Karl Marx: Letter to his Father

young_karl_marx

Young Karl Marx

I’ve read here and there in the collected works of Marx and Engels across the years (let’s face it, who could read through all 49 volumes straight through?). This morning I reread the first letter to his father in 1937 from Berlin where he describes his first love, poetry:

All  the  poems of  the  first  three  volumes  I  sent  to  Jenny  are  marked  by  attacks  on  our  times,  diffuse  and  inchoate  expressions  of  feeling, nothing  natural,  everything  built  out  of  moonshine,  complete opposition  between  what  is  and  what  ought  to  be,  rhetorical reflections  instead  of  poetic  thoughts,  but  perhaps  also  a  certain warmth  of  feeling  and  striving  for  poetic  fire. (Page 43)1

Yet, as in all things Marx was bound in his studies with Law and Philosophy, telling his father that “poetry … could be and had to be only an accompaniment”; that he had to “study law and above all felt the urge to wrestle with philosophy” (vol 1, 43). Already the battle between the is and ought of German Idealism was beginning to wear thin on this young scholar. He would doubt the approach many of these philosophers took with their “unscientific form of mathematical dogmatism” (vol 1, 43). Even in this early letter we begin to see Marx developing his concept of contradiction at the heart of things, telling his father that the “concrete expression of a living world of ideas, as exemplified by law, the state, nature, and philosophy as a whole, the object itself must be studied in its development; arbitrary division must not be introduced, the rational character of the object itself must develop as something imbued with contradictions in itself and find its unity in itself” (vol 1, 44).

Although still heavily influenced by Idealism we can see him struggling slowly toward his materialist stance. Especially as he studied Roman Law he began to understand and discover a conflict with the formalism in many of the idealists, saying that he “understood by form the necessary architectonics of conceptual formulations, and by matter the necessary quality of these formulations” (vol 1, 47). He’d go on to tell his father that the mistake lay in his belief that “matter and form can and must be developed separately from each other, and so I obtained not a real form, but something like a desk with drawers into which I then poured sand” (vol 1, 47). Of course such musings harken back to the whole tradition of substantial formalism and its materialist critics. It would be here that he’d develop the notion that the “concept” was the mediating link “between form and content” (vol 1, 48).

Because of this problem faced in Law he returned to philosophy seeking to “draft a new system of metaphysical principles,” but even this ended in failure. To find solace he returned to poetry, but realized this too was a doomed affair, saying: “I caught sight of the glittering realm of true poetry like a distant fairy palace, and all my creations crumbled into nothing” (vol 1, 49). Face with insomnia, despair, endless nights wandering among the worlds of Law and Philosophy he finally came to a realization. Nourished as he was by Kant and Fichte he arrived at the “point of seeking the idea in reality itself” (vol 1, 50). Concluding that if “previously the gods had dwelt above the earth, now they became its centre” (vol 1, 50).

At this point he mentions Hegel for the first time, saying,

I had read fragments of Hegel’s philosophy, the grotesque craggy melody of which did not appeal to me. Once more I wanted to dive into the sea, but with the definite intention of establishing that the nature of the mind is just necessary, concrete and firmly based as the nature of the body. My aim was no longer to practice tricks of swordsmanship, but to bring genuine pearls into the light of day. (vol 1, 50)

He would write a dramatic philosophical-dialectical account of divinity, as it “manifests itself as the idea-in-itself (Kant), as religion, as nature, and as history” (vol 1, 50). At the end of it he began reading science, Schelling, and history and began “racking my brains” realizing once again he’d followed “false sirens” (vol 1, 51). It was during this time that he fell ill and “got  to  know  Hegel  from  beginning  to  end,  together  with  most  of  his disciples” (vol 1, 51). He mentions collaboration with the “aesthetic celebrities of the Hegelian school,” who promised help by way of a university lecturer name Bauer (vol 1, 52).  He even speaks of a career in cameralistics, taking a “third law examination” and transferring as a justiciary, which he tells us would be “more to my taste, since I really prefer jurisprudence to all administrative science” (vol 1, 52).

The rest of the letter is personal family business.

I could embellish this from biographical accounts, etc., but one can find out those details on one’s own. What’s of interest is to seek the young Marx struggling with and against the German Idealist world view during these early years of schooling. Beginning to formulate his own materialist leanings, which would culminate in his essay on the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.


 

  1. Karl Marx / Fredrick Engels Collected Works: Volume 1: 1835-1843 Translator for Letters: Clemens Dutt

Slavoj Zizek: Thought of the Day

At first approach, an event is thus the effect that seems to exceed its causes – and the space of an event is that which opens up by the gap that separates an effect from its causes . Already with this approximate definition, we find ourselves at the very heart of philosophy, since causality is one of the basic problems philosophy deals with: are all things connected with causal links? Does everything that exists have to be grounded in sufficient reasons? Or are there things that somehow happen out of nowhere? How, then, can philosophy help us to determine what an event – an occurrence not grounded in sufficient reasons – is and how it is possible?

[…]

Our first tentative definition of event as an effect which exceeds its causes thus brings us back to an inconsistent multiplicity: is an event a change in the way reality appears to us, or is it a shattering transformation of reality itself? Does philosophy reduce the autonomy of an event or can it account for this very autonomy? So again: is there a way to introduce some order into this conundrum? The obvious procedure would have been to classify events into species and sub-species – to distinguish between material and immaterial events, between artistic, scientific, political and intimate events, etc. However, such an approach ignores the basic feature of an event: the surprising emergence of something new which undermines every stable scheme. The only appropriate solution is thus to approach events in an evental way – to pass from one to another notion of event by way of bringing out the pervading deadlocks of each, so that our journey is one through the transformations of universality itself, coming close – so I hope – to what Hegel called ‘concrete universality,’ a universality ‘which is not just the empty container of its particular content, but which engenders this content through the deployment of its immanent antagonisms, deadlocks and inconsistencies’.

– Slavoj Zizek, Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept

Absolute Recoil: Slavoj Zizek and the Foundations of Dialectical Materialism

I’m finally reading Slavoj Žižek‘s new work Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism, and already found he’s entered a shooting gallery.  The first thing one realizes is that the work is not about dialectical materialism it is rather an introduction to it as a didactic education in its practice/praxis:

The present book is an attempt to contribute to this task by way of proposing a new foundation for dialectical materialism . We should read the term “dialectics” in the Greek sense of dialektika (like semeiotika or politika): not as a universal notion, but as “dialectical [semiotic, political] matters,” as an inconsistent (non-All) mixture. Which is why this book contains chapters in—not on—dialectical materialism: dialectical materialism is not the book’s topic; it is, rather, practiced within these pages.1

Oh sure, there will be much theory, but that is not the point of the book, rather it is the practice of dialectical materialism as praxis not theory. The basic thematic of the book is based on a term from Hegel absoluter Gegenstoss, which Hegel uses only once, but at a crucial point in his logic of reflection, to designate the speculative coincidence of opposites in the movement by which a thing emerges out of its own loss (Zizek, p. 1). He continues:

the present work endeavors to elevate the speculative notion of absolute recoil into a universal ontological principle. Its axiom is that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designates as the speculative attitude of the thought towards objectivity. All other forms of materialism, including the late Althusser’s “materialism of the encounter,” scientific naturalism , and neo-Deleuzian “New Materialism,” fail in this goal. The consequences of this axiom are systematically deployed in three steps: 1) the move from Kant’s transcendentalism to Hegel’s dialectics, that is, from transcendental “correlationism” (Quentin Meillassoux) to the thought of the Absolute; 2) dialectics proper: absolute reflection, coincidence of the opposites; 3) the Hegelian move beyond Hegel to the materialism of “less than nothing.” (ibid. 4)

 Zizek is not known for mincing words, no he intends on demolishing his critics with an iron fist; or, at least presenting his case as a form of carnival shooting gallery in which he discovers each pertinent target and begins slowly and methodically taking them down.

He will lay out the territory to be mapped, telling us that in Part I he will perform a critical analysis of two representative nontranscendental materialist theories of subjectivity (Althusser, Badiou). The second chapter deals with the transcendental dimension and describes the move from the Kantian transcendental subject to the Hegelian subject as the “disparity” in the heart of Substance. The third chapter provides an extended commentary on Hegel’s basic axiom according to which the Spirit itself heals the wounds it inflicts on nature. (ibid., pp. 4-5)

In Part II he will deal with the Hegelian Absolute. First, it describes the thoroughly evental nature of the Absolute which is nothing but the process of its own becoming. It then confronts the enigma of Hegelian Absolute Knowing: how should we interpret this notion with regard to the basic dialectical paradox of the negative relationship between being and knowing, of a being which depends on not-knowing? Finally, it considers the intricacies of the Hegelian notion of God. (ibid., p. 5)

And, finally, in Part III he will venture into an Hegelian expedition exploring the obscure terrain beyond Hegel. It begins by deploying the different, contradictory even, versions of the Hegelian negation of negation. It then passes to the crucial dialectical reversal of “there is no relationship” into “there is a non-relationship”— the passage which corresponds to the Hegelian move from dialectical to properly speculative Reason. The book concludes with some hypotheses about the different levels of antagonism that are constitutive of any order of being, delineating the basic contours of a renewed Hegelian “dentology” (the ontology of den, of “less than nothing”). (ibid. 5)

Yet, he will begin by clearing a path toward his new adventure. He will define his form of dialectical materialism against all the other forms of Materialisms that seem to be part of the contemporary Continental scene:

Materialism appears today in four main versions: 1) reductionist “vulgar” materialism (cognitivism, neo-Darwinism); 2) the new wave of atheism which aggressively denounces religion (Hitchens, Dawkins, et al.); 3) whatever remains of “discursive materialism” (Foucauldian analyses of discursive material practices); 4) Deleuzian “new materialism.” Consequently, we should not be afraid to look for true materialism in what cannot but appear as (a return to German) idealism —or, as Frank Ruda put it apropos Alain Badiou, true materialism is a “materialism without materialism” in which substantial “matter” disappears in a network of purely formal/ ideal relations. (ibid., p. 5)

What’s interesting to me is how he ties transhumanism, posthumanism, the NBIC and ICT technologies and sciences to Idealism:

Does not the biogenetic goal of reproducing humans scientifically through biogenetic procedures turn humanity into a self-made entity, thereby realizing Fichte’s speculative notion of a self-positing I? Today’s ultimate “infinite judgment” (coincidence of opposites) thus seems to be: absolute idealism is radical naturalist reductionism. …

…so-called [Russian] “bio-cosmism” enjoyed an extraordinary popularity— as a strange combination of vulgar materialism and Gnostic spirituality that formed the occult shadow-ideology, or obscene secret teaching, of Soviet Marxism. It is as if, today, “bio-cosmism” is reemerging in a new wave of “post-human” thought. (ibid., 6)

 In my earlier segements on Accelerationism I spoke of Benedict Singleton’s Accelerationist Cosmism of Nikolai Fedorov, which ties in much of the same territory. Yet, Zizek will put his own twist on this post-human turn telling us we should not reduce this “post-human” stance to the paradigmatically modern belief in the possibility of total technological domination over nature—what we are witnessing today is an exemplary dialectical reversal: the slogan of today’s “post-human” sciences is no longer domination but surprise (contingent, non-planned emergence). (ibid., p. 7) He’ll quote Jean-Pierre Dupuy who detects a weird reversal of the traditional Cartesian anthropocentric arrogance which grounded human technology, a reversal clearly discernible in today’s robotics, genetics, nanotechnology, artificial life and Artificial Intelligence research:

how are we to explain the fact that science became such a “risky” activity that, according to some top scientists, it poses today the principal threat to the survival of humanity? Some philosophers reply to this question by saying that Descartes ’ dream—“ to become master and possessor of nature”— has turned out bad, and that we should urgently return to the “mastery of mastery.” They understand nothing. They don’t see that the technology profiling itself at our horizon through the “convergence” of all disciplines aims precisely at non-mastery. The engineer of tomorrow will not be a sorcerer’s apprentice because of his negligence or ignorance, but by choice. He will “give” himself complex structures or organizations and will try to learn what they are capable of by exploring their functional properties— an ascending, bottom-up, approach. He will be an explorer and experimenter at least as much as an executor. The measure of his success will be more the extent to which his own creations will surprise him than the conformity of his realization to a list of pre-established tasks. (ibid., p. 7)

