Saturday, July 31, 2010

Horrific Time Cover

I have come to expect that just about everything Time produces will be inept, superficial and basically reactionary. But this is pushing the envelope.

Responses here and here.

Others have already pointed out the following, but I'll restate a couple of the racist, sexist, imperialist assumptions motivating the "argument" articulated by the cover and its headline:

  1. Afghan women are inert, voiceless objects in need of the protection of an occupying foreign army.
  2. The interests of imperialist military occupations coincide exactly with the interests of Afghan women.
  3. The majority of "the Afghan people", and women in particular, want the occupation to continue.
  4. Even if they don't, the U.S. army has a duty and a right to occupy Afghanistan indefinitely by whatever means necessary.
  5. There is no rhyme or reason to why such things happen to women in Afghanistan: "they" must just be "brutes" who need the shining light of reason brought by U.S. military personnel.
  6. The absence (rather than the presence) of occupying U.S. forces (who routinely go on rampages killing dozens of innocent elderly and children) means chaos, violence and death.
  7. And related to 5. and 6. is the thought that the "Afghan people" (who? which ethnic groups? which classes?) cannot govern themselves, but need the "protection" of big old Uncle Sam.
  8. The Afghan people love drone attacks, misplaced mines, accidental bombings, occupation and constant "collateral damage" to their friends and family.
So, yeah, if you buy all of the obviously false bullshit above, perhaps you might be disposed to accept the "argument" on the cover.

According to the editor of Time:
What you see in these pictures and our story is something that you cannot find in those 91,000 documents: a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.
Yeah, right... there's nothing "emotional" or of interest in those 91,000 pages. Reading about 19 dead and 50 wounded unarmed innocents cut down in a hail of US troops' automatic gunfire isn't emotional at all. That's "just what war is". Or something. What a fucking bonehead this guy is. For all we know, US bombings disfigured the woman on the cover.


Friday, July 30, 2010

New David Harvey Book!

Just out in the US. It's been out for a couple of months in the UK. Looking forward to getting a chance to read.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

U.S. Militarism in Latin America Picks Up Steam

From Eva Golinger:

On July 1, Costa Rica, a nation whose constitution prohibits the presence of any armed forces, agreed to allow 46 warships and 7000 US marines inside its territory. Last October, Colombia signed a 10-year agreement permitting the US to occupy seven military bases and all civilian installations as necessary within its territory.

US Air Force documents from May 2009 revealed the intention behind the occupation of Colombian bases was to combat "the constant threat...of anti-US governments in the region", as well as to conduct "full spectrum military operations" throughout South America (see below).
Evidently, Chavez has postponed a trip to Cuba because he claims that an attack from Colombia/USA may be on the horizon. I don't blame him. Uribe (and his successor) are crazy, and we know the US are capable of such things. But I'm not sure exactly what to make of Chavez's claim: it could be that Chavez is working the relationship between the (quite obviously) hostile, U.S. backed regime in Colombia in order to gain political points at home. If this is indeed what he's doing, I don't mean to disparage the tactic: the situation with the U.S. and Colombia is certainly extremely tense and the threat of violence from the U.S. military and its client states are very real.
Last October, Colombia and the US signed a military agreement permitting the US to occupy seven Colombian bases and to use all Colombian territory as needed to complete missions. One of the bases in the agreement, Palanquero, was cited in May 2009 US Air Force documents as necessary to “conduct full spectrum military operations” in South America and combat the threat of “anti-US governments” in the region.
As many on the Left already know, Colombia has for many years been the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world, behind Israel and the repressive Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt. In the last 5 years alone, the U.S. has spent over $4.5 billion in military aid to Colombia, under the false pretext (hardly believed by anyone in the foreign policy world) of fighting the "war on drugs". Imagine if we'd spent that money in the U.S., say, giving people education and health care, rather than harassing and antagonizing the Venezuelan people because elites in the US want their oil.


Crude vs. Sophisticated Anti-Gentrification Arguments

As a socialist, it goes without saying that I do not think that housing, land-use and urban investment should be controlled and run solely in the interests of profit. Thus, I am a critic of what's called gentrification. But to be a socialist, or to oppose the reign of landlords and rich developers over and above tenants and the masses of people, is to be against gentrification for a specific set of reasons. Unfortunately, one rarely runs across such reasons in most mainstream discussions of gentrification. Instead one gets a straw-person account of the critical position, wherein the opponent of gentrification is against it for merely "cultural" reasons (e.g. they hate coffee shops, artisan bread bakeries, sidewalk beautification projects, etc.). The struggle for or against gentrification thus becomes a struggle for or against certain consumer preferences, for or against certain consumer lifestyles ("gritty" bohemian or working-class life vs. the clean-edged modern design of frou-frou bars and restaurants). This is a distortion.

At its absolute worst, the pro-gentrification crowd frames the debate as follows. There are two choices: (1) economically depressed slum plagued by crumbling infrastructure and high crime, or (2) an economically growing neighborhood (increasingly populated by rich white people exclusively) in which property values are on the rise and commercial investment revitalizes housing stock, roads and schools. Having framed the argument in this way, the pro-gentrification folks (for an excellent example, see the strictly disciplined political line taken over at Uptown Update) have little trouble in ridiculing any and all critics: they simply prefer crime-ridden neighborhoods that have crumbling infrastructure and no jobs.

Or, to take the "cultural" manifestation of this framing of the question, we could say that the opponents of gentrification simply hate the following things in themselves: modern architecture, artisan cafes, coffee shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants, boutiques, etc. In other words, the opponents of gentrification just have a problem with such "white" things as bread, coffee, art, good schools, and jobs. Insert the racist "culture of poverty" argument here to give the claim a "scientific" veneer.

Now everyone with a brain should know that this framing of the "debate" is complete bullshit. No rational person wants crime, crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools, slumlord-ruled housing, unemployment, etc. Moreover, there is little reason to think that the yet-to-be-dispossessed simply have different "cultural" preferences that motivate their criticisms of gentrification. In contrast, what the critics of gentrification oppose is precisely the prescribed choice imposed on us in the framing of the question discussed above.

Here's an example. Take the Lawndale neighborhood on the West side of Chicago. Traditionally, Lawndale was always a working-class neighborhood populated by various immigrant communities and, more recently, black people. At one time Lawndale was a center for the working-class Jewish community in Chicago. It has, to be sure, seen its up's and down's, but today it is in worse shape than it has ever been. The reasons why are not particular to Lawndale whatsoever: de-industrialization, capital flight, severe population loss, ruthless criminal landlord practices, racism, etc. all ravaged the community from the 1960s onwards.

Martin Luther King, Jr. actually moved to Lawndale in the late 1960s in order to draw attention to the severe neglect and poverty afflicting black people in Northern cities (it had been a favorite position of many moralizing white liberals in the 1960s that racism was merely a problem in the South).

