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Month: April, 2017

Trump and America’s Populist Turn

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Logos Journal 2017: Vol. 16, nos. 1-2

Thus rather than conceiving of authoritarianism as a social pathology arising as a reaction to the irrational disequilibrium between the system and the lifeworld that can be remedied by advocating and instituting a democratic equilibrium on normative grounds, such an understanding of the critical theory of society held that authoritarianism was inherent to the irrational objective and subjective dynamics of capitalist society as such. Consequently, this notion of Critical Theory not only tried to cultivate autonomy as a bulwark against the rise of authoritarianism, but also endeavored to understand, demystify and negate the antagonistic, dominating and regressive society that brought forth authoritarianism. – Chris O’Kane

Judith Stein: Wall Street versus Main Street

Dan Krier: Behemoth Revisited

James Block: Beyond the Collapse

Harriet Fraad: Women, Class, Gender and the Trump Agenda

Chip Berlet: The Alt-Right: A Primer on the Online Brownshirts

Jefferson Decker: The Ends of Reform

Mark Worrell: The Twilight of Liberal American Imperialism

Stephen Eric Bronner: Trump’s Counter-Revolution
 

The Frankfurt School and the New Right

Chris O’Kane: “A Hostile World”: Critical Theory in the Time of Trump

Werner Bonefeld: Authoritarian Liberalism, Class and Rackets

John Abromeit: Right Wing Populism and the Limits of Normative Critical Theory

Samir Gandesha: The Neoliberal Personality 

Darren Barany: Explaining “Cult 45”


Review Essays


Kim Scipes: Black Subjugation in America: Review of Theodore W. Allen, Edward E. Baptist, and Sven Beckert

George Lundskow: White Like Them: Review of Arlie Russell Hochschild, Nancy Isenberg, and J. D. Vance

Book Reviews

Andy Blunden, The Origins of Collective Decision Making
Reviewed by Geoffrey Kurtz

Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School
    Reviewed by Aidan Beatty

Martin Jay, Reason after its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory
Reviewed by Brian Caterino

Henry Giroux, America at War with Itself
    Reviewed by Matthew H. Bowker

Vince Czyz, Adrift in a Vanishing City
    Reviewed by Nate Liederbach

Politics is Nothing But the Reign of Feints and Shenanigans

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An interview with Julien Coupat and Mathieu Burnel

Le Monde | April 20, 2017.  Translated by Ill Will Editions. 

Editor’s note:   The trial of Julien Coupat and Mathieu Burnel, known as the “Tarnac affair”, has dragged-on for over eight years now. On the 10th of January, the Court of Appeals deemed that it was no longer to be classified as a terrorism case. Assumed by many to belong to the Invisible Committee—whose first opus, The Coming Insurrection (2007), was a resounding success—they here take a critical look at the presidential campaign. Their newest book, Maintenant [Now], is due to hit the shelves next week.

***

Le Monde: What do you make of the presidential campaign?

What campaign? There was no campaign. There was a soap opera, a fairly worn-out one at that, to tell the truth, full of twists and turns, scandals, dramatic tension and suspense. Much brouhaha, a tiny frenzy, but nothing that managed to pierce the wall of generalized confusion. Not that there is any lack of followers for each candidate, tossing-about with varying degrees of fanaticism in their virtual bubbles. But this fanaticism only deepens the feeling of political unreality.

A graffiti that went up in Place de la Nation during the Mayday demonstration last year stated: “There will be no presidential election”. It suffices to project ourselves ahead to the day after the final round of the election to grasp what’s prophetic in this tag: whatever happens, the new president will be as much a puppet as the current one, the legitimacy of their governance will be just as lacking, just as minoritarian and impotent. This fact isn’t solely due to the extreme withering of politics—to the fact that it has become impossible to believe honestly in all that is done and said there—but is likewise due to the fact that politics is a derisory means of confronting the depth of the current disaster.