 Zizek will attack such luminaries as Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett for their supposed New Materialism, which he sees as a neo-vitalism; or, as Fredric Jameson will claim, that Deleuzianism is today the predominant form of idealism: as did Deleuze, New Materialism relies on the implicit equation: matter = life = stream of agential self-awareness— no wonder New Materialism is often characterized as “weak panpsychism” or “terrestrial animism.” (ibid., p. 8) Against this he will champion traditional forms of sciences, saying that what science distils as “objective reality” is becoming more and more an abstract formal structure relying on complex scientific and experimental work. Does this mean, however, that scientific “objective reality” is just a subjective abstraction ? Not at all, since it is here that one should mobilize the distinction between (experienced) reality and the Real. (ibid., 10) So that reality (empirical actual) will be pitted against the Real (abstract model or mathematical mappings, etc.). Ultimately he will tell us that the move that defines New Materialism should be opposed to the properly Hegelian dialectical-materialist overcoming of the transcendental dimension or the gap that separates subject from object: New Materialism covers up this gap, reinscribing subjective agency into natural reality as its immanent agential principle, while dialectical materialism transposes back into nature not subjectivity as such but the very gap that separates subjectivity from objective reality. (ibid., 12)

I’m going to stop here. The rest of his introduction will lay out arguments with Hegelians such as Robert Pippin and others who Zizek will point by point argue that these philosophers have all misprisioned or misread his ideas, notions, works, etc. As usual one will need to work through the dialectical reasoning of his specific arguments, return them to his previous works, tally the count of pros and cons, etc. Generally when reading Zizek one is overhearing a thinker think, listening in on a continuing monologue that he is having with himself rather than a discourse with a reader (think of Robert Browning). Zizek is our modern or postmodern or? – Hamlet always disagreeing even with himself, and surprising himself. Quoting others where their thoughts agree, disagree. Practicing dialectical materialism rather than discoursing on it.

In the final section of the Intro he will show the difference between true and false Masters, using Steve Jobs vs. Hitler or Stalin:

When asked how much research Apple undertakes into what its customers want, he [Steve Jobs] snapped back: “None. It’s not the customers’ job to know what they want … we figure out what we want.”  Note the surprising turn of this argumentation: after denying that customers know what they want, Jobs does not go on with the expected direct reversal “it is our task (the task of creative capitalists) to figure out what they want and then ‘show it to them’ on the market.” Instead, he says: “we figure out what we want”— this is how a true Master works: he does not try to guess what people want; he simply obeys his own desire and leaves it up to others to decide if they want to follow him. In other words , his power stems from his fidelity to his desire, from refusing to compromise on it. Therein lies the difference between a true Master and, say, the fascist or Stalinist leader who pretends to know (better than the people themselves) what people really want (what is really good for them), and is then ready to enforce it on them even against their will. (ibid. 46)

Yet, he will ask: Why do we need Masters anyway? The obvious question to be raised here is: why does a subject need a Master to assume his or her freedom? Does not such an assumption amount to a kind of pragmatic paradox wherein the very form (a Master gives me freedom) undermines the content (my freedom)? Should we not rather follow the well-known motto of all emancipatory movements: freedom cannot be handed down to us by a benevolent master but has to be won through hard struggle? (ibid. 48)

Where he tells us that the Master’s “power stems from his fidelity to his desire, from refusing to compromise on it” (ibid. 48), one should realize that this is what we should all do: regain our own power, freedom and fidelity to desire, and not compromise it by accepting false gifts and promises from the false Master’s of the global economy. And, the struggle? The struggle is to regain that very freedom from (the globalist agenda) and too our own desires for a life beyond all such global agendas of elites, masters, etc. The first step in this task according to Zizek is to understand the praxis of dialectical materialism.  

(note: I’ll come back to this work after I finish it and take notes and let it digest with a reading of some of his earlier and later works.)


1. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 6-7). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section Two

The utopian currents of socialism, though they are historically grounded in criticism of the existing social system, can rightly be called utopian insofar as they ignore history …, but not because they reject science.”

     – Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

“…the best Utopias are those that fail the most comprehensively.”

– Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future

But what of the history of the future? – Has anyone written of that territory beyond the moment: of its struggles or its failures; and, what of its successes? Who will mention a nostalgia for the future? Jameson would ask the question of culture: whether culture could be political; that is, whether it could be both critical and subversive, or is it necessarily reappropriated and coopted by the very social system it seeks to escape?1 Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding will remark in their Histories of the Future a sense of loss, saying, “our sense of the future is conditioned by a knowledge of, and even a nostalgia for, futures that we have already lost.”2

One remembers the Japenese film Battle Royale (2000) where civilization is in state of chaos, and violence by rebellious teenagers in schools is completely out of control. The government hits back with a new law: every year a school class picked at random will be cast away on a desert island to fight it out among themselves. The rules are simple: it lasts three days, everyone gets water, food and a weapon and only one may survive.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): Set in the year 2029 and following World Wars III and IV, a Japanese-led Asian block dominates world affairs. The alliance maintains its international supremacy through its elite security force whose cybernetically enhanced operatives tackle an array of hi-tech terrorists and other threats to international security. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically augmented female agent, has been tracking a virtual entity known as the Puppet Master with her crack squad of security agents.

The Giver (2015): One of the big components of the 1993 novel was that, due to the Sameness of society, there was no war, no hunger, but also, no color. The receptors had been blocked, as it were, and we all saw the world in a plain, black and white. A place where euthanasia became the remedy for almost all infractions.

More and more the future becomes a site where we can dump civilizations dirty little secrets rather than as a place to test the waters of change. While we are taught to believe in the emptiness of the future, or even that no future exists, or that the future is a dead end going no-where, or, even – a catastrophe zone best left in the abyss of its own death knell, we all now live as if the future were already here: saturated by future-consciousness that permeates the spectacle around us like so many electronic toys we seem to busy ourselves with, moment by moment, not knowing that we are not only using them but they are using us back in ways beyond telling. As Rosenberg-Harding relate the “Future” is a placeholder, a placebo, a no-place, but it is also a commonplace that we need to investigate in all its cultural and historical density (9).

Cataclysms – The Future has been Cancelled

Yes, cataclysms: climate change; terminal resource depletion – water and energy shortages; mass starvation; famine; economic collapse; hot and cold wars; austerity and governmental control (Fascism); privatization of welfare and prisons; automation of even the cognitariat itself. All this will be the opening gambit of Williams and Srnicek’s #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics. A Politics of Fear? or, Concern? Let us listen: “While crisis gathers force and speed, politics withers and retreats. In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.” Caput! Finito! Done! The future is no more, or is it?

