Capital as subject and the existence of labor

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Werner Bonefeld
Open Marxism
Volume 3, 1995

Editorial note

Been reading furiously through the Theories of Surplus Value and the 1863 manuscripts on the relation of “subject” and “object” in Marx’s later writings. My hunch is that Postone is right in his reversal of Lukács, who had the proletariat as the simultaneous subject-object of History. For Postone, it’s capital that is the simultaneous subject-object of History. The thing is, they’re both right. And I’m not saying this just so as not to pick a side, though I think ultimately it’s Lukács who gets the better of Postone (at the precise moment the latter seems to have the upper hand).

Living labor or variable capital — i.e., the proletariat as the embodiment of wage-labor — is the subjective factor in production. Dead labor or constant capital — i.e., the bourgeoisie, or rather the means of production they own, as the embodiment of capital — is the objective factor in production. Early in Capital, Marx identifies the vitality of labor-power as “the subjective factor of the labor process,” and goes on to state that “the same elements of capital which, from the perspective of the labor process, can be distinguished respectively as the objective and subjective factors, as means of production and labor-power, can be distinguished from the perspective of the valorization process as constant and variable capital.”

 However, under capitalism these roles appear reversed: the products rule over their producers. Consider a couple passages from the 1863 manuscripts. First,

Objectified, past labor… becomes the sovereign of living, present labor. The relation of subject and object is inverted. If already in the presupposition the objective conditions for the realization of the worker’s labor capacity and therefore for actual labor appear to the worker as alien, independent powers, which relate to living labor rather as the conditions of their own preservation and increase — the tool, the material [of labor] and the means of subsistence only giving themselves up to labor in order to absorb more of it — this inversion is still more pronounced in the result. In both directions, therefore, the objective conditions of labor are the result of labor itself, they are its own objectification, and it is its own objectification, labor itself as its result, that confronts labor as an alien power, as an independent power; while labor confronts the latter again and again in the same objectlessness, as mere labor capacity.

[Die vergegenständlichte, vergangene Arbeit wird so zum Herrscher über die lebendige, gegenwärtige Arbeit. Das Verhältnis von Subjekt und Objekt wird verkehrt. Wenn in der Voraussetzung schon dem Arbeiter die gegenständlichen Bedingungen zur Verwirklichung seines Arbeitsvermögens und daher zur wirklichen Arbeit als fremde, selbständige Mächte gegenüber erscheinen, die sich vielmehr zur lebendigen Arbeit als die Bedingungen ihrer eignen Erhaltung und Vermehrung verhalten — Werkzeug, Material, Lebensmittel, die sich nur an die Arbeit hingeben, um in sich selbst mehr Arbeit einzusaugen —, so erscheint dieselbe Verkehrung noch mehr im Resultat. Die gegenständlichen Bedingungen der Arbeit sind selbst Produkte der Arbeit und, soweit sie von der Seite des Tauschwerts betrachtet werden, nichts als Arbeitszeit in gegenständlicher Form. Nach beiden Seiten hin sind also die gegenständlichen Bedingungen der Arbeit Resultat der Arbeit selbst, ihre eigne Vergegenständlichung, und es ist diese ihre eigne Vergegenständlichung, sie selbst als ihr Resultat, die ihr als fremde Macht, als selbständige Macht, gegenübertritt und der gegenüber sie immer wieder in derselben Gegenstandslosigkeit, als bloßes Arbeitsvermögen, gegenübertritt.]


Since the economists identify past labor with capital — past labor being understood in this case not only in the sense of concrete labor embodied in the product, but also in the sense of social labor, materialized labor time — it is understandable that they, the Pindars of capital, emphasize the objective elements of production and overestimate their importance as against the subjective element, living, immediate labor. For them, labor only becomes efficacious when it becomes capital and confronts itself, the passive element confronting its active counterpart. The producer is therefore controlled by the product, the subject by the object, labor which is being embodied by labor embodied in an object, etc. In all these conceptions, past labor appears not merely as an objective factor of living labor, subsumed by it, but vice versa; not as an element of the power of living labor, but as a power over this labor.

[Da die Ökonomen die vergangene Arbeit mit dem Kapital identifizieren — vergangene Arbeit hier sowohl im Sinne der konkreten, in den Produkten realisierten Arbeit, als im Sinne der gesellschaftlichen Arbeit, materialisierter Arbeitszeit — , so versteht sich bei ihnen, als den Pindaren des Kapitals, daß sie die gegenständlichen Elemente der Produktion geltend machen und ihre Bedeutung überschätzen gegenüber dem subjektiven Element, der lebendigen, unmittelbaren Arbeit. Die Arbeit wird ihnen erst adäquat, sobald sie Kapital wird, sich selbst gegenübertritt, das Passivum der Arbeit ihrem Aktivum. Das Produkt ist daher bestimmend über den Produzenten, der Gegenstand über das Subjekt, die realisierte Arbeit über die sich realisierende etc. In allen diesen Auffassungen tritt die vergangene Arbeit nicht auf als bloß gegenständliches Moment der lebendigen und von ihr subsumierten, sondern umgekehrt; nicht als ein Machtelement der lebendigen Arbeit, sondern als Macht über diese Arbeit.]

