It is often asserted that West German New Leftists “discovered the Third World” in the pivotal decade of the 1960s. Quinn Slobodian upsets that storyline by beginning with individuals from the Third World themselves: students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America who arrived on West German campuses in large numbers in the early 1960s. They were the first to mobilize German youth in protest against acts of state violence and injustice perpetrated beyond Europe and North America. The activism of the foreign students served as a model for West German students, catalyzing social movements and influencing modes of opposition to the Vietnam War. In turn, the West Germans offered the international students solidarity and safe spaces for their dissident engagements. This collaboration helped the West German students to develop a more nuanced, empathetic understanding of the Third World, not just as a site of suffering, poverty, and violence, but also as the home of politicized individuals with the capacity and will to speak in their own names. READ PDF
In November of 2018, fires of “unprecedented speed and ferocity” broke out across Northern and Southern California. The “Camp Fire” in Northern California killed just under ninety people and destroyed approximately nineteen thousand structures. Even with modern safety protocols and building codes, it was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. The “Woolsey Fire” in Southern California burned, at the exact same time, nearly one hundred thousand acres. Fires are tricky things to understand. The fires that burn across most of central Africa, for example, are seasonal, mostly contained, and part of a decently well-maintained agricultural cycle. Californian wildfires, while certainly nothing new, are not. They may be sparked by simple heat or a lightning strike, or by a recreational accident or a glitch in the utility grid, but their frequency, intensity, and duration have all unquestionably increased due to anthropogenic climate change.
It is generally agreed that while, from the silent film The Great Train Robbery (1903) until the present, well over seven thousand Westerns have been made it was not until three seminal articles in the nineteen fifties by Andre Bazin and Robert Warshow that the genre began to be taken seriously. Indeed Bazin argued that the “secret” of the extraordinary persistence of the Western must be due to the fact that the Western embodies “the essence of cinema,” and he suggested that that essence was its incorporation of myth and a mythic consciousness of the world. He appeared to mean by this that Westerns tended to treat characters as types and narrative as revolving around a small number of essential plots, offering various perspectives on fundamental issues faced by any society, especially the problem of law and political authority. Bazin expressed great contempt for critics who thought that Western plots were “simple” and insisted that the right way to understand such simplicity was by reference to the “ethics” of epic and tragic literature, and he called the great French playwright Corneille to mind as a worthy forerunner. The Western, he said, turned the Civil War into our Trojan War, and “the migration to the West is our Odyssey.” One could go even further, paraphrasing a German commentator. The Greeks have the Iliad; the Jews, the Hebrew Bible; the Romans, the Aeneid; the Germans, the Nibelungenlied; the Scandinavians, the Njáls saga; the Spanish have the Cid; the British have the Arthurian legends. The Americans have John Ford.
The following article provides a synopsis of different versions of the revisionist theory of the state, and of its immanent tendencies. Further, it outlines a critique of the establishment of income distribution as an autonomous sphere, independent of production, and of the way state socialism is presented as carrying out its specific functions, as Marx indicated by means of the Factory Legislation. Only on the basis of these preliminary considerations it is possible to relate the concrete manifestations of the state’s social and political-economic functions to the process of capital realization and its contradictory development.Although this deals with revisionist theories of the state, it is not an actual analysis of contemporary state socialism. Thus, the historical and material conditions within which the illusion of state socialism has come about are only touched upon. The history of theory is generally kept separate from the history of capital. Yet, it is necessary to critically evaluate the revisionist theorists’ reification of the state —or rather, of income distribution—as a preliminary analytical step. . . [READ PDF]
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.
ONE BRIEF ANECDOTE amid the carnage; possibly a parable.
A few weeks back, I was involved-against my inclination, probably out of a misplaced sense of duty to students-in a debate with two theologians about the limits of secularism. This took place at the New School for Social Research in New York, where I have my day job. My intent was to say as little as possible, just respond politely to the theologians and make my excuses and leave to get a drink. (After all, it was Friday evening.) Inevitably, everyone started to talk about Trump and how depressed they are and what we should all do, etc., etc., etc. Inwardly, I sighed. I was tired. I’ve been tired a lot recently.
