Theodor W. Adorno inspired much of Germany’s 1960s student movement, but he came increasingly into conflict with this movement about the practical implications of his critical theory. Others – including his friend and colleague Herbert Marcuse – also accused Adorno of a quietism that is politically objectionable and in contradiction with his own theory. In this article, I reconstruct, and partially defend, Adorno’s views on theory and (political) praxis in Germany’s 1960s in 11 theses. His often attacked and maligned stance during the 1960s is based on his analysis of these historical circumstances. Put provocatively, his stance consists in the view that people in the 1960s have tried to change the world, in various ways; the point – at that time – was to interpret it.
“They hide everything from us, we are told nothing The more we learn, the more we know nothing We aren’t really informed about anything Did Adam have a belly-button? We are hiding everything, we are told nothing […] The John Doe case and the Jane Doe case Whose murderer cannot be found They hide everything from us, we are told nothing We are hide-and-seek and hide-the-thimble Blindfolded and John Doe They are the kings of information”
– Jacques Dutronc, 1967
“Imagine that we’ve been lied to for centuries and centuries / That certain high-ranking communities know the recipes / The secrets of life, not that which we are allowed to see.”
On January 6th a determined mob from across the United States descended on Washington, D.C. They rumbled with police, overturned barricades, breached the perimeter of the United States Capitol, and smashed their way into the building itself – all while both houses were in session. Inside, the insurgents played cat and mouse with police and federal agents, gleefully traipsing the evacuated halls of Congress and the Senate, and marauded through the offices of high-level politicians, who escaped a direct confrontation by a matter of minutes. The scene at the Capitol was replicated in miniature across the US, with large crowds menacing state houses in Washington state, Georgia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and others. But nothing compared to the spectacle playing out in the nation’s capital.
It is often asserted that West German New Leftists “discovered the Third World” in the pivotal decade of the 1960s. Quinn Slobodian upsets that storyline by beginning with individuals from the Third World themselves: students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America who arrived on West German campuses in large numbers in the early 1960s. They were the first to mobilize German youth in protest against acts of state violence and injustice perpetrated beyond Europe and North America. The activism of the foreign students served as a model for West German students, catalyzing social movements and influencing modes of opposition to the Vietnam War. In turn, the West Germans offered the international students solidarity and safe spaces for their dissident engagements. This collaboration helped the West German students to develop a more nuanced, empathetic understanding of the Third World, not just as a site of suffering, poverty, and violence, but also as the home of politicized individuals with the capacity and will to speak in their own names. READ PDF
Today radical opposition can be considered only in a global framework. Taken as an isolated phenomenon its nature is falsified from the start. I shall discuss this opposition with you in the global context with emphasis on the United States. You know that I hold today’s student opposition to be a decisive factor of transformation: surely not, as I have been reproached, as an immediate revolutionary force, but as one of the strongest factors, one that can perhaps become a revolutionary force. Setting up connections between the student oppositions of various countries is therefore one of the most important strategic necessities of these years. There are scarcely any connections between the American and German student movements; the student opposition in the United States does not even possess an effective central organization. We must work for the establishment of such relations, and if in discussing the theme of this talk I mainly take the United States as an example, I do so in order to help prepare for the establishment of such relations. The student opposition in the United States is itself part of a larger opposition that is usually designated the “New Left.”
We seem to have reached an impasse. Capitalism as we know it appears to be coming apart. But as financial institutions stagger and crumble, there is no obvious alternative. Organized resistance appears scattered and incoherent; the global justice movement a shadow of its former self. There is good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism will no longer exist: for the simple reason that it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet. Faced with the prospect, the knee-jerk reaction — even of “progressives” — is, often, fear, to cling to capitalism because they simply can’t imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.
The following is a transcript of a talk delivered in Seattle on July 20, 2020, lightly-edited by the author for readability. A video recording produced by Red May is online here. (Taken from Illwilleditions.org)
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I want to begin with a shout-out to what happened here last night, and to the working class of the city of Seattle, to the rebels of the city of Seattle: I really liked what I saw, that’s why I’m here, you know, to feel that vibe. I would also like to send my solidarity to comrades in Greece. It was they who allowed me to experience insurrection for the first time in 2008. The lessons I’ve learned and the experiences I had there have been so valuable this time around, even though we are in a much different social context. Moreover, a comrade was recently killed at the hands of the police there. To the fallen comrade, Vasillis Maggos, I want to say: rest in power.
