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Tag: Capital

Editor’s Introduction to Pashukanis

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A Contrary Little Quail

Editor’s Introduction to Evgeny B. Pashukanus’ The General Theory of Law and Marxism (1924)

by Christopher J. Arthur (1978)

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Evgeny Bronislavovich Pashukanis published his important contribution towards the materialist critique of legal forms in 1924. It remains to this day the most significant Marxist work on the subject. Indeed, such has been the paucity of original work this area that in Britain the standard reference work is even older: Karl Renner’s book on The Social Functions of Law – a product of the Marxism of the Second International. Needless to say, Pashukanis subjects Renner’s theories to severe criticism.

The present revival of interest in the theories of Pashukanis forms part of the current renaissance of Marxist debate. More particularly, it is part of a process of recovery of the heritage of Bolshevik thought repressed by the Stalinist bureaucracy and its international supporters; for example – in the field of…

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We Need a New State Debate (Part Two) — Chris O’Kane

The second part of Chris O’Kane’s critical reevaluation of Marxist state theories and debates.

via We Need a New State Debate (Part Two) — Chris O’Kane — Legal Form

The State Derivation Debate [1]

The so-called second generation of Frankfurt critical theorists, Jürgen Habermas and Claus Offe, had formulated social-democratic theories of the state. They had argued that capitalism’s crisis tendencies had been overcome and that the working class had been integrated into contemporary society. All struggles were thus political struggles over the state’s management of economic relations, and social democracy represented the road to human fulfilment.

Johannes Agnoli had critiqued Habermas and Offe’s theories. For Agnoli the state was the political form of capitalist reproduction, not something to be understood as separate from economic relations. Keynesianism, moreover, had not overcome class struggle, but rather “statified” it by incorporating the working class into a vast bureaucracy. All struggles should thus be outside of and against the state in order to abolish it outright, and with it the whole of capitalist society.

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Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image

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Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image – Aspects of Marx’s Capital Today

Edited by Peter Osborne, Éric Alliez and Eric-John Russell

Contributors: Éric Alliez, Étienne Balibar, Tithi Bhattacharya, Boris Buden, Sara. R. Farris, John Kraniauskas, Elena Louisa Lange, Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri, Peter Osborne, Eric-John Russell, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Keston Sutherland

Drawn from a conference held to mark the 150th anniversary of the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, these essays from a range of internationally established contributors offer readers a snapshot of debates about the book’s current relevance across a variety of fields and contexts. The volume approaches Marx’s Capital as an exemplary text in the continuation of the tradition of post-Kantian European Philosophy through transdisciplinary practices of critique and concept construction. The essays are grouped into four sections: Value-Form, Ontology & Politics; Capitalism, Feminism and Social Reproduction; Freedom, Democracy and War; The Poetics of Capital/Capital. Each section is accompanied by an image from the 2008 film by Alexander Kluge, News From Ideological Antiquity: Marx – Eisenstein – Capital.

This book is available as a free ebook at the link below. The book will also be available as a paperback from Amazon in February 2019.

DOWNLOAD BOOK HERE

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Bordiga and the Passion for Communism (Camatte,1972)

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Jacques Camatte’s 1972 essay on Amadeo Bordiga, discussing the Italian Marxist’s notorious “invariance”, his “hermeneutics” of “the precise connection between the proletariat and theory”, his “prophetic vision” of the communist future, his identification of the party with the class, his disdain for the cult of personality, his “anti-gradualism”, the impact of the publication of the Grundrisse and the Economic Manuscripts of 1844 on his thought, his precocious environmentalism, his anti-individualism, and his failure to recognize the significance of May ’68, pointing out that despite all his contradictions and limitations “his works are full of starting points for new research”.


