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Introducing Commune

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Commune Magazine

For a life worth living.

We are a year into the death, the real death, of liberalism. Or maybe two years? It was never more than our fair-weather friend, an often treacherous ally to the radicals who did the heavy lifting for social change it claimed for itself, in the labor and women’s movements, in struggles for civil rights that were for much more than rights, and struggles against the war that were against much more than war. Though liberalism’s death warrant was sealed long ago, when the capitalism for which it has long served as management team ceased to expand, we were surprised by the rapid progress of the disease. In any case, the shameful circumstances of its demise underscore how little we should mourn.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Happy Future is a Thing of the Past

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The Greek Crisis and Other Disasters by Pavlos Roufos  (2018)

Reaktion Books / UChicago Press / Amazon

Excerpt from Chapter 6: Years of Stone, pp. 96-102

The Beach Beneath

The movement that began in Syntagma Square in late May 2011 and very soon spread out to squares all over Greece (thus gaining the nickname ‘squares movement’), represented one of the most condensed moments of the struggle against the crisis, its consequences and management. Many have argued that it did not have a specific aim or demand; according to one’s politics, this observation had either a negative or a positive undertone. However, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the masses that took to the streets, occupied public spaces and fought for almost two months to defend them, were directly concerned with putting an end to the austerity policies that were underway. And these policies, as we have seen, were nothing but a systematic attempt to render people’s ability to survive in a way that was meaningful to them increasingly difficult.

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On Italian Workerism

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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.

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The New Nihilism

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by Peter Lamborn Wilson (2014)

It feels increasingly difficult to tell the difference between—on one hand—being old, sick, and defeated, and—on the other hand—living in a time-&-place that is itself senile, tired, and defeated. Sometimes I think it’s just me—but then I find that some younger, healthier people seem to be undergoing similar sensations of ennui, despair, and impotent anger. Maybe it’s not just me.

A friend of mine attributed the turn to disillusion with “everything”, including old-fashioned radical/activist positions, to disappointment over the present political regime in the US, which was somehow expected to usher in a turn away from the reactionary decades since the 1980s, or even a “progress” toward some sort of democratic socialism. Although I myself didn’t share this optimism (I always assume that anyone who even wants to be President of the US must be a psychopathic murderer) I can see that “youth” suffered a powerful disillusionment at the utter failure of Liberalism to turn the tide against Capitalism Triumphalism. The disillusion gave rise to OCCUPY and the failure of OCCUPY led to a move toward sheer negation.

However I think this merely political analysis of the “new nothing” may be too two-dimensional to do justice to the extent to which all hope of “change” has died under Kognitive Kapital and the technopathocracy. Despite my remnant hippy flower- power sentiments I too feel this “terminal” condition (as Nietzsche called it), which I express by saying, only half- jokingly, that we have at last reached the Future, and that the truly horrible truth of the End of the World is that it doesn’t end.

One big J.G. Ballard/Philip K. Dick shopping mall from now till eternity, basically.

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For a Left with No Future (T.J. Clark, 2012)

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T.J. Clark / pdf

How deceiving are the contradictions of language! In this land without time the dialect was richer in words with which to measure time than any other language; beyond the motionless and everlasting crai[meaning ‘tomorrow’ but also ‘never’] every day in the future had a name of its own . . . The day after tomorrow was prescrai and the day after that pescrille; then came pescruflo, maruflo, maruflone; the seventh day was maruflicchio. But these precise terms had an undertone of irony. They were used less often to indicate this or that day than they were said all together in a string, one after another; their very sound was grotesque and they were like a reflection of the futility of trying to make anything clear out of the cloudiness of crai.

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli [1]

I hope sincerely it will be all the age does not want . . . I have omitted nothing I could think of to obstruct the onward march of the world . . . I have done all I can to impede progress . . . having put my hand to the plough I invariably look back.

