Category Archives: Capital

Burn Down the Prison

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Ways to Build a Movement After Ferguson, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, and Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev.


Burn Down the Prison:
Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion

by TZ with edits from Chino, HiFi, and JF

 

Work?
I don’t have to work.
I don’t have to do nothing
but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
This little old furnished room’s
so small I can’t whip a cat
without getting fur in my mouth
and my landlady’s so old
her features is all run together
and God knows she sure can overcharge—
Which is why I reckon I does
have to work after all.

-Langston Hughes, “Necessity”

“A lot of people in the bourgeoisie tell me they don’t like Rap Brown when he says, ‘I’m gon’ burn the country down,’ but every time Rap Brown says, ‘I’m gon’ burn the country down,’ they get a poverty program.”
-Stokely Carmichael, Free Huey rally, 1969

“We may risk the prediction that we are entering into an era of riots, which will be transitional and extremely violent.  It will define the reproduction crisis of the proletariat, and thus of capitalism, as an important structural element of the following period. By ‘riots’ we mean struggles for demands or struggles without demands that will take violent forms and will transform the urban environments into areas of unrest; the riots are not revolution, even the insurgency is not revolution, although it may be the beginning of a revolution.”
-Blaumachen, “The Transitional Phase of the Crisis: The Era of Riots,” 2011

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Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev

After a recent discussion and debate with the NYC local, we asked Noel Ignatiev (formerly of Sojourner Truth Organization and the journal Race Traitor) to clarify some of his theses on the status of race in the US on the eve of the Ferguson grand jury decision. We hope Noel’s position can serve as a prompt for a reinvigorated and principled discussion, grounded in US history and our understanding of Marx.

While the present moment is unique, we hope to understand the activities of the class today as part of an unfolding of the broader history of struggles against white supremacy and capitalism. If you are interested in responding to this piece at length please get in touch with us.

Noel’s piece is also one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Way To Build a Movement after Ferguson, Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, and The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, .


 

Noel Ignatiev: Capital is race-blind; the capitalist mode of production (cmp) tends to reduce all human beings to abstract, undifferentiated, homogenous labor power. However, the pure cmp exists nowhere; all existing societies, including those in which the cmp prevails, contain elements left over from the past as well as elements that are the product of the political intervention of various groups.

Racial oppression is not universal to capital. Four places developed historically on the basis of racial oppression: the U.S., South Africa, Ireland, and Palestine.

Continue reading Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev

Green capitalism seeks sustainable misery.

by JF

On the eve of the “People’s Climate March” 2014, a member of U&S NYC offers up some theses for discussion. It has been rightly observed within U&S that these theses do not engage directly with the crisis itself, and its particular relationship to capitalism. In this regard, they can be understood as supplementary reading to the excellent pamphlet “Why Climate Change is Not And Environmental Issue“. A more rigorous engagement with these questions is forthcoming.

 

I. The first person to fence off a piece of land and say “this is mine” was the original “climate criminal”. The first person to defend this right was the forebear of today’s “green capitalist”.

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II. Green capitalism tells us that the “environmental crisis” can be resolved within capitalism, by capitalist means — legislation, lobbying, fundraising, protest parades, and direct actions that “speak truth to power” and get the wheels of reform turning. Talk of “climate criminals”, the nefarious “Wall Street”, and the need for “climate justice” is perfectly consistent with green capitalism. For green capitalism, the solution to the climate crisis is more effective capitalist democracy, fairer capitalist justice, “Main Street not Wall Street”, or in other words: better capitalism.

 
III. Branding oneself “anti‐capitalist” hardly makes one any less capitalist; quite the opposite. A savvy eye to niche marketing makes the “anti‐capitalist” promoter of green capitalism a capitalist, par excellence.

 
IV. Green capitalism parcels out ecological crisis from the struggles we face in our daily lives and forces us to fight for “the environment” in abstraction from the fight for control of our lives. Torn from our everyday experiences of capitalist exploitation (wage labor, austerity, racism, gentrification, patriarchy, sickness, depression…), we are transplanted to the specialized site of the “environmental” struggle: whether through petitions in the halls of power, the theatrics of the ballot box, or long train rides to spectacular demonstrations in neighborhoods where nobody but a “climate justice” non‐profit director could afford to live.