In this position paper, I take up Herbert Marcuse’s notion of the ‘great refusal’ to describe several phenomena that can be subsumed under the concept of a ‘politics of forms of life’, especially in the context of the revolts of 1968: projects like communes, anti-authoritarian childcare centers, solidary sub-economies and many more. After naming some shared characteristics of politics of forms of life, I defend a politicization of forms of life against a liberal critique as well as hint at specific challenges. Finally, I suggest which insights of past politics of forms of life I find to be most relevant for a revitalization of critical theory today.
Preface: Attempting Liberation
In “Paralysis of Criticism,” the preface to his One-Dimensional Man(1964), Herbert Marcuse offered an assessment of the world-political state of affairs that was rather skeptical of the possibility of societal liberation. The advanced industrialized society we live in, he argued, was the culmination of a historical dynamic in which the oppression of mankind increased concurrently with the technological progress that potentially would allow them more freedom. The final and emblematic expression of this dialectic of enlightenment is the atomic bomb, for the first time in the history of humanity threatening the sheer existence of the species. This condition, which is irrational “as a whole”, owes its stability to the intensification of the ideological control over human subjectivity that goes hand-in-hand with an integration and recuperation of critique. “Technical progress,” he writes, “extended to a whole system of domination and coordination, creates forms of life (and of power) which appear to reconcile the forces opposing the system and to defeat or refute all protest in the name of the historical prospects of freedom from toil and domination.” Unlike Marx and Engels, Marcuse can no longer identify an actual moment transcending the existing society; while the Communist Manifestocould still assume that capitalism produces its own grave diggers with the proletariat, Marcuse diagnoses a complete absence of any real desire for change, rendering every criticism to a powerless ought. However, Marcuse does not conclude that we should return to merely moral critique that would apply an abstract standard to society from the outside and thus ignore people’s real subjectivity. For him, the emancipatory task lies rather in constructively producing a transgressive moment within society itself. According to Marcuse, people can acknowledge their true interests “only if they live in need of changing their way of life, of denying the positive, of refusing.” For the construction of this material need for change, Marcuse, on the last pages of the One-Dimensional Man, coins the term great refusal. . . [continue]
Editor’s note: The trial of Julien Coupat and Mathieu Burnel, known as the “Tarnac affair”, has dragged-on for over eight years now. On the 10th of January, the Court of Appeals deemed that it was no longer to be classified as a terrorism case. Assumed by many to belong to the Invisible Committee—whose first opus, The Coming Insurrection (2007), was a resounding success—they here take a critical look at the presidential campaign. Their newest book, Maintenant [Now], is due to hit the shelves next week.
Le Monde: What do you make of the presidential campaign?
What campaign? There was no campaign. There was a soap opera, a fairly worn-out one at that, to tell the truth, full of twists and turns, scandals, dramatic tension and suspense. Much brouhaha, a tiny frenzy, but nothing that managed to pierce the wall of generalized confusion. Not that there is any lack of followers for each candidate, tossing-about with varying degrees of fanaticism in their virtual bubbles. But this fanaticism only deepens the feeling of political unreality.
A graffiti that went up in Place de la Nation during the Mayday demonstration last year stated: “There will be no presidential election”. It suffices to project ourselves ahead to the day after the final round of the election to grasp what’s prophetic in this tag: whatever happens, the new president will be as much a puppet as the current one, the legitimacy of their governance will be just as lacking, just as minoritarian and impotent. This fact isn’t solely due to the extreme withering of politics—to the fact that it has become impossible to believe honestly in all that is done and said there—but is likewise due to the fact that politics is a derisory means of confronting the depth of the current disaster.
The philosopher of post-Fascism enters the populism fray with his own candidate for post-truth: Left betrayal.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orban looking at the Bavarian and the Hungarian flag in front of the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, March 2016
There is nothing new in consecrated terms being used in an entirely novel sense without announcing the change, and thereby misleading readers. It happens every day. It is no surprise if, being unable to explain a new phenomenon, people give it a resounding name instead of a theory or at least a description. This is what is happening with ‘populism’ or ‘right populism’ – or even ‘left populism’ – words used to depict states of affairs old as the hills at the same time as surprisingly new ones. ‘Populism’ has become a synonym of ‘I don’t understand it, but I was asked to talk about it’.
