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Category: communism

The Roundabout Riots

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Contribution to the Rupture in Progress

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A Translation from France on the Yellow Vest Movement

The following text appeared December 6th on the French platform lundimatin; they describe it as the best sociological and political analysis to date on the yellow vest movement. Although we are no more optimistic about the “non-ideological” character of the first phase of the yellow vest phenomenon than we are about the antiquated methods of organization it supplanted, the movement itself has become a battleground to determine what form the next wave of opposition to neoliberal austerity will assume—and no one can afford to stand aside. This text concludes with a cool-headed appraisal of the risks and possibilities before the gilets jaunes and all who will follow in their wake.

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The Double Heritage of Communism to Come: 1917-1968-2018

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by Bini Adamczak

Crisis & Critique Vol. 5 Issue 2 Nov 2018: 50 Years After May 68

Communism does not exist in the singular. The common is no unity that would encompass everything by subordinating it to an idea, will, or central committee. The common is rather that which the many share with one another, as equals and free in solidarity.

At the same time, communism was repeatedly understood like this: a final sublation of social divisions into an overarching harmony. Thousands of communist parties and factions of the past dreamt in this way of the future: the troublesome dispute with enemies as well as with comrades would finally find an end when the whole world would see that just this one, one’s own party program is the right one. To be signed by everyone. Even, and especially, the Communist Party of the SovietUnion (Bolsheviks), for a long time the largest and most influential communist party, followed this dream. In a spiraling movement that begins even before 1917 and finds its climax in the Stalinism of the late 1930s, it combatted initially the monarchist and bourgeois parties, then the allied social-democratic, social-revolutionary and anarchist parties and ultimately, when all other parties were prohibited, the oppositions, fractions, currents and platforms within itself. As it had, according to its own conviction, a privileged insight into the truth of the social, it believed itself able to represent the common in all its parts: the population was represented in the working class, the class in the party, the party in the central committee, the central committee in the general secretary. The party line that was issued by the latter would lead into the communist future, no matter however much zigzag it would entail. Whoever would deviate from this deviating course was guilty. The counter term to identity was thus not difference, but opposition. “Other” became synonymous with “inimical”. Until its demise, the Soviet leadership saw itself surrounded by inner enemies. Wherever social initiatives cropped up, it was safer to oppress them. This mistrust worked as self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually, the protesting people did (preponderantly in fact) not want a more democratic, more humanist or more friendly socialism, as was still the case in the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s, but rather no socialism at all.

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Next Stop: Destitution

tumblr_pj6uqh5cFj1tvr0q1o1_1280.jpgPublished on Lundi Matin, Dec 3, 2018 – Translated by Ill Will Editions

Contrary to all that we’re hearing, the real mystery is not that we revolted, but the fact that we didn’t do it sooner. What’s abnormal is not what we’re doing now, but all that we’ve put up with until now. Who can deny the bankruptcy of the system, from every angle? Who still wants to be shook down, robbed, and left precarious for nothing? Will anyone weep as the wealthy avenues of the 16th arrondissement are plundered by the poor, and the bourgeois watch their gleaming SUV’s go up in flames? As for Macron, he can stop complaining; it was he who asked us to come to him. A state can’t keep legitimating itself by reference to the corpse of a “glorious revolution” and then denounce the rioters as soon as a revolution gets going.

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On the Gilets Jaunes: Dispatches from France

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The following is a collaborative effort of translated analyses from France focused on the Gilets Jaunes movement between Agitations, Carbure, Otto Mattick & Ediciones inéditos. More texts will be translated in the coming days.

In the last few days, the Left has struggled to politically apprehend a new phenomenon called the “Yellow Vests” [“Gillets Jaunes »], since it does not emerge directly from traditional forms of protest. Consequently, any critical analysis of the movement is forsaken in favour of a blissful support without questioning anything (who mobilizes itself? why? how?) or a blatant contempt for “beaufs” who do not demonstrate for “good causes”, as if class consciousness should magically impose itself on the proletarians. In the same time, we cannot summarize the events as a gross manipulation of the far right based on nothing but wind and creating a completely artificial social discontent by means of Facebook videos.

