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Category: communism

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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Red Seder

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Bdikas khomets (Search for leaven). Illustration from the first edition of Hagadah far gloybers un apikorsim (Passover story for believers and atheists). Kharkov, 1923.

Blessed is October, dictator of the proles, who produces, distributes, and consumes the earth’s harvest.

In Berlin 5777, a new communist Haggadah for a Red Passover Seder was brought forth into the world. It replaces the communist Haggadah of  Brooklyn, 5771. This new one is the first Red Haggadah since the Jewish Bolsheviks used them in the 1920s. I now offer it here for use (the Hebrew text came out backwards, unfortunately). The historical background text is below, but to do an actual seder, one must download the Haggadah and follow the steps. Love live October 5778!

Download the Haggadah for a RED SEDER: to read/ to print

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Umrisse der Weltcommune

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Von Freundinnen und Freunde der klassenlosen Gesellschaft, 2018 – Kosmoprolet #5

1. Nachdem die Möglichkeit einer anderen Welt lange Jahre fast nur noch in Botschaften aus dem lakandonischen Urwald oder von Leuten behauptet wurde, die darunter kaum mehr verstehen als die Einführung einer Finanzmarktsteuer, hat sich das Bild angesichts der schweren Weltmarktgewitter seit 2008 verändert. Entwürfe einer postkapitalistischen Gesellschaft entstehen seither zuhauf und schaffen es mit etwas Glück sogar auf die Bestsellerlisten. Auch Radikale denken wieder vermehrt darüber nach, wie es anders sein könnte. Allerdings gilt für alle derzeit diskutierten Alternativen, dass sie eher am Schreibtisch ausgebrütet als auf der Straße erfunden wurden. Von den Kämpfen der vergangenen Jahre – sei es der arabische Frühling, die Occupy-Bewegung oder das Aufbegehren gegen das neue Massenelend in Südeuropa – sind sie vor allem negativ geprägt. Weniger deshalb, weil diese Kämpfe auf ganzer Linie gescheitert sind. Weitgehend außerhalb der Produktion angesiedelt und auf die Realisierung »echter Demokratie« gepolt, haben sie die Frage nach einer anderen Gesellschaft nicht wirklich aufgeworfen.

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Der Prolet ist Ein Anderer. Klasse und Imaginäres Heute

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An ihren Begriffen sollt ihr sie erkennen. Dass Begriffe nicht einfach nur neutrale generalisierte Bezeichnungen von Dingen, Vorstellungsinhalten und Praktiken, oder reflektierter: von zuvor selbst erst gesetzten Differenzen sind, wie das der Commonsense oder die Wissenschaftstheorie annehmen, sondern potentiell immer auch politische »Kampfformeln« (Eric Voegelin), vermittels derer Sachverhalte und Verhältnisse zugespitzt und einer politischen Entscheidung zugetrieben werden, das hat die politische Rechte unserem Verständnis von Begriff hinzugefügt. Ein Virtuose dieser Form von Begriffsgebrauch war Carl Schmitt. Begriffe sortieren Gegenstandsfelder nicht nur, sondern richten sie aus; und sie werden selbst zu Kennmarken, nach denen sich – gut schmittianesk – Freund und Feind gruppieren. Dabei spielen weniger analytische Trennschärfe und Präzision der Begriffe eine Rolle als die affektive Ladung, die sie als Elemente von Sprache nolens volens immer aufweisen und die selbst in der kältesten Wissenschaftsprosa nie ganz neutralisiert werden kann. Das eigentlich poetische Moment jeder Theorie liegt in ihrer Nomenklatur, behauptet Giorgio Agamben irgendwo: in der Belehnung bestimmter Wörter (und eben gerade keiner anderen) mit Begriffsfunktion.

Ein lange gültiges Schibboleth dieser Art war »Klasse«. Wer den Begriff benutzte, kam von links, wer sich über den Begriff stritt – und da gab und gibt es einiges zu streiten! –, der stand auf der Linken; und dass »Klasse« zuzeiten sich zu einem »neutralen« wissenschaftlichen Begriff zu verallgemeinern schien (wie in den 1970er Jahren in der westdeutschen Akademie), kann als Anzeichen einer linken Hegemonie in diesem Bereich und zu dieser Zeit gedeutet werden. Und viele von denen, die irgendwann ihren »Abschied vom Proletariat« genommen haben, spüren noch oft eine leichte Wehmut, wenn sie wenigstens an jene alten Illusionen zurückdenken, die im Begriff »Klasse« wie in wenigen anderen aufgespeichert sind.

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The Case Against a Basic Income

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A universal basic income would shore up the market. We need ideas that shrink it.

In her campaign memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton wrote that the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) for all Americans “fascinated” her. Reflecting on her wholly uninspiring campaign, she explained that she wanted to include it in her platform but “couldn’t make the numbers work,” so she dropped the idea.

