30 September 2011

Political Sadness: Mourning Troy Davis

At 11:08pm EST on September 21st 2011 the State of Georgia killed Troy Davis. It was his fourth execution date and after a four hours reprieve by the US Supreme Court. This act marked the close of a beautiful chapter of struggle, thousands signed petitions, attended rallies, wrote letters to elected officials, made phone calls to public officers, or followed news of the case closely. None of this could stop the iron will of the State of Georgia in what at times felt like a calculated attempt to prove activists their efforts were futile. Ann Coulter's analysis perhaps provides the best metaphor. She equated Troy Davis with a baby seal, one more thing that bleeding heart liberals attempt to save through "hysterical crying." If the state can bend to such collective displays of affect that where's it's authority. At 11:08pm EST on September 21st 2011 the State of Georgia turned to those hysterical thousands and said, "no you can't." It announced the impotence of collective action and proclaimed the glory of the established forms of authority.

Such an act and the affects it induced, grief, outrage, fear, hopelessness, were not mere private drama. They were and are being experienced collectively. For those who took Davis' struggle as their own these emotions are felt with and supported by the thousands in the movement. Our affect divides us from them, they articulate an indisputable wrong, they are felt arm-in-arm with our comrades who struggled. All this means one thing: they are political.

22 September 2011

Gáspár Miklós Tamás at University of Illinois at Chicago Monday, September 26, 2-4 PM

Gáspár Miklós Tamás: The Failure of Liberal Democracy in Eastern Europe and Everywhere Else
Monday, September 26, 2-4 PM • 2028 University Hall • University of Illinois at Chicago

You can find an interview with him here.

A leading dissident under Communism, liberal parliamentarian and head of the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in the early 1990s, and now a dissident once again, Gáspár Miklós Tamás is one of the most important thinkers of the post-Soviet era. He has held visiting professorships at several US universities, and his work has been translated into fourteen languages.

MRZ: “Which traditions of Marxism are you drawing on? Are there any contemporary writers or theories which you find especially useful, compelling, or relevant?
GMT: Several. Even when I was ideologically very remote from Marxism, I did not stop reading some of its literature. I was quite influenced by the early and middle work of Cornelius Castoriadis — I also knew him, an astonishing man — and Karl Korsch. Although I was personally close at one time to many people from the Lukács School, it is only now that I have read him with sustained attention. (His pupils have gone in the opposite direction, e.g., my erstwhile friend Agnes Heller has become a conservative with an increasingly strong Judaic interest, and a cold warrior après coup, who is bizarrely accusing her old friend and colleague, István Mészáros, author of Beyond Capital and guru to Hugo Chávez, of having been expelled from Canada as a Soviet agent — Mészáros is an 1956 political émigré, an emeritus professor at Sussex University with impeccable anti-Stalinist credentials.) I am an avid reader of operaismo and of pre-Empire Negri, and also at the opposite end, the Wertkritik school, in my view the best heirs to Critical Theory (Hans-Georg Backhaus, Helmut Reichelt, Michael Heinrich, but also the unruly genius, Robert Kurz, and the “cult” periodicals of this tendency, Krisis, Streifzüge, Exit!) as well as authors like Robert Brenner, Ellen Meiksins Wood, David Harvey, Michael Lebowitz, and various Marxists working in England too numerous to mention. The greatest impact came, however, from Moishe Postone’s magnum opus. These choices may seem eclectic, but I don’t belong to any of these currents. I am working on my own stuff and I am learning from all of them.”

21 September 2011

Summing it all up...

Response to “Apprehensions of the social”, part 4 of 4
By Chris Wright

We are after all confronted with a problem. The Enlightenment linked citizenship with humanity and such is the world we lived in. As a result, struggles to be treated as fully human tended to be struggles to be fully incorporated as citizens. (Workers, despite what the revolutionaries generally wanted, and in all but a few instances, and there usually under the least democratic conditions, generally wanted to extend their rights as human beings in this society.) And in turn the extension of citizenship to people without wealth increasingly created a pressure (exerted through social struggles and also at times as part of the rationalization of conditions of accumulation) to provide a minimum of life’s needs to every citizen, hence social welfare, public education, etc.

The workers’ movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, etc. have all sought to further merge citizen and bourgeois, but the split itself cannot be overcome in this society, only through its revolutionary overcoming.

15 September 2011

Inspiration from Bourgeois Economists: Guest Post

We’ve been doing some guest posts these days. It’s a way to broaden the conversation and to reduce our personally necessary labor time in producing this blog .... if only we could make a Critical Theory chat bot to reduce socially necessary labor time. Insurrectionists are way ahead of us on this.


Frank and Earl have each invited me to write something for this blog. I want to introduce two pieces relevant to your conversation. They have a few common features: (1) they are novel proposals — not New Deal nostalgia, nor the ‘capitalism with a conscience’ of fair trade and farmers markets, nor the Labor Party’s ‘Clause IV’ and central planning; (2) they are roughly compatible with the orientation to social theory shared by this blog’s contributors; (3) they are both formulated by unapologetic pro-market economists.

12 September 2011

The GOP as Death Cult

I found this essay by a Congressional staffer about the contemporary Republican Party to be an insightful description of the state of the legislative branch. While his comparisons to the Weimar Republic era Reichstag and to totalitarian governments are a touch overblown, the similarities do need to be taken seriously.

Returning to the politics at hand

Response to “Apprehensions of the social”, part 3 of 4
By Chris Wright

First and foremost, one result of the fragmentation of the production process and the rise of suburbanism is the collapse of working class identity politics. The worker was, along the way into becoming a home owner, integrated into a society of mass consumption. Debord, Adorno, Marcuse, Sam Moss, and more recently others like Hans-Dieter Bahr, all commented on this at length and with great perspicacity.

Secondly, the end of class identity went hand-in-hand with the formation of a consumer-citizen identity among those who benefited from these post-WWII changes most, that is to say, a large portion of the white population which also became the predominant suburban population, a suburban population which as of 2000 became an absolute majority of Americans.

02 September 2011

Demonize the banks

It has been my argument thus far that the illusion of continued global growth is primarily a product of the numerous speculative bubbles that were inflated as a result of the the main response to the crash of 2008, namely a massive injection of liquidity into the global economy. In the US and Europe this primarily took the form of no-strings bank bailouts. The US emerged from the bailouts seemingly unscathed economically (tho not politically) as the banks, having inflated new bubbles, were able to pay back the government; European countries like Iceland and Ireland, having shifted the crushing liabilities of the banks onto the much smaller base of their taxpayers, were economically devastated.

At the time there was an outburst of popular anger against the banks as the collapse of enormous real estate bubbles in the US, UK, Ireland, Spain, and elsewhere crushed millions of lenders while the bankers who had profited so ostentatiously by inflating the bubble were rescued without consequences. Some attempts were made to organize this discontent, one of which I was involved with, but these were notable principally for their failure to galvanize discontent. If any further evidence were needed, this showed conclusively that existing techniques of mobilizing a progressive constituency are hopelessly out of step with the times (discussion here and here).