Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Wednesday, 25 May 2011 13:37
The news that you have declared the AFL-CIO's "political independence" and will no longer automatically support the Democratic Party has spread like wildfire throughout the labor movement. On behalf of the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor, I would like to congratulate you for taking this step. This is just the first step of many that will need to be taken in order to harness the true potential of organized labor to fight back against the bosses' economic and political attacks.
For far too long, the parties of Big Business, and in particular the Democrats, have taken labor's vote for granted--not to mention millions of dollars in donations and countless volunteers to get out those votes. In exchange for this decades-long loyalty, which led directly to the election of President Barack Obama in November 2008, labor has been rewarded with the political and economic equivalent of a kick in the teeth. No Employee Free Choice Act. No single payer health care. No increase of the minimum wage. No mass program of useful public works at union wages to address the problem of unemployment and rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure. In short, labor got zilch. Zero. Nada.
The inspiring struggles of tens of thousands of workers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and in every other state in the union show that workers have had enough and are willing to fight. These mass actions send a clear message that workers want the right to be represented by a union. They also show that workers want jobs for all and job security, not to mention better pay, benefits, health care and working conditions. They show that workers are tired of getting the wrong end of the economic stick. They show that workers don't think it's fair that the rich--who caused the economic crisis--are busy stuffing their pockets with public cash while the rest of us are made to pay for their greed through cuts and austerity.
However, without a clear political lead, the assumption is that workers should keep voting for the "worker-friendly" Democrats, even when that party continues to sell workers out on one issue after another. Your declaration can change that. Your declaration of political independence is a recognition of the fact that the relationship between labor and the Democrats was like the relationship between a horse and its rider. No matter how fast labor ran or how hard it pulled for them, the Democrats kept digging in their spurs and whipping the workers harder. It was high time to buck that rider off our backs and set out on an independent course.
However, an "independent" course in the abstract is the equivalent of a kind of political limbo. It is not enough to say that the Democrats can no longer expect labor's votes and support. Millions of workers look to their shop stewards, Local and International presidents, and to you, brother Trumka, for advice on who to vote for to defend their interests. American workers clearly know what they are against--the Republicans' open attacks and the Democrats' false promises of change--but when election time comes around what are they supposed to vote for?
Workers are the majority of this country, and yet we have no real voice in Washington or at any any other level of government. In my humble opinion, the only political alternative that makes sense is a mass Labor Party based on the unions. Only organized labor has the members, resources, workplace and community networks to mount a serious political challenge to the parties of corporate America.
A Labor Party would fight for living-wage jobs and unions for all. It would fight for universal health care and education, for safe housing and new infrastructure. It would fight for the repeal of Taft-Hartley along with every other anti-union law. It would fight against the bloated military budget and would bring the troops home now. It would lead the fight against racism and discrimination, and for equal rights and equal pay for our immigrant brothers and sisters, not to mention all women. It would mobilize the organized and the unorganized, and would reach out to the unemployed, retirees and the youth to fight tooth and nail against any and all cuts and concessions. It would build on the October 2nd "We Are One" rally and organize mass marches for jobs and against cuts in every city in the country. Such a party could rally millions of voters behind it and turn U.S. politics upside down. Such a party could quickly become the number one party in the country, leaving the Republicans and Democrats to fight for second place. The potential for such a party is enormous. The time to build it is now.
The need for political representation for the working class majority of this country is not a new idea. But it is more urgent than ever. There have been other efforts to form such a Labor Party in the past, including some fairly successful ones. But for a variety of reasons, these efforts have not taken off, above all because the majority of the unions remained tied to the Democrats, which inevitably led Labor with nothing to show for it. In just the last few months there have been new movements in this direction. The North Carolina Families First and South Carolina Labor Party have recently been formed and mark an important step in the right direction, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed: a nation-wide Labor Party with chapters and members in every state, county, city, and town in the country. Your declaration of political independence and your voice can make all the difference.
We launched the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor on Labor Day, 2010 because we think this is the only real way forward for American workers. But we are a tiny organization with no full time staff and no resources to speak of. Although we think we have a powerful idea to share with our fellow workers, our ability to get this idea to them is extremely limited.
That's where you come in. As the leader of the Pittston strike, you know the importance of class struggle trade unionism and solidarity. As a supporter of the Labor Party in the 1990s, you know how important it is for workers to have a political voice that is truly their own. You represent 11 million unionized workers and have the ear of millions of others. Through the AFL-CIO's magazines, websites, email lists, and access to television, radio, and newsprint, not to mention Facebook and Twitter, the message of a Labor Party could reach millions.
It is true that if you issue a call for a Labor Party and energetically build it, you will lose a lot of support. You will lose the support of the Democratic Party leaders and lobbyists who have promised so much but delivered so little. You will lose the support of the Republican strategists who might cynically hope to gain from Labor's break from the Democrats. You will be demonized in the business press, on Fox News, MSNBC, and in corporate boardrooms across America. But in exchange, you will gain the support and respect of millions of workers who have just been waiting for someone to show them the way out of our current economic and political dead end.
Corporate America wants to grind organized labor into the dust. After all, higher union wages mean lower profits--and profits just aren't high enough! In the face of vicious attacks by both parties, American workers have shown that they are more willing to fight. With even more vicious attacks on the horizon, it is only the beginning of the fight back in the workplace and in the streets. But we also need to be able to fight back at the polls. For this we need a party of, by, and for the workers. It is my sincerest hope that you will take up the call for a Labor Party and will mobilize the millions of members of the AFL-CIO behind this effort. We in the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor would like nothing better than to wrap up our modest campaign and throw our energies into fighting shoulder to shoulder with the rest of our union and non-union brothers and sisters in a serious, mass campaign to build such a party.
Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (www.masspartyoflabor.org)
CWA 37002 (personal capacity)
Monday, May 23, 2011
Monday, 23 May 2011
May 20, Madrid. Photo: Engel Serón
It leaps across frontier, defying all barriers, it laughs at the threats and curses of the ruling class and it sweeps aside the forces of the state. It cannot be halted. The mass protests that are spreading from one country to another have caught all the forces of the old society by surprise. They do not know how to react. If they do nothing, the movement grows, but if they attempt to crush it, it will grow much more rapidly.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Thursday, 19 May 2011
Dominique Strauss-Kahn Photo: IMF/ Michael Spilotro
How the mighty have fallen! Whatever the truth of the allegations of sexual assault and rape brought against him in New York, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is guilty of horrific crimes. As the head of the IMF, he is guilty of the political rape of the working people and the poorest sections of society in many underdeveloped countries. He is guilty of the rape of Greece and Portugal. Before finding himself in prison, he contributed to locking millions of people into a living hell. His brutal “remedies” inflict suffering and hardship on the poor in order to protect the interests of the bankers, the capitalists, the rich.
Read the rest here
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
II. The Spatial Dialectic of Capital
There is a spatial duality inherent in capitalism analogous to the temporal dialectic covered in the previous section. For there are two distinct types of space engendered by capitalism — both an abstract, global, and empty space as well as a concrete, hierarchical space composed of concentrated and distributed masses.
The former of these, abstract space, as constituted under capitalism, can be referred to as “Cartesian” space, just as abstract time was called “Newtonian.” And just as Newton considered the abstract time he described to be “empty” (i.e., devoid of real happenings or events), the abstract space that Descartes described was conceived as “empty” (i.e., devoid of real bodies). Or, in his own words, this sort of spatiality is “comprised in the idea of a space — not merely a space which is full of bodies, but even a space which is called ‘empty.’” This space unfolds temporally, as capitalism spreads throughout the world. It carries the traits of universality and homogeneity: it makes no difference what particular, heterogeneous forms of culture and society it encounters. The abstract space of capitalism absorbs them regardless and makes them more like itself. Nor does it honor any national or traditional boundaries; geographical barriers likewise mean nothing to it.
The concrete space of capitalism, on the other hand, describes the very real spatial disparities and inequalities that emerge out of the inner dynamic of capital. It accounts for the antithesis of town and country, the unevenness of capitalist development, and the huge urban agglomerations that resulted from the concentration of capital in different areas of the world. This more concrete form of spatiality could be called, moreover, the “topographical” space of capitalism. For even within the limits of a single municipality, this type of space can be witnessed in the various sectors that comprise the city: the dirty factories and centers of production, the clean, slick financial district, workers’ housing, the more “upscale” estates of the urban elites, and the palliative parks and green spaces, which serve to interrupt the dense overcrowding of the city. Concrete space would also help locate the centers of state power — the government buildings, judicial courts, and jails. Finally, it would include the main conduits of capitalist intercourse, the highways and backstreets, the subway systems of major cities, the train stations and railroad networks.
A. Abstract, Cartesian Space
Two main sources lay the groundwork for the abstract, global spatiality that developed under capitalism. The first is to be found in Marx’s works themselves, in both his early Manifesto that he co-authored with Engels, and later in his Grundrisse and the second volume of Capital. In the earliest of these works, the cosmopolitan, universal character of the capitalist social formation is taken for granted, as a sort of given. Marx mentions that the bourgeoisie are driven to the ends of the earth through their exploitation of the “world market,” and that this creates a new sort of global interdependency. In his later writings Marx identifies the actual mechanism by which capital is driven beyond any spatial limit, discovering it in the process of capital circulation. More specifically, it is through the development and enhancement of the means of transport and communication that pushes capital past its previous sphere of influence. Marx refers to this sort of spatial expansion as “the annihilation of space through time.”
The second major source for the globalizing dimension of capitalist spatiality is rather a bundle of sources from different authors. These authors were attempting to articulate a Marxist theory of a new phase of capitalist growth: imperialism. Rudolf Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Grigorii Zinoviev, and Nikolai Bukharin each were trying to make sense of the accelerating pace of capitalist expansion they were witnessing in their time. Each of them understood this phase of expansionist growth as a result of a crisis in the heart of capitalism, as the outcome of a new capitalist constellation. The specific terminology deployed to explain this phenomenon varied from author to author, but they all seemed to agree that it was related to the development of a new form of capital, “finance capital,” or (additionally) a new distribution of capital within the largest-scale capitalist nations, “monopoly capitalism.” Both of these phenomena involved an export of rawcapital to territories that were largely virgin to capitalism, rather than the simple export of commodities . This entailed not only the development of these regions’ infrastructure and mode of production, but also a form of domination over the underdeveloped countries enacted by most advanced capitalist nations.
1. Marx’s Theory of the Globalizing Spatiality of Capitalist Circulation
Capitalism, from the moment of its inception, was in concept a global phenomenon. This is so despite the fact that it did empirically emerge under historically determinate, localizable conditions. Circumstances would have it that these conditions first fermented in England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. But it could nevertheless be contended that no matter where it arose, once primitive accumulation had reached the point where capital was able to reproduce itself with a surplus such that it could be reinvested, the socioeconomic system and the relations it entailed were bound to spread and eventually wrap the globe. To the extent that capitalism could be imagined to have hypothetically emerged in a different part of the world (even on a different planet), the logic of capitalist reproduction would in any case eventually require its extension beyond any spatial boundaries that had previously contained it.
