communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: class

Don’€™t Eat Before Reading This

Anthony-Bourdain-suicide-death

by Anthony Bourdain (1999)

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.

Gastronomy is the science of pain. Professional cooks belong to a secret society whose ancient rituals derive from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue, and the threat of illness. The members of a tight, well-greased kitchen staff are a lot like a submarine crew. Confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders, they often acquire the characteristics of the poor saps who were press-ganged into the royal navies of Napoleonic times—superstition, a contempt for outsiders, and a loyalty to no flag but their own.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant

bullshit_jobs.0

by David Graeber (2013)

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Internationaler Kongress zum 200. Geburtstag von Karl Marx (videos)

RLS, Berlin, 2. bis 6. Mai 2018

The unfinished system of Karl Marx: Critically reading Capital as a challenge for our time

Opening marx200 in May 2, 2018 — marx200 Livestream-Aufzeichnung vom 2.5.2018. [EN]/[DE] The central question is: what is the challenge for an «appraisal» of Marx in 2018 in order to strengthen emancipatory forces? Why do we think that our book can contribute to this? This question will be linked with two other considerations: Why has the Marxian heritage not been recognized and used in its complexity? And what does this mean for the left? With Patrick Bond (University of the Witwatersrand, Südafrika / South Africa), Jan Toporowski (University of London), Kohei Saito (Osaka City University, Japan), Judith Dellheim (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung). Moderation / facilitation: Frieder Otto Wolf (FU Berlin)


Karl Marx und die Geburt der modernen Gesellschaft

MITWIRKENDE

Michael Heinrich

[DE] marx200-Livestream-Aufzeichnung vom 2.5.2018. Die Durchsetzung «moderner» bürgerlich-kapitalistischer Verhältnisse wird von Marx in einer Folge unabgeschlossener Projekte analysiert und kritisiert. Um die begrifflichen Verschiebungen, Abbrüche und Neuanfänge zu verstehen, muss man sich mit den zeitgenössischen Konflikten und Marx eigener Rolle darin auseinandersetzen. Mit Michael Heinrich (Berlin) Moderation: Antonella Muzzupappa (Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung).

Read the rest of this entry »

A Materialist Feminism Is Possible (1980)

267_medium

Christine Delphy (Feminist Review, No. 4, 1980, pp. 79-105)

The concepts used for the Marxist analysis of capitalist exploitation (or Capital, to simplify) cannot actually account for the exploitation of women for the same reason that they cannot account for the exploitation of serfs, or slaves, or indentured servants, or prisoners in labour camps, or African share-croppers. The simple reason is that the concepts used to account for exploitation by wages-and it is this which is the subject of Capital-cannot account for the exploitation of the unwaged. But the concepts used in the analysis of capitalism are not the whole of Marxist thought. On the contrary, they are themselves derived from more general concepts. How, otherwise, would Marx have been able to analyse non-capitalist modes of production and exploitation, such as slavery and feudalism? The concepts of class and exploitation do not come from the study of capitalism; on the contrary, they pre-exist it, permit it, and are at the origin of the notion of capitalism in its Marxist sense, ie. as a particular system of exploitation. These more general concepts–class and exploitation–not only in no way require that sexual divisions be ignored, but on the contrary are eminently useful in explaining them. And I mean here ‘explain’ in the strong sense: not just in describing it, not in describing only what happens after the division exists, but in accounting for its genesis.

READ PDF

 

Which Feminisms?