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.
As xenophobic border regimes around the world rigidify, activist groups are joining forces to denounce them and the neoliberal economics on which they stand. Amidst a worsening climate of vigilantism, San Diego based anarchist collective o.r.g.a.n.i.c. report on recent antiborder actions in the towns, desert wastelands and graveyards along the US/Mexico border
You know that you live in the desert when your car collects a thick coat of yellow dust if it goes without a regular wash. Living in the area of the borderlands currently known as San Diego, you cannot help but notice this. The desert is like that: it plays a huge role in any story about the US/Mexico border area. Most of that border is embodied in a vast, hot, deadly desert. Day after day, people die trying to migrate across that line into the United States. Many people living in these borderlands continue to take action against the border as well as the ideas and individuals that seek to uphold it. There are endless groups that take these tasks upon themselves. Below are some stories and thoughts put together from members of one of these groups, the o.r.g.a.n.i.c. collective.
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.
“Honey, I guess you can sum up this business in one sentence,” stripper Bobbie Bruce told reporter Jack Griffin at Minsky’s Rialto Theater, a hub of early-1950s Chicago burlesque. “You grab as much sex as the law is allowing at the time, and throw it across the footlights as hard as you can.”1
In the 1950s, only seven states, including Illinois and New York, permitted striptease performances. Chicago law gave club owners full discretion about just how much strippers could or could not take off.2 Meanwhile in New York, dancers were limited to uncovering a single breast, for eight bars of music at a time.3
Griffin discovered “a stripper’s life is a tough one, made up of long hours. Although she may be on stage only a total of an hour or so, she has to be on call for 10 to 12 hours a day.”Moreover, he learned, “the private life of a strip teaser, one who takes her art seriously, is about as routine as that of a file clerk in a business office–and often duller. A stripper is doing five or six shows a day, seven days a week, isn’t in the mood for much of anything except going home–alone–and going to sleep.”4
In major cities like New York City and Chicago, nascent strip clubs like Minksy’s Rialto offered women better pay than working the counter at Macys or Bloomingdales. As Moira Weigel argues, retail workers were mostly working-class girls who hoped to entice just the right wealthy man and thus escape a life of wage labor drudgery.5 Strip clubs, meanwhile, stimulated desire and seduction in a manner not unlike the courtship of retail customers or the theatrical fantasies window displays brought to life for urban consumers.6 The women who worked in retail and strip clubs symbolized a new worker, proliferated by a mid-twentieth century boom in the US service industry. Feminized service workers relied on guile, cajolery and flirtation to attract customers and clientele to purchase commodities. As a unique form of service work, strippers turned this allure into the commodity itself. But then as now, stripping was nonetheless work, and hard work at that.
Since the election of Donald Trump, acts of racist violence have proliferated across the United States. Racists and misogynists feel emboldened to express and act on their views. White nationalist groups and resurgent traditional white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan have used Trumps victory to gain new recruits. All that stands in their way are the groups of anarchists and anti-state communists who have taken it upon themselves to prevent fascism from becoming a powerful political force in the United States. This film tells the story of what “Antifa” is and why people are using these tactics to confront racism and fascism in the US today.
Who are the anti-fascists? What motivates them to risk their lives to fight the far right? What is the history of militant anti-fascism and why is it relevant again today? How is anti-fascism connected to a larger political vision that can stop the rise of fascism and offer us visions of a future worth fighting for? Through interviews with anti-fascist organizers, historians, and political theorists in the US and Germany, we explore the broader meaning of this political moment while taking the viewer to the scene of street battles from Washington to Berkeley and Charlottesville.
In this position paper, I take up Herbert Marcuse’s notion of the ‘great refusal’ to describe several phenomena that can be subsumed under the concept of a ‘politics of forms of life’, especially in the context of the revolts of 1968: projects like communes, anti-authoritarian childcare centers, solidary sub-economies and many more. After naming some shared characteristics of politics of forms of life, I defend a politicization of forms of life against a liberal critique as well as hint at specific challenges. Finally, I suggest which insights of past politics of forms of life I find to be most relevant for a revitalization of critical theory today.
