Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Last Post

The Renegade Eye blog, was born born March 26th, 2005. Today it is going into retirement, after 561 posts.

What an experience. If you read the blog, from the start, you can see my political evolution. Debate can change people. Can you believe I was pro-Iraq War at one time?

I want to thank all the contributing writers as Marxist from Lebanon, Marie Trigona, John Peterson, Ross Wolfe, Maryam Namazie, Aaron and Nadia A etc.

I think blogging is in decline, since the birth of the social network. A blog can still be important, but it has to build a following.

There has been more political combat on this blog, than most others. It was fun at one time. Now its argument for the sake of argument. I tried to deal with my political opponents arguments, without attacking their humanity, as much as possible. The rightist blog that leftists visit is Sonia Belle's Adults Only Blog.

The character of Renegade Eye, will comment on other blogs. I plan to start a new blog, with a different identity. Those who should know the new identity, will be informed.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Norwegian Massacre: “This Is An Attack On The Labour Movement” - Labour Must Respond!

Written by Alan Woods
Saturday, 23 July 2011

The AUF summer camp only a few days ago. Photo: Arbeiderpartiet

World public has been shocked by the news of the bloody massacre in Norway. At least 91 people have been killed, including 84 members of the Labour Youth Organization (AUF) in a summer camp.

Read the rest here


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Role Played by the State in the Development of Capitalism in Japan

Written by Fred Weston
Thursday, 21 July 2011

Photo: Bill Keaggy

The classical view of how capitalism develops is that within feudal society a class emerges made up of merchants, bankers, early industrialists, i.e. the bourgeoisie, and that for this class to be able to develop its full potential a bourgeois revolution is required to break the limits imposed by the landed feudal aristocracy. That is how things developed, more or less, in countries like France and England, but not in Japan.

Continued Here


Friday, July 15, 2011

USA: “Death by a Thousand (Budget) Cuts”

Written by John Peterson
Thursday, 14 July 2011

Plackards on February 26 protest in Madison. Photo: Fibonacci Blue

As ratings agency Moody's considers the possibility of cutting the US AAA debt rating, concerned that the US could default on its debt obligations, we publish a recent editorial statement of the US Socialist Appeal on the forthcoming wave of massive cuts in public spending in the United States. As the article points out, “the capitalists must impose a new normality on the U.S. working class. The crisis of their system means that small cuts or adjustments are no longer enough. The hatchet is out now...”

Read the rest here


Friday, July 08, 2011

The Occasional Open Thread

Egypt is erupting again, while the state of Minnesota is shut down. Obama is proposing deeper budget cuts than the Republicans in debt ceiling talks. Bush only had two wars, while Obama has more than can be counted. Time for a Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor? Tea Party? This only can mean, an open thread.


Monday, July 04, 2011

Should We Pay For The Crisis?

Written by Alan Woods
Monday, 04 July 2011

Latuff - Euro timebomb

As I write these lines the destinies of Greece are being decided in a titanic struggle in which the Greek working class is confronting the big banks and capitalists of all Europe. The EU is subjecting Greece to the most shameless blackmail. They say: either accept draconian cuts in your living standards, or else we will refuse to hand over the next tranche of 12 billion euros.

Read the rest here


Thursday, June 30, 2011

China: The Anger Beneath The Surface

Written By Alan Woods
Wednesday, 29 June 2011

1 May, Macao. Photo: Chi Chio Choi on Flickr

During the revolutionary events in Egypt, the Chinese authorities displayed extreme nervousness, increasing the police presence on the streets and clamping down on the Internet, where references to the Egyptian Revolution were banned. Why should the rulers of China be so worried about events taking place in distant countries?

Read the rest here


Monday, June 27, 2011

Canada: Federal NDP Convention - Right-wing Fails to Remove Socialism

Written by Julian Benson
Friday, 24 June 2011

The New Democratic Party, fresh on the heels of an historic electoral victory, has just concluded its federal convention in Vancouver. Seven Fightback supporters from four different cities were there to intervene in the convention which, even before it began, was set to be a showcase for the balance of forces between the left and right wings of the party.

