communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

‘Visualizing Capital’ with David Harvey

 

Marx and Capital: The Concept, The Book, The History
A Series of Six Video Lectures in Political Economy by David Harvey

  1. CAPITAL AS VALUE IN MOTION
  2. VALUE AND ANTI-VALUE
  3. VALUE AND ITS MONETARY EXPRESSION
  4. THE SPACE AND TIME OF VALUE
  5. USE VALUES: THE PRODUCTION OF WANTS, NEEDS AND DESIRES
  6. BAD INFINITY AND THE MADNESS OF ECONOMIC REASON

The lectures in this series were given from September through December, 2016 at The Graduate Center, CUNY and sponsored by the Center for Place, Culture and Politics.

4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump

by Dale Beran

Trump’s younger supporters know he’s an incompetent joke; in fact, that’s why they support him.

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An Italian newspaper, reporting on Donald Trump retweeting himself depicted as Pepe the Frog in September of 2016.

1. Born from Something Awful

Around 2005 or so a strange link started showing up in my old webcomic’s referral logs. This new site I didn’t understand. It was a bulletin board, but its system of navigation was opaque. Counter intuitively, you had to hit “reply” to read a thread. Moreover, the content was bizarre nonsense.

The site, if you hadn’t guessed, was 4chan.org. It was an offshoot of a different message board which I also knew from my referral logs, “Something Awful”, at the time, an online community of a few hundred nerds who liked comics, video games, and well, nerds things. But unlike boards with similar content, Something Awful skewed toward dark jokes. I had an account at Something Awful, which I used sometimes to post in threads about my comic.

4chan had been created by a 15 year old Something Awful user named Christopher Poole (whose 4chan mod name was “m00t”). Poole had adapted a type of Japanese bulletin board software which was difficult to understand at first, but once learned, was far more fun to post in than the traditional American format used by S.A., as a result the site became popular very quickly.

These days, 4chan appears in the news almost weekly. This past week, there were riots at Berkeley in the wake of the scheduled lecture by their most prominent supporter, Milo Yiannopoulos. The week before that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer pointed to his 4chan inspired Pepe the Frog pin, about to explain the significance when an anti-fascist protester punched him in the face. The week before that, 4chan claimed (falsely) it had fabricated the so called Trump “Kompromat”. And the week before that, in the wake of the fire at Ghost Ship, 4chan decided to make war on “liberal safe spaces” and DIY venues across the country.

How did we get here? What is 4chan exactly? And how did a website about anime become the avant garde of the far right? Mixed up with fascist movements, international intrigue, and Trump iconography? How do we interpret it all?

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Social Justice Warriors

We Need Communism

 

QUESTION: Why do we need communism?

ANSWER: Because people need money

 

A Few Clarifications on Anti-Work

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There persists a certain confusion around the notion of anti-work. “On the Origins of Anti-Work” (Echanges et Mouvement, 2005) did not escape this fate as well. The confusion consists in not sufficiently specifying the notion of anti-work. On one hand, it consists of placing in the same category as anti-work certain behaviors like worker laziness, which looks to do the least amount of work, or the preference for (compensated) unemployment or living life on the margin. These resistant acts of work refusal are as old as the proletariat itself and do not define modern anti-work. On the other hand, the confusion consists of placing in the same category as anti-work resistant practices against exploitation which are indeed pro-work, like Luddism for example. However, I believe that we should rather keep the term anti-work for the struggles of our time (since ’68) that show that the proletariat is no longer a class which affirms itself in revolution as hegemonic labor and is neither a class which will make work obligatory for everyone, nor will it will replace the bourgeoisie in directing the economy.

Source: A Few Clarifications on Anti-Work by Bruno Astarian

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Marx’s Capital after MEGA2 (Michael Heinrich)

 

Invaders from Marx

On the Uses of Marxian Theory, and the Difficulties of a Contemporary Reading

By Michael Heinrich, Berlin

(The following text is the slightly reworked version of an article which appeared on 21 September 2005 in “Jungle World”, a leftist German weekly newspaper. In a previous issue, Karl Heinz Roth, one of the main German representatives of Operaismo, had argued that some important Marxian categories are not able to grasp contemporary capitalism. The text at hand answers this critique, stressing the difference between Marxian theory and traditional Marxism, emphasizing the “new reading of Marx”, which developed through the last decades. The German text can be found at the website of the author)

In the past 120 years, Marx has been read and understood in widely varying ways. In the Social Democratic and Communist worker’s movement, Marx was viewed as the great Economist, who proved the exploitation of the workers, the unavoidable collapse of capitalism, and the inevitability of proletarian revolution. This sort of “Marxist political economy” was embedded in a Marxist worldview (Weltanschauung) which provided answers for all pre-existing historical, social, and philosophical questions.

