by Antithesi (April 18, 2020)
The growth of production has been entirely verified until now as the realization of political economy: the growth of poverty, which has invaded and laid waste to the very fabric of life… In the society of the over-developed economy, everything has entered the sphere of economic goods, even spring water and the air of towns, that is to say, everything has become the economic ill, that “complete denial of man”…
Guy Debord, The sick planet
The outbreak of the pandemic and its spread all over the world is the most recent expression of what Debord has identified half a century ago as the “economic ill”. Capital is not only a class relation of exploitation and domination but also a relation of alienation of society from nature in which both the producers of social wealth and non-human nature as an autonomous productive force are transformed into objects that are dominated and plundered by it. The continuously expanding process of the subsumption of nature under capital is conflictual and contradictory. The consequences of this subsumption emerge as phenomena like global warming, the infestation of farmland with superweeds, the slowdown of agricultural productivity and, today, the coronavirus pandemic.
Written by Guy Debord in 1971, this text was intended for publication in Internationale Situationniste 13, which never appeared. It was first published in the French edition of the present collection in 2004. It may also be found in Guy Debord, Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 2006, pp. 1063-9). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, published in English, 2008. PDF
‘POLLUTION’ IS IN FASHION TODAY, exactly in the same way as revolution: it dominates the whole life of society, and it is represented in illusory form in the spectacle. It is the subject of mind-numbing chatter in a plethora of erroneous and mystifying writing and speech, yet it really does have everyone by the throat. It is on display everywhere as ideology, yet it is continually gaining ground as a material development. Two antagonistic tendencies, progression towards the highest form of commodity production and the project of its total negation, equally rich in contradictions within themselves, grow ever stronger in parallel with one other. Here are the two sides whereby a sole historical moment, long awaited and often described in advance in partial and inadequate terms, is made manifest: the moment when it becomes impossible for capitalism to carry on working.
Legal Form – This collection of documents contains texts that (a) are widely recognized as “canonical” within the Marxist tradition, (b) grapple with legal questions from a standpoint informed by Marxist methods, (c) scrutinize a specifically Marxist approach to law in the context of a particular debate, and/or (d) examine the historical conditions under which a given account of Marxism and law was initially discussed. Some are exceedingly well known; others remain unread, or are largely forgotten. Save for the most relevant or “authoritative” figures, we have generally endeavored to include no more than one text for each author.
Link to: Archive of Erik Olin Wright’s work (mediafire, zip file, 244MB)
“One of Poulantzas’s most important contributions is his insistence that class relations cannot be understood solely in terms of economic relations; political and ideological relations must be brought into the understanding of objective class position itself. The weakness of his analysis, as discussed earlier, is that he has developed this principle in such a way that ideological and political criteria have effectively become coequal with economic relations themselves. For political and ideological relations to be integrated into a theory of the structural determination of class, it is necessary that this be done in a way that maintains the primacy of economic relations. We need, in other words, a criterion for the use of political and ideological relations which is itself determined by economic relations.
Our analysis of contradictory class locations provides us with such a criterion: the extent to which political and ideological relations enter into the determination of class position is itself determined by the degree to which those positions occupy a contradictory location at the level of social relations of production. The more contradictory is a position within social relations of production, the more political and ideological relations can influence its objective position within class relations. The more a position coincides with the basic antagonistic class relations at the level of social relations of production, the less weight political and ideological forces can have in determining its class position. In a sense it is the indeterminacy of class determination at the economic level which allows political and ideological relations to become effective determinants of class position.
Political and ideological relations can either tend to heighten or to counteract the contradictory quality of locations that are not completely determined at the economic level. For example, the ideological division between mental and manual labour, on which Poulantzas places such stress, would tend to deepen the contradictory class location of certain semi-autonomous employees. Many technicians with only minimal control over their immediate labour process would be located close to the boundary of the working class in terms of the three dimensions of class relations at the economic level, but would be pushed further from the working class by the status division between mental and manual labour. A strong union movement among white-collar employees, on the other hand, could constitute a political factor which pushed them closer to the working class. In this way, political and ideological class struggle become determinants of the objective class positions of contradictory locations at the economic level.”