The necessity of precapitalist social formations is a matter of debate; it is unclear whether there are necessary “stages” a nation or region must go through before arriving at capitalism. However, there can be no doubt that capitalism possesses this totalizing and compulsively expansive character once it comes into its own. In this sense, it can be distinguished from all the socioeconomic forms that preceded it, since these different systems can be said to have existed in relative isolation from one another. Oppositely, “[with capitalism, w]e are dealing with a new sort of interdependence, one that emerged historically in a slow, spontaneous, and contingent way,” explains Moishe Postone. “Once the social formation based upon this new form of interdependence became fully developed, however (which occurred when labor power itself became a commodity), it acquired a necessary and systematic character; it has increasingly undermined, incorporated, and superseded other social forms, while becoming global in scale.”
For all these reasons mentioned above, the claim that capitalism possesses an innate globality can be justified. Insofar as capitalism could have potentially emerged anywhere and at any time that the conditions necessary for its existence obtained, the space it inhabits can be said to be abstract. The fact that it would expand outwardly and swallow all other social forms that come into its orbit, irrespective of their specific, concrete, distinguishing features, also attests to its abstractness. Regardless of national, geographical, or artificial boundaries, capitalism is able to transgress every border. “Through rapid improvement in the instruments of production, through limitless ease of communication, the bourgeoisie drags all nations, even the most primitive ones, into civilisation,” Marx and Engels wrote in theManifesto. “Cut-price commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces undeveloped societies to abandon even the most intense xenophobia. It forces all nations to adopt the bourgeois mode of production or go under; it forces them to introduce so-called civilisation amongst themselves, i.e. to become bourgeois. In a phrase, [capitalism] creates a world in its own image.”
Indeed, quite early in their careers, Marx and Engels recognized the international character of the capitalist mode of production. What in 1848 was limited to only a few of the more developed nations in Europe and North America would within the course of a century reach the remotest parts of the globe. Marx and Engels noted that capitalism had this unifying effect on all the nations and cultures of the world, such that for the first time there was truly a world market. Through this, the two young authors contended, this new global interdependence revealed itself:
Through the exploitation of the world market the bourgeoisie has made the production and consumption of all countries cosmopolitan. It has pulled the national basis of industry right out from under the reactionaries, to their consternation. Long-established national industries have been destroyed and are still being destroyed daily. They are being displaced by new industries — the introduction of which becomes a life-and-death question for all civilised nations — industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials but use raw materials from the ends of the earth, industries whose products are consumed not only in the country of origin but in every part of the world. In place of the old needs satisfied by home production we have new ones which demand the products of the most distant lands and climes for their satisfaction. In place of the old local and national self-sufficiency and isolation we have a universal commerce, a universal dependence of nations on one another. As in the production of material things, so also with intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common currency. National partiality and narrowness become more and more impossible, and from the many national and local literatures a world literature arises.
With the consolidation of the capitalist mode of production, no longer were there so many discrete, disconnected, and incomparable societies existing in relative isolation from each other. In their stead there arose a single, monolithic, and all-encompassing entity called Society. Only in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries did authors first begin writing of “society” as such, rather than with reference to this or that particular society. And so also was it only with Comte, Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, and Weber — from the middle part of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth — that the discipline of “sociology” carved out its place amongst the division of the human sciences.
“Bourgeois society carried out the process of socializing society,” wrote the Marxist theorist, Georg Lukács. “Capitalism destroyed both the spatio-temporal barriers between different lands and territories and also the legal partitions between the different ‘estates’…Man becomes, in the true sense of the word, a social being. Society becomes the reality for man.” Society treats its members, its constituent parts, as belonging to “a general whole that is substantially homogeneous — a totality.” No longer do they appear as divided into qualitatively different estates in which membership was more or less determined by birth. Neither is society absolutely divided along national or regional lines, into fundamentally distinct societies. Instead, as Adorno noted, “‘Society’ in the stronger sense…represents a certain kind of intertwinement which leaves nothing out; one essential characteristic of such a society — even though it may be modified or negated — is that its individual elements are presented as relatively equal.” Appealing to the authority of a nineteenth-century Swiss sociologist, Adorno specified “the concept of society…as an essentially bourgeois term, or a ‘concept of the third estate.’” Society, it would seem, is only as old as capitalism.