Edward Burne-Jones on the Kelmscott Chaucer [2]

Left intellectuals, like most intellectuals, are not good at politics; especially if we mean by the latter, as I shall be arguing we should, the everyday detail, drudgery and charm of performance. Intellectuals get the fingering wrong. Up on stage they play too many wrong notes. But one thing they may be good for: sticking to the concert-hall analogy, they are sometimes the bassists in the back row whose groaning establishes the key of politics for a moment, and even points to a possible new one. And it can happen, though occasionally, that the survival of a tradition of thought and action depends on this—on politics being transposed to a new key. This seems to me true of the left in our time.

These notes are addressed essentially (regrettably) to the left in the old capitalist heartland—the left in Europe. [3] Perhaps they will resonate elsewhere. They have nothing to say about capitalism’s long-term invulnerability, and pass no judgement—what fool would try to in present circumstances?—on the sureness of its management of its global dependencies, or the effectiveness of its military humanism. The only verdict presupposed in what follows is a negative one on the capacity of the left—the actually existing left, as we used to say—to offer a perspective in which capitalism’s failures, and its own, might make sense. By ‘perspective’ I mean a rhetoric, a tonality, an imagery, an argument, and a temporality.

By ‘left’ I mean a root-and-branch opposition to capitalism. But such an opposition has nothing to gain, I shall argue, from a series of overweening and fantastical predictions about capitalism’s coming to an end. Roots and branches are things in the present. The deeper a political movement’s spadework, the more complete its focus on the here and now. No doubt there is an alternative to the present order of things. Yet nothing follows from this—nothing deserving the name political. Left politics is immobilized, it seems to me, at the level of theory and therefore of practice, by the idea that it should spend its time turning over the entrails of the present for signs of catastrophe and salvation. Better an infinite irony at prescrai and maruflicchio—a peasant irony, with an earned contempt for futurity—than a politics premised, yet again, on some terracotta multitude waiting to march out of the emperor’s tomb.

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Reflections: antisemitism, anti-imperialism and liberal communitarianism

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by Marcel Stoetzler

The politically explosive modern form of antisemitism is the one that is central to the modern, conservative-revolutionary reaction to modernity. Two of the key problems in the analysis of (and struggle against) antisemitism are, to what extent does the modern right-wing critique of capitalist modernity overlap with its left-wing counterpart, and why does the latter sometimes fail to distinguish itself unambiguously from this mortal enemy? In varying contexts, from the Weimar KPD, via Foucault on Iran, to contemporary Labour politicians, some on the left grant too much to their enemy’s enemies, and are perhaps too fuzzy in their thinking to distinguish their own longing for the community of an emancipated future from their enemies’ longing for the racially or spiritually purified, re-born community of whichever reactionary fantasy.

The principal strength and attraction of antisemitism lies in its being beyond ordinary politics: antisemitism is meta-political. Both on the right and the left its value is that it connects to the opposite side. The ambiguous meaning of the word ‘socialism’ in its name was one of National Socialism’s strengths, although Hitler made clear enough that his was a socialism ‘the German way’, namely without the corrosive Jewish-Marxist bits about class struggle. Although its specifics put Nazism in many respects into a category all of its own, it also belongs into the wider category of nationalist socialisms that affirm the capitalist mode of production but are ‘anticapitalistic’ in their rejection of this or that detail of capitalist circulation and reproduction – greedy bankers who behave like locust swarms, that kind of thing – and seek a solution to ‘the social question’ at the level of the nation. There are many of those, and they are not about to go away. They are by nature receptive to antisemitism if and when it seems opportune for whichever contextual – cultural, historical – reasons.

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Why do leftists move to the right?

The biggest story of the past fifty years in American politics has been the ascendancy of the right, and it’s a story of apostasy. At each stage of the conservative movement’s long march to power, crucial aid was provided by heretics from the left. Progressives recoiled from the New Deal and turned reactionary; ex-Communists helped to launch National Review, in the nineteen-fifties; recovering socialists founded neoconservatism in the sixties and seventies; New Left radicals turned on their former comrades and former selves in the Reagan years. Ronald Reagan, whose Presidency brought the movement to its high-water mark, was himself once a New Deal liberal. In the course of a lifetime, the prevailing political winds are westerly—they blow from left to right. Try to think of public figures who made the opposite journey: Elizabeth Warren, Garry Wills, and Joan Didion come to mind, and Kevin Phillips, the disillusioned Nixon strategist; more recently, the writer Michael Lind and the Clinton-hater-turned-lover David Brock defected from the right to the left. That’s about it.

