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Tag: capitalism

Value Isn’t Everything (2018)

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by John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett (Monthly Review) 2018

The rapid advances in Marxian ecology in the last two decades have given rise to extensive debates within the left, reflecting competing conceptions of theory and practice in an age of planetary ecological and social crisis. One key area of dispute is associated with the attempt by a growing number of radical environmental thinkers to deconstruct the labor theory of value in order to bring everything in existence within a single commodity logic, replicating in many ways the attempts of liberal environmentalists to promote the notion of “natural capital,” and to impute commodity prices to “ecosystem services.”1 For many in Green circles, Karl Marx and a long tradition of Marxian theorists are to be faulted for not directly incorporating the expenditure of physical work/energy by extra-human nature into the theory of value.

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Expropriation of the Expropriators

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by Jacob Blumenfeld APRIL 30, 2020  Legal Form – Marxist Analysis of law

Throughout his work, Marx is very clear about how to overcome capitalism. [1] There is, in fact, one simple trick, although it is not easy, and how one goes about doing it determines everything. I am not referring to the self-emancipation of the working class or the self-abolition of the proletariat. These classic revolutionary formulas name the agent of revolution (the working class or the proletariat) and the aim of revolution (emancipated from wage-labour or abolished as a class), but they do not describe the content of revolution. Instead, I want to talk about a single phrase that Marx repeats at key points in his work, something more banal, more concrete. That is, the expropriation of the expropriators. At the end of the first volume of Capital, while describing the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation, Marx writes:

The centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated. [2]

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Irrational Expectations

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by Geoff Mann (Viewpoint, April 2020, PDF)

However much upheaval the global COVID-19 pandemic has generated, a great deal more is coming. The economic disaster is already the object of frantic analysis, much of which tells us we can expect a bottom that matches or exceeds the Great Depression of the 1930s, at least as measured by conventional economic indicators like GDP, unemployment, and bankruptcies. This narrative provides the backbeat to the competing attempts to organize our attention during the passage through present and future trials.

While we are endlessly reminded that “we are all in this together”—a blatant act of false solidarity—many have also pointed out that we were never “all in this together” before the pandemic, we are not now, and it is quite possible we will emerge from this even less together than we were. At least in terms of wealth and income inequality, the prospects do not look good. The relatively well-off will weather the lockdown more comfortably and without the threat of eviction, debt default, and hunger, and they will return to better-paid and stable work more quickly.

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The shape of the world system in the thirteenth century (Abu-Lughod, 1987)

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by Janet Abu-Lughod (1987) PDF

BY the middle of the thirteenth century the Occident (Western Europe) and the Orient (as far as China) were linked together through a system of trade and, to a much lesser extent, production that had begun to form into what might be termed a “world system” rather than a set of imperial systems. Not unlike today, the nodes that were linked together were central places and port cities, rather than whole countries. The geographic nexus of this system was the Muslim heartland through which items of exchange had to move, either overland across the great so-called silk route or primarily via the sea, transiting the region from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and then beyond, via either the Arab/Persian Gulf or the Red Sea.

By then, goods originating in the Middle and Far East were being sold in European fairs, and Europe was exporting in exchange raw materials, metals, and woolen textiles. Such trade was being conducted by merchants from highly diverse regions, speaking quite different languages and in touch with one another not only physically but by written instruments. “Capitalistic” institutions were well established in the sense that: (1) there existed conventional ways for credit to be extended and then paid off; (2) there were developed techniques for pooling capital and risks and for sharing profits and losses; and (3) production for export had begun to reorganize the way goods were produced and exchanged in the domestic economies of East and West. Significantly, this development was considerably more advanced in China and the Arab world than it was in Europe.

source: Studies in Comparative International Development volume 22, pages 3–25 (1987)

Pandemic: the explosion point of the capitalist relation?

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by Antithesi (April 18, 2020)

The growth of production has been entirely verified until now as the realization of political economy: the growth of poverty, which has invaded and laid waste to the very fabric of life… In the society of the over-developed economy, everything has entered the sphere of economic goods, even spring water and the air of towns, that is to say, everything has become the economic ill, that “complete denial of man”…

Guy Debord, The sick planet

The outbreak of the pandemic and its spread all over the world is the most recent expression of what Debord has identified half a century ago as the “economic ill”. Capital is not only a class relation of exploitation and domination but also a relation of alienation of society from nature in which both the producers of social wealth and non-human nature as an autonomous productive force are transformed into objects that are dominated and plundered by it. The continuously expanding process of the subsumption of nature under capital is conflictual and contradictory. The consequences of this subsumption emerge as phenomena like global warming, the infestation of farmland with superweeds, the slowdown of agricultural productivity and, today, the coronavirus pandemic.

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Political Economy for the End of Times: Gareth Dale on Capitalism and Climate Breakdown

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The Ecologist

 A three-part interview on capitalism and climate breakdown from the podcast Political Economy for the End Times. Listen to the full interview with Political Economy for the End Times.

Part I

Javier Moreno Zacares (JMZ) from Political Economy for the End of Times: I wanted to start this interview by exploring the broad question of the relationship between capitalism and the environment.

I think that a good entry point is the conceptual distinction that you draw between ‘capitalist time’ and ‘ecological time’. Can you explain what these two temporalities are and how they relate to one another? 

