Unfinished building for the Department of Defense in Monrovia, Liberia.
Started in 1984.
Currently being used as an Ebola isolation and treatment center.
This is an analysis of the socio-economic and political bases of the rise to power of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and of the trajectory of the “Bolivarian” regime. Its author, “Sergio López,” writes from firsthand knowledge of conditions in Venezuela, and this article appeared first in Kosmoprolet, Heft 1, the publication of the Freundinnen und Freunde der Klassenlosen Gesellschaft (Friends of the Classless Society).
A translation of this piece was published in the journal Internationalist Perspective, and is reproduced from their website below. While it’s quite a bit lengthier — at over 11,000 words, it’s able to say more about the socioeconomic context and so on — López’s article forms a nice supplement to the much shorter piece by Marco Torres on “The Dead Left: Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution,” which is more of an ideology-critique with a political emphasis. Both pieces were written around the same time, with López ‘s coming out in 2009 and Torres’ in 2010. Moreover, Marco’s piece focused more on what the Western Left’s fixation on Venezuela and Bolivarianism said about its own powerlessness.
A highlight of every child’s birthday party in Venezuela is a piñata, a brightly-colored paper container filled with candy or toys dangling from a rope. Taking turns the children try to break the piñata with a stick. When it eventually breaks releasing its precious contents all the children jump at it and try to grab as much of it as possible. It goes without saying that the weaker children are intimidated and squeezed out by the stronger ones. Their share depends upon the size of the piñata, the number of children and, ultimately their capability of standing up to the other children. If there were no interference by the parents, several children would go away empty-handed.
How is this related to the Bolivarian process? How does the game continue? And who are the players?
In a materialist understanding, the key to the “Bolivarian revolution” cannot be the man Hugo Chávez with his real or alleged staff of advisers. Rather, the historical structures, the concrete economic interests and the social tensions within Venezuela are key to understanding Chávez’s rise to power, his political actions, and his particular rhetoric.
Since the 1920s oil has been Venezuela’s most important export good. Ever since, it has been central to all economic, political and social life in Venezuela. Unlike agricultural produce, natural resources were at that time already the property of the state which, hence, as a direct trading partner of the foreign oil companies, had a source of capital at its disposal which is to this day largely independent from the rest of the country’s economic activity. It was only in the 1920s that the state exerted its authority against the local chieftains, the “caudillos,” and set an end to the recurring flare-up of bloody civil wars that had shaken the country since its independence in 1821.
Proprietors of natural resources can regulate the access to it, deny it altogether or sell it at a high price. This is the source of the “absolute rent” Marx analyzed. By founding OPEC, the oil exporting countries could raise this absolute rent and snatch it away from the world market. Moreover, oil has an advantage over its main competitor on the energy market, coal, because the extraction of oil is cheaper than that of coal. Therefore, the oil industry gains a so-called differential rent. Particularly in the years after 1958 the Venezuelan state was in a struggle with the oil companies over a share in this differential rent until it eventually nationalized oil production in 1975, in a way though which still involved the oil companies. For almost a century this state has been trying to strengthen its bargaining power against the transnational oil companies without endangering the whole process of extracting and distributing the oil.
This is at the heart of Venezuela’s perpetual anti-imperialism. The character of the negotiations, and which oil concessions are granted, is pivotal for the country’s foreign policy. The struggle for political power, the discussion about the attitude towards the oil companies and the appropriation of the oil rent, dominate the political sphere. Also, socio-economic structures have developed in direct dependence on the almighty state and its seemingly inexhaustible sources of capital. This has led to an historically early process of urbanization in the administrative centres and in the areas where the oil is extracted. Today less than 15 percent of Venezuelans live in the countryside (compared to 25 percent of the French and 10 percent of the Germans). Continue reading
On November 22, 2013, Nikos Manousakis, a member of the Platypus Affiliated Society in Thessoliniki, interviewed Andros Payiatsos, Secretary General of Xekinima or “Start,” the Greek chapter of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Nikos Manousakis: Tell us about the Greek chapter of the CWI. What are its involvements politically, its connection to the wider international organization, its ideological background, and what are Start’s aims in present-day Greece?
Andros Payiastos: Xekinima, which can be translated as Start, has a long history that dates back to the period of the Junta, the military dictatorship from 1967-1974. It was originally a small group that operated illegally under the Dictatorship of the Generals and, in 1974, joined the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). Xekinima had evolved in a Trotskyist direction, although not with full clarity at the outset, and was involved in the uprising of the Athens Polytechnic in the autumn of 1973. Start members joined PASOK when the latter was created in 1974. Around the same time Start came into contact with the British counterpart of the CWI, then called Militant, which was working inside British Labour. The group has had an interesting and a complex development since then. In its initial period it was very successful within PASOK, which, in the 1970s, was an entirely different organization from the one we see today — with thousands of working-class fighters and radical left activists. It was also very bureaucratic. But Xekinima was very quickly expelled. From 1975 onwards, Xekinima has worked as a tendency outside PASOK, although it directs itself at the PASOK rank and file.
