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Showing posts from March 28, 2010

Mythology and revolution

There is a beautiful sister and an ugly sister. We know such tales from childhood. There is the allure of the beautiful female face that seems to summon us. And there are the hissing snakes for hair and the gorgon features of the face that repulses us. In his 1848 article for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung about the June revolution of 1848, Marx gives us a story of the beautiful sister and the ugly sister in terms of revolutions. The part played by the beautiful sister is the universal revolution that overthrows the signs of the old order. This revolution is conducted under the sign of the universal family – except it is no longer a family with a father at the head of it. No, this is the family of brothers, of fraternity. But this revolution conceals within it an undermining fact. Just as Cinderella does all the chores that allow her sisters to appear beautiful, so, too, does the proletariat do all the chores that allow for the beautiful overflow of fraternal feelings. When the proleta

Dixi et salvavi animam meam.

But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Marx’s God was entirely higher order of divine beast, who had in his hand a bill of indictment linking the thread counts of every yard of sack cloth to the bloody fingers of its blind seamstress. As I have indicated, Marx’s well known doctrine according to which the contradictions of capitalism vow it to a perpectual cycle of crisis became a polemical weapon to move socialism to an accomodationist position, one in which the governing class, periodically repenting its evils and reforming its regulations, would thus turn away the evil that otherwise would

crisis two

According to Marx, capitalism as a subordinate economic system already appears in feudal Europe by the sixteenth century. Braudel and Polanyi would agree with that assessment – others would look at proto-capitalist enterprises in Northern Italy in the 14th century. Still, the full development of capitalism – wage labor as the predominant form of labor, the circulation of the commodity to money to commodity circle, the development of a world market and a credit market, an industrial technostructure, all really come together in the ‘advanced’ nations of Western Europe in the 19th century, and in North America, in the U.S. and Canada. One could add that, since Marx, we have evidence for a demographic shift in households in the sixteenth century, as the paterfamilias household, in which sons and their wifes lived in the household complex with their parents, becomes much rarer, compared to the nuclear family type, in which the sons and their wives start new households – at a cost that for

Gunpowder and Money

George Bernard Shaw’s play, Major Barbara, came out in the year 1905. In that year, the industries of Europe and the United States were humming, and none more so than the Nobel Dynamite trust. Alfred Nobel not only invented safe explosives, but – in his search for strategic partners – he helped invent a new, multi-national corporate form. Munitions industries were peculiar things in the Europe of the time. Many of them were state run, on the premise that the state alone should be trusted with management of weapons manufacture and the secrets of weapon improvement. Nobel, of course, was not manufacturing for the state. His dynamite built the railroads – or at least blasted out the tunnels through which track was laid – and opened up new passages in mines. Through complicated contracts with Dupont and various German chemical companies, Nobel and associates pretty much dominated the world explosives market. And given the need for ever new markets, the cartel also developed explosives f

Upon the iron wheel: circulation work, moving toward crisis.

[I edited this post because I had originally pieced it together out of two different themes, making it an unruly, Gemini kind of thing. Now it flows like water, almost - all the curents are folded into one stream. I hope] “Marxian theory aims not to resolve “economic problems” of bourgeois society, but to show them to be unsolvable. Marx was a socialist, not an economist – Paul Mattick, Marxism, the last refuge of the bourgeoisie? P.87 Paul Mattick poured as much cold water as he could on the project of normalizing Marx. This project consists in finding problems in Capital that can be rephrased in terms of Walrasian equilibriums – and proceeding from this point to translate the whole system. Thus, according to Mattick, an industry has devoted itself to ‘transforming’ value into price, in response to the critiques of the bourgeois economists, without thinking of the fact that Marx continually advocates the revolutionary overthrow of wage labor – and thus of the price system as we kno

the three muskateers, increasing return on investment, and the crisis in the humanities

In Benjamin’s essay on Eduard Fuchs there is a passing mention of a fascinating incident: When the 1848 Revolution came, Dumas published an appeal to the workers of Paris in which he presented himself to them as one of their own. In twenty years, he had made 400 novels and 35 plays: he had been the source of the daily bread of 8,160 people. [My translation] I thought that was a fascinating fact, and looked up the proclamation, which is reprinted, in part, in the Nouvelle Revue, vol. 8. Here is a bit of it: I am putting myself forward as a candidate to the legislature, and I am asking for your voices. Here are my titles to your trust: “Without counting six years of education, four years under a notary and seven years in an office, I have worked twenty years, ten hours a day, which is 73,000 hours. During these twenty years I composed 400 volumes and 35 dramas. The first print runs of the 400 volumes were at 4,000 and sold at 5 francs, producing 11,853,000 francs. Here’s a list: