communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Month: May, 2016

à l’assaut du ciel

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diary of the paris riots by laserveuse

May 9th – 19th (Manifestations, Paris)

The previous two weeks were just as enervating as the ones preceding, if not more, since the French police have newly discovered nasses (net, like fishing net), also known as ‘being kettled’. Several heavy tear-gassings and nullifying kettlings converged with an extremely low-pressure system, a lot of rain, and many people who were already under slept from April and May. Tuesday the 10th, for example, began with a 7am call for blockades, a word of the week. The plan, it seems, was to block Bercy, the train and bus terminus, since there was a strike from Sud, a rail workers’ union, the same day. This was well organised and began at Opera, where early risers boarded the metro, going on several lines, and in several directions, before ending up in a wild chase – in the station, out of the station, back in the station. The cat and mouse dispersed around the station of Dugommier at about 8.30am, which was encircled by gendarmerie. Manuel Valls passed the law sometime around lunchtime using a special decree 49-3, which was brought in during the instability between the 3rd and 4th republics.

The weather all week was so low pressure, so as to invite serious, lingering headaches, rain with no relief. Assemblée Nationale at 18h was obscured by mist, flares and smoke. A heavy CRS and Gendarmerie presence gradually pushed everyone back, split them. One manif sauvage, a little naively, since there were only 50 people, set off around 19h, after which the rest were kettled on the quayside, forced down next to the water, where the windows of luxury boats displayed Parisians? tourists? serenely lindy hopping or swing dancing in a top window. Police blocked the quay, letting only fluorescent runners through, then fired off tear gas. Protesters ran, stopped, since there was nowhere to go. River police – how mobile they are, in any circumstance – passed on speedboats as kids threw what they could: missiles, pieces of scaffolding. The gas continued for several hours, as, completely trapped on the road above the quay, unable to breathe, or to descend, lungs filled over and over with acrid gas.

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The Mandibles

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The collapse of the United States arrives in 2029, not via climate change or airborne viruses or zombie hordes, but international monetary policy: foreign governments establish their own currency, the bancor (a concept first proposed by economist John Maynard Keynes), and when the U.S. resists, it’s effectively locked out of global trade. America speedily goes into free fall, with rampant shortages and inheritances vaporized by high costs, unemployment, and human longevity. The Mandible family is just barely hanging on: Florence, who has one of the few stable jobs left (working at a homeless shelter), is forced to open her Brooklyn home to desperate family members, including a humiliated economist brother-in-law, a sister whose career as a novelist tanked along with all print media, and her once-wealthy grandfather who has only a silver service left to his name and whose second wife suffers from violent dementia.

Almost gleefully, Shriver catalogs how this upper-middle-class clan gets knocked off its perch in ways both small (toilet-paper shortages, overcrowding) and large (rampant theft and violence, starvation, zero health care, general erosion of humanity). Politically, this may be the only novel Mother Jones and breitbart.com can both take an interest in, though it might tire them both, too: the closing chapters, set in a scorched-earth 2047, are overly didactic on themes of individual rights, taxation, and citizenship. “Plots set in the future are about what people fear in the present,” as Florence’s brother-in-law puts it, and Shriver’s biggest fear is that, between numbing technology and nanny-statedom, we’ve lost our capacity to live by our wits. This novel is a bracing vision of what happens when we’re forced to, though the lecturing tone sometimes grates.

An imperfect but savvy commingling of apocalyptic and polemic.

 – The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

The Total Negation of Human Beings

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The Wandering of Humanity

“Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!”

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Mutant Superheroes and the Cultural Politics of Popular Fantasy in Postwar America

by Ramzi Fawaz

The single best-selling superhero comic book of the late twentieth century, the X-Men tells the story of an international cadre of superpowered beings known as “mutants,” genetically evolved humans outcast by a bigoted and fearful humanity. Circulating in the mid-1970s at the zenith of post–Civil Rights left social movements including liberal and radical feminisms, environmentalism, black nationalism, and gay liberation, the comic book’s transnational cast and visual and narrative articulation of “mutation” to social and cultural difference more broadly underscored the tie between expressions of popular fantasy and the ideals of radical politics in the postwar period.

