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the tailor of ulm

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Lucio Magri in the current New Left Review:

At one of the crowded meetings held in 1991 to decide whether or not to change the name of the Italian Communist Party, a comrade posed this question to Pietro Ingrao: ‘After everything that has happened and all that is now taking place, do you still believe the word “communist” can be used to describe the kind of large, democratic mass party that ours has been, and is, and which we want to renew so as to take it into government?’ Ingrao, who had already laid out in full the reasons for his dissent and proposed that an alternative course be taken, replied—not altogether in jest—with Brecht’s famous parable of the tailor of Ulm. This 16th-century German artisan had been obsessed by the idea of building a device that would allow men to fly. One day, convinced he had succeeded, he took his contraption to the Bishop and said: ‘Look, I can fly’. Challenged to prove it, the tailor launched himself into the air from the top of the church roof, and, naturally, ended up in smithereens on the paving stones below. And yet, Brecht’s poem suggests: a few centuries later men did indeed learn to fly.

I was thinking “The Tailor of Ulm” would make a bad name for a good blog, a good left group blog. I’m sniffing around for one of those, a name, by the way, so send suggestions but only if they’re really, really good. Anyway, it’s hard to knock pieces like Magri’s, as there is some value in taking ourselves yet again on a quick trip through the narrative of left high and left low and left nearly gone and landing back at “What is to be done?”

But… there is also a way, I think, that pieces like this one, that follow this same trajectory through the continued pertience of our line of thought and work but the “to be honest” poor prospects that anything presently existing could be harnessed into real work, these pieces performatively, reiteratively on some level enforce the stasis that they describe.We hear again that new histories of the immediate past, new theorizations and adaptations of the line need to be developed in tune with current conditions, we hear that there are valuable lessons in the past but that new work remains to be done to render them current, and so on. There is a way that space-filling, talking issuelessly through the gap, becomes tyrannical in itself. It has, this sort of piece, become a genre unto itself, and as such builds guiderails into the flow of ideas, has a determinative effect on future productions, comes to frame (more rigidly and effectively than one might expect – genres are very powerful) ever more constrictively the place where this ever-announced new growth would arrive. It is the fault of no one piece – this is not Magri’s problem – but en masse, these things enforce depression, tacitly instruct that the way to solve the problem is to name the problem again and again and again and again until, what, men learn to fly.

It feels like bad form to head in the “Whereof one cannot speak…” direction…. Ooof… just like that, with the Witty reference, it dawns on me I’ve written this post before. See? The nastiness of genres. They breed like the mice Magri mentions in the piece, Marx’s mice, the mice we can’t stop mentioning, anticipating, baiting… You see what happens when you duck again below the cabinets to check….

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July 15, 2008 at 9:45 am

the n-word

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Everybody’s talking nationalization, and of course the whisper of those six syllables makes pinko hearts go all aflutter. It’s been a bad word for so, so long – and it’s nice to hear it get current again.

That said, and persuant to some of the issues raised in the comments of this post, we should tread with caution, for all nationalizations are not created equal. In some cases, they can be great – plowing the profits from Venezuelan oil into social programs is as lovely as it gets, yes. Sometimes, they just simply have to happen, as might well prove to be the case with those strange “government sponsored enterprises,” already neither fish nor fowl, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But if anyone can locate any social benefits that have or will accrue from the takeover of Northern Rock, please do speak up in the comments. All that I can see is burgeoning moral hazard, this time for stockbuyers and bank managers rather than the usual suspects, the poor, and the preordained endstory that comes when the bank has its first profitable year, it will again be privatized lest it interfere with enterprises of the earnest, hardworking, honest gents down in the City. Whatever it is, it’s not socialism – part corporate welfare, part necessary first aid, but not socialism.

So, a modest proposal: how about, if this trend continues, each time the state has to plow money into a steaming pile of shit in the form of a dropped dead bank, downfluttering airline or the like, it by law must at the same time nationalize something really nice, enormously profitable, and potentially socially useful. Like, dunno, Mobil. Or Google. Call your congressman today…

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July 10, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Posted in economics, socialism


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Last thing I did on my trip to Edinburgh this week was visit the Canongate Tolbooth, that is, the “People’s Story Museum,” which was a lucky find, as it is a rather crusty but generously socialist museum of the vie quotidian in the Scottish capital. Placards describing the role of “Marxist radicals” in opening education to the working class, Neurathian maps of social housing in the city (sadly, the timeline index of course ends in 1984 or thereabouts), leftover banners from long-ago marches and the like. Lovely. And makes me think that I should probably do some work on this sort of museum, as it fills a hole between a hole bunch of my interests so very well.

One thing that I’m thinking about, was thinking about when I was there. What’s with all the wax guys, the dioramas? You know what I mean, this sort of thing:

Basically, the two staples of the left museum – the “people’s museum” – have long been the quanty graph or map and the “slice of life” diorama. I’ve done a lot of thinking about the former, and will continue to think about it, but the later is pretty interesting too. I know the form has a history, one that’s been well-covered over the last decade or so (think visual entertainments of the late 19th and early 20th etc…)

Now, of course they make a low-tech and relatively cheap effort at “breaking the frame” that would come of, say, stocking your everyday life museum with a series of period photographs or even pictures of contemporary restagings of scenes. We’re not talking Madame Tussauds, here, but there is at least a momentary and slight sense that you’re looking at “real people” rather than shadowy after-images, easily dismissable in a world chocked full of photos. Not that interesting, I don’t think, nor is the fact that by contextualizing the real fake people in rooms full of period objects you emerge with some sort of materialist notion of the subject, straw people who effectively are the things that are in their kitchens or bedrooms or prison cells. There’s something else to these things that I’m straining to say…

Lucky for me, the only two images of scenes from the Tolbooth that are available on-line are the two that affected my daughter (who’s three) the most. The prison people she was fascinated with, even more so after I explained (I know, I coulda done better) that prison is sort of like the poopie chair that we make her sit in when she’s bad, except that people end up in prison unfairly sometimes. (The people above, according to the caption at the museum, include a thief, a deserter, and a debtor). The other one she was most interested in was the one immediately above this paragraph. If memory serves, it’s a mother and her three children, living under the rafters somewhere, immiserated because the husband / father was taken during a dysentery outbreak sometime in the 19th century.

Neurath wanted his graphical museums to be equally legible to the child and the adult, the lettered and the illiterate, and it must be said that kids get the dioramas too, maybe more than the adults – at least mine did. I’m quite sure that she was far more interested in them than she’d be in most pictures – at least those that don’t feature “a monster that eats people” or “the queen.” (I know. Look, it’s not my homeland’s fault, the queen business…)

So what is it I want to say about them? Simply that dummies inspire empathy in a way that 2-D images do not, because children understand them?

No, not quite. I think what I want to say is that there’s something about this low-tech form, left behind in a world of MegaArt and BisectedCows and DisneyAnamatronicalism, that itself is a signal of something in its low-tech-ness and cheapitude. The flea-bitten displays, the care of construction of the individual and its life space, the art effort of the thing, seems to me an allegory of at least two things at once. First, the meagre means that the constructors of the People’s Museum, wherever it is, work with today. There are no funds for the retrofit – yesterday’s technology will have to do. There is a deep pathos in this. Second, yes, the care for the individual, the shit statue of an irrelevant person – there’s something to that too. Pretense or whatever it is, taking the time to fit out an Edinburgh fishwoman, the abandoned poor mother, the guy who lives in the rooming house with his other suit hanging on the wall, even if they’re plastic or wax, paper mache or cardboard – the care of production, the art of making them visible, is in itself a performance of our politics, and as such, bring tears and feeling faster even than the contents of the scenes themselves.

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July 3, 2008 at 11:58 pm

Posted in aesthetics, socialism

“Nous n’avons pas signé de contrat avec Castro”

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Rue89 clears it all up: Castro has not signed a promotional contract with Adidas. He just likes their gear.

I’m not sure I’d be opposed to Adidas simply becoming the exclusive footwear/sportswear supplier of sporty communists worldwide. It’s maybe a New Jersey thing, deep rooted, but I’ve got a few of their “training suits” in my own closet, I must admit. Though I try not to wear top and bottom at the same time, as that’s a bit too much, unless you’re Castro I suppose.

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June 24, 2008 at 11:53 am

Posted in ads, americas, socialism

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From a column at

With gasoline at $4-plus a gallon, lots of thinking people see the U.S. undergoing a vast demographic shift, with millions of people moving back to cities. The suburbs, and those places beyond the suburbs, the exurbs, will dry up and blow away.

The notion appeals especially to people who like to think they’ll be in charge after the revolution. They would apparently love nothing more than for the population to be confined to Soviet-style concrete-block high-rises and be forced to take state-run streetcars to their little jobs at the mill.

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June 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

schadenfreude too is a form of market fundamentalism

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Britain’s social housing industry suggests £1bn spree on empty stock – Times Online

The group representing Britain’s social housing industry is in talks with the Government to free £1 billion of public money to help to bail out the new homes market.

The funds would be used to buy tens of thousands of mostly inner-city flats and family homes at a heavy discount from beleaguered housebuilders.

These properties were originally expected to be sold to private buyers but are now part-built or empty as the sector struggles to deal with the sharpest slump in sales for more than a generation.

The proposal from the National Housing Federation (NHF), the umbrella body for the UK’s housing associations, is under consideration by ministers at the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government. If the package is agreed, it could kickstart the moribund housing market by buying at least 10,000 units. That would help the big housebuilders, whose share prices have collapsed over recent weeks amid fears that they will be unable to service their debts as cashflow dries up.

It would be really nice if someone a bit more economically numerate than me could maybe write some thing explaining why any coming housing collapse isn’t simply going to be the real opportunity to get on the property ladder that you’ve been waiting for – that, in fact, unless you have stacks of cash sitting around the house (and if you did, you’d likely have a house already, and thus be wrapped up on the downside of this thing) it’s not going to be any easier for you to obtain a lovely little 2 bedroom in Brooklyn or whatever than it was before. The housing crunch is structural, it has largely to do with mortgage rates, not underlying consumer demand. Have you noticed any fewer people milling about? Nope – everyone’s still here and everyone still wants a roof over their heads. The only winners will be those, say, emerging with their college degrees and a stack of dad’s cash to spend without financing. Oh, and property speculators. They’ll win because they always do.

Donc, maybe a little more thinking like the above and a little less hand-rubbing anticipation of the bargains to come. They won’t.

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June 20, 2008 at 9:26 am

Posted in economics, socialism

shunted off the information superhighway

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So one of the tidbits that travels back from american expats in the uk, and has for a long time, is the incredible asskicking difficulty of getting phone/internet/tv set up here. Ah, I thought, I am patient. I have a phone that gets email, and the tv gets freeview, and there’s internet at my office, so I will be so angelically calm through the weeklong wait.

Weeklong wait, weeklong wait. If only a weeklong wait.

Let me confirm what those previous expats have said. This is no fun. First, the broadband cable people (company named after a pre-sexual condition, or one who is in that condition) find the fiber-optic leash is snapped in the street, and would take digging, so I cancelled and stuffed politics to one side and went instead with the fascist operators named after the blue (gray, here) dome above us, who came today and can’t because, um, there’s reno scaffolding next door in front, and the neighbor’s new loft blocks the back, and they won’t do chimney’s because that is dangerous and so I cancelled them out too.

So now, apparently, on to my oxygeny mobile phone operator, once the telecom monopoly of espana, now just some random post-privatization conglomerate. They are cheap; they have promised access within 6 to 10 days; we will see about that.

One day, though, one day, my friends and readers, I will blog again during the sliver of time I devote to this sort of thing in the evenings.

But for now, and there’s a lot more to come on this from me soon, I hope: let’s think about advertisements for socialism. Not placards or prints or tv spots in this case, but policy and institutions that both are themselves socialist and encourages people to think well of public ownership and provision, to turn against the private sphere as corrupt and inefficient, impossibly bureaucratic (despite the incessant promises of efficiency and cost-effectiveness). Let’s think about what, say, wide-scale public wifi would do for our movement, and the reasons why it’s been for the most part prevented so far, and why exactly it’s proven so difficult for us to article the utter insanity of blocking access to something everyone, everyone would agree would be a wonderful thing simply in order to maintain an inefficiently organized market for these services.

“Yeah, we used to pay for internet access. It was crazy – crazy expensive and a pain in the ass to get fixed. Now it’s just there….”

(You can substitute medical care, eduction, effective and clean transport, housing, entertainment, books, whatever you like for “internet access.” It is, like almost every other political problem, an Overton Window issue… We’ve had rather nice but uncosmopolitan americans staying with us this week, first time international travellers. It’s so fun telling them about flat rate prescriptions – free for kids! – from the NHS and the like… If you’re a jaded britainian, let me recommend hosting middle-class americans for memphis for a week – it’ll show you full well how much is still left here, despite it all, that’s worth fighting for…)

Relatedly, I am beginning to think that the real and ultimate source of the incredibly hot antipathy that the Bush administration has for Hugo Chavez – why they (to all appearances) intervene in Venezuela’s affairs, elevate him to AofE stature, and all the rest – isn’t because he calls names, or even because he threatens to play games with the oil supply, but simply because he raises the specter of a solution to the world’s economic and perhaps even envirnomental crises so glaringly obvious and in the end simple and really with ample precident, that it is bound to start occurring in the minds of the US citizenry, popping up like little thought bubbles as they fill their tanks the morning after hearing news reports of the absolutely insane profit reports on tv the night before. That is, HC nationalized the oil industry in VZ. He thought and did the utterly thinkable that must somehow remain unthinkable, beyond the pale, lest wonderfulness break out all over and spoil the fun of dark times for those with a stake in dark times.

Too much too quickly and in the wrong order, but I’ve been thinking that we might want to be more specific about what it is that we propose, move away from amorphous think-good amelioration and nostalgia and, you know, pick a bit that seems important. I vote the communalization (used to be nationalization before I fixed it) of things. Services, maybe industries, and the like. This will be way too quick, really flimsy and insubstantial, but while watching this the other night, the part where it gets to Thatcher and the privatization horrors, Marr emphasized the way that one privatization would, in a sense, pay for the next. I wonder if that (and given all different senses of the word “pay”) mightn’t run in reverse as well. And I finally wonder if the window of opportunity hasn’t already begun to open, what with Northern Rock and almost inevitably the american airlines within a year or so, and we’ll see what comes next.

Start whispering it around to your friends and neighbors. We could have them, given the right turn of events, by force majeure. That is to say, we might have to have them. State of emergency and all….

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June 16, 2008 at 2:53 pm

an “iPod government” vs. the EITC

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From the New York Times this weekend:

On many budget matters, Mrs. Clinton’s instincts seem similar to her husband’s. Both favor carefully crafted tax credits that can help people who most need it, that come with relatively modest price tags and that seem likely to survive a divided Congress.

Mr. Obama sometimes talks of his vision of an “iPod government,” with simple programs that people can understand. He also talks of persuading voters and members of Congress, including Republicans, to support his plans.

Ah, whether through coyly rendered insight or dumb luck, the reporter here is on to something in the arrangement of these two paragraphs. The policy opposite of an “iPod government,” in the best possible case of what that might mean is in fact the system (a mainstay of neo-liberal regimes of the last decade or so) of shifting from direct social disbursements to the tax credit form of funds delivery. Google around for “unrecovered tax credits” and you’ll see why this might be the case.

You might start with the wikipedia article on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which includes the following paragraphs:

Millions of American families who are eligible for the EITC do not receive it, leaving billions of additional tax credit dollars unclaimed. Research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Internal Revenue Service indicates that between 15% and 25% of households who are entitled to the EITC do not claim their credit, or between 3.5 million and 7 million households.

The average EITC amount received per family in 2002 was $1,766. Using this figure and a 15% unclaimed rate would mean that low-wage workers and their families lost out on more than $6.5 billion, or more than $12 billion if the unclaimed rate is 25%.