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The Scum of Humanity (1935)

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by Paul Mattick

(International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no.6, March 1935, pp 9-18)

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Anyone unfamiliar with politics who strolls into a workers’ meeting (leaving out of consideration the gatherings of the unemployed) is surprised by the fact that the larger part of those present is not to be numbered among the most impoverished stratum of the proletariat. The best organized workers are, of course, those who belong to the so-called labor aristocracy, which takes a social position between the middle class and the genuine proletariat. These trade-unionist organizations espouse the direct vital interests of their members, bringing to them immediate advantages; and yet they are neither able nor do they attempt to politicise their adherents in the socialistic sense. The radical labor movement, on the other hand, can provide its adherents only with ideological satisfaction; it offers them no direct material advantages. And this is precisely why it is incapable of embracing the truly impoverished part of the proletariat. This part, by reason of its very misery, is compelled to concern itself only with its pressing and direct interests if it is not to abandon life altogether. For this reason, the political radical labor movement hovers between the two poles of the working population, namely, the labor aristocracy and the Lumpenproletariat, and is carried on by those elements which, though without illusions on the point that within the present society genuine possibilities of advance are barred to them, nevertheless still maintain a standard of living which permits them to devote money, time and energy to endeavors the fruit of which, in the form of real material advantages for themselves, is deferred to some uncertain future. They set themselves in opposition to the existing society from a recognition of the fact that it has to be changed and because, in spite of this position, it is possible for them to live in it.

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Privilege Theory’s Critique of Marxism

by Jehu 2014

1.    Privilege theory as a critique of Marxism from within Marxismsadwhiteguy

Privilege theory was custom made for post-war Marxism because, basically, with the just dawning realization that the class struggle appears to have all but disappeared in society in the post-war period, they don’t have much of anything else to discuss when it comes to politics.

Privilege theory has its roots in a self-critique within mid-60s Marxism that communists were neglecting the extent to which racism divided the working class. These critics argued the communists themselves marginalized or altogether ignored the surging black liberation movement and the movements of other oppressed strata within American society. However, the view of these critics of Marxism was, in large part, itself infected with many of the same naive conceptions of the working class in particular and class society as a whole as infected the thinking of the more “orthodox” Marxists.

The “white blindspot” critique assumed the working class was not  already divided by its material conditions of existence, but because the capitalist created and employed racism to divide it. As I will show, the false implication underlying the original argument was that absent racism, the working class would be united. The error is not unique to the “white blindspot” theorists: it pervades the Marxist praxis in the post-war period. This is the sort of argument that demonstrates Marxism’s complete lack of understanding of class society. The argument here is critical to both the critique of Marxism and of privilege theory because the assumption (implicit or explicit) made by Marxists on both sides is that the working class is capable of overcoming its divisions short of complete social emancipation.  On the other hand, the growing influence of privilege theory among activists demonstrates the working class is anything but united and likely cannot be united within its present material conditions.

The conflict over privilege theory can be summed up in two (admittedly simplistic) arguments:

1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.

and

2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

At the outset, I am not going to say both sides are wrong in their characterization of the conflicts and divisions within the working class. I just want to assert that the notion of working class unity runs into some very thorny theoretical question based on a less naive grasp of how classes are constituted in bourgeois society. In historical materialism, all classes in bourgeois society have the same characteristics: First, their common material conditions of existence are independent of the members of the class. Second, absent a conflict with another class, the members of a class are on hostile terms with each other.

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What’s expected of us

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by Ted Chiang (2005)

This is a warning. Please read carefully.

By now you’ve probably seen a Predictor; millions of them have been sold by the time you’re reading this. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s a small device, like a remote for opening your car door. Its only features are a button and a big green LED. The light flashes if you press the button. Specifically, the light flashes one second before you press the button.

Most people say that when they first try it, it feels like they’re playing a strange game, one where the goal is to press the button after seeing the flash, and it’s easy to play. But when you try to break the rules, you find that you can’t. If you try to press the button without having seen a flash, the flash immediately appears, and no matter how fast you move, you never push the button until a second has elapsed. If you wait for the flash, intending to keep from pressing the button afterwards, the flash never appears. No matter what you do, the light always precedes the button press. There’s no way to fool a Predictor.

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Nowhere to Go: Automation, Then and Now

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by Jason Smith

Part One

It is in this serious light that we have to look at the question of the growing army of the unemployed. We have to stop looking for solutions in pump-priming, featherbedding, public works, war contracts, and all the other gimmicks that are always being proposed by labor leaders and well-meaning liberals.