The craze for “yellow vests” is a symptom of the political sequence in which we find ourselves, a sequence bred by a capitalism in crisis and the dissolution of any recognizable and commonly shared workers’ identity. This loss of landmarks has been brutal, and some debates within the radical left (sometimes more attached to a fantasized past than to the understanding of the complex class composition of current social struggles) have consisted in questioning the proportion of proletarians using a car and are thus directly affected by the rise of the price of diesel. They very often return to the reactionary fantasy of a good old rural peasant France where the majority of the “poor” would live (the concept of the proletariat quickly slipping through the cracks). In our opinion, it is more relevant to focus on the political content of this movement and on what it practically translates.

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The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation (1969)

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by Margaret Benston (Monthly Review, 1969)

The “woman question” is generally ignored in analyses of the class structure of society. This is so because, on the one hand, classes are generally defined by their relation to the means of production and, on the other hand, women are not supposed to have any unique relation to the means of production. The category seems instead to cut across all classes; one speaks of working-class women, middle-class women, etc. The status of women is clearly inferior to that of men, but analysis of this condition usually falls into discussing socialization, psychology, interpersonal relations, or the role of marriage as a social institution. Are these, however, the primary factors? In arguing that the roots of the secondary status of women are in fact economic, it can be shown that women as a group do indeed have a definite relation to the means of production and that this is different from that of men. The personal and psychological factors then follow from this special relation to production, and a change  in the latter will be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for changing the former. If this special relation of women to production is accepted, the analysis of the situation of women fits naturally into a class analysis of society . . . [READ PDF]

Towards a Conflict Theory of Recognition

Image: A protester prepares to hit riot police with a stick during clashes at Syntagma squar

by Georg W. Bertram and Robin Celikates (2013)

In this paper, we develop an understanding of recognition in terms of individuals’ capacity for conflict. Our goal is to overcome various shortcomings that can be found in both the positive and negative conceptions of recognition. We start by analyzing paradigmatic instances of such conceptions—namely, those put forward by Axel Honneth and Judith Butler. We do so in order to show how both positions are inadequate in their elaborations of recognition in an analogous way: Both fail to make intelligible the fundamental nexus between relations of recognition and individuals’ capacity for conflict. We then move on to reconsider aspects of Hegel’s view of recognition—ones that, from our viewpoint, have been unjustly neglected in the debate about recognition: his focus on the constitution of relations of recognition in conflict and on the status of being an author of acts of recognition. On this basis, we then spell out in a more systematic way what we take to be a more convincing conception of recognition. This puts us in the position to gesture at some consequences of this conception in practical contexts, above all with regard to the justification, role and structure of political institutions… [READ PDF]

The realism of our time

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An interview with Kim Stanley Robinson by Helena Feder / RP 2.01 (February 2018)

Kim Stanley Robinson is the author of more than twenty works of fiction, including the celebrated Mars trilogy (Red MarsGreen Mars and Blue Mars), Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt2312 and, his latest novel, New York 2140. A former student of Fredric Jameson, Robinson’s work is consistently anti-capitalist. His novels evince not only his deep interest in global economy and ecology, but also a belief that fiction may venture into spheres where theory fears to tread. For Robinson, science fiction is uniquely placed to do this, rooted both in what is and what could be. In the best tradition of the genre (H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin), it can consider critically both the politics and possibilities of technology, and the social, ideological and ecological systems that give rise to it. Science fiction has, in this sense, a particular responsibility not only to imagine the future but to imagine how we might change its direction. In Robinson’s New York 2140, a series of connected characters, centred around the MetLife tower in a future inter-tidal world, a financially and physically liquid city, come together to do just this. Sea levels have risen in two catastrophic ‘pulses’ of ten and forty feet, transforming planetary and human geography. In the midst of this ecological and refugee crisis, lower Manhattan becomes ‘a veritable hotbed of theory and practice, like it always used to say it was, but this time for real.’

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Introducing Commune

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Commune Magazine

For a life worth living.

