If the atom bombs are set off, we’ll be dead, but we have to live with the opponents of increased armaments and the neutron bomb. Once the bomb has fallen no one suffers any more. We suffer from its anticipated political consequences — for in the nuclear age the consequences of war precede it. After a nuclear war there will supposedly be cockroaches with five heads and legs four meters long. The mutations that interest us, however, take place beforehand, and they look quite different: one wanted to start a peace movement and it turned out to be a German national revival movement.
Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary, edited by Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath and Paul Glasser (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016), 856 pages, $60.00.
The 2016 publication of the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary (CEYD) was a milestone in the history of Yiddish lexicography.¹ It is a great work, enormous both in size and contents: it contains some 50,000 entries and 33,000 subentries (that is, the number of English words and phrases translated). But because one English word may be glossed by multiple Yiddish equivalents, the total number of Yiddish words and expressions is probably larger; I estimate about a hundred thousand.² This would make the CEYD more than twice as large as its recent counterpart, the Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary (CYED) by Beinfeld and Bochner, and more than five times as large as its true predecessor, the English-Yiddish half of Uriel Weinreich’s Modern Yiddish-English English-Yiddish Dictionary (MYEEYD).³ The CEYD is exceeded only by the unfinished Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language (GDYL), the massive 1915 Encyclopedic English-Yiddish Dictionary by Paul Abelson, and the recent Yiddish-Dutch online dictionary by Justus van de Kamp.⁴
The CEYD is an important new resource for anyone who reads Yiddish, but it is a real godsend for Yiddish writers and translators in particular. For the first time, they can find accurate Yiddish equivalents for English words and expressions far beyond the level of basic literacy. Using this dictionary, it is possible for novices to write in Yiddish with nuance about complex topics of modern life. Even the best-read Yiddishists will discover new idiomatic treasures, like how to say “beat around the bush” dreyen mit der tsung (lit. “to twist one’s tongue”), or “to give it one’s all” araynleygn dem tatn mit der mamen (lit. “put in one’s father and mother”). The CEYD is carefully designed and is the ideal instrument to expand the linguistic horizons of Yiddish-speakers everywhere.
Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.
Gastronomy is the science of pain. Professional cooks belong to a secret society whose ancient rituals derive from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue, and the threat of illness. The members of a tight, well-greased kitchen staff are a lot like a submarine crew. Confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders, they often acquire the characteristics of the poor saps who were press-ganged into the royal navies of Napoleonic times—superstition, a contempt for outsiders, and a loyalty to no flag but their own.
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.
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/ toprint
I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.
“Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”
“What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”
“Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”
The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”
“Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”
“Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”
He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”
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.
Shtup(SHTUHP) – To have sex with. The connotation is the “four-letter word” kind. Generally most of the words on this list that start with “sh” are going to have the emphasis on that syllable.
Shmuck (SHMUCK) – Penis. All of them. Every last one of these following terms. I’ll let you know when we’ve reached the end of the cavalcade of dicks.
Putz(PUHTZ) – “”
Schmeckel (SHMEH-cull) – “”
Schlong (SH-long) – “”
Schvantz (SH-vontz) – “”
Petzl(PET-zull) – “”
Fakakta(fuh-COCK-tah) – “Fucked up” (hey, look, we’ve exited the magical forest of dongs!). This is my personal favorite term on this list. Goes very well with the modifier “all,” as in, “the Senate’s filibustering procedure is all fakakta.”
Alta Kaka(AL-ta COCK-ah) – Literally, “old shit.” Weirdly, not hugely derogatory in common usage (typically used to refer to senior citizens in general), but that’s Yiddish for you; even the words we don’t intend to be offensive have that soupcon of a linguistic middle finger to them.
Hydra is a criminal organization dedicated to the achievement of world domination through terrorist and subversive activities on various fronts, resulting in a fascist New World Order. Its extent of operations is worldwide; always attempting to elude the ongoing counter-espionage operations by S.H.I.E.L.D. Hydra is funded by Baron Strucker’s personal fortune, based on his recovered hoard of Nazi plunder from World War II, and funds established by the original leaders of the Japanese secret society that became Hydra.
The organization is run with behind-the-scenes direction by Baron Strucker (who was one of the people to assume the role of Supreme Hydra). Under him is a central ruling committee; under them are individual division chiefs, and under them are the rank and file members and special agents.
In order to become a member of Hydra, an individual must be a legal adult willing to submit to a thorough investigation of the applicant’s personal background and to swear a death-oath of loyalty to Hydra and its principles.
“Hail, Hydra! Immortal Hydra! We shall never be destroyed! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place! We serve none but the Master—as the world shall soon serve us! Hail Hydra!”
David: In order to understand quantitative easing you have to understand what a bubble is. Basically, a bubble happens when the value of assets—that’s stocks or houses or something—just starts going up so much that people feel like they’re wealthier. They haven’t actually gotten any more income, but the assets they own are worth more and more. Say you have a house and it triples in value and so you think of yourself—your net worth—as being a lot higher, so you go out and spend more money. That’s called the wealth effect. Have you heard of that?
Joni kicks her shoe so that it skims right past David’s ankle and lands beneath the blackboard where he’s standing.
David turns to look at her. Their eyes meet briefly before each turns away, Joni’s face flushing. She bites her bottom lip.
They are in an empty classroom at Columbia, where David is a graduate student, a transplant from South Africa.
David: So the wealth effect is the fact that when the value of your assets rises you spend more of your income. You save less money because you feel like your house is doing the saving for you. So, asset bubbles, wealth effect. What happened in these recent bubbles was based in housing. A really high percentage of GDP growth in the 2000s was from people borrowing against the value of their homes, taking out loans on their homes and spending the money. Like if you bought.…
David continues, but Joni does not hear. His voice is a sound that pleases her, that enters her and leaves her just the same.
She had genuinely wanted to learn when she asked David to tutor her—paid him $100 for his time and companionship—but she finds herself unable to follow. Impressive-sounding, incomprehensible words flow in and out of her ears, as if she were listening to a lecture in French. She focuses on the things she likes, sensual things: the sound of his accent, the tap of the chalk as he writes, the silhouette of his tall, slender body, the air of authority that being at the front of a classroom gives him.
And she likes the feeling of breaking a rule, of sneaking into an empty school she isn’t even enrolled in after midnight, the sense of camaraderie she felt gliding through the large empty hallways in the dark with David. Perhaps it is the air of the illicit that makes her unable to focus on economics.
Those who oppose Marxism, Enlightenment, or even liberal ideologies on the ground that they are Eurocentric or colonial impositions, and propose as an alternative supposedly more organic, authentically indigenous lifeways and autochthonous, communitarian wisdom, are themselves simply victim to another European ideology: Romanticism.
Q. You’ve been canvassing for Bernie Sanders. Tell us why you’re so excited.
I’ve witnessed three great social movements in my lifetime, the Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement and this is the third. Bernie’s campaign took the Occupy movement, which was localized, and he elevated it to the national level. I don’t know what will come next. I doubt anyone knows. But it’s exhilarating to be part of it.
If you asked me one year ago whether young people would come out in these numbers, I would have laughed. My impression was that they were hooked on internet chatter and antidepressants. But the young folks in the campaign are so serious, so intelligent; they remind me of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) folks from the early 1960s. I went on a bus ride to Massachusetts to campaign for Bernie. I was one of five in the alte kaker brigade. The rest were young people. It struck me that on the way home, there were no drugs, no one smoking marijuana, no alcohol. We got home at midnight or 1 am. It was a kind of moral austerity. Like, this is serious stuff, we’re not going to diminish it.
I have to say, it made me feel proud, for once, to be an American. On the other hand, these young people have good reason to be serious. They’re struggling for their future. If nothing comes of this, it’s really a black hole for them, a futureless future. They’re attending colleges with astronomical tuitions, coming out strapped with astronomical debt, then they have to pay astronomical interest rates, and—the worst is—there are no jobs out there. So they have a real (as we used to say) material interest in the Bernie Sanders campaign.
In Los Angeles to be against Capital typically presents itself in a pro-work / worker position. The problem is never work itself, the nature of work or that work is waged but instead what is desired is extending a sphere of work that is unionized and bolstered with higher wages. Take for instance the CLEAN Carwash campaign, where carwash workers (whom are mostly immigrant men) have been unionized under the representation of United Steelworkers Local 675. Though this move one is that brings much needed betterment of working conditions and wages for these workers, what is ultimately not brought up is that the work of a car wash workers can and has already been automated. But of course the fading labour movement is not concerned with the overthrow of capitalism and abolition of work at all. That dream is a dream that has been lost along with the labour movement.
The expression of an anti-work position has either been minoritarian or unheard of. In a city where working conditions for immigrants can be well below the legal standards set forth by the State and the Federal Government, the push for more protections and rights within the workplace takes on precedence. An anti-work affect (rather than a bonafide position) among Mexican immigrants and / or Mexican-Americans is usually to be found in cultural forms and do not often take on explicit anti-political, or anti-capitalist forms. Whereas the playful and tongue-in-cheek cultural forms are plentiful, the other mentioned forms are few and far in between.
ANTI-WORK / ANTI-CAPITALIST : AN INTRODUCTION
My first encounter with an explicit anti-work position came from Chican@ friends who I had met in 2001 who were heavily-influenced by the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord and the Situationist International. In 1953, a young Guy Debord painted on a wall on the Rue de Seine « NE TRAVAILLEZ JAMAIS » (tr. Never Work). A statement that was difficult for me to understand conceptually at the time but which I immediately gravitated towards. Hitherto, all the anarchist literature I had read on work concerned themselves with how wage labor was theft of our time & of our labor power and that the solution was not the abolition of work per se but worker self-management. [Think of all the nostalgia that some Left-Anarchists have for the revolution lost by the anarcho-syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War.]
Growing up in a Mexican household where what was prized was the opportunity to find well-paying work and as well as reverence of a hearty work ethic, this was a scandalous position. Though the starting point for Guy Debord opposition to a world of work was not a beatnik, bohemian lifestyle refusal common to the 1950s but rather a rejection of the bleariness of life under capitalism and part of a whole project to overthrow The Spectacle and make life a joyous affair once again.
The critique of work can be found elsewhere throughout history including Paul Lafargue’s “The Right to be Lazy”(1883) written by Karl Marx’s son-in-law, in the notorious post-left Anarchist Bob Black’s “The Abolition of Work”(1985) and Gille Dauve’s “Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement” (1970) where he clarifies what the abolition of work could mean and says “what we want is the abolition of work as an activity separate from the rest of life.” He later would explain that the issue at hand is not that we do or not do things, but that under capitalism what we do is often made confused by wage labor. We assume only those things paid a wage have value and that only those things which are productive are necessary to human life.
“Weltgeschichte ist Weltgericht” (“World History is a tribunal that judges the World”). History is what judges people, their actions and their opinions, and lastly their philosophical opinions as well. To be sure, History is, if you please, a long “discussion” between people. But this real historical “discussion” is something quite different from a philosophic dialogue or discussion. The “discussion” is carried out not with verbal arguments, but with clubs and swords or cannon on the one hand, and with sickles and hammers or machines on the other. If one wants to speak of a “dialectical method” used by History, one must make clear that one is talking about methods of war and of work. This real, or better, active, historical dialectic is what is reflected in the history of philosophy. And if Hegelian Science is dialectical or synthetical, it is only because it describes that real dialectic in its totality, as well as the series of consecutive philosophies which corresponds to that dialectical reality. Now, by the way, reality is dialectical only because it implies a negative or negating element: namely, the active negation of the given, the negation which is at the foundation of every bloody fight and of all so-called “physical” work.
Individuals in their capacity as burghers in this state are private persons whose end is their own interest. This end is mediated through the universal which thus appears as a means to its realisation. Consequently, individuals can attain their ends only in so far as they themselves determine their knowing, willing, and acting in a universal way and make themselves links in this chain of social connections. In these circumstances, the interest of the Idea – an interest of which these members of civil society are as such unconscious – lies in the process whereby their singularity and their natural condition are raised, as a result of the necessities imposed by nature as well as of arbitrary needs, to formal freedom and formal universality of knowing and willing – the process whereby their particularity is educated up to subjectivity.
His research interests include modern European intellectual history; social theory, especially critical theories of modernity; twentieth-century Germany; anti-Semitism; and contemporary global transformations. He is co-editor with Craig Calhoun and Edward LiPuma of Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives and author of Time, Labor and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory. He is also co-editor with Eric Santner of Catastrophe and Meaning: The Holocaust and the Twentieth Century, a collection of essays that consider the meaning of the holocaust in twentieth-century history and its influence on historical practice. Postone’s work has had a large influence on the anti-Germans.
He was originally denied tenure by the University of Chicago’s Sociology Department, sparking a great deal of public resentment from graduate students whom he had been involved in teaching. He was later granted tenure by the History Department.
Today Moishe Postone is the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Modern History and co-director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory.
Capitalism as a historical specificity
An heterodox marxist
In 1978 Postone started a critical analysis on Marx’s theory of value. But Moishe Postone’s most distinguished main work, ‘Time, Labor and Social Domination’, was published in 1993 (translated into French in 2009 and Japanese in 2012).
In his works he proposes a fundamental reinterpretation of Karl Marx‘s critique of political economy, focusing on Marx’s original concepts value, capital and labour. Inspired by heterodox Marxist thinkers such as Isaak Rubin, Roman Rosdolsky, etc., and certain authors of the Frankfurt School, e.g., Sohn-Rethel, who remained marginal to that school, he shows that the assumptions of the ‘pessimistic turn’ of Horkheimer were historically rather than theoretically founded. Postone interprets critical writings on Marx’s economics, especially in its Capital 1 edition, and Grundrisse, as the development of a social-mediational theory of value.
Marx’s Capital: a critic immanent to its purpose
Postone thinks that in writing the ‘Grundrisse‘ Marx concludes that adequate critical theory must be completely immanent to its purpose. The criticism cannot be taken from a point of view external to its object, but must appear in the mode of presentation itself. Das Kapital is so structured, for Postone, with a surface level immanent to political economics discourse and a deeper layer which comes through later, which makes it particularly difficult to interpret. Indeed, precisely because of the inherent nature of the format Marx uses, the object of the critique of Marx has often been taken as the standpoint of this criticism. For example, not only is the categories of exchange valuehistorically specific to the capitalist period, but also value’s basis, the capitalist form of wage labour, must also be historically specific, and does not apply conceptually to other periods. The methodological sections of the Grundrisse clarify therefore not only Marx’s presentation, but other sections make explicit that the categories of capital such as value and exchange-labour, are historically specific to the capitalist social formation. The so-called labour theory of value is not a theory of the material wealth created by labor but is in a parallel manner also seen when looked at transhistorically as “human metabolism with nature.” Precisely because it is not structured immanently, the ‘Grundrisse’ provides a key to read Capital. This is the key to the reinterpretation of the work of mature Marx, with which Postone works.
Yanis Varoufakis comments on Paul Mason’s documentary “#THIS IS A COUP”
Paul Mason’s recently released four-part documentary #THIS IS A COUP, on the crushing of the Athens Spring, offers much food for thought. Paul and I have had many opportunities to discuss the issues it covers, including on stage in London in front of a magnificent audience. When the time comes, I shall publish my full account. But for now, here are some comments for each one of the four episodes, culminating to a general comment at the very end.
You’ve written about the intellectual influences shaping Podemos’s approach, singling out the work of Laclau and Mouffe. There are three criticisms that could be made of them as strategic thinkers. First, unlike Gramsci’s writings, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy offers no analytical tools for grasping the tactics of the enemy—La Casta, or the liberal–conservative bloc of Centre Left and Centre Right. Second, their work has very little to say about capitalist dynamics, essentially treating the economic field as unproblematic—whereas the condition for the emergence of Podemos is the global economic crisis. Third, and again, unlike Gramsci, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy has much to say about discourse but little about deeds—the crystallization of a concrete minimum programme. To take the first question: elite strategy. In face of the incipient regime crisis, Spain’s rulers seem to have adopted an active policy of neutralization—eliminating potentially aggravating factors, such as Juan Carlos, replaced by a fresher-faced Bourbon, and building up Ciudadanos as a ‘clean’ liberal party; a much more effective operation than To Potami in Greece. As you say, Podemos’s space on TV has also narrowed. Have these developments altered the grounds for Podemos’s triple hypothesis? Currently, all four parties—Podemos, Ciudadanos, PSOE, PP—are around 20 per cent, which makes a lib-con majority of 60 per cent, against an anti-austerity vote of 25 per cent for Podemos and Izquierda Unida combined.
Clearly the adversary plays a role and the terms of the confrontation have been changing. It’s true that the media terrain is much less comfortable for us now. Building up Ciudadanos was a smart move for them, not so much because it is taking votes from Podemos directly but because, at the level of discourse, it’s challenging our position as the option for regeneration and our place in the media. Now there is another party of ‘change’, which has very different features; Ciudadanos essentially emerged from the liberal establishment. So, yes, we are in the process of reformulating the Podemos hypothesis. Let me explain our thinking.
Our key objective was always to occupy the centrality of the political field, taking advantage of the incipient organic crisis. This has nothing to do with the political ‘centre’ of bourgeois discourse. Our challenge, in Gramscian terms, in this war of position was to create a new common sense that would allow us to occupy a transversal position, at the heart of the newly reformulated political spectrum. Right now, the political space that was up for grabs has been reduced as a result of these counter-moves by the establishment, including the promotion of Ciudadanos. So our task has become more difficult; it requires a new strategic intelligence. Also, these interventions by the adversary have created further contradictions within our field. We are facing three immediate difficulties.