But what is it specifically about capitalism that compels it stretch outward, absorbing non-capitalist societies along the way? What is the root of its cosmopolitanism? It was the later Marx, in his groundbreaking Grundrisse for the critique of political economy, who would pinpoint the specific aspect of capitalism that lay behind its international movement. The lynchpin of capitalism’s global spatiality was to be “located” in its drive to open up new markets, in the realm of circulation, to reach greater and greater distances by revolutionizing the means of transport and communication. “The more production comes to rest on exchange value, hence on exchange, the more important do the physical conditions of exchange — the means of communication and transport — become for the costs of circulation,” observed Marx. “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange — of the means of communication and transport — the annihilation of space by time — becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”
As the critical geographer and Marxist scholar David Harvey has noted, the centrifugal movement of capitalism relies upon a general improvement of the means of transport and communication, such that the turnover time (production + circulation time) required for commodities to realize their value is consequently shortened. Proportionate to the shortening of this turnover time, moreover, is the widening of the scope of capital’s potential reach. “The reduction in realization and circulation costs helps to create, therefore, fresh room for capital accumulation,” writes David Harvey. “Put the other way around, capital accumulation is bound to be geographically expansionary and to be so by progressive reductions in the costs of communication and transportation.” The result of this continuous expansion is the creation of the “world market” Marx had talked about in the Manifesto. As Marx would later put it: “If the progress of capitalist production and the consequent development of the means of transport and communication shortens the circulation time for a given quantity of commodities, the same progress and the opportunity provided by the development of the means of transport and communication conversely introduces the necessity of working for ever more distant markets, in a word, for the world market.” And so it is by the creation of this global market that capitalism inevitably “conquers the world,” imposing its logic onto the preexisting social structures with which it comes into contact:
[W]hile capital must on one side strive to tear down every spatial barrier to intercourse, i.e. to exchange, and conquer the whole earth for its market, it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time, i.e. to reduce to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another. The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time.
Moreover, as David Harvey has pointed out: “Marx also argued that the historic tendency of capitalism is to destroy and absorb non-capitalist modes of production at the same time as it uses them to create fresh room for capital accumulation.” Even beyond this, Marx identified the impetus for this tendency in the prehistory of capitalism, in the mercantilist push outward in “the age of discovery.” Mercantilism, which was primarily motivated by the search for precious metals, seamlessly laid the groundwork for commodity export to the colonies in the centuries that followed. “The hunt for gold in all countries leads to its discovery; to the formation of new states; initially to the spread of commodities, which produce new needs, and draw distant continents into the metabolism of circulation, i.e. exchange,” wrote Marx, in Notebook II of the Grundrisse. “Thus,” he continued, “in this respect, as the general representative of wealth and as individualized exchange value, it was doubly a means for expanding the universality of wealth, and for drawing the dimensions of exchange over the whole world; for creating the true generality [Allgemeinheit] of exchange value in substance and in extension.”
This was the way in which Marx understood the global expansion of capital — its general extension throughout the world. The tendency that the young Marx and Engels identified in their Manifesto, regarding this new form of international interdependence, would thus later have its mechanism explained by Marx in his more mature reflections on capital. Through capitalism’s ceaseless drive to enhance its systems of transportation and communication, the commodities it produced spread further and further afield. The need for capital to constantly “annihilate” distances in space through the improvement of its locomotive forces ensured that any spatial barrier capitalism ran up against would not last long. From the age of discovery to the industrial revolution, Marx pinpointed the dynamic of capitalism’s global spatial growth.
 Descartes, René. Principles of Philosophy. Translated by John Cottingham. From The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume 3. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1985). Pg. 228.
 “We have seen how money is transformed into capital; how surplusvalue is made through capital, and how more capital is made from surplus-value. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalist production; capitalist production presupposes the availability of considerable masses of capital and labour-power in the hands of commodity producers. The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn around in a never-ending circle, which we can only get out of by assuming a primitive accumulation (the ‘previous accumulation’ of Adam Smith) which precedes capitalist accumulation; an accumulation which is not the result of the capitalist mode of production but its point of departure.” Marx, Capital, Volume 1. Pgs. 873. The conditions by which primitive accumulation arose are described between pgs. 877-895.
 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 148.
 Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pg. 5. My emphasis.
 Ibid., pgs. 4-5.
 “In its universe there is a formal equality for all men.” Lukács, Georg. “What is Orthodox Marxism?” From History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1972). Pg. 19.
 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 72.
 Adorno, Theodor. Introduction to Sociology. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. (Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA: 2000). Pg. 30.
 Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Martin Nicolaus. (Random House, Inc. New York, NY: 1973). Pg. 524. My emphasis.
 Harvey, David. “The Geography of Capitalist Accumulation: a Reconstruction of the Marxian theory.” From Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. (Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh, England: 2001). Pg. 244.
 Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 2. Pg. 329.
 Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 539.
 Harvey, Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. Pg. 251.
 Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 225.
Monday, May 16, 2011
B. Concrete, Historical Time
Just as society under capitalism was manifesting this abstract form of time, it was simultaneously giving birth to a new form of concrete time, distinct from the sense of concrete time that existed before the preponderance of commodity exchange in society. This concrete sense of time was not that of habit, convention, or task-orientation. It was rather a newfound sense of historical time, understood as a linear chain of events, or as a succession of “stages” leading up to the present. Along with this newfound sense of concrete, historical time came a new consciousness of time, specific to capitalism. What lay behind this new historical consciousness?
For one, it was the increasing dynamism exhibited by the new form of society under which they were living, such that time-honored social institutions and traditional practices now underwent a visible series of sudden and spasmodic transformations. Longstanding social relations were often uprooted and replaced within the span of a single lifetime. As Marx and Engels famously recorded in the Manifesto, “[t]he continual transformation of production, the uninterrupted convulsion of all social conditions, a perpetual uncertainty and motion distinguish the epoch of the bourgeoisie from all earlier ones.” This shift in the underlying socioeconomic basis of society entailed a corresponding shift in the ideological superstructure: “All the settled, age-old relations with their train of time-honoured preconceptions and viewpoints are dissolved; all newly formed ones become outmoded before they can ossify. Everything feudal and fixed goes up in smoke, everything sacred is profaned.”