We are a year into the death, the real death, of liberalism. Or maybe two years? It was never more than our fair-weather friend, an often treacherous ally to the radicals who did the heavy lifting for social change it claimed for itself, in the labor and women’s movements, in struggles for civil rights that were for much more than rights, and struggles against the war that were against much more than war. Though liberalism’s death warrant was sealed long ago, when the capitalism for which it has long served as management team ceased to expand, we were surprised by the rapid progress of the disease. In any case, the shameful circumstances of its demise underscore how little we should mourn.  Read the rest of this entry »

The dangers of reactionary ecology

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Out of the Woods

Influential metaphors for understanding the environment serve as a bridge between traditional conservatism and outright ecofascism.

We have so far introduced the ideas of thinkers we find useful, such as Murray Bookchin’s philosophy of technology, and James O’Connor’s notion of the second contradiction. Here we want to look at how ecological ideas can be deployed to support deeply reactionary politics. We will do this with a critical introduction to the oft-cited, though less often read, biologist Garrett Hardin.

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The Authoritarian State (Horkheimer, 1942)

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The historical predictions on the fate of bourgeois society have been confirmed. In the system of the free market economy, which pushed men to labor-saving discoveries and finally subsumed them in a global mathematical formula, its specific offspring, machines, have become means of destruction not merely in the literal sense: they have made not work but the workers superfluous. The bourgeoisie has been decimated, and the majority of members have lost their independence; where they have not been thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, or more commonly into the masses of unemployed, they have become dependents of the big concerns or the state. The El Dorado of bourgeois existence, the sphere of circulation, is being liquidated. Its work is being carried out in part by the trusts which, without the help of banks, finance themselves, eliminate the commercial intermediaries and take control of the stockholders organizations. Part of the business sphere is handled by the state. As the caput mortuum of the transformation process of the bourgeoisie there remain only the highest levels of the industrial and state bureaucracy. “One way or another, with or without the trusts, the official representative of capitalist society, the state, must finally take over the management of production… All social functions of the capitalists are now discharged by salaried civil servants… And the modern state is once again only the organization which bourgeois society creates for itself to maintain the general external conditions for the capitalist means of production against encroachments either by the workers or by individual capitalists… The more productive forces the state takes over as its own property, the more it becomes a collective capitalist, the more citizens of the state it exploits. The workers remain wage laborers, proletarians. The relationship to capital is not abolished but becomes far more acute.” In the transition from monopoly to state capitalism, the last stage offered by bourgeois society is “the appropriation of the large productive and commercial organisms, first by joint-stock companies, later by trusts and then by the state.” State capitalism is the authoritarian state of the present. . . [READ PDF / Deutsch]


see also: The Philosophy of History and the Authoritarian State (1971) by Hans-Jürgen Krahl

Bordiga and the Passion for Communism (Camatte,1972)

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Jacques Camatte’s 1972 essay on Amadeo Bordiga, discussing the Italian Marxist’s notorious “invariance”, his “hermeneutics” of “the precise connection between the proletariat and theory”, his “prophetic vision” of the communist future, his identification of the party with the class, his disdain for the cult of personality, his “anti-gradualism”, the impact of the publication of the Grundrisse and the Economic Manuscripts of 1844 on his thought, his precocious environmentalism, his anti-individualism, and his failure to recognize the significance of May ’68, pointing out that despite all his contradictions and limitations “his works are full of starting points for new research”.


Bordiga and the Passion for Communism

by Jacques Camatte

“Passion is the essential force of man energetically bent on its object.”
Karl Marx

Men are the products of their time: some are capable of representing it, because the invariance of their thought overcomes the ideology of the ruling class or expresses the impetuous assault of the oppressed class; others dominate it, because they are capable of perceiving the moments of discontinuity which mark the beginnings of the new stages of the process of becoming of a given mode of production (especially the new modes of production). In the former case we have the thought of continuity, in the second, that of discontinuity. In other words, we have traditional thought (in the non-pejorative sense) and revolutionary thought. Rare are those who are capable of thinking in accordance with both modalities, since this is not a case of a duality constituted by a spatial juxtaposition, but rather that of a contradictory duality. It is very often the case that the past and tradition weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living and prevent the emergence, the eruption, of the present and the future—which nonetheless operate in reality—in thought. This is true both during periods of social peace as well as in times of revolutionary unrest, the former favoring traditionalist expressions, while the latter are more likely to favor revolutionary expressions.