Bordiga and the Passion for Communism

by Jacques Camatte

“Passion is the essential force of man energetically bent on its object.”
Karl Marx

Men are the products of their time: some are capable of representing it, because the invariance of their thought overcomes the ideology of the ruling class or expresses the impetuous assault of the oppressed class; others dominate it, because they are capable of perceiving the moments of discontinuity which mark the beginnings of the new stages of the process of becoming of a given mode of production (especially the new modes of production). In the former case we have the thought of continuity, in the second, that of discontinuity. In other words, we have traditional thought (in the non-pejorative sense) and revolutionary thought. Rare are those who are capable of thinking in accordance with both modalities, since this is not a case of a duality constituted by a spatial juxtaposition, but rather that of a contradictory duality. It is very often the case that the past and tradition weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living and prevent the emergence, the eruption, of the present and the future—which nonetheless operate in reality—in thought. This is true both during periods of social peace as well as in times of revolutionary unrest, the former favoring traditionalist expressions, while the latter are more likely to favor revolutionary expressions.

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Ordoliberalism and the Death of Liberal Democracy: An Interview with Werner Bonefeld

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(Salvage 2017)

George Souvlis: Can you tell us a bit about your intellectual and political formation?

Werner Bonefeld: One of my most important formative experiences was factory work. Studying was easy in comparison. I studied at the Universities of Marburg, Berlin, and Edinburgh. At Marburg the Marxism on offer was very dogmatic. It did not encourage people to think for themselves. I left after two years to continue my studies at the Free University of Berlin. In Berlin a few things came together, as it were. My favorite Professor was Agnoli, who was one of the most distinguished Marxists of his generation. He allowed his students to think. He welcomed it. He was a great orator. Part of the degree programme was to do work-placement. I first worked as a removal man and then as a research assistant at the West-German teachers’ union, for which I got paid. Never before had I earned money by reading and writing (my research was into alternative schooling as opposed to public provision). I quickly understood the meaning of Marx’s insight that to be a productive labourer in not a piece of luck but a great misfortune. One might add, nor is it an ontological privilege, as a whole tradition of historical materialism saw it. I studied in Berlin at a time of great restlessness, from the peace movement to the squatter movement in the early 1980s.

I met Kosmas Psychopedis in Edinburgh during the 1980s. He visited John Holloway. Richard Gunn and John Holloway were my PhD supervisors. Kosmas was a character, and a good friend.

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Marx and World History

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Michael R. Krätke (2018)

In 18811882, Marx undertook extensive historical studies, covering a large part of what was then known as world history. The four large notebooks with excerpts from the works of (mainly) two leading historian of his time, Schlosser and Botta, have remained largely unpublished. In this article, Marxs last studies of the course of world history are contextualized: Marxs previous historical studies and his ongoing, but unfinished work on the critique of political economy. The range and scope of his notes is astoundingly broad, going far beyond European history and actually covering many other parts of the world. Marxs focus in these studies supports the interpretation offered in the article: that the author of Capitalwas fascinated by the long process of the making of the modern states and the European states system, one of the crucial prerequisites of the rise of modern capitalism in Europe.

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For Moishe Postone

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Barbara Brick, Moishe Postone, Harold Marcuse, 1979, after Herbert Marcuse’s death

by Jacob Blumenfeld

I first encountered Moishe Postone‘s work on antisemitism in the early 2000s but it wasn’t until 2008-9, when the United States was in the grips of a financial crisis, that his thinking on Marx, capitalism, and value really began to hit home. I remember making zines out of his essay, “Critique and Historical Transformation“, and distributing them in New York City to students, activists, and friends, in the hopes of starting a more critical conversation on the crisis. The point was to go beyond superficial analyses of “crony capitalism” and to see the totality of capital as a self-mediating, crisis-prone dynamic of value which cannot simply be opposed to labor. Furthermore, Postone’s critical theory challenged those of us who became politicized in the ‘anti-globalization’ movement and the anti-war movements of the late 90s and early 00s.

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The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015

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This paper answers fundamental questions that have preoccupied modern economic thought since the 18th century. What is the aggregate real rate of return in the economy? Is it higher than the growth rate of the economy and, if so, by how much? Is there a tendency for returns to fall in the long-run? Which particular assets have the highest long-run returns? We answer these questions on the basis of a new and comprehensive dataset for all major asset classes, including—for the first time—total returns to the largest, but oft ignored, component of household wealth, housing. The annual data on total returns for equity, housing, bonds, and bills cover 16 advanced economies from 1870 to 2015, and our new evidence reveals many new insights and puzzles.