IMG_5578

Frauenkampftag, Berlin, Mar 8. 2018

By Susan Watkins (New Left Review 109, January-February 2018)

Of all the opposition movements to have erupted since 2008, the rebirth of a militant feminism is perhaps the most surprising—not least because feminism as such had never gone away; women’s empowerment has long been a mantra of the global establishment. Yet there were already signs that something new was stirring in the US and UK student protests of 2010, the 2011 Occupy encampments at Puerta del Sol and Zuccotti Park. In India, mass rallies condemned the gang rape of Jyoti Pandey in 2012 and feminist flash-mobs have disrupted the moral-policing operations of Hindutva fundamentalists. The protests against sexual assault on US campuses blazed across the New York media in 2014. In Brazil, 30,000 black women descended on the capital in 2015 to demonstrate against sexual violence and racism, calling for the ouster of the corrupt head of the National Congress, Eduardo Cunha; earlier that year, the March of Margaridas brought over 50,000 rural women to Brasília. In Argentina, feminist campaigners against domestic violence were at the forefront of protests against Macri’s shock therapy. In China, the arrest in 2015 of five young women preparing to sticker Beijing’s public transport against sexual violence—members of Young Feminist Activism, an online coalition that’s played cat-and-mouse with the authorities—was met with web petitions signed by over 2 million people.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Case Against a Basic Income

DRgTfOvVwAATtHu

A universal basic income would shore up the market. We need ideas that shrink it.

In her campaign memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton wrote that the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) for all Americans “fascinated” her. Reflecting on her wholly uninspiring campaign, she explained that she wanted to include it in her platform but “couldn’t make the numbers work,” so she dropped the idea.

She had planned to call it “Alaska for America,” referring to the Alaska Permanent Fund. Established in 1982, that program gives each of the state’s citizens an annual dividend from oil revenues. The idea gained popularity in the mid-sixties, and Nixon almost implemented it nationwide. American researchers conducted large-scale experiments in New Jersey, and a Canadian study took place in Winnipeg during the mid-seventies. At the time, the proposal produced heated debates in continental Europe and North America, but the decades that followed led to a slow but steady decline in support. The conservative preference for the “workfare” and “activation” policies that characterized welfare reform in the nineties — led by a different Clinton — turned basic income into a utopian fantasy.

But as interest in UBI from one of the planet’s most powerful political figures attests, the last ten years have given new life to the idea. Indeed, it’s now on the agenda of many movements and governments. For Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght, two of UBI’s leading proponents, “the conjunction of growing inequality, a new wave of automation, and a more acute awareness of the ecological limits to growth has made it the object of unprecedented interest throughout the world.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Political Economy of Anti-Racism

Jennifer Lopez Holds Get Out The Vote Concert For Hillary Clinton In Miami

by Walter Benn Michaels (2018)

This essay originated as a kind of stump speech, an effort to spell out and update an argument about the uses of anti-racism and anti-discrimination that I’ve been making for some time to audiences that might or might not be familiar with it. The idea of publishing some version of it in conjunction with Adolph Reed’s piece was Adolph’s, and the proposed venue was the left journal Jacobin; it would be, as Adolph endearingly put it, “a nicely affirmative statement about where the magazine stood on the left v. identitarianism debates.” But, although some Jacobin editors expressed interest, the idea came almost instantaneously to naught. A preliminary edit of Adolph’s piece—cutting it in half and leaving out material that he thought was crucial—made him decide to withdraw it. And, truthfully, I had been from the start skeptical. First, because—although we both respect Jacobin and have both published in it before—I was a little less sanguine about the magazine’s desire actually to make any kind of statement about where it stood on the left v. identitarian issue. And, second, because part of my argument (as suggested below in a photo taken at a talk I gave at U.C. Riverside) involves a critique of the role played by elite universities in (to borrow a phrase from Adolph’s and Willie Legette’s note on V.O. Key) “suppressing working-class politics in the service of both black and white political elites.” But, of course, both the students at schools like the ones on my list and the more-or-less recent graduates of such schools make up a significant portion of Jacobin’s readership; why would Jacobin want to publish an attack on its audience?