Zygmunt Bauman thus rightly credited “[t]he considerable speeding up of social change” as a necessary condition for the creation of this historical consciousness. This speeding up, he added, “was duly reflected in the…novel sense of history as an endless chain of irreversible changes, with which the concept of progress — a development which brings change for the better — was not slow to join forces.” The notion of progressive historical development was aided, moreover, by the ongoing technical revolutions taking place in the field of production. This concept of a progression of stages was then conversely projected backward through time, in the interpretation of history. It is therefore no surprise that this period saw the emergence of thinkers like Vico and Hegel, who looked to the past and interpreted it as an unfolding of qualitatively distinct “phases” — as modes of consciousness or spirit as the torch of civilization was passed from one society to the next.
At the political level, this historical understanding of time simultaneously grounded both conservatism and radicalism. In the former case, one saw the history leading up to the present as a demonstration of its necessity, while in the latter, one saw the present itself as merely transitory, as just another stop along the way in the moving train of history. Liberalism stood between these two extremes, in the static sphere of ahistorical Natural Rights. For the rest, however, this recognition of historical time dramatically impacted the way they viewed the world. And so, despite the volatility involved in the rapid upheaval of older social forms that came with capitalism, the memory that things had not so long ago been different granted to conservatives the hope for a return to “simpler times,” while for radicals it held the promise of leading to a more perfect, as yet unseen social arrangement.
But what was the actual dynamic in capitalism that necessitated this series of convulsive transformations? For it is easy to say that capitalism forced this state of chronic instability, but it is much harder to actually trace out the dialectical aspect of capitalism that compels its continuous flux. And so we must discover the specific origin of this dynamic, rooted in a dimension of capital itself.
A brief investigation into the constitution of capital will reveal that this dynamic is located in the value-dimension of capital. Value, when it appears in the form of capital, ceaselessly strives to augment itself through a process of self-valorization. It here becomes clear that the Lukácsean simultaneous subject-object of history is not Labor as constituted by the proletarian class, but Capital as constituted by self-valorizing value, which assimilates the non-identical to itself through its own activity while remaining at all times identical with itself. As Marx wrote, “[capital] is constantly changing from one form to another, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject.” Value is still the operative concept in its form as capital, however: “In truth,…value is here the subject of a process in which…it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value to itself is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization.” It thereby obtains an almost magical character: “By virtue of being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself.”
Capital achieves this valorization through the purchase of labor as a commodity. Productive labor thus enters the process of capitalist circulation as a socially mediating activity necessary for augmenting capital. “[C]apital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus-value, to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labor.” Labor, which uniquely possesses the ability to enhance the value originally invested in its purchase, produces surplus-value for its temporary owner in either of the following ways: 1) by an absolute increase in the time spent laboring beyond the socially average time necessary to reproduce the value advanced; or 2) by a relative decrease in the time required to produce an equivalent value below that same social average, since “the prolongation of the surplus labor must…originate in the curtailment of the necessary labor-time,” assuming the length of the working day remains constant. The latter of these methods can only be accomplished by an increase in the productivity of labor by technical or organizational means, either by the introduction of new machine technologies or a more efficient division of labor.
Historically, capital at first relied on the production of absolute surplus-value through the extension of the working day in order to valorize itself, until labor negotiations and parliamentary legislation managed to secure a normal working day through the famous Factory Acts. These set a legal limit on the maximum number of hours a worker could be assigned in a day. Thereafter, capitalist production was generally forced to make do with the generation of relative surplus-value, which it achieved by the successive institution of cooperative action between workers, the detail division of labor in manufacturing, and the implementation of heavy machinery in large-scale industry.
At this point, our digression into the inner workings of capitalism reconnects with the investigation of the unprecedentedhistorical consciousness linked to the inner dynamic of capital. For it is the category of value undergirding capitalist society that is the source of its dynamism; the dynamic character of value in the form of capital is built into its very concept. The dialectical tension which characterizes capital always exists in potentia as part of its logic, but begins to unfold more rapidly with the general stabilization of the workday and the increased stress placed upon the generation of relative surplus-value. Since relative surplus-value demands that the technical and social basis of production be constantly revolutionized so that productivity can be increased, but at the same time the rate of surplus-value thereby gained begins to vanish as soon as these technical and organizational advances are generalized, there is an overall “speeding up” of the production process. These frequent, usually violent speed-ups give rise to what Postone has called the “treadmill effect” of capitalist production, involving a “dialectic of transformation and reconstitution.”
This is how an historical consciousness in the modern sense first manifested itself in society. For it was only with the further elaboration of the dialectic immanent to relative surplus-value that the concept of history as an unfolding progression of stages even became available. Postone explains: “Considered temporally, this intrinsic dynamic of capital, with its treadmill pattern, entails an ongoing directional movement of time, a ‘flow of history.’ In other words, the mode of concrete time we are examining can be considered historical time, as constituted in capitalist society.”
C. Reflection on the Temporal Dialectic of Capitalism
Examining these two distinct senses of time that emerge out of capitalism, we may briefly state the characteristics that differentiate them and determine the extent to which they interact. Some differences between the two should be obvious. One is abstract and homogeneous, the other is concrete and heterogeneous. The one is cyclical and repetitive, while the other is linear and unprecedented, irreversible, and unreplicable in its exact constitution. Abstract, Newtonian time is scientific, and can be measured mechanically, by the gears in a watch. Concrete, historical time, on the other hand, must be comprehended either organically (in precapitalist societies) or dialectically (under capitalism), as a dynamic sequence of forces and events.
