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Category: communism

The Velvet Glove and the Iron Fist

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New York City public-sector workers marching in the 1950s. District Council 37

In the late nineteenth century New York City was covered in trash, ash, and horse shit. In addition to the dirt, garbage, and snow bedeviling New Yorkers today, the streets were strewn with mountains of cinders from innumerable coal-burning furnaces, and the excrescence of over two hundred thousand horses depositing sixty thousand gallons of urine and 2,500,000 pounds of manure onto the streets each day.

The dominant scientific theory of “miasma” attributed diseases like smallpox to airborne odors, and while the scholarly consensus was shifting toward the modern theory of germs, enthusiastic consensus remained that bad odors ought to be eliminated regardless.

Keeping the streets clean and unobstructed was paramount to public health, optimal circulation and consumption of commodities, and quality of life in a city where the rich and poor share many of the same streets. Street cleaning was therefore source of social power for the workers who could strike their tools and let the garbage pile up.

Beginning in 1888, New York sanitation workers did just that, embarking on a spate of successful strikes opposing speedup and late wages, and demanding a regular work schedule. Their struggle came to foreshadow the whole trajectory of public-sector unionism in New York City.

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The Belly of the Revolution: Agriculture, Energy, and the Future of Communism

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by Jasper Bernes (2018), from Materialism and the Critique of Energy

In the days when man’s members did not all agree amongst themselves, as is now the case, but had each its own ideas and a voice of its own, the other parts thought it unfair that they should have the worry and the trouble and the labour of providing everything for the belly, while the belly remained quietly in their midst with nothing to do but to enjoy the good things which they bestowed upon it; they therefore conspired together that the hands should carry no food to the mouth, nor the mouth accept anything that was given it, nor the teeth grind up what they received. While they sought in this angry spirit to starve the belly into submission, the members themselves and the whole body were reduced to the utmost weakness. Hence it had become clear that even the belly had no idle task to perform, and was no more nourished than it nourished the rest, by giving out to all parts of the body that by which we live and thrive, when it has been divided equally amongst the veins and is enriched with digested food — that is, the blood.

Many on the left still subscribe to a view of technology that G.A. Cohen, in his reconstruction of Marx’s thought, called “the fettering thesis.” From this perspective, the technological forces that capitalism employs in its quest for productivity-driven profit are the foundation upon which an emancipated humanity will erect its new dwelling. Humane cultivation of these forces is, however, “fettered” by capitalist social relations. Capitalism is pregnant with what could be, a deployment in the conditional tense of given productive forces. In a resonant moment of triumphal phrasing at the end of the first volume of Capital, Marx describes capitalism as tending toward a moment of crisis, its property relations an “integument… burst asunder” by the maturation of increasingly centralized and concentrated productive forces. The consequences, for Marx, are clear: “The knell of capitalist property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” At a critical point in the development of capitalism, the fragmented, unplanned allocation of wealth that characterizes production for profit in competitive markets no longer conforms with the complex, industrialized labor process of modern workplaces: only socialist planning and the supervision of the direct producers themselves can make effective use of the technology whose adolescence the bourgeoisie oversaw. Today, many will advance these arguments only with significant caveats, avoiding some of its more embarrassing iterations. Few would argue, for instance, that the deskilled, socialized labor of the factory system contains the germ of a new world in the making. They will not hesitate, however, to pour new wine into old bottles and say much the same thing about 3-D printers and self-driving cars… [READ PDF]

Jobs, Bullshit, and the Bureaucratization of the World

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by Jason E. Smith

You probably first heard of him when reading, on Bloomberg.com or in the pages of The New Yorker, about his role as one of the “founders” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of you might have stumbled across him even earlier, when The New York Times published a short article on the openly anarchist anthropology professor whose politics, he lamented, thwarted his plans for tenure at Yale. Others, probably a bit younger, and having drifted into post-2008 “radical” politics, first found him on Twitter, where he assiduously maintains contact with almost 70,000 followers. Slightly older radicals will recognize him as an eager participant in and chronicler of the turn-of-the-century anti-globalization movement. SlateThe GuardianThe Financial Times and other organs of the prevailing powers open their column space to his reflections on technology, money, and Corbynism, or his calls for Western succor to the “revolutionary Kurds” of Rojava (who have, for years now, enjoyed the lethal air support of US war planes). The son of NYC leftists—his father fought in the storied Abraham Lincoln Brigades—and one of the venerable Marshall Sahlins’s last students, David Graeber is today best known for his monumental 2011 book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, which appeared just a couple of months before the establishment of the Zuccotti Park camp. That book, in the works for years, seemed, due as much to its timing as to its content, the theoretical and historical work most attuned to the Occupy Wall Street movement and its demands. Now, seven years after that publication—and the rise and folding up of that movement—Graeber has followed his earlier examination of the “barter myth” and the priority of debt over exchange relations throughout human history with a new book, this time on a contemporary matter: the “current work regime.” Or as he puts it in his insistently populist idiom, the “proliferation of bullshit jobs.”

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Meditations on a Corpse

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INTRODUCTION TO SIMONE WEIL

Of the three most remarkable women thinkers born in the last century, Simone Weil (1909–43) was a year younger than Simone de Beauvoir, herself a little over a year younger than Hannah Arendt. From a secularized Jewish family in Paris, she declared herself a Bolshevik at the age of ten, and proved a brilliant student, first at the elite lyćee Henri IV and then at the École normale supérieure. There after listening to a homily on patriotism by the sociologist Célestin Bouglé—a fellow spirit of Durkheim, toast of today’s ‘social liberals’ in France—she got up and read out a speech of Poincaré in 1912, who took the country into the First World War two years later, advocating an invasion of Belgium. Bouglé, dumbfounded at this exposure of Entente hypocrisies, could think of no better answer than to announce it was 12 noon and time for lunch, a response that immediately became a legend in the school. When she passed her agrégation in philosophy in 1931, Bouglé made certain that the ‘Red Virgin’, as he called her, was not allowed to teach in an industrial town as she had requested. She was dispatched instead to Le Puy, a rural backwater. There, nevertheless, she was soon active in solidarity work with the local trade unions and writing in La Révolution prolétarienne, a libertarian journal of the left edited by militants expelled from the Communist Party.

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Cured Quail vol 1. (review)

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Cured Quail, Glasgow, 2018. 224pp., £12, reviewed by J. Harvey

Against a backdrop of widening climate catastrophe and incessant war, representation appeared as focus of popular outcries in the so-called era of post-truth and new media. Cured Quail is a Marxist journal of critical aesthetics, self-published in 2018, that takes seriously the appearance of a generalized crisis of representation, truth and culture afflicting contemporary capitalist societies at the edge of disaster. In a society profoundly unable to represent anything other than its fragmented self, the very universality of language becomes threatened. Far from employing a deconstructionist or relativist approach, Cured Quail levels the charge of illiteracy against this society. The notion of illiteracy utilized here is similar to Adorno’s concept of the “speechlessness” of a new type of human being: that of a people who speak concretely and without illusion, but in the voice of a radio announcer, and who are ipso facto unable to openly express how the world could be any different. In their opening statement, the editors of Cured Quailshow an awareness that these solipsistic pitfalls are equally present in the academy, gallery, pamphlet and newsfeed. Cured Quail’s intervention is necessarily immanent as it does not proclaim to be external to these conditions.

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Get rid of work (Dauvé)

What follows is a long essay by the French communization theorist, Gilles Dauvé translated by Ediciones Inéditos. It is a long read, a read which varies in content and tone but a text which masterfully summarizes the communist critique of work. The original can be found here at Troploin. He also dutifully notes that without the abolition of work there can be no communist revolution or communism. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed translating it. ¡A la chingada con el trabajo!

Here you will find a lightly modified chapter 3 from the bookFrom Crisis to Communizationpublished in 2017 by Editions Entremonde.

