Author Archives: skepoet2
I will be taking some time off of blogging here to focus on a poetry manuscript, and my other publishing projects. There are two other regular bloggers here and I will be back once my manuscript is finished. If it is irregular for a while, I apologize but we have not exactly been regular anyway.
“Gli uomini prima sentono il necessario; dipoi badano all’utile; appresso avvertiscono il comodo; più innanzi si dilettano nel piacere; quindi si dissolvono nel lusso; e finalmente impazzano in istrapazzar di sostanze.” [Men first feel necessity, then look for utility, next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad and waste their substance.]
–Giambattista Vico, The New Science, bk. 1, paragraph 241
“I’m getting sick of the left. You win.” – Anonymous friend this afternoon
Today I was informed that some cadres from a little organization called the ISO decided to make fun of a mistake made on my blog: confusing Timothy Brennen with Robert Brenner. Mea culpa: I am a literary scholar so the crosswiring is par for the course. Now, of course, this Trotskyists who substitute a form of cultural capital in mockery for having a coherent and practicable politics have long since withered to irrelevance like a grape left to dry with a pick-axe in the head. Vico was right about barbarians of intellect, whose logic substitutes for anything practicable and properly political. What Nietzsche was on about more than Marx is the pettiness of this sort of politics: it is beneath even contempt for to mistake graduate school mockery for, well, something worth hating says more about you than them.
Now, what of the more amusing things about “currently existing socialist left” is the way it fights among the more silly or pathetic elements of itself. Often reducing analysis to pat categories which are both unfalsifiable as models and often self-canceling this categories are. Furthermore, they are essentially a spectacle: need to explain why the scholarship is stale, there still is no revolution, Trotsky still has his pickaxe in his head, Bordiga is just a fading memory among cultists and specialists like his 40-year-old spaghetti dinner? Well, we can mock and engage in call outs. It makes one feel like a celebrity amongst a tiny church around 150 people on facebook mostly from NYC.
It short all this facebook barbarism is a way not to engage, to abnegate responsibility, and to police movement whose recent failure can be summed up as rationalizations for failing to even engaged with a failed movement.
Bring on the facebook barbarians, they do not even know they are merely amusing themselves.
The Mandate of Heaven.
The question of the demand for an alteration of the world brings us back to Karl Marx’s often quoted statement from his “Theses on Feuerbach.” I would like to quote it exactly and read out loud: “philosophers have only differently interpreted the world, what it comes down to is that it be altered.” When this statement is cited and when it is looked at, it is overlooked that altering the world presupposes an alteration in the representation of the world. A representation of the world can only be altered by adequately interpreting the world.
That means: Marx’s demand for an “alteration” is founded upon on a very certain [or determinate] interpretation of the world, and because of this, this statement is shown to be without weight. It gives the impression that it speaks decisively against philosophy, though the second half of the statement presupposes, unspoken, a demand for philosophy. – Martin Heidegger On Marx
On may think this is a refutation of Marx, but I have never read Heidegger that way. His parsing is almost more “dialectical” itself than Marx’s original statement. Regardless, the strong sense of what Heidegger says here that without a necessary vision and understand of the processes of history, the demand to change the world falls into naught–for without a fix demand about what the world should be and without an understanding about what the world is, the changing of the world is not possible as one is just reacting to images and images of images.
In this Heidegger echoes his supposed arch-nemesis Adorno, whose distrust of calls for action for action sake actually led to supporting the very systems on is want to oppose. Think of the counter-culture? Was the that not a way to re-brand popular culture? Can this to be said to be a counter-tendency or a way to revitalize both the economic and political system the counter-culture opposed? Well, then again, look at Hot Topic’s existence for that. The fixed point this must be philosophical and historigraphical for those who want to draw lessons from history or create models on which to analysis the past. Heidegger acknowledged that the Marxist conception of history was probably the most advanced even though his actual politics led to almost diametrically oppose it. The reason was that Marxian analysis took teleological assumptions from idealist philosophy and tried to ground them in testable material.
This is not to say that history of “Marxism” is particularly strong on this point: a lot of the typologies produced under USSR and the CCP have been laughably bad to the point of being nearly secular dispensationalism. I have been having discussions with an internet friend on the theories of Jairus Banaji on the theories around modes of production as well as the “Political Marxist” historical work of Robert Brenner and Ellen Meiksins Wood. I have been torn between these two visions, although I think reading Mike McNair’s three part treatment of the subject of Banaji, has convinced me that fear of teleology on Banaji can be problematic. Still, it seems like all the vulgar Marxist talk of base-superstructure, ignores that “modes of production” are not discretely separated from the state or cultural structures.
For example, whether you accept Banaji’s thesis that capitalism developed off of the latent merchant trades of the Byzantine courts and the Catholic expansion or Wood’s thesis that capitalism emerged out of a culture the English kingship which never fit, exactly, the mode of feudalism that characterized the regions we now call Italy, France, and Germany, it is clear that relationships of power and ideas of politics and religion have material effects on “the modes of production” as they effect them. As McNair says, “The point I am making is that the ‘base’ is the total material division of labour in the society, not those forms which are immediately analogous to the capitalist ‘economy’.”