With the proliferation of identity movements that emerged out of the internal conflicts of the New Left, the comic-book industry, long committed to the antiracist and antifascist ideals of democratic politics, used visual culture as a space for modeling new modes of radical critique that offered alternatives to direct-action politics and the discourse of civil liberties. Creators used the biologically unstable body of the superhero to explore, and potentially bring into being, the states of bodily and psychic liberation espoused by a variety of countercultural movements in this period. Whether in the “getting loose” philosophy of the hippie generation or the consciousness-raising projects of liberal feminism, the ecstatic physical states of disco culture or the spiritual communion with nature celebrated by popular ecology, the call for a countercultural politics grounded in felt experience was visually manifested in superhuman figures whose powers literally materialized these ways of being as physical extensions of the self. Like the figure of the superhero, these forms of elevated consciousness circulated through a variety of cultural genres including science fiction, fantasy, and myth; understanding the productive link between the seemingly disparate worlds of superhero comic books and left political world-making projects requires a reassessment of the political uses of fantasy outside of these discrete categories.

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Capitalism, Temporality, and the Crisis of Labor (Postone)

The current crisis has laid bare the contradictory and shaky character of contemporary capitalism. Yet the essentially inchoate responses to the crisis have dramatically revealed the absence of a robust conceptualization of post-capitalist society and, by implication, of a robust critique of capital. One result has been the continued hegemony of neoliberal discourses and policies. Moishe Postone seeks to fundamentally rethink the core categories of Marx’s critique of political economy in the fall 2015 Ellen Maria Gorrissen lecture. He argues that Marx’s mature critique of political economy, as elaborated in the Grundrisse and Kapital, provides the basis for a different critical theory of modernity with contemporary significance.

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From Marx to Hegel and Back to the Future

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In einer Zeit globaler wirtschaftlicher Krisen, zunehmender gesellschaftlicher Ungleichheiten sowie neuer sozialer Bewegungen und politischer Kämpfe gibt es ein wiederaufblühendes Interesse an Marx und seinem Denken.  Für eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit unserer Welt ist eine erneute Lektüre von Marx tatsächlich von entscheidender Bedeutung. Das war der Ausgangspunkt der internationalen Konferenz von 25. bis 27. Februar 2016: From Marx to Hegel and Back to the Future. Hier haben wir einige der Vorträge dokumentiert.

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Misery and the Bimbo-Form

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by marie calloway

David: In order to understand quantitative easing you have to understand what a bubble is. Basically, a bubble happens when the value of assets—that’s stocks or houses or something—just starts going up so much that people feel like they’re wealthier. They haven’t actually gotten any more income, but the assets they own are worth more and more. Say you have a house and it triples in value and so you think of yourself—your net worth—as being a lot higher, so you go out and spend more money. That’s called the wealth effect. Have you heard of that?

Joni kicks her shoe so that it skims right past David’s ankle and lands beneath the blackboard where he’s standing.

David turns to look at her. Their eyes meet briefly before each turns away, Joni’s face flushing. She bites her bottom lip.

Joni: No.

They are in an empty classroom at Columbia, where David is a graduate student, a transplant from South Africa.

David: So the wealth effect is the fact that when the value of your assets rises you spend more of your income. You save less money because you feel like your house is doing the saving for you. So, asset bubbles, wealth effect. What happened in these recent bubbles was based in housing. A really high percentage of GDP growth in the 2000s was from people borrowing against the value of their homes, taking out loans on their homes and spending the money. Like if you bought.…

David continues, but Joni does not hear. His voice is a sound that pleases her, that enters her and leaves her just the same.

She had genuinely wanted to learn when she asked David to tutor her—paid him $100 for his time and companionship—but she finds herself unable to follow. Impressive-sounding, incomprehensible words flow in and out of her ears, as if she were listening to a lecture in French. She focuses on the things she likes, sensual things: the sound of his accent, the tap of the chalk as he writes, the silhouette of his tall, slender body, the air of authority that being at the front of a classroom gives him.

And she likes the feeling of breaking a rule, of sneaking into an empty school she isn’t even enrolled in after midnight, the sense of camaraderie she felt gliding through the large empty hallways in the dark with David. Perhaps it is the air of the illicit that makes her unable to focus on economics.