False construction sites

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In 1997, in the French department of Sarthe, some 20 workers were constructing a section of highway under the direction of an engineer employed by a large company, BTP. After two months the engineer was arrested: no one had ordered the work that was partially done, which with an initial financing, the false construction site manager had successfully hoodwinked both banks and public organizations. Between 1983 and 1996, Philippe Berre had been convicted 14 times for ordering false construction sites. In 2009, “The Beginning,” a film inspired by this whole adventure was released, displaying a population struck by unemployment which briefly found work and hope. Phillippe Berre was not motivated by personal gain, but rather by the need to do, to be of use, to reanimate a group of workers. In 2010, once again, he took on this role while helping those affected by Cyclone Xynthia.

We all know “rogue bosses.” Philippe Berre is a fictitious boss, an anti-hero for our times; at once a “manipulator of symbols,” an agile manager of human resources, at a crossroads between the automobile and the BTP (presented as the two principal employers within modern countries), wandering as a nomad on the highways, as mobile as the activities which he preyed upon, living on the ephemeral dreams that his dynamism created around him, an illustration of a fluidity without markers or attachments, where money flows but is not wasted, where success has no future, where one builds worthless things, where all appears as communication and virtuality. But is not a sense of reality which Philippe Berre is lacking, rather he lacks respect.

When a crook brings work, revenue, and thus some “meaning” to a community in perdition, even if it is a provisional and false meaning, this raises the question – what does production and work mean? The unemployed at Sarthe trusted Philippe Berre because he brought them some socializing, a role, a status, a sense of being recognized. What is useful? Useless? Fictitious? Real? What is profitable or not? Was this piece of highway more or less absurd than any “real” highway? What work is worthy of being qualified as “a waste”? Beyond the hard reality of work (it creates objects, creates profit and is generally onerous), what is the truth?

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Women and the Subversion of the Community (1971)

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by Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1971)

These observations are an attempt to define and analyze the “Woman Question”, and to locate this question in the entire “female role” as it has been created by the capitalist division of labour.

We place foremost in these pages the housewife as the central figure in this female role. We assume that all women are housewives and even those who work outside the home continue to be housewives. That is, on a world level, it is precisely what is particular to domestic work, not only measured as number of hours and nature of work, but as quality of life and quality of relationships which it generates, that determines a woman’s place wherever she is and to whichever class she belongs. We concentrate here on the position of the working-class woman, but this is not to imply that only working-class women are exploited. Rather it is to confirm that the role of the working-class housewife, which we believe has been indispensable to capitalist production is the determinant for the position of all other women. Every analysis of women as a caste, then, must proceed from the analysis of the position of working-class housewives.

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Capitalism as Religion (Benjamin, 1921)

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A religion may be discerned in capitalism – that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers. The proof of the religious structure of capitalism – not merely, as Weber believes, as a formation conditioned by religion, but as an essentially religious phenomenon – would still lead even today to the folly of an endless universal polemic. We cannot draw closed the net in which we are caught. Later on, however, we shall be able to gain an overview of it.

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On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant

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by David Graeber (2013)

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

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Internationaler Kongress zum 200. Geburtstag von Karl Marx (videos)

RLS, Berlin, 2. bis 6. Mai 2018

The unfinished system of Karl Marx: Critically reading Capital as a challenge for our time

Opening marx200 in May 2, 2018 — marx200 Livestream-Aufzeichnung vom 2.5.2018. [EN]/[DE] The central question is: what is the challenge for an «appraisal» of Marx in 2018 in order to strengthen emancipatory forces? Why do we think that our book can contribute to this? This question will be linked with two other considerations: Why has the Marxian heritage not been recognized and used in its complexity? And what does this mean for the left? With Patrick Bond (University of the Witwatersrand, Südafrika / South Africa), Jan Toporowski (University of London), Kohei Saito (Osaka City University, Japan), Judith Dellheim (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung). Moderation / facilitation: Frieder Otto Wolf (FU Berlin)


Karl Marx und die Geburt der modernen Gesellschaft

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Michael Heinrich

[DE] marx200-Livestream-Aufzeichnung vom 2.5.2018. Die Durchsetzung «moderner» bürgerlich-kapitalistischer Verhältnisse wird von Marx in einer Folge unabgeschlossener Projekte analysiert und kritisiert. Um die begrifflichen Verschiebungen, Abbrüche und Neuanfänge zu verstehen, muss man sich mit den zeitgenössischen Konflikten und Marx eigener Rolle darin auseinandersetzen. Mit Michael Heinrich (Berlin) Moderation: Antonella Muzzupappa (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung).

