communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: labor

Some Stories About Communization


by Jasper Bernes, Nov 2020-Jan 2021, via Substack

(see also Planning and Anarchy (2020), and Belly of the Revolution (2018))

Part 1, Nov 26, 2020

I want to do a series of posts on the theory of “communization” as it has developed since 1968, because it seems to me there is a great deal more interest in the term and desire than there is comprehension. There are many reasons for the abuse the word has suffered, but foremost is that, in France, from whence it derives, “communization” never at first served to name a tendency or a coherent theory. It was simply a term of art that a loosely connected network of communist projects used to explain their vision of communist revolution.

Even as the term courant communisateur – communizing tendency, or communizer current–began to be applied to these groups retrospectively, many questioned and resisted the term, drawing attention to the way that it conflated advocates of communization, who can exist in the world here and now, with those who practice communization, that is with people who do not yet exist.

Read the rest of this entry »

State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations (Pollock, 1941)


by Friedrich Pollock (1941)


We start from the assumption that the hour of state capitalism approaches when the market economy becomes an utterly inadequate instrument for utilizing the available resources. The medium-sized private enterprise and free trade, the basis for the gigantic development of men’s productive forces in the 19th century, are being gradually destroyed by the offspring of liberalism, private monopolies and government interference. Concentration of economic activity in giant enterprises, with its consequences of rigid prices, self-financing and ever growing concentration, government control of the credit system and foreign trade, quasi-monopoly positions of trade unions with the ensuing rigidity of the labor market, large-scale unemployment of labor and capital and enormous government expenses to care for the unemployed, are as many symptoms for the decline of the market system. They became characteristic in various degrees for all industrialized countries after the first world war.

See also:


Class and Capital (Paul Mattick Jr., 2002)


by Paul Mattick Jr. Download PDF 

[originally published in The Culmination of Capital: Essays on Volume III of Marx’s Capital ed. Martha Campbell and Geert Reuten, 2002; republished as Chapter 9 in Paul Mattick Jr.’s Theory as Critique, Brill 2018]

The concept of class has never remained a harmless concept for very long.

Ralf Dahrendorf

Dahrendorf gave a common view dramatic form when he wrote, ‘Marx post­poned the systematic presentation of his theory of class until death took the pen from his hand. The irony has often been noted that the last (52nd) chapter of the last (third) volume of Capital, which bears the title “The Classes”, has remained unfinished. After a little more than one page the text ends with the lapidary remark of its editor, Engels: “Here the manuscript breaks off”’. Unfortunately, the colourful picture this suggests, of the pen dropping from the hand of the dying Marx as he was on the point of completing his masterwork, isn’t ours to keep: the draft containing this chapter was completed, as is fairly well known, before Marx turned to the preparation of Volume I for publication. Nev­ertheless, some have taken Marx’s delay in returning to the chapter – until it was too late – as an admission in actu of failure, attesting to a basic flaw in his theory. Engels’s explanation is less dramatic: Marx liked to leave conclusions ‘for the final editing, shortly before printing, when the latest historical events would supply him, with unfailing regularity, with illustrations of his theoretical arguments, as topical as anyone could desire’. Reopening the question of the relation of Marx’s final page and a half to the rest of Capital, I wish to explore what Marx’s willingness to leave the matter in so sketchy a state might indicate about the nature, or even the existence, of a Marxian theory of class. [Read PDF]

Read the rest of this entry »

The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook (James Boggs, 1963)


In 1963, drawing on his own experience as a factory worker and radical militant, James Boggs wrote this pamphlet. It addresses (among many things) the failures of the CIO, increasing automation, rising unemployment and the emergence of new social actors (‘the outsiders’) that he saw as a threat to capitalism.

James Boggs, born in Marion Junction, never dreamed of becoming President or a locomotive engineer. He grew up in a world where the white folks are gentlemen by day and Ku Klux Klanners at night. Marion Junction is in Dallas County where as late as 1963, although African-Americans made up over 57 percent of the total county population of 57,000, only 130 were registered voters. After graduating from Dunbar High School in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1937, Boggs took the first freight train north, bumming his way through the western part of the country, working in the hop fields of the state of Washington, cutting ice in Minnesota, and finally ending up in Detroit where he worked on WPA until the Second World War gave him a chance to enter the Chrysler auto plant. In 1963, drawing on his own experience as a factory worker and radical militant, he wrote these pages.

Boggs offers both a keen analysis of U.S. society and a passionate call for revolutionary struggle. He sees the growing trend toward automation, the decline of organized labor, the expansion of imperialism, and the deepening of racial strife as fundamentally rooted in the contradictions of U.S. capitalism. And he concludes that the only way forward is a new American revolution—one that, from his perspective writing in the 1960s, appeared to have already begun.  