The most common explanation is the one variously attributed to Churchill, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George: “Any man who is not a socialist at age twenty has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age forty has no head.” The move rightward is thus a sign of the hard wisdom that comes with age and experience—or, perhaps, the callousness and curdled dreams that accompany stability and success. Irving Kristol, the ex-Trotskyist who became the godfather of neoconservatism, quipped that a neoconservative was “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” Most people are hardly aware of the shift until it’s exposed by a crisis, like a major political realignment that forces us to cross party lines. Even then, they want to believe that it’s the politics, not themselves, that changed. My maternal grandfather, George Huddleston, an Alabama congressman in the early decades of the twentieth century, began his career voting with the only Socialist in Congress and ended as a bitter opponent of what he saw as the federal overreach of the New Deal. In 1935, on the floor of the House, a Democratic colleague mocked him for reversing his position on public ownership of electric power. Fuming, Huddleston insisted, “My principles and myself remain unchanged—it is the definition of ‘liberalism’ which has been changed.” Or, as Reagan famously (and falsely) claimed, he didn’t leave the Democratic Party—the Democratic Party left him.

It’s like blaming your spouse for your own unfaithfulness. Political conversions are painful affairs, as hard to face up to as falling out of love or losing your religion. Or maybe harder. Religious faith, being beyond the reach of reason, doesn’t have to answer gotcha questions about a previously held position. There’s a special contempt reserved for the political apostate—an accusation of intellectual collapse, an odor of betrayal. When you switch sides, you have to find new friends. Political identities are shaped mainly by factors that have nothing to do with rational deliberation: family and tribal origins, character traits, historical currents. In “Partisan Hearts and Minds,” published in 2002, three political scientists made an empirical case that political affiliations form in early adulthood and seldom change. Few people can be reasoned into abandoning their politics.

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New Social Contradictions

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An Interview with Cedric Johnson

Gregor Baszak: Most on the Left claim that the recent cases of police violence suffered by Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and others are racially motivated. Some even say that it has an aspect of ethnic cleansing. Do you agree?

Cedric Johnson: The truth is that cops intensively patrol and surveil particular neighborhoods within America’s cities. Blacks and Latinos bear the brunt of this form of policing, which was set in motion by the so-called “War on Drugs.” This has gone on for decades now. Arguments that it amounts to ethnic cleansing or that it is directed against black people have a certain emotive and rhetorical force. However, ultimately they misdiagnose the problem. According to a Justice Department report on arrest-related deaths between 2003 and 2009, including cases where people were killed in car accidents during police pursuits and those who committed suicide during an arrest, blacks are overrepresented (as are Latinos), but they are not in the majority.1 When I present such information to my liberal anti-racist friends and students, they have little to offer in response other than “Yes, of course, whites are the majority of the population, so you would expect their numbers to be higher.” But why don’t those deaths figure into the conversation? Isn’t it possible to condemn police violence against blacks while simultaneously demanding justice for all victims? What do these victims—black, white, Latino, male and female—have in common? Why do so many Americans view the current crisis strictly in terms of anti-black racism, when we have evidence that suggests we are facing a more complex and more daunting problem, one that cannot be addressed with yesteryear’s analysis and slogans? We need a more dialectical appreciation of historical progress: How have the defeats and victories of earlier anti-racist struggles produced new social contradictions, altering the conditions we now confront? Additionally, when we look at those who carried out the killing of Freddie Gray, three of the six police officers involved were black. In the case of Eric Garner, a Latino officer choked him to death. So, the fact of integrated police forces needs to be considered. These individuals are not motivated by racial animus. Rather, their behavior reflects a mode of policing that targets the working class, the unemployed, and those who live in areas where the informal economic sector is dominant. On the national level, even in rural areas, small towns, and places where blacks do not live in large numbers, the same dynamics are at play with whites and Latinos. This is the dominant means for managing social inequality in an era of obsolescence and pervasive economic insecurity.