Read the rest of this entry »

On Mother Earth and Earth Mothers

Earth_Mothers_Main

Why Environmentalism Has a Gender Problem by Jennifer Bernstein

Not so long ago, technologies like microwaves and frozen foods were understood to be liberatory. Along with washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and a host of other inventions, these household innovations allowed women to unshackle themselves from many of the demands of domestic labor. It didn’t all work out as hoped. With labor-saving technology at hand, cleanliness and other domestic standards rose. Today, women still perform the lion’s share of domestic work, even among affluent couples, and even within a rising share of dual-income households.1

But it is also true that domestic labor demands upon women in affluent economies have declined dramatically. In the 1960s, women spent an average of 28 hours per week on housework; by 2011, they averaged 15.2 These gains are all the more important as wages in the United States stagnate and the number of single-parent households have grown.3 With many women taking on more than one job, facing longer commutes, and working irregular hours to make ends meet,4 the technological progress that has enabled something so handy as a 30-minute meal only eases the burden of the “second shift,” those unpaid post-work chores that still fall overwhelmingly to women.

And yet, today, a growing chorus of voices argues that to be proper environmentalists and nurturing parents, each night should involve a home-cooked meal of fresh, organic, unprocessed ingredients. “We’re doing so little home cooking now,” food guru Michael Pollan says, “the family meal is truly endangered.”5 Chastising the typical household for spending a mere 27 minutes a day preparing food, Pollan champions increasingly time-consuming methods of food production in defense of the allegedly life-enriching experience of cooking he fears is rapidly being lost.6

The juxtaposition is jarring, if not much remarked upon. At a moment in our history when increasing numbers of women have liberated themselves from many of the demands of unpaid domestic labor, prominent environmental thinkers are advocating a return to the very domestic labor that stubbornly remains the domain of women.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not all Politics is Identity Politics

serena-winther-self-portrait-1

by Kenan Malik: 

‘All politics is identity politics.’ And ‘Without identity politics there can be no defence of women’s rights or the rights of minority groups.’ So run the two most common contemporary defences of identity politics. As criticism of the politics of identity has become more developed and fierce, so has the defence. So, I want here to begin a critique of the critique, as it were, and in so doing reassert the necessity for challenging identity politics.

Identities are, of course, of great significance. They give each of us a sense of ourselves, of our grounding in the world and of our relationships to others. At the same time,  politics is a means, or should be a means, or taking us beyond the narrow sense of identity given to each of us by the specific circumstances of our lives and the particularities of personal experiences. As a teenager, I was drawn to politics because of my experience of racism. But if it was racism that drew me to politics, it was politics that made me see beyond the narrow confines of racism. I came to learn that there was more to social justice than challenging the injustices done to me, and that a person’s skin colour, ethnicity or culture provides no guide to the validity of his or her political beliefs. Through politics, I was introduced to the ideas of the Enlightenment, and to the concepts of a common humanity and universal rights. Through politics, too, I discovered the writings of Marx and Mill, Baldwin and Arendt, James and Fanon. Most of all, I discovered that I could often find more solidarity and commonality with those whose ethnicity or culture was different to mine, but who shared my values, than with many with whom I shared a common ethnicity or culture but not the same political vision.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Myth of ‘Cultural Appropriation’

photo_82690_square_850x850

by Walter Benn Michaels

Even our own stories don’t belong to us

Vanessa Place, Kenny Goldsmith, Kelley Walker, Dana Schutz, Sam Durant — these are all white people who in the recent past have made what they intended to be politically transgressive art, and succeeded. But not in the way they were hoping for. Dana Schutz’s painting of the dead Emmett Till was not meant to insult Till’s memory. Sam Durant’s “Scaffold,” a sculpture critiquing the execution by hanging of, among others, 38 Native Americans, was meant as just that — a critique. The point of all these works was resolutely antiracist.

Indeed, if one were to criticize them as political art, it would not be for expressing controversial positions. Just the opposite: Among the visitors to the Whitney Biennial or the Walker Art Center, the antiracism to which all these artists are committed is almost uncontested, and their politics could more plausibly be characterized as anodyne than outrageous.