Gareth Dale (GD): Human beings relate to various systems through different temporalities. That is, the different rhythms of time and the different ways in which humans relate to time. In my essay for The Ecologist  that you are referring to, I look at three of those: geological time, ecological time, and capitalist time. All social systems are ways of organizing behaviour and time.

Under capitalism, the aim is to increase profit and save time. This accounts for some of its central dynamics: The systematic disciplining of labour and the segregation of labour from the rest of human experience, which enables labour-time to be marked out and measured. The continual acceleration of labour-processes through technical and social change. The fetishism of technology, which has a key role in displacing labour and decreasing the circulation time of capital. And also, of course, the systematic degradation of the natural environment. In a sense, capitalism eats time, and in the process erases nature.

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Revolutionary working class strategy for the 21st century – Part 1 (Angry Workers of the World)

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Reflections on ‘uneven and combined development’ and ‘class composition’

Angry Workers of the World – April 2020

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From a perspective that puts the working class into the driver’s seat of social emancipation we find ourselves in a contradictory situation. During the last decades workers, as in people who have to sell their labour power to survive, have become the majority on the planet. When Marx, from his armchair, called for ‘workers of the world’ to unite, workers were actually a tiny minority globally, islands in a sea of independent artisans, peasants and forced labourers. Only today can we really speak of a ‘global working class’, but to the same degree that ‘being a worker’ has become a global phenomenon, ‘the working class’ seems to have disappeared. 

via Revolutionary working class strategy for the 21st century – Part 1 — Angry Workers of the World

The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative

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by Andreas Malm & Alf Hornborg (2014) [PDF]

The Anthropocene narrative portrays humanity as a species ascending to power over the rest of the Earth System. In the crucial field of climate change, this entails the attribution of fossil fuel combustion to properties acquired during human evolution, notably the ability to manipulate fire. But the fossil economy was not created nor is it upheld by humankind in general. This intervention questions the use of the species category in the Anthropocene narrative and argues that it is analytically flawed, as well as inimical to action. Intra-species inequalities are part and parcel of the current ecological crisis and cannot be ignored in attempts to understand it.

source: The Anthropocene Review, 1(1), 62-69, 2014 

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (1722)

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by Daniel Defoe (1722)  [background] /PDF]

being observations or memorials
of the most remarkable occurrences,
as well public as private, which happened in
London during the last great visitation in 1665.
Written by a Citizen who continued
all the while in London.
Never made public before


It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.

We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, and to improve them by the invention of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now. But it seems that the Government had a true account of it, and several councils were held about ways to prevent its coming over; but all was kept very private. Hence it was that this rumour died off again, and people began to forget it as a thing we were very little concerned in, and that we hoped was not true; till the latter end of November or the beginning of December 1664 when two men, said to be Frenchmen, died of the plague in Long Acre, or rather at the upper end of Drury Lane. The family they were in endeavoured to conceal it as much as possible, but as it had gotten some vent in the discourse of the neighbourhood, the Secretaries of State got knowledge of it; and concerning themselves to inquire about it, in order to be certain of the truth, two physicians and a surgeon were ordered to go to the house and make inspection. This they did; and finding evident tokens of the sickness upon both the bodies that were dead, they gave their opinions publicly that they died of the plague. Whereupon it was given in to the parish clerk, and he also returned them to the Hall; and it was printed in the weekly bill of mortality in the usual manner, thus—

     Plague, 2. Parishes infected, 1.

The people showed a great concern at this, and began to be alarmed all over the town, and the more, because in the last week in December 1664 another man died in the same house, and of the same distemper. And then we were easy again for about six weeks, when none having died with any marks of infection, it was said the distemper was gone; but after that, I think it was about the 12th of February, another died in another house, but in the same parish and in the same manner.

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What are the causes of the coronavirus?

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A socialist biologist explains the tight links between new viruses, industrial food production, and the profitability of multinational corporations.


The new coronavirus is keeping the world in a state of shock. But instead of fighting the structural causes of the pandemic, the government is focusing on emergency measures.

Yaak Pabst for the German socialist magazine Marx21 spoke to evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, author of Big Farms Make Big Flu (Monthly Review Press, 2016) about the dangers of Covid-19, the responsibility of agribusiness and sustainable solutions to combat infectious diseases. Marx21 released the interview in advance of its scheduled March 30 publication date. 


Marx21: How dangerous is the new coronavirus?

Rob Wallace: It depends on where you are in the timing of your local outbreak of Covid-19: early, peak level, late? How good is your region’s public health response? What are your demographics? How old are you? Are you immunologically compromised? What is your underlying health? To ask an undiagnosable possibility, do your immuogenetics, the genetics underlying your immune response, line up with the virus or not?

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Western Marxism and the Soviet Union (2007)

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A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917

by Marcel van der Linden

Translated by Jurriaan Bendien

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The ‘Russian Question’ was an absolutely central problem for Marxism in the twentieth century. It was, as Castoriadis put it, ‘the touchstone of theoretical and practical attitudes which lay claim to revolution’. For that reason, it is all the more astonishing that, until this very day, not one scholar has tried to portray the historical development of Marxist thought about the Soviet Union since 1917 in a coherent, comprehensive appraisal. Quite possibly, this lacuna in the literature has less to do with the specific topic area than with the underdeveloped historiography of Marxist theories generally. Anderson concluded years ago in his Considerations on Western Marxism that ‘the causes and forms of [Marxism’s] successive metamorphoses and transferences remain largely unexplored’. Likewise, in the history of ideas Marxist theories have not received the attention they deserve.

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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