Then in the late 1980s, a discussion began to develop in Greece and internationally about the character of working-class parties, labor parties, Social Democratic parties, etc., and there was a move in the direction of abandoning them. So Xekinima, too, shifted toward independent work and abandoned any kind of relationship with PASOK. Furthermore, in the 1990s, Xekinima came out openly as an independent organization with a stated aim of rebuilding the forces of the Left, describing PASOK as a bourgeois party, which had abandoned any link to working-class interests.
The 1990s were a very difficult period. The Left, as a whole, was in crisis as a result of the collapse of Stalinism and was confronted by a major ideological offensive by the bourgeoisie globally. It is fair to say that the entire Left was in crisis, even in tatters! Many organizations split and Xekinima also suffered from such clefts.
NM: This in spite of the fact that Xekinima had a different ideological or Trotskyist background?
AP: The Trotskyist current, although it was the only one that had predicted Stalinism was a temporary historical phenomenon and that it would collapse in one way or another, nevertheless paid the cost of the collapse of the Stalinist left. Because the collapse had an adverse, negative effect on the struggles of the working class, on the consciousness of the working class, on leftist working-class organizations, and on the leadership of the trade unions, etc.
NM: So you understand 1989 to have been a turning point for the Left in Greece and globally?
AP: Without any doubt! And Xekinima paid a cost for 1989. Actually, it is fair to say that Xekinima was able to restart, to rebuild its forces, having contracted to a small group by the late-1990s, when leftist movements found new life as the repercussions of the financial-economic crisis in southeast Asia were felt internationally, by the effects of the anti-globalization movement, and then the anti-war movement. It was this rebirth that followed the collapse of the Left in 1989 that also allowed Xekinima to rebuild its forces and become one of the significant forces on the Left today.
NM: How would you define the present goals of Xekinima?
AP: The general goal, of course, is the transformation of society. Capitalism is a deadly system leading to the barbarism that we experience today. How we get to transform society is the main question and a difficult one because the entire Left claims, in one way or another, that they are struggling for a socialist society, but historically the Left has proved incapable of achieving that aim. We have two goals given the present state of things in Greece: The first is to develop a transitional program that reflects the needs of today, define the aims for the working class to fight for, launch proposals about how that fight should develop, in other words a plan of struggle for the working class in order to be able to face this barbaric attack by the troika and the Greek bourgeoisie. The second is to try to bring together the forces which agree on the fundamental tasks of our epoch, I mean forces from the rest of the Left with an orientation toward revolutionary Marxism.
The Greek left is in turmoil — reflecting the depth of the current crisis on the one hand and the deficiencies of the (international) Left on the other. What is very important, however, is that there are significant forces inside all of the major left formations which are in opposition to the ideas or political lines of the central leaderships of those left formations. Such forces exist inside SYRIZA, but also inside the ANTARSYA coalition, and the KKE, the Greek Communist Party. These forces understand the necessity of a transitional program as I have described above and, also, the vital importance of the United Front. Continue reading
My decision to publish the leaked internal documents from the International Socialist Organization was primarily motivated by the extreme contents they contained. One document in particular, involving a “Comrade Daniel” who had been unofficially accused of rape. Whatever my other reasons may have been for publishing them, I did so at the behest of a number of different ISO members (former and current) who got in touch with me independent of one another. They were deeply disturbed by what they saw going on, and felt that these matters should be made public. Upon reviewing them, especially Document 19, I agreed to honor their request. They’d approached others about it too, apparently, who also circulated the documents, uploaded them to The Pirate Bay, and so on. Not that this absolves me of responsibility for publishing the documents, but they would have been widely published whether or not I chose to publish them myself. Documents 13, 15, 19, and now also 21 and 23, all contain information pertinent to the ISO’s internal “investigation” of the affair.
Besides, not only did Lenin never advocate an “internal bulletin” — he even felt that conference proceedings should be published (i.e., made public) in full. At the risk of seeming a dogmatist, one member of the ISO who approached me about these bulletins reminded me of a 1901 text by Lenin regarding the publication of internal documents and proceedings:
We have decided to publish the proceedings of the “Unity” Conference, so that all…may independently draw their own conclusions as to the reasons for the failure of the attempt at unity made by the organizations abroad. Unfortunately, the secretary of the Conference, elected by the Union Abroad, refused to assist drawing up the minutes of the proceedings. This refusal is all the more strange for the reason that the Union Abroad has published its own account of the “Unity” Conference.
On the other hand, the publication of all the documents and declarations presented to the bureau is all the more necessary at the present time, since the Union Abroad has crowned its strange refusal to participate in drawing up the minutes of the Conference with a still stranger method of drawing up the Conference report. Thus, the Union Abroad has not reproduced in full the interpellations submitted to the bureau of the Conference.
Though this might seem an attempt to rationalize my decision through an appeal to past precedent or an authority, I find Lenin’s remarks here relevant to the ongoing debate on organizational transparency — a debate that continues to rage today.
Furthermore, even beyond the information these documents explicitly contain — which is embarrassing enough on its own — there was an almost unanimous distrust of the official version of events that they present, which to their minds simultaneously sought to minimize apparent wrongdoing by the local branch committee. Moreover, the account given by the ISO’s Steering Committee misleadingly pins the mishandling exclusively on members of the local branch. This is how one particularly disillusioned member of the ISO related it to me recently. She explained:
I have come to not trust anything that the Steering Committee claims. So if they claim that something was dealt with, I naturally don’t believe it to be so. It’s hardly surprising that a document written from the perspective of the branch’s leadership would give the impression that the situation couldn’t have been helped. Especially since it’s looking to exonerate itself. The document would have clearly been much more damning had they not been treading so carefully. Not only to avoid taking any of the blame themselves, but also to deflect blame from the Steering Committee.
Still more troubling were revelations brought to light by an activist from the region where the alleged incident occurred, who happened to know the woman accusing “Comrade Daniel” of attempted rape. This was the person described by the Steering Committee in Document 19 as “a member of a different socialist organization…extremely hostile to the ISO.” His testimony gives a sense of the frustration and dismay he felt in trying to work with the ISO’s ordinary organizational channels:
Just wanted to remind everyone that the guy [“Comrade Daniel,” the one accused of attempted rape] was only finally expelled on Feburary 6, 2014 (i.e., the same day the “Daniel” case was published in Preconvention Bulletin #19). Either way, it’s clear that the majority of the San Diego branch — and maybe some national leadership — doesn’t think that forcing yourself onto someone and only getting off when they knee you in the groin, is attempted rape.
It’s all well and good to talk about “politically inexperienced comrades,” but we tried to get this handled internally in 2012 when we told someone in the branch’s leadership (the woman who later recused herself) what happened. She, along with a number of the other long-term branch members, were the people who were informed, but chose to do nothing. Don’t know how long you have to be a member of a group before you are no longer considered inexperienced, but I would hope it’s a period shorter than three years. The ISO’s handling of this has been a disgrace.
Over and above what’s contained in the leaked documents themselves, then — fairly damning even by itself — there’s good reason to believe that the situation is worse than they let on. Several others who knew about the what happened, the sequence of events, etc., challenged the interpretation offered in the leaked documents. Continue reading
The crisis of art criticism is undeniable. Rigor, commitment, narrative, and judgment have become dirty, antiquarian, even authoritarian words. Art criticism has almost disappeared from newspaper columns. Historical awareness of the discipline fades further with every new online journal or blog. Art criticism with a persuasive voice, poetic aspirations, dedicated to new evaluative criteria for quality, and that attempts to critique an artwork is a rare, endangered species. With the proliferation of Ph.D. studio art programs and the expansion of the art world and global art market, it is neglected. For some, art criticism’s crisis has turned into a terminal disease with no cure in sight.
The turn of the 21st century has seen a plethora of articles, conferences, and publications devoted to the crisis in criticism. Publications include Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of their Practice (ed. Raphael Rubenstein, 2006), and James Elkins’ What Happened to Art Criticism? (2003). The most recent and comprehensive accounts of the dilemmas confronting art critics today are included in The State of Art Criticism (eds. James Elkins and Michael Newman, 2008) and Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism (eds. J. Khonsary and M. O’Brian, 2010). The latter endeavors to build upon the problems posed by Elkins’ and Newman’s book. In seeking to understand the crisis, both are driven to reexamine the relationship of art criticism to other disciplines (like curating, art history, and philosophy), the role of judgment in art criticism, and the challenges to art criticism posed by the emergence of certain critical art practices (or Conceptual art).
This thesis is motivated to approach the problem of the lack of historical self-awareness and continuity of the discipline of art criticism. The aim is to present the historical conditions of the crisis of art criticism as it was understood in the last decade, with priority given to questions raised by a rejection of judgment in art criticism. The other task for this thesis is to determine the deeper historical causes of the crisis. First, I will situate this crisis within the early history of art criticism and, especially, with respect to the interrelationship between critique and crisis. Following this, I will flesh out what this crisis looks like in the art world today, and review how this crisis has been registered by those currently writing about art, particularly with respect to large-scale transformations in the art market. The objective, here, is to specify what kind of criticism has become practically obsolete, grasp how this process of obsolescence unfolded, and reflect on the broader implications of the implausibility and apparent anachronism of art criticism in the present. In so doing, I hope to clarify the significance of what art critic and historian Benjamin Buchloh called “death of art criticism.”
To better understand the explanations of the current crisis, let us briefly revisit the emergence of criticism itself. Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (1988) elaborates on the significance of criticism and crisis in the 18th century. For Koselleck, criticism is an 18th century catchword; he describes countless volumes published during this period with the term “criticism” or “critical” in their titles. On the other hand, the term crisis was rarely used in the 18th century and cannot be considered a central concept in this period. The etymology of the words “criticism” and “critique” are at the root of his investigations. He points out that the word “critique” is derived from the Greek “krinein,” which means “to judge,” while the Greek “krisis” means “discrimination and dispute” to “select, judge, decide.” Thus “crisis” also meant decision, in the sense of final judgment or appraisal, which today extends into the category of criticism. In Greek, a single word encompassed concepts that today would usually be seen as separate: “subjective” criticism and “objective” crisis.
Later in the 20th century, this notion of the affinity between crisis and critique is recognized and elaborated in the discourse around the crisis of literary criticism. In Paul de Man’s 1964 essay the “Crisis of Contemporary Criticism,” crisis and criticism are very closely linked; much like the ideas presented by Koselleck, although he was moving beyond the issue of a shared etymology. De Man addresses the moment in which literary criticism is said to have entered a crisis because of the influence of French structuralist theory. In response he argues, “all true criticism occurs in the mode of crisis.” Furthermore, “in periods that are not periods of crisis, or in individuals bent on avoiding crisis at all cost, there can be all kinds of approaches to literature: historical, philological, psychological, etc., but there can be no criticism.” If we agree with Koselleck and de Man, and consider crisis a constant element of art criticism, then claims about the death of art criticism imply an abandonment of the problems posed by crisis. Continue reading
Last autumn, chapters of the Platypus Affiliated Society in New York, London, and Chicago hosted similar events on the theme of “Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis.” The speakers participating in New York included Loren Goldner, David Harvey, Andrew Kliman, and Paul Mattick. The transcript of the event in London appeared in Platypus Review 55 (April 2013). What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation that PAS-NYC hosted on November 14, 2012 at the New School.
Loren Goldner: The title of my talk tonight is “Fictitious Capital and Contracted Social Reproduction.” It is important to note that as we convene tonight, there are general strikes across the southern flank of Europe, the miners’ strikes in South Africa, and at least 50 strikes a day in China. While we convene to talk about the crisis, there are people in motion trying to do something about it.
Marx writes in his Grundrisse, “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labor time to a minimum, while it posits labor time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth.” Unpacking that one sentence can get us very far in understanding the crisis and the history of at least the last hundred years.
Capital can be broken down into Marx’s categories: surplus value (s), variable capital (v), and constant capital (c). Within constant capital there is a breakdown into (i) fixed capital, which refers generally to machinery and tools, and (ii) circulating capital, which refers to things such as raw materials.
With these categories I would like to address the question of fictitious capital, which I define as claims on the social wealth and social surplus that correspond to no existing social surplus. The origins of fictitious capital are the advancing productivity of labor in capitalism, which is an anarchic system, one that is constantly devaluing the constant capital invested by the capitalist class. Capital volumes 1 and 2 describe a pure capitalist system, in which there are only two social classes: the wage-labor proletariat and the capitalist class or the bourgeoisie. Other classes enter the picture, for instance peasants, in the long historical chapter on accumulation. But Marx is trying to set up a pure model and then move on to the more everyday appearances of the system. Continue reading
Image: Augustine Kofie’s Triangulation
of the Golden Northeast (2009)
This is reposted from the tumblr page of a contact of the Platypus Affiliated Society, Reid Kane Kotlas. Though I was considering using this space to briefly relate Reid’s intellectual trajectory and how he arrived at the Marxist tradition, as well as our encounter several years back, it’s become clear to me that this would take up too much space. Perhaps this could be the subject of another post. Suffice it to say, at least for now, that our subsequent correspondence was largely the outcome of a debate we had over Lenin’s (in)compatibility with Luxemburg. At the time, he was quite skeptical of the Platypus Affiliated Society and what he then believed was its excessive pessimism with respect to the present. I’d assumed what was probably a haughty and overly dismissive stance toward the actually-existing Left, to which he responded:
I find your defamatory comments about the existing Left (and those of Platypus more generally) to be extremely discouraging. These people are our allies, and while I may disagree with a lot of what they say and do, the way to make that evident is not through condescension, but by expressing critical solidarity, by joining them and trying to steer them in other directions where appropriate, and where there is too great a divide or too much stubbornness, to demonstrate in practice what is wrong with their approach. I agree that its a shame that we are no longer witness to the sort of working class mobilization of the earlier part of the last century, but I don’t count this fact as either a cause or effect of “regression in Leftist consciousness.” The left hasn’t regressed, we’ve been brutally beaten down, silenced, defamed and overwhelmed for a century, and the disorganized and splintered remnants that persist today, however “backward” their thinking may be at times, are not symptoms of the Left’s decadence and degeneration but the first flares of its rekindling.