No one could call globalization a failure: To the succession of the hottest years ever must now be added the achievement of a distribution of wealth in which eight men (six of them Americans) own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of humanity.
Shortly before Donald Trump’s electoral victory, a bizarre alliance of sorts emerged: from one side, military and foreign policy bureaucrats, neocon hawks and politicians, mainstream liberals and their favorite press outlets (Financial Times, New York Times, the Economist, etc.); from the other, left-wing militants, anti-racist activists, social justice warriors, and other fans of democracy.
Eva is a real person whom I have known since 2007, as described in this article. But in this text Eva stands for many politically engaged individuals, whether outspoken or silent supporters of the Syrian regime and its allies. I will not re-post her photo here. In a world flooded with images, it is important to maintain our ability to imagine a moment.
With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows’ crossing flights, over the music and the singing. All the processions wound towards the north side of the city, where on the great water-meadow called the Green’ Fields boys and girls, naked in the bright air, with mudstained feet and ankles and long, lithe arms, exercised their restive horses before the race. The horses wore no gear at all but a halter without bit. Their manes were braided with streamers of silver, gold, and green. They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own. Far off to the north and west the mountains stood up half encircling Omelas on her bay. The air of morning was so clear that the snow still crowning the Eighteen Peaks burned with white-gold fire across the miles of sunlit air, under the dark blue of the sky. There was just enough wind to make the banners that marked the racecourse snap and flutter now and then. In the silence of the broad green meadows one could hear the music winding through the city streets, farther and nearer and ever approaching, a cheerful faint sweetness of the air that from time to time trembled and gathered together and broke out into the great joyous clanging of the bells.
Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?
They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omelas? They were not naive and happy children – though their children were, in fact, happy. They were mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives were not wretched. O miracle! but I wish I could describe it better. I wish I could convince you. Omelas sounds in my words like a city in a fairy tale, long ago and far away, once upon a time. Perhaps it would be best if you imagined it as your own fancy bids, assuming it will rise to the occasion, for certainly I cannot suit you all. For instance, how about technology? I think that there would be no cars or helicopters in and above the streets; this follows from the fact that the people of Omelas are happy people. Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive. In the middle category, however – that of the unnecessary but undestructive, that of comfort, luxury, exuberance, etc. — they could perfectly well have central heating, subway trains,. washing machines, and all kinds of marvelous devices not yet invented here, floating light-sources, fuelless power, a cure for the common cold. Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t matter. As you like it. I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams, and that the train station of Omelas is actually the handsomest building in town, though plainer than the magnificent Farmers’ Market. But even granted trains, I fear that Omelas so far strikes some of you as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. If so, please add an orgy. If an orgy would help, don’t hesitate. Let us not, however, have temples from which issue beautiful nude priests and priestesses already half in ecstasy and ready to copulate with any man or woman, lover or stranger who desires union with the deep godhead of the blood, although that was my first idea. But really it would be better not to have any temples in Omelas – at least, not manned temples. Religion yes, clergy no. Surely the beautiful nudes can just wander about, offering themselves like divine souffles to the hunger of the needy and the rapture of the flesh. Let them join the processions. Let tambourines be struck above the copulations, and the glory of desire be proclaimed upon the gongs, and (a not unimportant point) let the offspring of these delightful rituals be beloved and looked after by all. One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt. But what else should there be? I thought at first there were no drugs, but that is puritanical. For those who like it, the faint insistent sweetness of drooz may perfume the ways of the city, drooz which first brings a great lightness and brilliance to the mind and limbs, and then after some hours a dreamy languor, and wonderful visions at last of the very arcana and inmost secrets of the Universe, as well as exciting the pleasure of sex beyond all belief; and it is not habit-forming. For more modest tastes I think there ought to be beer. What else, what else belongs in the joyous city? The sense of victory, surely, the celebration of courage. But as we did without clergy, let us do without soldiers. The joy built upon successful slaughter is not the right kind of joy; it will not do; it is fearful and it is trivial. A boundless and generous contentment, a magnanimous triumph felt not against some outer enemy but in communion with the finest and fairest in the souls of all men everywhere and the splendor of the world’s summer; this is what swells the hearts of the people of Omelas, and the victory they celebrate is that of life. I really don’t think many of them need to take drooz.
