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Tag: alienation

From the commodity to the spectacle: Debord’s Marx (Russell, 2019)

Guy Debord with knife

by Eric-John Russell, Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image eds. Osborne, Alliez, Russel (2019)

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Published a century after Marx’s Capital, Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle was described upon its release as ‘the Capital of the new generation’ (Le Nouvel Observateur). However, the book’s content has almost never been seriously examined alongside the dialectical logic of the social forms of value systematically ordered within Marx’s Capital. Despite Debord’s description of the modern spectacle as a development of the commodity-capitalist economy, discussions on Debord’s debt to Marx customarily emphasize those early writings in which Marx enunciates the critique of alienation without having yet traversed the works of classical political economy. And for good reason, as his archival notes can verify. A preliminary glance at The Society of the Spectacle elicits the impression that the ‘ruthless criticism of all that exists’ first enunciated by Marx in his early twenties continued to reverberate a century later. The book resounds with both implicit and explicit reference to the phenomenon of social alienation or estrangement described by Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts. READ PDF

Basic Banalities (Vaneigem, 1962)

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Basic Banalities

Raoul Vaneigem

Internationale Situationniste #7 (April 1962)

Translated by Ken Knabb

1

BUREAUCRATIC CAPITALISM has found its legitimation in Marx. I am not referring here to orthodox Marxism’s dubious merit of having reinforced the neocapitalist structures whose present reorganization is an implicit homage to Soviet totalitarianism; I am stressing the extent to which crude versions of Marx’s most profound analyses of alienation have become generally recognized in the most commonplace realities — realities which, stripped of their magical veil and materialized in each gesture, have become the sole substance of the daily lives of an increasing number of people. In a word, bureaucratic capitalism contains the tangible reality of alienation; it has brought it home to everybody far more successfully than Marx could ever have hoped to do, it has banalized it as the reduction of material poverty has been accompanied by a spreading mediocrity of existence. As poverty has been reduced in terms of survival, it has become more profound in terms of our way of life — this is at least one widespread feeling that exonerates Marx from all the interpretations a degenerate Bolshevism has made of him. The “theory” of peaceful coexistence has accelerated this awareness and revealed, to those who were still confused, that exploiters can get along quite well with each other despite their spectacular divergences.

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Commentary on the Manuscripts of 1844 (Bordiga, 1959)

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Amadeo Bordiga

“Commentarii dei manoscritti del 1844”: Il Programma comunista, Nr. 15-18, 1959.


Cornerstones of the communist programme

At the closing sessions of the meetings in Turin and Parma (including the corollarii[1] in the report of the first meeting) we dealt with the basics of our party doctrine, which ties in with the negation of individualism and personality; something with which not only the propaganda of the Western capitalist countries, but also that of Moscow’s friends and followers, is rife with disgrace. The fact that we want to go back over this aspect of our doctrine is linked to the demonstration that all the innovations and reforms announced at the last Russian party congresses continue to drift diametrically in the opposite direction to Marxist communism, whether in the case of theoretical statements regarding the structural changes made in the organization of the Russian economy or those that are outraged by the “revisionism” of Yugoslavia and others. We have again and again opposed all this to the actual programme of scientific communism and the doctrine of historical materialism, thus defending the indispensable theses that are so often denigrated – even by those who do not take sides for the Russian policy. These theses culminate in the party’s role as the bearer of the revolutionary dictatorship and its actual function, which is not based on the opinions of the individual and the stupid vote counting at elections, but is founded on the classical international invariant doctrine spanning centuries.

All this wealth of our original and powerful doctrine and method was once again denied at the last Russian party congress and trampled underfoot when the successive surrenders to capitalism went so far as to acknowledge the incentive of personal interest in the functioning of today’s economy! This bravura piece among the anti-Marxist theses has been expressed most shallowly, how could it be different, in the KPI’s report on the 21st Congress (Unità of 17 March 1959): “In agriculture, the principle is being restored” (the same eloquent verb can be found in Khrushchev’s report), “that individual interest should continue to be the main driving force in the development of collective farm organization.” In the “guiding principles” of the congress, this demand is embellished somewhat more subtly with the assertion, that in the works of Lenin and the founders of scientific communism there is a statement of the incentive of material interest. Not a particularly clever trick: One is the material interest that the exploited, who have to overthrow the privatist society, have in common, the other is the personal interest, whose motivation is the incentive to fuck over the class brothers.

