For those with an interest in big ideas, these trading cards from Theory.org should fire up your neurotransmitters.
Between 2000-2001, a set of twelve trading cards was released monthly via David Gauntlett’s website Theory.org. This original set of cards featured theorists (and their concepts) from the world of social and cultural theory, gender and identity, and media studies. The first out of the pack was British social theorist Anthony Giddens who devised the theory of structuration and wrote the book on The Third Way. This was followed by theorist Judith Butler whose book Gender Trouble argued that “biological” sexes were just as much as a social construct as gender. Then came the great controversial French thinker Michel Foucault with his ideas about sexuality, gender and power structures. The deck included some interesting choices like artists Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George and concepts like Postmodernity and Psychoanalysis.
This official set of twelve trading cards was thought by some to lack a few key players and its release inspired various academics, students and alike to produce their own cards. These additions included Karl Marx, Carl Jung, Simone de Beauvoir, Edward Said, Germaine Greer, Walter Benjamin and Marcel Duchamp.
Described as “Creative knowledge you can put your pocket™” these cards can be used to play a game of trumps—in which players can match strengths, weaknesses and special skills. For example, Foucault’s special skill of happily rejecting old models and creating new ones, might not quite beat Duchamp’s ability to confuse the hell out of everyone.
The full set is below—but if you want to own a set of these super brainy trading cards (and who wouldn’t?) then deal yourself in by clicking here.
As a socialist with a somewhat inconsistent commitment to Marxist orthodoxy, I’m often asked to what degree I will defend old Karl, and there’s no easy answer. For example, I’m sympathetic to central planning, though I have my doubts for its real-world potential under our current technology. I wrestle with the labor theory of value, but also find myself unable to mount a suitable critique. But if you’re just asking if there’s anything about Marx I find completely indefensible, hey, I can assure you that his terrible schmaltzy love poetry keeps me safe from the sin of idolatry.
We are talking about some terrible, corny, super-earnest high school boy in love stuff here, and I’m not the only one that finds Marx’s deepest affections majorly cheesy. In Edmund Wilson’s landmark history of socialist thought To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History, he has this to say of Marx’s mooning romantic overtures to his future wife.
In the summer of Karl’s eighteenth year, when he was home on his vacation from college, Jenny von Westphalen promised to marry him. She was four years older than Karl and was considered one of the belles of Trier, was much courted by the sons of officials and landlords and army officers; but she waited for Karl seven years. She was intelligent, had character, talked well; had been trained by a remarkable father. Karl Marx had conceived for her a devotion which lasted through his whole life. He wrote her bad romantic poetry from college.
If that sounds a little blunt, it should be noted that Marx himself acknowledge that his love poetry was mawkish. Here are some of my favorite lowlights from one of his many volumes dedicated to Jenny—this one actually called, The Book of Love:
Jenny! Teasingly you may inquire
Why my songs “To Jenny” I address,
When for you alone my pulse beats higher,
When my songs for you alone despair,
When you only can their heart inspire,
When your name each syllable must confess,
When you lend each note melodiousness,
When no breath would stray from the Goddess?
’Tis because so sweet the dear name sounds,
And its cadence says so much to me,
And so full, so sonorous it resounds,
Like to vibrant Spirits in the distance,
Like the gold-stringed Cithern’s harmony,
Like some wondrous, magical existence.
See! I could a thousand volumes fill,
Writing only “Jenny” in each line,
Still they would a world of thought conceal,
Deed eternal and unchanging Will,
Verses sweet that yearning gently still,
All the glow and all the Aether’s shine,
Anguished sorrow’s pain and joy divine,
All of Life and Knowledge that is mine.
I can read it in the stars up younder,
From the Zephyr it comes back to me,
From the being of the wild waves’ thunder.
Truly, I would write it down as a refrain,
For the coming centuries to see—
Yeah, you’ll notice a lot of his works use her name. It’s a bit like going through a middle schoolers notebook and reading the same name over and over in swirly cursive with little hearts. This one actually has the exact same title.
Words—lies, hollow shadows, nothing more,
Crowding Life from all sides round!
In you, dead and tired, must I outpour
Spirits that in me abound?
Yet Earth’s envious Gods have scanned before
Human fire with gaze profound;
And forever must the Earthling poor
Mate his bosom’s glow with sound.
For, if passion leaped up, vibrant, bold,
In the Soul’s sweet radiance,
Daringly it would your worlds enfold,
Would dethrone you, would bring you down low,
Would outsoar the Zephyr-dance.
Ripe a world above you then would grow.
Translation: Girl, I am so into you.
LOVE IS JENNY, JENNY IS LOVE’S NAME. MY WORLD
Worlds my longing cannot ever still,
Nor yet Gods with magic blest;
Higher than them all is my own Will,
Stormily wakeful in my breast.
Drank I all the stars’ bright radiance,
All the light by suns o’erspilled,
Still my pains would want for recompense,
And my dreams be unfulfilled.
Hence! To endless battle, to the striving
Like a Talisman out there,
Demon-wise into the far mists driving
Towards a goal I cannot near.
But it’s only ruins and dead stones
That encompass all my yearning,
Where in shimmering Heavenly radiance
All my hopes flow, ever-burning.
Okay, I’m gonna stop short on that one because it goes on for about 1000 more lines and every single one of them sounds exactly like all the others. It’s like, dude, we fucking get it.
So if you’re single and living in dread of having no sweetie for Valentine’s Day, just remember—love makes syrup of even the greatest minds.
Dialectical materialism as explained by 8-bit philosophy, a kind of “Super Marxio” or “Marxism for Dummies” for the digital generation. Why bother with boring old Das Kapital when you can bluff your way through the exam with this four-minute video?
More low resolution gems of useful information on Plato, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Zeno, Descartes and Kierkegaard can be found here, or better still, read the books.
If you’ve been (wisely) keeping yourself away from the greater mainstream media miasma, you may not have heard about the book that’s been causing “conservatives” and Libertarians to foam at the mouth and in general go pretty fuckin’ apeshit. French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a match to dry drought-brush causing a veritable meme-fire, chasing out rats and other rodents from their hiding places.
It’s been fun to watch their worldview get annihilated by facts. Numbers don’t lie—but politicians do. The likes of Rep. Paul Ryan have no cover anymore. They’re holding their shticks, so to speak.
Piketty’s story makes effective use of graphs, data and highly quantitative analysis, with his conclusion being about as blunt and straightforward as a two-by-four to the back of Rush Limbaugh’s giant butter-sculpture of a head. To put it succinctly, Piketty has proven what we probably already knew: Economic growth, in developed countries like the US, has become increasingly “owned” and funneled into the gaping maws of the 1%, and is largely fueled by increasing levels of debt for all the rest of us. In other words, for the last couple of decades we’ve moved into a sort of flesh-eating bacteria version of economics that isn’t floating anyone’s boats except for a tiny minority, who are using their economic power—their capital—to grab all the benefits of growth for themselves.
But this isn’t too surprising and it’s not really what has both left and right flipping out about. The REALLY BIG STORY is about inherited wealth. In other words, that 1% we keep talking about aren’t the God-annointed uber-successful genius entrepreneurs that the Fox News types always claim they are. They aren’t the hallowed Atlas shrugging “job creators,” either. Nope: That 1% consists overwhelmingly of people who inherited their wealth, and are now using that vast amount of capital to grab any additional growth for themselves, locking out the “little guy” out in the process.
Great system we’ve got here: One baby is born with barely a pot to piss in, but another one—well 1% of babies at least—hits the fucking jackpot through an accident of birth. The other 99% are on their own!
Since the Reagan era relaxed financial and banking laws have made it ever and ever easier for enormous globs of capital to attract even more enormous globs of capital—often without doing any real “work” or creating much of anything save for more money, while smaller players got knocked out, sent to work at Walmart or some non-unionized service industry where they will never be able to accumulate enough capital themselves to ever start their own business again. With a de-capitalized and unempowered middle class, there’s not a lot of real growth around so the uber-wealthy have worked very hard to “own” what little growth there is out still out there to siphon off, stripmining the rest of the economy for whatever else they can using a mindboggling array of debt instruments: Leveraged buyouts and private equity along with consumer credit cards, mortgages, student loans, CDOs, CMOs and all sorts of other debt that funnels even more capital to the 1% without creating any real growth. They’re using your credit card debt, your mortgage and your student loans to make you work for their enrichment.
The middle class are the job creators and they are rapidly going off line for lack of access to capital. Their would be customers are broke, too. Nobody wins except for you-know-who!
This is why the Tea party has been programmed to despise the Fed’s quantitative easing program: The 1% that is largely an inheritor class don’t really care about real economic growth all that much. In fact, they don’t like it at all: Growth often comes with inflation, which for an increasingly wealthy middle class isn’t a problem as long as wealth is increasing more quickly than prices. (In fact, most economists believe that some inflation is probably necessary in order to achieve optimal growth.) But if you are a Romney or Koch or Walton who inherited a giant ball of capital, you certainly don’t want to see any inflation because that reduces your standing. I mean, it’s not like trust fund kids create REAL jobs, is it? Any of those shitty minimum wage jobs that “capitalists” crow so proudly of having created probably came about because they eliminated many more higher-paying jobs, by using their vast (and otherwise useless, ‘cause they CAN’T spend it all) capital to buy politicians and twiddle the laws in their favor.
Anyway, this grabbing of the growth by the inheritor class manifests itself in all sorts of heinous abuses of the political and economic system, but one obvious way that pops into my mind is in the real estate market. In major markets like New York and London, rents and housing costs have skyrocketed, completely out of proportion to average wages. And why? Because the uber-wealthy have so much extra cash that they dump it into real estate that neither they nor anybody else uses. Indeed, fancy neighborhoods in London like Mayfair are becoming veritable ghost towns, filled with empty houses and apartments (unless the squatters, God bless ‘em, get in there!). I remember looking at an apartment on Prince Albert Road and the doorman complained that the entire building was usually empty. But the point is that all that useless money is in effect getting speculatively dumped into real estate and the result is… nothingness. Empty neighborhoods. The oligarchs aren’t even eating in the local ritzy restaurants, because they’re someplace else. They also forced out the merely “rich”!
To sum up: Capital has become so concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of people that those who own it can never make use of it efficiently. How could they? They inherited it after all which means they may have no business sense whatsoever aside from hiring the right people to work the system into vomiting out more capital into their cupped hands and opened mouths.
As a result, real growth (ie, not driven by middle class debt or the other myriad pyramid schemes of the super rich) has plummeted and the vast majority of middle class people have seen their standard of living slide backwards and access to the capital and tools with which in times past they may have enriched themselves has been forcibly pulled from having any practical possibility of enriching their lives! This goes way beyond mere “fairness” after all, as the new overlord “rentier” class increasingly block access to that which the middle class needs to have in order for real overall wealth to grow!
The “lumpen capitalists” have absolutely no interest in your social advancement, Jack.
In 19th century China something similar happened, and the consequences were dire indeed. Arable land (which is in effect “capital” in an agrarian society) was increasingly concentrated into the hands of a shrinking number of people. Eventually, everyone was so damned poor that by the end of the Qing dynasty even the long-suffering Chinese had had enough: 50 years of revolution later and Mao and his posse were large and in-charge. And aside from the fact that there are some who argue that Mao’s minuses (eg, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) eventually outweighed his pluses, just getting there was no picnic.