Most of the processions have reached the Green Fields by now. A marvelous smell of cooking goes forth from the red and blue tents of the provisioners. The faces of small children are amiably sticky; in the benign grey beard of a man a couple of crumbs of rich pastry are entangled. The youths and girls have mounted their horses and are beginning to group around the starting line of the course. An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men, wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute. People pause to listen, and they smile, but they do not speak to him, for he never ceases playing and never sees them, his dark eyes wholly rapt in the sweet, thin magic of the tune.
He finishes, and slowly lowers his hands holding the wooden flute.
As if that little private silence were the signal, all at once a trumpet sounds from the pavilion near the starting line: imperious, melancholy, piercing. The horses rear on their slender legs, and some of them neigh in answer. Sober-faced, the young riders stroke the horses’ necks and soothe them, whispering, “Quiet, quiet, there my beauty, my hope. . . .” They begin to form in rank along the starting line. The crowds along the racecourse are like a field of grass and flowers in the wind. The Festival of Summer has begun.
Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.
In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits haunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval – sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother’s voice, sometimes speaks. “I will be good,” it says. “Please let me out. I will be good!” They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, “eh-haa, eh-haa,” and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.
They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.
This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.
The terms are strict and absolute; there may not even be a kind word spoken to the child.
Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear. Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in. Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free. They know compassion. It is the existence of the child, and their knowledge of its existence, that makes possible the nobility of their architecture, the poignancy of their music, the profundity of their science. It is because of the child that they are so gentle with children. They know that if the wretched one were not there snivelling in the dark, the other one, the flute-player, could make no joyful music as the young riders line up in their beauty for the race in the sunlight of the first morning of summer.
Now do you believe in them? Are they not more credible? But there is one more thing to tell, and this is quite incredible.
At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence by Adolph Reed Jr
Some readers will know that I’ve contended that, despite its proponents’ assertions, antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations. Moreover, although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial (and other identitarian) lines. As I and my colleague Walter Benn Michaels have insisted repeatedly over the last decade, the burden of that ideal of social justice is that the society would be fair if 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources so long as the dominant 1% were 13% black, 17% Latino, 50% female, 4% or whatever LGBTQ, etc. That is the neoliberal gospel of economic justice, articulated more than a half-century ago by Chicago neoclassical economist Gary Becker, as nondiscriminatory markets that reward individual “human capital” without regard to race or other invidious distinctions.
This week brought another uprising against the police, after a police officer shot and killed a 23 year old man, Sylville K. Smith, in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. The uprising, which saw right-wing Governor Scott Walker call-in the national guard to sit standby in case the riots escalated, happened against the backdrop of continued rampant police killings and the growing social degradation of poor and working people in the United States. This is the second time in two years that Walker has called in the National Guard to deal with protests against the police and the fourth alongside Ferguson and Baltimore in the US.
But these rebellions point to deeper tensions caused by the systems of domination inherent within industrial capitalism and white supremacy, which is policed and protected by this government. In the case of just Milwaukee, Niles Niemuth wrote:
Milwaukee has been devastated by decades of deindustrialization and financialization, which has produced the highest levels of inequality since the 1920s. The factories that provided decent wages and benefits for tens of thousands of workers have all but disappeared.
The city lost three-quarters of its industrial jobs between 1960 and the 2010. The disappearance of manufacturing employment had a particular impact on black male workers in the city. From 1970 to 2010, the employment rate for black men aged 16 to 64 in the metro Milwaukee region fell precipitously, from 73.4 percent to only 44.7 percent.
The city’s overall poverty rate in 2014 was 29 percent, nearly double the national rate. Children and youth aged 18 and under were the worst affected, with more than 42 percent growing up poor. More than 43 percent of the population in the Sherman Park neighborhood lives below the poverty line.