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by Òscar JordàKatharina KnollDmitry KuvshinovMoritz SchularickAlan M. Taylor

NBER Working Paper No. 24112 / Issued in December 2017

Marx Collegium 2017 (Videos)

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Marx Collegium 2017 – After the eruption of the international financial crisis in 2008, Marx’s Capital received renewed academic and popular attention. Leading newspapers throughout the world discussed again the contemporary relevance of its pages. Faced with a deep new crisis of capitalism, many are now looking to an author who in the past was often wrongly associated with the “actually existing socialism”, and who was hastily dismissed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

For many scholars, today Marx’s analyses are arguably resonating even more strongly than they did in Marx’s own time. This international conference brings together several world-renowned sociologists, political theorists, economists, and philosophers, from diverse fields and 13 countries. Its aim is to explore diverse scholarly perspectives and critical insights into the principal contradictions of contemporary capitalism and, in so doing, to draw attention to alternative economic and social models.

The presenters will critically reconsider Marx’s Capital as a work that continues to provide an effective framework to understand the nature of capitalism and the transformations of our times.

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Capitalism: Concept & Idea (audio)

The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) presents:

Capitalism: Concept & Idea

150 Years of Marx’s Capital: The Philosophy and Politics of Capital today

As a counterpoint to the retreat of the concept of communism from history to ‘idea’, this conference will mark the 150th anniversary of the first volume of Karl Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy by asking the question of the meanings of ‘capital’ and ‘capitalism’ today as at once (explanatory structural-historical) concepts and (political) ideas.

In particular: What is the current standing of the different philosophical interpretations of Marx’s Capital? What light do they thrown on capitalism today? How have historical developments since Marx’s day changed the concept of capitalism? Has ‘neo-liberal’ capitalism rendered the concept of crisis redundant, for example? Is capitalism governable? Or is capital itself now the main form of governmentality? What is the precise character of Capital as a text – in terms of theory and in terms of literature? What does it mean to be ‘against capitalism’ today?

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Capital 150: Marx’s ‘Capital’ Today Conference

Marx-Capitalism

The Department of European and International Studies (School of Politics & Economics, King’s College London), along with the www.thenextrecession.wordpress.com blog, organised a major international conference – titled Capital.150: Marx’s ‘Capital’ Today – to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s text Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. The conference took place on 19-20 September, 2017.

It attracted from around the world some of the leading scholars and research networks in the field. There were lively debates among speakers and audience on the roots of the global economic and financial crisis, contemporary imperialism, and the prospects of global capitalism. David Harvey and Michael Roberts debated how to map the terrain of anti-capitalist struggles in the plenary of the evening of September 19. The same topic re-emerged throughout the conference as participants investigated the nature of the present political conjuncture and the prospects for the labour movement.

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Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
18 September 2017

Description from LSE:
Leading Marxist scholar David Harvey discusses the profound insights and enormous power Marx’s analysis continues to offer 150 years after the first volume of Capital was published. His latest book is Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason.

David Harvey (@profdavidharvey) is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate School and an Honorary Graduate of LSE. His course on Marx’s Capital, developed with students over thirty years, has been downloaded by people from all over the world.

Hyun Bang Shin (@urbancommune) is Associate Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at LSE.

The LSE Department of Geography & Environment (@LSEGeography) is a center of international academic excellence in economic, urban and development geography, environmental social science and climate change.

Marx 200

“EVEN THE RULING CLASS IS ALIENATED”

Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Tell Aviv Office has interviewed three Marxists for our marx200.org website and asked them what significance and influence Marx’s critique of political economy still has in the present day.