For Ourselves (1974)
The positive conception of egoism, the perspective of communist egoism, is the very heart and unity of our theoretical and practical coherence.
This perspective is the essence of what separates us from both the left and the right. We cannot allow its fundamental importance to be obscured, or ourselves to be mistaken for either the right or the left. We cannot allow any Leninist organization to get away with claiming that it is only ‘a little bit pregnant’ with state capitalism.
Greed in its fullest sense is the only possible basis of communist society.
The present forms of greed lose out, in the end, because they turn out to be not greedy enough.
The repression of egoism can never totally succeed, except as the destruction of human subjectivity, the extinction of the human species itself, because egoism is an essential moment of human subjectivity. Its repression simply means that it returns in a hidden, duplicitous form. If it cannot show itself in the open market, it will find itself or create for itself a black market. If it is not tolerated in transparent n1 relations, the repressed self will split in two; into a represented self, a personal organization of appearances, a persona, and that which cringes and plots behind this character-armour n2. The repression of egoism, contrary to the dictates of every one of the so-called “Communists” (in opposition to Marx and Engels), from Lenin right down to Mao, can never be the basis of communist society.
Moreover, the repressive conception of “communism” misses precisely the whole point. It misses out on the validity of the egoistic moment. This is true even in the inverted form in which it emerges from an immanent critique of altruistic ideology: if I die, the world dies for me. Without life, I cannot love another. However, what it misses in “theory” – i.e., in its ideological representations – it nonetheless preserves in practice, and precisely with the help of that very ideology: its real basis is the egoism of the state-capitalist bureaucracy. This ideology of self-sacrifice serves admirably the task of extracting surplus-labour from the proletariat.
The actual negation of narrow egoism is a matter of transcendance (“aufhebung” n3), of the transition from a narrow to a qualitatively expanded form of egoism. The original self-expansion of egoism was identically the demise of the primitive community. But its further self-expansion will resolve itself into a community once again. It is only when greed itself at last (or rather, once again) beckons in the direction of community that that direction will be taken. Here the ancient Christian truth that no earthly force can withstand human greed rejoins us on our side of the barricades.
The recent election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves across the world. And while debates are still raging over the exact reasons that allowed Trump to win, the reactions to his victory show that very few people (maybe even among his supporters) expected him to win. In reality the signs that Trump stood a really good chance to emerge victorious in the US elections were there for those who cared to notice. But they were not confined to developments within the United States. Trump seems to ride the wave of a global trend towards authoritarian right-wing populism expressed in different countries such as Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary or Poland. But perhaps the “closest-to-home” expression of this tendency was the June 2016 referendum in the UK, in which a majority voted to leave the European Union.
The Brexit vote has also puzzled mainstream commentators, and this is no accident. From the perspective of the elites that have been managing the capitalist world (almost undisputed) in the last 30 years, the result was not only inexplicable but also tremendously destructive. For a large part of the capitalist class and its political representatives Brexit and its prospects (especially in relation to the City of London and its global significance) was nothing short of an economic disaster.
The UK had, after all, always enjoyed a special relation to the European Union, benefiting in many ways from its advantages without however carrying the burden of most of its structural problems. Away from the constraints of the monetary union, selective in its application of work and environmental regulations, the UK enjoyed what many saw an almost ideal relationship to the EU. Nonetheless, a majority opted to break away from this.
A number of questions immediately arise: what was the rationale behind the decision to hold the referendum, especially considering that most capitalists and politicians saw it clearly as a threat to their interests? How was it possible that the Leave vote won, when even those who represented it did not see it as a possibility? Does the overwhelming working class vote for Brexit represent a deepening of racist and anti-immigrant sentiments, or were there other considerations at stake? Finally, what could the future outside the EU look like for the UK, for its Finance sector, for Europe?
