Feed aggregator

  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 906.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 607.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 607.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_boolean_operator::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_boolean_operator.inc on line 159.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_term_node_tid::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/modules/taxonomy/views_handler_filter_term_node_tid.inc on line 302.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 134.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 134.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 906.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 906.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/members/autonomedia/sites/interactivist.autonomedia.org/web/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 906.

(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL n° special - Call "They block all": A first assessment (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

A-infos - August 20, 2016 - 6:32am
Launched on March 22, calling unionists "It blocks all! "Gathered more than 1,600 signatories - including more than 120 union structures as such. Featuring debate renewed strike, he especially helped popularize Economic blocking objective. ---- When the call "It blocks all! "Is launched, the social movement has taken off with the demonstration of 9 March [ 1 ]. The goal is then to strike while the iron by placing the outset a simple question: if we want to win and so how is it done? ---- We did not leave anything. The experience of previous major movements helping, then it is obvious that it is blocking the economy that must be sought. And there is no blockage of the real economy without a strong strike rooted, widespread and extended massively. Throughout the fight against Labour law is what it is endeavored to share the call "It blocks all! ". ...

(en) US, WSA, ideasandaction: Leninist Vanguardism vs. Libertarian Left Militant Minority Organization

A-infos - August 19, 2016 - 8:59am
It is not uncommon for class struggle libertarians to hear Leninists equate vanguardism with a libertarian militant minority group, such as the Friends of Durruti in libertarian Spain, yet suggest that the libertarian role is simply lacking in strategy. This shows a poor understanding of the militant libertarian alternative to Leninist vanguardism and why we see it as far more desirable and superior. The phrase “militant minority” was created by anarchosyndicalists to refer to working class people who are class conscious and have an informal influence within their workplaces and unions due to being hard-working or being good at public speaking, being politically knowledgeable, etc. Anarchosyndicalists have also used the term “vanguard” to refer to an active, organized and politically-motivated militant minority. ...

(en) solfed.org.uk: Don't work for free. Say no to unpaid trials!!

A-infos - August 19, 2016 - 8:59am
Some workplaces in Brighton, including hospitality companies like pubs, restaurants and hotels, to hospitals, care agencies and the building trade, employers ask potential employees to come and work a 'trial shift' to see if they are up to the job. ---- Sometimes this trial can last a couple hours, sometimes twelve, but all too often the trials can last a few days. Some companies are taking advantage of this and are covering exceptional workload issues with workers doing unpaid trials. To put it clearly and succinctly: working for free. ---- Bosses know that there is no law on the issue but they always try to reduce their costs: so they will try to avoid paying your holidays, some wages, notice pay or even a few hours from your first days. Probably you are just owed a few tens pounds. So, probably you think it is not worth it. ...

(en) US, Call For Antifascists At Trump’s Fundraiser

A-infos - August 19, 2016 - 8:58am
Donald Trump thinks he will be having a fundraising event in Minneapolis on Friday, Aug. 19th. (The time and location are unknown at this time.) We think Trump and his supporters should get a rude awakening when they rear their fascist heads in Minnesota. ---- We are calling everyone who wants to stop the rise of fascism to come out and show Trump and his supporters that their racist, patriarchal, and all-around oppressive-as-fuck agenda will meet resistance and disruption wherever they go. We would like to invite people to engage in creative actions to show Trump that his politics and agenda will not find fertile ground in our communities. ---- Over the last number of months, the radical right has become emboldened by the rise of Trump and the success of his bid for the Republican nomination. As the Republican Party has moved even farther right with Trump and as the ...

(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL n° special - SNCF: The duplicity ... and lack of boldness (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

A-infos - August 19, 2016 - 8:58am
While the movement against the rising labor law throughout the country, the CGT-Railwaymen did everything to sabotage the departure ended strike. And, unfortunately, too few have tried overflow. ---- Before the start SNCF strike on 18 May, the number of railway and railway workers already had nearly 10 days of strike action since March. The fight against the labor law partly explains, but it is also the result of tactics very questionable: while locally union teams and general assemblies grew to a call for renewal by March 31, s' based on the high number of strikers, no federation has relayed, preferring to continue 24 hours in rehearsal. ---- The scenario was repeated in late April, and worse: the CGT has imposed a square strike at the SNCF April 26, while the inter inter called for weeks at 28! Favoring alliance with UNSA and CFDT, CGT-Railwaymen refused to make the connection ...

