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Month: October, 2016

Needless Necessity: Sameness and Dynamic in Capitalist Society

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Marcel Stoetzler, Bangor University, UK (via Fast Capitalism)

In capitalist modernity, all that is fluid is frozen fast, and vice versa. Everything is at the same time solid and not. We need to do something. One must always produce.[1] But then, one must always produce the same. Production is always reproduction, no more, no less, albeit on an extended scale. Capitalist society is a treadmill:[2] “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that,” as the Red Queen asserted.[3] Society (re-)produces itself, using humans as its principal agents, as ever new and ever the same. Humans (re-)produce society as ever the same by making a fresh start every morning when the alarm bell tolls: a new morning promises gold – the matter of eternity – every single day anew. My consciousness is split on this matter: it tells me, on the one hand, that I have places to go (hooray!), I have some inner growing to do, but at the same time, I am proudly identical to myself (disregarding some metabolism-related corporeal change that one tries to keep separate from one’s sense of selfhood). I who took out the student loan yesterday will have to pay up tomorrow, although the intervening time – not least ‘the student experience’, as they say – will have made me a whole new person (with places to go, hooray!). Growing up, experience – going-beyond-and-through: ex-per-ire – or not, contracts are to be fulfilled. This is a rule society will enforce.

This article explores the dialectic of a twofold compulsion characteristic of modern bourgeois society: on the one hand the dynamism grounded in the compulsion to expand production, to never stand still, relax and enjoy, always to increase the labors of self-preservation, on the other hand the static, sameness and identity that are produced by the ‘real-abstracting’ processes equally central to the capitalist mode of production, the locking down of humans in their identities, including those of sex and race. The article examines these matters through the prism of Adorno’s late essay on the concepts of ‘static and dynamic’ that is taken as a vantage point for a reading of ‘The concept of enlightenment’ in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. The last part of the essay argues that capitalist society’s needless necessities impose themselves on society through abstracting practices in everyday life but also produce an equally contradictory set of social movements that have now opened up a fragile prospect for the revolutionary overcoming of capitalist society. The key point of the argument is that Horkheimer and Adorno’s unique emphasis on the critique of ‘the economic’ beyond that of ‘the economy’ is crucial to this radical perspective.

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Theses on Trump

by Phil Sandifer 

“Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.” – Terrance Dicks, 1977

0.

Let us accept that categorization is pointless, and that any attempt at it will eventually collapse under the basic fact that he is contradictory and in his own way even contains multitudes. He is what he is, in his own way as deific as that makes him sound. He does not have immediate political analogues in 1930s Germany or 40s BCE Rome any more than he does in 1650s Britain or 2013 Australia. Similarities abound, but every case is unique. That’s what Great Man Theory means.

It is not even useful to call him liberal or conservative. He is right-wing, but only in the sense that he poses an existential threat to the left. On the whole, however, he is not particularly ideological. He is an aesthetic wedded to a perversion. In the end, most people are, and virtually all politicians. Still, one has to start somewhere.

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The Free Machine

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by Rob Lucas / New Left Review / July-August 2016

Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism is an ambitious book, spanning economic history and theory, the trajectory of socialism, diagnosis of the crisis-prone present and a strategic vision for the future. [1]It is also an unusual one, treating topics typically ceded to left antiquarians with a free spirit that aims to build a grandiose historical-theoretical construction out of insights from Mises and Marx, Luxemburg and Hayek, Preobrazhensky and Gorz. And a best-seller—a notable feat for a work that covers such ground; due in part, perhaps, to Mason’s high visibility as economics editor at the BBCand Channel 4. Born in Lancashire in 1960, the son of a lorry driver and a primary school headmistress, Mason claims to have become ‘a Marxist at 16, a Trotskyist at 19’. He studied music and politics at Sheffield, starting an academic career in music in the early 1980s before switching to journalism. By the time of the late-90s dot.com bubble he was deputy editor of Computer Weekly, then joined BBC Newsnight as business editor, his first broadcast discussing the economic fallout of the 11 September attacks. In 2013 he moved to Channel 4. In these posts he has become a household name in Britain, known for his ruffled pieces-to-camera from the frontline of global uprisings. But he has straddled the range of media from TV and radio to newspaper columns, blogs, with a prominent Twitter and Facebook presence, and a novel set in China’s Wild West. This year he went freelance to engage with the ‘space opening up where the left of social democracy meets the radical left, green and autonomist politics’, unbeholden to the constraints of mainstream media, and has been a prominent commentator on the UK’s successive crises. Mason’s political positions have been oddly ambidextrous: supportive of Corbyn, Occupy and student protests—yet also seeming to call for an upgrade of UK nuclear weapons against the threat of Russian submarines and for the bombing of Assad. If there is a systematic explanation for such eclecticism, he has not yet offered it.