Later on, I tried to clarify what I’d meant by my remarks and remove some of their needless cynicism, which were unhelpful and probably off-putting. This brought Reid and I into closer accord in our understandings of the present political moment. In an e-mail a little over a year ago, he related to me that “[w]hile before I had reservations about Platypus due to its assessment of the Left, I now basically agree with that assessment.” Recently, it came to my attention that Reid has been quietly and independently dedicating himself to a closer study of some of Platypus’ past engagements. Because of the remarkable lucidity and critical acuity of his observations here, I thought I’d make available his dossier on the debate between the International Bolshevik Tendency, Communist Party of Great Britain, and Platypus. The post also includes a number of helpful links to background readings on the debate. Thanks again to Reid for granting me permission to repost this.
The following is a series of documents and recordings relating to an ongoing debate between members of the Platypus Affiliated Society (PAS), the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT).
I believe these deserve to be grouped together because, in the discursive space sustained between these three distinctive organizations, the central problems of the contemporary left are saliently circumscribed. Any pair of the three organizations, as well as the trio, share interesting points of convergence and divergence. The differences between their respective ideologies, programs, historical perspectives, and practical approaches elucidate that absent locus of revolutionary politics. Continue reading
IMAGE: Rembrandt’s De anatomische
les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1631)
Written by Corey Ansel, and originally posted at The Chair Leg of Truth, The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity, and The North-Star. While I am sympathetic to many of the arguments Corey makes here, and believe I understand his reasons for making them, I nevertheless remain somewhat skeptical of what I feel are some erroneous conclusions one might draw from his polemic/critique. These I will post in the next few days.
Hardly anyone on the left can claim to have been untouched by the crisis within the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Initially stemming from rape allegations against leading SWP member Martin Smith (now notoriously known as “Comrade Delta”), the crisis has managed to utterly discredit the organization in the face of the revolutionary left, as well as onlookers seeking ammunition to use against the workers’ movement. A special conference was held on March 10 to discuss the issues of democratic centralism, Leninism and other questions regarding the party question. But it isn’t the circus inside the SWP that is worth the attention of revolutionaries.
Enter Richard Seymour. A long-time activist within the SWP, writer and primary figurehead of the opposition against the internal bureaucracy within the SWP, Seymour has been scapegoated by top bureaucrats such as Alex Callinicos for jumpstarting a blog titled ‘International Socialism’ for those interested in discussing the crisis outside of party channels. It has long been known that the Cliffite tradition has nothing in common with Leninist theory, let alone the democratic centralist method of building a revolutionary party. Although Seymour and many of his co-thinkers resigned from the organization after the conference, aren’t there more pressing questions to be answered? Continue reading
A panel event held at the New School in New York City on November 14th, 2012.
Loren Goldner ┇ David Harvey ┇ Andrew Kliman ┇ Paul Mattick
What does it meant to interpret the world without being able to change it?
• LOREN GOLDNER
// Chief Editor of Insurgent Notes; ┇ Author: — Ubu Saved From Drowning: Class Struggle and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000), — “The Sky Is Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn: Class Struggle in the U.S. From the 2008 Crash to the Eve of Occupy” (2011)
• DAVID HARVEY
// Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Grad Center; ┇ Author: — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (2008) — The Enigma of Capitalism (2010)
• ANDREW KLIMAN
// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Contributing author to the Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s (MHI’s) With Sober Senses since 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2007), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the “Great Recession” (2012)
• PAUL MATTICK
// Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Contributor to The Brooklyn Rail ┇ Author: — Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science (1986), — Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011)