At the same time, despite continuous slumps in US productivity, the rich just keep getting richer. As Andre Damon wrote:
In 2015, the International Monetary Fund noted in its annual report that the decline of business investment is at the heart of the failure of the global economy to recover from the 2008 crisis, despite the flooding of financial markets with cheap credit.
Major corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in cash, which they are not investing in production or research and development. Instead, they are using it to buy back stocks, increase dividends, and carry out mergers and acquisitions, all of which increase the payouts of Wall Street CEOs and shareholders.
As a result, stock markets around the world are at or near record highs, corporate profits are surging, and the wealth of the top 0.1 percent in the United States and internationally continues to soar at the expense of the working class.
But while it is becoming more and more clear that the only solution the elites have to continued immiseration and poverty that is endemic in capitalism is simply more repression and police, the very system of industrial resource extraction and production that is making a few elites so rich is also threatening all life on this planet. This summer, scientists have recorded the hottest months ever in June and July.
At the same time, the South was hit by disastrous floods that destroyed homes and left many homeless as Obama vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard and thousands were crammed together in shelters and curfews were put into place to stop people without food or water from looting. In many ways, all of these instances should be seen as signs of not only the kind of system we live under, but the trajectory it is hurling us towards. While the rich and powerful drink wine in tranquility, our homes are washed away, we work harder and harder for less and less, and an ever growing police presence watches our every move and taxes, harasses, and kills us without cause. Meanwhile in the background, the military is at the ready should a rebellion pop off.
But a rebellion is growing, and one that cannot be contained or smothered by either the police or the military, or the attempts of politicians, activist bureaucrats, or media pundits to stop people from fighting for and creating a world worth living in.
This is kind of my take on the total capital-consumption cycle as I see it relating to race, class and gender. I’m not enamored of images and picture thinking in general, but sometimes they are productive. This was inspired by reading Roswitha Scholz on value-dissociation.
Communism is nothing if it is not the entering of all of humanity into the realm of freedom, of freely disposed time to do or not do as one pleases. This does not eliminate the realm of necessity, but reduces it to a subordinate, non-determinate position in the relation of between it and freedom. This is impossible if the majority of time of a human life are spent doing work for an alien power, as a slave, a serf, a worker, a taxed peasant, regardless of whether that alien power is a lord or a master or the abstraction of capital. Only when necessary labor by human beings is reduced to a minimum of human time and the work freely chosen engages the mental, physical, and emotional faculties of a person can we reasonably imagine actual freedom for all of humanity, as opposed to the abstract freedom of exchange and democracy. It is also the unity in difference of the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, rather than merely the victory of one aspect over the other (the fantasy of Utopian Socialism) or the enforced domination of one over the other (society of direct domination) or the collapsing of one into the other (capitalism) . . .[continue]
What kind of labor contributes to valorization? Is it the kind of labor that produces a commodity as a material thing, as is seemingly implied in the first chapters of Capital? This is, after all, what many critics of Marx argue, that he has a self-contradictory notion of value and labor in this section. However, before Marx completed Volume 1, we know that in his notebooks published as Theories of Surplus-Value, Marx has a famous and under-appreciated discussion of what makes labor valorizing in his discussion of the labor of a clown. Marx’s humor and fine sense of irony, much like Hegel’s, is rarely appreciated, so the joke is generally missed (as are all the jokes in Capital, especially in footnotes, as Nichole Pepperell has brilliantly written on in her dissertation and her excellent Uncomfortable Science blog.) Marx distinguishes between two ways in which the clown might labor. In the first, the clown sells his labor to a family and then goes about his clowning for them. This is explicitly not capitalist labor or value-producing, this is just a service. However, if the clown is employed by a capital(ist), is payed a wage because he/she sells his/her labor as a commodity, and has his/her clown services (the product of his/her labor) sold as a commodity to customers, we have entered the realm of the value-form, of value-producing labor, The product of labor need not be a material thing, but can be a service, a material relation if you will, because what determines the validity of the labor is its usefulness for the capital as a commodity it can sell and its usefulness for the consumer, in this case, enjoyment or entertainment…[continue]