Now, here however, there is talk of the characteristics of a socialist and (after the recent distortions) even communist society. And just for this reason the thesis of personal incentive reverses revolutionary Marxism, which is why we must return to its original content. We readily admit that the restoration of that principle – of personal interest – is on the agenda in Russia; it is one of the innumerable steps being taken by the worst of all counterrevolutions.

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On the Poverty of Student Life (1966)

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Considered in Its Economic, Political,
Psychological, Sexual, and Especially Intellectual Aspects,
With a Modest Proposal for Doing Away With It

by

members of the Situationist International

and students of Strasbourg University (print version)

1. To make shame more shameful still by making it public

It is pretty safe to say that the student is the most universally despised creature in France, apart from the policeman and the priest. But the reasons for which heT1 is despised are often false reasons reflecting the dominant ideology, whereas the reasons for which he is justifiably despised from a revolutionary standpoint remain repressed and unavowed. The partisans of false opposition are aware of these faults — faults which they themselves share — but they invert their actual contempt into a patronizing admiration. The impotent leftist intellectuals (from Les Temps Modernes to L’Express) go into raptures over the supposed “rise of the students,” and the declining bureaucratic organizations (from the “Communist” Party to the UNEF [National Student Union]) jealously contend for his “moral and material support.” We will show the reasons for this concern with the student and how they are rooted in the dominant reality of overdeveloped capitalism. We are going to use this pamphlet to denounce them one by one: the suppression of alienation necessarily follows the same path as alienation.

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Marxism, Psychoanalysis and Reality (Fromm, 1966)

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by Erich Fromm

During the last 35 years, I have written many works, in which — under different aspects — I tried to explain that there are not only points where Marxism and psychoanalysis overlap but that there is also an intrinsic interdependency between the two. This means, I do not only believe that a synthesis is possible but also an existential necessity.

Freud and Marx have in common that both — the first contrary to pre-Marxist sociology, the second contrary to earlier psychology — are concerned not as much with superficial phenomena as rather with driving forces, which act in certain directions and with varying intensity, and evoke phenomena that are changing and temporary.

Psychoanalysis is the only scientific form of psychology, as Marxism is the only scientific form of sociology. Only these two systems allow us to understand the hidden driving forces behind the phenomena and to predict what happens to an individual in a certain society when, under certain conditions, the acting forces evoke phenomena that seem to be exactly the opposite of what they actually are. In the field of individual psychology as well as in sociology, non-dynamic thinking is surprised when deeply effecting, existential transformations occur, while dynamic thinking, which recognizes forces that remain invisible from the surface, is able to predict probable transformations.

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The Shut-In Economy

by Lauren Smiley

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Angel the concierge stands behind a lobby desk at a luxe apartment building in downtown San Francisco, and describes the residents of this imperial, 37-story tower. “Ubers, Squares, a few Twitters,” she says. “A lot of work-from-homers.”

And by late afternoon on a Tuesday, they’re striding into the lobby at a just-get-me-home-goddammit clip, some with laptop bags slung over their shoulders, others carrying swank leather satchels. At the same time a second, temporary population streams into the building: the app-based meal delivery people hoisting thermal carrier bags and sacks. Green means Sprig. A huge M means Munchery. Down in the basement, Amazon Prime delivery people check in packages with the porter. The Instacart groceries are plunked straight into a walk-in fridge.

This is a familiar scene. Five months ago I moved into a spartan apartment a few blocks away, where dozens of startups and thousands of tech workers live. Outside my building there’s always a phalanx of befuddled delivery guys who seem relieved when you walk out, so they can get in. Inside, the place is stuffed with the goodies they bring: Amazon Prime boxes sitting outside doors, evidence of the tangible, quotidian needs that are being serviced by the web. The humans who live there, though, I mostly never see. And even when I do, there seems to be a tacit agreement among residents to not talk to one another. I floated a few “hi’s” in the elevator when I first moved in, but in return I got the monosyllabic, no-eye-contact mumble. It was clear: Lady, this is not that kind of building.