Our interviewees were: Rawda Murkos, who is writing her Phd thesis about work of Palestinian women in the British Mandate of Palestine and is employed as an English teacher at the al-Salam School in Kufur Yassif; Tal Giladi, who is attaining his doctorate in philosophy at the Hebrew University and conducts Marx reading courses at the “Left Center” in Tel Aviv; as well as Moshe Zuckermann, sociologist and a professor of history and philosophy at the Tel Aviv University.


GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE CONCEPT

What does “Critique” mean in the “Critique of Political Economy”?

“Where science comes in is to show how the law of value asserts itself.  So, if one wanted to ‘explain’ from the outset all phenomena that apparently contradict the law, one would have to provide the science before the science […] Why then have science at all?”
(Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 43, p. 67f., Letter from Marx to Kugelmann, London, July 11, 1868)

The words “critique” and “criticism” are often used.  When we “criticize” something, we often mean that something is not as it should be.  For example, we criticize the fact that there are drastic differences between the amounts in people’s wallets, and that the profits of business are not adequately redistributed.

Marx also engages in criticism in Capital – but in a different way
Marx’s critique is directed against the capitalist mode of production itself, but without making any positive ‘suggestions for improvement’ or proclaiming them as demands.

His critique is also directed against the political economy of the time, that is to say, the scholarly discipline familiar to us today as “economics”.  Its most important representatives at the time were Adam Smith and David Ricardo.  Among other things, Marx accuses them (and others) of not, or not sufficiently, getting to the bottom of preexisting forms and concepts like value, money, capital, and profit.

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Mediations Vol. 30, No 2: Post-Humanisms Reconsidered

POST-HUMANISMS RECONSIDERED

Volume 30, No 2 Summer 2017 / Contributors

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Listen to Capital, Volume 1, by Karl Marx

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.

The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs, and whose crowning point is the universal crisis. That crisis is once again approaching, although as yet but in its preliminary stage; and by the universality of its theatre and the intensity of its action it will drum dialectics even into the heads of the mushroom-upstarts of the new, holy Prusso-German empire.

Karl Marx
London
January 24, 1873

 

Nowhere to Go: Automation, Then and Now

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by Jason Smith

Part One

It is in this serious light that we have to look at the question of the growing army of the unemployed. We have to stop looking for solutions in pump-priming, featherbedding, public works, war contracts, and all the other gimmicks that are always being proposed by labor leaders and well-meaning liberals.

– James Boggs, The American Revolution

In 1963, James Boggs, a black autoworker employed for over two decades at a Chrysler plant in Detroit, published a short book focused on the nefarious effects of automation on class struggle in the United States. The story told in The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook begins with the early 1930s, the decomposition of the old craft unions, and a global economy in the throes of an unprecedented near-collapse; it arrives at a high point with the late 1930s, with a now-forgotten wave of sit-down strikes that tore through the tire and auto industries between 1933 and 1937, most famously at the Flint General Motors plant in early 1937.1 This was, in Boggs’s estimation, the “greatest period of industrial strife and workers’ struggle for control of production that the United States has ever known.” But this period also gave rise, under the reformist efforts of the New Deal and in a climate of mass unemployment, to the Wagner Act and the institutionalization of class struggle. The UAW, which just a few years earlier organized the sit-down strikes in the auto industry, had by 1939 banned the tactic in the plants. In the cast shadow of imminent war, the union’s no-strike pledge, along with the inevitable encrustation of a bureaucratic stratum more at home in the offices of management than on the workbenches, left workers to wildcat their way through the war. The Second World War witnessed thousands of work stoppages: an astonishing 8,708 strikes implicating over four million workers took place, according to Boggs, over one two-year period while war production was in full swing. Union pledges of discipline notwithstanding, order did not therefore always prevail. Workers, many of them from the rural South, and new to the world of the factory, consistently bucked against the dictates imposed by management and enforced by their own representatives. The wildcat strikes were not, however, always defections from the dictates of union bureaucrats and the boss. In 1943, a UAW-organized Packard plant was the site of a “hate strike” organized by white workers to push back against the influx of black workers into the factories, and the integration of assembly lines. Soon after, a tumultuous “race riot” broke out in the city, as white workers attacked black workers who now competed with them for housing. Dozens were killed, hundreds wounded; mostly black, and primarily at the hands of police and the National Guard. The city would be occupied by federal troops for a full half year after. Such was, for better and for worse, the American workers movement at its most militant.2