Today, Lawndale is dire straits. It has hundreds of liquor stores but only one grocery store. (Jonathan Kozol writes that it had in the early 1990s "one bank, one supermarket, 48 state lottery agents ... and 99 licensed bars." and that, according to the 1980 census, 58 percent of men and women 17 and older had no jobs). This is a familiar story. Most of the big companies and factories that employed the community in the first half of the 20th century have closed down or moved overseas to find more easily exploited labor. Today the roads in Lawndale are in such bad shape that they were recently featured in an article in the Chicago Reader.

So, what hope does a neighborhood like Lawndale have as long as investment, land use, and so on are controlled by profit-seeking capitalist investors?

Within the coordinates of profit, Lawndale is not a neighborhood populated by a community of people with needs, talents, and interests. On the contrary, from the perspective of capitalists, Lawndale is one of two things: either its a profitable investment or it isn't. And, surprise surprise, profitable investments are typically those that lure in the spending capacities of the rich, most of whom are white. The result is that the social problem, the injustice, of Lawndale doesn't register; capitalism is deaf to human needs when they aren't backed by cold, hard cash.

So, just imagine that capitalists tried gentrify Lawndale (they've attempted to do it, by the way, in the crumbling East Garfield Park neighborhood on the West Side). Suppose that residents of Lawndale, even some who'd been living there for 30+ years, were beginning to be priced out of their own apartments by rising rents and costs of living. Now the residents' political anger at this situation wouldn't have anything to do with so-called "cultural" preferences. On the contrary, their anger would be over the fact that they are given an unfair and oppressive choice: either accept broken schools and crumbling roads, or get out and make room for the rich.

When seen for what it is, gentrification presents us with a deep contradiction in capitalist development. And we forget at our own peril that capitalist control of land use and housing isn't natural or inevitable. It's made by human beings. And what human beings have made they can tear down. But community, democratic control over land use, housing, and investment will not be on offer unless it is demanded by pressure from below.


Ecology and Socialism

Excellent new book from Chris Williams on the ecological crisis earth faces due to capitalism and what we can do to fight it. I'm reading now- perhaps I'll post a bit on it if anything seems response worthy. So far it is extremely straight-forward and sober in its assessments; but it rejects the destructive corporate reformism (e.g. "we just need to pass cap and trade and everything will be fine") and fatalism (e.g. "we're already fucked, so there's no point in struggling") accepted by some cynics in the environmental movement. Williams, of course, is hardly the only person to hold such a position, but it is nonetheless refreshing and stimulating to read (and remarkably clear). Excerpt here. Book here.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Nice summary of sex/gender distinction

The following is adapted from Alison Stone's excellent An Introduction to Feminist Philosophy. I thought it was a particularly succinct and clear account of the matters discussed below.

Accept for the moment that there is some biologically specifiable notion of "sex", although we note this notion of "sex" would not be binary, but clustered or continuous. Gender, in contrast, would be precisely that set of "social expectations and norms governing what behaviors and traits are appropriate for male and female individuals."

These social expectations, or norms, "are conveyed to individuals by other people and by being embodied in institutions and in cultural artifacts, such as films and novels. Institutions are humanly created organizations that shape social life, such as the state, law, the family, the health service [haha... not in the USA! -t] and the media. These expectations or norms specify which behaviors are masculine and which are feminine. People and institutions enforce expectations by applying rewards and punishments. For example, if girls are expected to be deferential, then they will be punished or receive negative responses when they behave assertively".

Stone continues: "Masculinity and femininity are social position or roles. According to sociologists, a role is a position within society (e.g. the position of teacher, the position of parent). Each role is defined by a set of norms about how those occupying this role should behave. Each role is defined in relation to other roles: what is expected of teachers depends on what is expected of pupils and vice versa."

Importantly, "individuals are not only expected to perform the actions appropriate to their gender, they are also expected to identify, or understand, themselves as members of that gender."

We may expand upon this provisional definition of gender as follows. Gender "consists of (1) norms which are embodied in social practices and which regulate masculine and feminine behavior, (2) the habitual ways of acting that people acquire because of those norms, and (3) the bodily features that people acquire because of these ways of acting."

The claims above may seem obvious and innocent to many of us, but they are material for forming some pretty radical political inferences.

Stone also explores prominent criticisms of the sex/gender distinction from, for example, Butler and Gatens, but concludes that a suitably revised version of the concept of sex is defensible. (Compare with Butler, who argues that any claim about sex necessarily entails a claim about gender). The conception that Stone has in mind is one that is thin (rather than expansive and deterministic), continuous (rather than discrete, binary), and one that picks out clusters of biological features of bodies because those very features reinforce one another biologically. Here conception thus avoids the sexist error of subsuming bodily features under a purportedly discrete "sex" on the basis of social expectations (rather than biology). Anyway- I'm not going to dwell on these interesting debates (although, incidentally, I'm disposed to agree with Stone) at the moment- I just wanted to share a bit from this excellent introduction to feminist philosophy.


Class struggle in China



On the ahistoricity of contemporary theoretical training

Allow me to apologize, first of all, for the inadequacy, crudeness and potential arrogance of the critique that follows. I'm aware of the shortcomings of such arm-chair analyses, but I nevertheless think this one has at least some import. Here goes.

So, I've noticed something about the way that what's called "theory" is taught and reproduced in the humanities in universities: it seems utterly bereft of historical awareness.

This ahistoricity, if you'll grant me such an awkward locution, manifests itself at many different levels. The first is at the level of the (graduate) student and the theoretical positions she confronts in learning "the canon" (whatever that may be). That is to say, the student of contemporary "theory" confronts a set of theoretical texts that are historically unstuck and apparently timeless. Importantly, I don't have "conservative" texts in mind at all: I'm thinking in particular (though not exclusively) about the way that contemporary French thought is taught, thought about, and presented to students in the United States.

It is now commonplace for students of what is called "theory" or "critical theory" or "continental philosophy" or "critical thought" or whatever to imagine that there is a set of texts, written by "great thinkers", whom one must have read in order to be competent. (I note that I don't place words like "theory" or "continental philosophy" in scarequotes because I oppose them as such; on the contrary, I am interested in many of the things often subsumed under such labels. I place them scarequotes because the words themselves are used in a such a loose way these days that it's difficult to know what they're supposed to mean).

Say that someone is interested in Foucault. For many students in their 20s, he isn't really subversive at all; he is part of a group of timeless figureheads of a contemporary "canon". So, according to this ahistorical posture of reverence, a thinker like Foucault, whose work can hardly be said to be a coherent system, is no longer an ex-Marxist student of Althusser who made many different interventions into a variety of intellectual/political conversations. Instead he's a merely a brick in the wall of this contemporary "canon". Althusser is also an interesting case; few students of "theory" read him any more, but people are familiar with him insofar as he is a "precursor" to, say, Foucault in particular. And if such students are aware of Marx at all, it only through the distorted lens of this reified Althusser. The same could be said of Derrida and the way in which students find themselves drawn to Heidegger qua predecessor to Derrida. Accordingly, the "Heidegger" they encounter is an ossified "Great Man" whose work has no meaningful connection to the history of German thought, or God forbid, real material history (complete with such "vulgar" components as economic changes, social struggle, politics, etc).

Fredric Jameson was right on target when he claimed that he feels "a real sense of exasperation with the terms in which our relationship to theorists (mostly continental) is generally staged." He continued as follows.

What bothers me... is the transformation of various thinkers...into brand names for autonomous political systems. In this...[thought] has been infected by the logic of commodity culture in general: where the organization of consumption around brand names determines a quasi-religious conversion, first to the great modern artists -you convert to Proust, or D.H. Lawrence, or to Faulkner, etc. -all purportedly incompatible, but every so often one switches religions; and then in a later stage to the theorists, so that one now converts to Heidegger, or Ricoeur, or Derrida, or Wayne Booth, or Gadamer, or de Man.
The problem with this phenomenon, as Jameson put it, can most easily be put in Marxist terms:
For Marxism there is no purely autonomous "history of ideas" or "history of philosophy". Conceptual works are also, implicitly, responses to concrete situations and conjunctures, of which the national situation remains, even in our multinational age, a very significant framework. Understanding Althusser, for example, therefore means first and foremost understanding the sense and function of his conceptual moves in the France of the 1960s; but when one does that, then the transferability of those former thoughts, now situational responses, to other national situations such as our own, in the U.S., becomes a problematical undertaking. (see Jameson's 1982 interview in Diacritics for more)
This basically says everything I'd want to say about the matter. Knowing the historical conjuncture in which a theoretical intervention is made, its practical intent, and so forth are crucial.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Richard Seymour on the Appearance of Capital

Capital represents itself to us principally through its advertising. Its presence is rendered in strictly non-materialist terms. Idealist, magical, or even downright theological thinking is at the heart of capitalist ideology - Smith's 'hidden hand', the religious mandate for 'improvement' of the earth in Lockean property theory, the 'reward-for-abstinence' theory of profits, and the 'golden egg' theory of investments and savings. So when capital represents itself to us, it is not as a set of material processes but as a benign Geist, a bearer of anthropomorphically enlarged humane values, an atmosphere of well-being, etc.
Read the rest here.


Cat's out of the bag

The Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel have published a huge cache of secret military files from the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, detailing the war in Afghanistan. Follow reaction to the Afghanistan war logs here. More here. Also, more here.

Read the Whitehouse condemnation of the leak here. Evidently, Wikileaks published a CIA document last year that gave us a gleam of CIA strategy to keep Western Europe from pulling out of Afghanistan: use the popularity of Barack Obama. Unfortunately, Obama is the willing heir to Bush's wars, and I think its fair to say at this point that they're are fully his. He's certainly given the war in Afghanistan a warm embrace since day one, and it may actually turn out that the only campaign promise Obama kept was to escalate that conflict.

What other reaction could the administration have to such a leak? They've invested a lot of time and energy embracing the war as their own. What could they do at this point, come out and commend the press and admit that the war is an ugly, costly, human disaster waged on the basis of imperialist motives?

Unlike some of the liberal commentariat, I don't think that the Obama Administration's hawkish positions re: Afghanistan are "strategic" moves they made in order to massage public opinion polls. This is quite obviously false. Polls, on the contrary, have shown for some time that the war is unpopular, and many enthusiastic Obama supporters (mistakenly, although somewhat understandably) took him to be "anti-war." This is not as egregious as the claim in 2004 that John Kerry was "anti-war", but its bad (recall Kerry's frequent insistence that he would have voted for the Iraq War all over again, even if he'd known ahead of time that there were no weapons of mass destruction, which he probably did).

But the bigger point is this. The Democratic Party is, and always has been, a firm supporter of US imperialism abroad. Their historical record is impeccable on this score. As is well-known among the foreign policy establishment in Washington, there is virtually no distinction between the parties on the goals of foreign policy, there are only minor disagreements over how to achieve them from time to time. Now there are, to be sure, left-ish members of the Democratic Party who dissent from this consensus, but they are a marginal force and always, at the end of the day, go with the imperialist flow of the institution of which they're a passive appendage.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Leiter against Mark C. Taylor

I actually think Leiter is 100% right-on here (for a change) in his attack on Taylor. Leiter's characterization of Taylor's artless attack on tenure as evincing a "characteristic lack of insight and knowledge" is apt. As I've argued elsewhere on this blog, Taylor is (at the end of the day) a cheerleader for the neoliberalization of the academy. He is for allowing the forces of capitalism (decreasing benefits to employees, increasing work-hours, moving from full-time to adjunct employment, breaking unions, dissolving tenure, making curricula more "useful" to the needs of business, etc. etc.) to work their "magic" in the contemporary academy.

Wherever it is that he thinks he's coming from aside, Taylor's interventions are inept and evince a deep naiveté about how contemporary societies work. Perhaps this is what happens when you spend all of your time with religion and Derrida: you end up forgetting that capitalism and oppression even exist at all! Hasn't Taylor heard of Middlesex?

Leiter's response to Taylor about tenure is spot-on here (the last point is particularly poignant these days... how Taylor can be so completely politically tone-deaf is beyond me. He is obviously either deeply confused or latently right-wing). I reproduce Leiter's it below:

1. Tenure does not mean "lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal," it means only dismissal for cause, with associated procedural safeguards;

2. Dismissal only for cause is a less common employment arrangement in the United States than it used to be (though is still enjoyed by significant numbers of school teachers, police, firemen, and by many civil service employees, among others), but is far more common in other Western industrialized nations with stronger labor movements and established civil service systems; that it is not the norm in the U.S. is one of the pathologies of American society, to be lamented, not lauded;

3. Tenure is an important part of the non-economic compensation for academics, and its abolition would raise the costs of hiring faculty astronomically;

4. At the best research universities, the percentage of senior faculty who remain research-active 30 years after tenure is extremely high, which puts the lie to Taylor's absurd claim that "it is impossible to know whether a person's research is going to be relevant in five years let alone 35 years";

5. Taylor's claim that "in almost 40 years of teaching, I have not known a single pereson who has been more willing to speak out after tenure than before" is such obvious bullshit, it's hard to believe he had the audacity to say this in public; in 17 years of teaching, I can think of at least a half-dozen cases of faculty who, after tenure, became markedly more outspoken and undertook more controversial research. And bear in mind that the biggest threats to academic freedom are likely to come not from, e.g., state legislators pissed off by dumb or controversial reilgion professors (though without tenure there will certainly be more cases like that, as we have noted previously), but from powerful economic interests adversely affected by work on health and safety issues by scientists. (One might also think that the recent experience in the U.K. without out-of-control administrative bureaucrats would give even Taylor some pause.)


Cornel West on Race and Class

I'd like to examine the position set out by Cornel West in his essay "Marxist Theory and the Specificty of Afro-American Oppression".

West makes clear that his theoretical bearings in the essay are Marxist:

[My approach] attempts to shun the discursive reductionistic elements in the works of the ex-Marxist Foucault and side-step the textual idealist tendencies in the perennially playful performances of Derrida.
His task is to examine what he calls the "racial problematic" from within a Marxist framework:
The racial problematic... [is] the theoretical investigation into the materiality of racist discourses, the ideological production of African discourses, the ideological production of African subjects, and the concrete effects of and counterhegemonic responses to the European (and specifically white) supremacist logics operative in Western civilization.
Though West characterizes his approach as "neo-Gramscian", this short gloss on the "racial problematic" has an Althusserian feel (esp. the bit about "ideological production of subjects"). I find it puzzling that he talks about the ideological production of "African" subjects, whereas I would have thought that in the U.S. case we'd want to talk about the production of some other sort of subject, such as a devalued, white-supremacist picture of "the Negro" or something of that sort. Putting the point this way, it seems to me, enables the alternative claim to being "African" or "Black" have a subversive element to it (which it did, for many involved in the Black Power movements of the 60s). It is also more in line with the language of Black militants (e.g. Malcolm X always spoke of the "so-called Negro" and the entire language of "Blackness" arose out of Black Power). But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Though West locates his argument within the Marxist tradition of political theory and practice, he is also critical of some versions of Marxism for their tendency to understand race as a matter of "secondary" importance (presumably secondary to class). According to West, there are four basic formulations of black oppression in the Marxist tradition.

The first subsumes black oppression under the rubric of working-class exploitation. This approach entails that black people in the US are not subjected to any form of oppression distinct from the general problem of working-class exploitation. Here, West cites the socialism of Eugene Debs, who held that black oppression was solely a class problem. Needless to say, the U.S. Socialist Party had many black members and Debs himself had a record of fighting against racism. But this theoretical approach is rightly rejected by West as reductionistic. (West chalks this perspective up to the economism and determinism of Marxism of the Second International). An obvious political/strategic problem with such an approach is that it seems to foreclose any serious, independent struggle by black people against racial domination. Rather, such an approach simply says of such tactics: sit down, shut up, and wait for the revolution before you challenge white supremacy. This is not a socialist position, this is a do-nothing position vis-a-vis racial oppression. Surely the working-class politics of the Second International are not to be entirely thrown out with the bathwater, but we need to say more here before we have a political theory and practice adequate to the realities of racial oppression.

The second approach acknowledges the specificity of black oppression beyond working-class exploitation, yet defines this specificity in entirely economistic terms. This approach explains racial oppression in terms of super-exploitation. That is, certain fractions of the working class are exploited even more than the rest because of racial hierarchy. This was the position put forward by the Maoist Progressive Labor Party in the late 60s/early 70s in the US. Surely claim about super-exploitation has got to be true; the question, however, is whether this is the last word on racial oppression. It seems rather obvious that super-exploitation isn't the whole story.

This brings us to the third approach within the Marxist tradition. This approach understands black oppression in terms of colonialism, nationalism and self-determination. This was the framework adopted by the Third International (1928) by the CPUSA in its (largely commendable, though far from perfect) struggles against racism in the 30s and 40s. In effect, the position is this. Black people in the US constitute, or once constituted, an oppressed nation in the South. In the rest of US society, black people constituted an oppressed national minority. Given this analysis of the problem, the solution is simple: liberation means self-determination for black people and the formation of a black nation. Various groups have held this position, from (as mentioned earlier) the Stalinist CPUSA in the 1930s to the US Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) to Bob Avakian's Revolutionary Communist Party in the US and Amiri Baraka's US League of Revolutionary Struggle.

West argues that this position has been, by far, the most popular among black people on the Left (and on the Left generally) throughout the 20th century. The reasons for its appeal, he claims, is that it denies the reductionistic tendencies of the first two approaches and makes room for claims about cultural oppression. That is, insofar as a nation is to be understood in terms of shared culture, language and so forth, it looks as though this Black Nation approach provides an excellent means of criticizing the ways in which Black culture, language, and so on are systematically devalued and stomped out by white supremacy. West argues that the Left was forced to take the cultural dimension seriously since the Marcus Garvey movement of the early 20s. This recognition of the cultural dimension of oppression made adherents of this view "proto-Gramscians" without their knowing it.

The fourth Marxist alternative, according to West, is as follows. The struggle for Black Liberation, the line goes, is not the same as the class struggle. It is independent, yet allied with the struggle for working-class emancipation. This approach rejects the language of the "nation" or the separatist politics that have arisen at various points throughout the history of the struggle for black liberation in the U.S. (it's important to point out here, however, that separatist politics have typically been most influential at the low points of struggle when the possibilities for smashing white supremacy in the U.S. looked rather bleak).

In this picture, black oppression is not reducible to class oppression, but is entirely bound up with it insofar as black oppression arose within the context of U.S. capitalism. This is basically the position defended by Trotsky in debates with Afro-Trinidadian Marxist CLR James within the SWP in the 30s and 40s. Trotsky's position was to reject the nationalist approach staked out by the CP as mechanical and inflexible. Whether socialists should support the self-determination line is a question of whether the masses of black people are demanding it. But Trotsky wanted to walk a fine line here, he did not want to simply reject the call for self-determination out of hand. On the contrary, Trotsky sensed some latent racism amongst leftists who decried self-determination because it "distracted from class". Trotsky said of this phenomenon that "the argument that the slogan for self-determination leads away from the class point of view is an adaptation of the ideology of the white workers". "The Negro", Trotsky argued in 1939, "can be developed to the class point of view only when the white worker is educated", i.e. only when white workers are disabused of racist beliefs, when racism is smashed within the labor movement. For Trotsky, however, the black struggle against racism should not wait for white workers to be won over to anti-racism, it had to begin immediately, and the job of all socialists was to support such struggles in whatever form they took. He thus argued for a "merciless struggle against... the colossal prejudices of white workers [which] makes no concession to them whatsoever". Trotsky's politics contrast starkly with the "class first" politics of the first variant of "Marxism" above, which basically told black radicals to demobilize, and to simply wait until the racism within the white working-class disappeared (rather than challenging it head-on).

West claims that all four positions get something right, but they are all incomplete.