Read the rest here


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Revolutionary Precursors: Radical Bourgeois Architects in the Age of Reason and Revolution

Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Cénotaphe a Newton" (Cenotaph to Newton) (1784)
Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Cenotaph for Newton," Interior (1784)

In honor of the Platypus Affiliated Society's Radical Bourgeois Philosophy summer reading group, I thought I would devote a blog entry to the celebration of radical bourgeois architecture. I've been writing a lot of posts related to the subject of the revolutionary avant-garde architecture that followed October 1917 in Russia and in Europe, so I think that it might be fitting to take a step back and review some of the architectural fantasies that surrounded that other great revolutionary date, 1789, the year of the glorious French Revolution. The three utopian architects whose work I will be focusing on here also happen to also be French — perhaps not coincidentally.

Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728—1799), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736—1806), and François Marie Charles Fourier (1772—1837) were each architects and thinkers whose ideas reflected some of the most radical strains of liberal bourgeois philosophy, with its cult of reason and devotion to the triplicate ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. The structures they imagined and city plans they proposed were undeniably some of the most ambitious and revolutionary of their time. At their most fantastic, the buildings they envisioned were absolutely unbuildable — either according to the technical standards of their day or arguably even of our own.

The first two utopian architects mentioned above, Boullée and Ledoux, were also renowned theorists and teachers of the neoclassical style that developed in eighteenth-century France. Indeed, between them they trained some of the most brilliant neoclassicists of their age. The French architects Jean Chalgrin, Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart, and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand were trained by Boullée, while Ledoux helped teach the influential Lithuanian architect Laurynas Gucevičius. Most of their own work that was actually built worked within the more traditional parameters of neoclassicism, and attests to their total mastery over the style.

Claude-Nicolas Ledoux's "Théâtre de Besançon," Interior (1784)
Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Temple of Death" (1795)
Étienne-Louis Boullée's "Temple of Death," Interior (1795)

But beyond their admiration for the Greek, Roman, and Renaissance styles from which they drew their primary inspiration, both Boullée and Ledoux were drawn into utopian speculation. In flagrant defiance of all the Vitruvian and Albertian dicta on feasibility and practicality, each drew up plans for impossible structures. Immersed as they were in an age of scientific, intellectual, and political revolution, Boullée and Ledoux each bore the imprint of their times. The radical ideas they encountered and revolutionary events that they witnessed gave them both the impression that a new world was forming before their eyes, in which the space of limitless possibility could open up.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why is there no socialist architectural movement today?

I am choosing to repost a reply I wrote in answer to a good question Ren raised over at my blog. I hope that it is informative for everyone.

There is no truly socialist architectural movement today. This can be seen in two different lights — one positive, the other negative.

On the one hand, I believe that there is no socialist architectural movement largely because we don’t inhabit a revolutionary moment. There are significant events taking place throughout the Arab world and in some of the poorer parts of Europe. Even the major economic powers of the world are reeling from crisis. The world is experiencing more upheaval now than it has felt in decades. But all-out social revolution is not imminent. I understand, as you do, that revolutionary transformation is a process, but history requires certain spasms or events to trigger such processes and set them concretely in motion.

So from this perspective, it’s perfectly understandable why there should be no socialist architectural movement — any such proposals or designs would be hopelessly utopian in our present situation. Architecture can have a social mission, and modernist architecture was certainly committed to such ends in its time. But as Le Corbusier and others realized, an emancipatory architecture can only take place at the level of a generalized process of global social planning. Only then could such ambitious schemes be undertaken and implemented. And so for this to take place, a social revolution must have already laid the groundwork for revolutionary architecture and urban-planning.

On the other hand, however, this all can be seen in a tragic light. The failure of the Russian Revolution to spread to Central and Western Europe left most of the world outside the pale of truly transformative social change. Still, the ideology of modernist architecture sought initially to rationalize building practices across borders, to create a universal language of spatial organization. The modernists wanted to lay to rest the arbitrary, capricious, and anachronistic methods of traditional construction throughout the world. Furthermore, the European and Russian avant-gardes were deeply concerned with the shortage of workers’ housing, the continued antithesis between town and country, and the general anarchy of design in a world where the architect was forced to seek out private, individual contracts, and satisfy their patrons’ every whim and fancy.

