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leberwurst proletariat

Category: Truth

Capitalist Realism

Mark Fisher, 1968-2017

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

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

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

‘I try not to think about it’.

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Theresa May’s Brexit Speech


Tony Norfield, 17 January 2017

In her much-heralded Brexit speech today, UK Prime Minister Theresa May continued to adopt the pose of the strict headmistress delivering an address on the school’s achievements. She attempted to be bold and proud, but avoided mentioning that no prizes have been won this year and the school trip abroad is now cancelled owing to insufficient funds. The speech was long on rhetorical cliché, yet short on detail that could not have been deduced from what has already been reported. However, there was a clear statement that the UK would not aim to stay in the EU single market after Brexit and, more interestingly, another implicit threat to the EU on what would happen if there were no good deal for the UK in the forthcoming negotiations.

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Cured Quail

With What Must a Journal That Will Not Be Read Begin?

A fundraising appeal

Cured Quail is a journal of critical theory that takes seriously the aesthetic, social and conceptual problems of literacy. By literacy we don’t mean simply the ability to read and write. Rather, Cured Quail poses the question of illiteracy as a historically specific hindrance to fully experiencing the words on a page, the patience of an idea, or the particulars of a work of art. Cured Quail is concerned with discussions on culture, philosophy, political economy and modern and contemporary art, featuring critical essays, reviews, polemics, interviews, and other formats.

However, as our commencing editorial describes, the redundancy of already existing publications devoted to the nomenclature society-art-culture presents us with a challenge; foremost derived from the experiential chasm nourished by the refreshing content of curated feeds that in its rapid-fire shots of interest prepares any but the most recondite reader for a diet of distraction.

We thereby ask ourselves: what does it take to be convincingly exceptional? While shouting toward a mural depicting a cave we’d like to assure the potential reader we haven’t expected an echo. This suits the editorial board of Cured Quail and the crux from which we will write and our writers will write, and from which we now entreat your support for the necessary funding to print our inaugural volume.

For the thought and readership of Cured Quail—like everything else today—money stands as the transcendental condition for the possibility of experience. Your support will help finance a first run of Cured Quail Volume 1.   Contribute here through KICKSTARTER

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The Age of Humanism is Ending

There is no sign that 2017 will be much different from 2016.

Under Israeli occupation for decades, Gaza will still be the biggest open prison on Earth.

In the United States, the killing of black people at the hands of the police will proceed unabated and hundreds of thousands more will join those already housed in the prison-industrial complex that came on the heels of plantation slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Europe will continue its slow descent into liberal authoritarianism or what cultural theorist Stuart Hall called authoritarian populism. Despite complex agreements reached at international forums, the ecological destruction of the Earth will continue and the war on terror will increasingly morph into a war of extermination between various forms of nihilism.

Inequalities will keep growing worldwide. But far from fuelling a renewed cycle of class struggles, social conflicts will increasingly take the form of racism, ultra nationalism, sexism, ethnic and religious rivalries, xenophobia, homophobia and other deadly passions.

The denigration of virtues such as care, compassion and kindness will go hand in hand with the belief, especially among the poor, that winning is all that matters and who wins — by whatever means necessary — is ultimately right.

With the triumph of this neo-Darwinian approach to history-making, apartheid under various guises will be restored as the new old norm. Its restoration will pave the way to new separatist impulses, the erection of more walls, the militarisation of more borders, deadly forms of policing, more asymmetrical wars, splitting alliances and countless internal divisions including in established democracies.

None of the above is accidental. If anything, it is a symptom of structural shifts, which will become ever more apparent as the new century unfolds. The world as we knew it since the end of World War II, the long years of decolonisation, the Cold War and the defeat of communism has ended.

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Ways of Seeing


The past grows gradually around one, like a placenta for dying.

John Berger, 1926-2017

For a Left with No Future (T.J. Clark, 2012)


T.J. Clark / pdf

How deceiving are the contradictions of language! In this land without time the dialect was richer in words with which to measure time than any other language; beyond the motionless and everlasting crai[meaning ‘tomorrow’ but also ‘never’] every day in the future had a name of its own . . . The day after tomorrow was prescrai and the day after that pescrille; then came pescruflo, maruflo, maruflone; the seventh day was maruflicchio. But these precise terms had an undertone of irony. They were used less often to indicate this or that day than they were said all together in a string, one after another; their very sound was grotesque and they were like a reflection of the futility of trying to make anything clear out of the cloudiness of crai.