Capital is, as its subtitle says, a critique of political economy and this has several implications. Firstly, Marx is not trying to explain capital or capitalist society as a rational, coherent, consistent system. Secondly, he is not abstracting from capital’s actual functioning in order to produce a model. Finally, he is not trying to provide a more accurate theory that fixes the limitations of classical political economy associated with Smith, Ricardo, Petty, Quesnay, etc. As a critique of political economy, Marx produced a book that treats even classical political economy as a necessarily failed attempt to provide a rational, consistent, coherent account of a system and a society that in his view is fundamentally irrational, inconsistent and incoherent. Marxists, generally a confused lot more interested in the workers’ movement than in the critique of political economy, take Marx’s work to be a proof of the necessary collapse of capital and a critique of capital by labor. In that story, capital and the capitalist class are evil and labor and the working class are good. Capital ends up being a book about the good guys and the bad guys in the class struggle. However, this point of view has a lot of problems, not the least of which is that Marx’s own notion of life beyond capital, beyond class society, is a life not determined by labor, but determined by freely disposable time. Marx’s critique of political economy is therefore a critique of all of its elements, of capital and labor, of money and the means of production… [continue]
These days, critics of electoral politics can sit smugly and enjoy the deepening disarray of the political parties; the worries of the 1%, who really want little more from their governments than low taxes, high subsidies, social peace and quiet, and just enough military action to keep the world safe for democracy; and the panicked musings of the political pundits trying to make sense of it all and reclaim their lost function of predictors and explainers. Of course, when (as is most likely) Bernie has finally been done in by the Democratic machine and “progressives” are asked to hold their noses—as they now must do in every election—to vote for the hated Hillary in order to stop the dreadful Donald, it will seem like just one more dreary step downhill, the apparently inevitable result of electoral efforts not to sacrifice the good for the impossible best.
But there does seem to be something special this time. For one thing, both of the most dynamic contenders, Trump and Sanders, apparently entered the lists without expecting to win, and were only moved to give it the old college try when they discovered an unexpected level of response among the voting public. This is another side of the fact of the nearly complete absence of believable contenders beyond those two (and Clinton, of course, but without Sanders she would have been the only one on her side). The Republican field featured an astonishing array of nitwits and nonentities; the fact that Cruz—a man so obnoxious in policy and personality that he is the most hated official in his own repulsive political camp—was the last non-Donald standing says it all. This reflects the absence of any political content to Republican politics but the most simple-minded fealty to the richest Americans combined with assurances of devotion to the emotional needs of increasingly dispossessed white working- and lower-middle-class people.
In einer Zeit globaler wirtschaftlicher Krisen, zunehmender gesellschaftlicher Ungleichheiten sowie neuer sozialer Bewegungen und politischer Kämpfe gibt es ein wiederaufblühendes Interesse an Marx und seinem Denken. Für eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit unserer Welt ist eine erneute Lektüre von Marx tatsächlich von entscheidender Bedeutung. Das war der Ausgangspunkt der internationalen Konferenzvon 25. bis 27. Februar 2016: From Marx to Hegel and Back to the Future. Hier haben wir einige der Vorträge dokumentiert.
Political conversions are painful, like losing your religion or falling out of love.
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.
The current hard times have been harder on some people than on others, harder on the poor—obviously—than on the rich; but harder also on blacks and Hispanics than on whites. As of this writing, the unemployment rate for blacks is at 15.6 percent, and for Hispanics it’s at 12.7 percent. For white people, it’s 9.3 percent. 1
Of course, the vast majority of the unemployed are white. But it’s the disparity in rates, not in absolute numbers, that tends to get foregrounded, since that disparity functions not only as a measure of suffering but also, in William A. Garity’s concise summary, as “an index of discrimination in our society.” 2
And it’s the ongoing fact of discrimination that motivates our ongoing interest in identity politics. As long as inequality is apportioned by identity, we will be concerned with identity.