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On the Poverty of Student Life (1966)

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Considered in Its Economic, Political,
Psychological, Sexual, and Especially Intellectual Aspects,
With a Modest Proposal for Doing Away With It

by

members of the Situationist International

and students of Strasbourg University (print version)

1. To make shame more shameful still by making it public

It is pretty safe to say that the student is the most universally despised creature in France, apart from the policeman and the priest. But the reasons for which heT1 is despised are often false reasons reflecting the dominant ideology, whereas the reasons for which he is justifiably despised from a revolutionary standpoint remain repressed and unavowed. The partisans of false opposition are aware of these faults — faults which they themselves share — but they invert their actual contempt into a patronizing admiration. The impotent leftist intellectuals (from Les Temps Modernes to L’Express) go into raptures over the supposed “rise of the students,” and the declining bureaucratic organizations (from the “Communist” Party to the UNEF [National Student Union]) jealously contend for his “moral and material support.” We will show the reasons for this concern with the student and how they are rooted in the dominant reality of overdeveloped capitalism. We are going to use this pamphlet to denounce them one by one: the suppression of alienation necessarily follows the same path as alienation.

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The Controversy About Marx and Justice

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by Normas Geras (1989)

In this essay I review a fast-growing sector of the current literature on Marx and the controversy that has fuelled its growth. During the last decade or so, the keen interest within moral and political philosophy in the concept of justice has left its mark on the philosophical discussion of his work. It has left it in the shape of the question: did Marx himself condemn capitalism as unjust? There are those who have argued energetically that he did not; and as many who are equally insistent that he did — a straightforward enough division, despite some differences of approach on either side of it. To prevent misunderstanding, it is worth underlining at the outset that the question being addressed is not that of whether Marx did indeed condemn capitalism, as opposed just to analysing, describing, explaining its nature and tendencies. All parties to this dispute agree that he did, agree in other words that there is some such normative dimension to his thought, and frankly, I do not think the denial of it worth taking seriously any longer. The question is the more specific one: does Marx condemn capitalism in the light of any principle of justice?

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Marx still haunts capitalism two hundred years on

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“The bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles until their dying day.”

— Marx to Engels, 1867

Indeed, it would seem they haven’t forgotten him. Over the last few weeks, major bourgeois news outlets have congratulated Marx for “being right” about capitalism: New York TimesGuardianFinancial TimesIndependent, and even Vice. Little consolation, all this posthumous praise, for while capitalism remains unstable as ever, the prospect of proletarian revolution feels far away. Perhaps it is less embarrassing than Jonathan Spargo, Marx’s first American biographer, taking to the pages of the New York Times a hundred years ago to enlist Marx to the side of the Entente: “Today Is the 100th anniversary of Marx’s birth: Bitterly opposed to Prussia and an ardent admirer of America, his record shows where he would have stood in the present war.”

You can download some relevant biographies and introductions to Marx’s work below:

  1. Franz Mehring, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (1918)
  2. Max Beer, The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx (1920)
  3. Otto Rühle, Karl Marx: His Life and Work (1929)
  4. Boris Nikolaevsky & Otto Mänchen-Helfen, Karl Marx: Man and Fighter (1932)
  5. Karl Korsch, Karl Marx (1939)
  6. Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx (1948)
  7. Werner Blumenberg, Potrait of Marx (1962)
  8. Maximilien Rubel, Marx: Life and Works (1965)
  9. Ernst Bloch, On Karl Marx (1968)
  10. David McClellan, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought(1973)
  11. Étienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx (1993)
  12. Rolf Hosfeld, Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography (2009)
  13. Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion (2016)
  14. Marcello Musto, Another Marx: Early Manuscripts to the International (2018)

(via The Charnel-House)

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How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened)

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by David Graeber, David Wengrow

The story we have been telling ourselves about our origins is wrong, and perpetuates the idea of inevitable social inequality. David Graeber and David Wengrow ask why the myth of ‘agricultural revolution’ remains so persistent, and argue that there is a whole lot more we can learn from our ancestors.

1. In the beginning was the word

For centuries, we have been telling ourselves a simple story about the origins of social inequality. For most of their history, humans lived in tiny egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers. Then came farming, which brought with it private property, and then the rise of cities which meant the emergence of civilization properly speaking. Civilization meant many bad things (wars, taxes, bureaucracy, patriarchy, slavery…) but also made possible written literature, science, philosophy, and most other great human achievements.

Almost everyone knows this story in its broadest outlines. Since at least the days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has framed what we think the overall shape and direction of human history to be. This is important because the narrative also defines our sense of political possibility. Most see civilization, hence inequality, as a tragic necessity. Some dream of returning to a past utopia, of finding an industrial equivalent to ‘primitive communism’, or even, in extreme cases, of destroying everything, and going back to being foragers again. But no one challenges the basic structure of the story.

There is a fundamental problem with this narrative.

It isn’t true.
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Durcheinander der Revolution. Umsturz als Transformation und Konstruktion

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Von Bini Adamczak (2018)

Die Revolution, die eine gute Zukunft realisieren will, entstammt einer schlechten Gegenwart, die sie überwinden will. Ohne die gefrorene Gewalt dieser vorrevolutionären Strukturen lässt sich die entfesselte der revolutionären Bewegung nicht verstehen. Wer das stille Leid der Unterdrückten nicht sehen will, wird in ihrem schließlichen Schrei nichts anderes hören können als das Brüllen einer Barbarei, gegen die dieser eigentlich gerichtet ist. Denn zunächst ist die Aufgabe der Revolution negativ bestimmt, sie hat einen unerträglichen Zustand zu beenden. »Der Zweck der Revolution«, schrieb Theodor W. Adorno in einem Brief an Walter Benjamin bündig, »ist die Abschaffung der Angst« (Adorno 1994, 173). Insofern aber die Angst, die sich auf eine ungewisse Zukunft richtet, der Vergangenheit entstammt, ist das kommunistische Morgen nicht ohne kapitalistisches Gestern verstehbar. Die Revolution lässt sich nicht ohne Kenntnis der Welt erschließen, aus deren Zusammenbruch sie hervorgeht und aus deren Trümmern sie eine neue zu erschaffen hat.

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Hans-Jürgen Krahl (1943-1970)

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Hans-Jürgen Krahl points to the ceiling during the occupation of the University of Frankfurt, May 15, 1968 (AP Photo)

Dave Mesing | Hans-Jürgen Krahl, For and Against Critical Theory: Introduction

For Anglophone readers, Hans-Jürgen Krahl’s name is most distinctive as a marker for a possible alternative path within the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research.

Hans-Jürgen Krahl | Personal Information

The anti-authoritarian revolt was precisely a process of Marxist training, in which we have gradually detached from bourgeois ideologies, in which we have revealed the purely ideological character of its promises of liberation, and definitively understood that the classic forms of liberalism and emancipation, which still drive the liberal capitalism of competition, have definitively passed away. We have understood that now, in the struggle against the state, against bourgeois justice, and against the organized power of capital, in a long and certainly difficult process, it is a matter of conquering conditions that allow us to enter into organized contact with the working class and to create the historical pressures necessary for the education of class consciousness. It was a long process of education which also had to impose itself within the SDS.

Detlev Claussen | Krahl and His Conjuncture: An Interview with Detlev Claussen

The task for intellectuals is not to propagate the revolution from the outside, but to develop emancipatory needs which go beyond work—an emancipatory consciousness of the totality. In 1969, the world in Europe still seemed so open, the Italian Hot Autumn and the September strikes in Germany made such a task seem appropriate.