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Field Notes: February 2017

Editor’s Note

No one could call globalization a failure: To the succession of the hottest years ever must now be added the achievement of a distribution of wealth in which eight men (six of them Americans) own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity.

 

Elephant Blues

Shortly before Donald Trump’s electoral victory, a bizarre alliance of sorts emerged: from one side, military and foreign policy bureaucrats, neocon hawks and politicians, mainstream liberals and their favorite press outlets (Financial Times, New York Times, the Economist, etc.); from the other, left-wing militants, anti-racist activists, social justice warriors, and other fans of democracy.

Standing with Syrians: An Open Letter to an Anti-Imperialist

Eva is a real person whom I have known since 2007, as described in this article. But in this text Eva stands for many politically engaged individuals, whether outspoken or silent supporters of the Syrian regime and its allies. I will not re-post her photo here. In a world flooded with images, it is important to maintain our ability to imagine a moment.

 

Passing Notes with Refugees

The Iranian refugees in Calais sewed their mouths shut and went on a twenty-five-day hunger strike, after authorities destroyed the tents they were living in while they waited for asylum.

Lenin’s Theory of Perception

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 by G. A. Paul, Analysis, Vol. 5, No. 5 (Aug., 1938), pp. 65-73  (PDF)

“ARE our sensations copies of bodies and things, or are bodies complexes of our sensations?” This for Lenin is “the fundamental question of the theory of knowledge” (p.146) and he makes it the main topic of his book Materialism  and Empirio-Criticism¹ because he holds that as people differ in giving an “idealist” or a “materialist” answer to it so they will tend to differ in whether they take a reactionary or a progressive attitude to questions of practical importance. He is particularly concerned with three points:

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The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

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History of the Human Sciences: Vol 29, Issue 2, April 2016

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

A thematic introduction by the editors

Matthias Rothe, Bastian Ronge

The following introduction has two parts: the first part provides a sketch of the Frankfurt School’s history, highlighting the circumstances under which the authors discussed in this issue engaged philosophically with matters of economy. We thereby follow the prevailing periodization, starting with the school’s foundation in 1924 and ending with Theodor W. Adorno’s death in 1969 and the school’s preliminary dissolution. The second part of the introduction explores the legacy of the Frankfurt School’s philosophical critique of economy. Max Horkheimer’s writings thereby serve as a model case for such a critique and become the point of departure for the discussion of contemporary critical theories of the economic.


The controversy over Friedrich Pollock’s state capitalism

Manfred Gangl

The critique of capitalism is the bedrock on which rests the reputation of Frankfurt School critical theory. Though critical theory has often been heralded – or criticized and rejected – as a reformulation of Marxian theory for our times, its relation with the critique of political economy, and in particular the economic treatises, has barely been studied. Friedrich Pollock, who was Max Horkheimer’s lifelong friend and close associate at the Institute for Social Research, was responsible for all administrative and financial questions, but he wrote few theoretical essays and Wiggershaus calls him ‘the last unknown member of the Frankfurt School’. Nevertheless this article asks whether not only has his influence on early critical theory been sorely underestimated, but also his impact on the late philosophies of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse.


Henryk Grossman and Critical Theory

Rick Kuhn

In 1943, Henryk Grossman sent a draft of the study, eventually published in two parts as ‘The Evolutionist Revolt against Classical Economics’, to Max Horkheimer for comment. His very hostile response, Grossman’s drafts and the published study cast light not only on the changing relationship between Grossman and Horkheimer but also on the distance between Grossman’s classical Marxism and nascent mature Critical Theory. Grossman’s study identified the emergence of the idea of successive economic systems in the work of Condorcet, Henri Saint-Simon and Simonde de Sismondi in France, James Steuart and Richard Jones in England, culminating in Marx’s formulations which entailed the role of class struggle and capitalism’s tendency to break down. Hegel was not an influence on Marx’s conception of modes of production. In addition to a series of spurious and minor criticisms, Horkheimer objected that Grossman’s approach was positivist, that it misconceived Hegel’s philosophy, and that it amounted to a conventional history of ideas. In response, Grossman made some changes in his study, but these were designed to strengthen his main arguments and successfully reaffirmed his Marxist approach in the face of Horkheimer’s criticisms.


