Identity crisis: Against capital and nation

Below you can read a couple English-language translations of texts by the German Gruppen gegen Kapital und Nation. They are relevant to a number of issues which I plan to cover in a forthcoming post.

Gegen Kapital und Nation is chiefly informed by Marx’s original writings, but draws inspiration from the anti-nationalism of Rosa Luxemburg and the council communism of Anton Pannekoek as well. It is useful to revisit these texts, both released in 2010, since many self-declared ultraleftists seem to be wavering on issues of national liberation and the politics of identity. Activistic Maoism and academic poststructuralism have sadly not lost any of their allure.


the longing for identityProud to be… so what?

Gegen Kapital
und Nation

Identity, the forced community of individuals

When the term identity is applied to a person, a reasonable interpretation would be to understand it as signifying their self-awareness as a thinking entity in a material body, both of which — in this dyadic union — are forced to endure a great deal in this society already, well before acquiring the capacity of even thinking in such terms. But all humans are also branded with another type of identity: They are combined into groups according to their “sex,” gender, nationality, “race,” sexual desire and a plethora of other categories. This is more than just a harmless indication of a person’s physical characteristics, the pigmentation of their skin or whom they happen to be in love with. To a considerable degree, this sorting influences one’s material circumstances, psychological state, and even the duration of one’s existence.

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one”

With this truth, feminist critics have unmasked the differences asserted by various (social) groups as socially constructed, well over sixty years ago. Without fail, all people are subsumed under any given number of collective identities. They are ascribed qualities and behavioral patterns which are attributed to their alleged “essence.” Predications of ethnicity, gender, “race,” sexual orientation, (dis)ability, or class manifest themselves as essentialist judgements. The people in question are subjected to binding statements which aim at fundamentally defining their lives, their thoughts as well as their actions. In that process they are being differentiated from one part of humanity while a strong bond is constructed with another, with whom they are supposed to share a common fate. Many of these statements are simply false (“all black men have large penises”), while some are undue generalizations (“all British people drink warm beer” and “all Canadians wear tuques”), and even where a particular attribution actually does characterize a large number of people (homo homini lupus), it is socially produced.

All this is not the same as saying that “all footballers are idiots,” which would be no more than a polemic conclusion, equating a social practice with someone’s propensity for reasoning, in order to attack a sports craze. One can stop playing football at any time, while one cannot stop being black. An attribution based purely on social practice is a distinctly different thing than one based on someone’s supposed nature.1 As soon as an essentialist judgement has been coined and socially established, the people affected by it have no choice but to react to it: judgements must be refuted, positively or negatively adopted — or criticized. In some cases, the affected groups may even break up into sub-collectives in the course of the debate over different strategies of response. These judgements are all the more severe wherever they are part of strategies of discrimination or even form the legitimization for the exclusion or oppression of a particular group. That is wherever such judgements are taken as proof for any given group’s inferiority and serve as the basis for their subjugation. Continue reading

Parti des Indigènes de la République: “Zionists to the GULag!”

The left-wing political scientist  Thomas Guénolé  recently (18th March) rowed with the spokesperson of the Parti des Indigènes de la République, Houria Bouteldja on the French television (France 2) program, “Ce soir (ou jamais !)” sur France 2 (Atlantico). He took out a photo of her posing with the slogan, “Zionists to the Gulag” [« Sionistes au goulag »]. A note which then adds: “Peace, but gulag even so” [« Peace, mais goulag quand même »].

Some other choice quotations he pulled from Bouteldja are also worth noting. Regarding rapes that take place in the banlieue: “If a black women is raped by a black man, it’s right that she does not go to the police in order to protect the black community” [« si une femme noire se fait violer par un homme noire, il est légitime qu’elle ne porte pas plainte pour protéger la communauté noire »]. On gays:  “Everybody knows that a poof is not completely a man, since the Arab who loses his potency is no longer a man” [« comme chacun sait, la tarlouze n’est pas tout à fait un homme. l’arabe qui perd sa puissance virile n’est plus un homme »].

Bouteldja’s reply was to state that she couldn’t give a toss what Guénolé thought, and that his basic accusation against her was that she was not white.

Now it is time to return to a critical examination of the ideas of this person and her group.

Houria Bouteldja, or rather “the excellent  Houria Bouteldja” (as Richard Seymour calls her here), is the spokesperson for the Parti des Indigènes de la République [PIR]. She is known to the American left from the reprinting of their statements by the International Socialist Organization,  and a star article with Malik Tahar Chaouch translated as  “The Unity Trap” in the oddly-named journal Jacobin, which claims to be “reason in revolt.”

The PIR, which opposes “race-mixing” and attacks the supposed “philo-Semitism” of the French state, among many other criticisms of “Jews” and  “Zionists” has also received a respectful audience in Britain, including a blog and  billing at meetings of the Islamic Human Right Commission. Verso has published a translation criticizing French secularism by one of the Indigènes’ prominent “white” supporters, the former leftist and self-styled feminist Christine Delphy.

Rumors that an English version of Les Blancs, les Juifs, et nous  is in preparation at Verso, with an introduction by Ian Donovan, have been strongly denied. A review of the book in French has already appeared written by the Tiqqun-affiliated author Ivan Segré, «Une indigène au visage pâle: Houria Bouteldja, Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous: Vers une politique de l’amour révolutionnaire». This is not a translation of Segré’s tonic review of Bouteldja but a discussion of some key points. The article begins with a summary of the authoress’ views which will perhaps explain that the prospect of a full account of the text — after all a honest attempt to make intelligible a picture of the world that bears comparison with such landmark thinkers as David Icke — would be hard to accomplish. But we salute comrade Sergé for having waded through this singular oeuvre. This is just to make known to an English speaking audience some of his main points

Continue reading

MEGA [Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe] on MEGA

Back in the 1920s, the Russian revolutionary and Marxist scholar David Riazanov began to compile a new, more complete edition of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. He was, unfortunately, purged during the 1930s for supposed involvement in an anti-Soviet conspiracy. Riazanov was thus unable to see this project through to the end. Nevertheless, he set the wheels in motion for future Marxologists and exegetes like Maximilien Rubel, Roman Rosdolski, and Michael Heinrich. Work on the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe [MEGA] continues today.

Anyway, I recently happened across a trove of full-text PDFs of the MEGA stored on the New Zealand cloud service known as MEGA, appropriately enough. You can download the files as a .zip file by clicking here. Quietly amused that this arrived to me indirectly via a certain oversharing Francophile lefty editor type. Makes me wonder what all his posturing over “pirate scab PDFs” was really about.


Speaking of which, Budgen — Lars Ulrich of the online left — is apparently upset with me yet again. Class act that he is, Sebastian associated me with the disgusting rape advocate Roosh V. (an antisemitic conspiracy theorist and extreme misogynist) and the disgusting pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shrkeli (who jacked up the price of vital medicines once he’d secured exclusive rights over the drugs). If anyone resembles a douchebag who sells stuff he didn’t develop himself for obscenely inflated prices while monopolizing said product… you would think it was Budgen. Especially considering the company he keeps: people who make fun of others with physical deformities or who have a darker complexion on account of their ethnic background. Roosh V. and Simon Weston are reactionaries, to be sure, but that should hardly be seen as giving one license to make racist or ableist comments about them. Continue reading

Open-source Marxism 2016: Fresh batch of “pirate scab” PDFs

Happy New Year from the Charnel-House.

2015 was a fairly shit year. Lemmy died, and yet another Star Wars movie came out, so right off the bat you know it’s awful. Add to that the terror attacks in Paris, Beirut, Colorado, California, throughout Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the list goes on and on. Plus rising xenophobia and outright racism in Europe and the United States, where cops seem to be shooting unarmed black kids on a weekly basis.

I guess Stephen Curry’s MVP season, culminating in a Finals victory over Lebron, mitigated things somewhat, made the year a little more worthwhile. Only somewhat, though.

We are insufficiently gripped by the terror of existence.

Regardless, start the year off right with some high-quality “pirate scab versions” of commie e-books and PDFs. First of all, more or less all of the books published in the Historical Materialism series. But also 365 different author folders, one for each day of 2016. It seems that butthurt from one of the prime movers at Verso and HM has already commenced, and so he’s issued a middle school “him or me” ultimatum.

Budgen butthurt

Of course, I don’t begrudge anyone who would defriend me or badmouth me for careerist reasons, because the sacred principles of #getpaid and #mansgottaeat override everything. You can’t be blamed the guy acts like a teenager, or that he can only tolerate suck-ups and sycophants. Just enjoy the free books. Anyway, most of these are in English, but the Hero of Labor who uploaded these tells me other languages could be provided as well. Also included are some worthwhile reactionaries like Michels, Pareto, and de Maistre, and some liberal thinkers from the era of bourgeois revolutions.

Note: If you’re not familiar with MEGA, the way downloads work can be kind of confusing. When you click on a given file, it goes to “transfers,” which then usually saves to your desktop. But there should be a gear in the lower left hand side which allows you to specify where everything is saved. Continue reading

Walter Benjamin’s writings in German and in English

Besides studying Soviet history, reading Walter Benjamin was what got me hooked on all this commie crap. It was probably “On the Concept of History” that first did it. Enigmatic, baffling, simple yet sophisticated — these were my initial impressions of it. The rest is history, or a storm blowing in from the Absolute.

Of course, I was fortunate to be introduced to Benjamin the way I did. Following a few of his texts in Illuminations, I started in on Adorno and read Gershom Scholem’s Story of a Friendship. At least to some extent this immunized me to the different “readings” offered over the years by postmodernists, poststructuralists, hermeneuticists, and beyond. No one can pretend to be surprised that the secondary literature on Benjamin has become so voluminous, or all the uses to which his thought has been put. Because the Marxist component of his writing is muted, or methodologically opaque, theorists have been able to sidestep or otherwise evade critical engagement with Benjamin’s Marxism.

He was not a political writer. And many of his references are esoteric or willfully obscure. From this derives the denseness of so many of his texts. Jewish mysticism certainly figures into Benjamin’s conceptual and theoretical apparatus, largely nourished by his friendship with Scholem. Still, I despise nothing more than interpretations which seek to make Benjamin into some sort of communist rabbi, à la Moses Hess (Marx used to disparagingly refer to the proto-Zionist Hegelian in this manner, before Engels cuckolded the man’s wife). Reading his notes and correspondence it is clear that the allusions to Jewish mysticism in his writings are metaphorical or allegorical, and possess no religious content.

You can download all of Benjamin’s work in German and in English below, along with some biographies and introductions to his work. Beneath the picture gallery I’ve reposted an article Michael Löwy wrote for the Platypus Review ages ago. Enjoy.


  1. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften I
  2. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften II
  3. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften III
  4. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften IV
  5. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften V
  6. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften VI
  7. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften VII
  8. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, 6 Bände


  1. Walter Benjamin, Early Writings, 1910-1917
  2. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926
  3. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2: Part 1, 1927-1930
  4. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2: Part 2, 1931-1934
  5. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938
  6. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938-1940
  7. Walter Benjamin, Correspondence, 1910-1940
  8. Walter Benjamin, Correspondence with Gershom Scholem, 1932-1940
  9. Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht
  10. Walter Benjamin, The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire
  11. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media
  12. Walter Benjamin, Radio Benjamin
  13. Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary
  14. Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street and Other Writings
  15. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Secondary sources

  1. Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin
  2. Howard Eiland, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life
  3. Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism
  4. Uwe Steiner, Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work
  5. György Markus, “Walter Benjamin, or, The Commodity as Phantasmagoria”
  6. Fredric Jameson, “Walter Benjamin, or Nostalgia”
  7. Georg Lukács, “On Walter Benjamin”
  8. Eli Friedlander, Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait
  9. Ferenc Feher, “Lukács and Benjamin: Parallels and Contrasts”
  10. Howard Caygill, Walter Benjamin: The Color of Experience
  11. Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project

Walter Benjamin

Michael Löwy

Platypus Review 5
May-July 2008

Walter Benjamin occupies a unique place in the history of modern revolutionary thought: he is the first Marxist to break radically with the ideology of progress. His thinking has therefore a distinct critical quality, which sets him apart from the dominant and “official” forms of historical materialism, and gives him a formidable methodological superiority.

