Decolonial communization?

Race, religion, and class:
Problems and pitfalls of
a theoretical synthesis
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Overview of the problem

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For whatever reason, at least from the outside, there seems some sort of slow convergence unfolding between communization theory and decolonial critique. Whether this attests to any inner necessity in the logic of either field, or from accidental affinities common to enthusiasts of both, is difficult to tell. My bet is that it’s the latter. Geographical proximity often compresses unlike milieux, with only vaguely related groups suddenly shoved into a single space, made to live side by side. People are able to pass through any number of circles, carrying with them a cumulus of curiosities and concerns. Sometimes this leads to interesting intellectual cross-pollination or collaboration. Berlin in the decades following Hegel’s death. Vienna around the fin de siècle. Oakland has given us Endnotes, which by itself is enough to forgive it many minor sins. Usually these scenes just result in ill-conceived eclecticism, though, fruitless exchanges and shambling conceptual absurdities. Academic conferences offer a suitably fetid ecosystem in which such bogstandard theories can thrive. Russell Jacoby observed this phenomenon some forty years ago in Dialectic of Defeat:

Literature about Marxism threatens to drown both the theory and its students. To the cynical it confirms the obsolescence of Marxism: It has fled the streets and factories for the halls and offices of the university. The struggle to publish replaces the class struggle. Academics jet to conferences to hawk competing brands of Marxism; a consumer’s guide is practically required to stay abreast of all the offerings and recalls: structural Marxism, semiotic Marxism, feminist Marxism, hermeneutic Marxism, phenomenological Marxism, critical Marxism, and so on.

Not a lot has been done as yet to bring these two discourses into conversation in the Anglophone world. George Ciccariello-Maher is, in all probability, the person who would be best situated to broker a meeting. He’s already intervened in a roundtable on “Dual Power and the Dialectic of Communization,” as well as presented a paper on “Communization, Venezuela Style,” though it’s not clear he has all that much in common with the communisateurs beyond shared verbiage and a few mutual friends on Facebook. Ciccariello-Maher broadly understands his own critical outlook as “decolonial.” LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism dabbles in communization, and it has mentioned “contemporary decolonial subjecthood” in the past. But there’s been no sustained effort to synthesize communization theories and decolonial critiques, which might ultimately be for the best. Of the two, I find communization to be a far more promising theoretical field. Even if I disagree with its prognostications about the sun having set on programmatism, it poses serious questions to the present and seeks to take stock of emerging struggles and shifting realities. Decolonial criticism is, by contrast, in my opinion a complete waste of time. Reading Ramón Grosfoguel has actually made me dumber. (I know that’s hard to believe). Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, etc. don’t say anything all that earth-shattering or insightful. Achille Mbembe is occasionally great, but I do not think he is even remotely similar to the other figures just named.

Since there haven’t really been any works in English to combine or negotiate these perspectives, this post deals with a French author who has devoted quite a bit of time to precisely this: Patlotch. My reading comprehension of French isn’t great, but he is a lively and entertaining writer with extensive knowledge of communization as well as decoloniality. Also, he has the virtue of having “conducted his philosophical education in public,” as Hegel wrote of Schelling, so we can actually see his thought process as he tries to work out some of these issues. His comments about Jews are pretty fucked up, to say nothing of his race-baiting of Yves Coleman. To be sure, other syntheses of communization theory with decolonial critique may be possible — his work doesn’t exhaust all possibility — but this at provides a place to start.

Introducing Patlotch

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Patlotch
is an enigmatic character. Claude Guillon explains that his handle is an (unimpressive) anagram derived from the Situationist journal Potlatch, with just two letters switched. An erstwhile fellow traveler [compagnon de route], from roughly 2005 to 2010, of the communization current in France, Patlotch had initially approached Guillon after reading a short piece from in 2013 critiquing Léon de Mattis and the international communist review Sic. Communization was an “unthinkable project” [l’impensable projet], as Guillon put it at the time, an appraisal that resonated with the young Patlotch. Eventually, the impetuous lad turned on kindly old Guillon, cursing him as a “cadaver” with a wink at André Breton before slinging his body into a ditch alongside Yves Coleman and his ilk. The offense? Well, to have written “And ‘God’ Created Islamophobia,” of course. Frankly, I don’t hold this apprehension against him, when it comes to this term’s possible censorious use. Guillon knows what it’s like to be censored firsthand. Suicide: A How-to Guide [Suicide, mode d’emploi], a survey of the various methods and techniques people have used to kill themselves, was written with Yves le Bonniec in 1982 and released that same year. Just five years later, however, it was banned by the French government and promptly withdrawn from circulation. But Patlotch, enfant terrible of the online ultraleft circuit, grants no such leniency to poor Guillon.

Young Patlotch has many scores to settle and axes to grind, as will be shown in the course of this post. Anselm Jappe, Clément Homs, Bernard Lyon, and Jacques Wajnsztejn are all summoned to stand trial next to Coleman and Guillon, charged as crypto-Zionists, race traitors, and Eurocentric chauvinists… or worse. Continue reading

Adam Smith, revolutionary

Spencer A. Leonard
Platypus Review 61
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By exposing the historical necessity that had brought capitalism into being, political economy became the critique of history as a whole.