Is that what we really want? Lots of folks say they want a revolution until they discover what living through one is actually like. Put in another way, we need some redistributive schemes now—Piketty says nothing short of an 80% wealth tax, enforced globally, will do it—or else the redistributive schemes twenty years from now will probably be far less pleasant for everyone concerned.
Below, Thomas Piketty speaks about his work with Justin Vogt, deputy managing editor of Foreign Affairs:
It’s a very big Internet, so you can be forgiven if you’ve missed David Simon’s absolutely incendiary op ed ‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’ that was published on The Guardian’s website on December 7th. But if you’re reading this sentence, you no longer have an excuse and need to click over to said essay NOW and return here after you’ve read it.
You’ll thank me. Trust me, you’ll be smarter after you’ve read it. Go. Now. If there is anything worth your time, it’s THIS. Who wants to be ignorant? Not you, right?NOW.
In the days since it was published, Simon’s essay has turned into a shot heard ‘round the world. In my opinion it’s the most incredibly articulate, passionately argued, well-thought out meditation on America since, I dunno, something Mark Twain (or Kurt Vonnegut) wrote. I believe David Simon’s words to be of historical importance, that is to say future historians will read his essay in an effort to try to understand HOW the American people let it get THIS BAD and still allowed those responsible to continue to operate exactly as they had before. You’d think the economy crashing might have ushered in some change. And it has: Bad for the common man, but great for the capital-hoarding elites.
As Simon rhetorically asks—I’m paraphrasing here—“How much longer until the entire shithouse goes up in flames?”
David Simon’s words have incredible power. The kind of power that educates people, changes minds and makes them do something. It needs to be passed on and on and on until everyone has read it, even your idiot teabagger Fox News-watching Uncle Dumbshit. Especially him.
If you’ve already read Simon’s piece, what you may not be aware of (and the YouTube views thus far would seem to bear this out) is that the essay is actually an edited version of an extraordinary speech that The Wire creator gave in Australia at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House. Simon spoke for about 30 minutes and then there was an extended Q&A beyond.
Watch this and then pass it on. On and on and on. He’s not exactly offering much of a prescription here—that’s not his goal—but the diagnosis is spot on…
The crisis of capitalism has not been resolved; it’s simply been papered over.
First, a disclaimer: this is an interpretive discussion of some aspects of Marx’s analysis (which was based on the capitalism he observed in the late 19th century) applied to present-day cartel-state capitalism. It is not a scholarly or academic presentation.
The discussion covers a lot of ground, though, so please refill your beverage container and strap in….
That Marx’s prescription for a socialist/Communist alternative to capitalism failed does not necessarily negate his critique of capitalism. Marx spent hundreds of pages analyzing capital and capitalism and relatively few sketching out a pie-in-the-sky alternative that was not grounded in historical examples or working models.
So it is no surprise that his prescriptive work is an occasionally risible historical curiosity while his critique stands as a systemic analysis.
Marx got a number of things right, one of which appears to be playing out on a global scale. You probably know that Marx expected capitalism to experience a series of ever-larger boom-bust cycles that would eventually precipitate revolution and overthrow of the existing financial-political order.
One driver of these cycles was the interplay of increasing production and declining labor costs. In broad-brush, Marx recognized that industrial capital (as opposed to finance capital) could only increase profits and accumulate more capital by raising production and/or establishing a price-fixing cartel or monopoly.
Mechanization characterized industrial capitalism in the late 19th century, and Marx observed that as mechanization increased productivity, the marginal value of labor decreased on a per unit basis.
Here is a real-world example: When I first visited China in 2000, there was a massive glut of television production: the capacity to manufacture TVs had expanded far beyond China’s domestic demand for TVs. To wring out a profit in a highly competitive industry, manufacturers had to ramp up production while lowering the unit cost of labor and the unit cost of each TV to undercut the competition.
If an assembly line of 100 workers could produce 1,000 TVs a day, the only way to lower the price of the TV is to either lower the wages paid to the workers or invest capital in machinery that enables the same 100 workers to produce 2,000 TVs a day.
At 2,000 TVs a day, the per unit labor cost falls in half. For example, at 1,000 TVs a day, the labor cost per TV might be $40. At 2,000 TVs per day assembled by the same 100 workers, the labor cost per unit drops to $20.
The key point here is that labor’s share of the total production cost declines. If workers had taken home $1 million in pay to make 100,000 TVs at the old production rate of 1,000 TVs/day, they now take home $500,000 to make 100,000 TVs at the new production rate.
In other words, labor’s share of value creation constantly declines as mechanization boosts productivity. Marx described the impact of another factor: oversupply of labor. As rural agricultural workers flooded into cities for jobs that paid cash, there was an abundance of factory labor. Competition for jobs pushes wages lower, so workers faced a double-whammy: their share of production relentlessly declined as productivity rose, and the pressure on wages constantly rose as per unit labor costs declined.
The competition to outproduce industrial rivals with cheaper per-unit production costs and labor’s competition for jobs both generate a structural crisis in capitalism: as production of goods rises, both the cost per unit and the number of workers earning enough to buy the goods declines.
Keep reading ‘What Marx Got Right’ from Charles Hugh Smith after the jump…
Last month on 60 Minutes, reporter Steve Kroft filed a fascinating story about how technological advances in automation and robotics have totally revolutionized American business and manufacturing, while we’ve seen the number of decent paying jobs shrink.
After he indicated how information workers like paralegals are about to become as SOL as airport counter personal and travel agents, two of the Kroft’s interviewees, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, told him we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet:
Andrew McAfee: Our economy is bigger than it was before the start of the Great Recession. Corporate profits are back. Business investment in hardware and software is back higher than it’s ever been. What’s not back is the jobs.
Steve Kroft: And you think technology and increased automation is a factor in that?
Erik Brynjolfsson: Absolutely.
I’ve never really considered 60 Minutes to be much of a cutting edge outlet to “break” stories, instead I feel like once a story has made it to the highest rated American news magazine, that it’s been minted, or confirmed, as a legitimate mainstream thing (or celebrity or whatever). That’s to say that by the time 60 Minutes gets around to reporting on some sort of long-term trend we’re usually already mired DEEP within this event. Sometimes, not just as a nation, but in this case, as with global warming or AIDS, as a planet.
What is so remarkable to ponder—and it’s touched on somewhat in this piece—is how cost-efficient advances in automation will probably have the most negative consequences in countries like China and India, not the first world countries where automated manufacturing plants will probably mostly end up being built. Shipping to the US from China, for instance, adds a not inconsiderable amount of cost to the price of a given commodity. To purchase one of the robots featured in the segment would be cheaper than three years of Chinese labor. There’s cold comfort in that for the “Made in America” crowd, of course, as it’s not like there’s going to be that many more jobs created in America if production is brought back to these shores.
There sure will be a hell of a lot fewer opportunities for employment in the Third World, though, this much seems assured.
It brings up the question of how the wealth of nations will be divvied up when only the holders (hoarders, if you prefer) of capital, employing armies of automatons and few human beings, will hold ALL the cards? Clearly not sustainable and besides that, WHO is going to buy their products anyway when no one will have a job or any money in the first place? In America, and around the world, too, we’re moving away from the notion of “Fordism” at a breakneck pace.
The long-term implications for the longevity of the capitalist system seem dire indeed when viewed through this lens (and let’s not forget, this sort of circling the toilet bowl endgame was predicted by a certain Mr. Karl Marx many, many years ago). The implications of all of this are enormous.
Labor unions will become obsolete in such a scenario, although in a sense, they’ll be replaced by much larger armies of the long-term unemployed!
The flipside of all this is a free-market sort of argument that holds as prices for automated “workers” would come down, there should be a corresponding explosion in small business innovation. Whereas, I do think that is possible with certain cases, how many people do you personally know who would make good entrepreneurs in this bold robotic future?
Unless there’s an Elon Musk born every second, we’re doomed!
You would think that it would be difficult to take a daunting 19th century masterpiece of economics, philosophy and history like Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and turn that imposing intellectual colossus (which is well over 1000 pages in length) into a simple, straightforward and easy to follow comic book, but you would be dead wrong.
In 2008, Tokyo-based publishing company East Press published a manga version of Das Kapital by Variety Artworks that flew off the shelves, selling 6000 copies in the first few days and getting discussed in the media the world over. The manga market is huge in Japan, generating billions of dollars, even so, Das Kapital: Manga de Dokuha (“Reading ‘Das Kapital’ through Manga”) was one of the publishing events of that year. Now it’s being published in a new English translation as Capital In Manga! by radical publishing house Red Quill Books.
I loved it. Admittedly, I’m one of those people who is all for recommending to someone who is considering taking on Marx’s thought, to TAKE THE EASIEST ROUTE. Reading Marx in the original is not something that’s easy to do, but trust me, if you want to “get the gist” of Marxian concepts, it’s not really as difficult as you might think. There is no better way to dive in than via popular books like Terry Eagleton’s highly readable Why Marx Was Right or Rius’ masterfully done cartoon primer Marx for Beginners, and now this new Marxist manga.
At first I found myself reading Capital In Manga! skeptically. How are they going to pull something like this off? Like most manga, the characters are simplistic, but in the case of trying to create a fictional bridge from this century back to Marx’s original writings about capital formation and surplus labor, and make that easy to understand, it’s not like it could really be any other way. If you are looking for nuanced character development, you’re not going to find it here.
The simple but effective narrative in Capital In Manga! follows Robin, an earnest young cheese maker who works alongside his widower father. The father and son make the best tasting cheese around and there are long lines at the market for what they produce. For the father, this is enough, but his son has other ambitions and fears poverty.
That’s when Daniel, a shrewd and cynical capitalist investor enters Robin’s life and offers to set him up in business (In a movie version, evil Daniel would be played by a young James Spader.) As the story plays out, the reader sees Robin’s moral dilemma with Daniel’s brutal exploitation of their employees, and we meet Carl, a brave worker at the cheese factory who fights back against the harsh working conditions and resents that he and the factory workers are making someone else wealthy with their labor. (It’s fun to consider how Capital In Manga!—which can be read in 45 minutes or less—is pretty much the Bizarro World polar opposite of Ayn Rand’s dryly unsubtle and overlong polemic novel Atlas Shrugged!)
Capital In Manga! renders Marxian concepts about as easy to understand as, well, Who Moved My Cheese? (or any comic book for that matter) and will set off several “light bulbs” over the reader’s head, just as that simple “parable” about business innovation did for the entrepreneurial types who made it a best-seller in the 1990s. Even someone who thinks that they’re hostile to Marxism might unexpectedly find something there for them when it is presented in this broadly drawn, but emotionally satisfying way.
To expect that even one person in 10,000 is going to care to slog through over a thousand pages of a dense 19th century philosophical treatise in 2012, is probably expecting too much, but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t new and novel ways to bring Marxism to a popular audience and it’s wonderful to see this novel Japanese publishing experiment successfully translated for English readers. Just as this unconventional approach to Marx and manga has helped to spread the message of Marxism in modern day Japan (where nearly a third of the population is unemployed or underemployed and young people are increasingly pessimistic about their futures) this quirky attempt ito create a new kind of 21st century popular socialist meme is a welcome one.
(In case you are wondering what else is out there like this title, East Press has additionally published manga guides for Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Brothers Karamazov, Goethe’s Faust, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, The Metamorphosis by Kafka and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (I’d love to see that one). In 2011 The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant was given the manga treatment by Variety Artworks, the same company who are responsible for the original Japanese revisioning of Marx’s treatise.)
Looks like it’s Ultraman who is gonna be the one to steal your job, gringo... Via Orange News:
A new noodle restaurant in China has captured diners’ attention by employing a noodle-making robot.
The restaurant in Jilin City, north-east China’s Jilin Province, has attracted many locals to come and try noodles made by ‘Ultraman’.
Restaurant owner Qian Hu bought the robot for 20,000 Yuan (£2,000) and believes its efficiency is twice that of a human worker.
He explained: “More importantly I don’t need to pay him, and for a consecutive work of 12 hours it only consumes 3 kWh of electricity. And the noodles it slices are even thinner than those of human workers.”
That’s right, he can do it better than you, puny human. Twice as good! Take that!
The thought of a world population of over 7 billion people being increasingly put out of work by robots—the most menial jobs will be the ones to go first—is a rather bleak thing to contemplate isn’t it? Then again, maybe there’s an opportunity in all off this somehow? Who knows?
The global crisis is best understood as the convergence of the modern trends identified by Marx, Orwell and Kafka. Let’s start with Franz Kafka, the writer (1883-1924) who most eloquently captured the systemic injustices of all powerful bureaucracies—the alienation experienced by the hapless citizen enmeshed in the bureaucratic web, petty officialdom’s mindless persecutions of the innocent, and the intrinsic absurdity of the centralized State best expressed in this phrase: “We expect errors, not justice.”
If this isn’t the most insightful summary of the Eurozone debacle, then what is? A lawyer by training and practice, Kafka understood that the the more powerful and entrenched the bureaucracy, the greater the collateral damage rained on the innocent, and the more extreme the perversion of justice.
The entire global financial system is Kafkaesque: the bureaucracies of the Central State have two intertwined goals: protect the financial Elites from the consequences of their parasitic predation, and protect their own power and perquisites.
While Marx understood the predatory, parasitic nature of Monopoly Capitalism, he did not anticipate the State’s partnering with Cartel/Crony Capitalism; in effect, the State has appropriated the appropriators, stripmining the citizenry to protect the financial sector from the consequences of their “business model” (leverage, fraud, embezzlement and the misrepresentation of risk). But the State doesn’t merely enable (“regulate”) the predation of financiers; it also stripmines the citizenry to fund its own expansion into every nook and cranny of civil society.
This is where Orwell enters the convergence, for the State masks its stripmining and power grab with deliciously Orwellian misdirections such as “the People’s Party,” “democratic socialism,” and so on.
Orwell understood the State’s ontological imperative is expansion, to the point where it controls every level of community, markets and society. Once the State escapes the control of the citizenry, it is free to exploit them in a parasitic predation that is the mirror-image of Monopoly capital. For what is the State but a monopoly of force, coercion, data manipulation and the regulation of private monopolies?
What is the EU bureaucracy in Brussels but the perfection of a stateless State?
As Kafka divined, centralized bureaucracy has the capacity for both Orwellian obfuscation (anyone read those 1,300-page Congressional bills other than those gaming the system for their private benefit?) and systemic avarice and injustice.
The convergence boils down to this: it would be impossible to loot this much wealth if the State didn’t exist to enforce the “rules” of parasitic predation. In China, the Elite’s looting proceeds along somewhat different rules from the looting of Europe and the U.S., but the end result is the same in all financialized, centrally managed economies: an expansive kleptocracy best understood as the convergence of Marx, Orwell and Kafka.
There’s a “must read” article that appeared on The Guardian’s website—ironically on the 4th of July, America’s national celebration of revolution—about a new-found interest in the ideas of Karl Marx among younger people. Going on in London this week is a five-day seminar/festival, organized by the Socialist Workers’ Party, called Marxism 2012. The festival is expected to draw several thousand people, many of them in their 20s and early 30s.
At the start of the piece, French Marxist thinker Jacques Rancière lays out a remarkably blunt truth to Guardian editor Stuart Jeffries: “The domination of capitalism globally depends today on the existence of a Chinese Communist party that gives de-localised capitalist enterprises cheap labour to lower prices and deprive workers of the rights of self-organisation. Happily, it is possible to hope for a world less absurd and more just than today’s.”
Aren’t Marx’s venerable ideas as useful to us as the hand loom would be to shoring up Apple’s reputation for innovation? Isn’t the dream of socialist revolution and communist society an irrelevance in 2012? After all, I suggest to Rancière, the bourgeoisie has failed to produce its own gravediggers. Rancière refuses to be downbeat: “The bourgeoisie has learned to make the exploited pay for its crisis and to use them to disarm its adversaries [Tea party dupes, he is talking about YOU—RM]. But we must not reverse the idea of historical necessity and conclude that the current situation is eternal. The gravediggers are still here, in the form of workers in precarious conditions like the over-exploited workers of factories in the far east. And today’s popular movements – Greece or elsewhere – also indicate that there’s a new will not to let our governments and our bankers inflict their crisis on the people.”
That, at least, is the perspective of a seventysomething Marxist professor. What about younger people of a Marxist temper? I ask Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal, a 22 year-old English and drama student at Goldsmiths College, London, who has just finished her BA course in English and Drama, why she considers Marxist thought still relevant. “The point is that younger people weren’t around when Thatcher was in power or when Marxism was associated with the Soviet Union,” she says. “We tend to see it more as a way of understanding what we’re going through now. Think of what’s happening in Egypt. When Mubarak fell it was so inspiring. It broke so many stereotypes – democracy wasn’t supposed to be something that people would fight for in the Muslim world. It vindicates revolution as a process, not as an event. So there was a revolution in Egypt, and a counter-revolution and a counter-counter revolution. What we learned from it was the importance of organisation.”
This, surely is the key to understanding Marxism’s renaissance in the West: for younger people, it is untainted by association with Stalinist gulags. For younger people too, Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalism in his 1992 book The End of History – in which capitalism seemed incontrovertible, its overthrow impossible to imagine – exercises less of a choke-hold on their imaginations than it does on those of their elders.