(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL n° special - Organized mayhem: Make or break? (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

A-infos - August 18, 2016 - 8:58am
police pressure, breakage, clashes ... With Valls-the-baton, the demonstrations have not cushy! However, be careful not to be blinded by the romance of violence ... nor cretinism of legality. ---- Swimming goggles, scarf, possibly helmet ... No harm people rediscovered, in spring 2016, the basic equipment of the anti-globalization protester early 2000. With this new feature in the lead parades invariably a motley crowd , halfway black bloc and the carnival, dotted with flags, union, libertarian or otherwise, which assumes a degree of confrontation with the riot police and did not move banks of windows exploded in passing. ---- Undeniably, even if this attitude is limited to a small fraction of the protesters is the index of exasperation when you put a ballot, it is betrayed; when you go down to 3 million in the street as in 2010, it is despised. What then remains to be ...

(en) awsm.nz: The Olympics: a reflection of society under capitalism

A-infos - August 18, 2016 - 8:58am
The Olympic games are here again and while it’s sold to us a demonstration of peace and solidarity and the finest humans have to offer, it is often anything but that. In fact, in many ways, it is a reflection of the very worst of society under capitalism. ---- The modern Olympics were established with the highest ideals, and a desire to foster peace. Instead they have become little more than a display of nationalistic pride and flag waving by nations who co-opt the efforts of the athletes to further their own schemes. From the very first games this has been demonstrated when the 1896 games in Athens led to a surge in Greek nationalism, and an eventual war with Turkey in 1897. ---- The rich countries of the West also get the chance to reinforce their perceived superiority over the rest as the Games are heavily weighted in their favour. From the very beginning the Games were set ...

(en) solfed.org.uk: Brighton SolFed opens a dispute against Leaders letting agency

A-infos - August 18, 2016 - 8:58am
Brighton SolFed has started a dispute against the Western road branch of the letting agency Leaders. The agency facilitated an eviction attempt against a tenant that failed after a court hearing. SolFed has been trying to find a settlement for the dispute the last couple of weeks. Along with SolFed, the tenant is fighting for compensation for loss of earnings and damage to her health. ---- The failed eviction process caused the tenant months of instability whilst she was suffering from a serious illness. While the tenant was a few weeks late with rent because of illness, she had informed the agency that this would be the case, and was told that it would be ‘no problem’. At this point, the tenant had already been at the property for a year, and paid rent in six-monthly instalments. ...

(en) Britain, Class War, Victory to the Deliveroo strike!

A-infos - August 18, 2016 - 8:58am
**Breaking News** — VICTORY TO THE DELIVEROO STRIKE — ---- The delegation of drivers have just exited the Deliveroo head office, having finished negotiations with Management. They agreed to the following: ---- – No victimisation ---- – No new contract ---- – Even if drivers have signed the new contract already, it no longer has effect and you are not bound to it ---- – This will be a trial until 14th September when Deliveroo will meet again with workers to assess the month’s pay ---- – If you don’t want to be on the trial, you WILL have to move zone, but you will be able to move to any zone of YOUR choice and be guaranteed the same hours you are currently on. More info soon! ...

(en) US, black rose fed: We Don’t Need a New Jail, We Need Abolition

A-infos - August 17, 2016 - 9:40am
For five years, Champaign-Urbana (CU) residents have been battling jail expansion in our community while supporting community-based alternatives to incarceration. Like the rest of the nation, the racial disparity in CU is horrific, from school discipline to the criminal justice system. Although Black people make up 13% of the general population in Champaign County, Illinois the jail population is around 70% Black. Despite reformist approaches to addressing systemic anti-Black racism in our County, county officials along with the sheriff’s office are attempting again to move forward on expanding the satellite jail at a minimum cost of $15 million through a sales tax referendum. Speaking to the Champaign County Board on Tuesday, August 9th, local Black organizer/activist, Kadeem Fuller made a much needed case for the abolition of jails, prisons, and white supremacy. The following ...

(en) Britain, Class War: Make your own dinner! Donate to the Deliveroo strike fund instead!