Back in the elevator in the 37-story tower, the messengers do talk, one tells me. They end up asking each other which apps they work for: Postmates. Seamless. EAT24. GrubHub. Safeway.com. A woman hauling two Whole Foods sacks reads the concierge an apartment number off her smartphone, along with the resident’s directions: “Please deliver to my door.”

“They have a nice kitchen up there,” Angel says. The apartments rent for as much as $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom. “But so much, so much food comes in. Between 4 and 8 o’clock, they’re on fire.”

I start to walk toward home. En route, I pass an EAT24 ad on a bus stop shelter, and a little further down the street, a Dungeons & Dragons–type dude opens the locked lobby door of yet another glass-box residential building for a Sprig deliveryman:

“You’re…”

“Jonathan?”

“Sweet,” Dungeons & Dragons says, grabbing the bag of food. The door clanks behind him.

And that’s when I realized: the on-demand world isn’t about sharing at all. It’s about being served. This is an economy of shut-ins.

Nothing Makes Me Human

Nice video but wrong. Labor doesn’t make us human. Nothing does.

From Critique and Historical Transformation, by Moishe Postone (2004):

At the heart of Marx’s analysis of the commodity is his argument that labour in capitalism has a ‘double character’: it is both ‘concrete labour’ and ‘abstract labour’. ‘Concrete labour’ refers to the fact that some form of what we consider labouring activity mediates the interactions of humans with nature in all societies. ‘Abstract labour’ does not simply refer to concrete labour in the abstract, to ‘labour’ in general, but is a very different sort of category. It signifies that labour in capitalism also has a unique social dimension that is not intrinsic to labouring activity as such: it mediates a new, quasi-objective form of social interdependence. ‘Abstract labour’, as a historically specific mediating function of labour, is the content or, better, ‘substance’ of value.

Labour in capitalism, then, according to Marx, is not only labour, as we understand it transhistorically and commonsensically, but is also a historically specific socially-mediating activity. Hence its objectifications – commodity, capital – are both concrete labour products and objectified forms of social mediation. According to this analysis, the social relations that most basically characterise capitalist society are very different from the qualitatively specific, overt social relations – such as kinship relations or relations of personal or direct domination – which characterise non-capitalist societies. Although the latter kind of social relations continue to exist in capitalism, what ultimately structures that society is a new, underlying level of social relations that is constituted by labour. Those relations have a peculiar quasi-objective, formal character and are dualistic – they are characterised by the opposition of an abstract, general, homogeneous dimension and a concrete, particular, material dimension, both of which appear to be ‘natural’, rather than social, and condition social conceptions of natural reality.

The abstract character of the social mediation underlying capitalism is also expressed in the form of wealth dominant in that society. Marx’s ‘labour theory of value’ is not a labour theory of wealth, that is, a theory that seeks to explain the workings of the market and prove the existence of exploitation by arguing that labour, at all times and in all places, is the only social source of wealth. Marx analysed value as a historically specific form of wealth, which is bound to the historically unique role of labour in capitalism; as a form of wealth, it is also a form of social mediation.

Marx explicitly distinguished value from material wealth. This distinction is crucially important for his analysis. Material wealth is measured by the quantity of products produced and is a function of a number of factors such as knowledge, social organisation, and natural conditions, in addition to labour. Value is constituted by human labour-time expenditure alone, according to Marx, and is the dominant form of wealth in capitalism. Whereas material wealth, when it is the dominant form of wealth, is mediated by overt social relations, value is a self-mediating form of wealth. As I shall elaborate, Marx’s analysis is of a system based on value that both generates and constrains the historical possibility of its own overcoming by one based on material wealth.

Within the framework of this interpretation, then, what fundamentally characterises capitalism is a historically specific abstract form of social mediation – a form of social relations that is unique inasmuch as it is mediated by labour. This historically specific form of mediation is constituted by determinate forms of social practice and, yet, becomes quasi-independent of the people engaged in those practices. The result is a historically new form of social domination – one that subjects people to impersonal, increasingly rationalised, structural imperatives and constraints that cannot adequately be grasped in terms of class domination, or, more generally, in terms of the concrete domination of social groupings or of institutional agencies of the state and/or the economy. It has no determinate locus and, although constituted by determinate forms of social practice, appears not to be social at all.