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Hegel and Capitalism

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Hegel and Capitalism (ed) Andrew Buchwalter
State University of New York Press, Albany, 2015. 256pp

Reviewed by Christopher Araujo in Marx & Philosophy Review of Books 

Negri once paid ‘homage’ to Hegel by calling upon Marxists to ‘liberate our praxis’ from an ‘ideology that desires the exploitation of man,’ yet speaks of the ‘hope of liberation’ (2011, 44). But even if his treatment of civil society does not cut as deeply as Marx’s critique of capitalism, conferring upon Hegel the title of official ‘philosopher of the bourgeois and capitalist organization of labor’ is a caricature (ibid., 37). Before we bury the ‘dead dog’ Marx himself tried to resuscitate, Marxists should pause to consult the more measured criticisms and nuanced appraisals of Hegel’s economics in the Buchwalter-edited Hegel and Capitalism. Within the confines of this review, I cannot do justice to the diversity of views expressed there, but I hope to highlight themes relevant to Marxist readers not yet ready to cast Hegel onto the dustbin of history.

Hegel’s relationship to capitalism is contested throughout the text. The opinions range from Michael J. Thompson ─ who argues that capitalism represents a ‘deficient modernity’ and individuals have no ‘obligation’ to reaffirm its irrationality (128-9) ─ to Richard Dien Winfield ─ who criticizes those that read Hegel as having problematized the ‘ethical standing of economic relations’ and drawn ‘modernity under suspicion’ (133, 143). However, most of the authors are in agreement that, while Hegel afforded a certain justification to the market as a sphere in which subjectivity is first raised into universality, he rejected the pure particularity of unbridled capitalism. His political philosophy envisions some sort of ‘determinate negation of capitalism’ ─ although, as Nathan Ross notes, this turns upon comprehending the precise meaning of the claim that the ‘state is the sublation of civil society’ (165). Nicholas Mowad goes so far as to suggest that if ‘Hegel felt capitalism to be severely flawed, yet still legitimate’ in a modified form, then he must not have been ‘fully aware of the critique of capitalism contained in his work’ (71). Perhaps, as Michalis Skomvoulis questions, Lukács was right: ‘frightened’ by his critique, Hegel ‘retreated’ (23).

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They’re Made Out of Meat

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by Terry Bisson

“They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”

“Meat?”

“There’s no doubt about it. We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?”

“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

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Rèpublique Absurd

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Rècit of the Spring 2016 French Uprising  by Asja Crise

The following account, necessarily incomplete and perhaps also imprecise in places, will attempt to describe the recent struggles in France as they developed over the course of four months, from late February to the middle of June. It is based both on translations of material at the time and first-hand experiences. These struggles understood themselves as challenging not only the “labor law [loi du travail]” handed down by the Socialist government of Manuel Valls and François Hollande, but also—as one key slogan had it—“against its world,” that is, the conditions that have made it possible but that are also left wide open in the slogan. Is this world the capitalist one? The “neoliberal” one? That of E.U.-imposed austerity? Or just that of a routinely treacherous Socialist government? And then there is the more radical, let’s say constructive, slogan that circulated among younger demonstrators, borrowed from the title of the Parisian hip-hop group PNL’s hit the previous summer: le monde ou rien, the world or nothing. While I will proceed more or less chronologically, there are a couple of points to make here at the beginning. I choose to start with a short account of the November 13th attacks aftermath and the context of the state of emergency, leading up to the beginning of mobilizations in late February and March, spearheaded by highschoolers. This account moreover will focus on the Paris metropolitan area, where I was living, with minimal reference to other cities.