Negative dialectics and the critique of economic objectivity

Werner Bonefeld

This article explores Adorno’s negative dialectics as a critical social theory of economic objectivity. It rejects the conventional view that Adorno does not offer a critique of the economic forms of capitalist society. The article holds that negative dialectics is a dialectics of the social world in the form of the economic object, one that is governed by the movement of economic quantities, that is, real economic abstractions. Negative dialectics refuses to accept the constituted economic categories as categories of economic nature. Instead, the article argues, it amounts to a conceptualized social praxis [begriffene Praxis] of the capitalistically constituted social relations, which manifest themselves in the form of seemingly independent economic categories. Economic nature is a socially constituted nature, which entails the class antagonism in its concept. The article concludes that for negative dialectics the explanation of real economic abstractions lies in the understanding of the class-divided nature of human practice.


Subjectivity and its crisis

Commodity mediation and the economic constitution of objectivity and subjectivity

Frank Engster

Neither Critical Theory nor western Marxism ever understood crises as being solely concerned with the economy. Both saw them rather as necessarily involving consciousness and subjectivity as well. How does Critical Theory conceptualize economy and subjectivity as inseparable? This is the crucial question. Critical Theory claims, indeed, that it shows the inner connection between the economy and subjectivity. In its first generation, at any rate (Jay, 1996), Critical Theory meant to show that the economy is a constitutive part of subjectivity, while also being its blind spot; or even that the economy is its blind spot because it is essentially constructive of subjectivity. The article will specify the connection between the economy and subjectivity and then will indicate the blind spot. While Critical Theory does not fully pinpoint the blind spot in this connection, by tracing the discussion that followed its first generation we may better find out what this blind spot might be.


Historical-sociology vs. ontology

The role of economy in Otto Kirchheimer and Carl Schmitt’s essays ‘Legality and Legitimacy’

Karsten Olson

The pre-1932 writings of Otto Kirchheimer are often described by researchers as the work of a young ‘left-Schmittian’, a radical Marxist who gave the anti-liberal critique and theoretical apparatus of his Doktorvater Carl Schmitt a new purpose for different ‘political ends’. The danger of this approach is that fundamental divisions between the societal conceptualizations of both theoreticians are ignored in lieu of apparent terminological similarity. Through the lens of economy, it is therefore the intent of this article to continue in the tradition of Alfons Söllner and Frank Schale, pushing against this assumed affinity and highlighting Otto Kirchheimer’s unique defense of liberal democracy.


Materialist Epistemontology

Sohn-Rethel with Marx and Spinoza

A. Kiarina Kordela

Sohn-Rethel’s theory undermines the line of thought that, from Kant to deconstruction, severs being or the thing from representation, by showing that the Kantian a priori categories of thought (representation) are a posteriori effects of the relations of things (being), to the point that it is ‘only through the language of commodities that their owners become rational beings’. This is the thesis of Marx’s theory of ‘commodity fetishism’, and Sohn-Rethel’s work develops the methodology that follows from it. ‘Realabstraktion’ means that the commodification of things amounts to their transformation into the language that provides the a priori categories of human thought. As a result, far from being inaccessible to representation, being is precisely that which reveals itself whenever the transcendental categories of representation are laid out. Therefore, Sohn-Rethel’s theory entails that not only can one not separate economy from thought but also economy and thought from being, so that there are no three distinct fields – economy, ontology and epistemology – but one: an economic epistemontology. Just as Marx’s ‘commodity fetishism’ introduced the unconscious in both subjectivity and economy – ‘they do this without knowing it’ – Sohn-Rethel analysed all economic, intellectual and practical spheres in terms of the fundamental distinction between consciousness and the unconscious. The article also points to certain corrections that Marx’s own theory indicates need to be made in Sohn-Rethel’s account, particularly regarding the source of abstraction, the role of coined money, and the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production and exchange.

Terminal Showdown

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by Joshua Clover

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.

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Survival of the Richest

Some of the wealthiest people in America—in Silicon Valley, New York, and beyond—are getting ready for the crackup of civilization.

by Evan Osnos (newyorker)

170130_r29354-690x533-1484862117An armed guard stands at the entrance of the Survival Condo Project, a former missile silo north of Wichita, Kansas, that has been converted into luxury apartments for people worried about the crackup of civilization. Photograph by Dan Winters for The New Yorker

Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars, was nearsighted until November, 2015, when he arranged to have laser eye surgery. He underwent the procedure not for the sake of convenience or appearance but, rather, for a reason he doesn’t usually talk much about: he hopes that it will improve his odds of surviving a disaster, whether natural or man-made. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.”