Antonio Negri – scholar of Spinoza, collaborator along with Michael Hardt on a trilogy of works against the neoliberal order Empire, Multitude: War and Democracy in an Age of Empire, and Commenwealth – will tell us not to be worried about the cataclysmic events coming our way: “There is nothing politico-theological here. Anyone attracted by that should not read this manifesto.” Simple. Effective. To the point. If your looking for the Apocalypse of John be our guest and find a preacher in your local parish, for there will be no one here preaching salvation by God or any other big Other. Instead Negri will hone in on the core truth to be found in this manifesto revealed as ‘the increasing automation in production processes, including the automation of “intellectual labor”‘, which would explain the secular crisis of capitalism (365).3 As Negri explicates it the neoliberal global order is afraid: to continue they had to “block the political potentiality of post-Fordist labor (i.e., the inforgs, cognitariat, intellectual workers). Neither the left nor the right will escape Williams and Srnicek’s derision, both have become a part of the neoliberal machine because both have put an end to any opening toward the future: canceled by the “imposition of a complete paralysis of the political imaginary (366).” Negri states it simply that the manifesto offers us nothing less than the potentiality against power – “biopolitics against biopower“.(366) It is because of this new potentiality that the future has opened up again, says Negri: “the possibility of an emancipatory future radically opposed to the present capitalist dominion” (366).

For Negri the manifesto hinges on the “capacity to liberate the productive forces of cognitive labor” (366), cognitive labor being the new class or precariat within this post-capitalist project. The Fordist era of labor has shifted, there will be no return. For better or worse we are in the midst of an immaterial informational economy in which the cognitariat are workers of knowledge rather that producers of hard commodities, intellectual laborers in a game of tech patents both medical-pharmaceutical and science-tech. Negri tells us that to move forward will take decisive planning and organization: – “planning the struggle comes before planning the production” (369). It’s about unleashing this power of cognitive labor as well as tearing it from its latency (its delays) through education and learning. Next comes – as Negri states it, the most important passage in the manifesto, the notion of the reappropriation of “fixed capital” under its many guises: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects…” (370). As for a new Leftist hegemony or techno-social body he tells us: “we have to mature the whole complex of productive potentialities of cognitive labor in order to advance a new hegemony” (371).

Negri commends them for a reinvigorating the Enlightenment project, for their humanist and Promethean proclivities; and even sees a tendency in their work as opening out toward posthuman utopian thought; yet, most of all he approves their movement toward reconstructing the future – one in which we “have the possibility of bringing the Outside in, to breathe a powerful life into the Inside” (372). Yet, I wonder if Negri reads them aright: are they humanists in the old sense? And, what of the Enlightenment: which Enlightenment is he referring too, there being multiple or plural enlightenments? I assume, Negri being a Spinozaean scholar – that he’d be more in tune with the “radical enlightenment” – as Jonathan I. Israel will tells us “the Radical Enlightenment arose and matured in under a century, culminating in the materialistic and atheistic books of La Mettrie and Diderot in the 1740s. These men, dubbed by Diderot the ‘Nouveaux Spinosistes’, wrote works which are in the main a summing up of the philosophical, scientific, and political radicalism of the previous three generations” (6-7).4 Yet, by the time of Kant a more moderate Enlightenment would oust the radicals from there place in the sun, and a compromise with the traditionalist or conservatives would be the ruination of French Revolution in the end: “Insofar as anything did, the coup of Brumaire of the Year VIII (November 1799), and the new Constitution of 13 December 1799, ended the Revolution. …The 1799 Constitution, in short, effectively suspended the Rights of Man, press freedom, and individual liberty, as well as democracy and the primacy of the legislature, wholly transferring power to initiate legislation from the legislature to the executive, that is, the consulate, making Bonaparte not just the central but the all-powerful figure in the government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was removed from its preambule. (Israel, 694).

After Negri’s initial praise of the manifesto he discovers a flaw: “there is too much determinism in this project, both political and technological” (373). He sees a difficulty in their project, a tendency toward teleological openness which might lead to perverse effects in the end, producing a “bad infinity” if not corrected (373). To correct this tendency he suggests they need to specify in details what the “common” is in any technological assemblage, while at the same time providing an anthropology of production(375). Having been subsumed within a global information economy, one in which production is now defined by the socialization of cognitive work and social knowledge, we must also understand, Negri tells us that informatization being the most valuable form of fixed capital, and automation the cement of capital, we are all slowly being enfolding by “informatics and the information society back into itself” (375). He remarks that this is a weakness within the manifesto in that the cooperative dimension of production (and particularly the production of subjectivities) is underestimated in relation to technological criteria (375).

He argues that in the future the battles will be over the “currency of the common” (i.e., money as a type: gold, bitcoin, dollar, etc.). As he tells it the “communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on the ‘common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation into money” (377).

Finally, Negri reminds us that we should remember what the slogan ‘Refusal of labor’ meant: a reduction in automation and labor time “disciplined or controlled by machines”, and an increase in real salaries. Last is the nod toward a favorite theme of Negri: the production of subjectivities, the “agonistic use of passions, and the historical dialectics that opens against capitalist and sovereign command” (378). All in all a favorable review by Negri. I do like that he wants to see in the manifesto more details concerning its mapping of a transformative anthropology of the workers’ bodies (373), one that centers the relation between subject and object as a relation between the “technical composition and the political composition of the proletariat”. As Negri states it in this way the “drift of pluralism into a ‘bad infinity’ can be avoided” (374).

In the end though Negri will remind us that we need a new ‘currency of the common’: that the authors of the manifesto are well aware that money functions as an abstract machine (Deleuzeguattari) – acts as the real measurement of value extracted from society through the real subsumption of the current society by capital (377). Yet, this same process used by capital also points to new forms of resistance and subversion: “the communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on ‘the common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation of money” (377).

In a brief Cyberlude we’ll revisit Nick Land’s ‘Circuitries’ essay in the reader before moving on to Tizaianna Terranova and Luciana Parisi who both deal with the new algorithmic worlds of culture and technology and their impact on an accelerationist politics.

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One

Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Cyberlude

1. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (Verso, 2005)
2. Histories of the Future. Editors Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding. (Duke University Press, 2005)
3. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
4. Israel, Jonathan I. (2001-02-08). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (pp. 6-7). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One

“Marxist accelerationism (Srnicek and Williams 2013) appears  to be not about a mere catastrophic acceleration of capital (like in Virilio, Baudrillard, Land), but about an epistemic acceleration and reappropriation of fixed capital as technology and knowledge (a sort of Epistemic Singularity).”

