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Tag: Marx

Class and Capital (Paul Mattick Jr., 2002)

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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]


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Postone and Class Theory

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by A New Institute for Social Research (2019)

Moishe Postone’s most famous work in the Anglophone world, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, is hampered by the fact that it is written against a straw man — “traditional Marxism.” The effort to prove that traditional Marxism has a superficial understanding of capitalism, and thus that the USSR only made superficial changes and remained essentially capitalist, leads him to the curious argumentative strategy of attempting to sift out only what is ‘essential’ in Marx’s theory. Yet as Postone himself continually asserts, Marx’s categories are historically specific and refer to the actually-existing capitalist social totality. This perverted totality is constituted by a real metaphysics, an essential movement and its forms of appearance, but that doesn’t make the forms of appearance ‘inessential’ in the sense of being dispensable — as every student of Hegel knows, essence must appear. What sense does it make then to claim that the commodity (a thing produced by and for exchange) is essential, but exchange is not? That proletarian labor is essential, but class is not? It makes sense only to the extent that Postone has redefined property, class, and exchange in a superficial manner in order to declare them inessential.

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The Mesh of Power (Foucault, 1976)

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by Michel Foucault 1976 (translated by Chris Chitty)

Introduction by Chris Chitty |  Original French

We will attempt to proceed towards an analysis of the concept of power.1 I am not the first, far from it, to attempt to skirt around the Freudian schema that pits instinct against suppression [répression], instinct against culture.2 Many decades ago, an entire school of psychoanalysts tried to modify and develop this Freudian schema of instinct versus culture, and of instinct versus suppression – I am referring to psychoanalysts in the English as well as the French language, like Melanie Klein, Winnicott, and Lacan, who have tried to show that suppression, far from being a secondary, ulterior, or later mechanism, which would attempt to control a given or natural play of instinct, constitutes a part of the mechanism of instinct, or, more or less, of the process through which the sexual instinct [l’instinct sexuel] is developed, unfolded and constituted as drive [pulsion].

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Die Sehnsucht nach dem ganz Anderen: Max Horkheimer im Interview mit Helmut Gumnior (1970)

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»In einer wirklich freiheitlichen Gesinnung bleibt jener Begriff des Unendlichen als Bewußtsein der Endgültigkeit des irdischen Geschehens und der unabänderlichen Verlassenheit des Menschen erhalten und bewahrt die Gesellschaft vor einem blöden Optimismus, vor dem Aufspreizen ihres eigenen Wissens als einer neuen Religion.«

Diesen Satz schrieb Max Horkheimer vor 35 Jahren im amerikanischen Exil. Er war damals seit über einem Jahr in New York. Noch galt er zu der Zeit als Marxist, als Begründer einer Theorie, die gesellschaftliches Wirken als Produktionsprozeß zu begreifen versuchte, die Philosophie als Kampf und nicht als weltferne Spekulation verstand, die von einer Revolution eine heile Welt, den vernünftigen Zustand der Gesellschaft erwartete.

H.G.: Herr Horkheimer, wie kommt ein Marxist, ein Revolutionär dazu, einen solchen Satz zu schreiben?

MAX HORKHEIMER: Es stimmt, ich war Marxist, ich war Revolutionär. Ich habe nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg begonnen, mich mit Marx zu beschäftigen, weil die Gefahr des Nationalismus offenkundig war. Ich glaubte, nur durch eine Revolution könnte der Nationalsozialismus beseitigt werden und zwar durch eine marxistische Revolution. Mein Marxismus, mein Revolutionärsein war eine Antwort auf die Herrschaft des Totalitären von rechts. Ich hatte aber schon damals Zweifel, ob die von Marx verlangte Solidarität des Proletariats schließlich zu einer richtigen Gesellschaft führen würde.

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Theory of Crisis and the Problem of Constitution (Marramao, 1975)

 

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by Giacomo Marramao – Telos No. 26, Winter 1975-76

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It is still widely held that the theory of the crisis and collapse of the capitalist system is inherited from the positivist deformation of the “Marxism of the Second International,” and that it thus implies ideological support for reformist politics. Ten years ago, Raniero Panzieri wrote: “As a matter of fact, Marxist thought since Marx has recognized the appearance of a ‘turn’ in the system with the development of monopoly capitalism and of imperialism around the 1870s (which today appears to us as a transitional period in relation to the ‘turn’ that began in the 1930s and is now being completed). But the analysis and description of the phase following that turn was immediately framed in terms of laws that such a phase tended to overcome. Thus, it was interpreted as a ‘final phase’.”[1] And, in a note, he added: “The mythology of the ‘last stage’ of capitalism exists with differing, even opposite, ideological functions both in Lenin and in Kautsky: in Lenin, to ‘legitimize’ the breakdown of the system at the less advanced points of its development; in Kautsky, to sanction the reformist postponement of revolutionary action until the ‘correct time.’ Since the 1917 revolution failed to consolidate itself with revolutions in more advanced countries, it fell back on objectives immediately realizable within Russia’s level of development. This would-be explanation of the possible presence of capitalist social relations in planning (a shortcoming remaining in the whole development of Leninist thought) will later facilitate the repetition, whether in the factories or in total social production, of capitalist forms behind the ideological screen of identifying socialism with planning and the possibility of ‘socialism in one country’.”[2]