It was for precisely this reason, I argue, that European modernists pinned their hopes so strongly on the socialist experiment taking place in Russia. Even though modernism — in both Russia and abroad — practically worshipped technology, with its cult of the machine, the members of the avant-garde saw in the Soviet Union the opportunity to realize their visions on an unprecedented scale. Occupying approximately a sixth of the terrestrial globe, the Soviet Union represented to them a sort of spatial infinity, where they could plan not only individual structures or neighborhoods, nor even just individual cities. Wholeregions could be moulded through the efforts of unified, centralized planning. Thus, with the disappointment of the League of Nations’ choice opting for a neo-Renaissance design for its headquarters, and the global crisis of capitalism in the midst of the Great Depression, the European avant-garde flocked to Russia in staggering numbers. From Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, and even the United States, architects of the “International” style were eager to participate in the building of a new society.

To name just a few: Le Corbusier, André Lurçat, Victor Bourgeois, Ernst May, Hannes Meyer, Bruno Taut, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Erich Mauthner, Arthur Korn, Hans Schmidt, Mart Stam, Cornelis van Eesteren — joining the dozens of capable modernist architects already working in the Soviet Union (Moisei Ginzburg, the three Vesnin brothers, Nikolai Ladovskii, El Lissitzky, Konstantin Mel’nikov, Il’ia Golosov, Nikolai Krasil’nikov, Georgyi Krutikov, Ivan Leonidov, etc., etc.)

And this is why the Stalinist betrayal dealt modernism such a crushing blow. With the decision for a grotesque neoclassical style for the Palace of the Soviets, the entire “mystique of the USSR” (as Le Corbusier called it) faded swiftly. Those who had dared to dream of a better future now found themselves hopelessly disillusioned. I maintain that this is where the social mission of modernism died its final, miserable death, and gave way to a more or less complete opportunism. Le Corbusier flirted with fascism in Vichy during the war before collaborating on the UN Building afterwards. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who in the 1920s had designed the official Monument to the communist heroes Karl Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg, was now commissioned to design the ultimate symbol of swanky corporate capitalism, the Seagram Building, in 1958. For architectural modernism, the form remained — but its substance had forever vanished. Thus, this accounts for the present lack of an international socialist movement in architecture as well.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Balance Sheet of October

This is an excerpt from a book highlighting the pluses and minuses of the Russian Revolution. It shows even a deformed socialism as Stalinism, will make great gains, that can't be met by capitalism.

By Ted Grant
July 2008

The Advances of the Planned Economy

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be.
Alfred Tennyson.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the greatest events in history. If we leave aside the heroic episode of the Paris Commune, for the first time millions of downtrodden workers and peasants took political power into their own hands, sweeping aside the despotic rule of the capitalists and landlords, and set out to create a socialist world order. Destroying the old Tsarist regime that held sway for a thousand years, they had conquered one-sixth of the world's land surface. The ancien régime was replaced by the rule of a new democratic state system: the Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. It heralded the beginning of the world revolution, inspiring the hopes and dreams of millions who had lived through the nightmare of the first world war. Notwithstanding the terrible backwardness of Russia, the new Socialist Soviet Republic represented a decisive threat to the world capitalist order. It struck terror in bourgeois circles, who rightly regarded it as a threat to their power and privileges, but comforted themselves with the notion that the Bolshevik regime was likely to only last a matter of weeks. The nationalised property relations that emerged from the revolution, the foundations of an entirely new social system, entered into direct conflict with the capitalist form of society. Despite the emergence of Stalinism, this fundamental antagonism existed right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even today events in Russia continue to haunt world politics, like some Banquo's ghost that continually overshadows the festivities of the capitalist class.

Read the rest here


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gates Speech Reveals Deep Splits in Nato

Written by Alan Woods
Friday, 17 June 2011

Robert Gates speaking at the Annapolis naval academy in 2010. Photo: DoD/Cherie Cullen

A decade ago George W Bush and the neo-cons took advantage of 9/11 and combined pseudo-democratic demagogy with a thirst for revenge to launch American foreign policy on the road of brute military force. But after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the wake of the deepest slump since the 1930s, the mood has changed.