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli [1]

I hope sincerely it will be all the age does not want . . . I have omitted nothing I could think of to obstruct the onward march of the world . . . I have done all I can to impede progress . . . having put my hand to the plough I invariably look back.

Edward Burne-Jones on the Kelmscott Chaucer [2]

Left intellectuals, like most intellectuals, are not good at politics; especially if we mean by the latter, as I shall be arguing we should, the everyday detail, drudgery and charm of performance. Intellectuals get the fingering wrong. Up on stage they play too many wrong notes. But one thing they may be good for: sticking to the concert-hall analogy, they are sometimes the bassists in the back row whose groaning establishes the key of politics for a moment, and even points to a possible new one. And it can happen, though occasionally, that the survival of a tradition of thought and action depends on this—on politics being transposed to a new key. This seems to me true of the left in our time.

These notes are addressed essentially (regrettably) to the left in the old capitalist heartland—the left in Europe. [3] Perhaps they will resonate elsewhere. They have nothing to say about capitalism’s long-term invulnerability, and pass no judgement—what fool would try to in present circumstances?—on the sureness of its management of its global dependencies, or the effectiveness of its military humanism. The only verdict presupposed in what follows is a negative one on the capacity of the left—the actually existing left, as we used to say—to offer a perspective in which capitalism’s failures, and its own, might make sense. By ‘perspective’ I mean a rhetoric, a tonality, an imagery, an argument, and a temporality.

By ‘left’ I mean a root-and-branch opposition to capitalism. But such an opposition has nothing to gain, I shall argue, from a series of overweening and fantastical predictions about capitalism’s coming to an end. Roots and branches are things in the present. The deeper a political movement’s spadework, the more complete its focus on the here and now. No doubt there is an alternative to the present order of things. Yet nothing follows from this—nothing deserving the name political. Left politics is immobilized, it seems to me, at the level of theory and therefore of practice, by the idea that it should spend its time turning over the entrails of the present for signs of catastrophe and salvation. Better an infinite irony at prescrai and maruflicchio—a peasant irony, with an earned contempt for futurity—than a politics premised, yet again, on some terracotta multitude waiting to march out of the emperor’s tomb.

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David Harvey and Robert Brenner

Robert Brenner and David Harvey held this conversation December 1, 2016, at the CUNY Graduate Center. The event was hosted by the Center for Place, Culture and Politics.

Here is the full conference, divided into 3 parts.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Don’t Look Back

With your sagging belly
With your fear of Hitler
With your mouth of bad short stories
With your fingers of rotten mandolins
With your arms of fat Paterson porches
With your belly of strikes and smokestacks
With your chin of Trotsky and the Spanish War
With your voice singing for the decaying overbroken workers
With your nose of bad lay, with your nose of the smell of the pickles of Newark

With your eyes
With your eyes of Russia
With your eyes of no money
With your eyes of false China
With your eyes of Aunt Elanor
With your eyes of starving India
With your eyes pissing in the park
With your eyes of America taking a fall
With your eyes of your failure at the piano
With your eyes of your relatives in California
With your eyes of Ma Rainy dying in an ambulance
With your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots
With your eyes going to painting class at night in the Bronx
With your eyes of the killer Grandma you see on the horizon from the fire-escape
With your eyes running naked out of the apartment screaming into the hall
With your eyes being led away by policemen to an ambulance
With your eyes strapped down on the operating table
With your eyes with the pancreas removed
With your eyes of appendix operation
With your eyes of abortion
With your eyes of ovaries removed
With your eyes of shock
With your eyes of lobotomy
With your eyes of divorce
With your eyes of stroke
With your eyes alone
With your eyes
With your eyes
With your Death full of Flowers

LA Theses (endnotes)


“in this society unity appears as accidental, separation as normal.”
—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value