But despite all their differences, it is not as if these two forces are divided by an unbridgeable chasm. Rather, they are intricately and dialectically intertwined. If anything, the two separate temporal elements combine to create the unique structure of capitalist development through history. While on the one hand society is being propelled forward through a series of irreversible transformations, on the other, the repetitious pattern of day-to-day, hour-to-hour routines of social production continue according to their usual cycles. The result is regularity alongside radical disruption, repetition with difference — and these are features specific to modernity, not postmodernity, as Deleuze and Derrida would have it. And so it is proper, when speaking of the dialectical motion of capitalism, to describe it as following a cyclolinear path of production and circulation punctuated by periods of boom and crisis. The “historical” element of capitalist time allows the way in which capitalism manifests itself to change over time, such that distinct phases of capitalism can be identified (liberalism/monopolism/imperialism/Fordism/neo-liberalism or “flexible accumulation”). The homogeneous, “repetitive” element of time under capitalism allows it to remain capitalism throughout all of its various phases, founded on the same principle of the supervaluation of value. Only the historical transcendence and overturning of this principle would produce a revolutionary outcome, only then could a postcapitalist society emerge.
 Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Manifesto of the Communist Party. From Later Political Writings. Pg. 4.
 “It was only [the] idea of perfectibility [made possible by the concept of progress] which paved the way for utopia.” Bauman, Zygmunt. Socialism: The Active Utopia. (George Allen & Unwin Limited. London, England: 1976). Pgs. 18-19.
 “The circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The movement of capital is therefore limitless.” Ibid., pg. 253.
 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pgs. 75-77.
 Marx, Capital, Volume I. Pg. 255.
 Ibid., pg. 342.
 “[Labor is] a commodity whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value.” Ibid., pg. 270.
 “The prolongation of the working day beyond the point at which the worker would have produced an ex-act equivalent for the value of his labor-power, and the appropriation of that surplus labor by capital — this is the process which constitutes the production of absolute surplus-value.” Ibid., pg. 645.
 Ibid., pg. 431.
 “The technical and social conditions of the [labor] process and consequently the mode of production it-self must be revolutionized before the productivity of labor can be increased.” Ibid., pg. 432.
“[T]he production of relative surplus-value completely revolutionizes the technical processes of labor and the groupings into which society is divided.” Ibid., pg. 645.
 Ibid., pgs. 389-416.
 Chapters 13, 14, and 15 respectively. Ibid., pgs. 439-640.
 “With the development of relative surplus value…the directional motion that characterizes capital as self-valorizing value becomes tied to ongoing changes in productivity. An immanent dynamic of capitalism emerges, a ceaseless expansion grounded in a determinate relationship between the growth of productivity and the growth of the value form of the surplus.” Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 283.
 “The peculiarity of the dynamic — and this is crucial — is its treadmill effect. Increased productivity in-creases the amount of value produced per unit of time — until this productivity becomes generalized; at that point the magnitude of value yielded in that time period, because of its abstract and general temporal determination, falls back to its previous level. This results in a new determination of the social labor hour and a new base level of productivity. What emerges, than, is a dialectic of transformation and reconstitution.” Ibid., pg. 289.
 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 293.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The Origin of Modernist and Eclecticist Architecture out of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Part I: The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism
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To understand the history of architectural modernism and eclecticism as they originated out of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must take into account the broader development of architecture over the course of the latter half of the nineteenth century. This development, in turn, must be seen as emerging from the dynamic of late nineteenth-century capitalism, which had by that point extended to encompass the whole of Europe. For it was the unique spatiotemporal dialectic of the capitalist mode of production — along with the massive social and technological forces it unleashed — that formed the basis for the major architectural ideologies that arose during this period. Before the story of the academicians or the avant-garde can be told, then, some background is necessary to explain both their origin and the eventual trajectory they would take into the early twentieth century.
So while my aim is to eventually account for how a single social formation, capitalism, can give birth to these two opposite tendencies within architectural thought, the space required to give an adequate exposition of the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism is such that it deserves to function as a standalone essay. Certainly other trends, both cultural and social, could be understood as reflections of this underlying socioeconomic dynamic. It is thus my intention to post this as its own piece, before then proceeding to detail the way in which architectural modernism and eclecticism mirrored these dynamics.
I. The Temporal Dialectic of Capitalism
Capitalism does odd things to time. On the one hand, it standardized the measurement of time to obey the artificial pulse of the mechanical clock. This standardization was at the same time part of a larger project of rationalization that took place under the auspices of capitalism as it spread throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the first time in history, society was synchronized according to a single regime of time; its movement was as clockwork. This new temporal order replaced the traditional system of timekeeping, based as it was on the arbitrariness of convention and the natural cycles of the changing seasons and daylight. This sort of time, abstracted from all events that might take place under its watch, can be referred to as Newtonian time — pure, uniform, untainted by the messiness of historical change.
On the other hand, however, capitalism after a certain point seems to generate a new sense of historical consciousness separate from the abstract, Newtonian time with which it coincides. This is brought about by an underlying dynamic inherent in the composition of capital itself, located specifically in its value-dimension. For once capital began to revolutionize the basis of production in pursuit of what Marx termed “relative surplus-value,” a series of accelerating social and technological innovations began to send down shockwaves throughout the rest of society. This was experienced as a corresponding sequence of convulsive social transformations, continuously uprooting the time-honored organic social relations that preceded the rise of capitalism. As the process of capitalist production developed further into the early nineteenth century, this dynamic became more and more pronounced. Since these successive transformations could now be seen as occurring within the space of a single generation, a new consciousness of time arose around the notion of progressive “phases,” “stages,” or “epochs” of history. Opposed to both the mode of abstract time manifested by capitalism as well as the kind of historical temporality that preceded it, this can be referred to as historical time as it exists under capitalism.