This peculiarity has to do with his ability to incorporate into the body of Marxist revolutionary theory insights from the Romantic critique of civilization and from the Jewish messianic tradition. Both elements are present in his early writings, particularly in “The Life of the Students” (1915), where he already rejects “a conception of history, whose confidence in the infinity of time only distinguishes the speed by which men and epochs roll, quicker or slower, along the track of progress” — a conception characterized by the “inconsistency, the lack of precision and force of the demands it addresses at the present” — opposing it to utopian images such as the messianic kingdom or the French Revolution.

Benjamin’s first reference to communism appears in 1921, in his “Critique of Violence,” where he celebrates the “devastating and on the whole justified” critique of the Parliament by the Bolsheviks and the anarcho-syndicalists. This link between communism and anarchism will be an important aspect of his political evolution: his Marxism will to a large extent take a libertarian color.

Continue reading

Federici versus Marx

Gilles Dauvé
Fall 2015

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.

…rough magic I here abjure…

William Shakespeare
The Tempest (1610)

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

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

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

No scabs

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

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.


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.

Copyright controversy over Marx & Engels’ Collected Works

The following is a petition that recently appeared over at, 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

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

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

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

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.

For ex­ample, Sohn-Reth­el ex­plains the con­cepts of mod­ern nat­ur­al sci­ence as based upon ideal ab­strac­tions of meas­ur­ab­il­ity and quan­ti­fi­ab­il­ity ap­plied to nature, which them­selves de­rive rather from a so­ci­ety in which a premi­um is already placed upon the meas­ur­ab­il­ity and quan­ti­fi­ab­il­ity of labor. “While the con­cepts of nat­ur­al sci­ence are thought ab­strac­tions,” writes Sohn-Reth­el, “the eco­nom­ic concept of value is a real one” (Sohn-Reth­el, In­tel­lec­tu­al and Manu­al Labor, pg. 20). Even then, however, not every so­cial ideo­logy re­flects this spe­cif­ic real­ity. Nat­ur­al sci­ence is cer­tainly one of the spheres of thought that Sohn-Reth­el seeks to ex­plain with re­course to the real­ity of ab­strac­tion, con­sid­er­ing its fun­da­ment­al con­cepts to be ideal­iz­a­tions of this real­ity. Oth­er ideo­lo­gies cer­tainly can be traced to so­cial and ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions, but not ne­ces­sar­ily to the con­di­tion of real ab­strac­tion.
Al­berto To­scano, a Marxi­an the­or­ist and trans­lat­or of Ba­di­ou, of­fers ex­haust­ive sum­mary of prom­in­ent Marx­ist ac­counts of ab­strac­tion in his art­icle “The Open Secret of Real Ab­strac­tion.” To­scano re­hearses these po­s­i­tions with his usu­al com­pet­ence, but his aims re­main purely ex­eget­ic­al. On the whole, he presents a fairly ser­vice­able ac­count. In his own the­or­et­ic­al work, however, To­scano’s de­ploy­ment of the concept of real ab­strac­tion is rather curi­ous. He in­vokes the concept in his study of Fan­at­icism: On the Uses of an Idea, look­ing to un­der­stand “re­li­gion [it­self] as a real ab­strac­tion” (To­scano, Fan­at­icism, pg. 186). Clearly, if one is op­er­at­ing un­der the defin­i­tion of “real ab­strac­tion” offered above, re­li­gion can­not be con­sidered a real ab­strac­tion since this refers only to ex­change.Some­times To­scano comes a bit closer to the mark, as in his passing re­marks re­gard­ing “Marx’s meth­od­o­lo­gic­al re­volu­tion, his for­mu­la­tion of a his­tor­ic­al-ma­ter­i­al­ist study of so­cial, cul­tur­al, and intellectu­al ab­strac­tions [cor­rect] on the basis of the real ab­strac­tions of the value-form, money, and ab­stract labor” (To­scano, Fan­at­icism, pg. 190). Here the real ab­strac­tion be­longs to ex­change value, money, and ab­stract labor, and not to their ideal re­flec­tions in ideo­logy. But just a few pages pri­or, To­scano states that