So what got them in trouble? It wasn’t a belief in white supremacy; it was their embodiment of white privilege, the privilege that enabled them to treat something that didn’t belong to them as if it did. “Not Your Story” read a sign at the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, protesting “Scaffold.” “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” wrote Hannah Black in her open letter to the curators of the Whitney Biennial. The idea here is that when white artists seek to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” as Hal Niedzvicki (a former editor of the journal of the Canadian Writers Union) recently urged all writers to do, what they’re really doing is less imagining other cultures than stealing from them. And, as the Equity Task Force of that same union put it in protest of Niedzvicki’s editorial: “The theft of voice, stories, culture, and identity are part of a long-standing settler agenda for cultural genocide and cannot be treated lightly.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Bleak Left: On Endnotes

Arbeit

arbeit

Work: A Global History by Andrea Komlosy, discussed with Timothy Nunan

Work remains ever-present with us, yet somehow elusive. We spend more time doing it than anything else, other than sleeping, and yet defining what, exactly, the term means can be a challenge. Part of the reason may be the decline of solid salaried work, where one punched in and out of the factory, and knew that hours logged meant hours logged. For a time, even white-collar workers had the certainty of knowing that the weekend was just that – physical and infrastructural distance from fax machines, cell phones, and the papers, mountains of paper at the office. Today, however, many people not only allow office e-mail to intrude into the weekend; more than that, they embrace working from home.

Others are less lucky. Among historians, those who wash out in the brutal competition for the promise of tenured lifetime employment sometimes submit to the even crueler reality of the adjunct route. The root of the term itself demonstrates their precariousness: in linguistics, an adjunct is an optional, a “structurally dispensable” part of an utterance. All the same, as more and more work seems to become “casualized” (another telling term), organizers demand rights and privileges that were traditionally bundled with “full-time” or “traditional” employment. All the while, back at home, partners may grumble that there is precious little talk of unionizing or granting medical insurance to those of us stuck doing dishes, vacuuming, or putting a hot meal on the table.

The vocabulary that we use to talk about work remains, in short, of massive political importance, but all too often, we don’t scrutinize it very closely. Not, at least until Andrea Komlosy‘s 2014 book Arbeit: Eine globalhistorische Perspektive, published by Promedia Verlag  We recently had the chance to speak with Komlosy about her road to writing about social history and the history of work, as well as what it means to apply a global history perspective to a theme that necessarily stretches across hundreds of years. Let’s get to work, then, and dive into a discussion about Work.

Read the rest of this entry »

The United States of Work

82849097d79dcc3c37bd6a1897277b4c50575c34

BY MIYA TOKUMITSU (April 2017)

Employers exercise vast control over our lives, even when we’re not on the job. How did our bosses gain power that the government itself doesn’t hold?

Work no longer works. “You need to acquire more skills,” we tell young job seekers whose résumés at 22 are already longer than their parents’ were at 32. “Work will give you meaning,” we encourage people to tell themselves, so that they put in 60 hours or more per week on the job, removing them from other sources of meaning, such as daydreaming or social life. “Work will give you satisfaction,” we insist, even though it requires abiding by employers’ rules, and the unwritten rules of the market, for most of our waking hours. At the very least, work is supposed to be a means to earning an income. But if it’s possible to work full time and still live in poverty, what’s the point?

Even before the global financial crisis of 2008, it had become clear that if waged work is supposed to provide a measure of well-being and social structure, it has failed on its own terms. Real household wages in the United States have remained stagnant since the 1970s, even as the costs of university degrees and other credentials rise. Young people find an employment landscape defined by unpaid internships, temporary work, and low pay. The glut of degree-holding young workers has pushed many of them into the semi- or unskilled labor force, making prospects even narrower for non–degree holders. Entry-level wages for high school graduates have in fact fallen. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, these lost earnings will depress this generation’s wages for their entire working lives. Meanwhile, those at the very top—many of whom derive their wealth not from work, but from returns on capital—vacuum up an ever-greater share of prosperity.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Perils of “Privilege”

635937524639160016662530646_check-your-privilege

 Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage

Phoebe Maltz Bovy / St. Martin’s Press

INTRODUCTION: THE “PRIVILEGE” TURN

“[A] HORRIBLE PERSON”

In a freezing-cold flat in Berlin, I’m standing under the shower with the water turned up as high and hot as it will go. I’m trying to boil away the shame of having said something stupid on the internet. The shower is the one place it’s still impossible to check Twitter. This is a mercy. For as long as the hot water lasts I won’t be able to read the new accusations of bigotry, racism and unchecked privilege. I didn’t mean it. I don’t understand what I did wrong but I’m trying to understand.