– Matteo Pasquinelli, The Labour of Abstraction: Seven Transitional Theses on Marxism and Accelerationism

The Plan and The Network

Maybe it’s as simple as that: an epistemic mythology rather than ontological fable.  Once again I survey Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek (2013) who will in their #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics remark: “As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration.”(#Accelerate, 354)1  So let’s take a look at what Marx had to say, which to me will set the stage for what is to come in Accelerationist debates. I’m a little long-winded so may break this post down into several (so forgive me!), but feel this is important to cover. The editors of the accelerationist reader, Mackay and Avanessian, chose a specific essay from the Grundisse ‘Fragment of Machines’. I’ll come to this later. We know that this particular work was sparked by the failed revolutions of 1848:

Shortly after the New Year in 1848, Europe exploded into revolution. From Paris to Frankfurt to Budapest to Naples, liberal protesters rose up against the conservative establishment. To those living through the cataclysmic year, it seemed rather sudden; however, hindsight offers valuable warning signs.

The year 1846 witnessed a severe famine–Europe’s last serious food crisis. Lack of grain drove up food and other prices while wages remained stagnant, thus reducing consumer demand. With consumers buying less and less, profits plummeted, forcing thousands of industrial workers out of their jobs. High unemployment combined with high prices sparked the liberal revolt. The subsequent events in February 1848 in France made Austria’s Prince Clemens von Metternich’s saying seem true: “When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold.”

Moderate liberals–lawyers, doctors, merchants, bourgeoisie–began pushing actively for extension of suffrage through their “banquet campaign,” named thus because its leaders attempted to raise money by giving rousing speeches at subscribed dinners in France’s major urban areas. When on February 22, 1848, Paris officials canceled the scheduled banquet, fearing organized protest by the middle and working classes, Parisian citizens demonstrated against the repression. Skilled workers, factory laborers, and middle class liberals poured into the streets. The National Guard, a citizen militia of bourgeois Parisians, defected from King Louis-Philippe, and the army garrison stationed in Paris joined the revolutionary protesters as well. Louis-Philippe attempted reform, but the workers rejected the halfhearted changes. The king fled and the demonstrators proclaimed the Second Republic on February 24th.

The overthrow of the monarchy set off a wave of protest throughout east and central Europe, led by radical liberals and workers who demanded constitutional reform or complete government change. In March, protests in the German provinces brought swift reform from local princes while Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia yielded to revolts in Berlin by promising to create a Prussian assembly. The collapse of autocracy in Prussia encouraged liberals in the divided Germany provinces to join together at the Frankfurt Assembly to frame a constitution and unite the German nation. Meeting in May 1848, the convention was populated by middle class civil servants, lawyers, and intellectuals dedicated to liberal reform. However, after drawing the boundaries for a German state and offering the crown to Friedrich Wilhelm, the Kaiser refused in March 1849, dooming hopes for a united, liberal Germany.

In Austria, students, workers, and middle class liberals revolted in Vienna, setting up a constituent assembly. In Budapest, the Magyars led a movement of national autonomy, led by patriot Lajos Kossuth. Similarly, in Prague, the Czechs revolted in the name of self-government. In Italy, new constitutions were declared in Tuscany and Piedmont, with the goal of overthrowing their Austrian masters. Here, middle class liberals pushed the concept of Italian unification alongside the defeat of the Austrians with the help of the Young Italy movement, founded in 1831 by nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot who favored a democratic revolution to unify the country. In February 1849, Mazzini led a democratic revolt against the Pope in Rome, becoming head of the Republic of Rome later that month. By attacking the Pope, the democrats went too far. The self-proclaimed protectors of the Pope, the French, moved in and defeated Mazzini’s Roman legion. The Pope was restored and a democratic Italy collapsed, for now.

Meanwhile, from August 1848, the Austrian army soundly defeated every revolt in its empire. In Vienna, in Budapest, in Prague, the Austrians legions crushed the liberal and democratic movements, returning the empire to the conservative establishment that ruled at the beginning of 1848. Nothing had come of the revolutions of 1848.

The revolutions of 1848 were a “turning point in modern history that modern history failed to turn.” Every one was an utter failure; though minor reforms emerged in the Germany provinces and in Prussia, the conservative regimes that canvassed Europe remained in power. 2

In the aftermath of this failed revolution the original Communist Manifesto emerged as Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels testament and activation of a program that would have repercussions for a future that was as of yet unthought. It was in the failure of those bloody days that these fatal words would spawn a vision:

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.” Except for a few names and players one would almost think this had been written after all the failed revolutions and utopian states since that time. It’s as if we were reading a contemporary statement rather than a manifesto against the industrial capitalism of another era. Do we not still exist in a world-system governed by the forces of a conservative mark? Even our so called neoliberal conservatives, our grey toned statesmen or Brahmins of conservatism, along with the democratic liberals, are at best a part of what Land terms – The Cathedral: “Is not the Cathedral precisely a name for that apparatus of signs — … academia, media, bureaucracy, politics … — which cannot in principle ever compile? The Cathedral is a secular religion, which has to preach because it does not work.” Yet, Land, and his cohorts would have us believe that these institutions are controlled from within by the communist ideology. Strange that so many conservatives from Mount Pelerin onward have been placed within this matrix as well. This is not a left/right issue: it’s a little more insidious than some ideological battle from the left or right. Whatever drawbacks with C.P. Snow’s two-cultures theory in the Power Elite might have (more explicit about the separation of science culture from mass culture) it did point out a part of an inner history and tendency within the global elite networks of power and distribution toward a new form of sovereignty not of nations but of the power elite themselves.

Stuart Elden in his excellent book The Birth of Territory (2013) tells us ”

Territory should be understood as a political technology, or perhaps better as a bundle of political technologies . Territory is not simply land, in the political-economic sense of rights of use, appropriation, and possession attached to a place; nor is it a narrowly political-strategic question that is closer to a notion of terrain. Territory comprises techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain.3

I would argue that in our new information economy that the Network – our global infosphere as a cartographic immaterial space is the new site of mappings that have already been measured in spatial terms and are already being supplied by certain global governing bodies with regulatory mechanisms of command and control that shape our very cognitive interactions both within the internet and the actual infospheric world itself. These notions of InfoSphere have been around for a while, but it is in the work of Luciano Floridi ( The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is reshaping reality, Philosophy of Information, and The Ethics of Information)and such initiatives as the Onlife Initiative in the European Commision that show where certain elements of the Network Society is heading. I’ll not take time to go into details. It was R.Z. Sheppard who first coined the term: “In much the way that fish cannot conceptualize water or birds the air, man barely understands his infosphere, that encircling layer of electronic and typographical smog composed of cliches from journalism, entertainment, advertising and government.” (“Rock Candy”, Time Magazine, retrieved 2010-05-05)

Floridi would transpose this concept into its present form, saying, “[infosphere:] a term referring  to that limited region on our planet that supports life. It denotes the whole informational  environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including informational agents as  well), their properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from cyberspace (which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were),  since it also includes off-line and analogue spaces of information. We shall see that it is also an  environment (and hence a concept) that is rapidly evolving.” (see L. Floridi, A Look into the Future Impact of ICT on our Lives)

It would be his claim that the new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT’s) are “re-ontologizing the very nature of (and hence what we mean by) the infosphere, and here lies the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that our information societies will experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned.”

Guy Debord and the Situationists would have termed this the Society of the Spectacle: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” He would add that this is the “historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” The difference between Marx and Debord is one of metaphor, for Marx the machine encompassed the human, while for Debord “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” 4

For Jean Baudrillard it would take on an even more ominous tone, one in which we were immersed in a hyperreality, folded into a simulated realm of images that denied all access to the real. This hyperreality happens when the difference between reality and representation collapses and we are no longer able to see an image as reflecting anything other than a symbolic trade of signifiers in culture, not the real world. In the chapter from his now famous Simulacra and Simulation “Precession of Simulacra” Baudrillard describes three orders of simulacra. The first in which reality is represented by the image (map represents territory). The second order of simulacra is one in which the distinction between reality and representation is blurred. The third order of simulacra is that of simulation which replaces the relationship between reality and representation. Reality itself is thus lost in favor of a hyperreality.5

It’s within the context of this all-encompassing Network (Williams and Srinicek) or Infosphere (Floridi) that the next battle for our future begins today. Marx would be the first to describe a new cyborgization of the worker in his essay ‘Fragment of Machines‘. A process of machinic automation in which the workers themselves are “cast merely as its conscious linkages”. It would be here in this essay that Marx would develop his notions of alienation:

“The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power of the machine itself.” (italics mine) It’s as if from the beginning machines were already becoming autonomous, with lives of their own beyond mere workers, and at the expense of the workers themselves who were mere appendages of the machine rather than the other way about. The invasion from the future of some alien and alienating process was already being marked and indexed by Marx himself. “The transformation of the means of labor into machinery, and of living labor into a mere living accessory of the machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital” (54). (italics mine) Humans as living labor, as mere accessories, being absorbed into the process of capital as technological agents and engines of process itself, as well as alienated by the very machinic processes of material extraction that makes them disposable units within its ongoing teleonomic pathology is the core of any Marxian cyborg theory. We are expendable to capital, we are nothing but mere units or objects to be plugged in or removed as the need arises: biomachines in our own right whose only purpose is to support capital’s ongoing teleodeterminate plan. We’ve always used that metaphor “capital” as a mask to hide the insidious truth from ourselves: the power of that hidden force that drives us mercilessly onward in an accelerating pace that has no limits beyond the limits we impose upon it. Yet, in our time this AI machine that is capital drives us till we break (i.e., our supposed crisis of capital is only our inability to fulfill capital’s accelerating force: ergo the crash of 2007, etc.).

Marx would tells us that this turn of events was not by accident at all, but was part of a deeply planned initiative within the traditional matrix of capitalism as a machinic process: “The accumulation of knowledge and skills, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital” (55). Is capital a metaphor for the AI from the future who has already long ago invaded our Anthroposcene era and through its own incorporation of human desire channeled us unknowingly, absorbing us into its planned designs? Are we mere appendages of the machine of capital to be sloughed off the moment the posthuman future is enabled and adequate to the task? Of course this sound crazy, sounds like a hyperstitional theory-fiction, but is it really… didn’t Marx himself already uncover many of our current and contemporary programs long ago? Is Marx truly already and always ahead of us rather than some 19th Century theorist of Industrial capitalism? As Borges might say isn’t Marx creating his own dark precursors out of us his progeny? Have we even begun to read Marx, or should we say: misprision him into our moment of discourse?

It’s also in this essay that both Antonio Negri and Williams+Srnicek would agree that a major task for the left and this program is in the need to reappropriate ‘fixed capital’ as Marx would say: “Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such” (55). Negri would modify Marx’s figure of ‘machinery’ with an added note: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects through education and science” (370). It would be this whole nexus of Network capitalist machinery that would remain fixed which would need to be reappropriated by any Marxian acclerationist program to become effective.

The process of alienation needs to be resuscitated for our time. Marx more or less outlines it in this statement, and I quote at length:

“This is not the place to go into the development of machinery in detail; rather only in its general aspect: in so far as the means of labour, as a physical thing loses its direct form, becomes fixed capital, and confronts the worker physically as capital. In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him, and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour. The worker as superfluous to the extent that his action is not determined by [capital] requirements. (56)” It’s here that labor itself loses its direct form, become virtual or immaterial as capital and then confronts the worker through the machine as the physical manifestation of capital itself. Even knowledge as data externalized, and the worker as living labour subsumed within this objectified process of capital as machininc process, expendable beyond the actions needed to supplement the machine. All this would forecast our own information processing era of computer information theory. I would say that Marx was himself one of the foremost information theorists of his day incorporating a an immaterial materialism of knowledge and flows or machinic processes at the center of his critique of capital.

Some might confuse Marx as a technological determinist, yet it not he but capital itself that is the determining culprit in this technological enforcement through science: “the entire production process appears as not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science; hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment of this process. (56). Over and over we see humans (workers) as living labour are but mere appendages to the ongoing processes of the machine, servants and slave of its work for capital, nothing more. Humans are expendable, machines are not. This is the message Marx relays.

It is also in this essay that Marx would go to the center of capitals contradiction: “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure of source and wealth” (63). After a full critique of this contradiction between the reduction of labour time and it being the sole measure of source and wealth on the other Marx will expound an important point:

“Real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time. Labour time as the means of value posits wealth itself as founded on poverty, and disposable time as existing in and because of the antithesis to surplus labour time; or, the positing of an individual’s entire time as labour time, and his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labour. The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest crudest tools. (65)”

Overwork constitutes a new historical category according to my friend Jehu over at The Real Movement (here). As he tells it following Moishe Postone (Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory) the category of overwork consists of: labor time that can be converted into disposable time, i.e., time away from labor for the vast majority of society. This superfluous labor cannot be employed by either class nor both of them together, but is superfluous to the needs of society as a whole. This labor time can only be employed by individual members of society as their disposable time for purposes they alone consider important. Superfluous labor time is the potential for self-activity of the members of society as it must appear within the limits of the capitalist mode of production — within the limits of a mode of production premised on labor, on production of surplus value, on production for profit.”