Furthermore, either Brenner or Wood’s theories or Banaji’s indicate that the “Asiatic despotism” of Marx was a “here be dragons” moment in which “modes of production” not understood in other cultures were not quite ignored. The development of the Qing does not fit feudal patterns nor is it explainable in the same way that one can see in the 18th century liberal revolutions. Even in Europe, explaining why Sicily maintained a feudal structure 200 years after the rest of Europe, even those under monarchies, had abandoned this particular social relationship. The “modes of production” and the periodization of the relationships within the larger abstracts that we use to describe economies are vital, but they are also vital to be subtle and nuanced enough not to collapse real difference in economic and social functioning.
In recent trends in ultra-left, communization has gone on to use theories of real subsumption to periodize capitalism and discuss why various attempts at both revolution and reform have seemingly failed, or, at least, not worked out as planned. I think these discussions of historigraphy are vital if anything of that kind is attempted. There are too many questions and distinctions not understood: what is the exact distinction between skilled and gang slavery, how did this effect early modern chattel slavery: what are the implications for robotization? What forms of political arrangements led to the feudal collapse? What are the roles of merchant and guilds in capitalist organization? Is late antiquity almost arriving at a kind of proto-capitalism that collapses from the inability to move away from a slave economy and by terrible currency manipulation, or is this a moment of more primitive relationships? Does Calvinism change the culture of work enough to effect capitalist development, or is it unrelated? These things would matter for dealing with theories of real subsumption as the kind discussed in Endnotes and Theorie Communiste, It seems vital to any real attempt to periodize capitalism to understand its early emergence, and the fact we can’t decide whether it is unique to England and then spreads or it was already developing in Byzantine empire? Why did it not develop in Sung dynasty where the material wealth was probably there? Is China’s mode a new form of capitalism or a development that is clearly in line with prior theories of state capitalism? Our models must be able to explain this if one is act. To change the world, one should be damn sure one understands it. If these questions cannot be answered within a model, to the dustbin of history with these theories of history.
The mandate of heaven.
I was watching a talk linked at the North Star, Socialism at the Ballot Box, which I viewed as the rejection of my tenure as an editor there. There is a lot to talk about and some of it deeply personal, but I felt like I had egg on my face as to what is going to be done in left-publications that regard themselves as pre-political. It is definitely the case that I feel more than a little betrayed that my critiques of leftwing myopia weren’t really listened to. I, however, did leave as editor and that of my own doing. When you work for a left-wing zine, you see yourself growing on in numbers of views from several hundreds to a few thousand a day, the rush can make you forget you that libertarian websites in the US have triple the traffic and right-wing sites in Europe often have double. All of which are dwarfed by center liberal and conservative policy magazines.
Which is to say something else, the global context for placing very small scale city electoral wins is misleading. It’s parataxic, it sees small victories as signs that most of the rest of “the working class” is actually on the same page with some like Sawat. The elections of Europe indicate this… in past decade and a half, Europe has swung slightly left only after the first round of Bush wars and then those parliaments were crushed in non-confidence as soon as the crisis hit. Europe, in fiscal policy terms, is actually to the right of the US right now. The assumption that these riots reflect a pure popular will, or that this will have lasting effects on the political system without further collapse seems to be tenuous. Between that one end, and infinite splitting and character assassinations on the other: one realizes that diversity is not going to be really possible in the left. We who build on system critique cannot stand with those who don’t, and are constantly confused those who do end up just doing the same electoral stuff that has been done for a century with diminishing returns.
So What’s Left?
It seems foolish to build politics on sour grapes, so giving up on the idea of “the left” as a means to bring about things seems to be the logical result. Furthermore, the harder question which everyone from Thomas Frank to Left Communists at Endnotes have tried to ask, why has this happened in the first place? Thinking that you can have revolution through-dog-catcher election like one sees in Jacobin, In These Times, etc., leaves one with an inflated sense of success and basically ignores the question of historical limitations. Even the election of socialist Presidents in Europe have rarely changed the game on the table. On can look at the history of France. In the end, we split or become cynical. The history doesn’t repeat, but that rhyming is a bit too dead on.
Let me be clear, while I am bothered by a narrativizing trend, in no way I am implying that one can have a non-narrative or non-theoretical understanding of empirical fact. Even the selection of what counts as a fact and the typologies around that. This is a tautological and fundamentally about definitions. My issue is simpler than that and yet harder to articulate clearly, one has a set of typologies that lock out any possible outside data, paradigms and models cannot change and cannot come anything closer to useful or true. We cannot ignore that all knowledge is situated in a theory, even if it is just some implicit theory of mind.
This is the tricky thing about language though and about metaphors in our models. I may imply some kind of naive realism about facts because I am pushing my language to try to talk to a general audience about two fundamentally separate but related issues: one) the way psychological heuristics can be used to disengage and disarm any criticism and two) when a paradigm, historical methodology, teleological stance, or something goes wrong and can no longer adapt to new facts. To use a metaphor, when this happens, ideas become brittle and break. In politics, this is PARTICULARLY common, and especially when politics stand in for moral positions they way one used to treat religion as being.
