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Tag: freedom

History, Civilization, and Progress (Bookchin, 1994)

writing

History, Civilization, and Progress: Outline for a Criticism of Modern Relativism

by Murray Bookchin

Rarely have the concepts that literally define the best of Western culture–its notions of a meaningful History, a universal Civilization, and the possibility of Progress–been called so radically into question as they are today. In recent decades, both in the United States and abroad, the academy and a subculture of self-styled postmodernist intellectuals have nourished an entirely new ensemble of cultural conventions that stem from a corrosive social, political, and moral relativism. This ensemble encompasses a crude nominalism, pluralism, and skepticism, an extreme subjectivism, and even outright nihilism and antihumanism in various combinations and permutations, sometimes of a thoroughly misanthropic nature. This relativistic ensemble is pitted against coherent thought as such and against the “principle of hope” (to use Ernst Bloch’s expression) that marked radical theory of the recent past. Such notions percolate from so-called radical academics into the general public, where they take the form of personalism, amoralism, and “neoprimitivism.”

Too often in this prevailing “paradigm,” as it is often called, eclecticism replaces the search for historical meaning; a self-indulgent despair replaces hope; dystopia replaces the promise of a rational society; and in the more sophisticated forms of this ensemble a vaguely defined “intersubjectivity”–or in its cruder forms, a primitivistic mythopoesis–replaces all forms of reason, particularly dialectical reason. In fact, the very concept of reason itself has been challenged by a willful antirationalism. By stripping the great traditions of Western thought of their contours, nuances, and gradations, these relativistic “post-historicists,” “postmodernists,” and (to coin a new word) “post-humanists” of our day are, at best, condemning contemporary thought to a dark pessimism or, at worst, subverting it of all its meaning.

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The End of History

 

Weltgeschichte ist Weltgericht” (“World History is a tribunal that judges the World”). History is what judges people, their actions and their opinions, and lastly their philosophical opinions as well. To be sure, History is, if you please, a long “discussion” between people. But this real historical “discussion” is something quite different from a philosophic dialogue or discussion. The “discussion” is carried out not with verbal arguments, but with clubs and swords or cannon on the one hand, and with sickles and hammers or machines on the other. If one wants to speak of a “dialectical method” used by History, one must make clear that one is talking about methods of war and of work. This real, or better, active, historical dialectic is what is reflected in the history of philosophy. And if Hegelian Science is dialectical or synthetical, it is only because it describes that real dialectic in its totality, as well as the series of consecutive philosophies which corresponds to that dialectical reality. Now, by the way, reality is dialectical only because it implies a negative or negating element: namely, the active negation of the given, the negation which is at the foundation of every bloody fight and of all so-called “physical” work.

– Kojeve

Listen, Anarchist!

anarchy-lol

A personal response to Simon Springer’s “Why a radical geography must be anarchist”

by David Harvey

Simon Springer (2014) has written a lively and polemical piece in which he argues that a radical geography must be freshly anarchist and not tired-old Marxist. As with any polemic of this sort, his paper has its quota of misrepresentations, exaggerations and ad hominem criticisms, but Springer does raise key issues that are worthy of discussion.

Let me first make clear my own position. I sympathize (but don’t entirely agree) with Murray Bookchin, who in his late writings (after he had severed his long- standing connection to anarchism), felt that “the future of the Left, in the last analysis, depends upon its ability to accept what is valid in both Marxism and anarchism for the present time and for the future coming into view” (Bookchin, 2014: 194). We need to define “what approach can incorporate the best of the revolutionary tradition – Marxism and anarchism – in ways and forms that speak to the kinds of problems that face the present” (2014: 164).

Springer, judging from his piece, would want no part in such a project. He seems mainly bent on polarizing the relation between anarchism and Marxism as if they are mutually exclusive if not hostile. There is, in my view, no point in that. From my Marxist perspective, the autonomist and anarchist tactics and sentiments that have animated a great deal of political activism over the last few years (in movements like “Occupy”) have to be appreciated, analyzed and supported when appropriate. If I think that “Occupy” or what happened in Gezi Park and on the streets of Brazilian cities were progressive movements, and if they were animated in whole or in part by anarchist and autonomista thought and action, then why on earth would I not engage positively with them? To the degree that anarchists of one sort or another have raised important issues that are all too frequently ignored or dismissed as irrelevant in mainstream Marxism, so too I think dialogue – let us call it mutual aid – rather than confrontation between the two traditions is a far more fruitful way to go. Conversely, Marxism, for all its past faults, has a great deal that is crucial to offer to the anti-capitalist struggle in which many anarchists are also engaged.