 
V. Green capitalism seeks not to empower people to take control of their daily lives, but to manage peoples’ outrage into channels deemed acceptable in advance. These parameters are typically defined by legality and adherence to the institutions of the capitalist state, but also allow for a measured illegality as a means of blowing off a little steam. This type of management is intrinsic to the “non‐profit” form, to the political party (reformist and revolutionary), and to all organizations which do not accept the secondary role they play to facilitating independent activity outside of and exceeding their control.

 
VI. Speaking truth to power, and thus recognizing its legitimacy, offers access to official society as an acknowledged leader, favorable coverage in the press, book deals, “political” credibility in academia, cushy NGO jobs, and even access to ruling class representative politics when one should decide their days of sewing wild oats to be over. Building counterpower — defying self‐appointed movement managers, forging bonds across struggles resistant to leadership from above, and helping to push situations beyond the bounds of any recuperation — offers none of this, as it threatens the ruling class, rather than flattering it.

 
VII. If the central, albeit unspoken demand of Occupy Wall Street was the right of return to the middle class by those freshly expelled from it, green capitalism offers that possibility to a milieu of young activists who want to put their technocratic smarts to use and be the change they want to see in the world. In this perverse way, the middle class aspirations of Occupy may succeed for its most dedicated partisans, on an individual basis. Whether or not this rope ladder to social mobility is accepted (has and) will determine which side of the class line young activists fall in today’s struggles and the struggles ahead.

 
VIII. Green capitalism needs a “media strategy” because it has no desire to engage people by any other means. Through spectacular “actions” neatly staged for the press cameras, green capitalism summons modernity’s most effective tool for imposing disempowerment and isolation — capitalist mass media — to “get out the message” in the exact manner of the Ford Motor Company. For green capitalism, the alienation of struggle from daily life becomes the struggle to determine the form alienation should take: green capitalism needs alienated consumers of… green capitalism. It’s no coincidence that so much of “the movement” is preoccupied with what kind of consumers people should be.

 
IX. Green capitalism deliberately separates tightly-controlled lawful demonstrations from the sanctioned illegality of the “disobedient” direct action. The illegality of the latter allows for the movement-policing of the former, and is a source of its legitimacy. Thus there is a symbiosis, reinforcing their exclusivity. Even in illegality, human activity is tightly managed from above by green capitalism. Meanwhile “civil” illegality itself is scrupulously codified, and put to work peacefully in the service of an improved legality. Illegality which refuses to speak to power, adopting instead a language of its own understood only by its participants, is deemed illegitimate, divisive, and devoid of content. Occupy briefly challenged this dynamic, but many brave blockaders of the Brooklyn Bridge soon amended their story to become victims of a police plot.

 
X. The specter of the proletariat taking decisive action on its own terms, generalizing its daily struggles toward the struggle against environmental ruin, and pushing beyond the conservative parameters of “the environmental movement” is the nightmare of green capitalism. When this day comes, the self‐appointed leaders of “climate justice” will either suppress the movement back into neatly parceled channels, or will be left on the sidelines to order each other around while the class moves on its own. And there will be no question of willfully turning oneself over to the state for symbolic arrest. How we relate to green capitalism today will partially determine which direction is taken at this coming juncture, though the thrust of this movement will be (thankfully) out of anyone’s hands.

 
XI. Green capitalism seeks sustainable misery. Its dubious dream — of capitalism surviving ecological crisis and prolonging its project to degrade and disfigure humanity for thousands of years to come — is more horrifying than the prospect of humanity ceasing to exist altogether. Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.

Capitalism and the Value Form

The following post is the third installment in an ongoing series on some of the key ideas in Marx’s thought. Part one can be found here. The second part is linked here. The last two parts will follow as they are completed: “What is Capital?” and, lastly, “Communism”.