GB: For Michelle Alexander and her many followers on the anti-racist left, these are instances of a “New Jim Crow.” How do you respond?

CJ: The same. If you look at the prison population, blacks are not the majority. African Americans are certainly overrepresented, and in certain states they constitute a majority of those incarcerated or under court supervision. Therefore, we are not looking at something motivated exclusively or even primarily by racism. I’m not suggesting that the system is not racialized, or that racist policing is not a part of the equation. It is. But there is much more that we need to get a handle on, especially if we want to build a movement powerful enough to change the current state of affairs.

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Global Working Class

SWWorld(Wildcat Germany)

Uprising or Class Struggle?

The concept of class has become popular again. After the most recent global economic crisis, even bourgeois newspapers started posing the question: “Wasn’t Marx right after all?” For the last two years Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ has been on the bestseller list – a book which describes in a detailed way how historically, the capitalist process of accumulation resulted in a concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of capital owners. In western democracies too, significant inequalities have led to an increase in fear of social uprisings. This spectre has haunted the world in recent years – from riots in Athens, London, Baltimore, to the revolts in North Africa, which at times got rid of whole state governments. As usual during these times of unrest, while one faction of the rulers call for repression and weapons, the other raises the ‘social question’, which is supposed to be solved by reforms or redistribution policies.

Global crisis has de-legitimated capitalism; the politics of the rulers and governments to make the workers and poor pay for the crisis has fuelled anger and desperation. Who would still dispute that we live in a ‘class society’? But what does that mean?

‘Classes’ in the more narrow sense of the word only emerge with capitalism – but the disappropriation from the means of production on which the property-less state of the proletarian is based, has not been a singular historical process. Disappropriation is a daily reoccurrence within the production process itself: workers produce, but the product of their labour does not belong to them. They only get what they need for the reproduction of their labour power, or that according to the living standard that they have claimed through struggle.

In principle, class societies don’t recognise any privileges by birthright, rather the ownership of money determines one’s position in society. In principle capitalism makes it possible to have a career that starts from being a dishwasher to becoming a stock market speculator (or at least a small entrepreneur, which is the hope of many migrants). At the same time, members of the petty bourgeoisie or artisans can descend into the ranks of the proletarians. Climbing up the social ladder is rarely the result of one’s own labour, rather of the ability to become a capitalist and to appropriate other people’s labour. (The mafia, as well, possesses this ability.)

In actual fact, a process of class polarisation takes place, which Marx and Engels had already grasped as an explosive force and precondition for revolution. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.”(Manifesto) Immanuel Wallerstein declared Marx’s thesis of class polarisation to be his most radical one, which – once related to the world system – has been proven to be true. Polarisation means, on one hand, proletarianisation, on the other hand bourgeoisification.

Capital is not simply wealth accumulated in the hands of a few. Capital is the precondition and result of the capitalist process of production, in which living labour creates value, which is appropriated by others. For capitalism is not typically the ‘exploitation’ of a single worker by an artisan master, but the exploitation of a big mass of workers in a factory. It is a mode of production based on the fact that millions of people work together although they don’t know each other. They produce value together, but together they can also refuse this work and question the social division of labour. As labour power, workers are part of capital; as the working class, they are capital’s biggest enemy within.

Generations of ‘scientific management’ researchers have tried to expropriate workers’ knowledge of how to produce in order to become independent from them. They have established parallel production units in order to be able to continue production in case workers go on strike. They have closed down and relocated factories in order to be able to increase exploitation of, and control over, new groups of workers. But they were not able to exorcise the spectre. During the strike-waves of 2010, for the first time it haunted all parts of the globe simultaneously. These struggles are currently in the process of changing this world. Even academia has become aware of it and after a long time has turned the working class into an object of their research again – as numerous publications, new magazines and web-pages demonstrate, through which left-wing social scientists try to create links between workers in different continents. In Germany for the last 25 years, workers were left alone with their struggles – here, as well, social movements and intellectuals have started referring to them again.

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