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The Permanent Crisis (Mattick, 1934)

Henryk Grossmann’s Interpretation of Marx’s Theory of Capitalist Accumulation

by Paul Mattick, International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no. 2, November 1934, pp. 1-20. PDF

I.

According to Marx, the development of the productive forces of society is the motive power of historical development. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production, and in changing their mode of production, their manner of gaining a living, they change all their social relations. The transformation of the spinning wheel, the hand-loom and blacksmiths sledge, into the self-tending mule, the power-loom and the steam hammer was not only accompanied by a change of the small individual shops of the craftsmen into huge industrial plants employing thousands of workers, but there also came with it the social overturn from feudalism to capitalism; that is, not merely a material revolution, but a cultural revolution as well.

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Left Radicalism and the Milky Way: Connecting the Scientific and Socialist Virtues of Anton Pannekoek (Tai, 2017)

Pannekoek

by Chaokang Tai, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 47, Number 2, 200–254, 2017

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Anton Pannekoek (1873–60) was both an influential Marxist and an innovative astronomer. This paper will analyze the various innovative methods that he developed to represent the visual aspect of the Milky Way and the statistical distribution of stars in the galaxy through a framework of epistemic virtues. Doing so will not only emphasize the unique aspects of his astronomical research, but also reveal its connections to his left radical brand of Marxism. A crucial feature of Pannekoek’s astronomical method was the active role ascribed to astronomers. They were expected to use their intuitive ability to organize data according to the appearance of the Milky Way, even as they had to avoid the influence of personal experience and theoretical presuppositions about the shape of the system. With this method, Pannekoek produced results that went against the Kapteyn Universe and instead made him the first astronomer in the Netherlands to find supporting evidence for Harlow Shapley’s extended galaxy. After exploring Pannekoek’s Marxist philosophy, it is argued that both his astronomical method and his interpretation of historical materialism can be seen as strategies developed to make optical use of his particular conception of the human mind.

Mattick and Council Communism in Miserable Times: Critique Between Defeat and Crisis

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A reading list by A New Institute for Social Research, 2021

See also: Theses on the Council Concept

A few accounts of the emergence of the tendency

New theory, new practice

Against and beyond the old movements

The critique of organization

From depression to fascist war

Mattick’s critical theory vs. postwar society

Marxism and Mediation (Gunn, 1987)

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Richard Gunn, Common Sense No. 2 (July 1987)

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In both Hegelian and Marxist thought, the concept of mediation figures as a central dialectical category. That the category does theoretical, and revolutionary, work is clear. What is less clear, to myself at any rate, is what might be termed the conceptual geography of the category itself. It is this conceptual geography which, as a preliminary to further discussion, the present paper attempts to clarify. A more pretentious title for what follows might be ‘Prolegomena to a Reading of Marx’.

To mediate is to bring about a relation by means of a relating (an “intermediate”) term. A mediation is the relating term itself. To count as a mediation, a relating term must be more than a mere catalyst or external condition (however necessary) of the relation: rather, it must itself be the relation. It must constitute it, in the way that for example – and the example is offered merely heuristically – a rope linking two climbers is constitutive of the relation in which they stand.

If a mediation is, thus, the relation which it establishes, it does not follow that just any relation counts as a mediating term. A mediated relation is distinct from a relation for which, to render it intelligible or accurately describe it, no reference to a relating term need be made – for example, a relation of juxtaposition. A relation of this kind is an immediate relation (which, for its part, may be catalysed or necessitated in this or that way).

In partial praise of a positivist (O’Neill, 1995)

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The work of Otto Neurath

by John O’Neill (Radical Philosophy, 1995)

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From the Frankfurt School the story has emerged that positivism is a conservative doctrine necessarily committed to existing social institutions and to a technocratic conception of politics. Even the most scientistic orthodox Marxist is unlikely to announce that she is a positivist. Such is the disrepute into which positivism has fallen that to accept the title of positivist would amount to an admission that one’s position was untenable. The picture of positivism that informs its use as a term of academic abuse is a caricature. Positivist philosophy was much more heterogeneous than recent thumbnail versions allow, and many of the doctrines ascribed to it were explicitly rejected by many of its proponents.  Neurath himself was unhappy with the term for the very reason that it suggested a systematic set of doctrines incompatible with the methodological pluralism he defended, although ‘not being a pedant’ he was willing to ‘bear it’.