A-infos - August 17, 2016 - 9:40am
Picket between 9am and 5pm at the Deliveroo recruitment office at 79 Pentonville Road (near Angel tube station) to prevent the hiring of strike breakers until there is a resolution between Deliveroo management and it’s current riders who are currently on strike. ---- After the picket we will be protesting at 5pm at Deliveroo Head Office – so come along to that after the picket! Join striking drivers at Head Office to make them sweat! Protest will be at Torrington Place WC1, from 5-7pm at least ---- Deliveroo Drivers Strike: Picket Outside Deliveroo Pentonville, Monday 15 August ---- Calendar ---- Add to Calendar ---- Map Data ---- Terms of Use ---- WHEN: 15th August 2016 @ 09:00 – 17:00 ---- WHERE: Deliveroo ---- 79 Pentonville Rd ---- London N1 ---- UK ---- COST: Free ---- CONTACT: ---- Event website ---- DEMO STRIKE WORKERS ---- deliveroo. strikeroo living pay ...

(en) Czech, afed.cz: Existence 3/16 - TTIP as one of the tentacles of an octopus capitalism: A brief introduction to the corporate assault on the remnants of social and environmental gains. [machine translation]

A-infos - August 17, 2016 - 9:40am
Transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) and unintelligible sounds remotely. Why should this agreement should deal with and protest against it? TTIP (and its Canadian version CETA) is not an ordinary commercial contract. It is a further concession on our civil rights in favor of large multinational companies and global capitalism. To truly understand our situation, we must first outline what TTIP ever is and what allows us, if its approval is imminent. ---- Capitalism is generally unsuitable solidarity with weaker. Dream of all good capitalists is to eliminate all the rules protecting consumers, citizens or employees so that they gain nothing stood in the way. Directors and other representatives of large companies with long-term (at least since the establishment of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue in 1995) seeks to enforce an agreement that would ...

Children of the Grave vs Moloch

Metamute - December 20, 2011 - 12:59pm
By Cameron Bain

The exhibition, Home of Metal, celebrates forty years of heavy metal music while foregrounding Birmingham’s industrial past. In an act of ‘dedicated mining’, Cameron Bain follows metal from its birthplace in heavy production to sonic home for vital antagonisms

 

Birmingham’s claim to be the ‘Home of Metal’ hinges primarily on the generally accepted notion that Black Sabbath, from Aston, were the founders of the genre. Certainly within metal circles this is standard lore. (Also hailing from Birmingham and its environs, Judas Priest and Napalm Death, too, play prominent roles in the evolution of metal and thus in the exhibition, but more on them later.) Plausible cases can be made for earlier manifestations of the metallic form, say, Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ (1958), with its epochal, soundbreaking (sorry) deployment of the power chord, or the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ (1964), with its foregrounding of two features that would become key sonic components of metal, namely: DISTORTION and the bludgeoning, repetitive primacy of the RIFF.

 

Image: Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath album cover, 1970

 

It was with Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album, though, (released February 1970), that many of the elements that would become enduring metal tropes, even signifiers of the genre, were distilled into an uncanny, potent brew for the first time: the creepy tritone intro riff (the Devil’s interval) of the opening track 'Black Sabbath'; spooky rain sounds and tolling bells; lyrical themes dealing with being hounded or seduced to damnation by satanic forces (‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘N.I.B’ respectively); Lovecraft-referencing/paraphrasing song titles (‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’); a desolate acoustic interlude sounding more menacing than pastoral (‘Sleeping Village’); and cover art redolent of a Hammer Horror, complete with morbid symbolist poetry framed by an inverted crucifix in the gatefold. Interestingly, the band had no involvement in the sleeve design; the designers presumably latched onto the same commercial impulse as the band itself when they appropriated the name Black Sabbath from Mario Bava’s 1963 horror (the original Italian title was I Tre volti della paura – The Three Faces of Fear), having speculated that if people were prepared to pay money to be scared in the cinema, perhaps they would also pay to listen to ‘scary music’; metal bands, for all that they may relish their underground, outsider cachet, have, in the main, always wanted to actually sell records.

 

Image: Godflesh, Streetcleaner album cover, 1989

 

The story as told by the exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, however, begins with the city itself and the influence of its sonic and material environment on the nascent musical form. A pair of wall quotes introducing the exhibition paint a picture of the city as heroically doomed to labour, a hellish crucible of raw, elemental heavy production:

 

Birmingham began with the production of the anvil and probably will end with them. The sons of the hammer were once her chief inhabitants.