Capitalist Society and the Value Form

Marx begins Capital by raising the question of wealth: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form” (125). In putting forward the contradiction between increased productivity of labor and the division of labor, Marx was able to show that as wealth grows so does exploitation and misery. It is only with capitalism that this contradiction reaches its limit. In no other form of society has the concentration and accumulation of productive powers been so great and exploitation so immense. In capitalism, as Marx writes elsewhere, “the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and magnitude of his production” (“Estranged Labor”).

So far we have been discussing Marx’s ideas for all societies in general. But Marx’s aim was to understand what was particular about capitalist society, a form of production that was, from a world perspective, only embryonic in his own day. For Marx capitalist society is characterized by the value form, a form of existence and social relations unique in human history. What follows is an attempt to summarize and synthesize this concept.

The Dual Character of Labor

For Marx, central to understanding the organization of capitalist society is the dual character of the commodity. He argues in Capital that one side of the commodity is defined by how it is used, or “use-value.” He defines use by how the commodity “satisfies human needs of whatever kind” (125). We have seen how the idea of “human needs” plays an important role in Marx’s thought. Throughout history human beings have produced uses to satisfy and express their needs, giving rise to particular forms of society.

When looked at as a use the commodity is indistinguishable from the process of fulfilling needs as a general characteristic of all human societies. As such, commodities “constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social form may be” (Capital, 126). However, the production of uses takes, or, more precisely, cannot be separated from a specific form in each society or historical epoch. In capitalist society, Marx argues, the production of uses has a dual character that consists of its use and its exchange value. As he writes in Capital: “In the form of society to be considered here [uses] are also the material bearers of exchange value” (126).

Marx defines exchange-value as “the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind” (Capital, 126). This type of exchange is necessary because of the division of labor in capitalist society, which is composed of separate workers producing privately and selling their labor power to produce single uses. He writes:

The totality of heterogeneous use-values or physical commodities reflects a totality of similarly heterogeneous forms of useful labour, which differ in order, genus, species and variety; in short, a social division of labour. This division of labour is a necessary condition for commodity production….Only the products of mutually independent acts of labour, performed in isolation, can confront each other as commodities. (Capital, 132)

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Communism is the Ascension of Humanity as the Subject of History: A Critique of Althusser and the Affirmation of Marx

(By Gussel Sprouts)

“Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” (Marx)

If we are to affirm the ideology of Marx, and the Marxist understanding of not only communism, but its relationship to humanity, we can only begin so by understanding his thoughts on ideology and of his break with Feuerbach, and what this means for the relationships of subjects/objects. Louis Althusser, the philosopher who said “structures don’t take to the streets” as he turned his nose up at the students protesting in May ’68, disingenuously knew or cared little for the ideas of Marx and the ways they were distinct from the other thinkers of his time. At other times, he was willfully and honestly ignorant, but it is important to understand that Althusser’s thought is largely contradictory in a logistical sense (he was inconsistent in his breaks/agreements with Marx) but also in a sense that he produced thought which was fundamentally anti-Marxist.

Our critique of Althusser must go even further here than that of his misunderstanding of Marx, but what he builds on with such a conclusion, parallels can be seen in ideological apparatuses already in historical existence and the present moment, to which we can conclude that the ideological and cultural apparatus, the real movement to abolish the present state of things is not one of ideas, nor ideological “structures”. Capital has already reached an unprecedented level of totality, a certain subsumption of the Real by an irreconcilable “big Other” (1). Althusser would have all of this for what he calls “socialism”. We have seen this already in the history of existing socialisms, while originally hiding the ill-informed and possibly disingenuous veil of being “the first Left-wing critique of Stalinism”.

The first few sections are to provide contexts of Althusser (and therefore his thought) with that of Marx, revolutionaries of his time, and his politics in the Communist Party of France. After such, we will venture into Althusser’s ideas themselves. We will find that we do not require a deep understanding of Structuralism (or the sociological and Freudian undertones in his thought) to see that Althusser’s thought is irreconcilable with that of Marx.