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Rosa Luxemburg’s Global Class Analysis (van der Linden, 2016)

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by Marcel van der Linden, Historical Materialism 24.1 (2016) 135–159

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How did Rosa Luxemburg, in her The Accumulation of Capital and other writings, analyse the development of the working class and other subordinate classes under capitalism, and how did she view the relationship between these classes and those living in ‘natural economic societies’? Following primary sources closely, the present essay reconstructs and evaluates Luxemburg’s class analysis of global society. It is shown that Luxemburg pioneered a truly global concept of solidarity from below, including the most oppressed – women and colonised peoples.

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Catastrophism, disaster management and sustainable submission (Riesel and Semprun, 2008)

Catastrophism 2

In this book first published in 2008, Jaime Semprun and René Riesel examine the attempt by predominantly First World governments and NGOs to utilize the specter of an environmental apocalypse as an alibi to save “industrial civilization” by imposing a rationed form of “survival”, justified by a terroristic propaganda campaign based on fear, enforced by an expansion of the state’s coercive powers, and facilitated by the mass conformism and resignation that “industrial society” has induced in the population by creating an “anxiogenic environment” of “insecurity and generalized instability”; “[f]or the fears proclaimed by the experts … are in reality nothing but orders”.

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The End of Utopia (Marcuse, 1967)

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Herbert Marcuse, lecture at FU West Berlin 1967, published in Five Lectures

Today any form of the concrete world, of human life, any transformation of the technical and natural environment is a possibility, and the locus of this possibility is historical. Today we have the capacity to turn the world into hell, and we are well on the way to doing so. We also have the capacity to turn it into the opposite of hell. This would mean the end of utopia, that is, the refutation of those ideas and theories that use the concept of utopia to denounce certain socio-historical possibilities. It can also be understood as the “end of history” in the very precise sense that the new possibilities for a human society and its environment can no longer be thought of as continuations of the old, nor even as existing in the same historical continuum with them. Rather, they presuppose a break with the historical continuum; they presuppose the qualitative difference between a free society and societies that are still unfree, which, according to Marx, makes all previous history only the prehistory of mankind.

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Marxism and Merchant Capitalism

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by Jairus Banaji

Draft of a chapter for The Handbook of Marxism, eds., Sara Farris and Alberto Toscano.

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‘Merchant’s or trading capital’, as Marx refers to it as the start of the sequence of chapters where this is discussed in Capital vol. 3 was largely marginal to Marx‘s understanding of the capitalist mode of production, which, of course, was embodied in the dynamics (the laws of motion) of industrial capital and personified by the industrial capitalist. In fact, in its leading form, viz. as commercial capital, it was simply a transmuted form of industrial capital itself, a circulation of the commodity capital of the industrialist, for ever penned into [industrial] capital‘s circulation sphere‘. Merchant capitalists do figure in Volume 3 but they do so strictly only as agents of industrial capital.

I shall argue that it was perfectly consistent for Marx to argue in this way, since he saw the accumulation of industrial capital as the driving force behind the capitalist mode of production and his interest lay in analysing the accumulation process of a total capital dominated by large-scale industry. However, this conception will not work historically when Marxists have to deal with periods of history where industrial capitalism (the capitalist mode of production in Marx‘s sense) was largely embryonic or even completely absent. The reason why most Marxists tend not to be troubled by this is that the centuries of early capitalism (to use a conventional term that was popular among historians roughly a century ago) have on the whole been framed either in terms of a historically nebulous age of primitive accumulation‘ (Dobb) or, from the fifties on, as a prolonged transition from feudalism to (industrial) capitalism with its implied ―coexistence of modes of production. But a major upshot of this conceptual indifference, so to speak, has been the abdication of this whole field of history to historians working largely outside a strictly Marxist tradition, even if at least some of those historians, notably Braudel, were profoundly influenced by Marx. READ PDF

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Translations by Banaji:

Serfdom in a Free Society (Mattick, 1946)

by Paul MattickWestern Socialist, Boston, USA, September 1946

The Road to Serfdom. By Friedrich A. Hayek, University of Chicago Press, 1944 (250 pp.; $2.75).