The Marxist economist Tony Norfield worked in the City’s dealing rooms for almost 20 years. Recently he published a book on the role of finance in the global economy (“The City: London and the Global Power of Finance, 2016). Since 5 years he has run a blog, Economics of Imperialism.
[The meeting will be held in English]
Tuesday 6th December, 20.00
wildenbuchstr. 86, 12045 Neukölln, Berlin
A number of left groups and individuals campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. Aufheben argue that the Brexit campaign, and the referendum itself, its results and its implementation, have been one with a victory of the ruling class against us. The implementation of Brexit will negatively affect solidarity among workers and radical protesters, setting back our strength and potentials to overturn capitalism. Many people in the radical left were blinded by the ideological forms of our capitalist relations, the reification of our human interactions, to the point of accepting a victory of the far right with acquiescence, or even collaborating with it.
We begin this article with a case dealt with by Brighton Solfed (SF) and CASE Central social center — the story of an EU migrant in Brighton.
At the end of 2015, L., a Spanish hospitality worker, sought help from SF. She had worked in a restaurant for more than a year but, as soon as she fell ill, her employer sacked her with a flimsy excuse, in order to avoid paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Receiving SSP would have been this worker’s right under both domestic and European Union (EU) legislation. However, the employer insisted that she left her job voluntarily, and refused to re-employ here.
One then claimed a sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). As an EU worker, she should have been entitled to equal rights under EU legislation, and to ESA. However, the state refused the benefit: they said that, due [to] a “gap” between the end of her job and her claim, she was no longer a “worker” when she claimed ESA. A benefits advice group helped with an appeal, but the state refused to reconsider. L. was in a desperate situation, with no money and far from her family, and was tempted to move back to Spain. This would amount to economic deportation — not imposed through physical force, but through extreme hardship.
Back in [the] 1970s the UK’s membership of the European Common Market was opposed by left-wing militants, as the Common Market was seen as a neoliberal club designed to prevent the advance of socialism, or just the implementation of Keynesian policies.
Michael Roberts reviews Fred Moseley’s new book, Money and Totality, Brill, 2016
One of the major trends in the world economy in the last two years has been the collapse of the price of oil in world markets. From a peak of over $100 a barrel, the price plummeted to under $30 a barrel and is still only around $40. The explanation for this fall, as provided by mainstream economics, is simple. There has been a change in the supply and demand for oil. Economists then go on to discuss which is the more important factor: supply increasing or demand falling.
But this analysis of the price of a commodity and what is it is worth at the level of supply and demand – as taught in all economics textbooks in colleges – is superficial at best. There is a joke in financial investor circles, when discussing why the stock price of a particular company has suddenly fallen: ‘Well, there were more sellers than buyers’ – true to the point of tautology.
What explains why a barrel of oil is $40 and not $1? Why do 100 paper clips cost $1 and one car costs $20,000? In other words, we need to understand what something is worth in the marketplace beyond just supply and demand; we need a theory of value. From that, we can begin to explain the workings of a capitalist economy, where everything is produced for sale. And if we can measure changes in value we can begin to understand the laws of motion of a capitalist economy – and, Marxist economics would add, its key contradictions, because Marxist economics is not so interested in the changes in the price of one commodity as in the nature and causes of the overall trends and fluctuations in an economy. That is, macroeconomics – with a purpose.
Marxist value theory is based on the view that commodities are priced in the market according to the labour time expended on them. Actually, labour time is basic for all forms of social production by human beings. As Marx wrote,
Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs required different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production, but can only change the mode of its appearance, is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with.1
But Marx goes on:
What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself, in the state of society where the interconnection of social labour is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.
This is why Marxist theory of value applies to capitalism, not previous modes of social organisation.
