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Category: communism

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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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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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.

International Council Correspondence / Living Marxism / New Essays, 1934-1943

International Council Correspondence Volume 3, Number 9-10 (October 1937)


(source)

Introduction

Brought together here are references to all the publications by the International Council Correspondence-group in Chicago, Illinois, USA, originally named “United Workers’ Party”; the party-name was dropped early 1936. The periodical was published in ever bigger volumes with ever longer articles but appearing ever less frequent, discontinued in 1943.

The whole series of periodicals: International Council Correspondence; Living Marxism (International Council Correspondence); and New Essays, but without the pamphlets, was reprinted in 1970 in five volumes: in photographic reproduction of reduced size without transcription, edition, annotation or source, by the in 2015 still existing Greenwood Reprint Corporation , Westport, Connecticut, under the general title “New Essays”; with a short introduction in the first volume by Paul Mattick sr. (see below).


The first volume can also be found as pdf at: libcom.org , in a much smaller file of lower resolution and without optical character recognition. For complete scans in a better resolution but also without (searchable) optical character recognition, also see libcom.org , posted by Stephen, 13 May 2014; in September 2015 we were unaware of the existence of this publication as proper references to the whole series and tables of content were missing; since, we have given permission to libcom.org  to reproduce the scans made by us.

An anonymous incomplete table of contents, apparently originally compiled by Bjarne Avlund Frandsen (a source is not given), and amended, with links to html-versions of some of the texts, can be found at marxists.org . One might doubt the attribution of some articles to Paul Mattick; sources are not given.

Another one, with some texts and some French translations attached (1) at: La Bataille socialiste  (libertarian marxist blog).


Among the original group in Chicago: Paul Mattick, Rudolf (Rüdiger) Raube, Carl Berreitter, Al Givens, Kristen Svanum, Allen Garman (edited Paul Mattick’s essays), Frieda Mattick; later joined by: Karl Korsch, Walter Auerbach (author and co-author with Paul Mattick), Fritz Henssler (negociated possible mergers with other journals), and the New York group: Walter Boelke, Wendeling Thomas, Hans Schaper, Emmy Tetschner, Mary MacCollum. Living Marxism in Chicago in the late 1930’s: Jake Faber, Emil White, Sam Moss, Dinsmore Wheeler (edited Paul Mattick’s essays), Fairfield Porter (financial contributor), Ilse Mattick (2). A regular outside collaborator was Anton Pannekoek. Finally there was Jos. Wagner. For a somewhat “sociological” yet informative introduction to this group, see: The Council Communists between the New Deal and Fascism / Gabriella M. Bonacchi (1976).

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The Surplus Population

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 Capital Vol 1, Karl Marx (1867)

Chapter Twenty-Five: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

Section 3 – Progressive Production of a Relative surplus population or Industrial Reserve Army

The accumulation of capital, though originally appearing as its quantitative extension only, is effected, as we have seen, under a progressive qualitative change in its composition, under a constant increase of its constant, at the expense of its variable constituent. [13]

The specifically capitalist mode of production, the development of the productive power of labour corresponding to it, and the change thence resulting in the organic composition of capital, do not merely keep pace with the advance of accumulation, or with the growth of social wealth. They develop at a much quicker rate, because mere accumulation, the absolute increase of the total social capital, is accompanied by the centralisation of the individual capitals of which that total is made up; and because the change in the technological composition of the additional capital goes hand in hand with a similar change in the technological composition of the original capital. With the advance of accumulation, therefore, the proportion of constant to variable capital changes. If it was originally say 1:1, it now becomes successively 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 7:1, &c., so that, as the capital increases, instead of ½ of its total value, only 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 1/8, &c., is transformed into labour-power, and, on the other hand, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, 5/6, 7/8 into means of production. Since the demand for labour is determined not by the amount of capital as a whole, but by its variable constituent alone, that demand falls progressively with the increase of the total capital, instead of, as previously assumed, rising in proportion to it. It falls relatively to the magnitude of the total capital, and at an accelerated rate, as this magnitude increases. With the growth of the total capital, its variable constituent or the labour incorporated in it, also does increase, but in a constantly diminishing proportion. The intermediate pauses are shortened, in which accumulation works as simple extension of production, on a given technical basis. It is not merely that an accelerated accumulation of total capital, accelerated in a constantly growing progression, is needed to absorb an additional number of labourers, or even, on account of the constant metamorphosis of old capital, to keep employed those already functioning. In its turn, this increasing accumulation and centralisation becomes a source of new changes in the composition of capital, of a more accelerated diminution of its variable, as compared with its constant constituent. This accelerated relative diminution of the variable constituent, that goes along with the accelerated increase of the total capital, and moves more rapidly than this increase, takes the inverse form, at the other pole, of an apparently absolute increase of the labouring population, an increase always moving more rapidly than that of the variable capital or the means of employment. But in fact, it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population.