– William Hutton, First Historian of Birmingham, b.1723

 

Black by day, red by night…

– Elihu Burritt, American consul, 1862

 

Part of the formative myth of metal is that the insistent pounding of Birmingham’s foundries had a direct influence on the unrelenting martial rhythms of the music, as well as informing a bleak, pessimistic outlook born of reflection upon the fate of those consigned to live out their lives amidst the remorseless grind of the urban industrial environment. It’s a thread that runs through the reminiscences of many musicians in the Birmingham lineage, from the video interviews with the members of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest included in the exhibition to a recent interview given by Justin Broadrick to Terrorizer magazine, recalling the psychic ambience surrounding the making of Godflesh’s 1989 album, Streetcleaner:

 

At night, in the summer with your windows open in the flat that I lived in, you could hear deliveries to these shops, and in the background were these factories. The smell in the air was industry and the sound was literally of grinding machines all night – it was like living in Eraserhead! I obviously felt at odds with that urban hell and Streetcleaner was definitely me trying to articulate what I had been through and harbouring that sort of hate and negativity.

 

The first room of the exhibition includes a display of some of the machine tools responsible for generating the city’s unholy permanoise, as well as interview recordings with the men who used to operate them – (I liked that this crucial industrial background to the emergence of the music was treated more than just tokenistically, that some effort was made to communicate the grain and grit of what it was like to actually labour in one of these factories in this place and at that time). This display, complete with time clock, could also perhaps be seen as a stark summation of working class youth’s horizon of expectation: manufacturing machine as implacable destiny and memento mori. In addition it serves as an oblique allusion to another element in Sabbath’s (and thus metal’s) sonic template: it was a similar kind of machine that removed the tips of two of Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi’s fretting fingers; the result being that, having ingeniously fashioned a pair of prosthetic fingertips out of washing-up bottle tops and scraps of leather, he ended up downtuning his guitar, finding the slacker strings easier to negotiate with his artificial fingertips. With the downtuning Sabbath acquired their signature ‘doomy’ sound. An interesting lecture that I attended as part of the exhibition touched on the importance of local amplification technology (Laney amps) in the formation of this sound also, but I will pass over that, uncertain as I am of the casual reader’s interest in such guitar geek tech specs.

The next room in the exhibition is a mock-up of a ’60s sitting room, featuring such retro curios as period television set and cigarettes. The room, besides offering somewhere cosy to screen the video interviews mentioned above, functions as one pole in a juxtaposition between the low-key, domestic escapism of lounge and TV on the one hand and the flamboyant, grandiose escapism represented later in the exhibition by displays of Judas Priest’s guitars and stage outfits and extravagant stage props, like the giant cross from Sabbath’s 1981 ‘Mob Rules’ tour. Metal is often derided for this grandiose escapism, ridiculed for its rich proliferation and dedicated mining of ‘ludicrous’ Tolkienesque/Lovecraftian/medieval/Viking/horror/sci-fi themes, but to denigrate metal’s presentation and thematic material as mere escapism is to miss a couple of important points. Firstly, for the working class youth (as was) comprising the membership of bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, metal’s ‘escapism’ represented a literal escape from what appeared to be an ineluctable, stultifying factory fate. As the members of Judas Priest tell it in one of the interviews, regardless of any academic promise you might have shown in school, the question was not ‘what do you want to do?’, but ‘which foundry do you want to work in?’ (Incidentally, there is a refreshing lack of tedious pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps cant in their musings on where they find themselves now as compared to where they could have been – the connection to the ‘real’ life of the community and its history still seems very strong, another justification for the inclusion of the humble sitting room, I think.) In fact, one of metal’s tacit, more laudable themes might be ‘Escape more! Escape better!’

 

Image: Judas Priest, Sad Wings of Destiny album cover, 1976

 

The second point I would make with respect to the accusation of mere escapism, is that for all that metal certainly does rely heavily on the exploitation of fantastic themes, it has always (or at least since Sabbath’s second album, Paranoid) also explicitly tackled political themes, often vividly and insightfully. War, the threat of nuclear annihilation (admittedly more in currency during the Cold War), the destruction of the environment, genocide, existential despair rooted in grotesque social inequalities, the creeping pathologisation of ‘awkward’ ‘personalities’ (for want of a far better term) and drug (ab)use are all amongst the ‘issues’ that have become perennially ingrained in metal’s lyrical DNA.1 One of my favourite metal diatribes against the iniquities and anxiety that seem to characterise ‘modern life’ is Sabbath’s ‘Hole in the Sky’ (echoes of depictions of the medieval ‘abominable fancy’?), from their 1980 album Sabotage, wherein we find a pithy analysis of the band’s own compromised role in the industrial production of art: ‘the food of love became the greed of our time / and now we’re living on the profits of crime’, giving the lie to the popular myth that, because metal bands seem to exist on a plane of ludicrous, ‘escapist’ excess, they are somehow bereft of any sense of self-awareness.