This is extremely significant, as Jeffries rightly points out. Even in America this is increasingly the case. Young people who have graduated from college with crushing amounts of debt, no health insurance, and who work in dead end jobs (if they can get a job at all) with no clear path to begin their careers are becoming quite interested in understanding what the hell happened. It’s really no surprise that they’ve started to google Capitalism’s greatest critic and read up on his ideas. Many people who joined in various OWS protests around the country were further exposed to Marxist critiques of Capitalism and Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek who has become an unlikely intellectual rockstar to young, politically active American leftists who hang on his every word. These recent “converts,” if you will, have only just started to do more research and talk to and exchange ideas with other like-minded people.
As today’s disillusioned, but media-savvy 20-somethings begin their own inroads to influencing the culture, expect that music, film, TV, blogs and even our mainstream news outlets will become more friendly to the ideas of Marx and Engels, even if they aren’t always given credit for them. Ideas that 160 years after they were originally formulated, are starting to make so much sense to intelligent young people living through an age of Capitalism in deep crisis. Will American ever embrace “Marxism,” per se? That seems doubtful, of course, simply due to the cultural knee-jerk taboo around this particular “ism,” but still there is the rather pressing issue of Marxism’s historical inevitability:
Call it whatever you want to, but a situation where a mere 1% of the population control most of the wealth doesn’t seem like it’s going end so well for the ones doing the hoarding.
There’s a big problem that Capitalism increasingly faces: Because of the Internet, over the past fifteen years or so, the average person has easy access to information sources that they never dreamed of or knew existed in the first place. Before the mid-90s, it was much more difficult for the man on the street to be able draw a connection between the price of a particular drug and the net worth of the CEO of the pharmaceutical company that manufactures it. Today, they are beginning to understand that when a CEO of a pharmaceutical company is making $50,000,000 a year that they are paying a TAX ON THEIR OWN HEALTH for the sake of that rich asshole’s obscene salary with EVERY PILL THEY TAKE. Or consider the tax paid directly to the billionaire Walton family from EVERY product sold in a Wal-Mart. It’s a breath-taking con when you consider that ONE GODDAMN FAMILY basically gets to add their own personal tariff to every product sold in the world’s largest retail behemoth!
HOORAY FOR FUCKING CAPITALISM.
HOORAY FOR WALL STREET VAMPIRES.
Only a delusional idiot, the Royal family, the Walton family or a charter member of the 1%, would even wish for the current system to stand as it is. And the opinion of anyone who thinks America or Europe (or China or Russia for that matter) is still going to be doing business the same way in 2032 as it is done in 2012 should be dismissed with extreme derision.
Of course, the American people aren’t going to tip sales of The Communist Manifesto (the world’s #2 selling book of all time) to overtake The Bible any time soon, but then again they needn’t read a German philosophical treatise on how the price of a particular commodity is derived, either, when they’ve got folks like Jon Stewart, Cenk Uygur, Martin Bashir and Rachel Maddow to explain it to them.
In the same sense that ideas once common to the lunatic fringe of the John Birch Society have now achieved mainstream “respect” via Glenn Beck and Fox News, so will covertly Marxist ideas become mainstreamed as younger people coming of age with their eyes wide open in this shitty economy have their day. Eventually the major tenants of Marxism will arrive in the American marketplace of ideas in the guise of plain-talking, good old-fashioned common sense.
Back to Jeffries:
For a different perspective I catch up with Owen Jones, 27-year-old poster boy of the new left and author of the bestselling politics book of 2011, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class. He’s on the train to Brighton to address the Unite conference. “There isn’t going to be a bloody revolution in Britain, but there is hope for a society by working people and for working people,” he counsels.
Indeed, he says, in the 1860s the later Marx imagined such a post-capitalist society as being won by means other than violent revolution. “He did look at expanding the suffrage and other peaceful means of achieving socialist society. Today not even the Trotskyist left call for armed revolution. The radical left would say that the break with capitalism could only be achieved by democracy and organisation of working people to establish and hold on to that just society against forces that would destroy it.”
Owen Jones is right. A violent revolution in America seems beyond a remote possibility, as well, whether from the left (not enough stomach for violence) or right (stomachs too fat for being able to inflict much violence). The future American revolution will be one won at the ballot box and through superior demographic numbers. As has been pointed out many, many times, in many, many places, the heyday of the reactionary right that began with Reagan is increasingly being seen in the country’s rear view mirror, demographically speaking. America will always have its conservative wingnuts, it’s just that we’ll have far fewer of them as the Tea partiers and Fox News viewers start to die off in the coming years. Democracy is a numbers game. It always has been.
Having toiled at a major daily newspaper myself, I won’t hold it against Stuart Jeffries that he was obliged to quote at least one “Debbie Downer” about the common, hackneyed misconception of what “Marxism” means, in this case Prof. Alan Johnson, of Edge Hill University, who thinks Communism, “[a] worldview recently the source of immense suffering and misery, and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism, is mounting a comeback; a new form of leftwing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity but aspires to political power,” on the World Affairs blog:
“The New Communism matters not because of its intellectual merits but because it may yet influence layers of young Europeans in the context of an exhausted social democracy, austerity and a self-loathing intellectual culture,” wrote Johnson. “Tempting as it is, we can’t afford to just shake our heads and pass on by.”
That’s the fear: that these nasty old left farts such as Žižek, Badiou, Rancière and Eagleton will corrupt the minds of innocent youth. But does reading Marx and Engels’s critique of capitalism mean that you thereby take on a worldview responsible for more deaths than the Nazis? Surely there is no straight line from The Communist Manifesto to the gulags, and no reason why young lefties need uncritically to adopt Badiou at his most chilling. In his introduction to a new edition of The Communist Manifesto, Professor Eric Hobsbawm suggests that Marx was right to argue that the “contradictions of a market system based on no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’, a system of exploitation and of ‘endless accumulation’ can never be overcome: that at some point in a series of transformations and restructurings the development of this essentially destabilising system will lead to a state of affairs that can no longer be described as capitalism”.