– James Boggs, The American Revolution

In 1963, James Boggs, a black autoworker employed for over two decades at a Chrysler plant in Detroit, published a short book focused on the nefarious effects of automation on class struggle in the United States. The story told in The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook begins with the early 1930s, the decomposition of the old craft unions, and a global economy in the throes of an unprecedented near-collapse; it arrives at a high point with the late 1930s, with a now-forgotten wave of sit-down strikes that tore through the tire and auto industries between 1933 and 1937, most famously at the Flint General Motors plant in early 1937.1 This was, in Boggs’s estimation, the “greatest period of industrial strife and workers’ struggle for control of production that the United States has ever known.” But this period also gave rise, under the reformist efforts of the New Deal and in a climate of mass unemployment, to the Wagner Act and the institutionalization of class struggle. The UAW, which just a few years earlier organized the sit-down strikes in the auto industry, had by 1939 banned the tactic in the plants. In the cast shadow of imminent war, the union’s no-strike pledge, along with the inevitable encrustation of a bureaucratic stratum more at home in the offices of management than on the workbenches, left workers to wildcat their way through the war. The Second World War witnessed thousands of work stoppages: an astonishing 8,708 strikes implicating over four million workers took place, according to Boggs, over one two-year period while war production was in full swing. Union pledges of discipline notwithstanding, order did not therefore always prevail. Workers, many of them from the rural South, and new to the world of the factory, consistently bucked against the dictates imposed by management and enforced by their own representatives. The wildcat strikes were not, however, always defections from the dictates of union bureaucrats and the boss. In 1943, a UAW-organized Packard plant was the site of a “hate strike” organized by white workers to push back against the influx of black workers into the factories, and the integration of assembly lines. Soon after, a tumultuous “race riot” broke out in the city, as white workers attacked black workers who now competed with them for housing. Dozens were killed, hundreds wounded; mostly black, and primarily at the hands of police and the National Guard. The city would be occupied by federal troops for a full half year after. Such was, for better and for worse, the American workers movement at its most militant.2

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Vivek Chibber: on the Working Class, Capitalism, Marxism, Postcolonialism, and the State

Transcript of conversation with Vivek Chibber by Jacobin (audio)

Part I: Why we still talk about the working class

The issue before us is why socialists constantly focus on the working class as a strategic factor in society.

To get straight to the point, there are a couple of fundamental reasons why socialists do so, and I think they are very sound reasons. You can think of this as one, being a diagnosis of what’s wrong in modern society, and two, being a prognosis of what to do to make things better. Both of these point in the same direction.

So let’s start with the diagnosis.

The diagnosis focuses on what kinds of things people need in their life to have a decent shot at happiness, at decent social relations with others — all the things that go into what we call justice, and fairness. Whatever else is needed — and there are many things that are needed for social justice — there are two that just about everybody agrees on.

One is certain basic minimum material goods. People cannot live decent lives if they are constantly worried about having enough to eat. They cannot live a decent life if they don’t have basic health, or housing, or certain material provisions that allow them to strive to what they would regard as a higher end to things: creativity, love, friendship. All of those things are harder to sustain if you don’t have certain basic goods, so first of all you need these goods.

Secondly, autonomy, or freedom from domination. The basic idea is, if you’re underneath someone else’s thumb, if you’re being dominated by somebody else, there’s always a chance that that authority which they have over you will turn into abuse.

Being dominated by somebody else, therefore, means that the priorities by which you live are not going to be your own. They’re going to be the priories of that person who has power over you. Which means that you don’t essentially get to set your agenda, whatever that agenda might be.

Therefore, if in modern society people lack these basic material goods, and they lack autonomy, they experience domination. Whatever else they need, in that kind of society, justice is very hard to achieve.

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Soldering on: report on working in a 3D-printer manufacturing plant in London

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by Angry Workers World

The first part of the article looks at the current hype around automation and post-industrialism. The second part looks at the concrete conditions in the west London factory, which largely employs female migrant workers.

The current public debate about automation is a highly politicised one. The prospect of having your takeaway sushi dropped onto your roof terrace by a drone or to 3D print a custom made hip-bone is celebrated by the metropolitan professional class. At the same time they see a looming apocalyptic side of automation: the uneducated working class feels increasingly threatened by their robotic competitors and will therefore lose all liberal attitudes that ties them to the progressive world. Workers voted for Trump and other populists because of their fear that they can’t keep up with an ever faster, changing world.

The radical left is not very helpful when it comes to critically assessing the current discourse around automation from a working class perspective. Many comrades don’t question the hype. They believe that automation will kill off most manual jobs within the next decade or so. Based on this rather unfounded assumption, they are then forced to instinctively choose between two different camps: an affirmative camp (accelerationism, full communism: the robots will free us from work and we can live in luxury on dole money) or a nihilistic one (surplus population, external insurrection: everyone will be unemployed, angry and smash everything). But in order to be able to demystify the seemingly ‘automatic’ power of capital, working class analysis of current changes in technology will have to start from the bottom up. We hope that this article can contribute to this effort.