Capital is the actual, albeit unconscious, form of society’s self-objectifying subjectivity, while the proletariat is rather its potential form. Only by becoming conscious of its position within the totality of production (in other words, by attaining class consciousness in the Lukácsean sense) can the subjectivity of the latter be actualized. Wage labor and capital are, after all, only two sides of the same value-relation, constitutive of yet antithetical to one another. Inverting this inverted relationship — expropriating the expropriators, negating the negation — humanity masters its own social organization and finally sets itself off from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Marx’s famous dictum that “the emancipation of the workers [object] must be the task of the workers themselves [subject]” captures precisely this image of the proletariat as subject and object of social emancipation. Yet this “historic mission” does not mean affirming the class essence of workers. Socialist revolution will not result in universal proletarianization; capitalism has already accomplished this. “Just as the condition for the liberation of the third estate, of the bourgeois order, was the abolition of all estates and all orders, so the condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class.”

Postone is of course understandably wary of the “notion of the proletariat as the revolutionary Subject, in the sense of a social agent that both constitutes history and realizes itself in socialism.” He writes: “Far from entailing the realization of the proletariat, overcoming capitalism involves the material abolition of proletarian labor.” But Lukács wholeheartedly agreed with this assessment:

Subjectively, i.e. for the class consciousness of the proletariat, the dialectical relationship between immediate interests and objective impact on the whole of society is located in the consciousness of the proletariat itself. It does not work itself out as a purely objective process quite apart from all (imputed) consciousness — as was the case with all classes hitherto. Thus the revolutionary victory of the proletariat does not imply, as with former classes, the immediate realization of the socially given existence of the class, but, as the young Marx clearly saw and defined, its self-annihilation.

Qua embodied negativity, as the negative condition of class society and the promise of its dissolution, “affirmation” of the proletariat can only mean abolishing the present state of affairs. This is what Engels meant when he remarked that “communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.”

As I’ve written elsewhere, capital is nothing other than the alienated agency of unrealized humanity. The proletariat does not presently represent the material human community in nuce, but it alone is capable of realizing it. By taking command over the accumulated instruments of production, it finally makes possible the advent of a truly human history. Lukács confirms this:

The “realm of freedom,” the end of the “prehistory of mankind” means precisely that the power of the objectified, reified relations between men begins to revert to man. The closer this process comes to its goal the more urgent it becomes for the proletariat to understand its own historical mission and the more vigorously and directly proletarian class consciousness will determine each of its actions. For the blind power of the forces at work will only advance “automatically” to their goal of self-annihilation as long as that goal is not within reach. When the moment of transition to the “realm of freedom” arrives this will become apparent just because the blind forces really will hurtle blindly towards the abyss, and only the conscious will of the proletariat will be able to save mankind from the impending catastrophe.

Werner Bonefeld addresses some of these same issues in the essay appended below, albeit in a somewhat different manner than I do here. He’s addressing Bob Jessop, rather than Postone, whose work he engages with elsewhere. Bonefeld makes many similar points, although as a rule he tends to denigrate “class consciousness.” I take this to be symptomatic of his anti-Leninism, but otherwise agree with his position.

To be sure, he’s right that “[i]n Marx’s work there is hardly any reference to ‘class consciousness’… Marx was not interested in the psychology of the working class.” Nevertheless, though the word Klassenbewußtsein does not appear in Marx’s work, its rudiments can be made out in numerous places. E.g., the Manifesto, where it is written that “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

(As far as I can tell, Kautsky coined the “class consciousness,” indicated by Engels’ 1891 comment: “Instead of ‘class-conscious,’ which in our circles is an easily understood abbreviation, I would say the following to facilitate universal understanding and translation into foreign languages: ‘with workers conscious of their class position,’ or something like it.”)

Personally, I think the issue of proletarian consciousness, what Luxemburg in Reform or Revolution called “the subjective factor in the socialist transformation,” is indispensable. “The stronger [the] contradiction [within production] becomes,” wrote Lenin in 1899, “the more developed become the objective conditions for this transformation, as well as the subjective conditions [объективные условия этого превращения, так и субъективные условия], the workers’ consciousness of this contradiction [сознание противоречия работниками].”

Contra Kautsky, sixteen years later, Lenin thundered: “Not every revolutionary situation…gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the… objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls,’ if it is not toppled over.” Continue reading

Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov (1890 - 1986) checks over the plan for the Demarcation of Poland, while Nazi Foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop stands in the background with Joseph  Stalin (1879 - 1953).   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Сталин и Гитлер: возможно ли сравнение?


Much to my surprise, Sergey Adaschik has translated an essay I wrote about a month ago: “Revisionism revisited: Ernst Nolte and Domenico Losurdo on the age of extremes.” He contacted me a few days ago to let me know it had been posted and to make sure it was okay, which of course it is, though I might quibble somewhat with the title.  Stalin and Hitler can of course be compared. But under no circumstance should they be equated. Nor is it all that useful to lump them together under the heading of “totalitarianism,” which obscures more than clarifies the issue. What I aimed to do, rather, was to look for points of contact between various “revisionisms,” for or against. In any case, it’s very flattering that someone went to the trouble of translating it. Thanks, Sergey!

