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Tag: capitalism

Social Contagion: Microbiological Class War in China (Chuang, 2020)

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Chuang.org

The Furnace

Wuhan is known colloquially as one of the “four furnaces” (四大火炉) of China for its oppressively hot humid summer, shared with Chongqing, Nanjing and alternately Nanchang or Changsha, all bustling cities with long histories along or near the Yangtze river valley. Of the four, Wuhan, however, is also sprinkled with literal furnaces: the massive urban complex acts as a sort of nucleus for the steel, concrete and other construction-related industries of China, its landscape dotted with the slowly-cooling blast furnaces of the remnant state-owned iron and steel foundries, now plagued by overproduction and forced into a contentious new round of downsizing, privatization and general restructuring—itself resulting in several large strikes and protests in the last five years. The city is essentially the construction capital of China, which means it has played a particularly important role in the period after the global economic crisis, since these were the years in which Chinese growth was buoyed by the funneling of investment funds into infrastructure and real estate projects. Wuhan not only fed this bubble with its oversupply of building materials and civil engineers but also, in so doing, became a real estate boomtown of its own. According to our own calculations, in 2018-2019 the total area dedicated to construction sites in Wuhan was equivalent to the size of Hong Kong island as a whole.

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The Temporalities of Capitalism (Sewell, 2008)

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by William H. Sewell, Jr

Socio-Economic Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 517- 537 (PDF)

See also: Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation 2005

The temporalities of capitalism are in certain respects unique. The temporalities of social life in general are ‘eventful’, i.e. irreversible, contingent, uneven, discontinuous and transformational. Although capitalist social processes are in certain respects super-eventful, the extreme abstraction that is a signature of capitalist development enables core processes of capitalism to escape from the irreversibility of time and to sustain a recurrent logic at their core. This means that the temporality of capitalism is composite and contradictory, simultaneously still and hyper-eventful. Recognizing this contradiction at the core of capitalism poses important conceptual and methodological challenges for those who study it.

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Other People’s Blood

 

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by Tim Barker 2019 (n+1)

If someone were to make a movie about neoliberalism, there would need to be a starring role for the character of Paul Volcker. As chair of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, Volcker was the most powerful central banker in the world. These were the years when the industrial workers’ movement was defeated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and third-world debt crises exploded. Both of these owe something to Volcker. On October 6, 1979, after an unscheduled meeting of the Fed’s Open Market Committee, Volcker announced that he would start limiting the growth of the nation’s money supply. This would be accomplished by limiting the growth of bank reserves, which the Fed influenced by buying and selling government securities to member banks. As money became more scarce, banks would raise interest rates, limiting the amount of liquidity available in the overall economy. Though the interest rates were a result of Fed policy, the money-supply target let Volcker avoid the politically explosive appearance of directly raising rates himself. The experiment — known as the Volcker shock — lasted until 1982, inducing what remains the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and finally ending the inflation that had troubled the world economy since the late 1960s. To catalog all the results of the Volcker shock — shuttered factories, broken unions, dizzying financialization — is to describe the whirlwind we are still reaping in 2019.

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Automation and the Future of Work (Benanav 2019)

Technological Waste

by Aaron Benanav

Part 1: Automation and the Future of Work 1, NLR 119, September October 2019

Part 2: Automation and the Future of Work 2, NLR 120, November December 2019

The world is abuzz with talk of automation. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics seem set to transform the world of work. In the most advanced factories, companies like Tesla have been aiming for ‘lightsout’ production, in which fully automated work processes, no longer needing human hands, can run in the dark. Meanwhile, in the illuminated halls of robotics conventions, machines are on display that can play ping-pong, cook food, have sex and even hold conversations. Computers are not only developing new strategies for playing Go, but are said to be writing symphonies that bring audiences to tears. Dressed in white lab coats or donning virtual suits, computers are learning to identify cancers and will soon be developing legal strategies. Trucks are already barrelling across the us without drivers; robotic dogs are carrying military-grade weapons across desolate plains. Are we living in the last days of human toil? Is what Edward Bellamy once called the ‘edict of Eden’ about to be revoked, as ‘men’—or at least, the wealthiest among them—become like gods?