Continue reading Communism is the Ascension of Humanity as the Subject of History: A Critique of Althusser and the Affirmation of Marx

Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time

The East Coast network Fire Next Time recently posted this dialogue between two of their members, Zora and Ba Jin, contrasting Silvia Federici and Selma James.  The post argues that Federici’s Marxist-Feminist understanding of primitive accumulation in her book, Caliban and the Witch, forefronts global migration, colonization, and international connections among women and people of color.  On the other hand, the post asserts, James’ Marxist-Feminist analysis centers on the U.S.-centric housewife role and only secondarily takes up the question of waged women’s work and Third World and Black Feminism.  The post further critiques Wages for Housework as a liberal feminist goal, arguing that “it seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism.”  In response to this post, I feel the need to clear a few things up and ask some questions in the spirit of comradely debate.

1.  Why force a wedge between Federici and James?  

Federici and James are a part of the same Marxist-Feminist tendency.  A third person I would put in this longstanding tendency is Mariarosa Dalla Costa, who co-wrote “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community” with James, and still writes alongside Federici for The Commoner journal.  In fact, in the “Preface” to Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, she writes:

“The thesis which inspired this research was first articulated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, as well as other activists in the Wages for Housework Movement, in a set of documents in the 1970s that were very controversial, but eventually reshaped the discourse on women, reproduction, and capitalism [7].”

Furthermore, Federici wrote pamphlets in support of Wages for Housework in the 1970s.  In addition to their theoretical contributions, Dalla Costa, Federici, and James have done similar organizing through the years, for example with sex workers and in communities in the third world.

It is not clear what James’ and Federici’s relationship is today, but in discussing their contributions between (roughly) 1950 and 1980, their arguments (both historically and theoretically) strengthen and uphold one another.  The following will explain why.

2. James’ analysis of the housewife and reproductive work under capitalism.

First, I would like to look more closely at James’ discussion of the housewife.  At face value, the housewife is a one-sided experience at best, and a dated concept at worst.  As Zora describes,

“The whole wages for housework thing seems alienating for me, because it’s not applicable to that many people in the U.S. There is a history here of women of color being pushed into waged domestic work, in which you weren’t paid that much, and your worker’s rights weren’t protected. So it has already been capitalized on. You pushed multiple groups of people, who were not white women, into this domestic work to take care of white women’s children. And the wages for housework thing makes me think, “Well is that your end goal? To be co-opted by capitalism, and to make your work legitimate under capitalism?” It seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism instead of addressing how capitalism is reaching all the way down into reproduction, and developing a strategy to combat that, beyond just demanding wages.”

However, James’ methodology (along with Federici’s) is much more complex than Zora acknowledges.  James discusses the particular, or one-sided expression of the division of labour under capitalism, in conversation with the totality of social relations.  James explicitly acknowledges that the experience of the unwaged domestic labourer is one particular experience of the many different types of labour due to the capitalist division of labour.  For example, consider the following quote from James’ pamphlet, “Sex, Race and Class:”

[James quoting Marx’s Capital] “‘Manufacture…develops a hierarchy of labour powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.  If on the one hand, the individual laborers are appropriated and annexed for life by a limited function; on the other hand, the various operations of the hierarchy are parceled out among the laborers according to both their natural and their acquired abilities.’

“In two sentences is laid out the deep material connection between racism, sexism, national chauvinism and the chauvinism of the generations who are working for wages against children and pensioners who are wageless, who are ‘dependents.’

“A hierarchy of labor powers and a scale of wages to correspond.  Racism and sexism training us to develop and acquire certain capabilities at the expense of all others.  Then these acquired capabilities are taken to be our nature, fixture our functions for life, and fixing also the quality of our mutual relations.  So planting cane or tea is not a job for white people and changing nappies is not a job for men and beating children is not violence.  Race, sex, nation, each an indispensable element of the international division of labour.” [Sex, Race and Class p. 96].