His first criticism is that all of these approach take their object of criticism to be "macro-structural", e.g. analysis of the basic institutions of capitalist societies, production relations, etc. His claim isn't, a la post-structuralism, that such analysis is problematic or to be avoided. On the contrary, he thinks that macro-structural analysis is essential to any serious program for liberation. Such analysis is surely an important antidote to the individualist approaches of those on the Right such as Thomas Sowell. So the problem isn't with macro-structural analysis as such, but with what it leaves out: "micropolitics".

West argues that we need to also pay attention to "local" or "microinstitutional" features of politics in addition to macro-level analysis. West's approach consists of three "moments":

1. genealogical inquiry into the discursive conditions for the possibility of hegemonic European (i.e. white) supremacist logics operative in various epochs in the West and the counter-hegemonic possibilities available.

2. a mircoinstitutional analysis of the mechanisms by which these logics inscribe themselves in the everyday lives of Africans, including the hegemonic ideological production of African subjects, the constitution of alien and degrading normative cultural life styles, aesthetic ideals, etc.

3. a macrostructural approach that accents modes of production, class exploitation and political repression of African peoples.

The aim of the first moment, according to West, is to examine modes of European domination of African peoples, the second moment to probe into the "forms of European subjugation of African peoples"; and the third to focus on types of European exploitation and repression of African peoples. West wants to understand how it is that African peoples become involved in their own continued oppression (i.e. how they become both victims of and participants in oppression).

For my part, I have a tough time understanding what West wants to get out of the first moment. He wants more than just cultural oppression, the systematic devaluation of blackness and black culture, the processes by which black culture develops (e.g. how it responds to, resists, and (at the same time) also internalizes oppression of various kinds). He wants to target the "Cartesian subject" and "Baconian" ideas of observation and evidence in methodology. I'm not sure what to make of this complaint, and I don't see its political appeal. In post-structuralism, we can make sense of these complaints insofar as post-structuralism tends to be motivated by a totalizing suspicion of the concept of truth and tends to reject all extra-linguistic referents as mere illusions. But West has already repudiated such approaches, so I'm not sure what he wants from the first "moment".

The second moment seems to me to be a serious oversight of the traditional Marxist approach. It is here that the work of so-called "Western Marxists" brings a whole additional realm of analysis that wasn't the focus of classical Marxism. This isn't to say that classical Marxism, as such, can't say anything helpful about ideology or culture; on the contrary, I want to claim that it is the best way of making sense of these matters. It's just that classical Marxists tended to focus their energies elsewhere, whereas Western Marxists tended to explore the superstructural features of capitalist societies more than previous Marxists had ever done before (I'm thinking here of Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse, Lukacs, Korsch, Sartre, although we could also include Williams, Eagleton, and Jameson).

But here I restate my earlier criticism about "African" subjects. Why paint with so broad a brush? Surely the experience of colonialism in Kenya is different from the oppression of African-Americans in the U.S. South, though they may be linked in crucial ways. I am also suspicious of the Althusserian line about the "ideological production of subjects". I think something about this claim is right, but I've argued elsewhere that the Althusserian attack on subjectivity as such is a mistake that leaves us with an incoherent social theory, a problematic politics, and an anemic philosophical position that is basically just an inchoate version of post-structualism.

Again, I think the third moment is right on and indispensable, though it doesn't finish out the story any comprehensive account must tell.

I think that West is basically driving at the sort of position I myself would want to defend. But I don't understand his combination of Althusserian categories (e.g. "overdetermination", "interpellation") with a so-called Gramscian approach. I much prefer the dialectical approach that Gramsci defended over the positivist, behaviorist framework taken up by Althusser. Also, I'm puzzled by his claim early in the essay that his own political position is "non-reformist", which he justifies by citing his membership in the ultra-reformist Democratic Socialists of America (whose tactical platform includes working entirely within the Democratic Party machine).

Anyway- this is more or less just a survey- I'll try to weigh-in some more on this later this week.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Venezuela's Process of Struggle

Read the excellent article (via here. The analysis is right on target: hopeful and supportive of the emancipatory developments in Venezuela, but sober about the challenges facing the possibility of revolutionary transformation. The article nicely walks the line of "critical support"; avoiding uncritical cheer-leading on the one hand, and eschewing the ultra-leftist anti-Chavez line on the other. I like especially that the article is framed from a left-wing point of view, no time is wasted wading through the right-wing bullshit pedaled by the consensus media in the U.S. (which, of course, includes the NYTimes and their resident-hack Simon Romero).


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Are men really better athletes?

Read Sherry Wolf's review of McDonagh and Pappano's Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal here.


Argentina legalizes gay marriage

Story here. It is the 10th country to pass such a law after:

  • Netherlands (2001)
  • Belgium (2003)
  • Spain (2005)
  • Canada (2005)
  • South Africa (2006)
  • Norway (2009)
  • Sweden (2009)
  • Portugal (2010)
  • Iceland (2010)
This is definitely a losing fight for homophobes and bigots. Hopefully, the escalation of struggle in the US will pave the way for such a victory here in the next 5-10 yrs.


National Week Against Criminalization

read about it here.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Markets are not democratic

Individuals influence the provision and exchange of commodities mainly through "exit" not "voice" (Hirschman 1970). The counterpart to the customer's freedom to exit a trading relationship is the owner's freedom to say "take it or leave it". The customer has no voice, no right to directly participate in the design of the product or to determine how it is marketed. Where the good being sold is embodied in the person, voice may be alienated to the buyer. Employment contracts in capitalist firms that are unmediated by union negotiation or professional standards place the worker in the same voiceless position as the customer.


Fraternal activities express a valuation of participants as equals engaged in a common cooperative project. In the democratic tradition this project is collective self rule. The political freedom of a citizen is the freedom to participate equally with fellow citizens in deciding the laws and policies that govern them all. This freedom demands that citizens have the goods they need, such as education, to participate effectively in self-government...The ideal of democratic freedom conflicts with market norms. First, citizens exercise their freedom in a democracy through voice, not just exit. Their freedom is the power to take the initiative in shaping the background conditions of their interactions and the content of the goods they provide in common. It is a freedom to participate in democratic activities, not just to leave the country if they disagree with the government. Second, an ideal democracy distributes goods in accordance with public principles, not in accordance with unexamined wants [e.g. consumer preferences]. Decisions must be justified in publicly acceptable terms. Third, the goods provided by the public are provided on a non-exclusive basis. Everyone, not just those who pay, has access to them.
-Elizabeth Anderson, from her excellent Value in Ethics and Economics (HUP)


Thursday, July 15, 2010

David Harvey on Academia

Watch it here. Around 0:55-1:30 or so is pretty awesome.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"All you see is... crime in the city"

Unlike previous generations of Americans, the vast majority of the children of baby-boomers have come of age in a social environment outside of urban centers. We must, however, be more specific here: the vast majority of white Americans (particularly middle class and wealthier) born in the postwar era have been socialized and formed by the Suburban social and political landscape. There are of course a handful of small exceptions (e.g. the Upper East Side, etc.).