Read the rest here


Monday, June 13, 2011

Notes on the Class Struggle in the USA

Written by John Peterson
Monday, 13 June 2011

February 19, Wisconsin. Photo: Jonathan Bloy

We publish here the notes used by John Peterson, National Secretary of the WIL, as the basis for his introduction to the discussion on "Perspectives for the Class Struggle in the United States" at the 2011 WIL Marxist National School. We recommend it be read in conjunction with the U.S. Perspectives 2010 document approved at the WIL's last National Congress.

Read the rest here


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Cuban CP Congress Ratifies Economic Guidelines – Workers’ Control and International Socialism Absent From Discussion

Written by Jorge Martin
Tuesday, 07 June 2011

The long delayed VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party took place on April 16-19 in Havana and discussed the Guidelines on Economic and Social Policy for the Party and the Revolution. The Congress was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when Fidel Castro proclaimed the “socialist character of the revolution”.

Read the rest here


Monday, June 06, 2011

Greece On The Brink of Revolutionary Situation

Written by Stamatis Karagiannopoulos
Monday, 06 June 2011

June 2, Syntagma Square. Photo: Rania H.

Yesterday a milestone was passed in the social and political situation in Greece and throughout Europe. Impressive mobilizations rolled across the country: half a million in Athens and rallies of thousands of people gathered in Thessaloniki, Patras, Larissa, Volos, Heraklion, etc. This places Greece on the threshold of a revolutionary situation. It means that, for the first time in decades the developed capitalist countries of Europe are faced with the prospect of a revolution with continental dimensions.

Read the rest here


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Open Letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka from the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor

Written by John Peterson
Wednesday, 25 May 2011 13:37

Brother Trumpka:

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.

In solidarity,

John Peterson
Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (
CWA 37002 (personal capacity)


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Spanish Elections and the Revolutionary Movement

Written by Alan Woods
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.

More Here


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Fall of Strauss-Kahn

Written by Greg Oxley in Paris
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

The Spatiotemporal Dialectic, Part III: Abstract Space

Spaces of Capitalism

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.’”[35] 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.

View of Le Corbusier’s “Cartesian Towers”

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.

Late nineteenth-century German map depicting trade routes to Africa

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.[36] 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.”[37]

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.”[38]

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.[39]

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.”[40] Society treats its members, its constituent parts, as belonging to “a general whole that is substantially homogeneous — a totality.”[41] 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.’”[42] 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.”[43]

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.”[44] 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.”[45] 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.[46]

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.”[47] 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.”[48]

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.

[35] 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.

[36] “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.

[37] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 148.

[38] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pg. 5. My emphasis.

[39] Ibid., pgs. 4-5.

[40] “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.

[41] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 72.

[42] Adorno, Theodor. Introduction to Sociology. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. (Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA: 2000). Pg. 30.

[43] 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.

[44] 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.

[45] Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 2. Pg. 329.

[46] Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 539.

[47] Harvey, Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. Pg. 251.

[48] Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 225.


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism, Part II

“Today I saw History riding on horseback.” — Hegel, 1806, after seeing Napoleon ride through town following the Battle of Jena

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.”[20]

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.”[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.”[24]

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.”[25] Labor, which uniquely possesses the ability to enhance the value originally invested in its purchase,[26] 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;[27] 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.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.”[33]

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.”[34]

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.

[20] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Manifesto of the Communist Party. From Later Political Writings. Pg. 4.

[21] “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.

[22] “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.

[23] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pgs. 75-77.

[24] Marx, Capital, Volume I. Pg. 255.

[25] Ibid., pg. 342.

[26] “[Labor is] a commodity whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value.” Ibid., pg. 270.

[27] “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.

[28] Ibid., pg. 431.

[29] “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.

[30] Ibid., pgs. 389-416.

[31] Chapters 13, 14, and 15 respectively. Ibid., pgs. 439-640.

[32] “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.

[33] “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.

[34] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 293.