The Author as Producer (Walter Benjamin, 1934)

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Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, April 27, 1934

The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers. –

Ramon Fernandez

You recall how Plato treats the poets in his projected State. In the interest of the community, he does not allow them to live there. He had a high idea of the power of poetry. But he considered it destructive, superfluous – in a perfect community, needless to say. Since then, the question of the poet’s right to exist has not often been stated with the same insistence; but it is today. Certainly it has rarely been posed in this form. But you are all more or less familiar with it as the question of the poet’s autonomy: his freedom to write whatever he may please. You are not inclined to accord him this autonomy. You believe that the current social situation forces the poet to choose whom his activity will serve. The bourgeois writer of popular stories does not acknowledge this alternative. So you show him that even without admitting it, he works in the interests of a particular class. An advanced type of writer acknowledges this alternative. His decision is determined on the basis of the class struggle when he places himself on the side of the proletariat. But then his autonomy is done for. He directs his energies toward what is useful for the proletariat in the class struggle. We say that he espouses a tendency. [1]

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The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry (Malm, 2013)

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By Andreas Malm, Historical Materialism 21.1 (2013) 15–68 [PDF]

The process commonly referred to as business-as-usual has given rise to dangerous climate change, but its social history remains strangely unexplored. A key moment in its onset was the transition to steam power as a source of rotary motion in commodity production, in Britain and, first of all, in its cotton industry. This article tries to approach the dynamics of the fossil economy by examining the causes of the transition from water to steam in the British cotton industry in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Common perceptions of the shift as driven by scarcity are refuted, and it is shown that the choice of steam was motivated by a rather different concern: power over labour. Turning away from standard interpretations of the role of energy in the industrial revolution, this article opens a dialogue with Marx on matters of carbon and outlines a theory of fossil capital, better suited for understanding the drivers of business-as-usual as it continues to this day.

 

Who Will Build The Ark? (Davis, 2010)

Noah's Ark

by Mike Davis (PDF)

New Left Review 61, January-February 2010

What follows is rather like the famous courtroom scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). [1] In that noir allegory of proletarian virtue in the embrace of ruling-class decadence, Welles plays a leftwing sailor named Michael O’Hara who rolls in the hay with femme fatale Rita Hayworth, and then gets framed for murder. Her husband, Arthur Bannister, the most celebrated criminal lawyer in America, played by Everett Sloane, convinces O’Hara to appoint him as his defence, all the better to ensure his rival’s conviction and execution. At the turning point in the trial, decried by the prosecution as ‘yet another of the great Bannister’s famous tricks’, Bannister the attorney calls Bannister the aggrieved husband to the witness stand and interrogates himself in rapid schizoid volleys, to the mirth of the jury. In the spirit of Lady from Shanghai, this essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable.

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society (Marcuse, 1979)

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society, a talk delivered shortly before Herbert Marcuse’s death in 1979, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 3(3) 1992

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am glad to be able to address the wilderness class. Actually, I’m not sure what to say because I don’t see any more problems. As you know, President Carter has turned over some thirty-six million acres of wilderness land to commercial development. There isn’t much wilderness left to preserve. But we still will try, nonetheless.

What I propose to do is to discuss the destruction of nature in the context of the general destructiveness which characterizes our society. I will then trace the roots of this destructiveness in individuals themselves; that is, I will examine psychological destructiveness within individuals.

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Ecology and Revolutionary Thought (Bookchin, 1964)

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by Murray Bookchin [using the pseudonym Lewis Herber]

In almost every period since the Renaissance, the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science, often in conjunction with a school of philosophy.

Astronomy in the time of Copernicus and Galileo helped to guide a sweeping movement of ideas from the medieval world, riddled by superstition, into one pervaded by a critical rationalism, openly naturalistic and humanistic in outlook. During the Enlightenment — the era that culminated in the Great French Revolution — this liberatory movement of ideas was reinforced by advances in mechanics and mathematics. The Victorian Era was shaken to its very foundations by evolutionary theories in biology and anthropology, by Marx’s reworking of Ricardian economics, and toward its end, by Freudian psychology.

In our own time we have seen the assimilation of these once liberatory sciences by the established social order. Indeed, we have begun to regard science itself as an instrument of control over the thought processes and physical being of man. This distrust of science and of the scientific method is not without justification. “Many sensitive people, especially artists,” observes Abraham Maslow, “are afraid that science besmirches and depresses, that it tears thing apart rather than integrating them, thereby killing rather than creating.” What is perhaps equally important, modern science has lost its critical edge. Largely functional or instrumental in intent, the branches of science that once tore at the chains of man are now used to perpetuate and gild them. Even philosophy has yielded to instrumentalism and tends to be little more than a body of logical contrivances, the handmaiden of the computer rather than the revolutionary.

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A Sick Planet (Debord, 1971)

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Written by Guy Debord in 1971, this text was intended for publication in Internationale Situationniste 13, which never appeared. It was first published in the French edition of the present collection in 2004. It may also be found in Guy Debord, Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 2006, pp. 1063-9). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, published in English, 2008. PDF

‘POLLUTION’ IS IN FASHION TODAY, exactly in the same way as revolution: it dominates the whole life of society, and it is represented in illusory form in the spectacle. It is the subject of mind-numbing chatter in a plethora of erroneous and mystifying writing and speech, yet it really does have everyone by the throat. It is on display everywhere as ideology, yet it is continually gaining ground as a material development. Two antagonistic tendencies, progression towards the highest form of commodity production and the project of its total negation, equally rich in contradictions within themselves, grow ever stronger in parallel with one other. Here are the two sides whereby a sole historical moment, long awaited and often described in advance in partial and inadequate terms, is made manifest: the moment when it becomes impossible for capitalism to carry on working.

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Class in the 21st century: Asset inflation and the new logic of inequality

Melbourne suburbs

What becomes of class when residential property prices in major cities around the world accrue more income in a year than the average wage worker? This paper investigates the dynamic of combined wage disinflation and asset price inflation as a key to understanding the growth of inequality in recent decades. Taking the city of Sydney, Australia, as exemplary of a dynamic that has unfolded across the Anglo-American economies, it explains how residential property was constructed as a financial asset and how government policies helped to generate the phenomenal house price inflation and unequal capital gains of recent years. Proceeding in close conversation with Thomas Piketty’s work on inequality and recent sociological contributions to the question of class, we argue that employment and wage-based taxonomies of class are no longer adequate for understanding a process of stratification in which capital gains, capital income and intergenerational transfers are preeminent. We conclude the paper by outlining a new asset-based class taxonomy which we intend to specify further in subsequent work.

 

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The Bourgeois(ie) as Concept and Reality (Wallerstein, 1988)

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In the mythology of the modern world, the quintessential protagonist is the bourgeois. Hero for some, villain for others, the inspiration or lure for most, he has been the shaper of the present and the destroyer of the past. In English, we tend to avoid the term ‘bourgeois’, preferring in general the locution ‘middle class’ (or classes). It is a small irony that despite the vaunted individualism of Anglo-Saxon thought, there is no convenient singular form for ‘middle class(es)’. We are told by the linguists that the term appeared for the first time in Latin form, burgensis, in 1007 and is recorded in French as burgeis as of 1100. It originally designated the inhabitant of a bourg, an urban area, but an inhabitant who was ‘free’. Free, however, from what? Free from the obligations that were the social cement and the economic nexus of a feudal system. The bourgeois was not a peasant or serf, but he was also not a noble. . . [READ PDF]

For more Immanuel Wallerstein, see:

Proletariat into a Class: The Process of Class Formation from Karl Kautsky’s The Class Struggle to Recent Controversies (1977)

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by ADAM PRZEWORSKI 

Politics & Society 7, no. 4 (1977): pp. 343-401

Workers and the petite bourgeois are the only producers of all that is consumed. The surplus produced by workers is directly and indirectly (through the state) transferred as revenue to all other categories. In this sense even the poorest of the lumpenproletariat lives off the workers: given capitalist relations of production there are objective bases to the antagonism of workers to the “welfare class”… Yet at the same time all categories other than the capitalists and the petite bourgeoisie are separated from the ownership of the means of production and forced to sell their labor power for a wage, unless they can subsist on so-called welfare. Moreover, in Marx’s analysis the labor of commercial employees, while not creating surplus value, enables the merchant capitalist to appropriate surplus value without paying the employees the full equivalent of their labor. In this sense, both the reproductive and the service categories, while living off the surplus produced by workers, are separated from the means of production, forced to sell their labor power, and in a particular sense exploited by the capitalist… Concrete analysis is incompatible with the view of classes as economically determined, spontaneously emerging subjects that simply march on to transform history. Classes are formed as effects of struggles; as classes struggle, they transform the conditions under which classes are formed.

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Theological-Political Fragment (Walter Benjamin, 1921)

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Only the Messiah himself consummates all history, in the sense that he alone redeems, completes, creates its relation to the Messianic. For this reason nothing historical can relate itself on its own account to anything Messianic. Therefore the Kingdom of God is not the telos of the historical dynamic: it cannot be set as a goal. From the standpoint of history it is not the goal but the end. Therefore the order of the profane cannot be built up on the idea of the Divine Kingdom, and therefore theocracy has no political, but only a religious meaning. To have repudiated with utmost vehemence the political significance of theocracy is the cardinal merit of Blochs Spirit of Utopia.

The order of the profane should he erected on the idea of happiness. The relation of this order to the Messianic is one of the essential teachings of the philosophy of history. It is the precondition of a mystical conception of history, containing a problem that can be represented figuratively. If one arrow points to the goal toward which the profane dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of Messianic intensity, then certainly the quest to free humanity for happiness runs counter to the Messianic direction; but just as a force can, through acting, increase another that is acting in the opposite direction, so the order of the profane assists, through being profane, the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The profane, therefore, although not itself a category of this Kingdom, is a decisive category of its quietest approach. For in happiness all that is earthly seeks its downfall, and only in good fortune is its downfall destined to find it. Whereas, admittedly, the immediate Messianic intensity of the heart, of the inner man in isolation, passes through misfortune, as suffering. To the spiritual restitutio in integrum, which introduces immortality, corresponds a worldly restitution that leads to the eternity of downfall, and the rhythm of this eternally transient worldly existence, transient in its totality. in its spatial but also in its temporal totality, the rhythm of Messianic nature, is happiness. For nature is Messianic by reason of its eternal and total passing away.

To strive after such passing, even for those stages of man that are nature, is the task of world politics, whose method must be called nihilism.


Walter Benjamin (1892-1940): Theological-Political Fragment, date uncertain (probably either 1920-1921 or 1937-1938), unpublished in Benjamin’s lifetime. Translated by Edmund Jephcott in Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938 (2006), pp. 305-306.

Understanding Walter Benjamin’s Theological-Political Fragment by Eric Jacobson  Jewish Studies Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 3 (2001), pp. 205-247


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Legal Form: The Marxist Analysis of Law

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Legal Form – This collection of documents contains texts that (a) are widely recognized as “canonical” within the Marxist tradition, (b) grapple with legal questions from a standpoint informed by Marxist methods, (c) scrutinize a specifically Marxist approach to law in the context of a particular debate, and/or (d) examine the historical conditions under which a given account of Marxism and law was initially discussed. Some are exceedingly well known; others remain unread, or are largely forgotten. Save for the most relevant or “authoritative” figures, we have generally endeavored to include no more than one text for each author.

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Suffocation of the Young:

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A Report from Brooklyn on Schooling, Childhood and Mental Illness Today

 Juan Chabrier (Brooklyn Rail, 2019)

At some point during the workday, you may have considered that your role in creating a product or service somehow plays an important part in sustaining the world we live in, even if that world leaves much to be desired. As the Oakland teachers end their strike, quick on the heels of the Denver, Los Angeles county, and red-state revolts, we’re reminded that our daily work not only recreates a world of things but also one of relationships and experiences: in short, all that which determines who we are. As far as contemporary schooling is involved in the production of childhood—a modern process that is clearly in crisis—we have a sense of the great stakes involved as the wave of intransigent education-worker strikes rolls across this country.

Childhood appears today as something uncanny. Social commentators and psychologists draw us to narrow parts of its unsettling presence without offering a substantive pattern or underlying explanation. In the US, an astounding one in five children has an attention or learning disability while parent-reported Autism Spectrum Disorder rates are now at 1 in 40. What’s more, both of these statistics are thought to be an underestimation of the real prevalence.1 Anxiety and depression in youth are reaching alarming levels and steadily rising.2 Sexual activity amongst youth has decreased by over 20% since the 1980s, while new media make pornography more available to the young.3 Most distressingly, that some children decide to pick up weapons and massacre their peers has become an expected occurrence. As teenager Paige Curry commented after the Santa Fe shootings last year, “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”4

Parenthood, in turn, is occupied by guilt and worry, as an industry of advice columnists and child-experts provides a contradictory array of techniques, superstitions, and philosophies to navigate the contemporary situation. US birth and marriage rates across income levels are at historic lows in face of the perilous labyrinth of childhood and economic trepidation.5 Yet the “helicopter parent’s” worries and their accompanying gurus are more than just an automatic reaction. The recent intensification of parenting is but a reflection of prevailing social anxieties.