Geographers have a very special and perhaps privileged niche from which to explore the possibility of collaborations and mutual aid. As Springer points out, some of the major figures in the nineteenth century anarchist tradition – most notably Kropotkin, Metchnikoff and Reclus – were geographers. Through the work of Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford and later on Murray Bookchin, anarchist sentiments have also been influential in urban planning, while many utopian schemas (such as that of Edward Bellamy) as well as practical plans (such as those of Ebenezer Howard) reflect anarchist influences. I would, incidentally, put my own utopian sketch (“Edilia”) from Spaces of Hope (2000) in that tradition.

Social anarchists have typically been much more interested in and sensitive to questions of space, place and environment (core concepts that I think most geographers would accept as central to their discipline). The Marxist tradition, on the whole, has been lamentably short on interest in such topics. It has also largely ignored urbanization and urban social movements, the production of space and uneven geographical developments (with some obvious exceptions such as Lefebvre and the Anglo-French International Journal of Urban and Regional Research that began in 1977, and in which Marxist sociologists played a prominent founding role). Only relatively recently (e.g. since the 1970s) has mainstream Marxism recognized environmental issues or urbanization and urban social movements as having fundamental significance within the contradictions of capital. Back in the 1960s, most orthodox Marxists regarded environmental issues as preoccupations of petite bourgeois romanticists (this was what infuriated Murray Bookchin who gave vent to his feelings in his widely circulated essay, “Listen, Marxist!”, from 1971’s Post- Scarcity Anarchism).

Shortly after I got interested in Marx and Marxism in the early 1970s, I figured that part of my mission might be to help Marxists be better geographers. I have frequently joked since that it proved much easier to bring Marxist perspectives into geography than to get Marxists to take geographical questions seriously. Bringing Marxist perspectives into geography meant taking up themes on space, place making and environment and embedding them in a broad understanding of “the laws of motion of capital” as Marx understood them. Most social anarchists I know (as Springer admits) find the Marxist critical exposé and theoretical account of how capital circulates and accumulates in space and time and through environmental transformations helpful. To the degree that I was able, and continue to work on, how to make Marx’s critique of capital more relevant and more easily understood, particularly in relation to topics such as urbanization, landscape formation, place- making, rental extractions, ecological transformations and uneven geographical developments, I would hope that social anarchists might appreciate and not disparage the effort. The contributions of Marxism in general and Marxist political economy in particular are foundational to anti-capitalist struggle. They define more clearly what the struggle has to be about and against and why.

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Moscow, January 1st, 2019

Popova_Air_Man_Space

An evening, sometime in the near future…

Simon Critchley

KADASHEVSKAYA HOTEL

26 Kadashevskaya nab. 115035 Moscow

January 1st, 2019

I guess we could all have seen it coming a few years back. Things really started to get worse around the end of 2013 and then dragged on into the long, cold winter months. That whole business with that guy, what was his name? Mountain in Wales. Snowden. That’s it. He went underground for a while and then emerged as the CEO of Bozhe Moi! (My God!): the amazing Russian search engine that overtook Google early in 2017. Totally wiped them out. I find it reassuringly old world and Le Carré-like to have the FSB watching all of us rather than the NSA.

Shortly after the President’s death, events moved fast. Well, suspicions were raised when they declared it accidental. Everyone knew it was suicide. He lost face (and faith) after that awful video circulated. You all know the one I mean. That was just after the attempted toppling of 1WTC. Why did they build that thing? It looked like a huge robot schlong. It was lucky that only a couple of hundred people died in the rogue drone strike, but the building’s been empty  – cursed – since then, apart from a shelter for the homeless on the ground floors. The city began to go bankrupt after whatshisname, Di Blasio, was unable to raise taxes to pay for all the damage from the great storm of summer 2016. That was when the BBB movement (“Bring Back Bloomberg”) really got momentum. It turned out that people missed his bad Spanish at those press conferences. He’s been in power for a year now, even bringing back everyone’s pal, Ray Kelly. It’s just like old times.

Biden governed heroically, if ineffectively, until they called an early election due to the state of emergency. But he was never going to beat Chris Christie, particularly after Hilary had to pull out of the primaries because of that scandal with Anthony Weiner’s ex-wife. God that guy really embraced new technology. I think he’s still serving time. Chris Christie was a surprisingly popular president. It was like being governed by Tony Soprano. People love a benevolent despot. But I guess we weren’t surprised when the heart attack happened. He was inspecting the Acela line to Boston after it had been destroyed by floodwaters.