Under the capitalist division of labour, we become our jobs.  We are relegated into one form of work (we are teachers, bus drivers, call center workers, etc.) that we are to perform over and over again.  Marx calls this alienation.  Capitalism has a gendered and racialized hierarchical division of labour, where certain kinds of work, as James points out, are “naturalized,” to people of color, women, and children.
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These forms of work are historically de-valued under capital, and therefore women’s labour power is de-valued, a point that Federici explains in her account of primitive accumulation.  Further, the appearance of the value of labour power is the wage, and so women’s work is unwaged and/or underwaged.  This means that the housewife’s position in the division of labour as an unwaged worker, is tied to an immigrant domestic worker’s low-waged position, and a school teacher’s position, etc.

James’ work in this area was an important step for challenging Orthodox Marxism’s assertion that class struggle only took place in the factory.  These arguments could be extended to feudal peasantry, for example, arguing that the peasantry in countries who had not yet been colonized by capitalism had their own unique communist potential.
Continue reading Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time

“Guide to the Exploited Non-Profit Worker” by Tituba’s Revenge, a new NYC anti-capitalist collective

with Wen

Tituba’s Revenge is a collective of anti-capitalist nonprofit workers who are majority queer women of color in NYC. We began to get together this year to discuss the challenges and contradictions in our workplace and aimed to develop tools and analysis as a collective to deal with workplace exploitation. We read Marxist-feminist texts such as Silvia Federici and Maria Mies to gain deeper insights into our alienation and devaluation as women caring laborers. In the past decades, the professionalization of nonprofits has drawn a significant amount of women – progressive activists from our communities in particular – into the low-wage, long hours, and non-unionized working conditions.  We feel that there is a vacuum in the analysis of the exploitation in the nonprofit workplace.  Nonprofits are serving as an integral part of the capitalist society rather than operating outside of it.  We want to dispel the myths we are told about nonprofits to create an active project aiming to develop an anti-capitalist analysis of the material oppression of the communities we work within through fighting against our shared exploitation in the workplace.

The pamphlet is part of an ongoing working project. We hope to continue to develop more in-depth analysis between the role of nonprofit in capitalist relations as well as strategies to facilitate workplace organizing.

About “Tituba”:

The name “Tituba’s Revenge” comes from a Black Caribbean woman named Tituba who was enslaved and brought to Salem, Massachusetts. She was persecuted in the witch trials particularly because she was an African healer.  We want to acknowledge the centuries of women’s struggles against capitalist patriarchy that appropriates and alienates us from our knowledge and labor and find ways to fight back in our own workplaces.

……………….

Download the PdF Here or visit http://titubasrevenge.wordpress.com

Guide to the Exploited Non-Profit Worker

Notes on chapter one of Marx’s Capital, Part One

The following is the first part of some notes on chapter one of Capital. The second part will follow in the upcoming months.

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The Dual Character of the Commodity is the Dual Character of Labor

Marx begins chapter one of Capital by describing the dual character of the commodity. One side of the commodity is defined by how it is used. Marx calls this “use-value.” He defines use by how the commodity “satisfies human needs of whatever kind” (125). The idea of “human needs” plays an important role in Marx’s thought and takes on a number of interrelated meanings. In the German Ideology he argues “The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history” (47). Throughout history human beings have produced things, or “uses,” to address their basic and expanded needs, which gives rise to particular forms of society, specific kinds of social relations and subjectivities.

When looked at as merely a use, the commodity is indistinguishable from the process of satisfying needs as a general characteristic of all human societies. So, as various kinds of uses to fulfill our many needs, commodities “constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social form may be.” However, Marx concludes in Capital that a commodity takes on characteristics that are specific to capitalist society, which only becomes clear when he looks at the other side of the commodity: exchange. “In the form of society to be considered here [in Capital] they are also the material bearers of exchange value” (126).

The production of uses to satisfy needs in capitalist society takes a specific form of exchange. While historically there have been other types of exchange, these reflected non-capitalist forms of society. One of Marx’s tasks is to show how the form of exchange in capitalism, and therefore the social relations or form of that society is historically unprecedented and something new.

So the tendency for the production of uses to satisfy needs to take on a specific form of exchange is the other side of the commodity. What form does this exchange take place in capitalism? “Exchange-value appears first of all as the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind” (126). As Marx explains:
Continue reading Notes on chapter one of Marx’s Capital, Part One