 

Image: Napalm Death, 'Scum' album cover, 1987

 

Metal’s most explicit and ferocious exercise in political engagement and critique arguably reaches its apogee with Napalm Death, the third major band forming the backbone of the exhibition. Napalm Death’s metal influences (Celtic Frost, Possessed) combined with more political hardcore punk (Discharge, Siege) and post/crust punk (Killing Joke, Crass, Amebix) to essentially form a new genre: grindcore (the name being coined by Napalm Death’s insanely fast drummer, Mick Harris). The resulting music is truly avant-garde in its condensation of speed, volume, concision and fury. ‘You Suffer’ (the shortest song ever recorded (1.316 seconds long), according to that magnificent compendium of spell-bindingly useful information, The Guinness Book of Records), from the debut album Scum is a detonation, a one-off sock in the gut that manages to both pose a question still painfully relevant and to be an exhortation to liberatory analysis: ‘you suffer / but why?’

The section of the exhibition illustrating the (ongoing) Napalm Death episode in Birmingham’s metal story contained what was probably my single favourite display, a huge collection of memorabilia from the milieu from which they emerged, loaned from the personal archives of members of the band(s): handwritten Napalm Death setlists (’83-’86) and lyrics; handmade gig flyers and posters for multi-band bills (the band names highlighting just how remarkably connected nationally and internationally the obscure local scene was); myriad anarcho-punk zines; and demo tapes and mixtapes with song titles in faded biro. Everything in fact, that constituted the distinctive verbal, visual and audio aesthetic fabric of the time, a microhistory of mass communication of an underground movement in the pre-internet age. The fact that such a wonderful proliferation of lovingly preserved self-documentation exists speaks volumes, I think, for the conviction and sheer enthusiasm of those involved, an eloquent and enduring testimony to youth’s dedication to being righteously (and rightfully!) pissed off. How you have fun (how you ‘escape’) counts and, given the state of things, the attitude celebrated here seems more vital and necessary than ever. Nostalgia doesn’t come into it.

Cameron Bain <cameronbain AT hotmail.com> works in the library for the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, writes sometimes and sometimes plays music in the bands Vukojebina and the Hung Jury

 

 

Info

The Home of Metal Exhibition was held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 18 June to 25 September 2011

 

 

Further Reading

Ian Christe, Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal,  London: Harper Collins, 2004.

Ozzy Osbourne, I am Ozzy, London: Sphere, 2009.

Albert Mudrian, Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore, Washington: Feral House, 2004.

Chuck Eddy, Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998 (NB. Eddy’s definition of what constitutes heavy metal is tendentious and notoriously catholic – basically it’s anything with loud guitars – but the book’s full of sharp, funny writing about loads of good music, metal or not). 

 

Footnotes 

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59SdjZuhekk Black Sabbath performing ‘Hand of Doom’, live in Paris, 1970. Despite (or because of) the band’s own proclivities at the time, they manage to come across not as hypocrites, but as sincerely furious and compassionate.

La Jetée’s Spiral

Metamute - December 20, 2011 - 12:49pm
By Benedict Seymour

The image's mediation of the past is far from nostalgically comforting, writes Benedict Seymour in his review of Les Marques Aveugles at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva. If the visual returns of the show prove that modernist film tropes still have life in them, they nevertheless also evoke the painful loops of post-Fordist restructuring and its futureless futures

 

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was' (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain the image of the past which unexpectedly appears to a man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes.

- Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History'

 

 In a week in which the speed of light was wobbling and the Euro along with it, I visited a show in Geneva - capital of banks, clocks, and nuclear physics. Les Marques Aveugle at the Centre d'Art Contemporain pivoted on forms of what Freud called ‘Nachträglichkeit' (deferred or retroactive action), and explored the temporality of traumatism as played out in images conceived as ‘marks' and traces. Many of the 17, mostly contemporary, works in the show featured narratives in which cause and effect are reversed, image and sound diverge, run out of sequence or are superimposed. In Les Marques Aveugles (Blind Marks) - as in the now notorious neutrino jokes virally replicating across the internet (‘Who's there?' ‘Neutrino'. ‘Knock knock.') - the premise and the punchline often change places, and time is tied in more or less elegant, but generally thought provoking, knots.

 

 

Image: Still from Rosa Barba's A Private Tableaux, 2010

 

Around the potentially over-familiar lodestars of Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962) and Hollis Frampton's wonderful Nostalgia (1971), several contemporary works of interest were constellated. The curators, Katya García-Antón and Emilie Bujès', conception of the image as a ‘blind mark' derives directly from the premise of Marker's film:

 

‘La Jetée' (‘The Jetty', 1962) opens with a still image of Orly airport, followed by this sentence, almost as seminal as Chris Marker's film itself: ‘This is the story of a man, marked by an image from his childhood'.

 

Here it is the hold the image has over the protagonist that makes his time-travel possible, the condition both of his love, and his doom. This narrative device enables a refunctioning of the image archive inherited from the trauma of World War II and, in the process, sees the invention of what will become the most exciting sci-fi film tropes of neoliberal cinema. Frampton's film represents its own kind of reworking of the (personal) archive, with its own pattern of superimposition and retroactive action.

 

Marker and Frampton's films were not necessarily direct influences on the more recent film works in the show, but as the curator's statement makes clear, they did provide ‘a point of departure' for the show's research into the image as ‘mark' or, indeed, marker. The idea that historical events are the Real of artistic production (and reproduction) was very present, even as most of the works simultaneously emphasised their fictive or ‘performative' aspects. This was not a merely formal or psychological engagement with the image as a mark that marks those who mark it. The social, political and economic stakes of the image market - of the circulation of images - were at issue, too.

 

Particularly interesting in this light was Wendelien van Oldenborgh's slideshow/sound piece Après la reprise, la prise (2009). The artist arranged for two women, ex-workers and strikers at a Belgian jeans factory now working as actresses, to visit a class of secondary school pupils. This 15-minute work was assembled from the artist's documentation of the encounter. Sharing their experiences of Fordist and post-Fordist work and struggle with the younger generation, the piece reminded me of Paolo Virno's notion of virtuosic labour and ‘communicative capitalism': the women workers whose words and images constitute much of the artwork literally went from silent stitchers in the jeans factory to vocal (if intermittent) actors on the stage via the medium of the strike and its very articulate political speech/action. From secure muteness to a life of precarious volubility, their trajectory could be read as exemplifying a wider social movement or restructuring. The form of the artwork emphasised this thesis, presenting a contrast of overlapping and articulate voices, luminous and sometimes layered images. During the course of the slideshow, we discover that the recently closed down sewing area of the school in which this inter-generational exchange took place had exactly the same model of sewing machine the women used to use in the now closed down Levi's factory. One emptied workshop stood in for another, a kind of accidental reconstruction of the space in which the women went from workers to strikers to actors of a different kind. Here trauma was present as that which returns, not to mention as the ongoing shock of closures and foreclosures.

 

The image both testified to this and, through the disjunct relation to the soundtrack, posed the question of articulation in its own form. The combination of discrete and flowing slide images projected on the wall - La Jetée style fragments from an absent continuum - and a sound track woven of voices, combined different styles of articulacy from the two generations of post-workers. The ex-strikers' were distinct and clear, the teenagers an ebullient babble itself framed by one of the two actresses' injunction, ‘you have to articulate.' The viewer/listener was invited to do the same, to reconcile the images with the soundtrack's flow of words as parallel but distinct sequences of doubling and mirroring which ran through from singing off-screen at the beginning to comments on the actresses' current condition as 'intermittents du spectacles' performing precarious labour at the end: ‘We're not Sophie Marceau.' ‘Then again she hasn't done much lately.' 'She's wealthy enough she doesn't have to'. The loop structure of the work was more than a mere convenience here, implying both the persistence of alienation in work, old and new, and possibilities of inter-generational solidarity for les enfants de Levi's et Michael Jackson.

