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Federici versus Marx

Gilles Dauvé
Troploin
Fall 2015
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Note: Dauvé’s piece is not without its problems. Some lines are simply offensive — e.g., “Federici feminizes Marxism; that’s probably what has made her popular,” “the ‘reproductive labor’ theme is not a woman’s theory, only a housewife’s theory.” Others are beside the point, like the superfluous aside on Carla Lonzi, which I feel is grossly unfair to her body of work. But the point about the incompatibility of Federici’s account of primitive accumulation and Marx’s in Capital is extremely important, as is the point about the different priorities that these differing accounts reveal. He even lets her off somewhat light regarding the more outrageous claims of Caliban & the Witch. For example, the completely unsubstantiated figure of “five to six million” women killed during the witch-hunts in Europe during the period she covers. Anyway, many of the criticisms are perfectly valid and lay bare the practical poverty and theoretical misunderstandings that underwrite autonomist Marxism in general, as well as the “wages for housework” movement (which insisted on attaching a moral dimension to the purely economic category of “productive labor”).

One criticism I would raise that Dauvé does not regards the parallels between her presentation of the post-feudal transition and that of world “systems” theory. Federici’s account of primitive accumulation owes a lot to dependency theory, especially as articulated by Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, and Immanuel Wallerstein. These theorists analyzed the emerging economic world system in terms of core-periphery relations, whereby the overdeveloped core is sustains its development at the expense of the underdeveloped periphery in an ongoing process of “unequal exchange.” In Caliban & the Witch, Federici makes an analogous argument regarding the reproductive sphere and the productive sphere, with the latter profiting at the expense of the former. She openly admits to the ismorphism between her argument and that of the world systems theorists. As a moderate Brennerite, I find this interpretation of the historic transition to capitalism untenable. Her focus on extra-economic forms of compulsion not only during the formation of capitalism, but down through to the present, has a lot to do with this.Moreover, many of Federici’s political positions seem to approximate a kind of Third Worldist narrative, which falls into all the communitarian traps that theorists of “the commons” often do.
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…rough magic I here abjure…

William Shakespeare
The Tempest (1610)

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Caliban & the Witch
is of undeniable interest for our understanding of social movements at the critical juncture between medieval and modern times, of the advent of capitalism, its sexual dimension, the treatment of women and the conversion of female and male bodies into a work-machine, among other things. But the book also sets forth a vision of past and present which is as questionable as the political perspective that this vision entails.1

Primitive accumulation according to Silvia Federici

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Federici claims to be writing “against Marxist orthodoxy” (p. 6), and Caliban & the Witch is commonly read as a complement (or for some readers, as an alternative) to Marx’s Capital, especially Part VIII. Federici writes:

…my description of primitive accumulation includes a set of historical phenomena that are absent in Marx, and yet have been extremely important for capitalist accumulation. They include: 1) the development of a new sexual division of labor subjugating women’s labor and women’s reproductive function to the reproduction of the work-force; 2) the construction of a new patriarchal order, based upon the exclusion of women from waged-work and their subordination to men; 3) the mechanization of the proletarian body and its transformation, in the case of women, into a machine for the production of new workers.” (p. 11)

So we expect to read what was missing in the accepted master narrative, especially as history suffers from a long tradition of writing women off. The question is, where does a counter-hegemonic history lead us? In Federici’s case, the author is not merely filling in gaps: her analysis of primitive accumulation amounts to nothing less than a conception of capitalism not just different from Marx’s but indeed opposed to it.

In order to understand the birth of capitalism, she emphasizes the specific oppression that social groups, women in particular, were subjected to. That is what she is targeting, and her approach prioritizes certain factors and downplays others.

The question is, what tipped the historical scales? Continue reading

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Open-source Marxism 2: Fresh batch of Historical Materialism book titles

A fresh batch of Historical Materialism PDFs has arrived, this time apparently hosted by the same people who posted the MECW last year. The world is in a sorry state, but for those who enjoy free commie literature, the holidays just came early. Not a bad selection, overall, though I could do without the endless Gramsci dickriding. Far more valuable than any of the new theoretical treatises they commission are their translations of older materials. So the Comintern congresses, the Bogdanov, the Austromarxism, and Economist writings are a welcome addition.