See also: 

Read the rest of this entry »

Value Isn’t Everything (2018)


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Temporalities of Capitalism (Sewell, 2008)


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Anti-Semitism among American Labor’: a study by the refugee scholars of the Frankfurt School of Sociology at the end of World War II


by Catherine Collomp

Labor History Vol. 52, No. 4, November 2011, 417–439

This article analyzes the unpublished 1400-page report ‘Anti-Semitism among American Labor’, produced in 1944–1945 by the German scholars of the Frankfurt School of Sociology during their exile in the United States. Overlooked so far by labor historians and by historians of Jewish and World War II history, this report is analyzed here with specific attention to its contents as well as to the historical circumstances of its production during World War II. The article explains the larger strategy of the Jewish Labor Committee which commissioned it. It also situates this study in the production of the German sociologists who realized it. Finally, the article argues that, in the context of the war production effort, the alleged anti-semitism of the American working class was a fluctuant and paradigmatic sign of tension and frustration which eventually gave way to other forms of literal or imaginary conflicts.  [READ PDF]

See also:

In Praise of Idleness (1932)


by Bertrand Russell (Harpers 1932)

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Every one knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. This traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (Engels, 1876)

Evolution illustration

by Frederick Engels (1876)

This article was intended to introduce a larger work which Engels planned to call Die drei Grundformen der Knechtschaft – Outline of the General Plan. Engels never finished it, nor even this intro, which breaks off at the end. It would be included in Dialectics of Nature.


Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.

Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch, not yet definitely determinable, of that period of the earth’s history known to geologists as the Tertiary period, most likely towards the end of it, a particularly highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone – probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. [1] Darwin has given us an approximate description of these ancestors of ours. They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.

Read the rest of this entry »

A new beginning?


(via Weekly Worker 2018)

Marcel van der Linden examines the state of the global labour movement

Traditional labour movements are in trouble almost everywhere. They have been severely enfeebled by the political and economic changes of the last 40 years. Their core consists of three forms of social movement organisations: cooperatives, trade unions, and workers’ parties. All three organisational types are in decline, though this is an uneven development, with vast differences between countries and regions. We are living through a transitional stage in which old organisational structures no longer seem to work well, while new structures are still in their early stages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jobs, Bullshit, and the Bureaucratization of the World


by Jason E. Smith

You probably first heard of him when reading, on or in the pages of The New Yorker, about his role as one of the “founders” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of you might have stumbled across him even earlier, when The New York Times published a short article on the openly anarchist anthropology professor whose politics, he lamented, thwarted his plans for tenure at Yale. Others, probably a bit younger, and having drifted into post-2008 “radical” politics, first found him on Twitter, where he assiduously maintains contact with almost 70,000 followers. Slightly older radicals will recognize him as an eager participant in and chronicler of the turn-of-the-century anti-globalization movement. SlateThe GuardianThe Financial Times and other organs of the prevailing powers open their column space to his reflections on technology, money, and Corbynism, or his calls for Western succor to the “revolutionary Kurds” of Rojava (who have, for years now, enjoyed the lethal air support of US war planes). The son of NYC leftists—his father fought in the storied Abraham Lincoln Brigades—and one of the venerable Marshall Sahlins’s last students, David Graeber is today best known for his monumental 2011 book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, which appeared just a couple of months before the establishment of the Zuccotti Park camp. That book, in the works for years, seemed, due as much to its timing as to its content, the theoretical and historical work most attuned to the Occupy Wall Street movement and its demands. Now, seven years after that publication—and the rise and folding up of that movement—Graeber has followed his earlier examination of the “barter myth” and the priority of debt over exchange relations throughout human history with a new book, this time on a contemporary matter: the “current work regime.” Or as he puts it in his insistently populist idiom, the “proliferation of bullshit jobs.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Get rid of work (Dauvé)

What follows is a long essay by the French communization theorist, Gilles Dauvé translated by Ediciones Inéditos. It is a long read, a read which varies in content and tone but a text which masterfully summarizes the communist critique of work. The original can be found here at Troploin. He also dutifully notes that without the abolition of work there can be no communist revolution or communism. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed translating it. ¡A la chingada con el trabajo!

Here you will find a lightly modified chapter 3 from the bookFrom Crisis to Communizationpublished in 2017 by Editions Entremonde.