«Ревизионизм» — термин сравнительно недавно появившийся. Этимологически привязывается к 1903, когда приключился ревизионистский спор в рядах Немецкой социал-демократии. Смысл понятия с тех пор остаётся более-менее устойчивым: он указывает на стремление пересмотреть или представить заново некую важную доктрину или сложившийся консенсус. Однако, за свой недолгий срок ревизионизм сумел приобрести множество исторических референций. С учетом его сложившейся полисемичности следовало бы упорядочить различные концепты, которые он обозначает.

Недавний уход Эрнста Нольте в возрасте 93 лет (18 августа 2016) предоставляет уникальную возможность для такой рефлексии. Неоднозначно воспринимаемый историк стал всемирно известным, как минимум в определенных кругах, в середине 1980х когда происходил «спор историков» [Historikerstreit]. Начиная с выступления в Мюнхене в июне 1980, озаглавленного «Между Исторической легендой и Ревизионизмом?», Нольте стремился поместить нацистский геноцид в контекст мировой гражданской войны [Weltbürgerkrieg], длившейся с Октябрьской революции в 1917 до падения Берлина в мае 1945. Он видел в этом неудачную (но понятную) реакцию на ужасное насилие, запущенное большевиками в России:

Освенцим явился не столько результатом традиционного антисемитизма, и даже не еще одним прецедентом «геноцида». Он был реакцией страха уничтожения, возникшего в ходе Русской Революции. Хотя по факту он оказался более иррациональным, ужасным и отталкивающим, чем те основания к сингулярному действию, которые давал его предшественник, это не меняет того, что так называемое уничтожение евреев Третьим рейхом было реакцией или извращенной копией, а не первичным или самобытным актом.

Шестью годами позже в передовице, вызвавшей дискуссию, Нольте вновь ставит вопрос: «Не потому ли национал-социалисты или Гитлер совершили «азиатское» деяние, что они просто полагали себя потенциальными жертвами «азиатского» акта? Не предшествовал ли Архипелаг ГУЛАГ Освенциму?» Для Нольте «большевистское убийство целого класса было логически и фактически первым [prius] ‹расовым убийством› национал-социализма…». Однако, невзирая на эти предположительно смягчающие обстоятельства, Германия в одиночестве оказалась захвачена «прошлым, которое не проходит». Проворачивая лезвие, он добавляет: «разговор о виновности немцев легкомысленно упускает сходство с речами о ‹виновности евреев›, которые были главным доводом национал-социалистов». Вполне ожидаемо провокативные слова Нольте произвели шум, когда Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung засыпали гневными письмами.

Юрген Хабермас был среди тех, кто дал свой ответ летом 1986го. Это тут же придало вес дебатам. В то время Хабермас находился на пике своей силы, выступая как самый известный в стране интеллектуал. Как неоспоримый наследник Теодора Адорно, он представлял «второе поколение» критической теории Франкфуртской школы. Нольте был последователем Мартина Хайдеггера, «известного» философа наци, против которого неутомимо выступал Адорно, и призрак «научного куратора» маячил на заднем плане. Как угадывалось с самого начала, Хабермас обрушился против апологетического характера работы, «в которой Нольте, студент Хайдеггера, оглашает свою ‹философскую трактовку истории›». Даже заявления, умаляющие значимость предшественников, по умолчанию поддерживали их репутацию, как, например, когда Хабермас заявил, что «дело не в полемике Поппера против Адорно, не в академическом расхождении мнений, и не вопросах свободы от оценочных суждений [Wertfreiheit]. Дело скорее в публичном применении истории». Следуя этой логике, он через несколько страниц повторяет: «После 1945 … мы читаем Хайдеггера, Карла Шмитта и Ханса Фрайера, даже Эрнста Юнгера, совершенно иначе, чем до 1933го».

Вчитываясь в эти дебаты 30 лет спустя ощущаешь сомнение — в этом ли состоит основная проблема? Может ли событие стать частью истории без утраты своей сингулярности? Не «приземляет» ли его сам акт контекстуализации? Возможно ли одновременно «понимать и осуждать», как это выразил участник полемики  Христиан Мейер? Сравнивать два отдельных объекта значит соотносить их, если не подвергать релятивизации. Ханс Моммзен возразил аргументам Нольте и его сторонника Йоахима Феста, обосновывая тем, что они исподтишка стремятся «релятивизировать» нацизм через его сопоставление с большевизмом. С настоянием на сравнимости или «допустимости определенных сравнений» (по выражению Нольте) весь разговор о сингулярности стремительно рассеивается. Франсуа Фюре, историк-ревизионист Французской революции и неизменный поклонник своего немецкого коллеги, говорил, что одним из величайших достоинств Нольте был «решительный уход от запрета на помещение большевизма и нацизма в один мешок». Поль Рикёр заметил в работе Память, История, Забвение за год до своей смерти, что «массовое применение сравнений улаживает судьбу сингулярности или уникальности, поскольку только это позволяет опознать различия… Только с расширением критической полемики в этом направлении Нольте ожидает возможности для этого прошлого «пройти», как и всякому прочему и быть усвоенным». Continue reading


Demonology of the working class

One of the most common charges leveled at Marxists is that, for all their atheistic pretensions, they retain a quasi-religious faith in the revolutionary dispensation of working class dictatorship. “It’s become an almost compulsory figure of speech to refer to Marxism as a Church,” observed the French literary critic Roland Barthes in 1951. Barthes was reviewing a book by the surrealist author Roger Caillois, which had just been released, but if anything the use of this lazy metaphor has grown more frequent over time. Just a few years after Barthes’ review was published, the public intellectual Raymond Aron came out with a polemic cuttingly titled The Opium of the Intellectuals (1955). He’d lifted the title from a bon mot by the philosopher Simone Weil, who despite her youthful Bolshevism in the twenties had gone on to publicly debate Leon Trotsky during the thirties. Repeating this old anticommunist jibe, Aron quipped that “in Marxist eschatology, the proletariat is cast in the role of collective savior… that is, the class elected through suffering for the redemption of humanity.” Evidently, in Aron’s understanding, workers were held up as an object of mythic exaltation among the socialists.