  1. We live in an era of long-unfolding social crisis, which is fundamentally the crisis of societies organized in a capitalist mode. Indeed, the employment relations that govern production and consumption in capitalist societies are breaking down. The result has been the reappearance of a structural condition that Marx called surplus capital alongside surplus population. Technological transformations continue to take place in spite of economic stagnation, giving rise to a situation in which there are too few jobs for too many people. Meanwhile, huge pools of money scour the earth for profits, leading to periodic expansions of bubbles that burst in massive blowouts. Rising job insecurity and inequality are symptoms of the increasing impossibility of this world as such.
  2. In the present moment, these contradictions, formerly contained within capitalist societies, are set to explode. The 2008 crisis was one manifestation of this. It gave rise to a global wave of struggles that is still unfolding today. In order to gain some control over a simmering crisis, states organized coordinated bailouts of financial and other firms. State debt rose to levels not seen since World War II. Bailouts of capitalists thus had to be accompanied by punishing austerity for workers, as states sought to manage their balance sheets while also recreating the conditions for accumulation. Yet these state actions have been only partially successful. Rich economies continue to grow ever more slowly even as they take on huge quantities of debt at every level. Poor economies are also faltering. We call this global situation the holding patternand assert that further economic turbulence is likely to issue in a capitalist crash landing.
  3. Workers fought defensive battles in the twentieth century as they still do today. But then, their defensive battles were part of an offensive struggle: workers sought to organize themselves into a labor movement, which was growing ever more powerful. This movement would sooner or later expropriate the expropriators in order to begin to build a society organized according to the needs and wants of workers themselves.
  4. However, the post-1970s crisis of capitalism, which for many should have spelled its end, led to a deep crisis of the labor movement itself. Its project is no longer adequate to the conditions workers face. Most fundamentally, this is because of the decline of the centrality of industrial work in the economy. With the onset of deindustrialization and the decline in the manufacturing share of employment (which was itself one of the fundamental causes of the expansion of surplus populations), the industrial worker could no longer be seen as the leading edge of the class. In addition, due to rising levels of greenhouse gases, it is apparent that the vast industrial apparatus is not only creating the conditions of a better future – it is also destroying them. Most fundamentally of all, work itself is no longer experienced as central to most people’s identities. For most people (although not everyone), it no longer seems as if work could be fulfilling if only it was managed collectively by workers rather than by bosses.
  5. At the same time, the decline of the workers’ identity revealed a multiplicity of other identities, organizing themselves in relation to struggles that had, until then, been more or less repressed. The resulting “new social movements” made it clear, in retrospect, to what extent the homogeneous working class was actually diverse in character. They have also established that revolution must involve more than the reorganization of the economy: it requires the abolition of gender, racial and national distinctions, and so on. But in the welter of emergent identities, each with their own sectional interests, it is unclear what exactly this revolution must be. For us, the surplus population is not a new revolutionary subject. Rather, it denotes a structural situation in which no fraction of the class can present itself as the revolutionary subject.
  6. Under these conditions, the unification of the proletariat is no longer possible. This might seem to be a pessimistic conclusion, but it has a converse implication that is more optimistic: today the problem of unification is a revolutionary problem. At the high points of contemporary movements, in occupied squares and factories, in strikes, riots and popular assemblies, proletarians discover not their power as the real producers of this society, but rather their separation along a multiplicity of identity-lines (employment status, gender, race, etc.). These are marked out and knitted together by the disintegrating integration of states and labor markets. We describe this problem as the composition problem: diverse proletarian fractions must unify but do not find a unity ready-made within the terms of this unraveling society.
  7. This is why we think it is so important to study the unfolding of struggles in detail. It is only in those struggles that the revolutionary horizon of the present is delineated. In the course of their struggles, proletarians periodically improvise solutions to the composition problem. They name a fictive unity, beyond the terms of capitalist society (most recently: the black bloc, real democracy, 99%, the movement for black lives, etc.), as a means of fighting against that society. While each of these improvised unities inevitably breaks down, their cumulative failures map out the separations that would have to be overcome by a communist movement in the chaotic uproar of a revolution against capital.
  8. This is what we mean when we say that class consciousness, today, can only be consciousness of capital. In the fight for their lives, proletarians must destroy that which separates them. In capitalism, that which separates them is also what unites them: the market is both their atomization and their interdependence. It is the consciousness of capital as our unity-in-separation that allows us to posit from within existing conditions – even if only as a photographic negative – humanity’s capacity for communism.

Endnotes, Los Angeles, December 2015

Brexit and other disasters: A public meeting with Tony Norfield



The recent election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves across the world. And while debates are still raging over the exact reasons that allowed Trump to win, the reactions to his victory show that very few people (maybe even among his supporters) expected him to win. In reality the signs that Trump stood a really good chance to emerge victorious in the US elections were there for those who cared to notice. But they were not confined to developments within the United States. Trump seems to ride the wave of a global trend towards authoritarian right-wing populism expressed in different countries such as Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary or Poland. But perhaps the “closest-to-home” expression of this tendency was the June 2016 referendum in the UK, in which a majority voted to leave the European Union.

The Brexit vote has also puzzled mainstream commentators, and this is no accident. From the perspective of the elites that have been managing the capitalist world (almost undisputed) in the last 30 years, the result was not only inexplicable but also tremendously destructive. For a large part of the capitalist class and its political representatives Brexit and its prospects (especially in relation to the City of London and its global significance) was nothing short of an economic disaster.

The UK had, after all, always enjoyed a special relation to the European Union, benefiting in many ways from its advantages without however carrying the burden of most of its structural problems. Away from the constraints of the monetary union, selective in its application of work and environmental regulations, the UK enjoyed what many saw an almost ideal relationship to the EU. Nonetheless, a majority opted to break away from this.

A number of questions immediately arise: what was the rationale behind the decision to hold the referendum, especially considering that most capitalists and politicians saw it clearly as a threat to their interests? How was it possible that the Leave vote won, when even those who represented it did not see it as a possibility? Does the overwhelming working class vote for Brexit represent a deepening of racist and anti-immigrant sentiments, or were there other considerations at stake? Finally, what could the future outside the EU look like for the UK, for its Finance sector, for Europe?

The Marxist economist Tony Norfield worked in the City’s dealing rooms for almost 20 years. Recently he published a book on the role of finance in the global economy (“The City: London and the Global Power of Finance, 2016). Since 5 years he has run a blog, Economics of Imperialism. 

[The meeting will be held in English]

Tuesday 6th December, 20.00

@ k*fetisch

wildenbuchstr. 86, 12045 Neukölln, Berlin

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Insurgent Notes #14: Nov 2016, Special Post-Election Issue:

Editorial: We’re Tempted to Say We Told You So, But We Won’t

Anyone But by David Ranney

Dispatch From West Virginia by Michael Hough

Some Facts and Figures, and a Bit of Commentary to Go With It by RS

The Heavy Lifting of Class Struggle by S S and Michael Stauch

Internationalist Perspective:

 This is What Democracy Looks Like

It’s Not About NAFTA by Aaron Benanav

Not Us, Me by Jodi Dean

Why Do White Working-Class People Vote Against Their Interests? They Don’t. by Kirk Noden

“Global Trumpism” And The Revolt Against The Creditor Class by Mark Blyth

The Dangers of Anti-Trumpism by Cinzia Arruzza

Listening to Trump by Christian Parenti

Not a Revolution – Yet  by Mike Davis

What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class by Joan C. Williams

A Trump Boom?  by Michael Roberts

Fairfax County, USA by Matt Karp

A Time for Treason by The New Inquiry

How Trump Took Middle America by Gary Young

How America Got It So Wrong by Matt Taibbi

The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt By Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr

Brexit means… what? Hapless ideology and practical consequences


Auf­heben № 24
November 2016

A number of left groups and individuals campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. Aufheben argue that the Brexit campaign, and the referendum itself, its results and its implementation, have been one with a victory of the ruling class against us. The implementation of Brexit will negatively affect solidarity among workers and radical protesters, setting back our strength and potentials to overturn capitalism. Many people in the radical left were blinded by the ideological forms of our capitalist relations, the reification of our human interactions, to the point of accepting a victory of the far right with acquiescence, or even collaborating with it.

The EU mi­grants’ or­deal and the lim­its of dir­ect ac­tion

We be­gin this art­icle with a case dealt with by Brighton Solfed (SF) and CASE Cent­ral so­cial center — the story of an EU mi­grant in Brighton.

At the end of 2015, L., a Span­ish hos­pit­al­ity work­er, sought help from SF. She had worked in a res­taur­ant for more than a year but, as soon as she fell ill, her em­ploy­er sacked her with a flimsy ex­cuse, in or­der to avoid pay­ing Stat­utory Sick Pay (SSP). Re­ceiv­ing SSP would have been this work­er’s right un­der both do­mest­ic and European Uni­on (EU) le­gis­la­tion. However, the em­ploy­er in­sisted that she left her job vol­un­tar­ily, and re­fused to re-em­ploy here.

One then claimed a sick­ness be­ne­fit, Em­ploy­ment and Sup­port Al­low­ance (ESA). As an EU work­er, she should have been en­titled to equal rights un­der EU le­gis­la­tion, and to ESA. However, the state re­fused the be­ne­fit: they said that, due [to] a “gap” between the end of her job and her claim, she was no longer a “work­er” when she claimed ESA. A be­ne­fits ad­vice group helped with an ap­peal, but the state re­fused to re­con­sider. L. was in a des­per­ate situ­ation, with no money and far from her fam­ily, and was temp­ted to move back to Spain. This would amount to eco­nom­ic de­port­a­tion — not im­posed through phys­ic­al force, but through ex­treme hard­ship.