Marx himself would confirm this notion saying that “saving labour time is equal to an increase of free time, i.e., time for the full development of the individual… Free time … has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as a different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society. (66)”

All of this may be old hat to many, but I think it was a needed exercise as we explore the unfolding and accelerating notions of capitalism before us. For at the heart of it is that originally this free time would open up for all workers the potential to expand their knowledge base and allow them to participate equitably in the full gamut of social relations, but this is not how it turned out for as we know from Marx himself what happened was that the power of the State and Corporations began to impose and constrain the free time of workers back into the very slavery of the machinic processes of capital to extract from their disposable time surplus value (i.e., profit for the corporations, stockholders, etc.).

What accelerationism potentially hopes to do is expose this contradiction at the heart of capital between reduced labor time – that frees it up for creative self-activity of the worker; while eliminating the positing of labour time, on the other side, as sole measure of source and wealth. Of course it is also so many more things than this, too. A program, a plan for action, a call to the cognitariat to arms, a opening gambit in a debate about temporality and the disposable time of labour, etc.

************************************

In Part Two: Section Two I’ll summarize the manifesto through the eyes of Antonio Negri, then will move on to essays by Tiziana Terranova, Luciana Parisi, Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, Benedict Singleton and Patricia Reed; along, with a final gambit or rebuttal from Nick Land in his Teleoplexy: Notes on Acceleration within this same volume.

Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section Two

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part One

————————————-

1.  #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
2. Europe: The Revolutions of 1848 (1848-1871)
3.
Elden, Stuart (2013-09-09). The Birth of Territory (Kindle Location 7656). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
4. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle. (Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.)
5. see the cultural studies reader (here)


33

Slavoj Žižek: On Spectral Materialism

©Chen Man

One should thus get rid of the fear that, once we ascertain that reality is the infinitely divisible, substanceless void within a void, “matter will disappear.” What the digital informational revolution, the biogenetic revolution, and the quantum revolution in physics all share is that they mark the reemergence of what, for want of a better term, one is tempted to call a post-metaphysical idealism. It is as if Chesterton’s insight into how the materialist struggle for the full assertion of reality, against its subordination to any “higher” metaphysical order, culminates in the loss of reality itself: what began as the assertion of material reality ended up as the realm of pure formulas of quantum physics. Is, however, this really a form of idealism? Since the radical materialist stance asserts that there is no World, that the World in its Whole is Nothing, materialism has nothing to do with the presence of damp, dense matter – its proper figures are, rather, constellations in which matter seems to “disappear,” like the pure oscillations of the superstrings or quantum- vibrations. On the contrary, if we see in raw, inert matter more than an imaginary screen, we always secretly endorse some kind of spiritualism, as in Tarkovsky’s Solaris, in which the dense plastic matter of the planet directly embodies Mind. This “spectral materialism” has three different forms: in the informational revolution, matter is reduced to the medium of purely digitalized information; in biogenetics, the biological body is reduced to the medium of the reproduction of the genetic code; in quantum physics, reality itself, the density of matter, is reduced to the collapse of the virtuality of wave oscillations (or, in the general theory of relativity, matter is reduced to an effect of space’s curvature). Here we encounter ANOTHER crucial aspect of the opposition idealism/materialism: materialism is not the assertion of inert material density in its humid heaviness – SUCH a “materialism” can always serve as a support for gnostic spiritualist obscurantism. In contrast to it, a true materialism joyously assummes the “disappearance of matter,” the fact that there is only void.

Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies

 

Herbert Marcuse: Radical Revolution and Our Future

The only utopia left to us at this late stage in the game is history itself: the history of the future. Recently I set Mondays aside as my day to begin reading through the six volumes of Hebert Marcuse’s collected papers edited by Douglas Kellner.

  • Technology, War and Fascism: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 1
  • Towards a Critical Theory of Society: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 2
  • The New Left and the 1960s: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 3
  • Art and Liberation: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume 4
  • Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Emancipation: Herbert Marcuse Collected Papers, Volume 5
  • Marxism, Revolution and Utopia: Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse, Volume Six

Of course the mainstays of his work were One-Dimensional Man, Eros and Civilization, and Reason and Revolution which are still available in trade paperbacks and e-books. One wishes the six volume work was a little less pricey and available for more of us to afford. I’m actually just buying them as needed each month out of my stipend that I put away for such extravagances. Either way Marcuse is little read these days, and yet in his time he was truly one of those activists like Zizek that traveled, lectured, hit the streets in protest and generally lived what he wrote rather than sitting back in some theoretical haven in academia. I watch a lot of the youtube and vimeo lectures of Leftists these days and think: “This is why we’re getting no where on the Left, everyone is talking to the choir rather than to the people that need an awakening to the power of radical ideas and practices. As Angela Davis says in her own contribution and introduction to one of the volumes tells us: “It seems to me that the overarching themes of Marcuse’s thought are as relevant today on the cusp of the twenty-first century as they were when his scholarship and political interventions were most widely celebrated.”

 

 

 

Letters to a Young Comrade (4)

Yes, I can understand your predicament. There are those among us, wolves in sheep’s clothing who would inform the world about communism as if they in fact knew what it is, as if they had displaced the originals, Marx and Engels. Oh sure they’ll argue that Marx and Engels time is over, that they were men of their age and that we live in a different world with a different set of problems, needing other solutions than those present to us by the Marx and Engels. But do we? Have we really gone beyond the truths that they lived and enacted in their lives and writings? Bosh! Hogwash! May such imposters as these be plowed under for all their revisionist horseshit for the world to see: to see that they are liars, one and all.

You say I’m a little too angry, that I should take a deep breath and forgive these well-meaning purveyors of communist ideas. I’ll not truck with such as these I tell you. From Kautsky on the world has been filled with re-visioning transformations of Marx and Engels original materialist and empirical ideas to the point that they are hardly recognizable. In fact one could strip the libraries of everything written since Kautsky except for a very small minority of thinkers and burn the lot without losing anything. The 20th Century failed communism, communism did not fail the 20th Century peoples of the earth. Why? Because they had not truly learned the harsh truths that Marx and Engels relayed to them in their writings.

But, you ask, what truths are we speaking of?

Continue reading

New Reader #1: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man

The first issue of The New Reader focuses on debt as a theme in current philosophy and critical theory. Released in two parts, this initial instalment sets off with an essay by Richard Dienst, which maps out the discourse on debt and the distinct conceptual models it relies on. The following three contributions address a pivotal recent intervention on the topic: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man. Each of these texts attempts to frame, elaborate or problematize the thesis central to this book: that the concept of ‘indebtedness’ does not only characterize an increasingly generalized economic situation, but also marks a form of subjectivity central to our present condition.