HM will likely have these taken down, but the cat is out of the bag. Copies will be made and distributed further. Omnia sunt communia.

  1. Barbara C. Allen – Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937 – Life of an Old Bolshevik
  2. Jason Read – The Politics of Transindividuality
  3. Craig Brandist – The Dimensions of Hegemony – Language, Culture, and Politics in Revolutionary Russia
  4. Towards the United Front – Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922
  5. To the Masses – Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921
  6. The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, 1899-1904 – Documents of the ‘Economist’ Opposition to Iskra and Early Menshevism
  7. Marcos Del Roio – The Prisms of Gramsci – The Political Formula of the United Front
  8. Luca Basso – Marx and the Common – From Capital to the Late Writings
  9. Jonathan Martineau – Time, Capitalism, and Alienation – A Socio-Historical Inquiry into the Making of Modern Time
  10. Cathy Bergin – ‘Bitter with the Past but Sweet with the Dream’ – Representations of the Communist Party, 1940-1952
  11. Brandon Pepijn – War, Capital, and the Dutch State (1588-1795)
  12. Andrey Maidansky – The Practical Essence of Man – The ‘Activity Approach’ in Late Soviet Philosophy
  13. Alexander Gallas – The Thatcherite Offensive – A Neo-Poulantzasian Analysis
  14. Aleksandr Bogdanov – The Philosophy of Living Experience – Popular Outlines
  15. Mark E. Blum – Austromarxism – The Ideology of Unity Mark Abel – Groove – An Aesthetic of Measured Time
  16. Laura da Graca – Studies on Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production Jacob A. Zumoff – The Communist International and US
  17. Communism, 1919–1929
  18. Guido Liguori – Gramsci’s Pathways
  19. Fred Moseley – Money and Totality – A Macro-Monetary Interpretation of Marx’s Logic in Capital and the End of the ‘Transformation Problem’
  20. Bryan D. Palmer – Marxism and Historical Practice, Volume 2 – Interventions and Appreciations
  21. Bryan D. Palmer – Marxism and Historical Practice, Volume 1 – Interpretive Essays on Class Formation and Class Struggle
  22. Thomas M. Twiss – Trotsky and the Problem of Soviet Bureaucracy

More, which have been previously posted: Continue reading

Strike Breakers (Company Violence) - Morris Topchevsky. Oil on canvas. 1937a

No scabs

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In the history of modern class struggle, those who cross picket lines to fill jobs temporarily vacated by workers on strike are known as “scabs.” Scabs are thus low-cost replacement workers, whose willingness to work for less allows employers to starve out the more organized regular workforce. They are therefore looked down upon, understandably, and treated with disdain. Not all strikebreakers are scabs, however. Company muscle, whether made up of mafiosos or Pinkerton men, are typically deployed in order to clear pickets and escort scabs into work.

Many today on the Left, either unaccustomed to labor disputes or unschooled in their past, are confused by the term “scab.” For example, Sebastian Budgen — an editor for Verso, New Left Review, and Historical Materialism, formerly a member of the SWP in Britain — has written frothy diatribes against anyone who illegally downloads books published by his company (er, I mean “counterhegemonic apparatus”). He bravely denounced the “petit-bourgeois individualist swine” and “loudmouthed freeloading scum” who dared to download “pirate scab versions.”

Thank fuck his series co-editor Peter Thomas stepped in at this point, though apparently for the umpteenth time, to remind him that “scabs” refer exclusively to workers who cross picket lines during a strike. I thought it pretty sad that a publisher of leftist literature would be so terminologically ignorant. Anyway, a more detailed etymology from the Oxford English Dictionary can be read here. Jack London’s famous excoriation of scab workers, from 1915, follows below.

Ode to a scab

Jack London
Circa 1915
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After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of Hell to keep him out.

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No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas Iscariot sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British Army. The modern strikebreaker sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer, trust or corporation.

Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas Iscariot was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country; a strikebreaker is a traitor to his God, his country, his wife, his family and his class.

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Copyright controversy over Marx & Engels’ Collected Works

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The following is a petition that recently appeared over at www.change.org, imploring the book publisher Lawrence & Wishart [L&W] to withdraw its demand that the Marxist Internet Archive [MIA] take down its transcriptions of Marx & Engels ‘Collected Works [MECW]. Like most of the petitions begun on that website, it will almost surely prove ineffectual. Nevertheless, it’s now reposted here for largely symbolic reasons.

I will say in passing, however, that I on’t begrudge L&W the decision to invoke copyright on the MECW, at least not any more than I begrudge any book company to do so. MECW is L&W’s rightful property — that is, property according to bourgeois right. So they are fully justified — from a legal standpoint, anyway — to insist that it be respected. They’re no worse than, say, the “counterhegemonic apparatus” of Verso, New Left Review, and Historical Materialism. Anyone who loudly protests L&W’s invocation of copyright while defending the copyright of his or her own publishing house just as loudly are total hypocrites for protesting L&W’s decision. Especially since the MECW alone is more worth reading than the vast majority of shit, most of it tedious exegesis, that they put out.

However, all things told, it’s pretty pointless to try and enforce this and will doubtless inspire a backlash. Below the petition are some links to a website where someone (I don’t know who it is) has apparently uploaded printers’ PDFs of the first 23 volumes of the MECW. Didn’t even know they existed before someone alerted me to it. And don’t know if any more are set to become available, so don’t ask. In a way, though, they’re preferable to the MIA versions, since they’re proofed and formatted. Not just for citation purposes, either, but because the MECW on MIA was incomplete and often contained clerical transcription errors.

Petition to allow Marx & Engels’ Collected Works to remain in the public domain

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We are very grateful for the work you have done, along with International Publishers and Progress Publishers, translating into English and publishing the MECW [Marx & Engels Collected Works]. This is an extremely valuable contribution to the workers movement and Marxist scholarship not only in the English-speaking world, but internationally.

MIA [Marxist Internet Archive] has made these works available for free on the web to an even wider public, and they have now become an essential tool for thousands of Marxist scholars and activists around the world.

We fully appreciate the efforts and difficulties that running a small independent publishing house entails. But allowing free access to the MECW on the MIA website does not hinder sales. On the contrary, the publicity it provides increases them, and we would support any attempt to further improve this aspect.

But over and above any commercial considerations, there is a crucial matter of principle at play here. Having been available freely online for ten years, the MECW have become an essential part of the shared knowledge and resources of the international workers’ movement. We cannot take a step backward.

This decision would only damage Lawrence and Wishart’s reputation without bringing any significant economic advantage.

That’s why we call upon you to reconsider this decision and reach an accommodation which keeps these essential resources in the public domain, where they belong.

PDFs of Marx & Engels’ Collected Works

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Note:
I’m not hosting any of this content, and don’t know who is.

  1. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 1
  2. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 2
  3. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 3
  4. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 4
  5. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 5
  6. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 6
  7. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 7
  8. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 8
  9. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 9
  10. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 10
  11. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 11
  12. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 12
  13. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 13
  14. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 14
  15. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 15
  16. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 16
  17. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 17
  18. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 18
  19. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 19
  20. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 20
  21. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 21
  22. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 22
  23. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 23
  24. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 24
  25. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 25
  26. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 26
  27. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 27
  28. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 28
  29. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 29
  30. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 30
  31. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 31
  32. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 32
  33. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 33
  34. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 34
  35. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 35
  36. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 36
  37. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 37
  38. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 38
  39. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 39
  40. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 40
  41. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 41
  42. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 42
  43. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 43
  44. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 44
  45. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 45
  46. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 46
  47. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 47
  48. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 48
  49. Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 49

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Finally, here is a word from Sebastian Budgen on this. Of course he’s lamely trying to counterbalance his own (very public) condemnation of those who violate copyright for books that he helps put out with the popular public outrage over Lawrence & Wishart demanding the same. He doesn’t fault them in terms of the principle of the matter — nor do I — as I assume he fundamentally agrees with them. Rather, he questions the viability of the demand that the public respect its copyright claim. I agree with him here, but have no clue why he doesn’t apply the same logic to himself.

Sebastian Budgen from Historical Materialism lamely hedges his bets over Lawrence and Wishart

Also, hats off to Doug Henwood for the following hilarious troll. I may have been unfair in characterizing his political stance on electoralism in a previous post; hopefully this maybe forgiven.

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Real abstraction: On the use and abuse of an idea

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The Marxian notion of “real abstraction” has garnered a great deal of attention in leftist theoretical circles of late, with somewhat mixed results. It was first formulated and treated systematically by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, an economist associated with the Frankfurt School of social theory. Helmut Reichelt has pointed out, however, that the term was used prior in a couple instances by the German sociologist Georg Simmel (Reichelt, “Marx’s Critique of Economic Categories,” pg. 4). Notably, Simmel’s usage occurs in connection with the “abstract value” represented and measured by money, as that which converts qualitatively incommensurable items into quantitatively commensurable commodities. He writes that “not only the study of the economy [economics] but the economy itself is constituted by a real abstraction from the comprehensive reality of valuations” (Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, pg. 78).

With Sohn-Rethel, the exposition of the concept is much more thoroughgoing. According to the definition he provides in Intellectual and Manual Labor (1970), “real abstraction” refers solely to the social relationship of commodity exchange, or rather to their exchangeability as such. The exchange of commodities, and the abstract equivalence on which it is based, does not simply take place within the minds of those exchanging them. It occurs at the level of reality. Sohn-Rethel asserts that “real abstraction arises in exchange from the reciprocal relationship between two commodity-owners and it applies only to this interrelationship” (Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labor, pg. 69).

Reichelt and others have noted the importance of the way this was framed by the critical theorist Theodor Adorno, one of Sohn-Rethel’s close friends and correspondents. He responded to charges of an overly “abstract” conceptualization of society by maintaining that this abstractness was not invented by sociologists, but rather belongs to the very constitution of social reality. Adorno explained:

The abstraction we are concerned with is not one that first came into being in the head of a sociological theoretician who then offered the somewhat flimsy definition of society which states that everything relates to everything else. The abstraction in question here is really the specific form of the exchange process itself, the underlying social fact through which socialization first comes about. If you want to exchange two objects and — as is implied by the concept of exchange — if you want to exchange them in terms of equivalents, and if neither party is to receive more than the other, then the parties must leave aside a certain aspect of the commodities…In developed societies…exchange takes place…through money as the equivalent form. Classical [bourgeois] political economy demonstrated, as did Marx in his turn, that the true unit which stands behind money as the equivalent form is the average necessary amount of social labor time, which is modified, of course, in keeping with the specific social relationships governing the exchange. In this exchange in terms of average social labor time the specific forms of the objects to be exchanged are necessarily disregarded instead, they are reduced to a universal unit. The abstraction, therefore, lies not in the thought of the sociologist, but in society itself. (Introduction to Sociology, pgs. 31-32)

Real abstraction does not refer to ideologies that arise on the basis of material exchange of goods, or the labor process that allows such exchange in the first place. Of course, Sohn-Rethel is interested in accounting for “the conversion of the real abstraction of exchange into the ideal abstraction of conceptual thought” (Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labor, pg. 68). But this “conceptual abstraction” or “ideal abstraction” is clearly derivative, a mirroring of  the abstraction at work in reality itself at the level of ideas. Continue reading

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Marxism and the unfinished business of philosophy


.Continued from the  previous entry.