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The Surplus Population

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 Capital Vol 1, Karl Marx (1867)

Chapter Twenty-Five: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation

Section 3 – Progressive Production of a Relative surplus population or Industrial Reserve Army

The accumulation of capital, though originally appearing as its quantitative extension only, is effected, as we have seen, under a progressive qualitative change in its composition, under a constant increase of its constant, at the expense of its variable constituent. [13]

The specifically capitalist mode of production, the development of the productive power of labour corresponding to it, and the change thence resulting in the organic composition of capital, do not merely keep pace with the advance of accumulation, or with the growth of social wealth. They develop at a much quicker rate, because mere accumulation, the absolute increase of the total social capital, is accompanied by the centralisation of the individual capitals of which that total is made up; and because the change in the technological composition of the additional capital goes hand in hand with a similar change in the technological composition of the original capital. With the advance of accumulation, therefore, the proportion of constant to variable capital changes. If it was originally say 1:1, it now becomes successively 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 7:1, &c., so that, as the capital increases, instead of ½ of its total value, only 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 1/8, &c., is transformed into labour-power, and, on the other hand, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, 5/6, 7/8 into means of production. Since the demand for labour is determined not by the amount of capital as a whole, but by its variable constituent alone, that demand falls progressively with the increase of the total capital, instead of, as previously assumed, rising in proportion to it. It falls relatively to the magnitude of the total capital, and at an accelerated rate, as this magnitude increases. With the growth of the total capital, its variable constituent or the labour incorporated in it, also does increase, but in a constantly diminishing proportion. The intermediate pauses are shortened, in which accumulation works as simple extension of production, on a given technical basis. It is not merely that an accelerated accumulation of total capital, accelerated in a constantly growing progression, is needed to absorb an additional number of labourers, or even, on account of the constant metamorphosis of old capital, to keep employed those already functioning. In its turn, this increasing accumulation and centralisation becomes a source of new changes in the composition of capital, of a more accelerated diminution of its variable, as compared with its constant constituent. This accelerated relative diminution of the variable constituent, that goes along with the accelerated increase of the total capital, and moves more rapidly than this increase, takes the inverse form, at the other pole, of an apparently absolute increase of the labouring population, an increase always moving more rapidly than that of the variable capital or the means of employment. But in fact, it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population.

Considering the social capital in its totality, the movement of its accumulation now causes periodical changes, affecting it more or less as a whole, now distributes its various phases simultaneously over the different spheres of production. In some spheres a change in the composition of capital occurs without increase of its absolute magnitude, as a consequence of simple centralisation; in others the absolute growth of capital is connected with absolute diminution of its variable constituent, or of the labour power absorbed by it; in others again, capital continues growing for a time on its given technical basis, and attracts additional labour power in proportion to its increase, while at other times it undergoes organic change, and lessens its variable constituent; in all spheres, the increase of the variable part of capital, and therefore of the number of labourers employed by it, is always connected with violent fluctuations and transitory production of surplus population, whether this takes the more striking form of the repulsion of labourers already employed, or the less evident but not less real form of the more difficult absorption of the additional labouring population through the usual channels. [14]With the magnitude of social capital already functioning, and the degree of its increase, with the extension of the scale of production, and the mass of the labourers set in motion, with the development of the productiveness of their labour, with the greater breadth and fulness of all sources of wealth, there is also an extension of the scale on which greater attraction of labourers by capital is accompanied by their greater repulsion; the rapidity of the change in the organic composition of capital, and in its technical form increases, and an increasing number of spheres of production becomes involved in this change, now simultaneously, now alternately. The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus population; and it does this to an always increasing extent. [15] This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production; and in fact every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically valid within its limits and only in so far as man has not interfered with them.

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‘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.

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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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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