Considering the social capital in its totality, the movement of its accumulation now causes periodical changes, affecting it more or less as a whole, now distributes its various phases simultaneously over the different spheres of production. In some spheres a change in the composition of capital occurs without increase of its absolute magnitude, as a consequence of simple centralisation; in others the absolute growth of capital is connected with absolute diminution of its variable constituent, or of the labour power absorbed by it; in others again, capital continues growing for a time on its given technical basis, and attracts additional labour power in proportion to its increase, while at other times it undergoes organic change, and lessens its variable constituent; in all spheres, the increase of the variable part of capital, and therefore of the number of labourers employed by it, is always connected with violent fluctuations and transitory production of surplus population, whether this takes the more striking form of the repulsion of labourers already employed, or the less evident but not less real form of the more difficult absorption of the additional labouring population through the usual channels. [14]With the magnitude of social capital already functioning, and the degree of its increase, with the extension of the scale of production, and the mass of the labourers set in motion, with the development of the productiveness of their labour, with the greater breadth and fulness of all sources of wealth, there is also an extension of the scale on which greater attraction of labourers by capital is accompanied by their greater repulsion; the rapidity of the change in the organic composition of capital, and in its technical form increases, and an increasing number of spheres of production becomes involved in this change, now simultaneously, now alternately. The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus population; and it does this to an always increasing extent. [15] This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production; and in fact every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically valid within its limits and only in so far as man has not interfered with them.

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What is Orthodox Critical Theory?

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by Fabian Freyenhagen / [pdf]

In 1919, Lukács posed the question, “What is orthodox Marxism?” Even for Lukács, there was an undertone of irony: if by orthodoxy we mean devoutness, then “the most appropriate answer [is] a pitying smile.” But Lukács also points out that the question can be understood and asked in such a way that it invites or even requires a different kind of answer. If we understand it as a question about quintessence, Lukács’ answer is as follows: The quintessence of Marxism does not reside in the results of Marx’s research or a “‘belief’ in one or another proposition,” nor in the “exegesis of a ‘holy book.’” Rather, “orthodoxy in matters of Marxism refers exclusively to method.”1

In this essay I want to reapply Lukács’ question to Critical Theory: What is orthodox Critical Theory? And I’d like to advocate an approach that could be called orthodox in three respects.

First, if we understand orthodoxy to mean quintessence, then my question—as Nancy Fraser puts it in the title of her well-known paper—is: “What’s critical about Critical Theory?” For criticism is the quintessence of Critical Theory, as its very name tells us. According to the prevailing response to the question about quintessence, Critical Theory can be critical only if it includes a program of justification [Begründungsprogramm].2 For Critical Theorists are entitled to operate only with criteria that can be justified as acceptable to all (or, at least, all affected). My position is diametrically opposed: Critical Theory needs no program of justification in order to be critical. In fact, only without such a program of philosophical justification can Critical Theory be adequately and appropriately critical.

I speak of orthodoxy also because I think we need to revive the views of the first generation of the Frankfurt School—the trend is currently either to neglect these views entirely or to overlook their broader significance. Thus, in arguing for a reorientation of Critical Theory as I will do below, I will frequently rely on Horkheimer’s writings of the 1930s.

Thirdly, it will turn out that orthodox Critical Theory actually does have something to do with devoutness in the end—irony (and secularism) notwithstanding.

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Laughter Is Bourgeois

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The Roots Of Political Correctness

by L. Grambone

Political Correctness was around for many years before the mass media caught on. It is definitely not an invention of the late 1980’s as many people seem to think. I recall hearing the term almost 25 years ago, used to describe the very sort of priggishness and authoritarianism encountered in the young woman who though it bourgeois to laugh. Political correctness was an insulting term to most of us. But early format PC did harm the movement. There were certain things you would not dare to speak or write about. Our real opinions could only be aired among our closest friends, for if it came out that you thought Mao a mass murderer, the Black Panther Party a bunch of gangsters or that certain fringe feminists were female fascists, you would find yourself attacked as ‘reactionary’, ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’. And there was no place in the leftist counter-culture for anyone having to live under the burden of those epithets.