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“Gay imperialism”: Postcolonial particularity

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Those who oppose Marxism, Enlightenment, or even liberal ideologies on the ground that they are Eurocentric or colonial impositions, and propose as an alternative supposedly more organic, authentically indigenous lifeways and autochthonous, communitarian wisdom, are themselves simply victim to another European ideology: Romanticism.

via “Gay imperialism”: Postcolonial particularity – The Charnel House

Nothing Makes Me Human

Nice video but wrong. Labor doesn’t make us human. Nothing does.

From Critique and Historical Transformation, by Moishe Postone (2004):

At the heart of Marx’s analysis of the commodity is his argument that labour in capitalism has a ‘double character’: it is both ‘concrete labour’ and ‘abstract labour’. ‘Concrete labour’ refers to the fact that some form of what we consider labouring activity mediates the interactions of humans with nature in all societies. ‘Abstract labour’ does not simply refer to concrete labour in the abstract, to ‘labour’ in general, but is a very different sort of category. It signifies that labour in capitalism also has a unique social dimension that is not intrinsic to labouring activity as such: it mediates a new, quasi-objective form of social interdependence. ‘Abstract labour’, as a historically specific mediating function of labour, is the content or, better, ‘substance’ of value.

Labour in capitalism, then, according to Marx, is not only labour, as we understand it transhistorically and commonsensically, but is also a historically specific socially-mediating activity. Hence its objectifications – commodity, capital – are both concrete labour products and objectified forms of social mediation. According to this analysis, the social relations that most basically characterise capitalist society are very different from the qualitatively specific, overt social relations – such as kinship relations or relations of personal or direct domination – which characterise non-capitalist societies. Although the latter kind of social relations continue to exist in capitalism, what ultimately structures that society is a new, underlying level of social relations that is constituted by labour. Those relations have a peculiar quasi-objective, formal character and are dualistic – they are characterised by the opposition of an abstract, general, homogeneous dimension and a concrete, particular, material dimension, both of which appear to be ‘natural’, rather than social, and condition social conceptions of natural reality.

The abstract character of the social mediation underlying capitalism is also expressed in the form of wealth dominant in that society. Marx’s ‘labour theory of value’ is not a labour theory of wealth, that is, a theory that seeks to explain the workings of the market and prove the existence of exploitation by arguing that labour, at all times and in all places, is the only social source of wealth. Marx analysed value as a historically specific form of wealth, which is bound to the historically unique role of labour in capitalism; as a form of wealth, it is also a form of social mediation.

Marx explicitly distinguished value from material wealth. This distinction is crucially important for his analysis. Material wealth is measured by the quantity of products produced and is a function of a number of factors such as knowledge, social organisation, and natural conditions, in addition to labour. Value is constituted by human labour-time expenditure alone, according to Marx, and is the dominant form of wealth in capitalism. Whereas material wealth, when it is the dominant form of wealth, is mediated by overt social relations, value is a self-mediating form of wealth. As I shall elaborate, Marx’s analysis is of a system based on value that both generates and constrains the historical possibility of its own overcoming by one based on material wealth.

Within the framework of this interpretation, then, what fundamentally characterises capitalism is a historically specific abstract form of social mediation – a form of social relations that is unique inasmuch as it is mediated by labour. This historically specific form of mediation is constituted by determinate forms of social practice and, yet, becomes quasi-independent of the people engaged in those practices. The result is a historically new form of social domination – one that subjects people to impersonal, increasingly rationalised, structural imperatives and constraints that cannot adequately be grasped in terms of class domination, or, more generally, in terms of the concrete domination of social groupings or of institutional agencies of the state and/or the economy. It has no determinate locus and, although constituted by determinate forms of social practice, appears not to be social at all.

Whereas in traditional Marxism, labour is treated transhistorically, as constituting the quasi-ontological standpoint of the critique of capitalism, within this framework, labour constitutes the object of the critique. In the former, the categorical forms of capital veil the ‘real’ social relations of capitalism, in the latter they are those social relations. In other words, the quasi-objective structures of mediation grasped by the categories of Marx’s critique of political economy do not veil the ‘real’ social relations of capitalism, that is, class relations, just as they do not hide the ‘real’ historical Subject, that is, the proletariat. Rather, those historically dynamic mediating structures are the fundamental relations of capitalist society and constitute the Subject.