To be sure, some of the language adopted by Marxists — e.g., heresies, dogma, sects, orthodoxy, schisms — is clearly borrowed from theological disputes. Furthermore, the recantations made by ex-communists at times seems to lend credence to this view. You need look no further than the famous 1949 essay collection The God that Failed for proof of this fact. Wolfgang Eckhardt’s newly-translated study of The First Socialist Schism (2016), on the split between Bakunin and Marx in the Workingmen’s International, is only the latest in a very long line of examples. André Gorz opened his Farewell to the Working Class (1980) with a chapter on “The Working Class According to Saint Marx,” riffing on the section of The German Ideology dedicated to a critique of “German socialism according to its prophets.” Gorz thus concluded that “orthodoxy, dogmatism, and religiosity are not accidental features of Marxism, since the philosophy of the proletariat is a religion.” More recently, the former Situationist TJ Clark confessed that his own Farewell to an Idea (1999) will likely be seen “as a vestige of early twentieth-century messianism.” Clark sardonically added that “if I can’t have the proletariat as my chosen people any longer, at least capitalism remains my Satan” (though he got this last part a bit mixed up, as we shall see).

Socialism, however, is not about worshiping but rather abolishing the worker. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, perhaps the two most prominent theorists of proletarian revolution during the nineteenth century, by no means deified the class they felt might lead to the socialization of humanity. In their first written collaboration, from 1845, the young firebrands maintained:

When socialist writers ascribe [a] world-historic role to the proletariat, it is not at all… because they regard the proletarians as gods. Rather the contrary. In the fully-formed proletariat the abstraction of all humanity, and even of the semblance of humanity, is practically complete. The conditions of life of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in their most inhuman form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, and at the same time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of that loss, but through urgent, no longer removable, no longer disguisable, absolutely imperative need — the practical expression of necessity — is driven directly to revolt against this inhumanity, it follows that the proletariat must emancipate itself. But it cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life, and cannot abolish the conditions of its own life without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of life of society today which are summed up in its own situation.

Expanding on this passage, the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty insisted on the terrestrial foundations of the Marxist hypothesis. “If [Marxism] accords a privilege to the proletariat, it does so because on the basis of the internal logic of its condition… apart from any messianic illusion,” he claimed in Humanism and Terror (1947). “Proletarians, ‘who are not gods,’ are the only ones in a position to realize humanity. Marxists discern a mission in the proletariat — not a providential, but an historical one — and this means that, if we take the proletariat’s role in the present social constellation, it moves toward the recognition of man by man…” Nevertheless, in the meantime workers are hardly godlike; indeed, they’re barely even human, if Marx and Engels are to be believed. As the former would later explain in Capital (1867), “manufacture proper not only subjects the previously independent worker to the discipline and command of capital, but converts the worker into a crippled monstrosity.” His description is reminiscent of the lyrics to that old Tennessee Ernie Ford song “Sixteen Tons,” written about a Kentucky coal miner in 1947: “Some people say a man is made outta’ mud / A poor man’s made outta’ muscle and blood / Muscle and blood and skin and bones / A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong / You load sixteen tons, what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt / Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go / I owe my soul to the company store.”

Over and above the image of the proletariat as divine redeemer, here emerges a picture of the proletariat as beyond redemption. Workers have sold their souls to the company store. Consider the following lines from Marx’s Capital on the topic of automation: “An organized system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from an automatic center, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, instead of the isolated machine, a vast mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demonic power [dämonische Kraft], at first hidden by the slow and measured motions of its gigantic members, finally bursts forth in the fast and feverish whirl of its countless working organs.” Little wonder that the Italian left communist Amadeo Bordiga drew upon these words in elaborating his own “Doctrine of the Body Possessed by the Devil,” from 1951. Quoting Marx, who in turn was quoting Goethe, Bordiga explained how, “by incorporating living labor into capital’s lifeless objectivity, the capitalist simultaneously transforms value, i.e. past labor in its objectified and lifeless form, into capital, value which can perform its own valorization process, an animated monster which begins to ‘work’, ‘as if possessed by the devil’.” The dispossessed (which is, after all, just another word for “proletariat”) are thus demonically possessed by the alienated products of their labor. For Marx, this was all part of “the magic and necromancy [der Zauber und Spuk] that surrounds the products of labor on the basis of commodity production.”

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, the Hungarian communist dissident turned born-again Marxist, is one of the only theorists in recent memory to have grasped the demonic character of the working class. In his brilliant 2006 essay “Telling the Truth About Class,” Tamás framed his view by contrasting it with that of the British cultural historian EP Thompson:

There is an angelic view of the exploited (that of Rousseau, Karl Polányi, E.P. Thompson) and there is a demonic, Marxian view. For Marx, the road to the end of capitalism (and beyond) leads through the completion of capitalism, a system of economic and intellectual growth, imagination, waste, anarchy, destruction, destitution. It is an apocalypse in the original Greek sense of the word, a “falling away of the veils” which reveals all the social mechanisms in their stark nakedness; capitalism helps us to know because it is unable to sustain illusions, especially naturalistic and religious illusions. It liberated subjects from their traditional rootedness (which was presented to them by the ancien régime as “natural”) to hurl them onto the labor market where their productive-creative essence reveals itself to be disposable, replaceable, dependent on demand — in other words, wholly alien to self-perception or “inner worth.” In capitalism, what human beings are, is contingent or stochastic; there is no way in which they are as such, in themselves. Their identity is limited by the permanent reevaluation of the market and by the transient historicity of everything, determined by — among other contingent factors — random developments in science and technology. What makes the whole thing demonic indeed is that in contradistinction to the external character, the incomprehensibility, of “fate,” “the stars,” participants in the capitalist economy are not born to that condition, they are placed in their respective positions by a series of choices and compulsions that are obviously manmade. To be born noble and ignoble is nobody’s fault, has no moral dimensions; but alienation appears self-inflicted.

Marx is the poet of that Faustian demonism: only capitalism reveals the social, and the final unmasking; the final apocalypse, the final revelation can be reached by wading through the murk of estrangement which, seen historically, is unique in its energy, in its diabolical force. Marx does not “oppose” capitalism ideologically; but Rousseau does. For Marx, it is history; for Rousseau, it is evil.

Here Tamás was somewhat unfair to Thompson — not to mention Rousseau — but his caricatured presentation served to throw their perspectives into sharper relief. Thompson may have been guilty, from time to time, of romanticizing the English working class, but he entertained no illusions as to the hellish conditions out of which it emerged. After all, it was Thompson who wrote of “the denizens of ‘Satan’s strongholds’ [inhabitants of proletarian neighborhoods in industrial cities], of the ‘harlots, publicans, and thieves’ whose souls the evangelists wrestled for in a state of civil war against the ale-houses.” Every religious doctrine of the age, stated Thompson, had to be “held up to a Satanic light and read backwards” so as to properly grasp their context. One popular Methodist refrain, which he noted in his Making of the English Working Class (1963), spoke of factories as follows: “There is a dreadful Hell, / And everlasting pains, / Where sinners must with devils dwell, / In darkness, fire, and chains.” Regarding “that monstrosity, the disposable working population held in reserve” (to quote Capital), Thompson echoed Marx’s military metaphor in describing “…an unsettling element in the formative working-class community, a seemingly inexhaustible flow of reinforcements to man the battlements.”

Continue reading

The European Animal, a satirical map made by A. Belloquet in 1882 copy

Cartoon maps portraying impending inter-imperialist apocalypse

MP Pavlovich [ML Veltman]
People’s Commissariat of

Comrade Pavlovich,1

I have arranged for publication of a school atlas (in Petrograd).2 It would be extremely important to include maps of imperialism. Would you not undertake this?

For example:

  1. Colonial possessions 1876-1914-1921, adding or specially shading off semi-colonial countries (Turkey, Persia, China, and so forth).
  2. Brief statistics of colonies and semi-colonies.
  3. Map of financial dependencies. For example, for each country ± with a figure (millions or milliards of francs) of how much this country owes, and how much it is owed;
    Also comparatively for 1876-1914-1921, if 1876 be taken as the culminating point of pre-monopoly capitalism.
  4. Railways of the world, with a note, in each country, showing to whom most of them belong (British, French, North America, etc.).
    Will this prove too much of a mixture? Convenient forms can be found, with what matters, what predominates noted very briefly.
  5. The main sources of those raw materials over which there is a struggle (oil, ores, etc.) — also with notes (% or millions of francs belong to such-and-such a country).
    We must without fail include maps of this kind in the textbooks, of course with a brief explanatory text.
    A statistical assistant can be given you for the auxiliary work.

Please reply whether you undertake this, how and when.

With communist greetings,

Vladimir Ulianov (Lenin)
Chairman, Council of
People’s Commissars


1 Pavlovich, M. P. (Veltman, M. L.) (1871-1929) — Social-Democrat, Menshevik. He became a Communist after 1917, and from 1921 was a member of the Collegium of the Commissariat for Affairs of Nationalities.
2 Reference is to the preparations for the publication of the Vsemirny geografichesky atlas (Geographical Atlas of the World), launched on Lenin’s initiative. The project was not realized.

1111 14054507_10208119983574717_4341188426381209528_o 2721592513_c130bfbba9_b world_around_1900 "El Manicomio", mapa satírico de Europa en 1915, Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956) See Translation 0WyLa Continue reading

Under the banner of Marxism journal, 1923-1931

Under the banner of Marxism [«Под знаменем марксизма»], 1923-1931

So it seems some glorious madman has taken it upon himself to scan and upload the entire run of the early Soviet theoretical journal, named Under the Banner of Marxism [«Под знаменем марксизма»]. A stupendous Stakhanovite feat. Needless to say, whoever did this is a bona fide герой труда.