The Marxist attitude toward philosophy is far more nuanced than either Boyer or Althusser suspect. For the young Marx, the entire goal of historical development was the “immediate realization of philosophy,” or to make the world philosophical. “[A]s the world becomes philosophical,” he explained, “philosophy also becomes worldly.” Philosophy had been consummated in thought with the arrival of Hegel’s philosophy. Now the more pressing task was to bring this philosophy into reality — not by grafting its systematic features onto the world as it is, but by employing its dialectical methodology in order to ruthlessly criticize the world as it is (to invoke Engels’ distinction from Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy). Later Marxists, during the Second International, had very little patience for philosophical questions, preferring to have done with it rather than study its implications. Many of them fell under the sway of fashionable philosophies or intellectual currents from the time, such as Comtean positivism or neo-Kantianism, without even knowing it. Such “eclecticism” was the primary target of Lenin’s 1908 polemic Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and a decade later the Marxist theorist Georg Lukács would provocatively assert that

[o]rthodox Marxism…does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the “belief” in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a “sacred” book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to methodology. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction…that all attempts to surpass or “improve” it have led and must lead to oversimplification, triviality, and eclecticism.

Shortly before his death, Lenin called upon Marxists everywhere to “arrange for the systematic study of Hegelian dialectics from a materialist standpoint, i.e., the dialectics which Marx applied practically in his Capital and in his historical and political works.” This quote soon became the epigraph for Karl Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy (1923), released the following year. In this work, Korsch argued that Marxists’ general neglect of the philosophical questions that had preoccupied Marx and Engels had allowed a major theoretical conflict brewing within revolutionary Marxism to go unnoticed until it was too late. Lenin was virtually the only exception to this rule. Korsch therefore maintained: “Bourgeois consciousness must be philosophically fought with revolutionary materialistic dialectic, which is the philosophy of the working class. This struggle will only end when the whole of existing society and its economic basis have been totally overthrown in practice, and this consciousness has been totally surpassed and abolished in theory. — ‘Philosophy cannot be abolished without first being realized’.”

Philosophy should have been sublated — simultaneously realized and abolished — during the global conflagration that took place a century ago this year. Because this opportunity came and went without bearing fruit, philosophy lives on in a kind dim afterlife. Or as Adorno put it in Negative Dialectics (1966): “Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed. The summary judgment that it had merely interpreted the world, that resignation in the face of reality had crippled it, becomes a defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried.”[1]

Notes


[1] Adorno, Theodor. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E.B. Ashton. (Routledge. New York, NY: 2004). Pg. 3.

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A Marxist-feminist critique of intersectionality theory

Eve Mitchell
Unity & Struggle
Sept. 12, 2013

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Eve Mitchell’s “I Am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory” is a rigorous, excellent contribution to the emerging body of leftist literature critical of the sudden adoption of the notion of intersectionality among radicals, cribbed from bourgeois legal theory, postmodern discourse, and Derrick Bell’s critical race theory (CRT). Prior to 2011, intersectonality was seldom addressed, let alone endorsed, by Marxist or socialist theorists. Outside of the academy, the notion had some currency among anarchist and activist circles. (Patricia Hill Collins is a notable exception to this rule). The reasons behind intersectionality’s renewed salience, whether real or imagined, is something I’ve also been interested in lately.

Mitchell’s piece is especially valuable, in my mind, not only in terms of its original argumentation — though she should be praised on this score as well — but in her careful synthesis and application of a number of overlooked theoretical developments that took Marxism, or historical materialism, as a methodological point of departure. For example, Mitchell employs John D’Emilio’s outstanding 1981 article “Capitalism and Gay Identity” to situate identity as a specifically bourgeois category, owing to the rise of the individual as the main economic and political unit of bourgeois subjectivity. D’Emilio’s article is seldom read today, sadly. Second, Mitchell goes over Frantz Fanon’s first major book, Black Skin, White Masks (1952), a work often overshadowed by his later text Wretched of the Earth. A few months ago I posted Sunit Singh’s review of the new translation of this book. Last but not least, she leans on the work of one of the better living Marxist theoreticians, Loren Goldner, a left communist and editor of Insurgent Notes. Goldner appeared on the “Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis” event in New York, which I moderated.