Preface: Attempting Liberation
In “Paralysis of Criticism,” the preface to his One-Dimensional Man(1964), Herbert Marcuse offered an assessment of the world-political state of affairs that was rather skeptical of the possibility of societal liberation. The advanced industrialized society we live in, he argued, was the culmination of a historical dynamic in which the oppression of mankind increased concurrently with the technological progress that potentially would allow them more freedom. The final and emblematic expression of this dialectic of enlightenment is the atomic bomb, for the first time in the history of humanity threatening the sheer existence of the species. This condition, which is irrational “as a whole”, owes its stability to the intensification of the ideological control over human subjectivity that goes hand-in-hand with an integration and recuperation of critique. “Technical progress,” he writes, “extended to a whole system of domination and coordination, creates forms of life (and of power) which appear to reconcile the forces opposing the system and to defeat or refute all protest in the name of the historical prospects of freedom from toil and domination.” Unlike Marx and Engels, Marcuse can no longer identify an actual moment transcending the existing society; while the Communist Manifestocould still assume that capitalism produces its own grave diggers with the proletariat, Marcuse diagnoses a complete absence of any real desire for change, rendering every criticism to a powerless ought. However, Marcuse does not conclude that we should return to merely moral critique that would apply an abstract standard to society from the outside and thus ignore people’s real subjectivity. For him, the emancipatory task lies rather in constructively producing a transgressive moment within society itself. According to Marcuse, people can acknowledge their true interests “only if they live in need of changing their way of life, of denying the positive, of refusing.” For the construction of this material need for change, Marcuse, on the last pages of the One-Dimensional Man, coins the term great refusal. . . [continue]
An airport is a funny thing, one that gives you access to other places but is not much of a place itself. But its underlying character has changed dramatically in the last few decades. If the glamour and hope of flying off for a visit or a new life still cling to the terminals, the airport has become a hub for the workaday circulation of goods at a global level.
This has been peculiarly true since the global downturn of manufacturing in the seventies. In April 1973, Federal Express delivered its first package; four decades later, FedEx has the fourth-largest fleet in existence. By freight it is the biggest airline in the world. At Oakland International, my local airport, the FedEx hangar and logistics hub crouches independent of the two modest passenger terminals, a behemoth with the gravity of a planet. It’s their world; we’re just living in it.
This transformation has happened behind the back of consciousness, and largely beyond our descriptions of the political situation. It would be hard to say it played a role in the protests of Saturday night. The narrative drama of airports — from Tom Hanks vehicle The Terminal to the flight of Edward Snowden — is about those who can’t leave or can’t arrive, and so end up trapped in this metaplace, separated out from life. It is funny or strange or exciting. Except of course behind all of these it is surely terrifying being seized by uniformed thugs, thrown in a room, at the mercy not of fate but arbitrary laws and state power.
With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights, over the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green’ Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mudstained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own. Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky. There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutter now and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.
Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?
They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children – though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all. For instance, how about technology? I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people. Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive. In the middle category, however – that of the unnecessary but undestructive, that of comfort, luxury, exuberance, etc. — they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains,. washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t matter. As you like it. I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the train station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers’ Market. But even granted trains, I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don’t hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas – at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine souffles to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions. Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the glory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all. One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt. But what else should there be? I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city, drooz which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcana and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond all belief; and it is not habit-forming. For more modest tastes I think there ought to be beer. What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. But as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial. A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world’s summer; this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I really don’t think many of them need to take drooz.
Most of the processions have reached the Green Fields by now. A marvelous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children are amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled. The youths and girls have mounted their horses and are beginning to group around the starting line of the course. An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men, wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute. People pause to listen, and they smile, but they do not speak to him, for he never ceases playing and never sees them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune.
He finishes, and slowly lowers his hands holding the wooden flute.
As if that little private silence were the signal, all at once a trumpet sounds from the pavilion near the starting line: imperious, melancholy, piercing. The horses rear on their slender legs, and some of them neigh in answer. Sober-faced, the young riders stroke the horses’ necks and soothe them, whispering, “Quiet, quiet, there my beauty, my hope. . . .” They begin to form in rank along the starting line. The crowds along the racecourse are like a field of grass and flowers in the wind. The Festival of Summer has begun.
Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.
In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits haunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval – sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!” They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, “eh-haa, eh-haa,” and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.
They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.
This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.
The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.
Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in. Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there snivelling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer.
Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible.
At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
In our own time, the concept of happiness has moved from the private sphere to the public one. As William Davies reports in this fascinating study, a growing number of corporations employ chief happiness officers, while Google has a “jolly good fellow” to keep the company’s spirits up. Maybe the Bank of England should consider hiring a jester. Specialist happiness consultants advise those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes on how to move on emotionally. Two years ago, British Airways trialled a “happiness blanket”, which turns from red to blue as the passenger becomes more relaxed so that your level of contentment is visible to the flight attendants. A new drug, Wellbutrin, promises to alleviate major depressive symptoms occurring after the loss of a loved one. It is supposed to work so effectively that the American Psychiatric Association has ruled that to be unhappy for more than two weeks after the death of another human being can be considered a mental illness. Bereavement is a risk to one’s psychological well-being. . .
What Davies recognises is that capitalism has now in a sense incorporated its own critique. What the system used to regard with suspicion – feeling, friendship, creativity, moral responsibility – have all now been co-opted for the purpose of maximising profits. One commentator has even argued the case for giving products away free, so as to form a closer bond with the customer. Some employers have taken to representing pay increases they give to their staff as a gift, in the hope of extracting gratitude and thus greater effort from them. It seems that there is nothing that can’t be instrumentalised. Yet the whole point of happiness is that it is an end in itself, rather than a means to power, wealth and status. For a tradition of ethical thought from Aristotle and Aquinas to Hegel and Marx, human self-fulfilment springs from the practice of virtue, and this happens purely for its own sake. How to be happy is the chief issue that ethics addresses, but “Why be happy?” is not a question it can answer
Mindfulness, the practice of sitting still and focusing on your breath and thoughts, has surged in popularity over the last few years, with a boom in apps, online courses, books and articles extolling its virtues. It can be done alone or with a guide (digital or human), and with so much hand-wringing about our frenetic, time-poor lifestyles and information overload, it seems to offer a wholesome solution: a quiet port in the storm and an opportunity for self-examination. The Headspace app, which offers 10-minute guided meditations on your smartphone, has more than three million users worldwide and is worth over £25m. Meanwhile, publishers have rushed to put out workbooks and guides to line the wellness shelves in bookshops.
Large organisations such as Google, Apple, Sony, Ikea, the Department of Health and Transport for London have adopted mindfulness or meditation as part of their employee packages, claiming it leads to a happier workforce, increased productivity and fewer sick days. But could such a one-size-fits-all solution backfire in unexpected ways?
This week brought another uprising against the police, after a police officer shot and killed a 23 year old man, Sylville K. Smith, in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. The uprising, which saw right-wing Governor Scott Walker call-in the national guard to sit standby in case the riots escalated, happened against the backdrop of continued rampant police killings and the growing social degradation of poor and working people in the United States. This is the second time in two years that Walker has called in the National Guard to deal with protests against the police and the fourth alongside Ferguson and Baltimore in the US.
But these rebellions point to deeper tensions caused by the systems of domination inherent within industrial capitalism and white supremacy, which is policed and protected by this government. In the case of just Milwaukee, Niles Niemuth wrote:
Milwaukee has been devastated by decades of deindustrialization and financialization, which has produced the highest levels of inequality since the 1920s. The factories that provided decent wages and benefits for tens of thousands of workers have all but disappeared.
The city lost three-quarters of its industrial jobs between 1960 and the 2010. The disappearance of manufacturing employment had a particular impact on black male workers in the city. From 1970 to 2010, the employment rate for black men aged 16 to 64 in the metro Milwaukee region fell precipitously, from 73.4 percent to only 44.7 percent.
The city’s overall poverty rate in 2014 was 29 percent, nearly double the national rate. Children and youth aged 18 and under were the worst affected, with more than 42 percent growing up poor. More than 43 percent of the population in the Sherman Park neighborhood lives below the poverty line.
At the same time, despite continuous slumps in US productivity, the rich just keep getting richer. As Andre Damon wrote:
In 2015, the International Monetary Fund noted in its annual report that the decline of business investment is at the heart of the failure of the global economy to recover from the 2008 crisis, despite the flooding of financial markets with cheap credit.
Major corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in cash, which they are not investing in production or research and development. Instead, they are using it to buy back stocks, increase dividends, and carry out mergers and acquisitions, all of which increase the payouts of Wall Street CEOs and shareholders.
As a result, stock markets around the world are at or near record highs, corporate profits are surging, and the wealth of the top 0.1 percent in the United States and internationally continues to soar at the expense of the working class.
But while it is becoming more and more clear that the only solution the elites have to continued immiseration and poverty that is endemic in capitalism is simply more repression and police, the very system of industrial resource extraction and production that is making a few elites so rich is also threatening all life on this planet. This summer, scientists have recorded the hottest months ever in June and July.
At the same time, the South was hit by disastrous floods that destroyed homes and left many homeless as Obama vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard and thousands were crammed together in shelters and curfews were put into place to stop people without food or water from looting. In many ways, all of these instances should be seen as signs of not only the kind of system we live under, but the trajectory it is hurling us towards. While the rich and powerful drink wine in tranquility, our homes are washed away, we work harder and harder for less and less, and an ever growing police presence watches our every move and taxes, harasses, and kills us without cause. Meanwhile in the background, the military is at the ready should a rebellion pop off.
But a rebellion is growing, and one that cannot be contained or smothered by either the police or the military, or the attempts of politicians, activist bureaucrats, or media pundits to stop people from fighting for and creating a world worth living in.
In the last two weeks, we first saw violent clashes with fascists and white nationalists which rocked the west coast and shut down an attempted rally by the Traditionalist Worker Party, and now we are seeing sustained activity against the police. Helping kick things off has been two extremely high-profile police shootings of African-American men that went viral in less than 24 hours. The first was that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the second is that of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Despite these cases receiving the most press and outrage due to their videos being shared across the internet, in the week before and after both shootings (which occurred only a day apart from each other), 28 people were also killed by police in the short month of July. Currently, over 580 people have been killed by law enforcement officers in 2016, averaging over 3 people per day.
As news and anger over the shootings has spread, organic and self-organized protests, rebellions, freeway shutdowns, and violent confrontations with the police has also begun to grow, starting in Louisiana and then growing to cities in Minnesota, California, New York, Colorado, Alabama and everywhere else. It seems that the eruptions, riots, and blockades of the summer and fall of December 2014, following the Ferguson Insurrection and the wave of indignation and mobilization that spread after Darren Wilson was found not guilty as were the police that killed Eric Garner in New York, has not been forgotten. More people are joining the fight and the protests and demonstrations are continuing. Also, the rhythm and time between eruptions is growing less and less apart and there is a remembrance and building of confidence around disruptive tactics. Despite this positive aspect of the last week, still a sea of politicians lie in waiting ready to put a wet blanket on the fires of revolt.
This latest round of outrage is marked by the fact that the “Democratic Socialist” candidate, Bernie Sanders has now officially dropped out of the race and backed Hillary Clinton, leading to a massive backlash and disappointment with the entire political circus. It is a good thing that many people aren’t hoping for a candidate to represent them; we can only hope that instead we put faith and hope in ourselves to change our conditions and build revolutionary alternatives. Interestingly enough, with all of these events taking place so close to election time, this cycle of struggle hasn’t (yet) been sucked back into the political sphere or subsumed by the Democratic Party. Let’s help it to stay that way.
Moreover, this round of demonstrations has taken place alongside a chorus of violent attacks on police (as well as widespread vandalism) which have occurred throughout the United States, including a deadly shooting by a former military man in Dallas, Texas. Despite the media and police waging a counter-insurgency campaign against the Black Lives Matter movement (which is overall an attack on anyone that acts or is critical of white supremacy and the police in the US), this wave of action shows no sign of slowing down. In short, in-spite of the media and everyone in power telling people its time to go home, people aren’t listening.