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Marx’s Influence on the Early Frankfurt School

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by Chad Kautzer

The early Frankfurt School’s theoretical tendency is best described as Western Marxism, while its institutional origin was the Institute of Social Research (Institut fur Sozialforschung), founded in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923. Marx’s influence on the early Frankfurt School was profound, uneven, and largely filtered through a revived Hegelian Marxism that broke with the economistic and mechanistic doctrines of the Second International (1889-1916). From the beginning, the members and financiers of the Institute explicitly understood its research program as Marxist, although there was no general agreement about what it meant to be Marxist. A few years before the Institute’s founding, Georg Lukács wrote: “Great disunity has prevailed even in the ‘socialist’ camp as to what constitutes the essence of Marxism,” and who has “the right to the title of , Marxist'” (Lukács 1971: 1). The competing Marxist tendencies in the early twentieth century informed both the internal development of the Institute of Social Research and the contours of Western Marxism more generally. . . [continue reading]

The mystery of ‘populism’ finally unveiled

by G.M. Tamás

The philosopher of post-Fascism enters the populism fray with his own candidate for post-truth: Left betrayal.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Orban looking at the Bavarian and the Hungarian flag in front of the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, March 2016

There is nothing new in consecrated terms being used in an entirely novel sense without announcing the change, and thereby misleading readers. It happens every day. It is no surprise if, being unable to explain a new phenomenon, people give it a resounding name instead of a theory or at least a description. This is what is happening with ‘populism’ or ‘right populism’ – or even ‘left populism’ – words used to depict states of affairs old as the hills at the same time as surprisingly new ones. ‘Populism’ has become a synonym of ‘I don’t understand it, but I was asked to talk about it’.

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Social Justice Warriors

We Need Communism

 

QUESTION: Why do we need communism?

ANSWER: Because people need money

 

A Few Clarifications on Anti-Work

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There persists a certain confusion around the notion of anti-work. “On the Origins of Anti-Work” (Echanges et Mouvement, 2005) did not escape this fate as well. The confusion consists in not sufficiently specifying the notion of anti-work. On one hand, it consists of placing in the same category as anti-work certain behaviors like worker laziness, which looks to do the least amount of work, or the preference for (compensated) unemployment or living life on the margin. These resistant acts of work refusal are as old as the proletariat itself and do not define modern anti-work. On the other hand, the confusion consists of placing in the same category as anti-work resistant practices against exploitation which are indeed pro-work, like Luddism for example. However, I believe that we should rather keep the term anti-work for the struggles of our time (since ’68) that show that the proletariat is no longer a class which affirms itself in revolution as hegemonic labor and is neither a class which will make work obligatory for everyone, nor will it will replace the bourgeoisie in directing the economy.

Source: A Few Clarifications on Anti-Work by Bruno Astarian

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The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

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History of the Human Sciences: Vol 29, Issue 2, April 2016

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

A thematic introduction by the editors

Matthias Rothe, Bastian Ronge

The following introduction has two parts: the first part provides a sketch of the Frankfurt School’s history, highlighting the circumstances under which the authors discussed in this issue engaged philosophically with matters of economy. We thereby follow the prevailing periodization, starting with the school’s foundation in 1924 and ending with Theodor W. Adorno’s death in 1969 and the school’s preliminary dissolution. The second part of the introduction explores the legacy of the Frankfurt School’s philosophical critique of economy. Max Horkheimer’s writings thereby serve as a model case for such a critique and become the point of departure for the discussion of contemporary critical theories of the economic.


The controversy over Friedrich Pollock’s state capitalism

Manfred Gangl

The critique of capitalism is the bedrock on which rests the reputation of Frankfurt School critical theory. Though critical theory has often been heralded – or criticized and rejected – as a reformulation of Marxian theory for our times, its relation with the critique of political economy, and in particular the economic treatises, has barely been studied. Friedrich Pollock, who was Max Horkheimer’s lifelong friend and close associate at the Institute for Social Research, was responsible for all administrative and financial questions, but he wrote few theoretical essays and Wiggershaus calls him ‘the last unknown member of the Frankfurt School’. Nevertheless this article asks whether not only has his influence on early critical theory been sorely underestimated, but also his impact on the late philosophies of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse.