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Basic Banalities (Vaneigem, 1962)

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Basic Banalities

Raoul Vaneigem

Internationale Situationniste #7 (April 1962)

Translated by Ken Knabb

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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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Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (Dahrendorf, 1959)

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Ralf Dahrendorf (1959)

The concept of class has never remained a harmless concept for very long. Particularly when applied to human beings and their social conditions it has invariably displayed a peculiar explosiveness. The logician runs no risk in distinguishing “classes” of judgments or categories; the biologist need not worry about “classifying” the organisms with which he is concernedbut if the sociologist uses the concept of class he not only must carefully explain in which of its many meanings he wants it to be understood, but also must expect objections that are dictated less by scientific insight than by political prejudice. As Lipset and Bendix have stated: “Discussions of different theories of class are often academic substitutes for a real conflict over political orientations” (55, p. 150).

[PDF of book, 18MB]

Contradictions of the Welfare State

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by Claus Offe (1984)

Now, capitalist societies are defined by the fact that in them – on the basis of an unequal distribution of property resulting from precapitalist ‘primitive accumulation’ – the organizational principle of the exchange (of equivalents) is universal. This principle of exchange, which also includes the commodification of labour power, becomes dominant because it is freed from normative and political-coercive restraints. To be sure, a society organized by means of exchange relationships can never be organized solely through exchange relations but, rather, requires ‘flanking subsystems’: even in a purely competitive-capitalist social system, individuals must be socialized in normative structures, while the established rules of social intercourse must be sanctioned by sovereign power. A society based on market exchange cannot function without the family system and the legal system.

If the dominant organizational principle of the social processes of every capitalist society is that of exchange, a theory of the crises of capitalist society can identify those processes which challenge the dominance of this central principle. This, in turn, can be done in two ways.

  1. The theory of historical materialism attempts to show that processes organized and formed through exchange lead to results that cannot be dealt with by the exchange process itself. Economic crisis theories in a narrow sense, such as the theorem of the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall, reconstruct the processes of self-negation of the exchange principle that potentially result in the revolutionary transformation of the entire ideological and political ‘superstructure’.
  2. As an alternative to this approach, a theory of the system crises of capitalist societies would examine crisis-prone developments not in the exchange sphere itself (i. e., in the form of an economic crisis theory); rather, it would concentrate on the relationship between the three fundamental organizational principles of society as a whole. Not the self-negation of the exchange principle but its restriction and questioning by the other two organizational principles would serve as the criterion of crisis processes.

PDF of Book

Industrial Relations, Trade Unions and Social Conflict in German Capitalism

German metal workers union IG Metall protest in Mannheim

by Ulrich Brinkmann and Oliver Nachtwey, 2013

Times have been changing. German capitalism, the former “sick man of Europe” in the late 1990s recovered from the financial crisis after 2008 very well. Indeed, the German labour market performed better than most of its European counterparts and during spring 2012 it reached the lowest level of unemployment since German reunification. The German press as well as significant parts of the leading political discourse are bursting with pride about a new German “labour market wonder”. During the first months in 2012 there have been a lot of debates on the specific macroeconomic configuration of the European monetary union with Germany as the current high-performer regarding labour market and export performance. Certainly: the fact that – though highly productive – the German export industry does not face a monetary revaluation plays an important role (Cesarotto/Stirati 2010; Lehndorff 2012). It profits from the common currency and the implications of the restraints for national monetary responses to exchange, credit and trust crises. But – and this is essential to the argument provided in this text – there is an underlying mechanism that complementarily supports this configuration from the industrial relations level.

Germany is the main exception in Europe in terms of social conflict, too. Since 2010, Europe has experienced a wave of mass-, and even general strikes: France, Greece and Portugal were centres of social conflict. Germany, however, remained calm, despite a sharp economic downturn and in spite of a cuts program by the government. Yet there were different historical experiences, too: In post-war Germany big and occasionally spectacular strike movements repeatedly took place – i.e. in 1956/57 for continued payment of wages in case of illness (sick pay), the unauthorized strikes 1969 et seq. or the major strike in 1984 for the 35-hours-week. But still, compared to international standards Germany is considered a “low-strike country” (Dribbusch 2007).

This article focuses the main developments of the German industrial relations, that contributed to the recent developments of the German economy in general, and the labour market in particular. We are starting with further factors that should be taken into consideration when debating the low level of social conflict in Germany. In general, German capital has gained new strength while trade unions have been forced onto the defensive since the 1990s. Furthermore, the changing forms of corporatist integration and the reconstruction of the German production and employment model have played a significant role in weakening trade union power resources. [READ PDF]