President Rubio has been in power for over a year now. He looks the very picture of health, glowing like the self-satisfied Miami sun when he speaks. Obamacare has been fully repealed, the rather minimal tax increases on the rich have been reversed, the federal budget has been slashed (his “War on Debt” campaign), and Rubio plans to implement the NRA’s proposal to arm all schoolkids. That’s equality. Everyone gets a gun. People seem to feel safer that way. Or they just stopped caring after that horrific school shooting in Greenport: the sixth one last year. I mean, who’s counting, right?

The truth is that national politics no longer seems to matter. Neither does the state. Cosmos is the new 1% international political force, set up by Jamie Dimon and other senior business figures from across the world. Its radical plan is to abandon all states and national borders and establish an independent league of mega-cities (initially New York, Shanghai, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, but many others want to join) with its own police force and border agents. They’ve already begun to issue passports. It comes free when you sign up for their premium credit card. I have one here in my wallet. It has their catchy motto engraved on the titanium: “The world is ours. Make it yours”. They were initially called “The League of Rootless Cosmopolitans”. But they shortened their name: like the magazine, like the drink. The only political imperative was how to preserve the patina of liberalism while maintaining existing levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, this is not that hard. It turns out that this is what we had anyway. A large proportion of the funding base for the Democratic Party has evaporated. Bozhe Moi ! is also a big funder of the Cosmos party. Secession from their various states is expected to begin this year.

After the whole Google glasses debacle and the copycat suicides where people filmed their own deaths while wearing them, huge amounts of money were spent on lawsuits and the program was abandoned. Capital was poured into the development of what was called “inner space research.” There were various plans to insert probes under the skin at the wrist in order to internalize search functions with fingertip control. They also tried to develop an ultra-gossamer type mask where computer and skin surface would meet and merge. They called it “2 Skin”. It also failed. As did the plan to insert implants in the retina. The stroke of genius at Bozhe Moi! was realizing that the search engine and the whole apparatus could be run from a customized pair of headphones. People really like headphones. It turns out that there is still a huge difference between what you are prepared to stick in your eyes and your ears. I’m wearing mine right now to talk to you. The translate function means that everyone can speak any language they wish which is what I do here in Moscow. Rosetta Stone is already a distant memory.

Of course, we knew that the rise of Bozhe Moi! was a soft authoritarian takeover. Old-fashioned leftists would proclaim that the promised means of our emancipation (the internet circa 1996. Remember that?) had merely shackled us more tightly in virtual servitude. Boring! I mean we read Foucault too when it still mattered.  But the truth was that people didn’t really care about their privacy. Not really. Not even the Germans.

Wars came and went in the Middle East, huge populations were displaced and innocent civilians were killed. Business as usual. The pieces moved slightly on the global chessboard and then moved again. We stopped caring, particularly after the big broadcast networks began to fold – CNN was first. We knew less and less about world, particularly after all those attacks on BBC journalists. But life was just fine here. There is still no two-state or one-state solution in Israel and settlements are still being built. After the attacks on Iran following their nuclear tests, the Ayatollahs even took out a new fatwa on Salman Rushdie and one on Bono too, after he was involved in that hit musical about the Iranian Revolution. But I think they both still go to parties.

I guess the weirdest changes have been around sex. The omnipresence of the highest quality 3D pornography, combined with “sensorium” patches that went on sale in 2015, effectively killed it off. Together with the first cases of a fatal testicular cancer caused by a variant of the HPV virus that was said to be in 90% of the sexually active young male population. That got their attention.

This led to two trends. A sudden vogue, that summer, for reckless, public sex: in buses, parks, sidewalks, subways, everywhere. It became a kind of display of political indifference or even resistance among the poor, but it was picked up and imitated by a lot of college kids. They call themselves the “League of Lovers” or LOL as way of mocking the Cosmos. There continue to be many arrests and an African-American couple was shot last weekend for refusing to stop making love in Prospect Park. Not so much “Stop and Frisk” as “Stopping Friskiness.”