Accounts of the different phases of the struggle typically break down like this, as the movement mutates from month to month: March is the month of high school mobilization (picking up from last year’s movement against a different version of the law, this one proposed by Emmanuel Macron, the Economics minister), while April saw the occupation of République by the so-called Nuit Debout movement and May was the month of strikes and blockades, as the key French labor union, the CGT—traditionally aligned with the French Communist Party—found itself forced to enter the fray, in part from pressure from its own restive rank-and-file. Throughout this sequence, we encounter the notorious casseur (“wrecker”) who is an entirely ambiguous figure within the movement (that’s the point). The hooded proletarian—high school student? radicalized union rank-and-file? youth from the suburban housing projects, eager to fight the police? “anarchist” or “autonomist” militants?—is targeted and denounced by all the respectable actors of the movement, from Socialist ministers to the CGT leadership, and even by voices on the “revolutionary” Left. At the same time, the figure operates as a unifying point of identification for the movement itself: “we are all casseurs” was a chant often heard in demonstrations, in particular during pitched battles with police.  . . [read more]

Dead Dogs Never Die: Hegel and Marx

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Revista Opinião Filosófica would like to announce the release of its latest issue, vol. 7, no. 1: ‘Dead Dogs Never Die: Hegel and Marx’ 

The volume’s thematic is centered on the unwavering relation between Hegel and Marx. Guest edited by Eric-John Russell and Frank Engster, this multilingual and international collection brings together the work of leading scholars in the field. As an extract from the editorial describes:

“As a whole, the following volume incontrovertibly captures the passage between two generations of scholars in the investigative field of the Hegel-Marx relation. With focus on both the methodological and substantive affinity between Hegel and Marx, we find here a collection that from varied direction attempts to uncover an internal relation between Hegel’s philosophy and Marx’s critique of the capitalist mode production. […] These essays validate the fertility of evermore posing the riddle of why it is that to stare into Hegelian philosophy is to unrelentingly hold fast, knowingly or not, to the problems of capitalist society. For this, the dead dogs refuse to die so long as their object remains intimately connected to our own tumultuous situation.”

While the individual contributions are listed below, the volume in its entirety can be accessed here: http://abavaresco.com.br/wp/?edicoes=vol-7-no1-dead-dogs-never-die-hegel-and-marx.

The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad

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by 

The crate arrived, via overland express, one spring evening in 1849. Three feet long, two feet wide, and two and a half feet deep, it had been packed the previous morning in Richmond, Virginia, then carried by horse cart to the local office of the Adams Express Company. From there, it was taken to the railroad depot, loaded onto a train, and, on reaching the Potomac, transferred to a steamer, where, despite its label—this side up with care—it was placed upside down until a tired passenger tipped it over and used it as a seat. After arriving in the nation’s capital, it was loaded onto a wagon, dumped out at the train station, loaded onto a luggage car, sent on to Philadelphia, unloaded onto another wagon, and, finally, delivered to 31 North Fifth Street. The person to whom the box had been shipped, James Miller McKim, was waiting there to receive it. When he opened it, out scrambled a man named Henry Brown: five feet eight inches tall, two hundred pounds, and, as far as anyone knows, the first person in United States history to liberate himself from slavery by, as he later wrote, “getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state.”

McKim, a white abolitionist with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, had by then been working for the Underground Railroad for more than a decade, and he was awed by the courage and drama of Brown’s escape, and of others like it. In an article he wrote some years later, he predicted that future generations of Americans would come to share his emotions:

Now deemed unworthy of the notice of any, save fanatical abolitionists, these acts of sublime heroism, of lofty self-sacrifice, of patient martyrdom, these beautiful Providences, these hair-breadth escapes and terrible dangers, will yet become the themes of the popular literature of this nation, and will excite the admiration, the reverence and the indignation of the generations yet to come.