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A Happy Future is a Thing of the Past

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The Greek Crisis and Other Disasters by Pavlos Roufos  (2018)

Reaktion Books / UChicago Press / Amazon

Excerpt from Chapter 6: Years of Stone, pp. 96-102

The Beach Beneath

The movement that began in Syntagma Square in late May 2011 and very soon spread out to squares all over Greece (thus gaining the nickname ‘squares movement’), represented one of the most condensed moments of the struggle against the crisis, its consequences and management. Many have argued that it did not have a specific aim or demand; according to one’s politics, this observation had either a negative or a positive undertone. However, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the masses that took to the streets, occupied public spaces and fought for almost two months to defend them, were directly concerned with putting an end to the austerity policies that were underway. And these policies, as we have seen, were nothing but a systematic attempt to render people’s ability to survive in a way that was meaningful to them increasingly difficult.

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The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (Engels, 1876)

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by Frederick Engels (1876)


This article was intended to introduce a larger work which Engels planned to call Die drei Grundformen der Knechtschaft – Outline of the General Plan. Engels never finished it, nor even this intro, which breaks off at the end. It would be included in Dialectics of Nature.


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Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.

Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch, not yet definitely determinable, of that period of the earth’s history known to geologists as the Tertiary period, most likely towards the end of it, a particularly highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone – probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. [1] Darwin has given us an approximate description of these ancestors of ours. They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.

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The Market, the State, and the End of History (Agnoli, 2000)

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by J. Agnoli (2000)

The world market society, our present reality, is labelled globalization. Apart from its ideological status in social conflict – that is, the attempt of capital to make European labour accept unconditionally high unemployment and low wages – the term globalization presents something quite different; namely, the complete commercialization and commodification of social life. In other words, the so-called laws of the market, operating at a global scale, penetrate and condition everything from industrial production to cultural production. Bourgeois society rests upon the operation of these laws and it is these laws that transform bourgeois society into a world-wide ensemble of commodities. Clearly this the best of all worlds . . . [PDF]

 

A new beginning?

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(via Weekly Worker 2018)

Marcel van der Linden examines the state of the global labour movement

Traditional labour movements are in trouble almost everywhere. They have been severely enfeebled by the political and economic changes of the last 40 years. Their core consists of three forms of social movement organisations: cooperatives, trade unions, and workers’ parties. All three organisational types are in decline, though this is an uneven development, with vast differences between countries and regions. We are living through a transitional stage in which old organisational structures no longer seem to work well, while new structures are still in their early stages.

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Ordoliberalism and the Death of Liberal Democracy: An Interview with Werner Bonefeld

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(Salvage 2017)

George Souvlis: Can you tell us a bit about your intellectual and political formation?

Werner Bonefeld: One of my most important formative experiences was factory work. Studying was easy in comparison. I studied at the Universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Edinburgh. At Marburg the Marxism on offer was very dogmatic. It did not encourage people to think for themselves. I left after two years to continue my studies at the Free University of Berlin. In Berlin a few things came together, as it were. My favorite Professor was Agnoli, who was one of the most distinguished Marxists of his generation. He allowed his students to think. He welcomed it. He was a great orator. Part of the degree programme was to do work-placement. I first worked as a removal man and then as a research assistant at the West-German teachers’ union, for which I got paid. Never before had I earned money by reading and writing (my research was into alternative schooling as opposed to public provision). I quickly understood the meaning of Marx’s insight that to be a productive labourer in not a piece of luck but a great misfortune. One might add, nor is it an ontological privilege, as a whole tradition of historical materialism saw it. I studied in Berlin at a time of great restlessness, from the peace movement to the squatter movement in the early 1980s.

I met Kosmas Psychopedis in Edinburgh during the 1980s. He visited John Holloway. Richard Gunn and John Holloway were my PhD supervisors. Kosmas was a character, and a good friend.