False construction sites


In 1997, in the French department of Sarthe, some 20 workers were constructing a section of highway under the direction of an engineer employed by a large company, BTP. After two months the engineer was arrested: no one had ordered the work that was partially done, which with an initial financing, the false construction site manager had successfully hoodwinked both banks and public organizations. Between 1983 and 1996, Philippe Berre had been convicted 14 times for ordering false construction sites. In 2009, “The Beginning,” a film inspired by this whole adventure was released, displaying a population struck by unemployment which briefly found work and hope. Phillippe Berre was not motivated by personal gain, but rather by the need to do, to be of use, to reanimate a group of workers. In 2010, once again, he took on this role while helping those affected by Cyclone Xynthia.

We all know “rogue bosses.” Philippe Berre is a fictitious boss, an anti-hero for our times; at once a “manipulator of symbols,” an agile manager of human resources, at a crossroads between the automobile and the BTP (presented as the two principal employers within modern countries), wandering as a nomad on the highways, as mobile as the activities which he preyed upon, living on the ephemeral dreams that his dynamism created around him, an illustration of a fluidity without markers or attachments, where money flows but is not wasted, where success has no future, where one builds worthless things, where all appears as communication and virtuality. But is not a sense of reality which Philippe Berre is lacking, rather he lacks respect.

When a crook brings work, revenue, and thus some “meaning” to a community in perdition, even if it is a provisional and false meaning, this raises the question – what does production and work mean? The unemployed at Sarthe trusted Philippe Berre because he brought them some socializing, a role, a status, a sense of being recognized. What is useful? Useless? Fictitious? Real? What is profitable or not? Was this piece of highway more or less absurd than any “real” highway? What work is worthy of being qualified as “a waste”? Beyond the hard reality of work (it creates objects, creates profit and is generally onerous), what is the truth?

Read the rest of this entry »

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant


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 »

On Italian Workerism


by Riccardo Bellofiore & Massimiliano Tomba

The new millennium has seen the revival of a growing interest in operaismo as testified by the republication not only of histories, but also of some classic texts. These latter have until recently been impossible to find, either because their print run was long exhausted, or else had been sent to be pulped at the end of the seventies. The international success of Michael Hardt and Toni Negri’s book Empire, which has been translated into many languages, has contributed to this revival of interest. Empire came out in 2000, not long after the mass challenge to the WTO in Seattle of November 1999, followed in turn by the blockades of the WEF summit in Melbourne of September 2000, of the World Bank in Prague the same month, and then the G8 counter-summit in Genoa of 2001. Throughout the nineties, too, there had been uprisings linked to price hikes for food and against the overwhelming power of the IMF.

Read the rest of this entry »

Platform capitalism and value form


By Matthew Cole

According to the speculations of techno-futurologists, left and right, the machines are here to liberate us. Most of the discourse is dominated by the neoliberal right such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and Andrew Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England. Their arguments, avoiding questions of exploitation, are naturally popular with the establishment. McAfee’s best-selling book The Second Machine Age has been lauded by leaders at the World Economic Forum.

On the left, however, Paul Mason welcomes our new robotic overlords, in an intellectual synthesis that spans Marx’s 1858 ‘Fragment on Machines’ (treated by Mason as a prophecy), Bogdanov’s 1909 novel Red Star and Martin Ford’s 2015 Rise of the Robots, not to mention Andre Gorz. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams offer a more qualified welcome to the possibility of full automation and a workless future. But even the best of these analyses, and even the most alluring visions of networked insurrection and high-tech communist utopia, have to face up to how these technologies have been used, historically, to deepen exploitation rather than overcome it. It is far more likely, in short, that new technologies will intensify drudgery and further limit human freedom. And it on this basis that we have to evaluate the impacts of platform technologies on the capitalist mode of production.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Mother Earth and Earth Mothers


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 »

Listen to Capital, Volume 1, by Karl Marx

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

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

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

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

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

Karl Marx
January 24, 1873


The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity Reflections on History, the Holocaust, and Antisemitism (Moishe Postone)