Wheth­er we are deal­ing with money or with re­li­gion, the cru­cial er­ror is to treat real ab­strac­tions as mere “ar­bit­rary products” of hu­man re­flec­tion. This was the kind of ex­plan­a­tion fa­vored by the eight­eenth cen­tury: in this way the En­light­en­ment en­deavored…to re­move the ap­pear­ance of strange­ness from the mys­ter­i­ous shapes as­sumed by hu­man re­la­tions whose ori­gins they were un­able to de­cipher.” The strange­ness of re­li­gion can­not be dis­pelled by ascrib­ing it to cler­ic­al con­spir­acies or psy­cho­lo­gic­al de­lu­sions, to be cured through mere ped­agogy. (To­scano, Fan­at­icism, pg. 184)

Go­ing from this, it ap­pears that To­scano groups re­li­gion to­geth­er with money as a form of “real ab­strac­tion.” Money ex­presses real ab­strac­tion in a ma­ter­i­al man­ner by meas­ur­ing the value con­tained in com­mod­it­ies, but re­li­gion does noth­ing re­motely of the sort. To be sure, To­scano is right to in­sist that re­li­gion is not an “ar­bit­rary product of hu­man re­flec­tion.” No ideo­logy is purely ar­bit­rary and ir­ra­tion­al, but is rather based in and ra­tion­ally ex­plic­able through ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions. In oth­er words, the ir­ra­tion­al­ity of re­li­gion is of an ob­ject­ive sort, rooted in ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions that can­not be ex­plained away as mere fantasy or su­per­sti­tion, but which must in­stead be re­vo­lu­tion­ized or ma­ter­i­ally rooted out. Nev­er­the­less, this does not mean that the so­ciohis­tor­ic­ basis on which an ideo­logy arises is ne­ces­sar­ily that of real ab­strac­tion.

This er­ror can be dis­pelled fairly simply, for­tu­nately. Since “real ab­strac­tion” refers ex­clus­ively to the ob­ject­ive real­ity of com­mod­ity ex­change, one can only really speak of ideo­lo­gic­al re­flec­tions of real ab­strac­tion wherever com­mod­ity ex­change has gen­er­ally taken hold. Ideal or con­cep­tu­al ab­strac­tions based on real ab­strac­tion prop­erly ex­ist only in so­ci­et­ies dom­in­ated by the re­la­tion of ex­change. Most will agree that cap­it­al­ism is a re­l­at­ively re­cent phe­nomen­on, dat­ing back only a few cen­tur­ies as a truly glob­al (or glob­al­iz­ing) mode of pro­duc­tion. Re­li­gion, by con­trast, has ex­is­ted for mil­len­nia, since the dawn of hu­man his­tory at least. How could re­li­gion be an ideal­iz­a­tion of real ab­strac­tion, much less a form of real ab­strac­tion it­self, in so­ci­et­ies where com­mod­ity ex­change was not a per­vas­ive real­ity? To­scano’s ac­count of re­li­gion as a “real ab­strac­tion” be­comes in­co­her­ent as soon as one con­cedes these facts.

Per­haps there is some much more ex­pans­ive no­tion of “real ab­strac­tion” de­veloped by Finelli or the oth­er the­or­ists To­scano leans on in Fan­at­icism. But if Sohn-Reth­el’s con­cep­tion is the one he’s work­ing from, his ar­gu­ment doesn’t really work.