— Theodor W. Adorno[1]

Unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau or even Friedrich Nietzsche, Adam Smith is a thinker few on the contemporary Left will have much time for. This tells us more about the impoverishment of the currently prevailing intellectual environment than about the persistent, if ever more obscure, influence of bourgeois radicalism on the Left. Today, of course, it is fashionable to have “a critique of the enlightenment” or, alternatively, to defend it against an array of enemies, including postmodernism, religious conservatism, and academic obscurantism. Those currents of the contemporary Left that still seek to lay claim to the Enlightenment must fend off Smith, because, like Rousseau, his is an Enlightenment that cannot be upheld simply as an affirmation of “reason” or the demand for “human rights.” Smith’s Enlightenment demands to be advanced. His 1776 treatise, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, is not a product of the Scottish Enlightenment but of the cosmopolitan radical Enlightenment, stretching from the coffeehouses of Rotterdam to the meeting rooms of Calcutta. If that cosmopolitan Enlightenment project remains “unfinished,” it is because the course of history since the publication of Smith’s magnum opus failed to fulfill and indeed undermined the radical potentials of the eighteenth century.

Cornwallis’ 1781 surrender at Yorktown, where American soldiers sang the British Revolutionary song “The World Turned Upside Down”

Cornwallis’ 1781 surrender at Yorktown, where American soldiers
sang the British Revolutionary song “World Turned Upside Down”

Smith’s powerful influence upon French revolutionaries such as the Abbé Sieyes and the Marquis de Condorcet, and through them upon Immanuel Kant, Benjamin Constant, and G.W.F. Hegel, are not as well known as they should be, but that need not detain us from coming to terms with the profound radicalism of his thought. Less well known still is the respect that Smith and his close friend, David Hume, held for Rousseau’s works. Hume, refusing to allow his famous public quarrel with Rousseau to cloud his judgment, contended in a letter to Smith that the Genevan’s writings were “efforts of genius.”[2] This was an estimate Hume doubtless knew would find favor with his friend, since as early as 1756 Smith had written an article that is perhaps the earliest discussion in English of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, singling that work out as the act whereby the Francophone world re-established its supremacy in philosophy for the first time since Descartes, displacing the preeminence of English political and social thought that had lasted for almost a century with the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Mandeville, Shaftesbury, and others.[3] Continue reading

Radical interpretations of the present crisis

New York University
November 26, 2012
Platypus Review
56
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..Loren Goldner | David Harvey
Andrew Kliman | Paul Mattick

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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.

Pre­lim­in­ary re­marks

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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.”[1] 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

Video from Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis [11.14.2012]

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?

Featuring:

• 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)

“Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis”: A panel discussion with Loren Goldner, David Harvey, Andrew Kliman, and Paul Mattick

Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis

LOREN GOLDNER ┇ DAVID HARVEY ┇ ANDREW KLIMAN ┇ PAUL MATTICK

// November 14th, 2012
7-10PM

// Wollman Hall
Eugene Lang building, 6th floor
65 W 11th St
New York, NY 10011

Join the Facebook event page.
Download an image file of the event flier.
Download the PDF version of the event flier.

The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left.  The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history.  As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology.  Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy.  As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.”  At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism.  If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely.  The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.

And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past.  In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist).  In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential.  In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it.  Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful.  While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right.  Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs.  The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?

In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can Marxism survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?

Featuring:

• 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 Limits to Capital (1982), — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (2008)

• ANDREW KLIMAN

// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Founding member of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) in 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx’s Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2006), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the “Great Recession” (2011)

• PAUL MATTICK

// Professor of Economics, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Editor of 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)

Event space:

Interview with Ross Wolfe of on #Occupy, the role of criticism in relation to theory and praxis, and the “return to Marx”

Untitled

Conducted by C. Derick Varn of
The Loyal Opposition to Modernity

Here’s Derick’s introduction to this interview:

Ross Wolfe introduced me to the Platypus Affiliated Society and is a member of my Aesthetics, Politics, and Theory: Red and/or Black (of which Symptomatic Redness is a project).  Ross Wolfe is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  The main focus of his work is in Russian history, but he is also interested in Central European history, Jewish studies, philosophy, and Marxism.  He writes primarily about the history of avant-garde architecture, contemporary political issues (activism, current events), and topics such as the environment, technology, utopianism, and the history of the Left.  He blogs at the Charnel-House.

More from Derick’s ongoing Marginalia on Radical Thinking series can be found hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, here, and here.

C. DERICK VARN: So you have been working with and critiquing Occupy Wall Street from your vantage point in New York.  How did you get involved?

ROSS WOLFE: I was first alerted to the #Occupy protests going on down at Liberty Plaza about one week after it began, by someone much further from the scene than I was — my good friend Steve McClellan, a graduate student in Central European history at Oregon State University.  At that point, the movement had barely made any sort of splash in the mainstream media, and mostly established itself through YouTube videos and other decentralized, user-based means.