“I believe that the status of the state in current thinking on the Left isvery problematic,” Stuart Hall wrote in 1984, in the midst of Margaret Thatcher’s war on the “enemy within.” He reflected on the legacy of the postwar period, which saw the extension of public services within the context of a vast expansion of the state’s intervention in social life.
In the workers’ movement there has been for a long time, and in successive periods, a discussion of the question of the modes and temporalities of the transition to socialism. One tendency, which occurred in various forms, believed it was possible to schematize the temporality of this process, as if socialist construction had to be preceded, always and in every case, by the “phase” of construction of bourgeois democracy.
These theses serve as a supplement to my book Transformation of Democracy and a correction to some misquotations made at the remarkable delegates conference of the SDS. I am generally of the opinion that rather than interpret texts, revolutionaries should change relations. As measured by the state’s actual power relations and by the actual relations of domination in society, the familiar expression for the modern bourgeois state – “parliamentary democracy” – represents a paradox.
The English translation of Daniel Bensaïd’s autobiography, Une lente impatience, is a welcome event in the Anglophone Marxist world. Not only does it contain a rich history of some of the most decisive moments for the French Left from the ’60s to the present, it also deepens our understanding of the heterodox sources that coexisted within Bensaïd’s unique form of Marxism.
In several places throughout his work, Lenin tries to define the notion of a “revolutionary crisis,” especially in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder and The Collapse of the Second International. However, he outlines a notion more than he establishes a concept, as the descriptive criteria that he enumerates remain subjective assessments.
Hans-Jürgen Krahl died in a car crash in 1970, at the age of twenty-seven. By that time he had weathered the rise and decline of the Socialist German Student Union (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, or SDS), among whose ranks he was, arguably, both the most sophisticated theorist and, after Rudi Dutschke, the most incendiary orator. The SDS had been founded shortly after World War II as the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Germany. As the latter moved towards the center, however, the SDS radicalized, eventually leading to expulsion from its parent organization in 1961. It would soon become the most important student group in Germany, even as its official policy shifted further towards revolutionary Marxism.
Historical materialism’s critical economic prognoses on the natural course of the capitalist world order have been confirmed. The conditions for the economic breakdown and crisis of capital have been fulfilled; the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation has long since reached the degree of concentration and centralization that Marx and Engels designated as its naturally produced historical terminus. The existence of the authoritarian state is just as much an expression of the “final crisis” as it is of the temporary, politically mediated success of the attempt to manage it in the interests of monopoly capital.
To speak of the New Deal as a huge qualitative leap in the development of capitalist institutions – a leap that, precisely because it functions at a crucial point in the plot of capitalist society at a global level, has itself a special historical importance – seems to be a statement by now generally taken to be wholly correct. The matter was already settled in the mind of its greatest protagonist and in the ideology created around him that enthusiastically founded the “myth” of the New Deal’s “revolution”; and, if every myth must have a real justification, this one lay in the effective dismantling of the system in the rapid course of a decade. No less significant, at this level, is the bitter opposition from various positions that the New Deal came to provoke; these were attitudes that then, and not accidentally, flowed back against it in a wide underlying consensus.
Written towards the end of what we might call the “second period” of Tronti’s reflections, that of the so-called “autonomy of the Political,” sandwiched between the more famous phase of Operaismo and the – almost completely unknown to the Anglophone world – “third period” political theological phase, that of the twilight of the political, the short text translated here will come to many Anglophone readers of Tronti as a surprise.
The political has a history. It is the modern history of relations of power. To reconstruct, reread, to accumulate materials, to lay out the problems by following the unhurried course of time, to set out from the classics is not an escape into the past, it is an experiment, a test, the attempt to verify a hypothesis. Let us leave formulae to the arithmetic of politics. Let us leave the autonomy of politics to the newspapers. The difficulties encountered by the Marxist theory and practice of the workers’ movement in taking upon itself the fact of power all stem from this absence of knowledge, from this lack of reflection on the historical horizon of bourgeois politics.