Back in [the] 1970s the UK’s mem­ber­ship of the European Com­mon Mar­ket was op­posed by left-wing mil­it­ants, as the Com­mon Mar­ket was seen as a neo­lib­er­al club de­signed to pre­vent the ad­vance of so­cial­ism, or just the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Keyne­sian policies.

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Theses on Trump

by Phil Sandifer 

“Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.” – Terrance Dicks, 1977


Let us accept that categorization is pointless, and that any attempt at it will eventually collapse under the basic fact that he is contradictory and in his own way even contains multitudes. He is what he is, in his own way as deific as that makes him sound. He does not have immediate political analogues in 1930s Germany or 40s BCE Rome any more than he does in 1650s Britain or 2013 Australia. Similarities abound, but every case is unique. That’s what Great Man Theory means.

It is not even useful to call him liberal or conservative. He is right-wing, but only in the sense that he poses an existential threat to the left. On the whole, however, he is not particularly ideological. He is an aesthetic wedded to a perversion. In the end, most people are, and virtually all politicians. Still, one has to start somewhere.

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The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad



The crate arrived, via overland express, one spring evening in 1849. Three feet long, two feet wide, and two and a half feet deep, it had been packed the previous morning in Richmond, Virginia, then carried by horse cart to the local office of the Adams Express Company. From there, it was taken to the railroad depot, loaded onto a train, and, on reaching the Potomac, transferred to a steamer, where, despite its label—this side up with care—it was placed upside down until a tired passenger tipped it over and used it as a seat. After arriving in the nation’s capital, it was loaded onto a wagon, dumped out at the train station, loaded onto a luggage car, sent on to Philadelphia, unloaded onto another wagon, and, finally, delivered to 31 North Fifth Street. The person to whom the box had been shipped, James Miller McKim, was waiting there to receive it. When he opened it, out scrambled a man named Henry Brown: five feet eight inches tall, two hundred pounds, and, as far as anyone knows, the first person in United States history to liberate himself from slavery by, as he later wrote, “getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state.”

McKim, a white abolitionist with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, had by then been working for the Underground Railroad for more than a decade, and he was awed by the courage and drama of Brown’s escape, and of others like it. In an article he wrote some years later, he predicted that future generations of Americans would come to share his emotions:

Now deemed unworthy of the notice of any, save fanatical abolitionists, these acts of sublime heroism, of lofty self-sacrifice, of patient martyrdom, these beautiful Providences, these hair-breadth escapes and terrible dangers, will yet become the themes of the popular literature of this nation, and will excite the admiration, the reverence and the indignation of the generations yet to come.

It did not take long for McKim’s prediction to come true. The Underground Railroad entered our collective imagination in the eighteen-forties, and it has since been a mainstay of both national history and local lore. But in the past decade or so it has surged into “the popular literature of this nation”—and the popular everything else, too. This year alone has seen the publication of two major Railroad novels, including Oprah’s first book-club selection in more than a year, Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” (Doubleday). On TV, the WGN America network aired the first season of “Underground,” which follows the fates of a group of slaves, known as the Macon Seven, who flee a Georgia plantation.

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Simon Clarke’s Guide to Capital: All Three Volumes


Simon Clarke’s homepage / publications. Guide to Capital as doc / pdf

Capital, volume 1, Chapter 1.


The first chapter of Capital is both the most important, in that it introduces the basic concepts of Marx’s theory of value, and the most difficult.

Marx first began to work out his theory of value in the Grundrisse (1857), but the discussion there is very convoluted and incomplete. The first version of Chapter One of Capital is to be found in the Critique of Political Economy (1859), whose first chapter is in many ways the best introduction to Chapter One of Capital. The discussion of the Critique differs in a number of ways from that of Capital:

  1. In the Critique Marx does not make the fundamental distinction between value and exchange-value that is made in Capital
  2. in the Critique the argument has a much more ‘Hegelian’ flavour: the argument is entirely formulated in terms of the development of the contradiction between (exchange)-value and use-value
  • the logical and historical development of the argument are both present, but are separated: a logical analysis is followed by a historical one, whereas in Capital the two are more closely integrated
  • Marx devotes much more attention to money in the Critique (and in the Grundrisse) than he does in Capital, (the discussion of money in Capital refers the reader back to the Critique)
  1. The explanation of the theory of value in the Critique is rather different from that in Capital. In the Critique the discussion of commodity fetishism is more closely integrated into the discussion of the theory of value and it is clear that for Marx it is the ‘qualitative’ rather than the ‘quantitative’ dimension that is important: i.e. the theory of value is a theory of the way in which, through money and exchange, private labours are brought into social relation with one another. In Capital the exposition emphasises the quantitative dimension first: the theory of value as a theory of the ratio in which commodities exchange, before discussing the qualitative dimension.