Huffman, who lives in San Francisco, has large blue eyes, thick, sandy hair, and an air of restless curiosity; at the University of Virginia, he was a competitive ballroom dancer, who hacked his roommate’s Web site as a prank. He is less focussed on a specific threat—a quake on the San Andreas, a pandemic, a dirty bomb—than he is on the aftermath, “the temporary collapse of our government and structures,” as he puts it. “I own a couple of motorcycles. I have a bunch of guns and ammo. Food. I figure that, with that, I can hole up in my house for some amount of time.”

Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

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Anti-identity

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White Purity

Among other things, whiteness is a kind of solipsism. From right to left, whites consistently and successfully reroute every political discussion to their identity…[read more]

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The Safety Pin and the Swastika

If you had read in early 2016 about a National Policy Institute conference on the theme of “Identity Politics,” you might have assumed it was an innocent gathering of progressives. If you had attended, you would have been in for an unpleasant surprise. The National Policy Institute is an organization of white nationalists, overseen by neo-Nazi media darling Richard Spencer…[read more]

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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

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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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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Karl Marx

Sherlock Holmes has had many strange requests, but none are so strange as the request from a certain Mr Karl Marx to help him find his stolen revolutionary tract `Das Kapital’.

A Capital Case – Karl Marx Meets Sherlock Holmes is a radio play by David Zane Mairowitz. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 16 February 2001, as an installment of the Friday Play.

  • Robert Bathurst – Sherlock Holmes
  • David de Keyser – Karl Marx
  • Jasmine Hyde – Eleanor Marx
  • Thomas Arnold – Dr. John Watson

Directed by Peter Kavanagh


Sherlock Holmes und der Fall Marx

von David Zane Mairowitz
Regie: Dieter Carls
Produktion: WDR/SFB 2001London im 19. Jahrhundert: Sherlock Holmes sitzt in seiner Wohnung und macht sich, inspiriert durch Opiumgenuss, Gedanken über die Philosophie Schopenhauers, als ihn ein neuer Klient aus seinen Gedanken reißt: Karl Marx steht vor der Tür. Marx konsultiert Holmes, weil sein “Sprössling” entführt wurde – und der Sprössling ist kein anderer als das Manuskript “Das Kapital”.

Sherlock Holmes, Held dieser schillernden Kriminalkomödie, übernimmt den Fall eher halbherzig, da er in politischen Dingen nicht sonderlich versiert ist – als aber schließlich nicht nur das “Kapital”, sondern auch Marx selbst verschwunden ist, beginnt Holmes, mit altbewährter Scharfsinnigkeit, fieberhaft zu ermitteln.

 

Workers of the World, Fight Amongst Yourselves!

Notes on the Refugee Crisis

by Friends of the Classless Society via Endnotes

The following text, by the Freundinnen und Freunden der klassenlosen Gesellschaft, was published in the October and November issues of the German leftist magazine Konkret. Translated here by Endnotes. 

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1.

Last fall it appeared as if we were witnessing a political turning point. A mass movement of migrants showed fortress Europe the limits of its reach. This was, however, only a movement in the literal sense of the word and certainly not the awakening of a “multitude” shaking the foundations of the prevailing order. Migrants had no demands beyond the right to remain in Europe, a right which they had already temporarily asserted. In Germany, as the state failed to mobilize adequate resources, the logistics involved with the arrival of refugees were mostly left to volunteers. Meanwhile, the radical left took to celebrating the collapse of the European border regime as an act of “self-empowerment” or as “autonomy of migration”.

Others spied a sinister capitalist master plan behind Angela Merkel’s temporary open border policy. According to this interpretation, the policy sought to use cheap, docile immigrants to restructure the European labour market. Some on the left viewed this as a threat and have therefore joined calls for the erection of walls around Europe. They were further emboldened by the mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, in which hundreds of women were groped, robbed, and, in a few cases, raped by a large group of men of “Arab or North African appearance”. In light of the EU’s deal with Turkey and the internment camps currently being planned for Libya, both of these interpretations look dubious. After being taken by surprise, the powers that be have regained control of the situation and their need for cheap labour seems rather limited. On the contrary, the events of the past year reflect an overwhelming surplus of labour power, both in the countries of origin and in Europe. This surplus intensifies competition within the working class, breeding nativism, division and fear of poverty. If we are to understand this situation, we need to do more than decry racism.

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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)

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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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