The one caveat I would perhaps mention is the same as came up in connection with James Heartfield’s piece on “Intersectionality, Or Just Sectarian?” I’ve told James in the past that I disagree with his framing of the humanist/anti-humanist dichotomy, which strikes me as an extremely unhelpful and peculiarly French leftover of debates within Marxism from half a century ago. The proletariat is radical because it takes as its root the self-transformation of humanity itself (“to be radical is to go to the root of things, but for man the root is man”) — a humanity which everywhere remains an ideal and is nowhere yet an accomplished reality. No one is yet human, nor can they be in an inhuman world. Enjoy.
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I am a woman and a human

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In the United States, during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a specific set of politics among the left reigns king. Today, you could go into any university, on any number of liberal-to-left blogs or news websites, and the words “identity” and “intersectionality” will jump out you as the hegemonic theory. But, like all theories, this corresponds to the activity of the working class in response to the current composition of capital. Theory is not some cloud that floats above the class, raining down thoughts and ideas, but, as Raya Dunayevskaya writes,”the actions of the proletariat create the possibility for the intellectual to work out theory” (Marxism and Freedom, 91). Therefore, in order to understand the dominant theories of our age, we must understand the real movement of the class. In this piece, I will look at the history of identity politics and intersectionality theory in effort to construct a Marxist critique of intersectionality theory, and a offer positive Marxist conception of feminism.

Detail of ancient Greek cup with two athletes wrestling, by Epictetos

Detail of ancient Greek cup with two athletes wrestling, by Epictetos

The context for “identity” and “intersectionality theory”

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In order to understand “identity” and “intersectionality theory,” we must have an understanding of the movement of capital (meaning the total social relations of production in this current mode of production) that led to their development in the 1960s and 1970s in the US. More specifically, since “intersectionality theory” primarily developed in response to second wave feminism, we must look at how gender relations under capitalism developed. In the movement from feudalism to capitalism, the gendered division of labor, and therefore gender relations within the class began to take a new form that corresponded to the needs of capital. Some of these new relations included the following:

(1) The development of the wage. The wage is the capitalist form of coercion. As Maria Mies explains in her book, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, the wage replaced serf and slave ownership as the method to coerce alienated labor (meaning labor that the worker does for someone else). Under capitalism, those who produce (workers) do not own the means of production, so they must go to work for those who own the means of production (capitalists). Workers must therefore sell the only thing they own, their ability to labor, or their labor power, to the capitalist. This is key because workers are not paid for their sensuous living labor, the act of producing, but the ability to labor. The labor-labor power split gives rise to the appearance of an equal exchange of value; it appears as though the worker is paid for the amount of value she produces but in essence she is paid only for her ability to labor for a given period of time.

Furthermore, the working day itself is split into two parts: necessary labor time and surplus labor time. Necessary labor time is the time it takes the worker (on average) to produce enough value to buy all the commodities he needs to reproduce himself (everything from his dinner to his iPhone). Surplus labor time is the time the worker works beyond the necessary labor time. Since the going rate for labor power (again, our capacity to labor — not our actual living labor) is the value of all the commodities the worker needs to reproduce herself, surplus labor is value that goes straight into the capitalist’s pocket. For example, let’s say I work in a Furby factory. I get paid $10 a day to work 10 hours, I produce 10 Furbies a day, and a Furby is worth $10 each. The capitalist is only paying me for my ability to work 1 hour each day to produce enough value to reproduce myself (1 Furby = 1 hour’s labor = $10). So my necessary labor time is 1 hour, and the surplus labor time I give to the capitalist is 9 hours (10-1). The wage obscures this fact. Recall that under capitalism, it appears as though we are paid the equivalent value of what we produce. But, in essence, we are paid only for our necessary labor time, or the minimum amount we need to reproduce ourselves. This was different under feudalism when it was very clear how much time humans spent working for themselves, and how much time they spent working for someone else. For example, a serf might spend five hours a week tilling the land to produce food for the feudal lord, and the rest of her time was her own. The development of the wage is key because it enforced a gendered division of labor. Continue reading