  1. Richard Dienst: Where Are You When You Are In Debt?
  2. Maurizio Lazzarato: Subverting the Debt Machine
  3. Tiziana Terranova: Debt and Autonomy: Lazzarato and the Constituent Powers of the Social
  4. Alberto Toscano: Alien Mediations – Critical Remarks on the Making of the Indebted Man

 

 

Letters to a Young Communist: Is Communism Dead?

Many leftists hate me when I argue that twentieth-century communism might have been the biggest ethico-political fiasco in the history of humanity.

– Slavo Zizek, Demanding the Impossible

You have asked me if communism is dead? That is a difficult question to answer, but I will try because it truly needs some form of statement. One might start with what Zizek recently told a reporter: “I like to say communism, for me, is not an answer.” Instead for Zizek communism is a problem, something that we need to face squarely and meet head on as the problem of the commons. Now you may ask: But what is this, this commons?

The term “commons” is intertwined with the English social history of the “commons” and the “enclosure.” “Commons” referred to traditional rights such as mowing meadows for hay or grazing livestock on common land held in the open field system of old English common law; “enclosure” was the law that ended those traditional rights, converting open fields to private property. Today, some commons still exist in England, Wales, Scotland, and the United States, although their extent is much reduced from the millions of acres that existed until the 17th century.

According to the World Conservation Strategy, a report on conservation published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in collaboration with UNESCO and with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF):

“A commons is a tract of land or water owned or used jointly by the members of a community. The global commons includes those parts of the Earth’s surface beyond national jurisdictions — notably the open ocean and the living resources found there — or held in common — notably the atmosphere. The only landmass that may be regarded as part of the global commons is Antarctica …”.1

Today, the Internet, World Wide Web and resulting cyberspace are often referred to as global commons. Other usages sometimes include references to open access information of all kinds, including arts and culture, language and science, though these are more formally referred to as the common heritage of mankind.

Continue reading

What about Communism?

I came across the work of Jean-Pierre Dupuy while reading of all things Slavoj Žižek’s Less Than Nothing where he praised Dupuy The Mark of the Sacred as the most “radical critical analysis of the “mystery of sacrifice” as a fundamental ideological category”.1 Of course the driving force behind Dupuy is the work of two other thinkers, Rene Girard and Ivan Illich, both of whom would lead Dupuy on a journey to understand the deep roots of violence and how it was religion that developed over thousands of years and under a myriad of circumstances ways of both expiating and transforming violence into social practices in ways that obviated the deathly power it held over people’s lives. As Zizek tells us:

Although the “official” topic of Dupuy’s The Mark of the Sacred is the link between sacrifice and the sacred, its true focus is the ultimate mystery of the so-called human or social sciences, that of the origins of what Lacan calls the “big Other,” what Hegel called “externalization” (Entäusserung), what Marx called “alienation ,” and— why not?— what Friedrich von Hayek called “self-transcendence”: how, out of the interaction of individuals, can the appearance of an “objective order” arrive which cannot be reduced to that interaction, but is experienced by the individuals involved as a substantial agency which determines their lives?

So for Dupuy it is the central quest of how Order arrives in our lives, how we humans create the very powers of order that ultimate become our masters and thereby control our behaviors in work and play. From Girard he discovered the ‘Mimetic Hypothesis’:

Girard’s theory may be thought of as an inverted pyramid, balanced on the mimetic hypothesis. Everything arises from this , the idea that our own desires are not our own, that we desire what others tell us by their own desires is desirable. From this it follows that those whom we take as our models automatically become our rivals. Human violence is not the manifestation of an innate aggressiveness; it is the result of a peculiar deficiency, a lack of being that inevitably brings us into conflict with those whom we believe will be able to remedy it.2

Continue reading

Technocapitalism: Time, Value, and Labor

As it colonizes human society, nature, and the planet, corporatism degrades us, turning our most precious human qualities into commodities. Our creativity, our knowledge, and our learning thus become not qualities that emancipate but commodities that bind us to our alienation from the human condition, from society, and from nature. This degradation of human values is not grounded in technology, in and of itself. It is grounded in the character of a new kind of corporatism and its authoritarian control over technology. It is a new kind of corporatism that is more clever, rapacious, and invasive than any previous form and that is imperial in its quest for power and profit as it tries to control any and all aspects of the public domain.

– Luis Suarez-Villa. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism

It is not so much that, at a certain point in its development, capitalism begins to waste labor time on a massive scale — rather, the case is more horrifying: labor that is not social necessary (superfluous) is itself the direct aim of the capitalism mode of production from its very inception!

– Jehu, Can We Completely Abolish Labor, Right Now?

In the first volume of Capital Marx remarks that “the worker is nothing other than labour-power for the duration of his whole life, and that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and by right labour-time, to be devoted to the self-valorization of capital”.1 If this is true, and I think it is, then disposable time is the central issue for technocapitalism. As Marx explicitly states it capitalism:

…usurps the time for growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It haggles over the meal-times, where possible incorporating them into the production process itself, so that food is added to the worker as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, and grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, renewal and refreshment of the vital forces to the exact amount of torpor essential to the revival of an absolutely exhausted organism. It is not the normal maintenance of labour-power which determines the limits of the working day here, but rather the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which determines the limits of the workers’ period of rest. Capital asks no questions about the length of life of labour-power. What interests it is purely and simply the maximum of labour-power that can be set in motion in a working day. It attains this objective by shortening the life of labour-power, in the same way as a greedy farmer snatches more produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility. [my italics]

Continue reading

Letters to a young Comrade (1)

Dear Comrade,

I know we’ve had this conversation before, and I know you’ve asked me more often than not why the ‘Idea of communism’ matters in such an age as ours. You’ve pointed out that the history of communism has been the history of a great failure. But was it communism that failed us, truly? Should we not admit that mistakes have been made? Are we better than Comrade Lenin who once stated that those “Communists are doomed who imagine that it is possible to finish such an epoch-making undertaking as completing the foundations of socialist economy (particularly in a small-peasant country) without making mistakes, without retreats, without numerous alterations to what is unfinished or wrongly done.”1 Yet, we cannot stop there, we must continue, must remember, allow his message to sink in completely into the core of our being, listen to what he says after this first iteration: “Communists who have no illusions, who do not give way to despondency, and who preserve their strength and flexibility ‘to begin from the beginning’ over and over again in approaching an extremely difficult task, are not doomed (and in all probability will not perish). (ibid.)

Continue reading