At the same time, we’re also seeing more and more far-Right groups coming out to the demonstrations in an attempt to support the police: ranging from Neo-Nazis, armed Trump supporters, to militia types. Again, the “threat” of black insurgency is driving many of the Right to organize themselves to protect the established social order. The government in some instances is also using this moment to push back on some of the “gains” made by the BLM movement in the last two years; for instance in North Carolina police now do not have to share footage from their body cameras with the public.
Lastly, some Black Lives Matter groups continue to pull an anti-anarchist line, and use language such as “white outsiders” which parrots the statements of police as a way of breaking the fighting spirit of those involved in demonstrations, especially those that would use force to defend themselves. “Leaders” within the movement also continue to act as a means to destabilize any attempt to generalize the revolt. For instance in Atlanta, BLM protest leaders met with police and city officials and agreed to a “cooling off period,” in exchange for a public forum with the police on relations with the community. In short, “protest leaders” and police worked together against the protests, ending them before they continued to become even more disruptive. We need to think critically about this reality and push back against liberal and managerial elements which seek to defang resistance movements while at the same time building relationships with the base of those that make up these social struggles.
We also have to think about the fact that some within the Left are now talking about physically abolishing the police along with mass incarceration and prisons. While its great that these staples are now being taken seriously by some, we also have to remind people that this is only going to happen when people take control over territory, land, and communities in a revolutionary struggle with the established order. We can’t abolish the foot soldiers of white supremacy and capitalism while leaving this systems intact. Moreover, there has to be a conversation about what are we doing and why? Are we taking action as part of a revolutionary push to change the world and destroy a system of power, or are we simply trying to get the attention of the media, the police, or the government to create small changes?
The Berlin-based collective Center for Political Beauty has launched a provocative stunt called “Eating Refugees.” It targets a law that prohibits refugees from flying into the EU without a visa.
Known for its provocative actions blending theater and political activism, the collective of activists known as the Center for Political Beauty launched its latest intervention on Thursday. Called “Eating Refugees – Distress and Games” (“Flüchtlinge fressen – Not und Spiele”), it is an unusual spectacle.
Outside the Maxim Gorki theater in Berlin are four tigers in a cage. The caretaker is dressed like a Roman gladiator; his insignia refers to the European Union. In the background is a picture of Germany’s President Joachim Gauck.
A huge poster shows a little girl asking her mother: “Why don’t refugees just take a plane?” in reaction to the countless people who drown while crossing at sea or suffer trying to reach Europe on foot.
Against this setting, the group announced it was looking for refugees desperate enough to be ready to be devoured by those Libyan tigers. In a video, the activists claim that Angela Merkel and the German government, like a Roman emperor during a gladiatorial combat, have to power to stop this from happening with a simple thumbs-up gesture.
The single best-selling superhero comic book of the late twentieth century, the X-Men tells the story of an international cadre of superpowered beings known as “mutants,” genetically evolved humans outcast by a bigoted and fearful humanity. Circulating in the mid-1970s at the zenith of post–Civil Rights left social movements including liberal and radical feminisms, environmentalism, black nationalism, and gay liberation, the comic book’s transnational cast and visual and narrative articulation of “mutation” to social and cultural difference more broadly underscored the tie between expressions of popular fantasy and the ideals of radical politics in the postwar period.
With the proliferation of identity movements that emerged out of the internal conflicts of the New Left, the comic-book industry, long committed to the antiracist and antifascist ideals of democratic politics, used visual culture as a space for modeling new modes of radical critique that offered alternatives to direct-action politics and the discourse of civil liberties. Creators used the biologically unstable body of the superhero to explore, and potentially bring into being, the states of bodily and psychic liberation espoused by a variety of countercultural movements in this period. Whether in the “getting loose” philosophy of the hippie generation or the consciousness-raising projects of liberal feminism, the ecstatic physical states of disco culture or the spiritual communion with nature celebrated by popular ecology, the call for a countercultural politics grounded in felt experience was visually manifested in superhuman figures whose powers literally materialized these ways of being as physical extensions of the self. Like the figure of the superhero, these forms of elevated consciousness circulated through a variety of cultural genres including science fiction, fantasy, and myth; understanding the productive link between the seemingly disparate worlds of superhero comic books and left political world-making projects requires a reassessment of the political uses of fantasy outside of these discrete categories.