The reinterpretation of Marx’s theory I have outlined constitutes a basic break with, and critique of, more traditional interpretations. As we have seen, such interpretations understand capitalism in terms of class relations structured by the market and private property, grasp its form of domination primarily in terms of class domination and exploitation, and formulate a normative and historical critique of capitalism from the standpoint of labour and production (understood transhistorically in terms of the interactions of humans with material nature). I have argued that Marx’s analysis of labour in capitalism as historically specific seeks to elucidate a peculiar quasi-objective form of social mediation and wealth (value) that constitutes a form of domination which structures the process of production in capitalism and generates a historically unique dynamic. Hence, labour and the process of production are not separable from, and opposed to, the social relations of capitalism, but constitute their very core. Marx’s theory, then, extends far beyond the traditional critique of the bourgeois relations of distribution (the market and private property); it grasps modern industrial society itself as capitalist. It treats the working class as the basic element of capitalism rather than as the embodiment of its negation, and does not conceptualise socialism in terms of the realisation of labour and of industrial production, but in terms of the possible abolition of the proletariat and of the organisation of production based on proletarian labour, as well as of the dynamic system of abstract compulsions constituted by labour as a socially mediating activity.

The world is a grain of sand spinning on its axis in an infinite universe

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Norman Finkelstein on Sanders, the first intifada, BDS, and ten years of unemployment

PART 1: SANDERS

Q. You’ve been canvassing for Bernie Sanders. Tell us why you’re so excited.

I’ve witnessed three great social movements in my lifetime, the Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement and this is the third. Bernie’s campaign took the Occupy movement, which was localized, and he elevated it to the national level. I don’t know what will come next. I doubt anyone knows. But it’s exhilarating to be part of it.

If you asked me one year ago whether young people would come out in these numbers, I would have laughed. My impression was that they were hooked on internet chatter and antidepressants. But the young folks in the campaign are so serious, so intelligent; they remind me of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) folks from the early 1960s. I went on a bus ride to Massachusetts to campaign for Bernie. I was one of five in the alte kaker brigade. The rest were young people. It struck me that on the way home, there were no drugs, no one smoking marijuana, no alcohol. We got home at midnight or 1 am. It was a kind of moral austerity. Like, this is serious stuff, we’re not going to diminish it.

I have to say, it made me feel proud, for once, to be an American. On the other hand, these young people have good reason to be serious. They’re struggling for their future. If nothing comes of this, it’s really a black hole for them, a futureless future. They’re attending colleges with astronomical tuitions, coming out strapped with astronomical debt, then they have to pay astronomical interest rates, and—the worst is—there are no jobs out there. So they have a real (as we used to say) material interest in the Bernie Sanders campaign.

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Money and Totality

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Michael Roberts reviews Fred Moseley’s new book, Money and Totality, Brill, 2016

One of the major trends in the world economy in the last two years has been the collapse of the price of oil in world markets. From a peak of over $100 a barrel, the price plummeted to under $30 a barrel and is still only around $40. The explanation for this fall, as provided by mainstream economics, is simple. There has been a change in the supply and demand for oil. Economists then go on to discuss which is the more important factor: supply increasing or demand falling.

But this analysis of the price of a commodity and what is it is worth at the level of supply and demand – as taught in all economics textbooks in colleges – is superficial at best. There is a joke in financial investor circles, when discussing why the stock price of a particular company has suddenly fallen: ‘Well, there were more sellers than buyers’ – true to the point of tautology.

What explains why a barrel of oil is $40 and not $1? Why do 100 paper clips cost $1 and one car costs $20,000? In other words, we need to understand what something is worth in the marketplace beyond just supply and demand; we need a theory of value. From that, we can begin to explain the workings of a capitalist economy, where everything is produced for sale. And if we can measure changes in value we can begin to understand the laws of motion of a capitalist economy – and, Marxist economics would add, its key contradictions, because Marxist economics is not so interested in the changes in the price of one commodity as in the nature and causes of the overall trends and fluctuations in an economy. That is, macroeconomics – with a purpose.

Marxist value theory is based on the view that commodities are priced in the market according to the labour time expended on them. Actually, labour time is basic for all forms of social production by human beings. As Marx wrote,

Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs required different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production, but can only change the mode of its appearance, is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with.1

But Marx goes on:

What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself, in the state of society where the interconnection of social labour is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.

This is why Marxist theory of value applies to capitalism, not previous modes of social organisation.