This report contrasts the experience of working in a 3D-printer manufacturing plant in west London with the general hype of ‘factory-less’ production and full-automation attached to this technology. In the first part we raise more general questions regarding the role of manufacturing or industrial production in capitalism and how the current debate about new technologies like 3D-printing is ideologically charged: with the capitalist zeal to cover up the contradictions of mass production and, with it, the essential core of capitalist exploitation. 3D-printing and ‘desktop manufacturing’ is portrayed as a symbol of revitalisation of the entrepreneurial spirit and of a utopia of small independent producers who engage freely on the market. In the second part we describe the production process and working conditions in the manufacturing plant. We don’t write these reports as an academic exercise, but as part of our proletarian research and intervention in west London.

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Identity/Class/Reaction

Contemporary Classics from Viewpoint Magazine

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Identity Crisis by Salar Mohandesi

As L.A. Kauffman has suggested, identity came to signify not only a description, but a project – a sense of self shaped by the experience of oppression, but also something to be embraced, affirmed. Echoing the psychological provenance of the term, which linked the individual to the group, it was also a communal project. As Carmichael and Hamilton explained, Black Power meant creating a “sense of peoplehood: pride, rather than shame, in blackness, and an attitude of brotherly, communal responsibility among all black people for one another.” Gradually, some activists took this line of thinking to another level. They argued that personal experiences created relatively stable identities, that everyone possessed one of these identities, and that politics should be based on the search for that identity and its subsequent naming, defense, and public expression. Whereas many 1960s radicals once had argued that exploring personal experiences could serve as the first step to discovering particular oppressions, understanding how they operated, and ultimately developing political strategies to overcoming them, some now came to insist on a direct and unmediated link between one’s identity and one’s politics. Rather than being a part of a political project, identity was now a political project in itself.

This idea that one could draw such a direct line between identity and politics would become the basis of identity politics in its contemporary form, the core around which all these other elements – guilt, lifestylism, or the homogenization of groups – came to gravitate around over the next decade. Although this kind of thinking remained marginal at first, over the 1970s and 1980s, a vicious conservative backlash, the destruction of radical movements, the migration of political critique into the universities, the proliferation of single-issue campaigns, and the restructuring of capitalist relations all worked in unexpected ways to create the historical conditions that allowed identity politics to eventually achieve a kind of hegemony on the left. But its limitations were clear from the outset. Most importantly, identity politics tended to flatten important distinctions within otherwise heterogeneous identities. It was in this context that the idea of “intersectionality” emerged. Although now regarded as synonymous with identity politics, the concept actually originated as a critique of its flaws.

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Making Waves (Part 1) by Viewpoint Magazine

Historically, social democracy has presented itself as an alternative to communism, but in reality social democratic politics were always dependent on the communist threat. Capital’s willingness to strike compromises with social democracy was always inspired by its fear that failing to do so would push the organized working class towards communism. It is no coincidence that the most progressive class compromises were made at times of communist ascendancy, as in the 1930s United States and post-war Europe, or that the decline of European Social Democracy accelerated with the decline of the internal and external communist threat. Another more well-known condition of social democracy was the post-war boom, which the prespective of the longue-durée shows was an exception in capitalist history. Today, the scope for reformism is radically diminished as redistribution runs up against low profit rates and Keynesian debt financing has to rely on deregulated and volatile global financial markets. In today’s low-growth economy, the reform programs of left-social democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party (distinct as they are) would require both a will and a capacity to break radically with capitalist interests, i.e. to risk provoking processes of rupture rather than reform. In all likelihood, progressive social democratic leaders would either have to turn against the promises of social democracy, or overcome social democracy itself, by abandoning reformism.

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The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel: Artificial Intelligence and Neoreaction by Shuja Haider

If the builders of technology are transmitting their values into machinery, this makes the culture of Silicon Valley a matter of more widespread consequence. The Californian Ideology, famously identified by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron in 1995, represented a synthesis of apparent opposites: on one hand, the New Left utopianism that was handily recuperated into the Third Way liberal centrism of the 1990s, and on the other, the Ayn Randian individualism that led more or less directly to the financial crisis of the 2000s. But in the decades since, as the consumer-oriented liberalism of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs gave way to the technological authoritarianism of Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, this strange foundation paved the way for even stranger tendencies. The strangest of these is known as “neoreaction,” or, in a distorted echo of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s vision, the “Dark Enlightenment.” It emerged from the same chaotic process that yielded the anarchic political collective Anonymous, a product of the hivemind generated by the cybernetic assemblages of social media. More than a school of thought, it resembles a meme.