*   *   *

THE ABOVE RECOLLECTIONS, from a 2015 article in the New Statesman by the writer Laurie Penny, are where I wish to begin because they make up the most wrenching, but accurate, description that I’ve come across of what it can feel like to be called out online. The phenomenon she describes—the privilege call-out—is a new, if increasingly familiar, experience. Penny’s reaction—“I’ve spent very dark days, following social media pile-ons, convinced that I was a horrible person who didn’t deserve to draw breath”—may have been extreme, but such interactions aren’t the high point of anyone’s week. While I’ve never experienced quite that spiral, I know what it’s like to see a new blog comment or Twitter notification, and then another … followed, predictably, by the heart-racing realization that the Internet (and it always feels, in the moment, like the entire Internet) has found me out.

The outright hateful comments are, as Penny notes, easier to handle, in a way. As unpleasant as it was the week when neo-Nazi Twitter made me its Jewess-du-jour, and as frightened as I was during the weeks when pro-gun Twitter made it known what it thought about my anti-gun stance, there’s something more viscerally draining about an “unchecked privilege” accusation. What’s so useful about Penny’s description is that she hones in on two of the key reasons why that’s the case. One is, as she spells out, that the accusation manages to tap into the accused’s worst fears about her value as a person. The other, which she does not, is the lack of specificity. Unlike earlier generations of bigotry accusation, the privilege call-out is intentionally vague, while also, at times, hyperspecific. Either your privilege is showing, and you’re not entirely sure which form of privilege (let alone how to appropriately respond), or you’ve suddenly learned that you’re wrong because surely you’ve never worked in food service, something about which your interlocutor, a stranger on the Internet, is remarkably certain.

A privilege accusation prompts the accused to contemplate his or her unearned advantages, and—all too often—to publicly self-flagellate for the same. The less saintly among us, though, will soon remember (and, all too often, reply) that we haven’t had it quite as easy as our accusers imply. And sometimes the specific privilege accusation will have been inaccurate. Regardless of how, exactly, all of this plays out, one thing’s for sure: The conversation will have switched from one about some broader issue to the ultimately trivial question of our privilege.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself. What is this thing, “privilege,” and why is getting accused of possessing it so fraught?

Read the rest of this entry »

LA ’92: The context of a proletarian uprising

by Aufheben (1992)

Distorted by the bourgeois press, reduced to a mere ‘race riot’ by many on the left, the L.A. rebellion was the most serious urban uprising this century. This article seeks to grasp the full significance of these events by relating them to their context of class re-composition and capitalist restructuring.


April 29th, 1992, Los Angeles exploded in the most serious urban uprising in America this century. It took the federal army, the national guard and police from throughout the country five days to restore order, by which time residents of L.A. had appropriated millions of dollars worth of goods and destroyed a billion dollars of capitalist property. Most readers will be familiar with many of the details of the rebellion. This article will attempt to make sense of the uprising by putting the events into the context of the present state of class relations in Los Angeles and America in order to see where this new militancy in the class struggle may lead.

Before the rebellion, there were two basic attitudes on the state of class struggle in America. The pessimistic view is that the American working class has been decisively defeated. This view has held that the U.S. is – in terms of the topography of the global class struggle – little more than a desert. The more optimistic view held, that despite the weakness of the traditional working class against the massive cuts in wages, what we see in the domination of the American left by single issue campaigns and “Politically Correct” discourse is actually evidence of the vitality of the autonomous struggles of sections of the working class. The explosion of class struggle in L.A. shows the need to go beyond these one-sided views.