It did not take long for McKim’s prediction to come true. The Underground Railroad entered our collective imagination in the eighteen-forties, and it has since been a mainstay of both national history and local lore. But in the past decade or so it has surged into “the popular literature of this nation”—and the popular everything else, too. This year alone has seen the publication of two major Railroad novels, including Oprah’s first book-club selection in more than a year, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” (Doubleday). On TV, the WGN America network aired the first season of “Underground,” which follows the fates of a group of slaves, known as the Macon Seven, who flee a Georgia plantation.

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Simon Clarke’s Guide to Capital: All Three Volumes

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Simon Clarke’s homepage / publications. Guide to Capital as doc / pdf


Capital, volume 1, Chapter 1.

Background:

The first chapter of Capital is both the most important, in that it introduces the basic concepts of Marx’s theory of value, and the most difficult.

Marx first began to work out his theory of value in the Grundrisse (1857), but the discussion there is very convoluted and incomplete. The first version of Chapter One of Capital is to be found in the Critique of Political Economy (1859), whose first chapter is in many ways the best introduction to Chapter One of Capital. The discussion of the Critique differs in a number of ways from that of Capital:

  1. In the Critique Marx does not make the fundamental distinction between value and exchange-value that is made in Capital
  2. in the Critique the argument has a much more ‘Hegelian’ flavour: the argument is entirely formulated in terms of the development of the contradiction between (exchange)-value and use-value
  • the logical and historical development of the argument are both present, but are separated: a logical analysis is followed by a historical one, whereas in Capital the two are more closely integrated
  • Marx devotes much more attention to money in the Critique (and in the Grundrisse) than he does in Capital, (the discussion of money in Capital refers the reader back to the Critique)
  1. The explanation of the theory of value in the Critique is rather different from that in Capital. In the Critique the discussion of commodity fetishism is more closely integrated into the discussion of the theory of value and it is clear that for Marx it is the ‘qualitative’ rather than the ‘quantitative’ dimension that is important: i.e. the theory of value is a theory of the way in which, through money and exchange, private labours are brought into social relation with one another. In Capital the exposition emphasises the quantitative dimension first: the theory of value as a theory of the ratio in which commodities exchange, before discussing the qualitative dimension.

The version of the first chapter of Capital in the English translations is a revised version that first appeared in the third German edition. In the first two editions the first chapter was shorter (roughly the first two sections of the later version and shorter versions of the third and fourth sections), and there was also an Appendix on ‘The form of value’ that was integrated into the third section in the rewrite. The change was made in an attempt to make the first chapter more comprehensible but it does introduce some differences in emphasis. (A translation of the first version of Ch. 1 and the Appendix is published, in a very tortuous translation, in Value Studies by Marx (A. Dragstedt, ed.). A much better translation of the Appendix has been published in Capital and Class, 4, 1978.)

Chapter One of Capital offers us a sociological theory of the market. Marx does not see the market simply as an institution in which individuals meet to exchange commodities, to be understood in isolation from the production of commodities, for exchange itself has implications for production. It is through the price mechanism that apparently independent producers are persuaded to produce in accordance with social needs: if too much of a commodity is produced, the price falls and less will be produced: producers will direct their labour into the production of other goods. If a producer is inefficient he or she will not get full recognition in the market for the work he or she has done, and so will be compelled to increase efficiency. Thus the market is the place in which the labour of individual producers is brought into relation with that of other producers, and so of society as a whole. The market is a particular way of allocating social labour, appropriate to a particular kind of society in which individuals work independently of one another to produce goods for the use of others. Thus the relation between individual producers in a commodity producing society is not directly recognised as a social relation – the producers do not get together to plan production as interdependent members of society. Instead the social relation between these producers takes the form of a relation between things, between the goods they exchange for one another. The exchange ratio, or exchange value, of commodities, is not, therefore, merely a relation between inanimate objects, but it expresses the relation between the labours of the individuals who have produced those commodities. This idea is the basis of Marx’s theory of value.

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