The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity – Postone

This chapter seeks to relate historical changes in public responses to the Holocaust and understandings of antisemitism, especially on the left, to the historically changing configurations of capitalist modernity since 1945. 1 Thinking about the two together can be clarifying: public responses to the Holocaust have tended to be structured by an opposition between abstract modes of universalism and concrete particularism – an opposition that also is constitutive of modern antisemitism. These responses have shifted with and are related to the changing configurations of capitalist modernity from the statist Fordist–Keynesian configuration of the 1950s and 1960s to a subsequent neoliberal one. Consideration of these large-scale configurations can illuminate the historical character of those responses; at the same time examination of those responses can shed light on these larger historical configurations. This problem complex can be fruitfully approached on the basis of a critical theory of capital, on the one hand, and one of antisemitism, on the other. Within the framework of a critical theory of capital the opposition between abstract modes of universalism and concrete particularism is neither ontologically given nor historically contingent but is intrinsic to the fundamental forms that structure capitalism, namely, the commodity and capital.2 Such an analysis grasps both terms of the opposition – abstract universality and concrete particularity – as remaining bound within the framework of capitalist modernity, however much positions based on each of them have understood themselves to be fundamentally “critical” or “radical,” pointing beyond the existing order. This essay seeks to problematize such “critical” positions by highlighting the one-sided character of each and by drawing attention to a historical shift from the predominance of critiques based on abstract universalism, characteristic of classical liberal thought and, with important differences, working-class movements, to the ascendancy of positions focused on concrete particularity, such as those expressed by liberation struggles that can be deemed anticolonial in the broadest sense. By suggesting that both sorts of responses remain immanent to capitalism, to its double character, the approach presented here problematizes the relation of each to the Holocaust and to antisemitism while contributing to a reflexive critique of emancipatory theory. Far from delineating issues of peripheral importance for critical theories of capitalism then, the problem complex of responses to the Holocaust and the changing configurations of capitalist modernity touches upon issues of fundamental importance for such theories. Within the framework outlined in this chapter consideration of those changing responses not only reveals their generally problematic character, but also illuminates the limits of the left in terms of its most fundamental self-understanding as a practical and theoretical critique of the capitalist order. What mediates these various moments, as I shall elaborate, is the issue of antisemitism. I shall only be able to present a preliminary sketch of this argument here. To do so I shall briefly describe the main features of the two general historical configurations of postwar capitalist modernity and also outline an analysis of antisemitism that distinguishes it from racism in general while showing it to be deeply intertwined with history as constituted by capital. Such an analysis could help conceptually distinguish political terror and mass murder (as expressed metaphorically by Buchenwald and Hiroshima) from extermination (as represented by Auschwitz). These distinctions are important not because the one crime is “worse” than the other but because the left, which has had few problems dealing conceptually with political terror and mass murder, has had difficulty grasping extermination. This difficulty reveals an inadequate understanding of antisemitism and relatedly an underlying weakness in apprehending the fundamental object of the left’s critique: capitalism.

From the book: Jews and Leftist Politics. Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender ed. Jack Jacobs (2017)

‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70

by Marcel Stoetzler (opendemocracy)

Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag published a densely written book that has become a key title of modern social philosophy. Underneath its pessimistic granite surface a strangely sanguine message awaits us.


Horkheimer left, Adorno right, Habermas background right, running hand through hair. Max Weber-Soziologentag, Heidelberg,April,1964. Wikicommons/Jeremy J.Shapiro. Some rights reserved.

How do you make an argument against social domination when the very terms, concepts and languages at your disposal are shaped by, and in turn serve that same social domination? Probably in the way you would light a fire in a wooden stove. How would you write a book about the impossibility of writing just that book? Like a poem about the pointlessness of poems. What if your enemies’ enemies are your own worst enemies? Can you defend liberal society from its fascist enemies when you know it is the wrong state of things? You must, but dialectics may well ‘make cowards of us all’ and spoil our ‘native hue of resolution’.

Dialectic of Enlightenment¹ is a very strange book, and although it was published, in 1947, by the leading publishing house for exiled, German-language anti-fascist literature, the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, alongside many of the biggest literary names of the time, no-one will have expected that it gradually became one of the classics of modern social philosophy.

It is a book that commits all the sins editors tend to warn against: its chapters are about wildly differing subject matters; the writing is repetitive, circular and fragmented; no argument ever seems exhausted or final and there are no explicitly stated conclusions, and certainly no trace of a policy impact trajectory. Arguments start somewhere, suddenly come to a halt and then move on to something else. If this sounds like the script for a Soviet film from the revolutionary period, then that is not totally coincidental: it is an avant-garde montage film, transcribed into philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state.

The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.
Read the rest of this entry »

Communism for Kids

Communism For Kids

By Bini Adamczak

Translated by Jacob Blumenfeld and Sophie Lewis


Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.

It all unfolds like a story, with jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses, and tired workers–not to mention a Ouija board, a talking chair, and a big pot called “the state.” Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism, and more. Finally, competition between two factories leads to a crisis that the workers attempt to solve in six different ways (most of them borrowed from historic models of communist or socialist change). Each attempt fails, since true communism is not so easy after all. But it’s also not that hard. At last, the people take everything into their own hands and decide for themselves how to continue. Happy ending? Only the future will tell. With an epilogue that goes deeper into the theoretical issues behind the story, this book is perfect for all ages and all who desire a better world.

Read the rest of this entry »