Wages for masturbation? Burning questions of our movement

Owen Jones, ageless boy wonder of the British Left, has apparently upset some of his more matronly fans. Seems he wasn’t sufficiently scandalized by revelations that Labour MP Simon Danczuk from Rochdale beats off at work. “Who cares?” asked Jones in The Guardian, as if shrugging his shoulders. “Danczuk is a human being with flaws. For me, it’s the political flaws that matter.”

Socialist Wanker

Not everyone is taking this matter so lightly, of course, as our preceding remarks suggest. EP from the matfem (maternal feminist, not materialist feminist) blog All Mothers Work scolds Jones for laughing this off:

Too many men, like Owen Jones, seem to think that men have a right to do whatever they want sexually, at any time, in any situation. His attitude throughout his piece is tiresomely familiar; a pathetically schoolboyish sneer at deluded prudes who clutch their pearls at the thought of a bit of wanking. Let’s cut the bullshit: anybody who thinks it is acceptable to masturbate at work is not fit to be in decent society and needs therapeutic help.

What might such sentiments mean for the international proletariat, however? Can the toiling masses not demand “the right to jerk”? Need we remind you that Marx’s Das Fapital is the Bible of the wanking class? Didn’t Lukács write something about the simultaneous autoerotic subject-object of History?

Luckily, the good folks over at Left Unity in Britain were pondering these questions just the other day. Comrade Coates mentioned it in passing in a post entitled “Wanking while you work: Debate shakes Left Unity, but we have the whole unexpurgated version for you here to enjoy. It’s a bit long, so we’ll break it up and intersperse commentary throughout.

Left Unity right to masturbate at work thread, part 1


Bet you hadn’t considered the dilemma faced by “professional sperm donors.” Personally, I would have never thought of that. The commenter Colin Chambers is right to bring up the decision in Brazil, though. It’s very relevant.

According to the popular mental health magazine Uncovered, a Brazilian woman recently won a landmark case. Charlotte Fantanelli reports that the court found in favor of Ana Catarian Bezerra, a 36-year-old accountant suffering from a severe chemical imbalance. Her condition requires that she masturbate up to forty-seven times per day, though meds have brought that number down to as low as eighteen. Under the new ruling, Ms. Bezerra will be allowed to watch pornography and periodically pleasure herself while at work. It is unclear whether or not she will remain on the clock during such times.

Obviously, this could have major economic repercussions should other countries and their legal and judicial systems follow suit. Fantanelli spells out its radical implications: “The need to orgasm [is now] recognized by law.”

Who’s to say that masturbation is unproductive labor, either? It’s perfectly legitimate for wankers to demand wage compensation for their self-gratification. PornHub just released its new Wankband last month, which recharges your phone using repeated movement of the wrist. Half the world’s energy problems could be solved right there.

Enough idle speculation, though. Back to the sexperts in the public Left Unity thread. Continue reading

Marx, Lenin, Hegel, and Goethe on genius and freedom of the press

Mikhail Lifshitz
The Philosophy of Art
of Karl Marx

It is interesting to compare Marx’s “Debates on the Freedom of the Press” (1843)[1] with Lenin’s “Party Organization and Party Literature” (1905),[2] in which he speaks of creating a free press, “free not only in the police sense of the word, but free from capital as well — free from careerism; free, above all, from anarchic bourgeois individualism.” As opposed to the “mercenary commercial bourgeois press,” and the “deluded (or hypocritically delusive) dependence” of the bourgeois writer “upon the money bags, upon bribery, upon patronage,” Lenin set up the principle of party literature. While Marx’s articles in the Rheinische Zeitung were on an incomparably lower level of political understanding, there can be no doubt that even in 1842 Marx directed his criticism against not only police censorship but also against freedom of the press in the bourgeois sense.[3] And he also showed, even at this early stage, some signs of the doctrine of party literature.

From the point of view of Marx’s political beliefs in 1842, the struggle for party literature coincided with criticism of feudal-bureaucratic censorship. And herein lies the great difference between Lenin’s conception of “party” and that of the young Marx. Lenin held that the destruction of feudal censorship was a problem of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, whereas party literature is a weapon of the proletariat in its struggle against anarchic bourgeois literary relations. No doubt the two problems are not separated by a Chinese wall; one grows out of the other. Nevertheless, they are different and within certain limits even opposed. To confuse the democratic ideal of a free press with the problem of saving it from the freedom of a “literary trade” was characteristic of young Marx as a revolutionary democrat.

48055a Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels en la imprenta de la Rheinische Zeitung, Colonia - Museo Marx & Engels, Moscú ✆ E. Chapiro © Ñángara Marx1

The censor was his principal opponent. Obeying the dictates of the government, the censor attempted to eradicate every trace of party struggle in literature, prohibiting even the use of party slogans. Already in his first article on freedom of the press, “Comments on the latest Prussian Censorship Instruction” (1842), Marx unmasked the duplicity of the Prussian government which, while suppressing all party struggle, actually came out as “one party against another.” The censor’s instructions contained some “aesthetic criticism.” The writer was expected to use a “serious and modest” style. As a matter of fact, however, any crudeness of style could be forgiven provided the content was acceptable to the government. “Thus the censor must sometimes judge the content by the form, sometimes the form by the content. First content ceased to serve as a criterion for censorship; and then in turn form vanished.”[4] Continue reading

The American War of Independence as bourgeois revolution

1776 in world history
James M. Vaughn
Platypus Review 61

I. Introduction: The bourgeois revolution(s) and the American Revolution

In the period stretching from the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War to the coup d’état that brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power in revolutionary France, the old order in Europe and North America gave up the ghost and passed away from the face of the earth. For the years between 1760 and 1800 were, as the liberal historian R.R. Palmer masterfully argued, the Age of the Democratic Revolution.[1] By the middle decades of the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment had eroded many of the intellectual and cultural foundations of the Ancien Régime. New patterns of commercialization and urbanization, and new forms of sociability and venues of public discussion, had transformed and bourgeoisified the kingdoms of Western Europe. The fiscal and military capacities of the leading powers nearly came to ruin during the worldwide Seven Years’ War (c. 1754–1763), and this led many states to undertake wide-ranging reforms in the conflict’s wake. This upheaval and instability did not only affect the absolute monarchies of the continent, such as Bourbon France and Habsburg Austria, but also what many considered to be the freest society in the West, if not the world: the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The island kingdom’s institutions were seen by many as increasingly inadequate to the changed social and intellectual landscape of the mid- to late-eighteenth century. With the growth of colonial American resistance to post-war imperial reforms and the birth of the Wilkesite movement in 1763, the British Crown and Parliament faced riotous subjects making more assertive, and often new, demands on both sides of the ocean. By the 1760s, many societies in the Atlantic world were experiencing tremors that shook their political, economic, cultural, and intellectual foundations.

Such crises and upheavals had taken place before, and the Ancien Régime had survived largely intact, although not without adjustments and changes. Thus, the fact that this post-1760 period of instability eventually led to the wholesale creation of radically new political foundations for society — above all, to the birth of the modern democratic republic, a republic fit not for Greek and Roman antiquity but for the era of commercial and manufacturing capitalism — cannot be explained by the crises and upheavals themselves. Why did the Ancien Régime collapse this time? Why did the old world experience sickness unto death? And why was a new world born from it?

The key turning points in these ongoing crises and upheavals leading to fundamentally new political and social forms were of course the American Revolution of 1776 and the Great French Revolution of 1789. While the Enlightenment was the cauldron in which these transformations brewed, it was the revolutions of 1776 and 1789 that not only considerably altered existing institutions and practices, as was the case with England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689, but also uprooted long-standing political foundations and laid down fundamentally new ones, those of the constitutional republic. The American and French revolutions transformed the post-1760 period of crisis and upheaval into the beginning of an Age of Revolution throughout the Atlantic world that lasted from the last quarter of the eighteenth century into the middle decades of the nineteenth, until the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848 ended in failure and defeat.

During the revolutions of 1776 and 1789, and throughout the revolutionary epoch they inaugurated, members of the traditional elite played an important role, but political and social change was powerfully driven by plebeian radicalism and popular mobilization. The hallmark of this revolutionary epoch was not merely that it “began the world anew,” for there has been far-reaching change in social and political life throughout recorded history, but also that this new world was built by “the people,” ranging from radical aristocrats and priests to middling lawyers and merchants to humble artisans and the laboring poor, with a level of self-consciousness, expressed in pamphlets and parliamentary debates as well as in military mobilizations and street demonstrations, not seen before in world history. Moreover, it was built by their own hands and with a level of consciousness, expressed in pamphlets and parliamentary debate as well as in military mobilizations and street demonstrations, to a degree not seen before in world history. During the Age of Revolution, people were not merely subjected to historical change, but rather they became the genuine subjects — that is, self-conscious agents — of historical change.

The American and French revolutions were part of an ongoing process of bourgeois revolution inaugurated by the Dutch Revolt (c. 1568-1648) and deepened with the English Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century and the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689. Taken together, these revolutions constituted an ongoing process of bourgeois revolution because they were all moments when men and women, with increasing self-consciousness, attempted to realize the potential for human emancipation contained within the crisis and breakdown of traditional agrarian civilization, a crisis that began on the far western periphery of the Eurasian landmass but which eventually spread across the globe.

The crises and upheavals that afflicted Western Europe in the late medieval and early modern period loosened the Great Chain of Being, a chain in which the orders of rank and privilege that determined one’s life trajectory at birth were understood as merely one element in a divinely-ordained hierarchy linking the world of the living with the worlds of the dead and the unborn. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the revolt of the Third Estate rushed through the cracks and fissures created in the Great Chain of Being and brought traditional agrarian civilization crashing down around it. The classic bourgeois revolutions were one great revolt of the Third Estate, of those who work, against the world that consigned them to labor and toil off the stage of history. Radical aristocrats and clergymen played vital and essential roles in the revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth century — one need only think of the 2nd Earl of Warwick in the English Civil Wars, Bishop Gilbert Burnet in the Glorious Revolution and its aftermath, the Marquis de Lafayette in the American and French revolutions, and the Abbé Sieyès throughout the French Revolution. These figures were not beholden to the bourgeoisie or future capitalist class, but rather acted on behalf of the Third Estate of those who work, which included wealthy merchants in Amsterdam, prosperous planters in Virginia, middling shopkeepers in London, thrifty artisans in Brussels, plebeian laborers in Paris, and slaves in Saint Domingue. This great revolt of the Third Estate brought the workers of the world onto the stage of history, and they used their newfound political power to emancipate labor and to unshackle the exchange of its products.

The emergence and advance of the bourgeoisie was bound up with, and expressive of, humanity’s struggle for self-emancipation and self-determination in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This struggle propelled elements of the bourgeoisie to the forefront of the epoch-making politics of the Dutch Revolt, the English Commonwealth, and the French Revolution. As Karl Marx argued in the midst of the revolutionary upheavals of 1848,

The revolution of 1789 was (at least in Europe) only prefigured by the revolution of 1648, which in turn was only prefigured by the rising of the Netherlands against Spain. Both revolutions were approximately a century in advance of their predecessors, not only in time but also in content…. The revolutions of 1648 and 1789 were not English and French revolutions; they were revolutions of a European pattern. They were not the victory of a particular class of society over the old political order; they were the proclamation of the political order for the new European society. In these revolutions the bourgeoisie gained the victory; but the victory of the bourgeoisie was at that time the victory of a new social order, the victory of bourgeois property over feudal property, of nationality over provincialism, of competition over the guild, or the partition of estates over primogeniture, of the owner’s mastery of the land over the land’s mastery of its owner, of enlightenment over superstition, of the family over the family name, of industry over heroic laziness, of civil law over privileges of medieval origin. The revolution of 1648 was the victory of the seventeenth century over the sixteenth century, the revolution of 1789 was the victory of the eighteenth century over the seventeenth century. Still more than expressing the needs of the parts of the world in which they took place, England and France, these revolutions expressed the needs of the whole world, as it existed then.[2]

Indeed, the “rise of the bourgeoisie” and the expansion of the capitalist economy were symptoms of the social transformation of humanity from the bottom up. The bourgeois revolutions were the moments of conflict and crisis during which the potentials for collective and individual emancipation, made possible by the breakdown of traditional agrarian civilization and the rise of the commodity form of labor, were politically realized. Continue reading

Radical Bourgeois Philosophy Summer Reading Group

I am eagerly looking forward to the Platypus Affiliated Society’s New York chapter reading group for the summer, which will focus on “Radical Bourgeois Philosophy.”  Having already completed the main readings that lay the theoretical foundation for the group’s political outlook, I feel it will be profitable to better acquaint myself with the texts of classical liberalism and political economy.  Marxists, in their rejection of liberal democracy and bourgeois ideology, all-too-often forget the genuinely progressive legacy of liberalism and the revolutionary role played by the bourgeoisie in history.  This legacy is nowhere better illustrated than in the texts of some of their foremost thinkers — Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Hegel, Ricardo, and Nietzsche.  Marx’s own deep, if critical, respect for these thinkers (minus Nietzsche, who came later) cannot be ignored.

The following is the reading list and schedule for film screenings related to the subject:

Reading group and History of Humanity Film Screenings & Lectures

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1789–1848 [PDF]

June 26 – August 21
New York University Puck Building
295 Lafayette St. 4th floor

We will address the greater context for Marx and Marxism through the issue of bourgeois radicalism in philosophy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Discussion will emerge by working through the development from Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche, but also by reference to the Rousseauian aftermath, and the emergence of the modern society of capital, as registered by liberals such as Adam Smith and Benjamin Constant.

“The principle of freedom and its corollary, “perfectibility,” . . . suggest that the possi- bilities for being human are both multiple and, literally, endless. . . . Contemporaries like Kant well understood the novelty and radical implications of Rousseau’s new principle of freedom [and] appreciated his unusual stress on history as the site where the true nature of our species is simultaneously realized and perverted, revealed and distorted. A new way of thinking about the human condition had appeared. . . . As Hegel put it, “The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau, and gave infinite strength to man, who thus apprehended himself as infinite.”

– James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000), Introduction to Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992)


June 26 | 1PM

Chris Cutrone, “Capital in History”
Robert Pippin, “On Critical Theory” [HTML Critical Inquiry 2003]
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Film screening | 4:30PM

Marie Antoinette (2006)

June 30 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity pre-1750”

July 3 | 1pm

Rousseau, selection from The Social Contract

Film screening | 4:30PM

Jefferson in Paris (1995)

July 10 | 1pm

Adam Smith, selections from The Wealth of Nations
Volume I
Introduction and Plan of the Work
Book I: Of the Causes of Improvement…
I.1. Of the Division of Labor
I.2. Of the Principle which gives Occasion to the Division of Labour
I.3. That the Division of Labour is Limited by the Extent of the Market
I.4. Of the Origin and Use of Money
I.6. Of the Component Parts of the Price of Commodities
I.7. Of the Natural and Market Price of Commodities
I.8. Of the Wages of Labour
I.9. Of the Profits of Stock
Book III: Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations
 Of the Natural Progress of Opulence
III.2. Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the Ancient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.3. Of the Rise and Progress of Cities and Towns, after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.4. How the Commerce of the Towns Contributed to the Improvement of the Country
Volume II
IV.7. Of Colonies
Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth
V.1. Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth

Film screening | 4:30PM

Danton (1983)

July 14 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity 1750–1815”

July 17 | 1pm

Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns
Kant, “What is Enlightenment? ,” and “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Film screening | 4:30PM

Amistad (1997)

July 24 | 1pm

Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Kant, “On the Common Saying: That May be Correct in Theory, But it is of No Use in Practice” [HTML part 2]

July 31 | 1pm

Hegel, Introduction to The Philosophy of History [HTML] [PDF pp. 14-128]

Film screening | 4:30PM

selected scene from Gettysburg (1993) “No Divine Spark” Glory (1989)

August 4 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity 1815–48”

August 7 | 1pm

Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History for Life [translator’s introduction by Peter Preuss]
Nietzsche, selection from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

Film screening | 4:30PM

Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human (1999)

August 14 | 1pm

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic

Film screening | 4:30PM

Reds (1981)

August 21: Coda | 1pm

Marx, To make the world philosophical, Robert Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978) pp. 9–11
Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existingMarx-Engels Reader pp. 12–15
Marx, Theses on FeuerbachMarx-Engels Reader pp. 143–145
Marx, On [Bruno Bauer’s] The Jewish QuestionMarx-Engels Reader pp. 26–52
Marx, The coming upheaval [see bottom of section, beginning with “Economic conditions had first transformed the mass”] (from The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847), Marx-Engels Reader pp. 218–219
Marx and Engels, Communist ManifestoMarx-Engels Reader pp. 469–500