To translate this into UKese, look here. And here’s a graphical representation (what else?) of just why the EITC is a symptom of a politics of neo-liberal complexity, rather than true socialist simplicity:

Easy enough to figure out what’s coming to you, eh? Try it yourself to see. This is the “survival of the fittest” version of the welfare state, designed to fail. Born of actuarial anticipation rather than humane and good faith efforts to help. Perhaps most important of all, even if it does work, it’s designed in such a way that almost no one can understand how it works, or even what it is in the first place. But this too is the point, for if the citizenry was to move about with a sense that they in any sense are thought to be entitled to a living, well…. we simply can’t have that, those are waters that we don’t dare to sail into, etc etc…

Sadly, I’ve not really seen any signs that Obama actually means to take the project of (best case) iPod governmentality up. I suppose there’s more to say – about the difference between best and worst case simplicity, what lies between those poles, and what in the end I think all this might mean… As always more to come…

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May 5, 2008 at 1:16 am

the fourth box

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Being by nature a top-downer, a statist, I give some thought, but not enough thought, to the various strands of open-source, quasi-anarchistic social and political thought that’s been bubbling up during the last decade or so.

(More material from Benkler, who, to his credit, makes just about everything he does available for free on his site… In fact, you can download the whole of his book The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, which I’ve not yet read but which has been sitting in my “to be read” folder for far too long now and needs to be gotten to.)

During the video above (from the usually rather abominable TED conference), Benkler throws the following powerpoint slide up on the screen:


Now, the most important box is the one in the upper right-hand corner. It’s the one that Benkler claims is new, a recent development that emerges with the rise of open source software and the like. Of course he’s wrong about it being new – there have always been decentralized, non-market based economies and arrangements. Borrowing your neighbor’s ladder, giving gifts, barn-raising, communal living arrangements, self-starting communal farming – you get the picture, these things have always been with us. 

Still, we know what he means. We understand that Linux and p2p filesharing do represent a sort of giant exception to the hegemony of market-based exchanged, and that they distinctly exhibit signs of aspects of human nature that we always knew were there but which the conventional economists and political thinkers would have us believe are not and never were. 

And further, we understand what Benkler means when he opposes this fourth box not only to market-based models of economic organization but also to non-market versions, in particular that of the NGO and the government. No, if there ever was a reasons to develop an allergy to the state, that time is now, when it is ever more clear that the primary purpose of government has devolved into PR flacking and material facilitation for the military-industrial complex and oil companies, soft selling neo-liberal “reform,” and the policing of borders when convenient to corporate interests and the co-signatories to economic treaties that permit the movement of capital but not its creators.

But still, my allergy to the state is met and matched by a far more profound allergy to those (mostly the same guys as above, strangely enough) who wish to do in the state. Techno-anarchism, even when as eloquently presented by the likes of Benkler, seems in general to serve as a political outlet most appropriate to testosterone-addled tech bunnies who need neither stable work nor health care nor really much to do with the public sphere at all. Open-source politics could well be an efficient and free distributor of many things, including information, information, and information. But when it gets to the stuff that lies outside of the so-called “information economy” – when it comes to the relatively minor items like a roof over your head or food on the table or a stable income, I’ll be damned if I can see how non-market social-sharing systems are going to help a whole lot. For these open systems are mostly cash and resource poor unless they sell themselves back into the market, and then the game is fixed anyway.

So I remain a statist. But still…. I can’t help but feel that there is something to this open-source argument. In fact, tonight, I am wondering if the something in question is what is produced when the two boxes on the right, the government box and the social sharing and exchange box, are aufhebunged together into a tight little ball.

In short, while it is clear why one would want to overcome the state as it is, it is not clear that the state (or am I talking about the government – I’m not sure – but “government” certainly doesn’t sound like the right word in this case and maybe that is part of the issue) couldn’t itself be re-conceived as itself a sort of open source project, a medium of social sharing and exchange. Dare I say that it might even be rebranded – and in the wake of rebranding, reworked or replaced – as what Benkler might call a platform that facilitates just such a stance as he describes.

Another phrase to describe the result, I think, would be democratic socialism.

But lots of questions remain. Should our conception of the state follow the lead of Linux (which developed its own open system completely independently of its un-open competitor, Microsoft’s OS) or is it a case more parallel to that of the Mozilla foundation, which inherited itself from the for-profit Netscape Corporation. Of course, this only draws us back into one of the oldest and most persistent debates in the development of Marxist political theory, the one that centered on the viability of the bourgeois state apparatus for transformation into a socialist state. And further, am I simply talking about a new nomenclature (a new marketing campaign) to describe what we already know, or would the synthesis of the two boxes result in the generation of new approaches and demands?

More to think about, for sure. But for now, I’ll post and get it over with for the night….

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April 30, 2008 at 12:57 am

Posted in open, socialism

not safe for viewing at work (or in communal apartments)

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Whoa…. I… Excuse me… I thought that no one was… I’m sorry…. I’ll come back later… 

Fascinating, strange photo-collection from Françoise Huguier, who in 2002 subleased and moved into a room in one of the still extant communal apartment buildings in Russia. Apparently, 11 million Russians still live in the kommounalki, as they’re called. The story’s a little bit hard to follow, at least for me, but you should go take a look at the Rue89 piece about it. 

I’d love to see the book, but won’t likely, because it costs €46, which comes out to something like $460 or so according to current exchange rates.* But what is interesting about the images on display at Rue89 is the fact that they seem to enact what I imagine to be a relatively common fantasy of one upside of life in this sort of situation would be like, a fantasy that takes up probably the oldest and deepest utopian projections going. I mean, of course, the combination of communal economic life with sexual commonality. I have no doubt at all that these places weren’t at all like that, and if they are now I’m sure it ain’t a pretty scene, but it is something that Huguier makes it seem so, for her and our benefit now. 

How long do you imagine it will be before we see the first ad spread derived from Huguier’s pictures? American Apparel? Beyond what I’ve said above, what are we to make of the fact that they are so deeply reminiscent of one of the dominant ad aesthetics of our time? It may well be that the photographs are simply derivative of the ads themselves, but if something like the reverse is or is also the case, then, well, things do get a bit more interesting… 

* Unrelatedly, I visited Buenos Aires not long after the devaluation, and noticed in the big bookstores that were clearly set up to cater to a very cosmopolitan population, with big sections bracketed off for libros en Inglés, francés, alemán, that clearly a resupply hadn’t happened in quite awhile and only the unsalable dregs were left. This seemed incredibly sad to me, the thought that a place like Argentina suddenly simply couldn’t afford to import books. I don’t rely all that much on imports, but I used to buy them sometimes, but not so much anymore… 


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April 20, 2008 at 12:39 am

Posted in socialism

socialism and the human animal

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From the NYTimes today:

Although Enrique Del Risco knows what has happened on the island where he was born 40 years ago, he still gets odd looks from college students when he tries to explain Cuba’s reality. He left Cuba in 1996 and settled in New York two years later, teaching Spanish at New York University.

“I grew up believing in the system,” he said. “Quite a believer. My parents, too.”

He, too, thought there would be change during the late 1980s. Instead, he found himself slowly suffocating, with his writings earning him reprimands.

“I was more scared of surrendering than being put in jail,” he said. “I was scared that I would stop being myself. I was someone who thinks independently and expresses that.” Yet to try and tell that to some of his students, he said, was like talking about extraterrestrial life. He knows to expect a dual riposte — yes, but what about universal health care and education?

“At the root of that is a great belittling of Cubans,” he said. “It’s like we are some sort of little animals who only need a veterinarian and someone to teach us tricks and we’ll be fine.”

Somewhat per the Badiou article I linked to the other day, it is amazing to note, when you at time step back a bit from the shuffle, how insistently if quietly we’re still negotiating this now only spectral question…

Is there a name for the rhetorical form that supplies answer upon answer to questions that can’t be (permitted to be) asked?

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March 10, 2008 at 10:55 am

the communist hypothesis

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Badiou in the new issue of the New Left Review:

At this point, during an interval dominated by the enemy, when new experiments are tightly circumscribed, it is not possible to say with certainty what the character of the third sequence will be. But the general direction seems discernible: it will involve a new relation between the political movement and the level of the ideological—one that was prefigured in the expression ‘cultural revolution’ or in the May 68 notion of a ‘revolution of the mind’. We will still retain the theoretical and historical lessons that issued from the first sequence, and the centrality of victory that issued from the second. But the solution will be neither the formless, or multi-form, popular movement inspired by the intelligence of the multitude—as Negri and the alter-globalists believe—nor the renewed and democratized mass communist party, as some of the Trotskyists and Maoists hope. The (19th-century) movement and the (20th-century) party were specific modes of the communist hypothesis; it is no longer possible to return to them. Instead, after the negative experiences of the ‘socialist’ states and the ambiguous lessons of the Cultural Revolution and May 68, our task is to bring the communist hypothesis into existence in another mode, to help it emerge within new forms of political experience. This is why our work is so complicated, so experimental. We must focus on its conditions of existence, rather than just improving its methods. We need to re-install the communist hypothesis—the proposition that the subordination of labour to the dominant class is not inevitable—within the ideological sphere.

We do – I do – suffer from a certain amount of confusion when it comes to the question of the right way to work as a left intellectual. By “right way to work,” I don’t so much mean the specific frame of engagement, whether to work in the academy or in the papers or on the streets or make art etc. Rather, I am confused about the bearing of the work that I should be doing within the practical framework that I have chosen (or which has chosen me). I mean, would it be best to plan, to advertise, or to design? Are the most useful answers at this point practical or conceptual or ethical? Should one be a hauntologist, a pragmatic engineer, or a philosopher of the question itself?

Badiou, as we might expect, decides in this piece. And while there is something unsettling about the fact that the sort of work that he decides in favor of is exactly the sort of work for which intellectuals are best suited by aptitude, inclination, and situation, I find this piece very encouraging (en-couraging?)

(xposted to Long Sunday)

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March 5, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Posted in socialism

tipping point

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The long-standing allergy to the “s” word may in fact be on its way out. Amazing poll, this… The conventional wisdom has for so long been 1) if you’d like to propose a policy or program that is essentially socialist in nature, you need to find a benign term to use for it. “Universal” is about as close as you’re allowed to come, but even that sounds a bit too pinky and 2) opponents of socialist reform need take one only course of action to stop it in its tracks – that is, label the socialist reform “socialist,” and your work is done….

So this poll, yes, is amazing to see… Hate to think this justifies the reflexive leninism (worse before better etc) that has defined the period of my political consciousness…

(via Yglesias)

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February 17, 2008 at 12:31 am

Posted in socialism

we’re winning! or, we’re losing!

with one comment

Strange and a bit refreshing to see this from Brad Delong….

But, over the past generation, confidence in the “Kuznets curve” has faded. Social-democratic governments have been on the defensive against those who claim that redistributing wealth exacts too high a cost on economic growth, and unable to convince voters to fund yet another massive expansion of higher education.

On the private supply side, higher returns have not called forth more investment in people. America’s college-to-high-school wage premium may now be 100%, yet this generation of white, native-born American males may well wind up getting no more education than their immediate predecessors. And increasing rewards for those at the increasingly sharp peak of the income distribution have not called forth enough enterprising market competition to erode that peak.

The consequence has been a loss of morale among those of us who trusted market forces and social-democratic governments to prove Marx wrong about income distribution in the long run – and a search for new and different tools of economic management.

Never thought I’d see the day….

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 14, 2008 at 11:41 pm

Posted in economics, socialism

“just six letters distinguish the words ‘communism’ and ‘computers,’ but the supplanting of one by the other has transformed the world”

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The glorious thing about the end of history and the triumph of capitalism is the way that it relieves us of the obligation to know our history. There’s something exhilarating about students completely ignorant about their country twenty-years since – something that proves some point about something. And really, in the free market of ideas that is the high school classroom, communism exposes itself as really frigging boring compared to the vivid dramatics of liberalism and open markets, especially when they offer the possibility (unique to capitalism!) to spend twenty hours a weekend im-ing with friends in Thailand and suburban Chicago.

Thankfully, also, all of this is entirely representative of the mindset of Germany as a whole.

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 5, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Posted in distraction, socialism