The version of the first chapter of Capital in the English translations is a revised version that first appeared in the third German edition. In the first two editions the first chapter was shorter (roughly the first two sections of the later version and shorter versions of the third and fourth sections), and there was also an Appendix on ‘The form of value’ that was integrated into the third section in the rewrite. The change was made in an attempt to make the first chapter more comprehensible but it does introduce some differences in emphasis. (A translation of the first version of Ch. 1 and the Appendix is published, in a very tortuous translation, in Value Studies by Marx (A. Dragstedt, ed.). A much better translation of the Appendix has been published in Capital and Class, 4, 1978.)

Chapter One of Capital offers us a sociological theory of the market. Marx does not see the market simply as an institution in which individuals meet to exchange commodities, to be understood in isolation from the production of commodities, for exchange itself has implications for production. It is through the price mechanism that apparently independent producers are persuaded to produce in accordance with social needs: if too much of a commodity is produced, the price falls and less will be produced: producers will direct their labour into the production of other goods. If a producer is inefficient he or she will not get full recognition in the market for the work he or she has done, and so will be compelled to increase efficiency. Thus the market is the place in which the labour of individual producers is brought into relation with that of other producers, and so of society as a whole. The market is a particular way of allocating social labour, appropriate to a particular kind of society in which individuals work independently of one another to produce goods for the use of others. Thus the relation between individual producers in a commodity producing society is not directly recognised as a social relation – the producers do not get together to plan production as interdependent members of society. Instead the social relation between these producers takes the form of a relation between things, between the goods they exchange for one another. The exchange ratio, or exchange value, of commodities, is not, therefore, merely a relation between inanimate objects, but it expresses the relation between the labours of the individuals who have produced those commodities. This idea is the basis of Marx’s theory of value.

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I that is We, We that is I


Hegelian Resources for Contemporary Thought

by Italo Testa

The demand for a “contemporary” reading of Hegel, through a translation of his vocabulary, and thus through a theoretical reform of the dialectic, was powerfully voiced in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe by Italian neo-Hegelianism, with the work of Giovanni Gentile and, particularly, of Benedetto Croce. The reform of the Hegelian dialectic championed by Croce—according to the well-known formula of the ‘dialectic of distincts’-lent new centrality to objective spirit, understood in historical, social and intersubjective terms, within a revival of the Hegelian idea of history as a history of freedom. But Croce understands history as an open process, which does not contemplate systematic closure through some form of absolute knowing. On another front, regarding the reading of the Hegelian spirit in an intersubjective vein,the influence of Alexander Kojève’s work is still very great. Kojève, in his lessons on the Phenomenology of Spirit in the 1930s, was the first philosopher to place the concept of ‘recognition’ (Anerkennung) at the center of the interpretation of Hegel, albeit in the context of an eminently anthropological interpretation of the dialectic and, as was the case with Croce, whilst prioritizing the philosophy of history. Kojève’s interpretation left its mark not only on the subsequent tradition of Hegelian studies in France, but also on French philosophical culture of phenomenological, existential and structuralist orientation, becoming an important point of reference for intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and later Judith Butler