Using a comically outdated online platform, no less. It was posted somewhere in the ultradank universe of Russian Livejournal, which has more or less become a medium for blogging. On one such blog, evidently belonging to a Baconian Bolshevik — entitled Знание власть, or “knowledge is power” — I found it.

Predictably, the quality of the articles began to sharply decline by the end of the 1920s. Wilhelm Reich’s Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis was published on its pages as late as 1929, however. You can download all of them, excepting the post-1931 issues (which can be found here), by clicking below.

Following those links, you can read the open letter Trotsky sent the editors of the first issue. Lenin himself singled out this letter in his own note, which was included in the double issue published next, while expressing the hope this venture would take the shape of a “society of materialist friends of Hegelian dialectics.” Abram Deborin, the stuffy Hegelian Menshevik and prominent critic of Lukács, edited the journal from 1926 through 1930, before being purged later in that decade.

Trotsky himself underscored the importance of the letter in The Stalin School of Falsification (1937), which, in pointing to the difference between the changed conditions of education of the younger members of the party from that of their older comrades, outlined the necessity of a new theoretical approach in order to safeguard the political experience accumulated within the party.

Despite the importance attributed to the letter by Lenin and Trotsky, Leszek Kolakowski, in his Main Currents of Marxism, considered the letter to be unexceptional. So much the worse for him.



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Freikorps, 1919 copy 3

Revisionism revisited: Ernst Nolte and Domenico Losurdo on the age of extremes

“Revisionism” — Revisionismus, révisionnisme, ревизионизм — is a word of relatively recent vintage. Most etymologies date its origin to around 1903, when the revisionist dispute befell German Social Democracy. Its meaning has remained more or less constant since then: the term denotes an effort to revise or otherwise reenvision some prior doctrine or established consensus. Already in its short career, however, revisionism has managed to amass a range of historical referents. Given this polysemic quality, a bit of disentanglement seems in order to sort out the different phenomena it signifies.

Ernst Nolte’s death late last week, at the age of 93, offers a unique opportunity for such reflection. The controversial historian rose to international prominence, or at least achieved a certain notoriety, during the mid-1980s as part of the “historians’ quarrel” [Historikerstreit]. Beginning with an address he delivered in Munich in June 1980, entitled “Between Historical Legend and Revisionism?”, Nolte sought to place the Nazi genocide within the context of a global civil war [Weltbürgerkrieg] that lasted from the October Revolution in 1917 to the fall of Berlin in May 1945. He framed it as an unfortunate (but understandable) response to the horrific violence unleashed by the Bolsheviks in Russia:

Auschwitz was not primarily a result of traditional antisemitism, and not just one more case of “genocide.” It was a fear-borne reaction to acts of annihilation that took place during the Russian Revolution. While the fact that it was more irrational, terrible, and repulsive than its precursor provides a foundation for the notion of singularity, none of this alters that the so-called [!!!] annihilation of the Jews by the Third Reich was a reaction or a distorted copy and not a first act or an original.

Six years later, in the editorial that sparked the controversy, Nolte again posed the question: “Did the National Socialists or Hitler perhaps commit an ‘Asiatic’ deed merely because they considered themselves potential victims of an ‘Asiatic’ deed? Wasn’t the Gulag Archipelago primary to Auschwitz?” For Nolte, “the Bolsheviks’ murder of an entire class was the logical and factual prius of the ‘racial murder’ of National Socialism…” Yet, despite these supposed mitigating circumstances, Germany alone was trapped in “a past that will not pass.” Twisting the knife, he added, “talk about ‘the guilt of the Germans’ blithely overlooks the similarity to the talk about ‘the guilt of the Jews,’ which was a main argument of the National Socialists.” Predictably, Nolte’s provocations led to an uproar, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was flooded with angry letters.

Stalin, Hitler, similar salutes copy 2 U_39_299435507822_paris37.a

Jürgen Habermas was among those who sent a reply the summer of 1986. Immediately, this added a great deal of weight to the debate. At the time, Habermas was at the height of his powers, by far the country’s best-known intellectual. Heir apparent to Theodor Adorno, he represented the “second generation” of Frankfurt School critical theory. Nolte had been a follower of Martin Heidegger, the (in)famous Nazi philosopher against whom Adorno had tirelessly polemicized, so the ghosts of the Doktorväter were close at hand. This was evident from the outset, as Habermas inveighed against the apologetic tendencies at work “in what Nolte, the student of Heidegger, calls his ‘philosophical writing of history’.” Even statements downplaying the relevance of these forebears tacitly invoked their authority, as for example when Habermas declared that “it is not a matter of Popper versus Adorno, nor of scholarly differences of opinion, nor about questions of freedom from value judgments [Wertfreiheit]. Rather, it is about the public use of history.” Driving this point home, a few pages down, he reiterated: “After 1945… we read [Martin] Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and Hans Freyer, even Ernst Jünger, differently than before 1933.”