Let’s look at this in other places, however, as politics isn’t the only limit. I was reading an excellent post at edge,
But the rhetoric of science doesn’t just risk the descent into scientism. It also gives science sole credit for something that it doesn’t deserve: an attention to the construction and operation of things. Most of the “science of X” books look at the material form of their subject, be it neurochemical, computational, or economic. But the practice of attending to the material realities of a subject has no necessary relationship to science at all. Literary scholars study the history of the book, including its material evolution from clay tablet to papyrus to codex. Artists rely on a deep understanding of the physical mediums of pigment, marble, or optics when they fashion creations. Chefs require a sophisticated grasp of the chemistry and biology of food in order to thrive in their craft. To think that science has a special relationship to observations about the material world isn’t just wrong, it’s insulting.
Beyond encouraging people to see science as the only direction for human knowledge and absconding with the subject of materiality, the rhetoric of science also does a disservice to science itself. It makes science look simple, easy, and fun, when science is mostly complex, difficult, and monotonous.
A case in point: the popular Facebook page “I f*cking love science” posts quick-take variations on the “science of x” theme, mostly images and short descriptions of unfamiliar creatures like the pink fairy armadillo, or illustrated birthday wishes to famous scientists like Stephen Hawking. But as the science fiction writer John Skylar rightly insisted in a fiery takedown of the practice last year, most people don’t f*cking love science, they f*cking love photography—pretty images of fairy armadillos and renowned physicists. The pleasure derived from these pictures obviates the public’s need to understand how science actually gets done—slowly and methodically, with little acknowledgement and modest pay in unseen laboratories and research facilities.
The rhetoric of science has consequences. Things that have no particular relation to scientific practice must increasingly frame their work in scientific terms to earn any attention or support. The sociology of Internet use suddenly transformed into “web science.” Long accepted practices of statistical analysis have become “data science.” Thanks to shifting educational and research funding priorities, anything that can’t claim that it is a member of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field will be left out in the cold. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of science offers the most tactical response to such new challenges. Unless humanists reframe their work as “literary science,” they risk getting marginalized, defunded and forgotten.
Hence all the “scientific skeptics” I met with undergraduate degrees in the humanities. I used to think it was rare, but when I was involved in that I noticed it was actually quite common because people who work deeply in scientific thought realize how precarious some of these ideas are, and ones who are particularly reflective realize that rhetoric matters. That is not just because it convinces the public to fund science. Rhetoric matters because it has subtle effects on our typologies and methods. It banks on things we see and don’t see, and like the vulgar Marxists I was talking about earlier, often this enthusiasm for “science” is dangerous to any idea of science itself–it romanticizes it while also emptying out the relationship to other areas of life. It may damage the funding in the humanities but even STEM itself won’t always be safe. In fact, ask the B.S. in Biology how much work they have in their field.
When you no longer can adjudicate and adjust to changing inputs and the world around you, the metaphors that color your dealing blind you to facts that would, when your model is adjusted, make your theory stronger–in the sense of more useful. When that cannot happen, things fall apart.
That is what is wrong with the narrative cop-out: it is not we should become naive realists about facts and values. To imagine that we don’t have an ideology. We are always situated: the bigger problem is can our worldviews adapt to our historical and physical circumstances, can they process information, and can they help us bring about what we really want. If a worldview can’t deliver on its end, what do you think it will deliver you personally?
(Dis)Loyal is looking for a more bloggers who work with historical or political concerns with an eye turns history and theological developments. We are interested in the history of ideas, and their effects on the present. We are do see ourselves as a right or left project explicitly, and have a tendency to be skeptical of liberalism as it currently exists. While we assume a secular audience in that we do not presume shared values or faith-positions, and most of us in the past have come out of a Marxist view of history, we are welcome to other serious considered views and backgrounds. We are aiming to diversify our views and analysis.
If you are interested e-mail skepoet at dionysuseats at gmail dot com.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” ― Joan Didion, The White Album
Many of you know that I do not take most those who think of themselves as “the left” all that seriously seriously, although I have tried in all sincerity… twice for several years in in the last two decades I have tried: once beginning with the Battle for the Seattle and the cycle of depoliticization that followed, and once that started about seven months before Occupy. This blog began as me writing about questionable liberal and conservative-minded political trends in education and stoicism, but in 2010, after two years of reflection, I got back involved with “the left.” I will spare you the details, they have been recounted before. In the last year, I have made several posts distancing myself from various trends in left-wing thought: “political” Marxist sectlects (not to be confused with the school of political Marxist historical analysis around Timothy Brennan, which I still value), left liberalism and Neo-Keynesianism, overly confident Marxist teleology, the call-out culture around “the left,” the use and mis-use of the idea of privilege and searching it out in cultural artifacts as a meaningful tactic, etc.
With the noted exception of a few Left Communists and Marxist-Humanists, I have interacted with, the theoretical and analytical work of most the leftists I have worked have been bogged down in typologies and asserting ideological readings which cannot be disproved. Narrative-mongering and resorting to typologies from Lacan and Freud, or worse by some doctrinaire party communist in the 1960s, have by and large been used as a way to avoid doing material analysis. For example, in response to my question on “What happened to the all the leftists in the 1970s?,” I got several answers. None of which from people old enough to remember the 1970s activists and none of which incorporating any data or trying to find the specific members of cadres. I got narratives which explained things from a particular ideological point of view: labor aristocracy, latent racialism, the siren call of activist Democratic work, Reagan’s renewal, etc. No narrative accounting, few anecdotes, no statistics, no follow-up on cadres: even lamest businesses tend to do exit interviews, but not the left.
Why? I have no idea and would be committing a similar “sin” against the left to psychological explain away this tendency, or to super-impose an ideological reading without trying to do the fieldwork first. I know several ex-leftists: some became religious, some began libertarians, many just walked away. This is only two years after Occupy. The thing I have noticed by the way “the left” typologizes is that it has pat labels to seemingly avoid engagement: opportunism, determinism, ultra-leftism, vanguardism, trade-union consciousness, brocialism, etc. These labels shut down discussion and end the debate, but also contradict each other in substance. While they made have been meaningful categorizations–and in some specific contextual cases might still be–by and large they function as derailment mechanism.
In my life, I have noticed that movements that are more serious do not this, and this at one time included by Marxism and anarchism. Libertarianism, as an American path, definitely has similar trends: it has a wonky side, which one can see in various guises, and a side that has categorical disclaimers which function to shut people up (that statists, collectivist, etc). The later is decadent to the theoretical apparatus. It is clear to leftists when they deal with internet libertarians that many of these terms serve to shut things down and stand-in for pat readings of the past, but many of these same leftists do not acknowledge the tendency in their own movements. It has been noticed that earlier Marxist texts, particularly those prior to the 1960s in the English and French speaking worlds, were much more concerned with facts and figures. Despite both the Hegelian methodology and the literary flourishes, Marx does deal with tons of hard economic data. When talking to a some Marxists on a skype call a few weeks ago, I was told that such concern, “was a weird Marxism because most people do not care about these things. We need the entire world to become Marxists.”
This may sound like a stereotype from a Joan Didion piece about the 1970s, but I assure you it was 2014 and with a math professor saying thing in all earnestness. It would be wrong to tar all Marxist thinking with such a brush–many economists and historians using Marx as a methodological starting point still do deep work on the questions around empirical facts. I suspect too many years of post-Marxism, and then return to Marx via Lacan, have given an academic vocabulary for non-engagement on one end, while years of denouncements and need categorical claims of activists have done the same on the other. When paired with a tendency to tell broad stories without looking at evidence beyond, at best, the textual or anecdotal, one has a confirmation bias heuristic on speed.
So these easy narratives, they stories we tell ourselves have to be based in the facts of the world around us and not typologies which inhabit us from dealing with facts and then honestly self-criticizing. In so much that individuals have heuristics that discredit before criticism, or even empirical facts or scientific ideas, are engaged with, any political vision they may believe in is not even a remote possibility. It remains an eschatology, and not a meaningful teleology. This is not to say that one should turn to postivism or that we exist without any commitments to principles or values which are beyond mere facts. The latter is particularly problematic. We need those kinds of commitments and stories to live. Questions of fact, however, must be answered at first. To avoid empirical questions is to reduce politics to idea-policing and role-playing, which the latter is far more fun than ideological righteousness for a cause one has no one of ever understanding, much less bringing into practice.
“The kids of today must defend themselves against the 70s/it is not reality, it is someone else´s sentimentality/it will not work for us.” – Eddie Veder
It is sad that I rarely ever see a discussion of “What actually happened to the radicals of the 1970s after Thatcher and Reagan?” Max Elbaum’s 2006 book Revolution in the Air is about the only book that goes into it from the Marxist perspective, although the books on what could be seen as the glorious (counter-)revolutions of 1979 do cover the ultimate lost of the era. What I hinted at earlier is the same generation of 1968/69 was leading us to Reagan has been under-explored in any serious manner–if the Joan Didion´s defection to Goldwater and then her counter-defection to the Democrats after Bush is indicative of the zeitgeist of boomers, we still have to account for what happened not only to the hippies, but the various Marxist and Marxist Leninist groups which emerged in the US.
Max Elbaum´s interview with MR is helpful is a bit too pat on its explanation of why the left seemed to dissolve, particularly the ML left until 2007-8. The Marxist left in the US during the late 60s and early 70s was easily 20 times the size it is even now after Occupy. Ironically, it was not a Marxist who put me onto Elbaum´s book, but a paleo-conservative who asked me a simple question. The paraphrase goes something like, “where did they all go in the states? It is not like Iran and the revolution that they just aided liquidated the communist, so tell me? What happened? Look at this book at Max Elbaum, it is a real narrative of decline.”
Today, the same friend sent me a message and a blog post from the American Conservative,
Militant black revolutionary groups like The Black Panthers may have been a source of hope to some, but it’s willfully ignorant to write longingly about the lost “strategy and tactics” of The Panthers and others. Remember those calls to kill white police officers and violence between rival revolutionary groups? Yeah, those were the good ole days.
Mann goes on to review Michael C. Dawson’s Blacks In and Out of the Left, which traces how the white left co-opted or suppressed Black revolutionary groups. This may be true, but I think it’s unfair to suggest that this was motivated by self-interest alone. Some on the left were genuinely concerned about the “tactics” of such movements and about the narrowness of their Marxist vision.
And what about that vision? Mann claims that the leftist concern regarding “unity” was a red herring. Revolutionary groups, if supported, could have created a far more unified and diverse and international leftist movement in the United States than we have now. All white male elites had to do was jettison their self-serving liberalism and sign on the Marxist line!
Now, I am not going to claim this is far because, while TAC is probably one of the few “conservative” publications worth reading that has any mainstream readership, it is still written from a particular point of view and is not interested in the same qusetion. The question is still interesting, let look at Mann´s article:
Given the creativity, tactical brilliance, broad appeal, courage, and moral vision of the thousands of independent black cultural, women’s, and social service collectives, how can we explain the decline of black-led radical organizations? Having participated in such organizations for almost five decades and studied the history of revolutionary movements my whole life, I see three major reasons.
First, we should not take for granted how difficult it is to build and sustain any revolutionary organization. Contradictions among members and constituent groups make voluntary unity difficult to maintain. The larger an organization is, the greater the diversity in race, class, sexual orientation, and personality and the more internal contradictions.
Second, since the 1960s, the U.S. government has increasingly refused to concede even the smallest demands of working people and the poor. Social welfare programs are being shut down, unions are being broken, and civil rights, voting rights, and labor laws are being reversed. While in theory this can also generate a revolutionary response, and sometimes does, it can also discourage people as they begin to see revolution as a lost cause.
Third—and, in my view, the primary reason for the decline—is the brutal suppression of social movements by the state. The history is unequivocal: it is when black people garner mass support within their own communities and achieve a high level of unity with revolutionaries of all races that the heavy hammer of the white power structure comes down the hardest. Marcus Garvey, the brilliant leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, was convicted in 1925 on a spurious charge of federal mail fraud, spent two years in prison, was deported to Jamaica, and was never able to rebuild his organization from exile. Claudia Jones, a great feminist and internationalist leader in the U.S. Communist Party during the 1930s, was deported to England where she played a major role in black politics but died in poverty. Paul Robeson said that black people would not fight in a war against the Soviet Union; as a result he was under constant police surveillance, denied his passport and therefore his livelihood as a globally renowned singer, and driven to a nervous breakdown from which he never recovered. W.E.B. DuBois was also denied his passport and prosecuted as “an unregistered agent of a foreign power.” He eventually left the United States to live and die in Ghana. Martin Luther King, Jr. was under constant police wiretapping; J. Edgar Hoover’s explicit plan was to drive him, as well, to a nervous breakdown. These prominent leaders were among thousands of dedicated freedom fighters who were beaten, tortured, and imprisoned.
How brutal was the suppression of the movement? It is hard to say since all states use passports and enemy agent tactics to maintain power, including liberal and leftist ones. Still, it seems very clear that suppression movement was real, extra-legal, and beyond standard US jurisprudence. But it idiotic to NOT expect the state to do that? The Tzarist state did much worse against the Bolsheviks for example. The general monopoly on power and violence is part of the very definition of the nation state, and exceptions to that are definitely part of the function state power. It would be naive in the extreme to blame the state for the death of a moment which should have been aware that the state was enemy number 1. That was, at minimum, the case in period of Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton.
The murder of Newton is particularly vivid, but most of the female leadership of the Panthers is still with us: where they somehow not as dangerous? I heard Greg Proops´s make a joke that, “all the Panther men ended up dead or in prison, and all the Panther women ended up professors.” Proops´s was making a point about the intelligence of women but did go into the whole detail. It is true that even conservatives at TAC actually seem to admired how much the Panthers build infrastructure for their communities on their own, but few talk about how Newton was betrayed by informants who had criminal records and where those easily exploited and targeted by the police. That is no excuse for the police murder of Newton, and to be certain it was a murder, but again for revolutionary groups this seems particularly problematic.
In this way, this analysis of the state seems to want to have the cake and eat it too: the revolution without causalities in creation. Such liberal naivete is deadly to all sides involved, most particularly the revolutionaries. Still, I have a hard time believing that serious revolutionaries could bend so quick if they actually were serious. In this I am not talking the Panther´s leadership, who did put their action where their mouth was in setting up counter-institutions and other means of para-state social welfare that one generally sees in religious groups and political parties (think Hamas or the revolutionary guard of Iran). I am talking about the people around such groups.
If the milieu was ever disciplined, why was the violence that it should have expected so shocking to it? Since, particularly among white activists, there were no such pogroms and imprisonment and harassed did not even reach 1950s levels, why was the die-off so quick and seeming so permanent.
If the “Marxian” left were more serious about its talk of revolution, it would seem to me like it would vitally want to answer these questions without cliche and with real numbers and statistics. Few groups seem to have done this as both 1979 and 1989 have made funding from foreign powers for such research pretty much nil.
Furthermore, this brings me to Mann´s first paragraph:
Since the March on Washington fifty years ago, the condition of black people has deteriorated; today they are subject to injustices ranging from mass unemployment to mass incarceration. Yet gone is the rhetoric of militant hope, black liberation, and economic equality generated by the Third World revolutions five decades ago. It is difficult even to draw on the lessons and legacies of these revolutions, for the state suppression of radical organizations in the 1960s has extended into the suppression of their history. As Mumia Abu Jamal explained, young black people are suffering from “menticide,” deprived of their tradition, its strategy and tactics, and the hope it provides.