By and large, however, the majority of Americans under the age of 40 are products not of urban life, but of a suburban social environment which itself only emerged and congealed in the 1950s.

There are, of course, millions of interesting insights to be gleamed from this fact, but I'll just focus on one here: large numbers of Americans are afraid of cities as such.

This fear manifests itself in many different ways, but it typically assumes a form something like the following. Cities are dark, crowded, dangerous places where one must always be on the lookout for the inevitable attack. The people there (most of whom, it is imagined, are criminals and of color) are mean, resentful and certainly not to be trusted. Moreover, city-dwellers are looking just for people like you, that is, people who are not from the city and fear its squalor and iniquity. They're looking for you, of course, in order to rob and ruffle your suburban purity. Watch out.

This phobia is homologous to (and deeply bound up with) common views about black people in the contemporary US. As political philosopher Tommie Shelby describes it, "in the present post-industrial phase of capitalist development, blacks are often viewed as parasitic, angry, ungrateful, and dangerous" (whereas they'd been characterized as "docile, superstitious, easily satisfied, and servile" under the conditions of plantation slavery). Witness, also, the way in which the term "urban" itself has become racialized and devalued on that basis.

There are countless examples. A good starting place for analyzing this phenomenon is film. From my armchair, it seems as though the depiction of urban areas and so-called "inner cities" in particular, takes an increasingly negative turn from the 1950s/60s onwards (whereas the positive evaluation of the single-family home, the automobile, etc. seems to soar). Things seemed to have changed a bit in the 1990s with the return of many affluent white people to urban centers. But films from the late 1970s and 80s especially (when major US cities were at rock bottom all across the board) depict the city as a dirty, crime-infested den of violence and darkness. This is typically contrasted with the (apparently) idyllic, whitewashed landscape of suburbia. Such a gaze is always from the outside (suburbia) looking in (toward urban areas). Blue Velvet plays off of this phenomenon in really interesting ways, but I can't go into that right now. (Nor can I go into the political economy of why suburbs emerged and why cities went into severe decline in the middle of the 20th century in the US).

One cinematic example from my childhood stands out: the 1983 Tom Cruise film Risky Business. (Or also from 1983, see this). The entire film is an expression of the gaze of the adolescent, white male child of the suburban well-to-do on the North Shore. The film creates clear demarcations between a suburban land of paternal law, purity, cleanliness, conventionally-defined success, norms of chivalry, etc. on the one hand, and an urban landscape characterized by raw sexual "deviance", iniquity, and crime on the other. "Home" is a massive single-family house in Glencoe whereas the problems Joel faces are all to be found in the land of pimps, drugs, and violence: Chicago.

Film and TV, of course, are only two "ideological state apparatuses" involved in socialization and the creation of people for whom the city is a place unfit for those with "family values". There are doubtless many other examples.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jameson on the politics of culture and pedagogy

The presupposition here is that undergraduates -as more naive or unreflexive reader (which most of us are also much of the time) -never confront a text in all of its material freshness; rather, they bring to it a whole set of previously acquired and culturally sanctioned interpretive schemes, of which they are unaware, and through which they read the texts that are proposed to them. This is not a particularly individual matter, and it does not make much difference whether one locates such interpretive stereotypes in the mind of the student, in the general cultural atmosphere, or on the text itself, as a sedimentation of its previous readings and its accumulated institutional interpretations: the task is to make those interpretations visible, as an object, as an obstacle rather than a transparency, and thereby to encourage the student's self-consciousness as to the operative power of such unwitting schemes, which our tradition (i.e. the Marxist tradition) calls ideologies... all of the [usual interpretive schemes that students acquire in contemporary societies] find their functional utility in the repression of the social and the historical, and in the perpetuation of some timeless and ahistorical view of human life and social relations. To challenge them is therefore a political act of some productiveness. The reading of novels is to be sure a specialized and even elite activity; the point is, however, that the ideologies in which people are trained when they read and interpret novels are not specialized at all, but rather the working attitudes and forms of the conceptual legitimation of this society. One may of course come at these ideologies in other, more specifically political (or economic) situations; but they can just as effectively and sometimes even more strikingly be detected and confronted in that area seemingly so distant from and immune to politics which is the teaching of culture.
-Fredric Jameson, "Interview with Leonard Green, Jonathan Culler, and Richard Klein" from Diacritics 12:3 (1982)


Markets and Transportation

"Let us first turn to other sectors of the economy to which the "straight" market criteria do not apply without very considerable modification. Transportation is a case in point. Thus most of the world recognizes that urban transit benefits those who do not use it (e.g. by reducing congestion and increasing property values), and that it should be provided by a public authority, with a sizable subsidy to cover inevitable losses. Even in Reagan's United States, docks, airports, and rapid-transit systems remained publicly owned. Involved here are external economies (time-saving, convenience) and diseconomies (congestion, pollution) and also elements of system, of network, which render the conventional neoclassical marginal-cost and marginal-profitability analysis both misleading and irrelevant, and the public-service aspect of high importance. Of course, in making decisions one should always compare costs and results, but one can do so only in the context of network, on the one hand, and the purpose of the activity on the other." - Alec Nove, "Central Planning in Capitalism and Socialism"
This last sentence is crucial. This is the antidote for those who confusedly lament the "inefficiencies" of public institutions like urban transportation and extol the alleged virtues of profit-driven markets. First of all, marginal-cost/marginal-profitability analysis is basically useless here and distorts matters considerably. Secondly, asking that public transit be run "like a business" evinces a deep misunderstanding of the function of public transportation.

This is the crux of the issue. To demand that public transit networks "turn a profit" is to misunderstand what a public transit system is.

What, then, is the function of urban public transit? Quite obviously, it is to most effectively facilitate movement of everyone, on a city-wide systemic basis, in a way that is sustainable, comprehensive, egalitarian, efficient, organized, and user-friendly in the broadest sense. It is decidedly not to exploit certain needs that are profitable while ignoring those that aren't, which is precisely what for-profit transportation does. For example: if you're a capitalist, why invest in means of transportation for, say, poor pensioners who are not a good source of profits? Why not just ignore them completely and focus on markets where there is "effective demand" and the potential for hefty returns? This is, incidentally, what happens with health insurance when it is fully commodified: the poor and sick are left by the wayside whereas private insurers "cherry pick" the wealthy and healthy patients that will better aid the company in maximizing profits.