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The original content of the communist program (Bordiga, 1958)

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By Amadeo Bordiga

The original content of the communist program is the obliteration of the individual as an economic subject, rights-holder, and agent of human history

Marxism and property

One topic that we have frequently found ourselves occupied with is that of the formula which in the communist program correctly counterposes the post-bourgeois historical era to the current one. To this topic was dedicated the old study in the first issue of Prometeo on “Property and Capital” [1]. We discussed, and at our last meeting in Turin [2] we returned to it with thoroughness, the most common propagandistic formula of pre-war socialism: the abolition of private property in the means of production (and of exchange). We use the parenthesis because this is how it is written in a fitting text by Engels.

The noun abolition has never been satisfactory. It reeks of a volitional act, and as such it is good for anarchists and (logically) for reformists. The adjective private raises the question of whether the relationship which we denote by the word ‘property’ should disappear in communist society, or only change its subject.

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Mask Off: Crisis & Struggle in the Pandemic

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Cosmonaut.blog – Richard Hunsinger & Nathan Eisenberg give an in-depth analysis of the current crisis where economic breakdown, pandemic, and mass revolt collide into a historic conjuncture that will forever shape the trajectory of world events. June 2020. DOWNLOAD PDF

We are running out of places to keep the bodies. In Detroit, a hospital resorted to stacking up the dead on top of each other in a room usually used for sleep studies. In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic where, for a week in April, someone died of COVID-19 every 3 minutes, a fleet of refrigeration trucks is enabling interment in parking lots for overcrowded hospitals. The chair of New York’s City Council health committee, publicly stated that they were preparing contingency plans, per a 2016 “fatality surge” study, to dig mass graves in a public park. The resulting moral backlash prompted Mayor de Blasio to deny any such plans would be carried out, but he would go on to emphasize the necessity for mass graves on Hart Island, an old potter’s field in the Bronx long home to the unclaimed corpses of the indigent, which has quintupled its monthly intake of bodies. As is protocol, the excess demand for the work of burying bodies on the island is being met with the use of prison labor from Rikers Island, which itself has the highest infection rate in the world. The situation in private funeral homes is similarly dire. Dozens of corpses were recently found rotting in U-Hauls outside a funeral home in New York. In Ecuador, there are cases of bodies being wrapped in plastic and left on the sidewalk for days before strained hospitals can send an ambulance, prompting engineers in Colombia to come to their aid by developing hospital beds that transform into coffins. Mass graves are cropping up across the world, in Ukraine, in Iran, in Brazil. A man in Manaus, Brazil, interviewed by a Guardian reporter while watching his mother’s coffin be lowered into a trench alongside 20 others, despaired, “They were just dumped there like dogs. What are our lives worth now? Nothing.”

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Value Isn’t Everything (2018)

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

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

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Expropriation of the Expropriators

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

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

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

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Capital Abandon: Some Words On and Oft Inspired by Jacques Camatte

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by Howard Slater, January 2020 (metamute)

While for many on the Left, the theory of ultra-left communist Jacques Camatte has long been condemned for its ‘nostalgia’ and ‘primitivism’, our current moment of climate crisis and a ‘generalised madness’ brought on by capitalism’s psyche harvesting reveals these works to have a powerful relevance. In this overarching account of Camatte’s project, Howard Slater, citing previously untranslated texts, draws out the former’s interest in unlocking the repressed communal dimensions of the human being as a marker of revolutionary praxis

‘What is important for us is to create new

emotional relationships for a redeployment of life

Jacques Camatte

The work of Jacques Camatte is still relatively little known in the English-speaking world and as a consequence rarely discussed by Marxologists. His work is more familiar to that mix of disgruntled anarchists and non-Leninist communists who had passed through the Situationist School: anarchists tempted by the revelatory rigour of Marx, and Marxists tempted by the communitarian and non-party dimension of anarchism. In more recent years Camatte’s work has found itself utilised and commented on by two divergent schools: the accelerationist and communising tendencies. This is perhaps testament to the resonant eclecticism of Camatte’s work, his deep familiarisation with the work of Marx and yet his ‘shocking’ rejection of one of its main tenets: class struggle.

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Planning and Anarchy

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by Jasper Bernes (2020) PDF

Central planning?! Computers can do it!!! Among the intuitions animating the contemporary left, we must rank rather high the felt sense that powerful new computing technologies now offer a solution to problems of calculation previously insuperable for the red-eyed central planners of “actually existing” socialist states. This is more or less the central thrust of Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski’s recent book, The People’s Republic of Walmart, recapitulating a line of argument expressed in prominent books like Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future and Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism. Walmart and other corporations demonstrate that “economic planning on a massive scale is being realized in practice with the assistance of technological advance, even as the wrangling of its infinities of data . . . are supposed to be possible to overcome” (Phillips and Rozworski 2019: 39) . . .

source: South Atlantic Quarterly (2020) 119 (1): 53–73

The Temporalities of Capitalism (Sewell, 2008)

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by William H. Sewell, Jr

Socio-Economic Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 517- 537 (PDF)

See also: Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation 2005

The temporalities of capitalism are in certain respects unique. The temporalities of social life in general are ‘eventful’, i.e. irreversible, contingent, uneven, discontinuous and transformational. Although capitalist social processes are in certain respects super-eventful, the extreme abstraction that is a signature of capitalist development enables core processes of capitalism to escape from the irreversibility of time and to sustain a recurrent logic at their core. This means that the temporality of capitalism is composite and contradictory, simultaneously still and hyper-eventful. Recognizing this contradiction at the core of capitalism poses important conceptual and methodological challenges for those who study it.

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No Bases, No Superstructures: Against Legal Economism

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Nate Holdren and Rob Hunter on rethinking the “base/superstructure” model.

via Legal Form

[Several recent posts on Legal Form have tackled the “base/superstructure” model sketched in Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, posing questions about its analytical usefulness, correct interpretation, and ongoing relevance. For these earlier posts, authored by Anandha Krishna Raj, Nate Holdren, and Matthew Dimick respectively, see herehere, and here. The present post responds to and builds upon these earlier posts.]

Three Different Accounts of the Relationship Between State and Civil Society

Capitalist society subordinates human flourishing and freedom to the accumulation of value. This proposition is central to Marx’s critique of political economy. Historically, critics of Marx have taken this view to mean that he is a fundamentally economic thinker, portraying his critique as merely economic, and thus necessarily inadequate or distorted. This criticism has motivated a number of attempts to theorize the relationship between economic relations and other social relations. Such attempts are premised on the recognition that the sum of economic relations is not simply the prime mover of every other social relation. Law, the state, culture and subculture, religion, gender, sexuality, and more all have specificities forged through concrete histories of struggle, just like (and in close connection with) economic relations.

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Theft Is Property! The Recursive Logic of Dispossession

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by Robert Nichols (2017) [PDF]

This article offers a preliminary critical-historical reconstruction of the concept of dispossession. Part I examines its role in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century struggles against European feudal land tenure. Drawing upon Marx’s critique of French anarchism in particular, I identify a persistent limitation at the heart of the concept. Since dispossession presupposes prior possession, recourse to it appears conservative and tends to reinforce the very proprietary and commoditized models of social relations that radical critics generally seek to undermine. Part II turns to use of the term in Indigenous struggles against colonization, both in order to better grasp the stakes of the above problematic and suggest a way beyond it. Through a reconstruction of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists, I seek to show the coherence and novelty of their formulation by suggesting that dispossession has come to name a unique historical process, one in which property is generated under conditions that require divestment and alienation from those who appear, only retroactively, as its original owners. In this way, theft and property are related in a recursive, rather than strictly unilinear, manner. Part III provides a specific historical example in the form of nineteenth-century US property law concerning squatters and homesteaders.

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Automation and the Future of Work (Benanav 2019)

Technological Waste

by Aaron Benanav

Part 1: Automation and the Future of Work 1, NLR 119, September October 2019

Part 2: Automation and the Future of Work 2, NLR 120, November December 2019

The world is abuzz with talk of automation. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics seem set to transform the world of work. In the most advanced factories, companies like Tesla have been aiming for ‘lightsout’ production, in which fully automated work processes, no longer needing human hands, can run in the dark. Meanwhile, in the illuminated halls of robotics conventions, machines are on display that can play ping-pong, cook food, have sex and even hold conversations. Computers are not only developing new strategies for playing Go, but are said to be writing symphonies that bring audiences to tears. Dressed in white lab coats or donning virtual suits, computers are learning to identify cancers and will soon be developing legal strategies. Trucks are already barrelling across the us without drivers; robotic dogs are carrying military-grade weapons across desolate plains. Are we living in the last days of human toil? Is what Edward Bellamy once called the ‘edict of Eden’ about to be revoked, as ‘men’—or at least, the wealthiest among them—become like gods?