The hope still exists. While there has been real rumbling lately outside of the black agenda report, about if Obama was good for America. A Real Clear Politics article from August 2013 is clear on this:
Buried in a New York Times story about the economy was this arresting statistic: Median family income for black Americans has declined a whopping 10.9 percent during the Obama administration. It has declined for other groups as well — 3.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 4.5 percent for Hispanics – but the figure for blacks is huge. This decline does not include losses suffered during the financial crisis and the recession that followed, but it instead measures declines since June 2009, when the recession officially ended.
That’s not the only bad news for African-Americans. The poverty rate for blacks is now 25.8 percent. The black labor force participation rate, which rose throughout the 1980s and 1990s, has declined for the past decade and quite sharply under Obama to 61.4 percent. The black unemployment rate, according to Pew Research, stands at 13.4 percent. Among black, male, high school dropouts, PBS’ Paul Salmon reports, the unemployment rate is a staggering 95 percent.
There could be no possible reason for such a disconnect from reality than the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House. We wrote extensively about the phenomena in Black Agenda Report, beginning with an article titled “Living a Black Fantasy: The Obama Delirium Effect,” in which we concluded that “ObamaL’aid is a mind altering substance, a hallucinogen…that makes Black people see progress when they are actually facing disaster.”
Four years later, the Pew poll shows that a portion of Black folks have snapped out of the delirium, and now see the world, and their actual position in it, more clearly. But, many more have not yet faced the fact that Obama is a servant of Wall Street who offers Blacks nothing but his own physical presence in the White House.
Of course, within the 26 percent who still think that Blacks are in a better situation, are a few folks who really have made personal progress in the worst of times. The rest, however, are still trippin’.
Obama’s approval rating among Blacks dropped dramatically this year, too, from 93 percent in April, to 88 percent in June, down to 78 percent in July – no doubt heavily influenced by the unfolding Trayvon Martin saga. The general trend should be slowly downward, punctuated by events, for the next three and a half years – as people are forced to confront the facts of the disaster that has befallen Black America. But some Black folks will never kick the ObamaL’aid, until the inevitable forced withdrawal. And then begins the Great Hangover – a mass Black psychological downer that will be as intense as the delirious highs of 2008 and 2009.
So hope springs eternal, just not militant hope one supposes. Will we be asking where the liberals have gone in 20 years? Will we be asking about Occupy? And by that time will someone know what happened to all those 1970s radicals: how many of them voted for Reagan? How many didn’t vote at all? They had to go somewhere. They were not all Huey P. Newton, or even Huey P. Long .
Das Bedenklichste in unserer bedenklichen Zeit ist, dass wir noch nicht denken. – Heidegger
A few observations really just applies to Marxists and ex-Marxists who follow this trends in liberal and left “criticism”, but I have noticed that Salon and Slate are increasingly running modified Jacobin articles. Which indicates two things: the liberal technocrats (Slate), the left liberal activist press (the sad remnant of Salon) are turning to an ever more mainstreamed semi-Marxism. This indicates that in the US both ends are actually running on low-steam in terms of a way to understand the current situation. Why is this an indication of failure rather than success? While the young have more sympathetic pew polls towards the word socialism, the actual implications of it are beyond most of what one sees in the pages of Jacobin and are actively feared by people in the sphere of influence around Slate, but they realize that the Bloomberg-loving technocratic liberals are running out of Cass Sunstein-esque ideas.
I predict that indicates of electoral bad news for the liberal press, despite Democratic gloating that the demographic shift will always favor them because the GOP´s role as the party of aging white dudes. Despite this and the unpopularity of the GOP, there seems to be little leadership or new thought emerging within the liberal base itself. The fact that Occupy began under a Democratic president who have overseen both the expansion of executive power and an inability to do much with the economic structure either. Still one is noticing less and less Keynes and more weak-tea Marx class analysis.
If you want an example of what I am talking about, you can look at Miya Tokumitsu´s article modified from an article in Jacobin and published on Slate. The thesis is that the “Do What you Love, Love what you do” is simple: “Elites embrace the ´do what you love´ mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers. Now this is undoubtedly bad advice, such bad advice that in Hamlet, Shakespeare has Polonius spoke the Elizabethan version of this deepity to the Hamlet as a sign of Polonius´s vapidity. (Ironically, being quoted as advice in High School commence speeches and politicians who do not have an eye for subtle satire). Tokumitsu, however, does not say within the realm of bad advice:
there’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.
Ignoring the hyperbole (and thus lessening of importance of) the rhetoric around “dehumanization,” which should be spared for more meaningful symbolic violence than DWYL, the discussion of the value of work is interesting. DWYL is linked by Tokumitsu to the spreading of internships, low and unpaid, and to the increasingly poor treatment of Universities. This, frankly, has some legitimate points but as “analysis” it has some real problems that will illustrate by larger point here. It seems to me that if DWYL is a product of the fact that celebrities cannot be honest and liked when they give advice, and that the conditions of the old OECD economies workforce are declining for variety of reasons. In short, the focus on ideology and not the conditions producing the ideology have the cause and effect almost exactly backwards: these platitudes are a function of people’s relationship to work at various levels, NOT the cause of that relationship. The implication of an unconscious neo-liberal devaluation is a straight form of idealism in this front. Which is why it seems to me that this analysis, a miasma of liberal focus on ideas and Marxist focus on class would be appealing to both post-Occupy Marxists and Obama-admin unpopular technocratic liberals but is actually a sign of bad news for both.