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The Center Has Fallen and There’s No Going Back

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PHIL NEEL in conversation with Paul Mattick

This month brings the publication of Phil Neel’s Hinterland, the first in the Field Notes series of books published by Reaktion Books in association with the Brooklyn Rail, to provide in-depth analyses of today’s global turmoil as it unfolds. I could not think of a better book to begin with than Neel’s insider’s analysis of the U.S. working class outside the big-city centers to which most media attention is paid. I’ve taken advantage of this occasion to ask Phil Neel to discuss some of the fundamental ideas of his book.

Paul Mattick (Rail): Near the end of the book, you make the fundamental observation, that “the character of production sculpts the character of class” in any historical period. How is the current form of production reshaping class relations, and why does understanding this require a focus on what you call the “hinterland”?

Phil Neel: This is a good place to start, because I want to be unambiguous that this question is really what the book is about, in the end. It’s a book of communist geography. There’s this new generation of thinkers who are trying to apply a rigorous Marxist method in ways that are neither frustratingly esoteric nor mind-numbingly dumb, and even while we all have our obvious disagreements, I think it’s a great thing. And the reason it’s possible is because so many of these questions that maybe thirty years ago were of purely academic interest are again becoming a lived experience. This itself is evidence of the basic thesis you mention above: the book represents a class position, not the product of some personal ingenuity. It’s something that I’ve articulated in a first-person narrative, but the basic ideas are wrought from collective experience. I think it should be read as a kind of collaborative text, formulated out of a whole horde of experiences and stories, of which my own are only a part. Stories don’t come out of nowhere, though, and when you trace things back, there is this basic scaffolding that shapes the really important things in life, and that scaffolding is economic.

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Destruction as the Determination of the Scholar in Miserable Times (J. Agnoli)

by JOHANNES AGNOLI (1990)

The determination of scholarly work as destruction originated with Johann Gottlieb Fichte; Holderlin drew widespread attention to the misery of the period. Fichte’s determination was based on the belief in the emergence of a new era; Holderlin, in contrast, found the period to be one of such misery that he asked himself what role, if any, was left for a poet . .  . READ PDF


[translated by Werner Bonefeld; first published in english in Common Sense 12, republished in Revolutionary Writings ed. Bonefeld 2003]

Socialism in one apartment complex

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The House on the Embankment, Moscow, pictured in January 2007. 

Historian Yuri Slezkine in conversation with ‘Rīgas Laiks’ editor Uldis Tirons (via eurozine)

Moscow’s House on the Embankment was home to many of the first generation of Russian revolutionaries. Historian Yuri Slezkine, who has written the definitive account of the building, describes how it embodied the lives, hopes and fate of the Soviet project and its elite.

Introductory note

The historian Yuri Slezkine, professor of Russian history and director of the Berkeley Program in Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of those Soviet émigrés who have ended up in the US not so much trby force of circumstance as out of curiosity and thanks to a chain of coincidences. In the late 1970s, after graduating from Moscow State University, Slezkine worked in Mozambique, later moving to Lisbon and, in 1983, to Texas, to teach Russian at the University of Texas at Austin, where he gained a PhD.

Although, as Slezkine explains, his wanderings were driven by a desire to discover more of the world rather than by the pursuit of a career, this experience, both academic and general, nevertheless exerted a fundamental influence on the theoretical thrust of his research. In the early 1980s Slezkine visited a number of indigenous Indian reservations in America, studying the impact of western colonial policy on what the Soviets referred to as ‘small peoples’. However, as a historian working and studying abroad, the system required him to cover Russian history in one way or another, and he began to study the Soviet Union’s treatment of its multinational population in the broader context of colonial policies, drawing parallels between the collective fates of national minorities in various imperial structures. This provided the theme of two of his books: Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Cornell University Press, 1994) and The Jewish Century (Princeton University Press, 2004). His most recent book, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press, 2017), which took Slezkine 20 years to write, is an exhaustive account of the most prestigious block of flats in the Soviet Union, situated on the embankment of the River Moskva, and of the first generations of its tenants – revolutionaries and functionaries and their families. Here, as in his previous works, Slezkine views national identity as a vital element of their life, but on this occasion his focus in on personal history: what went on in the kitchens and bedrooms of the nomenklatura, its members’ faith in a new utopian life, and the disillusionment that the utopia turned into.

Sven Kuzmins, Rīgas Laiks

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