The other trend – less numerous, but much more influential – was the Cenobite movement, where people would pay significant amounts of money to live together but in such a way that they could remain apart and not constitute any kind of threat to each other. The first one was founded outside Warren, Vermont a few years back. But they have spread all across Vermont, New Hampshire and Upstate New York. After electing to withdraw from the world – what they call anachoreisis – each Cenobite is given an “anchorhold” where they can stay safe and warm with their devices and sleep. Any participation in public events is optional, but with the right use of a wonderful new anxiety medication called Atarax, cenobites are able to be together socially and even main eye contact without looking at their devices for up to two minutes. For fear of contagion, celibacy is the rule in all cenobite groups. This did not extend to masturbation, of course. That would have taken things too far.

People incapable of even this degree of social activity or who could not bear to be disconnected from their devices began to gather outside the Cenobite communities in more extreme group. They began to be called “Hamlet camps” or the “Inkies” after their customized black clothing, that was something between sports clothing and a Beneditcine habit. The sign up fee is prohibitively high in order to pay for the private police force and guarantee exclusivity. But I hear that some of the “Inkies” are beginning to produce some really high-level electronic music.

New York City began to feel too much like Alexandria in the late fourth century and I decided to get out when the right job offer came through. I’ve been living in this hotel in Moscow for the last 6 months working for a contemporary art space funded by one of oligarchs behind the Cosmos. It’s alright. The Russians make a generic version of Atarax and I have a bodyguard and a driver. But I stay in the hotel most of the time as it’s too dangerous to go out. Oh, happy new year.

soviet baby

Disclaimer from the League of Rootless Cosmopolitans:

This rag from Comrade Critchley has not one shred of truth contained within its bowels. The League of Rootless Cosmopolitans, a fine organization of lumpenbourgeois entrepeneurs, is not the 1%. The 1% are our enemies; we are the 0.1%, the devante-garde of humanity. We have embraced the values of full communism, albeit of the meritocratic sort. Our politics are simple: once you devour your competitors, you have the right to enjoy the spoils of mankind without charge or limit. We are the true heirs of Blanqui, Lenin, Debord, and Steve Jobs. We despise work, we love drinking, and the party comes before all. Our party is international, interracial, intersexual, interwoven interstitially in interesting intersubjective intercourse interminably in situ.

Marx was right, labor is the enemy of all who desire a realm of seamless freedom. But not all deserve such leisure. We value the machinery of mankind, the robotic testicles of production that have engendered our endless stream of goods, that have saved us from the wretched toil of the service industry, that have united north and south, east and west, rich and poor in one giant ovary of happiness. Even words like “work”, “job,” “labor”, and “toil” make little sense in our new economic system which The Economist-Vice© magazine has appropriately labeled Freedomism.

Our cybernetic meadows, where mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony like pure water touching clear sky, dot the valleys of former cities. Our cybernetic forests filled with pines and electronics, where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms, litter the highways of former nations. This cybernetic ecology, where we are free of our labors, and joined back to nature, returned to our mammal brothers and sisters and watched over by machines of loving grace, has been a blessing for all who can afford it.

America, that former crucible of spirit, that rose in the dung of the present, birthed many an ideology to get us here. The experience of representative liberal democracy taught us the true meaning of the word liberty: phlegmatic. Ruled by a dictatorship of process, liberal democracy’s indifference to human content allowed for our cosmological rise from the ashes of the first cyberwar. States, those reckless mafias, those war-mongering rackets, those debt-hungry cartels are finally on the way out of human history. Thanks in no small part to us, of course, the League of Rootless Cosmopolitans, heir to both the 1st Workers International and the WTO. Governments of the past left us with intractable conflicts over resources, lands, and all other sorts of fecal matter that we care less than nothing about. The reproduction and safety of individuals’ lives has been solved without any need to leave one’s property, ever. Our freedomist lifestyle is no longer burdened by archaic practices like “taxes,” “voting,” or “welfare.” The former-Russia’s meteoric rise to multiracial reich of the rich has put to rest any more talk of “social” democracy as the endpoint of progress. On the contrary, it was the last hurdle of pre-history.

Bozhe Moi! has liberated humankind from the weight of memory. Who would have thought that remembering things was the cause of so much suffering, evil, pain, and harm? The technological relief that the Bozhe Moi! self-search engine allows has eliminated feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, and even fever. Our League, along with the support of Bozhe Moi!, plans on finally ending the primitive method of communicative action called war in the next 10-15 years. By instituting a 1:1 drone to person charity program, everyone can be protected in his or her own privacy from others. The right to pursue happiness will reach its zenith with us. The Cosmos Art program, generously supported by the Tate Postmodern, the Banksy Institute, and the Relational Aesthetes Capital Investment Club, seeks to fund new sensory experiences for the micropleasures of the methodologically individual soul. All these exciting developments are happening right now, sponsored by us, and still there are those who doubt our munificence.