But there are a few good ideas in this, such as
“There are many factors that keep Ph.D.s providing such high-skilled labor for such low wages, including path dependency and the sunk costs of earning a Ph.D., but one of the strongest is how pervasively the DWYL doctrine is embedded in academia. Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.”
The romanticism about education and “what it is for” has always bothered me. Education is not for work, true since the University structure predates the expansion of the University as a work treating mechanism. The problem is that the modern University does not exist without the expansion of University for job training, without a church to support it, the University is a very expensive training mechanism. To go deeper, one can look at Louis Menand´s analysis of how the modern University got funded and expanded in the first place (you can read another Slate article actually on Menand´s thesis), the funding of University in America was a direct subsidy by the government in the cold war, which did two things, making the university larger through an “artificial” injection of money but remaining its pre-modern structure in form, but then also professionalizing the Professoriate that made it accountable to structures beyond itself. It is an ironic unintended outcome of tenure reform: paired that with the expansive administration needed to handle this. At the same time, more students having degrees meant more students needing them for jobs that did not require them prior. As the cold war money dried up and military increasingly looked to private contractors for its research (as well as less interest in the US for research in fundamentals), the need to make this cheaper occurred and thus the expansion of adjuncts and research graduates. Ironically, the research graduates are paying for their education by eliminating a role for pure teaching professors and thus their education hurts their employment outcome. The DWYL as a means of getting people to do “rewarding work” without getting rewarded is an a symptom of that fact, not the cause. The fact that 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors has to do that structure of universities and the life-styles they are set to inquire are not subject to diminishing input costs like technological innovations, and other attempts to fix that such as the adoption of MOOCs don´t seem to have efficacy even from a technocratic capitalist point of view. (Forbes does go into what MOOCs are actually good for, which is basically cheapening vocational and professional continuing education, but not as a replace for Unis). When you combine Menand´s thesis with David Blacker´s work on “the falling rate of education,” which asserts that technocratization and increased “efficiency” has led government policy makers and the corporations whose taxes fund turning to an eliminatist mode, thus the system failure of a pre-modern institution like the University, while not entirely inevitable, is nearly so.
Tokumitsu also asserts DWYL is at root of a lot of intern abuses:
It should be no surprise that unpaid interns abound in fields that are highly socially desirable, including fashion, media, and the arts. These industries have long been accustomed to masses of employees willing to work for social currency instead of actual wages, all in the name of love. Excluded from these opportunities, of course, is the overwhelming majority of the population: those who need to work for wages. This exclusion not only calcifies economic and professional immobility, but it also insulates these industries from the full diversity of voices society has to offer.
Now, this trend in publishing is directly tied to the rise of the internet. It is not just interns, but sites like HuffPo and Alternet which rely on volunteer work and reprinting, not even intern-work. Beyond this, liberal media outlets, like Slate, are actually prime offenders in this regard. Vice has outed this in liberal and let publications like Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, Slate, Salon, etc. While more leftist publications, including one I used to edit for, like The North Star, Znet, Counterpunch, etc work on passion and volunteer labor. It is not that when I worked at the North Star do not want to pay the writers–the editors were volunteers too–but with no funding outside of individual donations, there was no fair and consistent way to do so. It is important to note that academic journals have generally worked on this model because of publication market for that is too tiny and profits can only be maintained by institutional fees. This has led the great academic paywall, but nevertheless, this is how capitalism works.
The idea that this is mostly about attitudes and ideologies, at least superficial ones like “DWYL,” completely misses the point. This is beyond other critiques like the fact the polemic is set-up as a simple binary, that there are workerist and post-work assumptions at conflict within the rhetoric Jacobin uses in general (workerist in that workers are to be valued somehow has having unique humanity, and post-work as work is seen as inherently alienating. The later one may agree with actually, but then again aristocratic types have agreed with Marxists on that one point since nearly forever).
The larger point is this mirrors both the 1970s in the USA, and the 1970s and 1990s in Europe. If history rhymes, the GOP may be fading, but some new forms of thinking will probably emerge in direct response to the twin problems of Obama and Occupy seeming still-birth. Also the decadence in the GOP and the Tea Party is unlikely to last forever… if Americans remembered there history a much longer period of conservative exile actually led to electoral victories after years and years of political stagnation and stagflation. The fact that such analysis is passing itself off as both Marxist and liberal indicates to this writer that we should have a bit of fatalism on the success of all this left-wing/liberal flirting. It has been a sign of soft political collapse several times before in the last 120 years more than a sign of the success of ideas. Indeed, one cannot be an even a soft economic determinist and rest so much on the cliches of Steve Jobs.
In Charley Earp´s Killing the Capitalist God: Gospel Communism and the Death of God, there is a lot to parse. The idea that a new conception of God represents a mode of capitalism seems to confuse modern Protestant pietism with an “capitalist God” seems to be a rebranding of liberal Protestant conception. We, however, should probably not jump to that point without first looking at some of Charley´s assertions:
It has long seemed quite strange to me that so many atheists find Nietzsche’s assertion of the death of God attractive. God doesn’t exist at all for atheists, his “death” can only be at most the death of the theism of some part of humanity. Perhaps a historical point can be made about the passing of a specific era of religiosity in Europe at the time of Nietzsche.
This should be read closely:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
—Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Nietzsche is speaking in parable about value, but it is important to look at the even deeper context in Thus Sprach Zarathustra
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.
“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”
It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”
Charley does not go into this and what is the profounder point, instead he shifts to the a claim:
On the contrary, God (as theism) never died for a substantial portion of modern society. God was redesigned, certainly, by the course of Western history. God today has become the ultimate capitalist, a Heavenly Boss who punishes the lazy and hedonists with poverty and war. Working-class Christians in the US have been lavishly courted by the ruling class into a New Religious Right with showers of campaign donations promising to end the sinfulness of society by reactionary economic discipline.
Whether or not this is true for “modern society” in its religious justifications or theological self-conceptions is hard to know, the subjective nature of Protestant Pietism in US culture and the post-Christianity of most of Europe makes this much more obscured, but it is important to remind the Madman approached the crowd in the market and the crowd does not recognize what it has done. Nietzsche´s parable makes a point: the overarching system of value that dominated culture has been replaced by a specter of market value which does not even realize what it has killed and continues in obliviousness to the profundity of the shift in values.
It can only be for those who profess belief that no longer live by for whom God is dead. This, however, is not just atheism. However, the secular humanist who does not deal or address the cultural origins of his or her values in a Christian development ( as opposed to a Confucian or post-Islamic one) is in the same shape as the pietist Christian who does not recognize that the practice of his or her life is outside of the Christian traditions that developed prior to such a point as to render God looking like themselves more than the other way around still would haul around such a divine corpus.
For those who never had such a value system, what is dead can never die. Nietzsche would go onto to say at this point one could create a new values system, but only if one is aware that situation in both a material and ideological sense. Political economy of Jesus–in so much that it ever existed–is not our political economy, nor can it be. Something recognized partly in the apocalyptic view of the Christian tradition: giving to the poor was because there was no need for the law to continue when the world was ending.
The turn to make Jesus like a modern socialist is just another re-branding. Looking at Rosa Luxemburg’s assertion that:
In conformity with the material position of the men belonging to this [Roman proletarian] class, the first Christians put forward the demand for property in common – communism. What could be more natural? The people lacked means of subsistence and were dying of poverty. A religion which defended the people demanded that the rich should share with the poor the riches which ought to belong to all and not to a handful of privileged people; a religion which preached the equality of all men would have great success.
The see the Christians as a proletarian class or for common property is one that we find little evidence for. Monastic Christianity seems to be a third century development and the demand upon the apostles seems to have been not common property, but the abandonment of property all together. The spread of Christianity en masse is more clearly tied to the first Nicene council and perhaps the Christian persecution in an Empire whose third century almost destroyed it. (It is important to remember that Judaism in an now nonexistent evangelical form was popular and spreading in Rome prior to Bar Kochba rebellion and that Christianity, whose sayings seem a syntheses of Cynicism and Hillel could have easily been seen to slowly spread in that context with the persecutions as, perhaps an ironically, an advertisement for the religion´s existence). Whether Luxemburg reading is due to a lack of actual historical context or motivated reading is impossible to say, but we do know better now.
In this I find Charley´s last point to be easily used or read as cynical:
There is no hope of ever overthrowing capitalism in the US unless we kill the Capitalist God who reigns in American Christianity. We can only kill that satanic inversion of the Father of Jesus if the Christians do that from their own convictions. I am proposing a mutual collaboration between the brilliant atheists in the socialist movement with the disheartened Christians who are daily coming to question the heresy of the Christian Right. We need each other.
In such decontextualized readings of Christianity that do not accept the limitations of the various Christian traditions, we have only the vapors and folklore of Christianity draped crudely over the ethics that were birthed from Christian Humanist thinking but does remain in context that one could adjudicate what is or is not heresy. Both post-Christian readings could be equally valid in absent of the original culture, but then Nietzsche´s question looms: If one accepts this plasticity, why not create something entirely new?
As for my opinion of what one could do with such a Christianity, I feel similarly to how I feel about its popular opposite in feel good pietism of Rick Warren or Joel Olsteen. A Christian tradition so hollowed out will just reflect the popular opinions in the culture, which admittedly have some Christian origins but are manifestly different from the original tradition, like a kidney and heart removed from a body. Materially, they are unlikely to be put back in the original body since it is now “dead” from the original, and to be transplanted to a new body without suppressing the very immune system of that body, the foreign organs will likely be rejected if they are the organs of a parent. Heiddegger was insightful here when looking at attempts at Folklore to serve “revive the folk”,
‘This way of being embedded in a people, situated in a people, this original participation in the knowledge of a people, cannot be taught; at most it can be awakened from its slumber. One poor means of doing this is folklore. It is a peculiar mishmash of objects that have been often taken from the customs of a particular people. But it often investigates customs, mores, or magic which no longer have anything to do with a specific people in its historical Being. It investigates forces that are work everywhere among primitive and magical human beings. So folklore is not suited to ask about what specifically belongs to a people; often it even does the very opposite. This is why it is a misunderstanding and an error to believe that one can awaken the consciousness of of the Volk with the help of folklore. We must above all guard ourselves against being overly impressed by the world “folk.”‘