She had planned to call it “Alaska for America,” referring to the Alaska Permanent Fund. Established in 1982, that program gives each of the state’s citizens an annual dividend from oil revenues. The idea gained popularity in the mid-sixties, and Nixon almost implemented it nationwide. American researchers conducted large-scale experiments in New Jersey, and a Canadian study took place in Winnipeg during the mid-seventies. At the time, the proposal produced heated debates in continental Europe and North America, but the decades that followed led to a slow but steady decline in support. The conservative preference for the “workfare” and “activation” policies that characterized welfare reform in the nineties — led by a different Clinton — turned basic income into a utopian fantasy.

But as interest in UBI from one of the planet’s most powerful political figures attests, the last ten years have given new life to the idea. Indeed, it’s now on the agenda of many movements and governments. For Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, two of UBI’s leading proponents, “the conjunction of growing inequality, a new wave of automation, and a more acute awareness of the ecological limits to growth has made it the object of unprecedented interest throughout the world.”

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Now

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THE INVISIBLE COMMITTEE, NOW (2017)

Full book, translated into English by Robert Hurley.

Economy rests on a pair of fictions, therefore, that of society and that of the individual. Destituting it involves situating this false antinomy and bringing to light that which it means to cover up. What these fictions have in common is making us see entities, closed units and their relations, whereas what there is in fact are ties. Society presents itself as the superior entity that aggregates all the individual entities. Since Hobbes and the frontispiece of Leviathan, it’s always the same image: the great body of the sovereign, composed of all the minuscule, homogenized, serialized bodies of his subjects. The operation which the social fiction depends on consists in trampling on everything that forms the situated existence of each singular human being, in wiping out the ties that constitute us, in denying the assemblages we enter into, and then forcing the depleted atoms thus obtained into a completely fictitious, spectral association known as the “social bond.” So that to think of oneself as a social being is always to apprehend oneself from the exterior, to relate to oneself as an abstraction. It’s the peculiar mark of the economic perception of the world to grasp nothing except externally.

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The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos

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by Malcolm Harris

It was explicitly and deliberately a ratchet, designed to effect a one-way passage from scarcity to plenty by way of stepping up output each year, every year, year after year. Nothing else mattered: not profit, not the rate of industrial accidents, not the effect of the factories on the land or the air. The planned economy measured its success in terms of the amount of physical things it produced.

— Francis Spufford, Red Plenty

But isn’t a business’s goal to turn a profit? Not at Amazon, at least in the traditional sense. Jeff Bezos knows that operating cash flow gives the company the money it needs to invest in all the things that keep it ahead of its competitors, and recover from flops like the Fire Phone. Up and to the right.

— Recode, “Amazon’s Epic 20-Year Run as a Public Company, Explained in Five Charts

From a financial point of view, Amazon doesn’t behave much like a successful 21st-century company. Amazon has not bought back its own stock since 2012. Amazon has never offered its shareholders a dividend. Unlike its peers Google, Apple, and Facebook, Amazon does not hoard cash. It has only recently started to record small, predictable profits. Instead, whenever it has resources, Amazon invests in capacity, which results in growth at a ridiculous clip. When the company found itself with $13.8 billion lying around, it bought a grocery chain for $13.7 billion. As the Recode story referenced above summarizes in one of the graphs: “It took Amazon 18 years as a public company to catch Walmart in market cap, but only two more years to double it.” More than a profit-seeking corporation, Amazon is behaving like a planned economy.

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Marx and Freud

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by Paul Mattick (1956)

A review of EROS AND CIVILIZATION. A PHILOSOPHICAL ENQUIRY INTO FREUD. By Herbert Marcuse. The Beacon Press, Boston, 1955, 277 pp., $3.95.

Marcuse’s book renews the endeavor to read Marx into Freud. Previous attempts, by Reich and Osborn for instance, failed miserably. Instead of overcoming a bewailed inertia, Reich’s theories hardly sufficed to sustain a ridiculous private racket. Osborn’s work, a product of the Stalinist popular-front period, designed to attract the petty bourgeois, was soon forgotten by both the Western petty-bourgeoisie and the bolshevik regime. Psychoanalysis did not become part of, or a new basis for, a radical doctrine but merely a way of transferring money from the analyzed many to the analyzing few. By providing a new terminology for the various social “ills,” the ideological inertia, as part of the general inertia of capital stagnation, could at least verbally be ended. The re-interpretation in psychoanalytical terms affected all and everything; literature, the arts, the social sciences and politics. Psychoanalysis, moreover, became an independent branch of social activity developing vested interests of its own. Once installed, it perpetuated itself in competition with other ideological instrumentalities by continuously re-creating “demand” for its services through the discovery of new and more “ills” falling into its domain. It is now part and parcel of the prevailing social structure which commercializes all ideas and makes a business out of tangibles and intangibles alike.

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