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A Materialist Feminism Is Possible (1980)

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Christine Delphy (Feminist Review, No. 4, 1980, pp. 79-105)

The concepts used for the Marxist analysis of capitalist exploitation (or Capital, to simplify) cannot actually account for the exploitation of women for the same reason that they cannot account for the exploitation of serfs, or slaves, or indentured servants, or prisoners in labour camps, or African share-croppers. The simple reason is that the concepts used to account for exploitation by wages-and it is this which is the subject of Capital-cannot account for the exploitation of the unwaged. But the concepts used in the analysis of capitalism are not the whole of Marxist thought. On the contrary, they are themselves derived from more general concepts. How, otherwise, would Marx have been able to analyse non-capitalist modes of production and exploitation, such as slavery and feudalism? The concepts of class and exploitation do not come from the study of capitalism; on the contrary, they pre-exist it, permit it, and are at the origin of the notion of capitalism in its Marxist sense, ie. as a particular system of exploitation. These more general concepts–class and exploitation–not only in no way require that sexual divisions be ignored, but on the contrary are eminently useful in explaining them. And I mean here ‘explain’ in the strong sense: not just in describing it, not in describing only what happens after the division exists, but in accounting for its genesis.

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The Tarnac Verdicts: Unraveling the Logic of Anti-Terrorism

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After Ten Years, the “Tarnac Affair” Concludes in France (crimethinc)

In 2008, the state of France accused the Tarnac Ten of terrorism, charging that they had formed “a group of the ultraleft, of the autonomous type, maintaining links with international extremist movements.”1 After a decade-long ordeal, the remaining defendants received their final verdict on April 12, 2018.

All of the defendants were found not guilty of the charges of sabotage, rioting, and conspiracy; the terrorism charges had been dropped much earlier. Christophe Becker was sentenced to six months of probation for possession of fake IDs and a fine of 500 euros for refusal to give a DNA sample to the authorities. Julien Coupat and Yildune Lévy were also found guilty of refusing to give DNA, but face no sentence on account of the amount of time that has passed. Considering how many resources the French state had invested in this court case, this represented a massive victory for the defendants.

What can we learn from this passage of a few people through a rather long trial for terrorism? Let’s review the background of this story, the details of the case, and its implications for the future.

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Marx and World History

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Michael R. Krätke (2018)

In 18811882, Marx undertook extensive historical studies, covering a large part of what was then known as world history. The four large notebooks with excerpts from the works of (mainly) two leading historian of his time, Schlosser and Botta, have remained largely unpublished. In this article, Marxs last studies of the course of world history are contextualized: Marxs previous historical studies and his ongoing, but unfinished work on the critique of political economy. The range and scope of his notes is astoundingly broad, going far beyond European history and actually covering many other parts of the world. Marxs focus in these studies supports the interpretation offered in the article: that the author of Capitalwas fascinated by the long process of the making of the modern states and the European states system, one of the crucial prerequisites of the rise of modern capitalism in Europe.

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For Moishe Postone

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Barbara Brick, Moishe Postone, Harold Marcuse, 1979, after Herbert Marcuse’s death

by Jacob Blumenfeld

I first encountered Moishe Postone‘s work on antisemitism in the early 2000s but it wasn’t until 2008-9, when the United States was in the grips of a financial crisis, that his thinking on Marx, capitalism, and value really began to hit home. I remember making zines out of his essay, “Critique and Historical Transformation“, and distributing them in New York City to students, activists, and friends, in the hopes of starting a more critical conversation on the crisis. The point was to go beyond superficial analyses of “crony capitalism” and to see the totality of capital as a self-mediating, crisis-prone dynamic of value which cannot simply be opposed to labor. Furthermore, Postone’s critical theory challenged those of us who became politicized in the ‘anti-globalization’ movement and the anti-war movements of the late 90s and early 00s.

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