That is post-capitalist society as dreamed of by Marxists. But what would it be like? “It is extremely unlikely that such a ‘post-capitalist society’ would respond to the traditional models of socialism and still less to the ‘really existing’ socialisms of the Soviet era,” argues Hobsbawm, adding that it will, however, necessarily involve a shift from private appropriation to social management on a global scale. “What forms it might take and how far it would embody the humanist values of Marx’s and Engels’s communism, would depend on the political action through which this change came about.”
This is surely Marxism at its most liberating, suggesting that our futures depend on us and our readiness for struggle. Or as Marx and Engels put it at the end of The Communist Manifesto: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, citizens of Chemnitz - then known as Karl-Marx-Stadt - and the rest of East Germany would have seen Marx’s face on their 100-Mark banknotes.
Flattened during World War Two, Chemnitz was rebuilt as a model socialist city and still boasts a seven meter-tall bust of Marx in its center. The city has been economically depressed since the end of communism and its population has shrunk by 20 percent.
The east has witnessed a wave of nostalgia in recent years for aspects of the old East Germany, or DDR, where citizens had few freedoms but were guaranteed jobs and social welfare. The trend is not limited to the region.
“We’ve even received inquiries from clients in western German states asking whether they could open a local account with us to get a card bearing Marx’s features,” Sparkasse’s Wirtz told Reuters.
A 2008 survey found 52 percent of eastern Germans believed the free market economy was “unsuitable” and 43 percent said they wanted socialism back.
As someone who has considered himself “a Marxist” for some 30 years, I was quite amused by this. If a bank ever offered me a credit card with Karl Marx’s face on it—not that this would be very likely in the US of A. of course—on principle, I’d max it out in one day and tell them to go fuck themselves…
“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
In 1970, Fontana Books published the first of 7 paperback books in a series on what they termed Modern Masters - culturally important writers, philosophers and thinkers, whose work had shaped and changed modern life. It was a bold and original move, and the series launched on January 12th with books on Camus, Chomsky, Fanon, Guevara, Levi-Strauss, Lukacs, and Marcuse.
This was soon followed in 1971 with the next set of books on McLuhan, Orwell, Wittgenstein, Joyce, Freud, Reich and Yeats. And in 1972-73 with volumes on Gandhi, Lenin, Mailer, Russell, Jung, Lawrence, Beckett, Einstein, Laing, and Popper.
Fontana Modern Masters was a highly collectible series of books - not just for their opinionated content on the likes of Marx or Proust, Mailer or McLuhan, but because of Oliver Bevan’s fabulous cover designs.
This eye-catching concept for the covers came from Fontana’s art director, John Constable, who had been experimenting with a Cut-Up technique, inspired by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin and based on The Mud Bath, a key work of British geometric abstraction by the painter David Bomberg. It was only after Constable saw Oliver Bevan’s geometric, Op Art at the Grabowski Gallery in London, did Constable decide to commission Bevan to design the covers.
The first full set of books consisted of 9 titles. Each cover had a section of a Bevan painting, which consisted of rectilinear arrangements of tesselating block, the scale of which was only fully revealed when all 10 covers were placed together. Bevan designed the first ‘3 sets of 10’ from 1970-74. He was then replaced by James Lowe (1975-79) who brought his own triangular designs for books on Marx, Eliot, Pound, Sartre, Artaud and Gramsci. In 1980, Patrick Mortimer took over, with his designs based on circles.
The original Fontana Modern Masters regularly pop-up in secondhand bookshops, and are still much sought after. Over the years, I have collected about 20 different volumes, but have yet to create one complete painting. Here are a few samples, culled from my own collection and from the the web.
A small selection of Fontana Modern Master covers, after the jump…
Nobel economist Michael Spence, working at the behest of the Council on Foreign Relations, has co-authored a startling new paper with NYU’s Sandile Hlatshwayo. The two did an enormous amount of number crunching and analyzing of how the US economy has been structured for the past 20 years, and in particular, they examined employment trends. It was not a pretty picture that emerged from all of those details.
Well, I guess that would all depend upon which side of the fork you’re on, wouldn’t it?
As the output and productivity of the American worker increased—a LOT, I should add—during the past two decades, jobs still continued to be outsourced to other countries with cheaper labor pools, and fewer opportunities for economic advancement presented themselves for many Americans. All the while, the $$$ for all of that increased productivity didn’t go to the worker bees themselves, it went to the top, to the capitalists and investors class. To parasites like Mitt Romney and his buddies at Bain Capital.
The CFR report’s conclusions are particularly grim for people who have found themselves slipping out of the middle class towards precarious lives and who feel hopeless to do anything about it, but it’s Marxism 101 for the economic literate.
Here’s how Mr. Spence and Ms. Hlatshwayo put it: “The most educated, who work in the highly compensated jobs of the tradeable and nontradeable sectors, have high and rising incomes and interesting and challenging employment opportunities, domestically and abroad. Many of the middle-income group, however, are seeing employment options narrow and incomes stagnate.”
Mr. Spence notes the benefit to consumers of globalization: “Many goods and services are less expensive than they would be if the economy were walled off from the global economy, and the benefits of lower prices are widespread.” He also points to the positive impact of globalization, particularly in China and India: “Poverty reduction has been tremendous, and more is yet to come.”
I’m sure Americans living in “right to work” states are just jumping for joy to be competing with wage-earners in China and India.
Free trade and the free flow of capital means lower prices for the consumer, true, but when someone in China or India is doing that very same computer programming job that used to be your job in the midwest—information workers will have the most precarious jobs of all moving forward—it’s not like you’ll be able to afford much more than rice and beans at the Wal-Mart anyway.
Yes, there’s a high cost to low price. The two are pretty well interconnected, as we’ve seen, but this is what the “free market” is supposed to do, silly. And don’t forget, it was Wal-Mart that put the local shops out of business to begin with.
Karl Marx predicted all of this. ALL of it.
He’s the most accurate prophet in history, with a record a helluva lot better than Nostradamus!
And to all of the naysayers who claim that a “command economy” doesn’t work, I present to you Wal-Mart itself, the most successful example of a command economy the world has ever seen!
Mr. Spence’s paper should be read alongside the work that David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been doing on the impact of the technology revolution on U.S. jobs. Mr. Autor finds that technology has had a “polarizing” impact on the U.S. work force — it has made people at the top more productive and better paid and hasn’t had much effect on the “hands-on” jobs at the bottom. But opportunities and salaries in the middle have been hollowed out.
Taken together, here’s the big story Mr. Spence and Mr. Autor tell: Globalization and the technology revolution are increasing productivity and prosperity. But those rewards are unevenly shared — they are going to the people at the top in the United States, and enriching emerging economies over all. But the American middle class is losing out.
It may seem surprising that it takes a Nobel laureate and sheaves of economic data to reach this conclusion. But the analysis and its provenance matter, because this basic truth about how the world economy is working today is being ignored by most of the politicians in the United States and denied by many of its leading business people.
Here’s where it gets much grimmer, as the article’s author, Chrystia Freeland (who has been the Global Editor-at-Large of Reuters since 2010) tells of a recent breakfast at the CFR that she moderated. The speaker that morning was Randall Stephenson, chief executive of AT&T.
If this is the mindset of the leaders of corporate America today, we’re doomed:
One of the Council of Foreign Relations members in the audience was Farooq Kathwari, the chief executive of Ethan Allen, the furniture manufacturer and retailer. Mr. Kathwari is a storybook American entrepreneur. He arrived in New York from Kashmir with $37 in his pocket and got his start in the retail trade selling goods sent to him from home by his grandfather.
He asked Mr. Stephenson: “Over the last 10 years, with the help of technology and other things, we today are doing about the same business with 50 percent less people. We’re talking of jobs. I would just like to get your perspectives on this great technology. How is it going to overall affect the job markets in the next five years?”
Mr. Stephenson said not to worry. “While technology allows companies like yours to do more with less, I don’t think that necessarily means that there is less employment opportunities available. It’s just a redeployment of those employment opportunities. And those employees you have, my expectation was, with your productivity, their standard of living has actually gotten better.”
HUH? Redeployment of employment opportunities? What the fuck IS this guy talking about?
I recently heard a radio report that indicated that there is ONE factory employing around 15 people in Japan that’s responsible for nearly 80% of the world’s output of a certain sized HD screen. Consider how many people would have worked at a Magnavox television plant in the mid-fifties. Where were those employment opportunities ultimately “redeployed?”
With advanced automation, robotics and so forth, the American worker always was going to become obsolete in the long run, but the speed with which it is happening has gone from a trot to full gallop since the early 90s. Stephenson’s contention that standards of living have improved is ludicrous. Perhaps for him and for all the Cuban cigar-smoking fatcats at the country club in Westchester, but what about the rest of us?
Maybe the all-powerful, wise and benevolent free market will help us?!?!
(Sorry all of that cigar smoke is making me *cough*)
Mr. Spence’s work tells us that simply isn’t happening. “One possible response to these trends would be to assert that market outcomes, especially efficient ones, always make everyone better off in the long run,” he wrote. “That seems clearly incorrect and is supported by neither theory nor experience.”
Not to take anything away from Mr. Spence and Ms. Hlatshwayo, but there was this famous book written by a Mr. Marx and a Mr. Engels—two of the most dangerous minds in history—a hundred and fifty-some years ago that predicted all of this shit with amazing, laser-like accuracy.
Mr. Spence says that as he was doing his research, he was often asked what “market failure” was responsible for these outcomes: Where were the skewed incentives, flawed regulations or missing information that led to this poor result? That question, Mr. Spence says, misses the point. “Multinational companies,” he said, “are doing exactly what one would expect them to do. The resulting efficiency of the global system is high and rising. So there is no market failure.”
Okay, stop for a second. Read that last paragraph again, won’t you? Now read it a third time.
Mr. Spence is telling us that global capitalism is working, but that the American middle class is losing out anyway.
Yep, exactly like a certain Mr. Marx predicted would happen. What remains to be seen is how long it takes for the average American to wake up to what’s going on, when the elites are so hellbent on trying to keep them as confused as possible. Less sophisticated people can be forgiven for falling for conspiracy theories, when the REAL action is right out in the open: No one ever thinks to look there!
Mr. Spence admits he has no easy answers. American politicians are focused on a budget debate that is superficial, premature and ultimately about something pretty easy to figure out. Instead, we should all be working on the much bigger problem of how to make capitalism work for the American middle class.
In the trailer for that upcoming Obama conspiracy theory movie, I spotted the cover for this book, Teachings of Marx for Girls and Boys and immediately set out to ABE Books online to find a copy. I didn’t score—how many of these puppies would have been printed in the first place, I wonder—but I did find POSTERS!
Yes, posters of this marvelous image are for sale at the Georgetown Bookstore’s website. Click here to order online.
The author of Teachings of Marx for Girls and Boys, William Montgomery Brown (1855 – 1937) or as he was also known, “Bad Bishop Brown,” was an Anglican clergyman from Ohio is remembered as the first Anglican Bishop to be tried for heresy since the Reformation. Additionally Brown, who evolved in his lifetime from being a missionary and the Bishop of Arkansas to a committed Marxist, was the first member of the clergy in America to be deposed (of any denomination) for being a heretic.
Brown felt that his real ministry began at age 71 when he started lecturing to the working class about Karl Marx and Socialism.