Henryk Grossman and Critical Theory

Rick Kuhn

In 1943, Henryk Grossman sent a draft of the study, eventually published in two parts as ‘The Evolutionist Revolt against Classical Economics’, to Max Horkheimer for comment. His very hostile response, Grossman’s drafts and the published study cast light not only on the changing relationship between Grossman and Horkheimer but also on the distance between Grossman’s classical Marxism and nascent mature Critical Theory. Grossman’s study identified the emergence of the idea of successive economic systems in the work of Condorcet, Henri Saint-Simon and Simonde de Sismondi in France, James Steuart and Richard Jones in England, culminating in Marx’s formulations which entailed the role of class struggle and capitalism’s tendency to break down. Hegel was not an influence on Marx’s conception of modes of production. In addition to a series of spurious and minor criticisms, Horkheimer objected that Grossman’s approach was positivist, that it misconceived Hegel’s philosophy, and that it amounted to a conventional history of ideas. In response, Grossman made some changes in his study, but these were designed to strengthen his main arguments and successfully reaffirmed his Marxist approach in the face of Horkheimer’s criticisms.


Negative dialectics and the critique of economic objectivity

Werner Bonefeld

This article explores Adorno’s negative dialectics as a critical social theory of economic objectivity. It rejects the conventional view that Adorno does not offer a critique of the economic forms of capitalist society. The article holds that negative dialectics is a dialectics of the social world in the form of the economic object, one that is governed by the movement of economic quantities, that is, real economic abstractions. Negative dialectics refuses to accept the constituted economic categories as categories of economic nature. Instead, the article argues, it amounts to a conceptualized social praxis [begriffene Praxis] of the capitalistically constituted social relations, which manifest themselves in the form of seemingly independent economic categories. Economic nature is a socially constituted nature, which entails the class antagonism in its concept. The article concludes that for negative dialectics the explanation of real economic abstractions lies in the understanding of the class-divided nature of human practice.


Subjectivity and its crisis

Commodity mediation and the economic constitution of objectivity and subjectivity

Frank Engster

Neither Critical Theory nor western Marxism ever understood crises as being solely concerned with the economy. Both saw them rather as necessarily involving consciousness and subjectivity as well. How does Critical Theory conceptualize economy and subjectivity as inseparable? This is the crucial question. Critical Theory claims, indeed, that it shows the inner connection between the economy and subjectivity. In its first generation, at any rate (Jay, 1996), Critical Theory meant to show that the economy is a constitutive part of subjectivity, while also being its blind spot; or even that the economy is its blind spot because it is essentially constructive of subjectivity. The article will specify the connection between the economy and subjectivity and then will indicate the blind spot. While Critical Theory does not fully pinpoint the blind spot in this connection, by tracing the discussion that followed its first generation we may better find out what this blind spot might be.


Historical-sociology vs. ontology

The role of economy in Otto Kirchheimer and Carl Schmitt’s essays ‘Legality and Legitimacy’

Karsten Olson

The pre-1932 writings of Otto Kirchheimer are often described by researchers as the work of a young ‘left-Schmittian’, a radical Marxist who gave the anti-liberal critique and theoretical apparatus of his Doktorvater Carl Schmitt a new purpose for different ‘political ends’. The danger of this approach is that fundamental divisions between the societal conceptualizations of both theoreticians are ignored in lieu of apparent terminological similarity. Through the lens of economy, it is therefore the intent of this article to continue in the tradition of Alfons Söllner and Frank Schale, pushing against this assumed affinity and highlighting Otto Kirchheimer’s unique defense of liberal democracy.


Materialist Epistemontology

Sohn-Rethel with Marx and Spinoza

A. Kiarina Kordela

Sohn-Rethel’s theory undermines the line of thought that, from Kant to deconstruction, severs being or the thing from representation, by showing that the Kantian a priori categories of thought (representation) are a posteriori effects of the relations of things (being), to the point that it is ‘only through the language of commodities that their owners become rational beings’. This is the thesis of Marx’s theory of ‘commodity fetishism’, and Sohn-Rethel’s work develops the methodology that follows from it. ‘Realabstraktion’ means that the commodification of things amounts to their transformation into the language that provides the a priori categories of human thought. As a result, far from being inaccessible to representation, being is precisely that which reveals itself whenever the transcendental categories of representation are laid out. Therefore, Sohn-Rethel’s theory entails that not only can one not separate economy from thought but also economy and thought from being, so that there are no three distinct fields – economy, ontology and epistemology – but one: an economic epistemontology. Just as Marx’s ‘commodity fetishism’ introduced the unconscious in both subjectivity and economy – ‘they do this without knowing it’ – Sohn-Rethel analysed all economic, intellectual and practical spheres in terms of the fundamental distinction between consciousness and the unconscious. The article also points to certain corrections that Marx’s own theory indicates need to be made in Sohn-Rethel’s account, particularly regarding the source of abstraction, the role of coined money, and the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production and exchange.

