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Tag: Nietzsche

Walter Benjamin and the Red Army Faction (Wohlfarth, 2006)

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by Irving Wohlfarth, Radical Philosophy 152, 153, 154 (2008-9)

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Benjamin and the Red Army Faction – is the subject even worth discussing? Its background, or underground, has, it is true, hardly been broached in the secondary literature. Yet both sides claimed that violence was needed to avert disaster; and Benjamin underwrote an ethics which did not shrink from the ‘revolutionary killing of the oppressor’. But a difficult question remains. Does any kind of fuse or trail lead from his words to their deeds? If so, it would mark a striking instance of the general problem: how responsible is a thinker for the fate of his/her ideas? Such questions were hardly foreign to Benjamin. He had, he wrote only a year before Hitler seized power, not yet considered what meaning might be extracted from Nietzsche’s writings ‘in an extreme case’. But who, or what, determines, precisely when such a case obtains? Does the trajectory of the Red Army Faction (which will here henceforth be termed the RAF) raise in retrospect the question of the political meaning that might be wrested, in an extreme case, from Benjamin’s writings – especially since such states of emergency were their common concern?

All Things Are Nothing to Me: The Unique Philosophy of Max Stirner (2018, Zero)

Stirner book cover

We think we have the measure of Stirner’s egoism: it is too tempting to dismiss it as a provocation whose political upshot is either reactionary libertarianism or infantile anarchism. Whether anarchist or libertarian in temper, Stirner’s egoism is assumed to be inimical to Marx’s communism. Jacob Blumenfeld’s dazzling reconstruction of Stirner’s philosophy overthrows this received wisdom. Blumenfeld does not just interpret Stirner’s thought; he appropriates it, thereby exemplifying its most radical injunction. In Blumenfeld’s memorable formulation, Stirner’s egoism is communism seen from the first person singular perspective. But the perspective of the singular is precisely what nullifies the bourgeois subject. Far from sanctifying the individual, Stirner seeks to unleash the nihilating power of the unique beyond the ego. This annihilating power follows from the unique’s productive consumption of every property, including itself. The point is not to replace the sovereignty of the state with that of the individual but to bring about a union of singularities capable of annulling “the thing-like quality of the world”, together with the phantoms of self, society, state, and God. Blumenfeld’s Stirner is the precursor of contemporary insurrectionists and secessionists, but one who refuses to subordinate insurrection to community or secession to identity. The result is an anarchist who subverts the elevation of groundlessness into another law and a separatist who destroys the ontological grounds of separation. What is generated through the union of the uncommon is communism as what Marx called the “fraternization of impossibilities.” – Ray Brassier, author of Nihil Unbound

Max Stirner is the bad boy, the black sheep of post-Hegelian philosophy. Often derided and dismissed, his philosophy of ‘egoism’ and his powerful critique of the ‘spooks’ of modernity have continued to resonate with those who are at odds with the world around them. In this brilliant book, Blumenfeld discovers that the ghosts of Stirner are alive and well, and that his message of nothingness and indifference speaks particularly to us today, living as we do at the end of history. Yet, as this book shows, rather than being the nihilist he is often characterised as, Stirner guides us along the path of a new ethical and political sensibility based on singularity rather than identity – something urgently needed today. Blumenfeld’s original and heretical reading shows Stirner’s undoubted contemporary relevance. – Saul Newman, Goldsmiths University

Max Stirner has been presented in many ways, but never as a punk rock philosopher. This is a refreshing take on a highly controversial thinker. – Gabriel Kuhn, author of Anarchismus und Revolution

Stirner argued that thoughts can and should be violently appropriated and made our own, if they are to be of any use. This is what Jacob Blumenfeld does in this book: provide an interpretation of Stirner’s philosophy that can make it truly our own. In doing so, not only does he illuminate neglected aspects of Stirner’s philosophy, but, most importantly, make it breath and palpitate for our times. – Chiara Bottici, New School for Social Research 

(order from: amazon  / uk / indiebound)

Capitalism as Religion (Benjamin, 1921)

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A religion may be discerned in capitalism – that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers. The proof of the religious structure of capitalism – not merely, as Weber believes, as a formation conditioned by religion, but as an essentially religious phenomenon – would still lead even today to the folly of an endless universal polemic. We cannot draw closed the net in which we are caught. Later on, however, we shall be able to gain an overview of it.

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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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