The precise way in which capitalism gave birth to these two opposite modes of understanding time will be elucidated in the following. Their connection to the styles of architecture that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will only be possible after the elaboration of both the temporal and the spatial dialectics of capitalism have been completed.
A. Abstract, Newtonian Time
Before the advent of capitalism, the workday was regulated by the organic rhythms of sunup and sundown, by the rooster’s crow and the dim fade into twilight. Time was measured, not by the mechanical regularity of the clock, but by much more arbitrary and conventional standards. For example, in seventeenth-century Chile, “the cooking-time of an egg could be judged by an Ave Maria said aloud.” Even at the level of months and days, the calendar was less important than the events that occupied it. Planting-time, harvest-time, and the celebration of religious and secular holidays — these were the patterns by which precapitalist societies understood the passage of time. “In terms of the human organism itself,” observed Lewis Mumford, “mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action.” The digital precision of time-measurement, to which we have become so accustomed today, would have been an utterly foreign concept to a person born prior to the rise of capitalism.
The mechanical calculation of time can be traced to the fourteenth century, when public clocks were mounted in cities and large commercial towns. Their impact on society at this point was still limited, however; the clocks’ accuracy was often in question. Some improvements were made in the seventeenth century with the introduction of the pendulum in the grandfather clock by Christiaan Huygens in 1656, which allowed for the isochronous measurement of time. Still, their circulation throughout society remained minimal. The broader dissemination of chronometric devices took place in the first half of the eighteenth century, and only then it was the typically the gentry who would own a pocket-watch, as a symbol of their status. But it was the industrial revolution that first made the exact measurement of time socially universal. As Mumford explained, “[t]he popularization of time-keeping, which followed the production of the cheap standardized watch, first in Geneva, was essential to a well-articulated system of transportation and production.” The British Marxist E.P. Thompson verified Mumford’s claim when he later wrote: “Indeed, a general diffusion of clocks and watches is occurring (as one would expect) at the exact moment when the industrial revolution demanded a greater synchronization of labour.”
And why was the precise measurement of time so vital to a society founded on the exchange of commodities? Why did the workday have to be so artificially broken down into abstract units of time? For exactly the reason Marx explained when he wrote that
A use-value, or useful article…has value only because abstract human labour is objectified [vergegenständlicht] or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? By means of the quantity of the “value-forming substance,” the labour, contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale of hours, days, etc. [my emphasis]
Of course, this duration is not determined by how long it takes this or that particular individual to complete the production of a commodity. “What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article,” Marx then continued, “is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.” Marx makes it clear that this time is abstract, in the sense that value is determined by the time necessary to produce a commodity through abstract, homogeneous human labor.
And indeed, as Thompson demonstrates, it is no coincidence that the exact monitoring of time was increasingly enforced as the industrial revolution gathered steam. At both school as in work, lateness or tardiness of any sort were to be penalized with greater severity. Ringing bells were installed in the schools to indicate to students when one period was to end and another to begin. Workers were obligated to “punch in” with mechanical devices to keep them honest about the amount of time they had worked. A new ethos of timeliness, punctuality, and efficiency was encouraged. “In all these ways — by the division of labour; the supervision of labour; fines; bells and clocks; money incentives; preachings and schoolings; the suppression of fairs and sports — new labour habits were formed, and a new time-discipline was imposed.” But the students and workers did not at first bend willingly to this new regime of time. The shift from the traditional, less methodical time required to complete a specific task (which Thompson called the “task-orientation”), to a strictly-regulated pace of work was not an easy transition. “The onslaught, from so many directions, upon the people’s old working habits was not, of course, uncontested,” recorded Thompson. “In the first stage, we find simple resistance. But, in the next stage, as the new time-discipline is imposed, so the workers begin to fight, not against time, but about it.”
This fight about time would culminate, of course, in the struggle for the regular ten-hour workday, which Marx documented at length in Capital. Reacting to the outrage of the working class over the “spurious ‘system of relays’,” the British government mandated that clocks be readily visible to the workers to ensure that they were not made to work over the ten-hour limit: “‘The time shall be regulated by a public clock,’ for example the nearest railway clock, by which the factory clock is to be set. The manufacturer has to hang up a ‘legible’ printed notice stating the hours for the beginning and ending of work and the pauses allowed for meals.” Because capital had previously sought mainly to maximize the amount of surplus-value obtained from labor simply by extending the number of hours worked as far beyond the value paid for the labor-process, i.e., through absolute surplus-value, members of the working class were gradually made to work inhuman lengths of time. Whereas before the working-class had objected to the strict regimentation of time-measurement in their labor, the struggle of the working class to restrict the number of hours they could be legally made to work entailed a certain acceptance of this new regime of time. “The history of the regulation of the working day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others over this regulation,” wrote Marx, “prove conclusively that the isolated worker, the worker as ‘free’ seller of his labour-power, succumbs without resistance once capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity.” No longer did the spirit of the worker revolt against the close monitoring of his time. Thus did the worker (and urban society in general) internalize the new temporal order.
