Tag Archives: Marxism

Can you change yourself to change the world?: On utopias and “prefigurative” politics.

PREFACE:This blog is based on the transcript of a recent talk I gave at a meeting this week.  I made some minor formatting edits, etc., but it more or less reflects what was said during my talk. Therefore, the structure … Continue reading

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Some observations on Marx’s Capital, Vol. 1

I finished reading volume one of Marx’s Capital this past winter and have been meaning for a while to write up some brief notes and observations.  A ton of things have gotten in the way of doing that and since … Continue reading

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Kids in the Hall on Capital

This video is so excellent, not just for being hilarious, but for being a really excellent and surrealistic allegory for capital.  The choice of having the workers clearly producing nothing useful, means that they’re only producing exchange value (value for … Continue reading

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A critical reply to Birkhold’s “Grace Lee Boggs’ call for visionary organizing”

In Defense of Struggle: What “Visionary Organizing” Cannot See A critical reply to Birkhold’s “Grace Lee Boggs’ call for visionary organizing” Left Turn magazine recently published an article by Matthew Birkhold, a Brooklyn-based writer and activist, entitled “Living by the … Continue reading

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Engels on anti-authoritarianism and revolution

“Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?”

Frederick Engels, “On Authority” (1872)

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“White Man” and “Good Morning, Revolution” by Langston Hughes

White Man New Masses, December 15, 1936 Sure, I know you! You’re a White Man. I’m a Negro. You take all the best jobs And leave us the garbage cans to empty and The halls to clean. You have a … Continue reading

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David Harvey on Capital and the centrality of class struggle

I view crises as surface eruptions of deep tectonic shifts in the spatiotemporal logic of capitalism. The tectonic plates are now accelerating their motion, and the likelihood of more frequent and more violent crises increases. The manner, form, spatiality and time of the consequent eruptions are almost impossible to predict, but that they will occur with greater frequency and power is almost certain, making the events of 2008 appear normal if not trivial in comparison. Since these stresses are internal to the capitalist dynamic (which does not preclude some seemingly external disruptive event like a catastrophic pandemic), then what better argument could there be, as Marx once put it, for capitalism “to be gone and to give room to a higher state of social production”?

But this is easier said than done. It entails, of course, the shaping of a political project. For this we can’t wait until we know everything we need to know, or even understand everything Marx has to say. Marx holds up a mirror to our reality in Volume I in such a way as to create an imperative to act, and he makes it clear that class politics, class struggle, has to center what we do. In itself, this doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary. But over the past quarter century, many of us have lived in a world where we have been told again and again that class is irrelevant, that the very idea of class struggle is so old-fashioned as to be mere fodder for academic dinosaurs. But any serious reading of Capital shows irrefutably that we will get nowhere unless we write “Class Struggle” on our political banners and march to its drum-beat.

We need, however, to better define exactly what this might mean for our place and times. Marx in his own day was often uncertain as to exactly what to do, what kinds of political alliances would make sense, what kinds of objectives and claims should be articulated. But what Marx also shows is that even in the midst of such uncertainties, we cannot fail to act. Cynics and critics typically object that one is trying to reduce questions of, say, nature, gender, sexuality, race, religion or whatever to class terms, and that this is unacceptable. My answer to this is: not at all. These other struggles are clearly important and have to be waged in their own right. But, I would note, it is rare for any of them not to internalize a significant class dimension, the solution to which is a necessary though never sufficient condition for, say, an adequate anti­-racist or pro-environmentalist politics.

This outstanding and provocative quote is in the concluding chapter to David Harvey’s Companion to Marx’s Capital.  I can hardly express how urgent I feel it is that people pick up and read Capital right now.  It is crucial that we begin the formation of the “political project” Harvey calls for here, and I think that political project needs to be rooted in revolutionary socialist politics, informed by Marxism.  Capital is absolutely, I think, the key text for truly ground oneself in Marxist politics.

In spite of its popular perception, Capital, is more than political economy, accounting, and number crunching.  It’s not a collection of “laws” of economics, wages, value and so on.  It’s a primarily philosophical, dialectical and materialist approach to understanding capitalist society.  It’s an examination of the production and re-production of that society.  If we, as revolutionaries, wish to overturn that society (and construct a new, just and democratic society in its place), and to eliminate the profound suffering, exploitation and oppression capitalism is founded upon, than we have a responsibility to understand that society’s fundamental structure.

To paraphrase Lenin (I believe this is Lenin) Marxism teaches us to see straight without overlooking twists, turns and zigzags of reality.  Capital is a fundamental text for drawing the map on which we plan our revolutionary course.

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