.

9th March

In Bordeaux, dozens of people opted for immediate and direct action following a student assembly, and trashed a Bordeaux University building. According to the mainstream media, all the computers were destroyed, the doors had been kicked in and the walls graffitied. The instruments in the music hall were also destroyed. Money and files had been taken, damage in total estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of Euros. This action was part of a wave of demos that took place across the country that day.

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22nd March

In Paris, an action was carried out on the Centre Pierre-Mendès-France de Tolbiac, at Paris-I-Panthéon Sorbonne university. The following translation of their communiqué comes fromInsurrection News:

University of Tolbiac, March 22, an occupation of the N lecture hall is planned to hold a general assembly, but cops, security guards and management are all here to prevent it. In a wink, all of them disappear and the door of the lecture hall opens miraculously. We now understand that opportunists of the movement negotiated behind the backs of all. Like what, there are no miracles. It is precisely for this reason that, pissed off, we decided to sabotage these power games.

While students were getting sloshed in their supposedly occupied lecture hall, we decided to have fun in a whole different way. We climbed the 7th floor to ransack administration offices, cutting cables, throwing various liquids on various electronic devices, administrative papers are destroyed and two computers are stolen to be quietly destroyed.

This is the realization of a precise will to not be limited to speaking out, to general assemblies, or demos (whether at 11 or 13:30), but to counter any form of collusion with power, all powers.

Let’s prevent the law from working.

Some enraged of another 22 March.”

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Human nature

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Out of the Woods

 A review of Jason W Moore’s book on world-ecology, Capitalism in the Web of Life.

Since its rise in the 1970s, mainstream environmentalism has been viewed by many as a “new social movement.” As with the liberal and radical civil rights, feminist, queer, and decolonial movements, environmentalists have been accused by many radicals of fracturing left unity and promoting “interest group” politics over those of class or revolution. Indeed, while mainstream environmentalism implicitly (if sometimes explicitly) included a critique of capitalist accumulation’s excesses and its degradation of nature, these were generally seen to be aspects of historic capitalism that could be patched over in order to make our lives in it livable. And so throughout the 1990s, many environmentalist groups courted the corporate world through green consulting and rhetorics of “sustainable capitalism.” But the use of symbolic tactics by many of these groups failed to make a substantial impact on public opinion or state action. They may have kept “the environment” alive as an issue in public debate, but neither determined its political content or catalyzed widespread political action, despite its adding to the proliferation of “green” consumerism. All the while, the accumulation they critiqued continued at an ever-faster clip.

Although not a book on political movements, the philosopher Jason W. Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital seeks to analyze the root cause of this impasse for environmentalism: the widely-shared view that “the environment” is a separate and unique part of existence outside of capitalism that capitalism devalues. Instead of examining the degradation of nature as an aspect of accumulation, Moore proposes that nature is instead always in capital, and likewise, capitalism is always in historical natures. Nature conditions capitalist accumulation and is produced historically by capitalist relations. His argument allows us to see how dependent accumulation and the exploitation of labor are on the appropriation and reproduction of “cheap natures” (food, energy, raw materials, and labour-power — defined as “cheap” in the sense of “the periodic, and radical, reduction in the socially necessary labor-time of these Big Four inputs”). In Moore’s clearest formulation: “Capitalism is not an economic system; it is not a social system; it is a way of organizing nature.”

This latest book is Moore’s monumental attempt to follow the consequences of this view, and it deserves praise for its meticulous arguments, many of which we agree with wholeheartedly. But while we appreciate Moore’s synthetic world-ecology approach, he fails to explain why the nature/society split continues to obtain, and how it might be effectively dismantled. Answering these questions, we believe, is the key to unlocking an epochal crisis in capitalism. The crisis won’t come from nature alone; capitalism won’t end without us.

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The Use of Bodies, Prologue (Agamben)

1. It is curious how in Guy Debord a lucid awareness of the insufficiency of private life was accompanied by a more or less conscious conviction that there was, in his own existence or in that of his friends, something unique and exemplary, which demanded to be recorded and communicated. Already in Critique de la séparation, he thus evokes at a certain point as intransmissible “cette clandestinité de la vie privée sur laquelle on ne possède jamais que des documents dérisoires” (“that clandestinity of private life regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents”; Debord 1, p. 49/33); and nevertheless, in his first films and again in Panégyrique, he never stopped parading one after the other the faces of his friends, of Asger Jorn, of Maurice Wyckaert, of Ivan Chtcheglov, and his own face, alongside that of the women he loved. And not only that, but in Panégyrique there also appear the houses he inhabited, 28 via delle Caldaie in Florence, the country house at Champot, the square des Missions étrangères at Paris (actually 109 rue du Bac, his final Parisian address, in the drawing room of which a photograph from 1984 shows him seated on the English leather sofa that he seemed to like).

Here there is something like a central contradiction, which the Situationists never succeeded in working out, and at the same time something precious that demands to be taken up again and developed—perhaps the obscure, unavowed awareness that the genuinely political element consists precisely in this incommunicable, almost ridiculous clandestinity of private life. Since clearly it—the clandestine, our form-of-life—is so intimate and close at hand, if we attempt to grasp it, only impenetrable, tedious everydayness is left in our hands. And nonetheless, perhaps precisely this homonymous, promiscuous, shadowy presence preserves the stowaway of the political, the other face of the arcanum imperii, on which every biography and every revolution makes shipwreck. And Guy, who was so shrewd and cunning when he had to analyze and describe the alienated forms of existence in the society of the spectacle, is equally innocent and helpless when he tries to communicate the form of his life, to look in the face and dissolve the stowaway with which he had shared his journey up to the end.

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