This is obviously both inevitable and appropriate. But it is also—and almost as obviously—irrelevant to a left politics, or even to the goal of reducing unemployment, as we can see just by imagining what it would be like if we finally did manage to get rid of discrimination. Suppose, for example, that unemployment for whites and for Asian-Americans were to rise to 10 percent while for blacks and Hispanics it fell to 10 percent. Or suppose that unemployment for everyone went to 15 percent. In both cases, we would have eliminated the racial disparity in unemployment rates, but in neither case would we have eliminated any unemployment. And we don’t even need hypotheticals to make the point. About three quarters of the job losers in the current recession have been men, which means that the numbers of men and women in the workforce are now roughly equal. So, from the standpoint of gender equity, the recession has actually been a good thing. It’s as if, unable to create more jobs for women, we’d hit upon the strategy of eliminating lots of the jobs for men—another victory for feminism and for anti-discrimination since, from the standpoint of anti-discrimination, the question of how many people are unemployed is completely irrelevant. What matters is only that, however many there are, their unemployment is properly proportioned.
A chronicle of #BlackLivesMatter, situating this movement in the history of race politics and struggles in the US. Traces the shifting meaning of black identity in a context of growing surplus populations managed by incarceration and police violence.
The rise and fall of the workers’ movement, 1883-1982. European socialists and communists had expected the accumulation of capital both to expand the size of the industrial workforce and, at the same time, to unify the workers as a social subject: the collective worker, the class in-and-for itself. Instead capitalist accumulation gave birth to the separated society. The forces of atomisation overpowered those of collectivisation. Late capitalist civilisation is now destabilising, but without, as yet, calling forth the new social forces that might be able, finally, to dissolve it.
An analysis of the biggest protest wave taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the 1992-95 war. When workers from privatised factories — whose demands had been ignored by authorities for years — were attacked by police in Tuzla in February 2014, thousands took to the streets, storming several Canton government buildings and setting them on fire. During the following months, citizens held large assemblies, where they rejected the ethnic divisions that had plagued the country for more than two decades. Analyzing the relation of the protesters to the state, as well as the specific role of nationalism in the region, we look at how this movement tried to answer the problem of composition.
The United States is anomalous among the most developed capitalist countries for its lack of social democratic structures and independent working class politics. This article argues that the peculiar spacial deployment of capital’s powers in the U.S. following the ‘sprawl’ model and the redistribution of wealth downwards through highly racialized and gendered private home ownership have played an important role in the rise of reactionary populism. In pointing out both the particular and the more general moments of this development, this piece also hopes to point out some of its limits and the potential for its subversion.
A clarification of the concept of surplus population. Explores the problem of applying this category to a single, coherent social subject and of valorising the surplus as the new global revolutionary agent. Attempts to sketch a relation between surplus population and social stigmatisation or abjection.
ENDNOTES 3: GENDER, RACE, CLASS AND OTHER MISFORTUNES, SEPTEMBER 2013
Since 2007, states have been forced to undertake extraordinary actions. Bailouts have shifted private debts onto public balance sheets. And the world’s central banks are spending billions of dollars, every month, to convince capital to invest in a trickle. So far these state interventions have managed to stall the unfolding crisis. Yet its petrification has been the petrification of class struggle. Like the crisis itself, the struggles of 2011–2013 entered a holding pattern, unable to venture beyond the weak unity—defined by anti-austerity, anti-police, and anti-corruption sentiments—that was established in the movement of the squares.
Marxist-feminists have employed a number of binary oppositions: productive/reproductive, paid/unpaid and public/private. We interrogate these categories and propose new ones. Starting from the specificities of the production and reproduction of labour-power, we define gender as the anchoring of individuals into two separate spheres of social reproduction. We trace the development of these spheres through the history of the capitalist mode of production, and survey the dynamics of gender in the recent crisis, which we characterize as a rise of the abject.
A reading of the 2011 England riots and British student movement against a backdrop of decades-long social processes of abjection, class decomposition and the tendential disintegration of the wage relation.
An inquiry into the consequences of “the logistics revolution” for contemporary struggles. In light of the disaggregation and diffusion of productive capacity across the globe, direct seizure of the means of production no longer describes an implementable project for the majority of proletarians. New horizons and prospects materialise.