Here it may be worthwhile to briefly reflect on the way capitalism transforms the temporal dimension of social experience. On the one hand, it homogenizes time into a set of quantitatively equivalent metric units — minutes, seconds, hours, days. These units are effectively interchangeable; one minute lasts exactly the same duration as any other minute, regardless of the time of day. Such time, abstracted from any concrete events or occurrences that may take place in that time, is essentially universal — devoid of any particulars or peculiarities. It is Newtonian time: pure, repetitive, and scientific. It is unsullied by natural or historical accidence. As the Marxist theoretician Moishe Postone puts it,
“Abstract time,”…by which I mean uniform, continuous, homogeneous, “empty” time, is independent of events. The conception of abstract time, which became increasingly dominant in Western Europe between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, was expressed most emphatically in Newton’s formulation of “absolute, true and mathematical time [which] flows equably without relation to anything external.”
This time is, moreover, also cyclical. Of course, it cannot be claimed that nature has no cycles or rhythms of its own; but these natural cycles are organic and matters of quality. The artificial cycles of abstract time are mathematic and matters of quantity. Every day has twenty-four hours, and every hour sixty minutes. Each minute in turn has sixty seconds, and all these remain invariable quantities. Once one minute is over, another begins, and once an hour has passed another has started. Such is the nature of abstract, cyclical time.
All this is well and good conceptually, but when historically did this new sense of time-consciousness become normalized? At what point did the majority of society come to march to the tick of a synchronous clock? Our investigation thus far has suggested that it became increasingly prevalent and normative along with the contiguous spread of capitalism during the industrial revolution. But this brings us into a longstanding debate within the study of horology. To this point, it would seem that we have downplayed or dismissed the prior invention of the clock, such that our treatment of the subject has failed to acknowledge the longue durée of timekeeping itself. But there is often a great disconnect between the mere moment an innovation occurs and the generalization of its consequences to the rest of society. “Although abstract time arose socially in the late Middle Ages, it did not become generalized until much later,” asserts Postone. “Not only did rural life continue to be governed by the rhythms of the seasons, but even in the towns, abstract time impinged directly upon only the lives of merchants and the relatively small number of wage earners.” Only later did this profoundly ahistorical mode of thinking about time arise historically, as part of the deep social transformations that were taking place at the time. The compulsion to synchronize the whole of society only took effect with the advent of capitalism. As Postone writes emphatically, “[t]he tyranny of time in capitalist society is a central dimension of the Marxian categorial analysis.”
 Thompson, E.P. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” From Past & Present 38. (1967). Pg. 58.
 Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. (University of Chicago Press. Chicago, IL: 2010). Pg. 15.
 Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pgs. 63-65.
 Mumford, Technics and Civilization. Pg. 17.
 Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pg. 69.
 Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1982). Pg. 129.
 “In order to act as such a mirror of value, tailoring itself must reflect nothing apart from its own abstract quality of being human labour.” Ibid., pg. 150.
 Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pg. 90.
 Ibid,. pg 85.
 Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 394.
 “[T]he value of labourpower, and the value which that labour-power valorizes [verwertet] in the labour-process, are two entirely different magnitudes ; and this difference was what the capitalist had in mind when he was purchasing the labour-power.” Ibid., pg. 300. Marx later provides the formula for the rate of absolute surplus value as (surplus labor/necessary labor), or (s/v). Ibid., pg. 326.
 “We see then that, leaving aside certain extremely elastic restrictions, the nature of commodity exchange itself imposes no limit to the working day, no limit to surplus labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working day as long as possible, and, where possible, to make two working days out of one.” Ibid., pg. 344.
 Ibid., pg. 412.
 “Before the rise and development of modern, capitalist society in Western Europe, dominant conceptions of time were of various forms of concrete time: time was not an autonomous category, independent of events, hence, it could be determined qualitatively, as good or bad, sacred or profane.” Postone, Moishe. Time, Labor, and Social Domination. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1993). Pg. 201.
 Ibid., pg. 202.
 Ibid., pg. 212.
 Ibid., pg. 214.
 Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. From The Early Sociology of Management and Organizations, Volume 1: Scientific Management. (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY: 2005). Pg. 129. My emphases.
 Gilbreth, Frank and Gilbreth, Lillian. Applied Motion Study: A Collection of Papers on the Efficient Method to Industrial Preparedness. (Sturgis & Walton Company. New York, NY: 1917). Pgs. 14-15.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Wednesday, 11 May 2011
5 April, Damascus. Photo: Syriana
The revolutionary uprising of the Syrian masses has left many among the Syrian left confused and perplexed. Many of the so called “progressives” and “lefts” have taken a negative attitude towards the revolutionary movements, in some cases going as far as repeating the propaganda of the regime regarding “an imperialist conspiracy”, “Muslim extremists”, and “agent provocateurs”. But all this completely misreads the situation.
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Monday, May 09, 2011
Friday, 06 May 2011
The hoarse bleating and the paranoia unleashed by the media and the intelligentsia in Pakistan complaining about the US operation in Abbotabad as a “breach of sovereignty” is mindboggling to say the least. When did Pakistan ever have genuine and complete sovereignty in its history?
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Wednesday, 04 May 2011
The political landscape of Canada has changed, potentially in an irrevocable way. The Liberal Party, formerly Canada’s “natural governing party”, has been reduced to a rump of 34 seats, having received only 19% of the vote. The separatist Bloc Quebecois, which has dominated Quebec since the party’s foundation 20 years ago, has been swept aside by the NDP’s “orange wave” and has been left with only four seats. The New Democratic Party, Canada’s labour party, has leapt into second place with a record-breaking 102 seats, and 31% of the vote.
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