Looking back at this exchange now thirty years on, one wonders whether this is not the crux of the matter. Can an event be historicized without diminishing its singularity? Or does the very act of contextualization thereby render it mundane? Is it possible to simultaneously “comprehend and condemn,” as Christian Meier suggested in the title of his contribution to the debate? To compare two distinct objects is to relate them, if not relativize them as such. Hans Mommsen objected to claims made by Nolte and his attack dog, Joachim Fest, on the grounds that they surreptitiously aimed at “relativizing” Nazism through its comparison with Bolshevism. By insisting on their comparability, or “the permissibility of certain comparisons” (as Nolte put it), all talk of singularity swiftly goes out the window. François Furet, revisionist historian of the French Revolution and unabashed admirer of his German counterpart, one of Nolte’s greatest merits was to have “quickly gone beyond the prohibition against putting Bolshevism and Nazism in the same bag.” Paul Ricoeur noted in Memory, History, Forgetting, just a year before his death, “this massive use of comparison settles the fate of singularity or uniqueness, since this alone permits the identification of differences… As soon as the critical debate has been widened in this way, Nolte expects it will allow this past ‘to pass’ like any other and be appropriated.” Continue reading


Revolutionaries in living color

It is often said that it was the painters who invented photography (by bequeathing it their framing, the Albertian perspective, and the optic of the camera obscura). I say: no, it was the chemists. For the noeme “That-has-been” was possible only on the day when a scientific circumstance (the discovery that silver halogens were sensitive to light) made it possible to recover and print directly the luminous rays emitted by a variously lighted object. The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed.

It seems that in Latin “photograph” would be said imago lucis opera expressa; which is to say: image revealed, “extracted,” “mounted,” “expressed” (like the juice of a lemon) by the action of light. And if photography belonged to a world with some residual sensitivity to myth, we should exult over the richness of the symbol: the loved body is immortalized by the mediation of a precious metal, silver (monument and luxury); to which we might add the notion that this metal, like all the metals of alchemy, is alive.

Perhaps it is because I am delighted (or depressed) to know that the thing of the past, by its immediate radiations (its luminances), has really touched the surface which in its turn my gaze will touch, that I am not very fond of color. An anonymous daguerreotype of 1843 shows a man and a woman in a medallion subsequently tinted by the miniaturists on the staff of the photographic studio: I always feel (unimportant what actually occurs) that in the same way, color is a coating applied later on to the original truth of the black-and-white photograph. For me, color is an artifice, a cosmetic (like the kind used to paint corpses). What matters to me is not the photograph’s “life” (a purely ideological notion) but the certainty that the photographed body touches me with its own rays and not with a superadded light.

— Roland Barthes,
Camera Lucida

Color by klimbims (Olga)Mikhail Bakunin, 1860 Ulyanov family, 1879 Piotr Chaykovsky Kropotkin | Кропоткин Anton Chekhov Nadezhda Krupskaya, Vladimir Lenins wife Continue reading

Reichspr‰sidenten 1932
Im M‰rz 1932 war die Amtszeit des Reichspr‰sidenten abgelaufen. Der Wahlkampf tobte erbittert.
Die Deutschnationalen stellten Hindenburg als Kandidaten auf.
Richtig verk¸ndeten die Kommunisten:"Wer Hindenburg w‰hlt, w‰hlt Hitler! Wer Hitler w‰hlt, w‰hlt den Krieg!"
UBz:Wahlplakat f¸r Hindenburg [in Berlin]
Scherl Bilderdienst

I’m “mit Ihm”: On electoral compromise

Was wondering where Hillary got her campaign slogan from: Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg. Incidentally, he was supported by the SPD in the hope he would stop Hitler. No sooner was he in office, however, than the Junker octogenarian decided to appoint the Nazi leader chancellor.

Yes, that’s right — a party founded only forty years earlier, upon ostensibly Marxist principles, was now cheering “I’m mit Ihm.”

Before Trump’s campaign started tanking a little over three weeks ago, you heard the word “fascism” being thrown around a lot this election cycle. Many on the Left were saying that Trump must be defeated at any cost, even if that means supporting a hawkish Democrat like Hillary Clinton.

Paul von Hindenburg - “mit Ihm” campaign poster 1932 copy

Somebody somewhere noted the irony: “Just for the sake of historical accuracy, you’d think more people would mention that pragmatic electoral compromises meant to prevent fascism are actually what resulted in fascism.” Or at least in the German Bonapartism that later led to the fascist consolidation of power.

Donald Trump is no Adolph Hitler. And Hillary Clinton’s certainly no Paul von Hindenburg. Even if she does favor military solutions to foreign policy problems, the comparison is a bit of a stretch. Žižek, despite his recent lapses in judgment, gets Trump about right. Trump is more a centrist liberal than anything else.

Regardless, it’s not as if Clinton would appoint Trump to some sort of cabinet or ministerial position after the November vote. Fascism as a mass movement is still not really a threat in the West. Largely because the ruling class does not feel itself threatened enough to resort to supporting dictatorial measures that might suppress incipient revolt.

Historical analogies are usually misleading. Certainly this one is, if taken too literally. Perhaps this might simply serve as a healthy reminder of the perils of voting for the “lesser evil” once every four years.

decolonize your diet

Culinary materialism


Cooking a pot of beans from scratch is a revolutionary act that honors both your ancestors and future generations.