Full Employment in a Free Society. By William H. Beveridge. W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1945. (429pp; $3,75).

Both these books are dedicated to the “socialists of all parties.” Hayek wants to discourage them, Beveridge tries to offer encouragement. Both writers speak in the name of science and deal with the reality of, and the need for, capitalistic planning. But what appears to Hayek as the road to serfdom seems to Beveridge the highway to a free society.

Russia and Germany prove to Hayek that socialism does not lead to freedom. The most important guaranty of freedom, he maintains, is a system of private property. Planning and freedom cannot go together. Without a labor market and an industrial reserve army, for example, discipline can be maintained only by corporal punishment, for which reason socialism implies slave-labor. The “collective freedom” of which the planners speak is, in Hayek’s opinion, “but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases.”

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Cured Quail Vol. 2

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PREORDER NOW

As industrial culture grinds to a halt, what better time to reflect, in this hour of unprecedented catastrophe, unwieldy political ferment and social distance, on the backlog of damages inflicted by this society? The economy continues to demand reverence from lives barely tottering along while offering cultural consolation hardly worth the name.

Preorders are now open for Cured Quail Vol. 2. The more preorders we receive, the faster the printer cylinders rotate.

Cured Quail Volume 2 | Fall 2020 | 304 pages

Cured Quail also now has its own Facebook and Twitter pages. Be sure to follow!

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

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by Friedrich Pollock (1941)

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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.

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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

1.
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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Nihilist Communism (2009)

A critique of optimism — the religious dogma that states there will be an ultimate triumph of good over evil — in the far left

Preface

You know it is a book if it weighs a quarter pound.

A book is dependent more on the quantity of its words than on quality of writing. Certainly, I have written better elsewhere but our book, this book, has a weight about it that goes beyond the writing – it has been assigned its own four ounces of reality, its half inch of spine width; Nihilist Communism is a true thing in the world of things, it has independent existence. Admittedly, the viability of this existence has been sustained amongst a very small readership, but nevertheless this book is real.

The phenomenon of books escaping from their authors is a curious matter and it is difficult to know how to respond to it; at one level we feel responsible for it, it is ours; at a different level entirely (the text is anti-copyright), it functions under its own power. I sense that my right to talk about it, alter it, frame it, is debatable. After all, there are live threads leading from the event of its initial publication which I might now cut with these comments here. It seems to me that there are more disconnections in the republishing of a book than there are continuities. At the least, there is the opportunity to modify and manipulate what went before.

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The geology of mankind? A critique of the Anthropocene narrative

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by Andreas Malm & Alf Hornborg (2014) [PDF]

The Anthropocene narrative portrays humanity as a species ascending to power over the rest of the Earth System. In the crucial field of climate change, this entails the attribution of fossil fuel combustion to properties acquired during human evolution, notably the ability to manipulate fire. But the fossil economy was not created nor is it upheld by humankind in general. This intervention questions the use of the species category in the Anthropocene narrative and argues that it is analytically flawed, as well as inimical to action. Intra-species inequalities are part and parcel of the current ecological crisis and cannot be ignored in attempts to understand it.

source: The Anthropocene Review, 1(1), 62-69, 2014 

Supply Chains and the Human Condition

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by Anna Tsing (2009) PDF

This article theorizes supply chain capitalism as a model for understanding both the continent-crossing scale and the constitutive diversity of contemporary global capitalism. In contrast with theories of growing capitalist homogeneity, the analysis points to the structural role of difference in the mobilization of capital, labor, and resources. Here labor mobilization in supply chains is the focus, as it depends on the performance of gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and citizenship status. The article uses the concept of figuration to show how difference is mobilized within supply chains, and to point to the importance of tropes of management, consumption, and entrepreneurship in workers’ understandings of supply chain labor. These tropes make supply chains possible by bringing together self-exploitation and superexploitation. Diversity is thus structurally central to global capitalism, and not decoration on a common core.

Source: Rethinking Marxism, 21(2), 148–176, 2009

See also:  The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins Anna Tsing, 2015

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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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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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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