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Month: September, 2017

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
18 September 2017

Description from LSE:
Leading Marxist scholar David Harvey discusses the profound insights and enormous power Marx’s analysis continues to offer 150 years after the first volume of Capital was published. His latest book is Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason.

David Harvey (@profdavidharvey) is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate School and an Honorary Graduate of LSE. His course on Marx’s Capital, developed with students over thirty years, has been downloaded by people from all over the world.

Hyun Bang Shin (@urbancommune) is Associate Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at LSE.

The LSE Department of Geography & Environment (@LSEGeography) is a center of international academic excellence in economic, urban and development geography, environmental social science and climate change.

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Germany stutters

(via Michael Roberts)

The general election in Germany produced a sharp swing to the right.  The two main parties of the centre-right and centre-left, the Christian Democrats/Social Union (CDU-CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) suffered significant losses in their share of the vote.  The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel lost 8.5% pts from the 2013 election to finish with 33%; and the SPD lost 5.2% pts to finish with 20.5% – both achieving the lowest share of the vote since 1945.  The share of the vote going to the two main parties, which were in a ‘grand coalition’, is hardly above 50% of those voting – and the voter turnout rose to 75% from 71% in 2013.

The big gainer was the anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist, anti-muslim, Alternative for Germany (AfD) which polled 12.6%, compared with 4.7% in 2013 and entered the German parliament (Bundestag) for the first time.  The other major gainer was the petty-bourgeois, neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) which polled 10.7% compared to 4.8% last time and re-entered the Bundestag.  Die Linke (Left) party polled more or less the same as last time with 9.2% and so did the Greens with 8.9%.  Indeed, the left (if you include the Greens in that) polled less than 40% of the total vote, even lower than in 2013.

The SPD says that they will not enter a new grand coalition with the CDU, and that’s not surprising after the hammering they have taken in the election for being part of Merkel’s government.  The SPD particularly lost support in higher unemployment areas of West Germany, revealing that the poorest sections of the working class do not see the SPD as fighting for them any longer.

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A contribution to the critique of political autonomy (Dauvé, 2008)

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by Gilles Dauvé (pdf)

It’s very difficult to force into obedience whoever has no wish to command.

Rousseau

No critique beyond this point

Any critique of democracy arouses suspicion, and even more so if this critique is made by those who wish a world without capital and wage-labour, without classes, without a State.

Public opinion dislikes but understands those who despise democracy from a reactionary or elitist point of view. Someone who denies the common man’s or woman’s ability to organize and run himself or herself, logically will oppose democracy. But someone who firmly believes in this ability, and yet regards democracy as unfit for human emancipation, is doomed to the dustbins of theory. At the best, he is looked down upon as an idiot; at the worst, he gets the reputation of a warped mind who’ll end up in the poor company of the arch-enemies of democracy: the fascists.

Indeed, if “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”, it seems obvious that in order to emancipate themselves, the exploited must not only do away with the power structures that enslave them, but also create their own organs of debating and decision-making. Exercising one’s collective freedom, isn’t that what democracy is all about? That assumption has the merit of simplicity: to change the world and live the best possible human life, what better way than to base this life on institutions that will provide the largest number of people with the largest freedom on speech and decision-taking? Besides, whenever they fight, the dominated masses generally declare their will to establish the authentic democracy that’s been so far lacking.

For all these reasons, the critique of democracy is a lost or forgotten battle.

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The Uninhabitable Earth

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Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

By David Wallace-Wells

I. ‘Doomsday’

Peering beyond scientific reticence.

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. This past winter, a string of days 60 and 70 degrees warmer than normal baked the North Pole, melting the permafrost that encased Norway’s Svalbard seed vault — a global food bank nicknamed “Doomsday,” designed to ensure that our agriculture survives any catastrophe, and which appeared to have been flooded by climate change less than ten years after being built.

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History, Civilization, and Progress (Bookchin, 1994)

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History, Civilization, and Progress: Outline for a Criticism of Modern Relativism

by Murray Bookchin

Rarely have the concepts that literally define the best of Western culture–its notions of a meaningful History, a universal Civilization, and the possibility of Progress–been called so radically into question as they are today. In recent decades, both in the United States and abroad, the academy and a subculture of self-styled postmodernist intellectuals have nourished an entirely new ensemble of cultural conventions that stem from a corrosive social, political, and moral relativism. This ensemble encompasses a crude nominalism, pluralism, and skepticism, an extreme subjectivism, and even outright nihilism and antihumanism in various combinations and permutations, sometimes of a thoroughly misanthropic nature. This relativistic ensemble is pitted against coherent thought as such and against the “principle of hope” (to use Ernst Bloch’s expression) that marked radical theory of the recent past. Such notions percolate from so-called radical academics into the general public, where they take the form of personalism, amoralism, and “neoprimitivism.”

Too often in this prevailing “paradigm,” as it is often called, eclecticism replaces the search for historical meaning; a self-indulgent despair replaces hope; dystopia replaces the promise of a rational society; and in the more sophisticated forms of this ensemble a vaguely defined “intersubjectivity”–or in its cruder forms, a primitivistic mythopoesis–replaces all forms of reason, particularly dialectical reason. In fact, the very concept of reason itself has been challenged by a willful antirationalism. By stripping the great traditions of Western thought of their contours, nuances, and gradations, these relativistic “post-historicists,” “postmodernists,” and (to coin a new word) “post-humanists” of our day are, at best, condemning contemporary thought to a dark pessimism or, at worst, subverting it of all its meaning.

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The Aporias of Marxism / Archaism and Modernity

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By Enzo Traverso

The Aporias of Marxism

In a letter to Walter Benjamin, dated 13 April 1933, Gershom Scholem described the rise of Nazi Germany as ‘a catastrophe of world‑historical proportions’ which permitted him for the first time ‘to comprehend deeply’ the expulsion of the Spanish Jews in 1492: ‘The magnitude of the collapse of the communist and socialist movements,’ he wrote ‘is frightfully obvious, but the defeat of German Jewry certainly does not pale by comparison.’ [56] These words, written in Palestine by a historian of the Cabbala who had left Germany almost ten years before, seem today a good deal more lucid than any of the Marxist analyses of the time.

In 1933very few intellectuals were aware of the fact that Hitler’s rise to power signified the end of Judaism in Germany. The Jews, as Scholem bitterly observed in this same letter, were powerless and continued desperately to cling to a national identity that had been obstinately constructed over a century of assimilation. The National Socialist laws were soon to abolish at one shot the gains made by emancipation. The great majority of the tens of thousands of Jews who left Germany were intellectuals and left-wing militants, Socialists or Communists, whose Judeity made their position even more hazardous and precarious. The official institutions of the Jewish community, notably the Zentraverein, tried to find a form of coexistence and accommodation with the new regime. [57]

The workers’ movement was no more ready to deal with the catastrophe. From the end of the twenties, Trotsky had seen the danger of German fascism: his warnings went unheeded. The KPD and SPD were dismantled without offering any real resistance, after having shown themselves incapable of obstructing the rise of National Socialism and of providing an alternative to the dissolution of the Weimar Republic. However, in 1933, nazism unleashed its attack on the workers’ organizations, not on the Jews. Nazi anti‑Semitism developed gradually and inexorably, passing through several stages: first discrimination and the questioning of emancipation again (1933‑35); then economic depredations and the adoption of a policy of persecution (1938‑41); finally extermination (1941‑45). The destruction of the workers’ movement was not a gradual process: it was, in fact, one of the conditions for the consolidation of the Nazi regime. Paradoxically, while the parties, the press, and the left‑wing militants were outlawed and persecuted, Hitler was establishing and encouraging the development of Jewish institutions. His object was to drive a wedge between the ‘Aryans’ and the Jews and to eradicate any sentiment of belonging to the German nation that the latter might still entertain. The result was that the anti-Semitism seemed superficial and transitory by comparison with the absolute opposition of National Socialism to the workers’ movement. In other words, nazism was perceived as a regime that was far more antiworker than anti-Semitic.

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On the ecology of capitalism

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by Antithesis (pdf)

The growth of production has been entirely verified until now as the realization of political economy: the growth of poverty, which has invaded and laid waste to the very fabric of life... In the society of the over-developed economy, everything has entered the sphere of economic goods, even spring water and the air of towns, that is to say, everything has become the economic ill, that “complete denial of man”…

Guy Debord, The sick planet

The process of the expansion of the capitalist mode of production on a world scale in the previous century was at the same time a process of transformation of the biosphere as a whole. This process resulted in the disturbance of the ecological balance of the planet, a balance which lasted for the past 10.000 years, which is known as the Holocene geological period. According to recent scientific studies the main aspects of this planetary ecological transformation are the following:[1]

  • Increase of the average temperature of the planet due to the increase of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and of other greenhouse gases. This increase is caused both by the burning of fossil fuels for supplying energy to capitalist production and reproduction and by the emissions originating in the capitalist mode of agricultural production.[2]
  • Great loss of biodiversity mainly due to the conversion of forest ecosystems into zones of agricultural production or into parts of the urban fabric. It is predicted that within the 21st century up to 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species will be threatened with extinction.
  • Perturbation of the cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus which are transferred with increasing rates from the atmosphere to the oceans and the lake systems of the planet due to the use of huge quantities of fertilizers in capitalist agriculture. The pollution of oceans has even led to local anoxic events (e.g. in the Baltic sea) during which the oxygen levels in the sea were significantly reduced.
  • In addition to the phenomena described above, the depletion of atmospheric ozone and the level of ocean acidification have reached a critical point.

All these environmental changes are consequently manifested on a more local geographic scale in various ways: great increase in hurricane frequency, desertification of large areas in various parts of the world, deforestation, increase in the frequency of extreme weather phenomena such as floods and long droughts, emergence of new diseases transmitted in an unpredictable manner and so on. At the same time, the productivity of agriculture has been significantly slowed down due to soil exhaustion. Further, new biotechnological methods of cultivation based on genetically modified plants failed to reverse this slowdown due to the rise of the so-called superweeds. Between 1980 and 2008 the global production of wheat and maize had been reduced by 5.5% and 3.8% respectively compared to a counterfactual without climate trends.[3] These phenomena have negative effects on the living conditions of the global proletariat. The weaker and most poor parts of the proletariat are affected in a more extreme way by having to face even shortages in food and drinking water.

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On Mother Earth and Earth Mothers

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Why Environmentalism Has a Gender Problem by Jennifer Bernstein

Not so long ago, technologies like microwaves and frozen foods were understood to be liberatory. Along with washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and a host of other inventions, these household innovations allowed women to unshackle themselves from many of the demands of domestic labor. It didn’t all work out as hoped. With labor-saving technology at hand, cleanliness and other domestic standards rose. Today, women still perform the lion’s share of domestic work, even among affluent couples, and even within a rising share of dual-income households.1

But it is also true that domestic labor demands upon women in affluent economies have declined dramatically. In the 1960s, women spent an average of 28 hours per week on housework; by 2011, they averaged 15.2 These gains are all the more important as wages in the United States stagnate and the number of single-parent households have grown.3 With many women taking on more than one job, facing longer commutes, and working irregular hours to make ends meet,4 the technological progress that has enabled something so handy as a 30-minute meal only eases the burden of the “second shift,” those unpaid post-work chores that still fall overwhelmingly to women.

And yet, today, a growing chorus of voices argues that to be proper environmentalists and nurturing parents, each night should involve a home-cooked meal of fresh, organic, unprocessed ingredients. “We’re doing so little home cooking now,” food guru Michael Pollan says, “the family meal is truly endangered.”5 Chastising the typical household for spending a mere 27 minutes a day preparing food, Pollan champions increasingly time-consuming methods of food production in defense of the allegedly life-enriching experience of cooking he fears is rapidly being lost.6

The juxtaposition is jarring, if not much remarked upon. At a moment in our history when increasing numbers of women have liberated themselves from many of the demands of unpaid domestic labor, prominent environmental thinkers are advocating a return to the very domestic labor that stubbornly remains the domain of women.

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Utopia as Method, Social Science Fiction, and the Flight From Reality

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a Review of Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso Jacobin Series, 2016)

by Anthony Galluzzo

Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed British techno-dystopian television series, Black Mirror, returned last year in a more American-friendly form. The third season, now broadcast on Netflix, opened with “Nosedive,” a satirical depiction of a recognizable near future when user-generated social media scores—on the model of Yelp reviews, Facebook likes, and Twitter retweets—determine life chances, including access to basic services, such as housing, credit, and jobs. The show follows striver Lacie Pound—played by Bryce Howard—who, in seeking to boost her solid 4.2 life score, ends up inadvertently wiping out all of her points, in the nosedive named by the episode’s title. Brooker offers his viewers a nightmare variation on a now familiar online reality, as Lacie rates every human interaction and is rated in turn, to disastrous result. And this nightmare is not so far from the case, as online reputational hierarchies increasingly determine access to precarious employment opportunities. We can see this process in today’s so-called sharing economy, in which user approval determines how many rides will go to the Uber driver, or if the room you are renting on Airbnb, in order to pay your own exorbitant rent, gets rented.

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