Traitor Critchley mentions two groups that he claims are forms of resistance to our orgiastic society. But the Cenobites and the League of Lovers are mere detritus from the wreckage of freedom. These modern stoics and epicureans are flies on the windshields of progress. Hamlet camps and LOLers are as reactionary as the Luddites, the anti-globalists, and the marriagizers. Snowden and Assange showed the way out for everyone: once we free ourselves from the need to hide anything, then all of us are united in the great spectacle of truth. 

As one of our heroes once said about the pre-Cosmos era, “Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever.” We are that unity of life you were looking for, that image reattached to its source, that I who is we and we who is I. The World is ours. Make it yours.

Surplus of the World, Unite!

freedom

Je größer der gesellschaftliche Reichtum, das funktionierende Kapital, Umfang und Energie seines Wachstums, also auch die absolute Größe des Proletariats und die Produktivkraft seiner Arbeit, desto größer die industrielle Reservearmee. Die disponible Arbeitskraft wird durch dieselben Ursachen entwickelt wie die Expansivkraft des Kapitals. Die verhältnismäßige Größe der industriellen Reservearmee wächst also mit den Potenzen des Reichtums. Je größer aber diese Reservearmee im Verhältnis zur aktiven Arbeiterarmee, desto massenhafter die konsolidierte Übervölkerung, deren Elend im umgekehrten Verhältnis zu ihrer Arbeitsqual steht. Je größer endlich die Lazarusschichte der Arbeiterklasse und die industrielle Reserve-armee, desto größer der offizielle Pauperismus. Dies ist das absolute, allgemeine Gesetz der kapitalistischen Akkumulation.

The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and therefore also the greater the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productivity of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, also develop the labour-power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army thus increases with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to the amount of torture it has to undergo in the form of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus-layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.

– Marx, Capital, vol.1 (MECW 35), p. 638.

Die sie meinen/Freedom as they know it

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Die Menschen haben den Begriff der Freiheit so manipuliert, daß er schließlich auf das Recht des Stärkeren und Reicheren herausläuft, dem Schwächeren und Ärmeren das wenige abzunehmen, was er noch hat. Der Versuch, daran etwas zu ändern, gilt als schmählicher Eingriff ins Bereich eben der Individualität, die aus der Konsequenz jener Freiheit in ein verwaltetes Nichts zergangen ist. Aber der objektive Geist der Sprache weiß es besser. Das Deutsche und Englische behält das Wort frei Dingen und Leistungen vor, die nichts kosten. Unabhängig von der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie wird damit Zeugnis abgelegt von der Unfreiheit, die im Tauschverhältnis selber gesetzt ist; es gibt keine Freiheit, solange ein jedes Ding seinen Preis hat, und in der verdinglichten Gesellschaft existieren als kümmerliche Rudimente der Freiheit nur Dinge, die vom Preismechanismus ausgenommen sind. Sieht man dann genauer hin, so findet sich freilich meist, daß auch sie ihren Preis haben und Zugaben sind zu den Waren oder wenigstens zur Herrschaft: die Parks machen denen die Gefängnisse erträglich, die nicht drin sind. Für Menschen von freiem, ungezwungenem, souveränem und legerem Wesen jedoch, für jene, die die Freiheit als Privileg von der Unfreiheit beziehen, hat die Sprache einen guten Namen bereit: den des Unverschämten.

People have so manipulated the concept of freedom that it finally boils down to the right of the stronger and richer to take from the weaker and poorer whatever they still have. Attempts to change this are seen as shameful intrusions into the realm of the very individuality that by the logic of that freedom has dissolved into an administered void. But the objective spirit of language knows better. German and English reserve the word ‘free’ for things and services which cost nothing. Aside from a critique of political economy, this bears witness to the unfreedom posited in the exchange relationship itself; there is no freedom as long as everything has its price, and in reified society things exempted from the price mechanism exist only as pitiful rudiments. On closer inspection they too are usually found to have their price, and to be handouts with commodities or at least with domination: parks make prisons more endurable to those not in them. For people with a free, spontaneous, serene and nonchalant temper, however, for those who derive freedom as a privilege from unfreedom, language holds ready an apposite name: that of impudence.

Th. Adorno, Messages in a Bottle