Now, obviously, rejecting neoclassical marginal analysis here doesn't mean that there isn't some cost/benefit analysis to be undertaken at the system-level by a public transit authority regarding how to allocate funds, service, etc. But this analysis will not look much like the rent-seeking behavior of capitalist investors, first and foremost because the relevant benefit here is not "profit" for the transportation authority, but the extent to which the public transit network fulfills its function well. We need to know what the relevant good is that we're trying to maximize before we can begin an analysis of what an optimal public transit system would consist in. Assuming the metric of cash returns on a balance sheet in the ways that capitalist firms do here is to completely miss the issue at hand (yet, this is precisely what neoclassical economic theory does: it elevates the tendentious, narrow logic of the capitalist firm to a universal and quasi-natural status).

A good transportation system is not one that runs a surplus every year. A good transportation system is one that fulfills its function well. Making efficient use of resources is of course of value, but of purely instrumental value. Contrary to the dogmas of deficit-hawks and those who fetishize balanced budgets, a "cheap" but anemic transit system is not a good one.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Black Bloc Follow Up

The Black Bloc, political tactics and resistance have all been on my mind a lot lately, and I'm beginning to think that my initial reaction to the G20 protests may have been a touch impulsive. I still stand by worries about political groups committed, in advance of a serious contextual analysis of the situation, to confrontational tactics (and I still stand by my worries with the folks who endorse "The Coming Insurrection" stuff). But, other things being equal, if the planners of the G20 summits have to worry about confrontations and mayhem everywhere they go, that's OK with me. But I still need to think more about where I stand on groups that embed themselves within larger protests and then spring into action to confront police without ever consulting the other members of the protest. I don't think, however, that responding to all criticisms with charges of "paternal scolding" is enough to help those on the fence come to a reasoned position on the matter. But I do think there are complex questions here and I'm not sure where I stand on all of them.

Having said all of this, I'd like to make clear that whatever one says about the BB'ers, any serious person on the Left stands with them against bullshit like this or this, not to speak of countless other attacks by police.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Political violence following Oscar Grant ruling

And the murderer gets off with "involuntary manslaughter". Story here. Here's an account of the prosecution's case against Mehserle's "accident" defense.

"Why didn't you yell, 'Gun! Gun! Gun!' like you'd been taught in training?" Stein asked. Mehserle said he wouldn't yell that unless he was 100 percent sure, or unless he'd actually seen a gun in Grant's pocket. "But you still believed he was going for a gun? Why didn't you yell 'Gun! Gun! Gun'?" Stein pressed. Mehserle stumbled, saying, "It didn't cross my mind."

Finally Stein, who usually doesn't have the same courtroom flair as Rains, raised his voice. "Isn't it true you never had the intention of using your Taser?!" It was more of a booming statement than a question.

Stein was able to show that Mehserle did none of the things he should have done if he really believed Grant had a gun. And he did none of the things he should have done if he really intended to pull his Taser. Those are important holes in the defense's argument that the shooting was an understandable, if tragic mistake.

Fucking unbelievable. Evidently the murderer will get 2-4 years tops and may turn out to get off with only probation. Compare that with the mandatory 5-year sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Armchair Bullshit"

So says Leiter and Stanford Philosopher Josh Cohen about the recent Jay Bernstein blog post on the NYTimes "The Stone".

Evidently Cohen tweeted "Armchair bullshit, masquerading as philosophy" to describe the Bernstein piece. What an arrogant jerk. I myself have not been pleased with The Stone in many respects (esp. Critchley's weak inaugural effort), but the Bernstein piece was hardly armchair bullshit. On the contrary- it was accessible and made an interesting point about freedom and agency that hardly sees the light of day in the usual banter that litters the pages of the NYTimes.

Cohen's comment is completely out of line. And he of all people should talk. Check out this "blogging heads video". If you can stay awake during this basically useless conversation (lots of "Um, um, um... uh, uh, uh...." from Cohen), note the following. Cohen takes a tepid, conciliatory, kid-gloves approach with the "libertarian" and lends credence to the false claim that the (really terrible) Obama health care bill represents a step forward for reform efforts or, even less plausibly, toward something like single-payer. One would hardly know he was a philosopher, rather than, say, somebody's opinionated dad at a family cookout. In fact, it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that his whole take on the issue, to the extent that there's even anything like a "take" to be found in his long-winded musings in the video, is armchair-to-the-max.

Now, according to Leiter, the following two quotes evince the alleged stupidity of Bernstein's argument:

the passionate anger of the Tea Party movement, or, the flip-side of that anger, the ease with which it succumbs to the most egregious of fear-mongering falsehoods. What has gripped everyone’s attention is the exorbitant character of the anger Tea Party members express. Where do such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs come from?


My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding.
Is the first question illegitimate? If so, why? I'm not convinced that Leiter's throw-away comments about Marx and Lukacs show us why. And the Hegelian answer given in the second quote is hardly uncontroversial, but it's not obviously false. And neither is it masquerading as philosophy... it is a philosophical claim (if there ever was one!) about the metaphysics of agency that figures prominently in political philosophical debates. The Hegelian point is just that "agency is not exclusively a matter of the self-relation and self-determination of an individual but requires the right sort of engagement with and recognition by others" (quoted from Robert Pippin's recent CUP book on Hegel and agency). Is this obviously bullshit? Many of the so-called "communitarian" critiques of liberal political theory in the 1980s made arguments of a similar sort. Unless we are supposed take the (completely moronic) -position that all things Hegelian are ipso facto bullshit, what are we to say of Leiter and Cohen's comments?

Yes, Bernstein's argument is speculative. But in social/political analysis there is no way to avoid speculation of some sort or other: this is a crucial element of theory construction. To deny this would just be to endorse a positivist philosophy of social science that wears its incoherence on its sleeve.

Is it obviously false to suppose that the Tea-bagger's rage derives from the collapse of ubiquitous narratives in American political culture touting "personal responsibility" and "individual initiative"? I can't see why any reasonable person would say that it is. It is highly plausible to me that there is something about the tea-bagger rage that smacks of a deep frustration deriving from powerlessness (impotence?) and perceived lack of autonomy.

Many have written on the way in which conservatives often gender their arguments for or against state "intervention", suggesting on the one hand that independence from "government aid" is a sign of (male) strength and vigor, whereas "real men" don't need "handouts" from the "nanny state". (This, of course, doesn't exhaust the arguments that those on the Right give, but it this maneuver is a prominent feature of the way that many conservative arguments are framed). Now would it be implausible to draw from this common knowledge about our political culture the conclusion that the (mostly White, mostly old male) Tea-bagger movement is enraged (in part) over a perceived blow to their (bogus) conception of what it is to be an independent, male individual in the US? Is it not completely obvious now (esp. since the crisis) that the neoliberal dogmas about personal responsibility were really all just crap all along? Have not the bailouts of massive financial institutions evinced the bullshit individualism that props up the ideology of laissez-faire? Is not the belief that "I can do everything I need by myself if only the government would leave me alone" completely absurd in a highly-marketized society in which even the most ordinary facets of life are subjected to global capitalist market forces?!

Perhaps there are better analyses, perhaps the thesis should be provisional until more evidence is mobilized in support of it. But it's not bullshit.


Excellent Alto Arizona Art Campaign



SB1070: The Cutting Edge of Racism in the US

And it's a law that must certainly be broken until it is repealed. Stay tuned- there will be a movement to send people to Arizona to intentionally stand in non-compliance with the racist statute until the bigots are forced to give in.

This is bigger than SB1070, however. Steps have been taken, as many will have heard by now, to whitewash the curriculum in schools and to prevent teachers with "accents" from teaching English in the schools. I've even heard of a school in AZ that repainted murals on the school premises to lighten the skin tones of the persons depicted. That is what the racists in AZ and the Tea-baggers want: to expel and "purify" the state of non-white peoples. This shit is completely out of control, and it needs to be aggressively fought head-on.

Of course, people in AZ are already leaving their homes to try to flee the effects of this draconian, racist law. But this isn't just an assault on people of color in AZ. This is a threat to justice all over the entire country. Many states (nearly 20 by the last count) have passed bills commending and celebrating the law in AZ. Again, as I've argued many times on this blog, this is not a moment in which left-minded people can simply sit back and wait for ostensibly "progressive" democratic Congress members to do the right thing. This bill must be fought directly, head-on, and aggressively by ordinary people. It needs to be fought no matter who is sitting in office, no matter what they profess to think about justice. ¡Alto Arizona! ¡Nadie es ilegal!


Rick Wolff on the Assault on Public Education

Reacting to the economic crisis, both Bush's and Obama's administrations have allowed the state and local funding supports for public education to decline nationwide. Educational opportunities shrink as educational inequality rises. From coast to coast, most students' job, income, and life prospects fall ever further behind those of children of the rich. The US government's response to economic crisis might well be ironically renamed as "leave no banker behind." Yet a collapsing public education system threatens society's future no less than a collapsing credit market. A president who campaigned on a program of hope presides over its evaporation for most children.
Read it here.


New ISJ!



Excellent Joel Geier piece on the Crisis


The capitalist state, not the market, produced stabilization, the end of the free-fall, and the start of a recovery. However, the fundamentals of the capitalist economy are so weak that there is no confidence that if the state were to withdraw stimulus that recovery could be sustained. The fear is that if the “free market” was left to its own solutions, and government stimulus sharply curtailed, demand would collapse, renewing recession. All of this has to be subtly presented so that faith in “free enterprise” is not excessively undermined.
Read it here.


Monday, July 5, 2010

A Critique of the "Black Bloc"

From Louis Proyect's blog, here's an excerpt:

It should be clear that the actions of the black bloc reflect their politics. The actions in Toronto mirror those tactics used elsewhere. The tactics and politics regardless of their intent are inherently elitist and counter-productive. In fact they mirror the critique of reformism many on the left have. The NDP says vote for us and we’ll do it for you, the black bloc says in essence the same thing – we will make the revolution for you.

At best the tactics of the black bloc are based on a mistaken idea that the attacks on property and the police will create a spark to encourage others to resist capitalism, at worst they are based on a rampant individualistic sense of rage and entitlement to express that rage regardless of the consequences to others. The anti-authoritarian politic they follow is imposed on others. Very rarely will you see a black bloc call its own rally, instead the tactic is to play hide and seek with the police under the cover of larger mobilizations.

Further as has been noted in many cases, the tactics and politics of the black bloc and some anarchists and some others on the left, leave them prone to being manipulated by the state. In almost every summit protest, police and others (in Genoa it was also fascists), infiltrate or form their own blocs to engage in provocations. The politics of secrecy and unannounced plans and a quasi-military (amateur at best) approach to demonstrations leave the door open to this.

The tactics also open the door for the justification of further police repression. This has been debated before, with some arguing that the state doesn’t need justification for repression. The idea that the state doesn’t need justification for further repression exposes the total lack of understanding of both the state and the consciousness of ordinary people.

Read the rest here.

I think this basically sums it up. Their politics are undialectical: they pretend as though the same tactics (smashing windows, etc.) are to be employed in every circumstance no matter the conditions or the consequences. This is fetishism of tactics, pure and simple, which cannot but be a mistake: tactics are always means to ends, not ends in themselves. The only way to know anything about tactics is to learn from history and experience and to assess the consequences and the conditions involved in a particular situation. None of this seems to figure into the provocations of the BB'ers.

Now I'm not convinced they've thought this far ahead, but if their view is that smashing windows and burning cars is the most effective way to win other people over to anti-capitalist politics, this just seems false.

Evidently, there are sophisticated defenses (I concede that these are secondhand- a thorough examination of the BB'ers would take a look at their own arguments) of Black Bloc-ism out there, e.g. that the BB makes clear what everyone else fails to see: that the state has a monopoly of violence with potent enforcement mechanisms. Then there's the argument that the BB exposes the implication of peaceful protesters with power by demonstrating how the former consent to co-exist with the latter. Both of the arguments fall flat. For starters, every school child knows that the state has a monopoly on violence. So the BB'ers are hardly showing anyone anything that they didn't already know. And what follows from realizing that the state has a monopoly on violence (it wouldn't be one if it didn't)? Does this help us to better understand power in contemporary capitalist societies? Not really. And since when was the point of recent protest efforts in the US supposed to be to challenge the state's monopoly on violence? Since when was this the goal of social movements on the ground? As far as I can tell, outside of genuine revolutionary situations, this is never the point of a protest. Were the massive 2006 MayDay mega-marches against xenophobia in the US directed toward breaking the state's monopoly of force? Were such protests therefore implicated in sustaining the legitimacy of the existing order of things?

The recent events at the G20 remind me of a similar situation at Hunter College in Manhattan a couple of months ago. Those jerks actually attacked other Left protesters fighting the budget cuts and they destroyed public property at CUNY!

I myself am not plugged into anarchist circles, but I would be curious to know what many of them, particularly the theoretically sophisticated and reasonably organized groups, think about the BB stuff. My sense is that it goes without saying that the diverse anarchist movement in the US alone is not necessarily on board with the provocateur tactics of the BB.

Finally, doesn't this whole Black Bloc thing reek of jock-strap machismo? I don't have anything else interesting to say about this, but it does seem to me that there's some testosterone-heavy stuff going on with the BB confrontations with Cops. There's certainly a gendered element to their uncompromising endorsement of violent provocations and the way in which they seem to like the "combat" with police for its own sake.


Friday, July 2, 2010


"Obama está más ciego que los ciegos, ve el problema y no lo quiere solucionar. Lo que queríamos era escuchar que impusiera una moratoria a las deportaciones. Le está echando la culpa a los republicanos y no asume la responsabilidad". -el reverendo José Landaverde (Hoy, 7.2.2010)


Thursday, July 1, 2010