So I decided to take a visit down to Zuccotti Park to try and get a better sense of what was going on there.  What I saw there (especially at this early point) was largely ideological incoherence.  The politics on display at Occupy Wall Street were symptomatic in very much the same way that they had been at the resurgent anti-globalization protests against the G-8 in Pittsburgh back in 2009 and the G-20 conference in Toronto in 2010.  Needless to say, my first reactions to the demonstration were fairly pessimistic.  This was reflected in my initial write-up of my experiences. Continue reading

The spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism

Introduction

To understand the history of architectural modernism and eclecticism as they emerged out of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must take into account the broader development of architecture over the course of the latter half of the nineteenth century. This development, in turn, must be seen as emerging out of the dynamic of late nineteenth-century capitalism, which had by that point extended to encompass the whole of Europe. For it was the unique spatiotemporal dialectic of the capitalist mode of production — along with the massive social and technological forces it unleashed — that formed the basis for the major architectural ideologies that arose during this period. Before the story of the academicians or the avant-garde can be told, then, some background is necessary to explain both their origin and the eventual trajectory they would take into the early twentieth century.

So while my aim is to eventually account for how a single social formation, capitalism, can give birth to these two opposite tendencies within architectural thought, the space required to give an adequate exposition of the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism is such that it deserves to function as a standalone essay. Certainly other trends, both cultural and social, could be understood as reflections of this underlying socioeconomic dynamic. It is thus my intention to post this as its own piece, before then proceeding to detail the way in which architectural modernism and eclecticism mirrored these dynamics. Continue reading

A Study of the Marxist (and Non-Marxist) Theory of Imperialism

The Death of Global Imperialism (1920s-1930s)

As part of my study of the spatial dialectics of capitalism, I have been reading not only the more recent Marxist literature by Henri Lefebvre on The Production of Space or David Harvey’s excellent Spaces of Capital, but also some of the more classic works on the subject.

Marx’s own account of the spatiality of capitalism can be found in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, his Grundrisse of the early 1860s, and his posthumously published Capital, Volume II.  In the Manifesto, he talks at length in the first section of the globality of capitalism, of the formation of the world-market as part of the historical mission of the bourgeoisie.  In the latter two works I mentioned, the spatial dimension of capital is raised in connection with the ever-improving means of transport and communication, in facilitating the circulation of commodities.  Marx explains the dynamic in capitalism by which it breaks through every spatial barrier that it comes across, such that it seems to embody a sort of terrestrial infinity realizing itself through time.

But I am interested in some of the later work that was done on the Marxist theory of imperialism, both before and immediately after the 1917 Revolution.  This would have an obvious bearing on the spatial extension of capitalism throughout the world.  In this connection, I have drawn up a brief reading list:

  1. John Atkinson Hobson.  Imperialism: A Study (1902).  Though a pacifist and political liberal, Lenin considered his study of imperialism vastly superior to Kautsky’s, which had by then joined forces with the bourgeois apologists.
  2. Rudolf Hilferding.   Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (1910).  This book was extremely influential in its time, and established a number of concepts regarding monopoly capitalism and finance capital that Lenin would later rely upon.  The two chapters on “The Export of Capital” and “The Proletariat and Imperialism” are relevant to any study on imperialism.
  3. Rosa Luxemburg.  The Accumulation of Capital (1913).  This is Luxemburg’s greatest contribution to the economic theory of Marxism.  Though she and Lenin disagreed over some of its premises and conclusion, the book remains extremely important for the analysis of imperialism.  The chapter on “Foreign Loans” addresses this directly.
  4. Vladimir Lenin.  Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalist Development (1915-1916).  This work scarcely needs any introduction.  The entire book is a study of imperialism as a stage in capitalist development.
  5. Nikolai Bukharin.  Imperialism and World Economy (1917).  This book, which includes a favorable introduction from Lenin, seems to me to perhaps be the most pertinent to my own studies, since it places the “world economy” as  a centerpiece for its analysis.

I am hoping perhaps a few of my Marxist friends will join me in reading some selections of these books.  In my understanding of the subject, the imperialism described by Hilferding, Luxemburg, Lenin, and Bukharin were very specific to the time in which they were living.  According to their theories, it involved vast capitalist trusts and cartels, gigantic monopolies, along with huge amounts of finance capital backing them through the banks.  I think that Lenin’s theory of imperialism is all too often invoked in describing present-day imperialist ventures.  It continues to be a force within the greater complex of capitalist globalization, which has been taking place ever since the social formation first emerged.  But historical conditions have changed since Lenin’s time, and in light of the neo-liberalist recalibration of capitalism, I think some of the fundamental categories we retain from Lenin’s analysis of imperialism might have to be rethought or slightly modified to accommodate present-day realities.

I personally am interested in the historical imperialism that Lenin et al. were studying, i.e. the form of imperialism that existed between 1880 and 1939.  Are there any other suggestions for reading on this subject? Ren, I’m looking to you.  But others are welcome to make suggestions as well.