Without taking identity, cultural difference, or normative “privilege” as fundamental categories of anti-racist analysis, this article sketches a racial genealogy of superfluous populations as a constitutive feature of the emergence and spatial expansion of capitalism. The possibility of abolishing “race” as superfluity is therefore bound to contemporary anti-capitalist struggles, and vice-versa.
How can we recover the key concepts of revolutionary theory today, that is, after the end of the workers’ movement? We offer the following reflections on three concepts — spontaneity, mediation, rupture — as an attempt to re-fashion the core of revolutionary theory, for our times. By taking cognisance of the gap that separates us from the past, we hope to extract from past theories something of use to us in the present.
Taking the capitalist class relation as a self-reproducing whole, the horizon of its overcoming appears as an invariant aspect of this whole, albeit one with a historically variant quality. Surplus population and capital’s basic problem of labour characterise core dynamics underlying the shift in this horizon beyond the old programme of workers’ power.
A re-reading and historical interpretation of Marx’s “general law of accumulation”— the tendency for the expanded reproduction of capital to throw off more labour than it absorbs—in light of the growth of surplus populations and surplus capital in the world today.
Preliminary materials for a theory of home-ownership, credit, and housework in the post-war US economy. How is the fundamental separation between production and reproduction transformed when the home becomes the commodity through which all others are sold?
The theory of communisation and Marxian value-form theory emerge from the same historical moment, mutually complement each other, and point towards the same radical conception of revolution as the immediate transformation of social relations, one in which we cease to constitute value and it ceases to constitute us.
A reconstruction of the systematic dialectic of capital as a dialectic of class struggle. The forms of value which are constituted by and regulate social practice are totalising and self-reproducing through the subsumption of labour under capital. The totality so constituted is inwardly contradictory, and ultimately self-undermining: capitalist accumulation is a moving contradiction, i.e. a historical contradiction, between capital and proletariat.
The philosophical/logical concept of subsumption is employed in various periodisations of capitalist society, such as those of Théorie Communiste, Jacques Camatte, and Antonio Negri. A critical examination of this concept and its historical uses.
An Introduction to the debate between Théorie Communiste (TC) and Troploin (Dauvé & Nesic) concerning how to theorise the history and actuality of class struggle and revolution in the capitalist epoch.
Dauvé shows how the wave of proletarian revolts in the first half of the twentieth century failed: either because they were crushed by the vicissitudes of war and ideology, or because their “victories” took the form of counter-revolutions themselves, setting up social systems which, in their reliance on monetary exchange and wage-labour, failed to transcend capitalism.
In their critique of When Insurrections Die, TC attack Dauvé’s “normative” perspective, in which actual revolutions are counter-posed to what they could and should have been, that is, to a never-completely-spelled-out formula of a genuine communist revolution. In contrast, TC claim to give a robust account of the whole cycle of revolution, counter-revolution and restructuring, in which revolutions can be shown to have contained their own counter-revolutions as the intrinsic limit of the cycles they emerge from and bring to term.
Dauvé criticises TC for proposing a self-referential historical model that unjustifiably privileges the current cycle of struggles, while denying proletarian actors of the past all capacity for action not completely determined by the historically-prevailing relation between capital and wage-labour.
Dauvé and Nesic’s historical account challenges the thesis that the self-identification of the proletarian as producer has been the decisive cause of its defeats. When, they ask, did the workers actually try to shoulder economic growth? When did they ever compete with bourgeois owners or modern directors for the management of the companies? Workers’ movements don’t boil down to an affirmation of labour. And if the “being” of the proletariat theorised by Marx is not just a metaphysics, its content is independent of the forms taken by capitalist domination.
TC undertake a painstaking, point-by-point refutation of “Love of Labor? Love of Labour Lost…”, first by developing in detail the concept of programmatism, which allows for an historicisation of the terms of class struggle, revolution and communism, then by delineating the originality of a new cycle of struggle, beyond programmatism.
On the difference between TC’s and Dauvé’s theory of communisation: ever-present and invariant possibility, or specific form which the communist revolution must take in the current cycle of struggle. Following TC’s account of the development of the class relation, without embracing their categories of formal and real subsumption, it is argued that the communist movement must be understood neither as a movement of communists nor of the class, but of the totality itself.