Whereas in traditional Marxism, labour is treated transhistorically, as constituting the quasi-ontological standpoint of the critique of capitalism, within this framework, labour constitutes the object of the critique. In the former, the categorical forms of capital veil the ‘real’ social relations of capitalism, in the latter they are those social relations. In other words, the quasi-objective structures of mediation grasped by the categories of Marx’s critique of political economy do not veil the ‘real’ social relations of capitalism, that is, class relations, just as they do not hide the ‘real’ historical Subject, that is, the proletariat. Rather, those historically dynamic mediating structures are the fundamental relations of capitalist society and constitute the Subject.

The reinterpretation of Marx’s theory I have outlined constitutes a basic break with, and critique of, more traditional interpretations. As we have seen, such interpretations understand capitalism in terms of class relations structured by the market and private property, grasp its form of domination primarily in terms of class domination and exploitation, and formulate a normative and historical critique of capitalism from the standpoint of labour and production (understood transhistorically in terms of the interactions of humans with material nature). I have argued that Marx’s analysis of labour in capitalism as historically specific seeks to elucidate a peculiar quasi-objective form of social mediation and wealth (value) that constitutes a form of domination which structures the process of production in capitalism and generates a historically unique dynamic. Hence, labour and the process of production are not separable from, and opposed to, the social relations of capitalism, but constitute their very core. Marx’s theory, then, extends far beyond the traditional critique of the bourgeois relations of distribution (the market and private property); it grasps modern industrial society itself as capitalist. It treats the working class as the basic element of capitalism rather than as the embodiment of its negation, and does not conceptualise socialism in terms of the realisation of labour and of industrial production, but in terms of the possible abolition of the proletariat and of the organisation of production based on proletarian labour, as well as of the dynamic system of abstract compulsions constituted by labour as a socially mediating activity.

Your Job Is Pointless

Every Day The Same Dream 017

by Kit Caless

Like a lot of people, I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a deckhand on P&O Ferries, a dustman, a barman, an administration robot, a security guard, tea-boy at L’Oreal, a copywriter, an editor, a social media wonk. I’ve had zero hour contracts, I’ve been freelance, and I’ve had a salary. None of these things have satisfied me. In a country where the average worker spends 36 days a year writing emails (Londoners receive around 9,000 emails each year), you begin to wonder what the hell work really is.

And as we trudge back to work, it seems like a worthwhile time to ask: What is the point?

Peter Fleming, professor of Business and Society at City University, has tried to answer this question in his book The Mythology of Work. When I met him in an overpriced café in east London, he told me, “The refusal of work movement isn’t about laziness.” In fact, he said, “it’s nothing to do with doing nothing. In fact, if you want to see people doing nothing, go into a large corporation. Some of us are very lucky that our work really is a labor of love, but that’s not the case most of the time.”

General antipathy for work makes it all the more weird that, if you live in a metropolis like London, the one question everyone will ask when they meet you for the first time is, “What do you do?” Fleming says this is natural. “The ideology of work has demolished all of the other traditional status structures related to religion, artistic endeavor, raising family, and other status symbols within communities. After demolishing these structures we have been presented with a situation that tells us the only thing that matters is the work you do—and therefore you should revolve and center your whole life around that. It’s followed the increased individualization of society, which has broken traditional communities apart.”

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Separation

dolphins class struggle

In the cauldron of the negative – Jean-Marc Mandosio 

The fear of seeing the situationist theses degraded into an ideology (as had taken place with Marxism, for example, or with surrealism) is the origin of this mistrust towards the very idea that there could be a situationist “doctrine”. However, to the extent that the situationists attempted to formulate a coherent and “unitary” critique of society, it is not illegitimate to try to isolate this coherence and this unity. Moreover, everyone knows that even a hallucination has a logical structure; so there might not be a “situationism” but there is of course a situationist system of thought, which was enriched and became more precise with the passage of time. In order to demonstrate the coherence (or the incoherence) of a system of thought, the best and indeed the only way to do so is to address it more geometrico, according to the “method of geometry”, as exemplified by Euclid, Descartes or Spinoza. . . This treatment will be applied here to a particular question, but one that bears a decisive importance according to the situationists themselves: the theory of revolution. Such an examination might seem “anti-situationist”, insofar as it reveals what we could call a logic of the impossible. 

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