Unless your ancestors happen to be Pythagoreans, of course. Decolonize Your Diet is a new cookbook written by Luz Calvo, professor of ethnic studies at Cal State East Bay in Hayward and Catriona R. Esquibel, associate professor of race and resistance studies at San Francisco State. They’ve got a website (seems to be down right now), maintain a Facebook page to boot, and generally urge their readers to “[reclaim] our collective ancestral knowledge of food, herbs, recipes, and culture, with an emphasis on a plant-based diet using Mesoamerican ingredients.”

Either way, I’m skeptical. Remember, kids, decolonization is not a metaphor. By preparing this dish, you’re literally overthrowing the existing state of affairs. You’re bringing about “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing.” Or maybe they just mean that eating this will help you evacuate the contents of your colon — de-colon-ize. Maybe it’s just supposed to be edifying. However, there’s at least one philosopher who might agree with the imperative to eat beans, and its revolutionary portent: Ludwig Feuerbach. Sidney Hook explains.

625510_669374049740997_1668188857_nFeuerbach’s “degenerate sensationalism”

Sidney Hook
From Hegel to
Marx (1936)

Feuerbach’s portrait as a philosopher would be incomplete if we were to omit a phase of his thought which, it must be conceded at once, is more important for an understanding of the reception of his ideas than for their development. For this phase was a short-lived enthusiasm induced by the first experimental steps of organic chemistry. But it must be treated here, if only to present the context in which appears his famous sentence “Man is what he eats” [Der Mensch ist Was er isst] — a sentence which the philosophical philistines have used as a pretext to condemn rather than to read Feuerbach’s works.

Feuerbach sincerely believed that his critique of religion and philosophy marked the turning point in the history of Western thought. And if not all of his disciples made the same claims for his philosophy, even the critical among them, like Ruge, referred to it as “the third cock’s crow of German spiritual freedom.” Feuerbach’s last word in the period of his thought we have just been considering was a call for philosophy to break its mésalliance with religion and enter into a living union with science. In his Vorläufigen: Thesen, he maintained that philosophy must ally itself once more with science and science with philosophy” (S.W., Bd. 2, p. 267).

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Slaves_Zadib_Yemen_13th_century_BNF_Paris copy 2

The green pill: “Political correctness” and jihad

So I downloaded and was reading the Islamic State’s webzine Dabiq — because hey, why not be on a terror watchlist? Comrade Coates shared something about it on Twitter, some vile passage that’d been originally been posted on Reddit, so I decided to track down a copy and have a read myself. It’s always a rush, seeking out those obscure East Asian message boards where you can find files of Dabiq. You never know if you’re about to download some fatal virus. Part of the thrill of it, I suppose. Jihadology and other more respected sources of primary documents on extremism are no fun. They take the sense of adventure out of it.

Anyway, apparently the self-styled Caliphate thinks that Western nations were too soft in their imperialism. Or else so corrupted by liberalism and “political correctness” that they felt obliged to apologize for their misdeeds years later:

The clear difference between Muslims and the corrupt and deviant Jews and Christians is that Muslims are not ashamed of abiding by the rules sent down from their Lord regarding war and enforcement of divine law. So if it were the Muslims, instead of the Crusaders, who had fought the Japanese and Vietnamese or invaded the lands of the Native Americans, there would have been no regrets in killing and enslaving those therein. And since those mujahidin would have done so bound by the Law, they would have been thorough and without some “politically correct” need to apologize years later. The Japanese, for example, would have been forcefully converted to Islam from their pagan ways. Had they stubbornly declined, perhaps another nuke would change their mind. The Vietnamese would likewise be offered Islam or beds of napalm. As for the Native Americans: after the slaughter of their men, those who would favor smallpox to surrendering to the Lord would have their surviving women and children taken as slaves, with the children raised as model Muslims and their women impregnated to produce a new generation of mujahidin. As for the treacherous Jews of Europe and elsewhere — those who would betray their covenant — then their post-pubescent males would face a slaughter that would make the Holocaust sound like a bedtime story, as their women would be made to serve their husbands’ and fathers’ killers.

Furthermore, the lucrative African slave trade would have continued, supporting a strong economy. The Islamic leadership would not have bypassed Allah’s permission to sell captured pagan humans, to teach them, and to convert them, as they worked hard for their masters in building a beautiful country. Notably, of course, those of them who converted, practiced their religion well, and were freed would be treated no differently than any other free Muslim. This is unlike when the Christian slaves were emancipated in America, as they were not afforded supposedly government-recognized equal “rights” for more than a century — and their descendants still live in a nation divided over those days.

All of this would be done, not for racism, nationalism, or political lies, but to make the word of Allah supreme. Jihad is the ultimate show of one’s love for his Creator, facing the clashing of swords and buzzing of bullets on the battlefield, seeking to slaughter His enemies — whom he hates for Allah’s hatred of them.

Much of this is clearly meant to serve a propaganda function, the group’s genocidal aims laid out matter-of-factly, in keeping with their apocalyptic imagery. It would of course be foolish to dismiss it all as empty posturing. Daesh actually does systematically murder, enslave, and rape within its shrinking territory. Some of the lines excerpted here seem almost designed just to scandalize mainstream liberal sensibilities, which are identified with the West. For example, the standard boilerplate complaint about “political correctness” is something one frequently sees on Alt-Right and RadTrad forums and message boards. Here IS is daring them to take the green pill instead of the red, an even more heady traditionalist concoction than the one they’re already accustomed to fantasizing about.

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