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International Socialist Network releases statement distancing itself from Richard Seymour

Above: Richard Seymour’s
Twitter profile photo

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It would appear that the IS Network Steering Committee is already looking to dissociate itself publicly from Richard Seymour, the group’s most visible supporter and recognizable member. After
a tumultuous feud erupted on Facebook a couple days ago over the ideological implications of “race play,” the organization’s chief governing body is now taking steps to publicize and officially rebuke Seymour (along with Magpie Corvid, who actually holds a position on the Steering Committee) for expressing views deemed unacceptable by its leadership. These seem to represent a move to discredit or anathematize Seymour, in order to save face with the Network’s core supporters. Once again, the irony here is that Seymour has made an entire career out of “no platform”-ing and otherwise excommunicating various groups and individuals. (Mark Fisher once dubbed him, quite fittingly, “excommunicator-in-chief”).

Here’s the message the IS Network Steering Committee just e-mailed out:

Excommunication

Writ of excommunication

Statement by the IS Network Steering Committee on the recent controversy

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Dear comrades,

Some of you may have seen, on Facebook and elsewhere, that there has been a serious disagreement breaking out in some parts of the Network recently. Three members, including a steering committee member, engaged in a long argument with a number of people, including a number of black RS21 and IS Network members regarding “race play,” and many felt, including an overwhelming majority of steering committee members, that their opinions on the subject were deeply problematic with regards to racial and gender politics, and further than their tone and method of handling criticism was not in keeping with the spirit of allowing people to challenge their own oppression. Continue reading

Il'ia Chashnik, Kosmos (1925)

Studies on hysterical materialism

Three essays

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Image: Il’ia Chashnik,
Kosmos (1925)

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A brief overview of the recent series on hysterical materialism: its etiology, pathology, symptomology. Needless to say, these three studies represent a major contribution to the field of medical Marxism, and should aid in the production of new vaccines, remedies, and prophylactic techniques for the treatment (and prevention) of materialist hysteria.

Also, note well:

Masturbation is to eros what suicide is to thanatos.

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Plaksin, A Spectrum of Glass (1920)

Hysteria in Historical Materialism

A labile disorder (1995-2013)

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Image: Plaksin, A Spectrum of Glass (1920)
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Though one might point to any number of possible precursors, the advent of hysterical materialism proper only occurred with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. From this point forward, the phenomenon began to spread in earnest. Many factors contributed to its rise, overdetermining its eventuality, but at an etiological level the most approximate cause of hysterical materialism was the historic death of the Left in this moment. The Left had already by then been limping along for several decades, especially after “the century of Marxism” drew to a close around 1973. But the final breakup of the Bolshevik experiment brought an end to an age; the trauma of this loss proved too much  for some to handle. History having now ceased to take place, material reality itself became hysterical.

We thus at last come to hysterical materialism, and begin with a concrete case. Barely a century after historical materialism was first proclaimed, and only a few years after its seeming defeat, the germs of this new dementia found their way into a fledgling journal project dedicated to the doctrine’s renewal. As if History were playing a practical joke, the name of the journal where “materialist” hysteria became most firmly entrenched was none other than Historical Materialism. Over time some of its most notable editors and event planners came to be afflicted by this terrible illness, and to this day continue in its throes. To be sure, the vast majority of its contributors and fellow-travelers remain untouched by hysterical materialism, with outbreaks of so-called “mass hysteria” appearing far less frequently than its individual manifestations.

1. MATERIALIST ⇆ HYSTERIA
2. MATERIALIST HYSTERIA
3. MATERIALYSTERIA Continue reading