communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: surplus

Crisis and Immiseration: Critical Theory Today

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by A. Benanav and J. Clegg (2018)

The late 1960s saw an efflorescence of dissident Marxisms across Europe: operaismo in Italy, situationnisme in France, and what would become the Neue Marx-Lektüre in Germany. Marxian orthodoxy had entered into crisis after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. A ‘new left’ was now groping for new ideas, and a wave of worker–student revolts, erupting worldwide in 1968, seemed to require a critical theory of post-war capitalism adequate to the practical critique taking shape in the factories and on the streets. Just as a previous high-point of theoretical production in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917 had seen a revival of the critical spirit of Marx’s writings, so too the new generation of dissident Marxists carried out their own ‘return to Marx’ aided by the discovery and distribution of many of his unpublished manuscripts.

Members of the Frankfurt School acted as an intellectual bridge between these two high points of Marxian theorizing. In Germany, the work of Theodor Adorno – along with the writings of some of the more unorthodox associates of the Frankfurt School, such as Alfred Sohn-Rethel – had a major influence on emergent re-readings of Marx’s mature writings. This Neue Marx-Lektüre interpreted Marx’s theory of value through his discussion of fetishism, not as a theory of the determination of prices, but rather as a theory of the determination of social labor as price. Here the dissidents drew on Sohn-Rethel’s notion of ‘real abstraction’, in which the material life process is dominated by the abstract and impersonal social forms of value. On this view, Marx’s late critique of political economy was not an attempt to improve upon the classical political economists, as Marxian orthodoxy had it. Instead, his critique showed how their inverted perspective corresponded to the real inversions of the ‘perverted, topsy-turvy world’ of capitalist society. . .  [READ PDF]

source: SAGE Handbook for Frankfurt School Critical Theory, ed. Best, Bonefeld, O’Kane 2018

From Welcome to Farewell: Germany, the refugee crisis and the global surplus proletariat

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by Felix Baum

In the summer of 2015, almost overnight, Angela Merkel transmuted in international public perception from a brutal whip of austerity policies, relentlessly squeezing already impoverished populations in the crisis-ridden South of the European Union, to the last defender of the humanist values Europe likes to take pride in. Having been regularly portrayed with a Hitler moustache in countries like Greece, she now reemerged as St. Angela, protector of the refugees. While Eastern European countries were busily erecting fences to stem the tide of unwanted intruders, and while the French state declared it sufficient to take in a mere 24,000 Syrians over the next two years, the head of the German government refused to give in to calls within her own party to limit the number of refugees, which was approaching one million (and eventually surpassed that figure by the end of the year). And just as the German hawkishness in dealing with the economic crisis of the Euro zone—seemingly irrational as it only deepened the recession—made observers resort to trivial psychology (was it maybe an exaggerated fear of inflation, deeply engraved in the German mentality, that drove those policies?), the willingness with which the German state, spurred on by its leader’s now famous We can manage!, opened its doors while almost everyone else did the exact opposite, left smart journalists wondering if Merkel’s biography (East German = victim of a Communist dictatorship = empathy for the persecuted) might provide a clue.

More critical observers, of course, suggested other readings. Some Marxists detected an “imperialist offensive” behind the German state’s seeming humanitarianism, welcoming Syrians to gain more influence on the war ravaging their home country while at the same time pushing for “a European solution” to the refugee crisis which, given Germany’s hegemony on the continent, could only turn out to be a solution in Germany’s very own best interest.1 Others focused more on the domestic situation, arguing that refugees are indeed most welcome in Germany, namely as fresh meat on the labor market at a time when many manufacturers are complaining about growing shortages of workers. In some cases, this line of interpretation feeds into a kind of left-wing nationalism that openly advocates “protecting” German workers from undue competition by foreigners. One prominent example is Sahra Wagenknecht, a high-ranking (and formerly Stalinist) politician of the parliamentary Left Party, who attacked Merkel’s policy as a “total failure of the state” and came out in favor of limiting the influx of refugees as the “population’s willingness to take them in has limits.” This earned her not only praise from the new right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD), but also a brown chocolate cake thrown in her face by leftist activists at a recent party conference.

Flashmob gegen Männergewalt, Köln 2016

Regardless of their political implications, both readings contain a grain of truth but ultimately seem questionable. It is true that the right to asylum, far from being an immaculate expression of humanism, has always just as much served as an instrument of power politics. (According to a recent study, of the 233,000 refugees the U.S. accepted between 1956 and 1968, a mere 1,000 did not come from “communist” countries, to name but one example.)2 And it is equally true that for capitalists, however much they claim that the ultimate goal of all their altruistic strivings is to provide jobs, full employment is simply a nightmare, as it strengthens workers’ bargaining position. Indeed, over the last nine months, representatives of German business have successfully pushed for lowering the barriers for asylum-seekers to enter the labor market. Still, both readings tend to underestimate to what extent politics, rather than following a consistent strategy, amounts to a hectic and highly contradictory muddling-through against the backdrop of growing global chaos. And what is more: if refugees are so beneficial for German capital and the imperial ambitions of its state, how is it that more recently the state-proclaimed “welcome culture” of summer 2015 has given way to very determined efforts to reinforce Fortress Europe?

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Anti-worker’s Inquiry

Open the door, turn on the light, heat up the water, check the refrigerators, lay out the chairs, clean the tables, light the candles, put out the ashtrays, check the register, count the change, cut the limes, put on music, wash the glasses, turn on the fan, pour the beer, mix the drinks, serve the customers, listen to their stories, comfort their loneliness, make the ice, clean the counter, tell a joke, take the money. The floor is wet, pool table scratched, darts bent, ash on the couch, smoke in the air, glasses broken, wallets stolen, clothing torn. The night is long and full of terrors.

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Red-eyed zombies shuffle slowly around the room, gurgling liquid nonsense. They require fuel, and my job is to serve. I release kegs of sorrow-drowning forgetting juice to hordes of thirsty animals. The early ones are old, mostly men, alone, talking at me nonstop, like a television you can’t turn off. I nod and try to act busy, pretending to listen, which turns into actually listening. I hear stories of work, family, and loss; of sports, weather, and sex. They speak of the old times before the Wall came down, or before the Wall went up; of living in the East, was it better, was it worse; of the squats, punk, and the autonomen; of all the immigrants, the Greeks, Spanish, and Portuguese; the Jews, Arabs, and Turks; the Russians and Poles, Czechs and Serbs; the refugees from Syria, Somalia, and Sudan; of war and death, parties and politics. I hear about the new Berlin, poor but sexy, with enough cultural capital to compete with Brooklyn: full of street art, start-ups, and stardom. Half-liters of pilsner go down like water to these senior proletarians and punks of the Federal Republic.

Later, when the sun goes down, the young ones rush in like flies to a light bulb: the party kids from England, France, and Australia; the students from Mexico, Canada, and Japan; the IT workers from Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. The noise reaches a peak pitch. The air is impenetrable. I sweat, run, fall, take, give, pour, spill, clean, and try to become pure labor-power. But they want the whole human: the ears that listen, the voice that responds, the eyes that look back, and the hand that feels the fingers through the bills. I try not to think, but I’m a trained thinker in my other life, and so my thoughts overpower me, firing out indiscriminately at unsuspecting guests. Snippets of conversation hang in mid-air as I interject with non-sequiturs, hoping for a better tip. A few activists debate the demise of the left; a few soccer fans discuss the decline of their team. Turkish wrestlers, French conspirators, American hustlers are locked in a vicious game of foosball. Cops knocking, neighbors calling, bosses yelling, tables falling—I need a new job.

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