Capitalist Realism

Mark Fisher, 1968-2017

It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism

In one of the key scenes in Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men, Clive Owen’s character, Theo, visits a friend at Battersea Power Station, which is now some combination of government building and private collection. Cultural treasures – Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Guernica, Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig – are preserved in a building that is itself a refurbished heritage artifact. This is our only glimpse into the lives of the elite, holed up against the effects of a catastrophe which has caused mass sterility: no children have been born for a generation.

Theo asks the question, ‘how all this can matter if there will be no-one to see it?’ The alibi can no longer be future generations, since there will be none. The response is nihilistic hedonism:

‘I try not to think about it’.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Karl Marx

Sherlock Holmes has had many strange requests, but none are so strange as the request from a certain Mr Karl Marx to help him find his stolen revolutionary tract `Das Kapital’.

A Capital Case – Karl Marx Meets Sherlock Holmes is a radio play by David Zane Mairowitz. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 16 February 2001, as an installment of the Friday Play.

  • Robert Bathurst – Sherlock Holmes
  • David de Keyser – Karl Marx
  • Jasmine Hyde – Eleanor Marx
  • Thomas Arnold – Dr. John Watson

Directed by Peter Kavanagh


Sherlock Holmes und der Fall Marx

von David Zane Mairowitz
Regie: Dieter Carls
Produktion: WDR/SFB 2001London im 19. Jahrhundert: Sherlock Holmes sitzt in seiner Wohnung und macht sich, inspiriert durch Opiumgenuss, Gedanken über die Philosophie Schopenhauers, als ihn ein neuer Klient aus seinen Gedanken reißt: Karl Marx steht vor der Tür. Marx konsultiert Holmes, weil sein “Sprössling” entführt wurde – und der Sprössling ist kein anderer als das Manuskript “Das Kapital”.

Sherlock Holmes, Held dieser schillernden Kriminalkomödie, übernimmt den Fall eher halbherzig, da er in politischen Dingen nicht sonderlich versiert ist – als aber schließlich nicht nur das “Kapital”, sondern auch Marx selbst verschwunden ist, beginnt Holmes, mit altbewährter Scharfsinnigkeit, fieberhaft zu ermitteln.

 

Workers of the World, Fight Amongst Yourselves!

Notes on the Refugee Crisis

by Friends of the Classless Society via Endnotes

The following text, by the Freundinnen und Freunden der klassenlosen Gesellschaft, was published in the October and November issues of the German leftist magazine Konkret. Translated here by Endnotes. 

refugeesnotwelcome

1.

Last fall it appeared as if we were witnessing a political turning point. A mass movement of migrants showed fortress Europe the limits of its reach. This was, however, only a movement in the literal sense of the word and certainly not the awakening of a “multitude” shaking the foundations of the prevailing order. Migrants had no demands beyond the right to remain in Europe, a right which they had already temporarily asserted. In Germany, as the state failed to mobilize adequate resources, the logistics involved with the arrival of refugees were mostly left to volunteers. Meanwhile, the radical left took to celebrating the collapse of the European border regime as an act of “self-empowerment” or as “autonomy of migration”.

Others spied a sinister capitalist master plan behind Angela Merkel’s temporary open border policy. According to this interpretation, the policy sought to use cheap, docile immigrants to restructure the European labour market. Some on the left viewed this as a threat and have therefore joined calls for the erection of walls around Europe. They were further emboldened by the mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, in which hundreds of women were groped, robbed, and, in a few cases, raped by a large group of men of “Arab or North African appearance”. In light of the EU’s deal with Turkey and the internment camps currently being planned for Libya, both of these interpretations look dubious. After being taken by surprise, the powers that be have regained control of the situation and their need for cheap labour seems rather limited. On the contrary, the events of the past year reflect an overwhelming surplus of labour power, both in the countries of origin and in Europe. This surplus intensifies competition within the working class, breeding nativism, division and fear of poverty. If we are to understand this situation, we need to do more than decry racism.

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