But it is in the German tradition that Kojève’s intuition will be liberated from its unilateral aspects dictated by anthropological and existentialMarxism, to be presented as a possible, coherent model for the interpretation of Hegel’s practical philosophy. In this regard the tradition of Frankfurt critical theory, and especially of Jürgen Habermas, was decisive. Habermas begins, on the one hand, with the historical and social approach to the dialectic already matured within the philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno—whose Negative Dialektik (1966) represents another chapter of the twentieth-century theoretical reform of Hegelianism, based on opposition between the open and negative spirit of the dialectic and the positive closure of the system. On the other hand, Habermas reads Hegel also on the basis of the historicist, dialogical and linguistic approach to Geist  formulated by Hans-Georg Gadamer in Wahrheit und Methode (1960), rediscovering and reviving the continental hermeneutic tradition. Accordingly, Habermas, in Arbeit und Interaktion (1967), presents an interpretative model of the Jena conception of spirit as an ensemble of the “middles” of labor, language and recognition. Interweaving historico-philosophical investigation and conceptual analysis, Habermas essay—from which he would draw the ultimate consequences forty years later, precisely in an engagement with the new interpretations of Hegel developed in the 1990s—made it possible to read Hegel for the first time as the philosopher whose youthful intuitions anticipated and prepared the pragmatic and intersubjective turn at the center of the contemporary constellation: an anticipation of future trends, moreover, that for Habermas was immediately negated by the successive subjectivistic closure of Hegel’s mature system. The problem with this reading, however, was that it completely expunged the role of the Phenomenology—the very text that stands at the center of the current Hegelianism—while delivering Hegel to the metaphysically-oriented subjectivist tradition.

It will be, then, from the meeting between the theoretical work of the Frankfurt School and the exegetic and history-of-philosophy current of Hegelian studies—centering, from the 1960s, around the Hegel-Archiv in Bochum—that the Hegelian theory of recognition, thanks to the work of Ludwig Siep, by the late 1970s would enter the German interpretative tradition no longer as a particular aspect but rather as the general principle for the comprehension of Hegel’s practical philosophy. Reconnecting with Habermas’s reading and, in particular, with Siep’s studies on Hegel’s Jena writings, Axel Honneth, from within critical theory, with his Kampf um Anerkennung (1992) would then make a decisive contribution to the affirmation of recognition asa new paradigm of contemporary social and political philosophy; and this, in the same year in which, on the American side, Robert Williams’ first work on the ethics of recognition is published. This paradigm—again, in 1992—would be relaunched by Habermas and Taylor also within the dawning philosophico-political debate on multiculturalism; a debate that, not by chance, was marked by the meeting of a European philosopher with a North American one whose philosophical position was shaped by an intense engagement with the con-temporary legacy of Hegel.Then, 1994, with the simultaneous publication of works by Pinkard, Wood, and Hardimon, and of McDowell and Brandom’s major works, is the year in which American Hegelian studies and the neo-pragmatism of Sellars and Rorty began to forge strong links and to present them-selves jointly as a new model for approaching Hegel. In successive years also the European philosophers would begin to engage with this new American Hegelianism, an engagement whose first important consolidation would come in 1999 with the publication of a monographic section of the European Journal of Philosophy dedicated to the theme of Hegel’s Legacy and then, in 2001, with  a direct moment of wide-ranging and articulated debate on the occasion of the first Venice conference on Contemporary Hegel. . . [read more]

Class, Race, & Police Violence


How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence by Adolph Reed Jr 

Some readers will know that I’ve contended that, despite its proponents’ assertions, antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations. Moreover, although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial (and other identitarian) lines. As I and my colleague Walter Benn Michaels have insisted repeatedly over the last decade, the burden of that ideal of social justice is that the society would be fair if 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources so long as the dominant 1% were 13% black, 17% Latino, 50% female, 4% or whatever LGBTQ, etc. That is the neoliberal gospel of economic justice, articulated more than a half-century ago by Chicago neoclassical economist Gary Becker, as nondiscriminatory markets that reward individual “human capital” without regard to race or other invidious distinctions.

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Finance, Economics and Politics


Tony Norfield

The financial system accentuates all the absurdities of capitalism, but it does this in a way that can make finance appear to be separate from the capitalist economy, rather than an inevitable outgrowth from it. Almost every observer of capitalism makes a distinction between the ‘real’ and the ‘financial’ economy. Even those who would claim to be anti-capitalist often advocate policies to save the capitalist economy from the vagaries of disruptive financial markets.

A division between a ‘real’ and a ‘financial’ economy can seem to make sense, especially given the extravagant rewards of financiers who seem to perform no function other than to boost their own incomes and wealth. A closer look at how the capitalist economy works, though, throws a very different light on what is happening. We need to recognise that the global economy is dominated by a small number of countries and their corporations – and that the financial system is a means by which they maintain their privileged status in the world. . . [read more]

Passing for Politics


by Asad Haider

Today’s politics of identity — the epoch of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and privilege-checking — was already the subject of debate in a 1964 exchange between Amiri Baraka, then still known as LeRoi Jones, and Philip Roth. It began with Roth’s negative review of Jones’s The Dutchman, along with James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, in The New York Review of Books. The Dutchman had presented a theatrical allegory of the failures of liberal integrationism, and the seductive treachery of the white world. Roth’s dismissive review displays no real understanding of the political critique at work in the play; nevertheless, the line that became the real point of contention contains a kernel of insight. This was Roth’s speculation that Baraka, then Jones, wrote The Dutchman for a white audience, “not so that they should be moved to pity or to fear, but to humiliation and self-hatred.” Jones retorted in a vicious letter that, “The main rot in the minds of ‘academic’ liberals like yourself, is that you take your own distortion of the world to be somehow more profound than the cracker’s.”

Roth’s The Human Stain, written during the reign of our first “first black president” (you have to wonder if Toni Morrison regrets saying that), illuminates the distance between 1964 and 2016. Here Roth presents a biography that moves from the personal costs of segregation to the contradictions of liberal multiculturalism. Coleman Silk, a light-skinned black professor of classics — like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provoked the trigger warning debate at Columbia — spends a lifetime passing for white. Yet in ’90s America it is not the black identity which destroys his life and reputation, but the somehow ontologically irrefutable accusation of anti-black racism.

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From Welcome to Farewell: Germany, the refugee crisis and the global surplus proletariat


by Felix Baum

In the summer of 2015, almost overnight, Angela Merkel transmuted in international public perception from a brutal whip of austerity policies, relentlessly squeezing already impoverished populations in the crisis-ridden South of the European Union, to the last defender of the humanist values Europe likes to take pride in. Having been regularly portrayed with a Hitler moustache in countries like Greece, she now reemerged as St. Angela, protector of the refugees. While Eastern European countries were busily erecting fences to stem the tide of unwanted intruders, and while the French state declared it sufficient to take in a mere 24,000 Syrians over the next two years, the head of the German government refused to give in to calls within her own party to limit the number of refugees, which was approaching one million (and eventually surpassed that figure by the end of the year). And just as the German hawkishness in dealing with the economic crisis of the Euro zone—seemingly irrational as it only deepened the recession—made observers resort to trivial psychology (was it maybe an exaggerated fear of inflation, deeply engraved in the German mentality, that drove those policies?), the willingness with which the German state, spurred on by its leader’s now famous We can manage!, opened its doors while almost everyone else did the exact opposite, left smart journalists wondering if Merkel’s biography (East German = victim of a Communist dictatorship = empathy for the persecuted) might provide a clue.

More critical observers, of course, suggested other readings. Some Marxists detected an “imperialist offensive” behind the German state’s seeming humanitarianism, welcoming Syrians to gain more influence on the war ravaging their home country while at the same time pushing for “a European solution” to the refugee crisis which, given Germany’s hegemony on the continent, could only turn out to be a solution in Germany’s very own best interest.1 Others focused more on the domestic situation, arguing that refugees are indeed most welcome in Germany, namely as fresh meat on the labor market at a time when many manufacturers are complaining about growing shortages of workers. In some cases, this line of interpretation feeds into a kind of left-wing nationalism that openly advocates “protecting” German workers from undue competition by foreigners. One prominent example is Sahra Wagenknecht, a high-ranking (and formerly Stalinist) politician of the parliamentary Left Party, who attacked Merkel’s policy as a “total failure of the state” and came out in favor of limiting the influx of refugees as the “population’s willingness to take them in has limits.” This earned her not only praise from the new right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD), but also a brown chocolate cake thrown in her face by leftist activists at a recent party conference.

Flashmob gegen Männergewalt, Köln 2016

Regardless of their political implications, both readings contain a grain of truth but ultimately seem questionable. It is true that the right to asylum, far from being an immaculate expression of humanism, has always just as much served as an instrument of power politics. (According to a recent study, of the 233,000 refugees the U.S. accepted between 1956 and 1968, a mere 1,000 did not come from “communist” countries, to name but one example.)2 And it is equally true that for capitalists, however much they claim that the ultimate goal of all their altruistic strivings is to provide jobs, full employment is simply a nightmare, as it strengthens workers’ bargaining position. Indeed, over the last nine months, representatives of German business have successfully pushed for lowering the barriers for asylum-seekers to enter the labor market. Still, both readings tend to underestimate to what extent politics, rather than following a consistent strategy, amounts to a hectic and highly contradictory muddling-through against the backdrop of growing global chaos. And what is more: if refugees are so beneficial for German capital and the imperial ambitions of its state, how is it that more recently the state-proclaimed “welcome culture” of summer 2015 has given way to very determined efforts to reinforce Fortress Europe?

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