The Author as Producer (Walter Benjamin, 1934)

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Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, April 27, 1934

The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers. –

Ramon Fernandez

You recall how Plato treats the poets in his projected State. In the interest of the community, he does not allow them to live there. He had a high idea of the power of poetry. But he considered it destructive, superfluous – in a perfect community, needless to say. Since then, the question of the poet’s right to exist has not often been stated with the same insistence; but it is today. Certainly it has rarely been posed in this form. But you are all more or less familiar with it as the question of the poet’s autonomy: his freedom to write whatever he may please. You are not inclined to accord him this autonomy. You believe that the current social situation forces the poet to choose whom his activity will serve. The bourgeois writer of popular stories does not acknowledge this alternative. So you show him that even without admitting it, he works in the interests of a particular class. An advanced type of writer acknowledges this alternative. His decision is determined on the basis of the class struggle when he places himself on the side of the proletariat. But then his autonomy is done for. He directs his energies toward what is useful for the proletariat in the class struggle. We say that he espouses a tendency. [1]

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The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry (Malm, 2013)

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By Andreas Malm, Historical Materialism 21.1 (2013) 15–68 [PDF]

The process commonly referred to as business-as-usual has given rise to dangerous climate change, but its social history remains strangely unexplored. A key moment in its onset was the transition to steam power as a source of rotary motion in commodity production, in Britain and, first of all, in its cotton industry. This article tries to approach the dynamics of the fossil economy by examining the causes of the transition from water to steam in the British cotton industry in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Common perceptions of the shift as driven by scarcity are refuted, and it is shown that the choice of steam was motivated by a rather different concern: power over labour. Turning away from standard interpretations of the role of energy in the industrial revolution, this article opens a dialogue with Marx on matters of carbon and outlines a theory of fossil capital, better suited for understanding the drivers of business-as-usual as it continues to this day.

 

Who Will Build The Ark? (Davis, 2010)

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by Mike Davis (PDF)

New Left Review 61, January-February 2010

What follows is rather like the famous courtroom scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). [1] In that noir allegory of proletarian virtue in the embrace of ruling-class decadence, Welles plays a leftwing sailor named Michael O’Hara who rolls in the hay with femme fatale Rita Hayworth, and then gets framed for murder. Her husband, Arthur Bannister, the most celebrated criminal lawyer in America, played by Everett Sloane, convinces O’Hara to appoint him as his defence, all the better to ensure his rival’s conviction and execution. At the turning point in the trial, decried by the prosecution as ‘yet another of the great Bannister’s famous tricks’, Bannister the attorney calls Bannister the aggrieved husband to the witness stand and interrogates himself in rapid schizoid volleys, to the mirth of the jury. In the spirit of Lady from Shanghai, this essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable.

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society (Marcuse, 1979)

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society, a talk delivered shortly before Herbert Marcuse’s death in 1979, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 3(3) 1992

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am glad to be able to address the wilderness class. Actually, I’m not sure what to say because I don’t see any more problems. As you know, President Carter has turned over some thirty-six million acres of wilderness land to commercial development. There isn’t much wilderness left to preserve. But we still will try, nonetheless.

What I propose to do is to discuss the destruction of nature in the context of the general destructiveness which characterizes our society. I will then trace the roots of this destructiveness in individuals themselves; that is, I will examine psychological destructiveness within individuals.

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The Bourgeois(ie) as Concept and Reality (Wallerstein, 1988)

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In the mythology of the modern world, the quintessential protagonist is the bourgeois. Hero for some, villain for others, the inspiration or lure for most, he has been the shaper of the present and the destroyer of the past. In English, we tend to avoid the term ‘bourgeois’, preferring in general the locution ‘middle class’ (or classes). It is a small irony that despite the vaunted individualism of Anglo-Saxon thought, there is no convenient singular form for ‘middle class(es)’. We are told by the linguists that the term appeared for the first time in Latin form, burgensis, in 1007 and is recorded in French as burgeis as of 1100. It originally designated the inhabitant of a bourg, an urban area, but an inhabitant who was ‘free’. Free, however, from what? Free from the obligations that were the social cement and the economic nexus of a feudal system. The bourgeois was not a peasant or serf, but he was also not a noble. . . [READ PDF]

For more Immanuel Wallerstein, see: