Brian Holmes on Mon, 29 Oct 2018 20:51:07 +0100 (CET)

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On Mon, Oct 29, 2018 at 8:56 AM Ian Alan Paul <> wrote:

To romanticize the analysis of a past/outdated Marx as being universal without being attentive to the distinct material/historical forces that define the present is perhaps the most anti-Marxist position you could take.

The Communist Manifesto is an extraordinary text, on that everyone agrees, yet for some strange reason almost no one is aware that it was written on the basis of two years worth of debates within the Communist League, which was a clandestine working-class organization founded in London by continental exiles. So apparently it took all that time and all that engagement for individuals of genius to produce such a resonant collectivist text. Now, those in the Communist League were mainly artisans if I have understood right - a very specific kind of identity, later understood as the "aristocracy of labor" when assembly-line mass production came in and the whole notion of working class had to be reshaped on the basis of new experiences. A continuously changing reality means that the search to find and help co-create a transformative agency is always ongoing, a perpetual work-in-progress.

Today in my view, any approach to a universal agency of struggle would have to take into account, not only labor and the relationship to the owners, but far more broadly, the relation of human beings to technology as a force both productive and destructive. This is very far from Marx, who believed that machines had an inherent progressive force and merely needed to be wrested from their owners and repurposed to create an even more productive egalitarian society. Nothing has shown Marx's belief to be true, alas. Instead, the destructive side of technology now threatens the very foundation of social and natural reproduction: the biogeochemical cycles of the Earth. Which brings me to Frederic's statement:

"A universal subject could have been the green one, the wretched of the Earth (aka Gaia); but it did not happen, or its advent is, like, buried in a national-populist grave."

We await the advent of a collective subject who finds agency in a transformation of the technological dialogue that humanity maintains with the Earth. Today we stand only at the beginning of that period in which the human species, along with most others, faces what Clive Hamilton calls a "defiant Earth" -- that is, an Earth that self-defensively responds to the current onslaught of technology, especially but not only CO2. The forms of oppression that capitalist technology creates are now mediated by the oceans, the atmosphere, the ice-caps, the jet stream, with very real and specific returns in the guise of what used to be called "the weather." What kind of genius - or what new figure of collective intellectual capacity - would it take to go among the suffering identities of the oppressed, feel the damage of climate change and the entire global capitalist social structure that it expresses, and listen for the words, the images, the experiences, the reference-points and the dreams, the aspirations, the hopes that could bring people together to transform the ways that technology is currently deployed? How to let the nationalist-populist dead bury their dead, while we move on to the urgent question of living under twenty-first century conditions?

It's not a rhetorical question. Or rather, it's the most rhetorical question of them all. The defiant Earth has only begun to smash technological cities. The upsurge of regressive national-populism proves that there is no "natural" response; instead, every response is political. Just tossing around old Marxist catchwords is useless, because it does nothing like what Marx and Engels actually did. Namely, work directly with oppressed people in the first phases of political organization, and create new concepts, new images, new rhetoric that enables collective agency rather than imprisoning it in the dead-ends of the past.

Storms, droughts, heat waves, crop failures and rising seas are bringing formidable challenges that cannot be resolved, for the majority of people anyway, by inherently exclusive capitalist self-protection techniques. National-populism, based on the nineteenth-century nationalism of war as a self-protection and self-aggrandizement strategy, is going to fail miserably over the next few years. Nor will identity politics survive in the liberal form that we know today. If you want your work and your life to be significant, find a way - some way - to address the new conditions and those who live under them. And above all, find the eyes and the ears and the subtle senses to grasp the potentials that currently lie buried, but not dead, beneath the onslaught of a failed return to past mistakes.

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