Read the rest of this entry »

Privilege Theory’s Critique of Marxism

by Jehu 2014

1.    Privilege theory as a critique of Marxism from within Marxismsadwhiteguy

Privilege theory was custom made for post-war Marxism because, basically, with the just dawning realization that the class struggle appears to have all but disappeared in society in the post-war period, they don’t have much of anything else to discuss when it comes to politics.

Privilege theory has its roots in a self-critique within mid-60s Marxism that communists were neglecting the extent to which racism divided the working class. These critics argued the communists themselves marginalized or altogether ignored the surging black liberation movement and the movements of other oppressed strata within American society. However, the view of these critics of Marxism was, in large part, itself infected with many of the same naive conceptions of the working class in particular and class society as a whole as infected the thinking of the more “orthodox” Marxists.

The “white blindspot” critique assumed the working class was not  already divided by its material conditions of existence, but because the capitalist created and employed racism to divide it. As I will show, the false implication underlying the original argument was that absent racism, the working class would be united. The error is not unique to the “white blindspot” theorists: it pervades the Marxist praxis in the post-war period. This is the sort of argument that demonstrates Marxism’s complete lack of understanding of class society. The argument here is critical to both the critique of Marxism and of privilege theory because the assumption (implicit or explicit) made by Marxists on both sides is that the working class is capable of overcoming its divisions short of complete social emancipation.  On the other hand, the growing influence of privilege theory among activists demonstrates the working class is anything but united and likely cannot be united within its present material conditions.

The conflict over privilege theory can be summed up in two (admittedly simplistic) arguments:

1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.

and

2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

At the outset, I am not going to say both sides are wrong in their characterization of the conflicts and divisions within the working class. I just want to assert that the notion of working class unity runs into some very thorny theoretical question based on a less naive grasp of how classes are constituted in bourgeois society. In historical materialism, all classes in bourgeois society have the same characteristics: First, their common material conditions of existence are independent of the members of the class. Second, absent a conflict with another class, the members of a class are on hostile terms with each other.

Read the rest of this entry »

Vivek Chibber: on the Working Class, Capitalism, Marxism, Postcolonialism, and the State

Transcript of conversation with Vivek Chibber by Jacobin (audio)

Part I: Why we still talk about the working class

The issue before us is why socialists constantly focus on the working class as a strategic factor in society.

To get straight to the point, there are a couple of fundamental reasons why socialists do so, and I think they are very sound reasons. You can think of this as one, being a diagnosis of what’s wrong in modern society, and two, being a prognosis of what to do to make things better. Both of these point in the same direction.

So let’s start with the diagnosis.

The diagnosis focuses on what kinds of things people need in their life to have a decent shot at happiness, at decent social relations with others — all the things that go into what we call justice, and fairness. Whatever else is needed — and there are many things that are needed for social justice — there are two that just about everybody agrees on.

One is certain basic minimum material goods. People cannot live decent lives if they are constantly worried about having enough to eat. They cannot live a decent life if they don’t have basic health, or housing, or certain material provisions that allow them to strive to what they would regard as a higher end to things: creativity, love, friendship. All of those things are harder to sustain if you don’t have certain basic goods, so first of all you need these goods.

Secondly, autonomy, or freedom from domination. The basic idea is, if you’re underneath someone else’s thumb, if you’re being dominated by somebody else, there’s always a chance that that authority which they have over you will turn into abuse.

Being dominated by somebody else, therefore, means that the priorities by which you live are not going to be your own. They’re going to be the priories of that person who has power over you. Which means that you don’t essentially get to set your agenda, whatever that agenda might be.

Therefore, if in modern society people lack these basic material goods, and they lack autonomy, they experience domination. Whatever else they need, in that kind of society, justice is very hard to achieve.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Surplus Population

e06dec3a5046c423d89cb4ccd184f1c5

 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Shut-In Economy

by Lauren Smiley

1-NIBU-lDEgzkViNBt9c7t2Q

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re…”

“Jonathan?”

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

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