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Black Representation After Ferguson

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by John Clegg

Up until the crisis of 2008, racial inequality in the United States was showing signs of improvement. Poverty and unemployment among blacks had fallen sharply in the 1990s, and the wages of black and white workers had begun to converge. These improvements were stopped short by the recession of the early 2000s, but thereafter a boom in subprime lending led to a significant reduction in the wealth gap between black and white households. The popping of the housing bubble threw all these measures into reverse. While most Americans suffered, black Americans were particularly badly affected. In the eight years since the crisis, racial disparities in wealth, poverty, and unemployment returned to or exceeded their pre-1990s levels. It should thus come as no surprise that riots have also made a comeback in recent years.

The triggers were a series of police killings of young black men: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray. Such events have not become more frequent. Rather, an already existing reign of police terror was the American state’s only means of managing a rapidly deteriorating set of conditions in poor black neighborhoods. Ferguson was a revolt not only against the police, but also against a society which has nothing but police to offer.1

When black proletarians riot, white Americans tend to cast around for an eloquent spokesperson who can either assuage their fear or indulge their guilt. The old Civil Rights leaders were too out of touch in this case, so journalists combed the twitter feeds of protesters for substitutes. Those willing to play the role of spokespersons have been fêted by the media, with cover stories in Ebony, Time and the New York Times Magazine. Some were even featured in Fortune’s 2016 “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list. They have received regular invitations to the White House, and Democratic presidential candidates have coveted their endorsement. Yet journalists have also shown a prurient interest in the periodic clashes, both personal and political, among the newly celebrated activists.

All this media attention, however, both positive and negative, owes its existence not to the activists themselves, but to the fact that thousands took to the streets and attacked police and property in Ferguson and Baltimore. Though some activists began organizing prior to Ferguson—in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride—their actions had met with the same lip-service that typically greets protests against police brutality in this country. Officer Wilson’s murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, following quickly on Eric Garner’s live-action death at the hands of the NYPD, was a watershed, sparking a week-long uprising in a suburban town far from the bi-coastal activist hubs. Baltimore, with protests closer in form to the “inner city riots” of the 1960s, consolidated this newfound vigor, demonstrating the willingness of poor blacks to rise up against a local black elite. The question partisans of this movement must ask is to what extent the new activists can help or hinder the black proletarian insurgency that threw them into the spotlight.

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Baltimore Riot. Baltimore Commune?

APTOPIX Suspect Dies Baltimore

By Joshua Clover / 25 April 2016

A picture of a young person on a BMX bike, April 27, 2015, his arms filled with looted cereal boxes. The caption on the original Instagram snap is mostly redacted. What remains reads “Baltimore shit” and “hate yall.” The person who has reposted this picture on Twitter wonders “Why would you take cereal” and attaches a series of emoticons indicating mortal disbelief. It seems like a good question. Why not take something more valuable, perhaps remarketable? Or why not something that expressed the riot’s state of exception, its curfewless joy — something like the tubs of ice cream some friends of mine wound up with in Hackney, summer 2011? The sense here is that an error has been made.

This sense corresponds to the axiomatic position of state, media, and the respectability politics that keeps state and media always in mind. Looting is not just a crime but an error, a tactical or moral failing. It is the act that delegitimates what might otherwise conjure some sympathy from the nebulous public and indeed the political class: the spasm of outrage erupting from an immiserated people. If only their refusal took a more properly political form instead of just jacking shit! Why, that’s just shopping on steroids, just — we are informed by self-serious theorists — capitalism’s ideology saying its own name through these benighted individuals greedily grabbing at goods the moment the opportunity affords. And, as our observer notes, not paternalistically but with wry puzzlement, paltry goods at that. Breakfast cereal.

This is a moment of levity, not the only one, in The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary. It is the first great book to come from the last great riot in the United States. It has a simple concept: it gathers together tweets related to the rebellion that followed on the police murder of Freddie Gray on April 12th of last year, his spine severed while being given a rough ride in the back of paddy wagon, shackled and alone, the vehicle careening intentionally off course through Baltimore neighborhoods that would burn in the weeks to follow. Coma, and then death on April 19th, which is when the first tweet is dated: “Screaming Fuck The Police #Justice4Freddie.” Increasingly angry protests would yield to open riot on the 25th, a year ago today.

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