 

 

Image: Still from Chris Marker's, La Jetée, 1962

 
The title of the piece - Après la reprise, la prise - alludes to Jacques Willemont's famous document of 1968 ‘La reprise du travail aux usines Wonder' (‘The Return to Work at the Wonder Factory'). 'Reprise' means both 'return to work' and 'retake' as in the cinematic take, so one might translate the title as ‘After the retake, the take'. Among other things this refers to the history of artists taking up the Willemont film again (Reprise by Hervé le Roux, 1995), but also obviously the sense in which work becomes a kind of re-make of work. Further the title intimates a reversal of temporal sequence that resonates with others in the exhibition. As the artist explained in an email: ‘My take was to do something which is a "take" again, something in the present, referring to the present... but it comes after the retake.' As a work on work it presented its disjunctions intact for the viewer to work through (Nachträglichkeit as dreamwork, the delayed processing of events?) rather than as a spectacle of far-off activity. As such it spoke to our present conjuncture and invited reflection on the necessity (and forms) of communication between generations, and between workers and non-workers, in the present. If an increasing number of us are now beyond the return to work and indeed work itself, what new forms of speech and action are necessary (and not just for survival)? As one of the women (ex-)workers says, ‘I gave my presentation and they understood', but clearly her mode of address, as actress and striker, was quite different from the everyone-speaking-at-once of the youth. What dialectical or disjunctive synthesis is possible in this meeting of voices and images?

 

The pensions strike in the UK last November raised similar questions of articulation and resistance, precipitating both solidarities and tensions between generations. Questions of striking, marking and indeed trauma, are not going away in the current showdown between capital and post/workers. Is a one-day strike any more than a striking image? Is a purely symbolic strike effective? Will something ‘real' build out of such gestures? And what effect would an escalation from symbolic action into real shows of force have on proletarians who do not conceive themselves as workers? Here again the striking image, the clear alignment of voice and action or us against them was complicated, requiring further work (within, against, or without, work).

 

Advancing the curator's research into images as marks without losing its own distinctive voice was Rosa Barba's film A Private Tableaux (2010). It treats the hermetic and hieratic marks left by road engineers on the ceiling of subterranean service tunnels as traces of a vanished civilisation, a Lascaux cave of the modern era. Poetically precise and economical in 'reading' the signs by means of textual inter-titles, functional marks are revealed by torch-light to a shaky handheld camera and reinscribed: the dreaming of a lost civilisation, a diagram of an alien cosmology. Barba manages to avoid whimsy, instead suggesting the mythical qualities of scientific knowledge itself. Like La Jetée, this is a trip into our own antiquity, an archaeology of the present. As such it was a useful corrective to the visitor centre at the nearby CERN institute of nuclear physics which I visited during my time in Geneva. Such absence of poetry at the epicentre of global research into the neutrino was striking in another way. While engaged in undermining the fundamentals of modern science, CERN shrouds itself in an aesthetic straight out of the '80s ‘Innovations' catalogue, with a dash of ‘Terminator 2' for the entrance foyer. Perhaps Barba's film is the last (displaced) redoubt of ‘the wonders of micro-physics' such outreach projects strain but fail to convey. A Private Tableaux recognisably follows in Marker's footsteps, forced to leave the high road of advanced science to find more suggestive material in the unconscious of the engineers' mundane underworlds. No neutrino will be shot through these service corridors to outrace light in pitch darkness, but they have the feeling of Egyptian tombs, of codes and secrets to be deciphered. Barba's camera catches the auratic afterglow of a purely practical activity, the antithesis of Herzog's recent 3D Cave of Forgotten Dreams which made the sublime ridiculous with sonic and visual supplements, selling its ancient sources short. As opposed to stereo-optic enhancement and deflation of the ancient marks, a spiral of specular bubble and bust, here the flatness of the sign opened up a (semantically and acoustically) resonant space of much greater depth and suggestiveness.

 

This trip into the underworld was also a journey across time. Watching it returned me to Marker's piece with fresh eyes. La Jetée, video projected from 35mm but itself originally a 16mm production, seemed an even more deft and beautiful reframing of the traumatic past. Here it is World War II that provides much of the visual material for projection of a post-apocalyptic future, though it is clearly also mediating the Cold War moment in which it was made. The story's central convolution involves scientists sending the captive protagonist back to a period before the World War and then forward into a technologised future (‘Paris reconstructed. 2,000 incomprehensible streets') in an attempt to save humanity - or at least ‘human industry'. Famously it is because the hero remains obsessed by ‘an image from his childhood' that his captors are able to target him at a particular moment in his life with the precision of nuclear physicists aiming a neutrino. In the process however they unleash a destiny at once anticipated and obscured by its own image. The protagonist meets and falls in love with the woman of his childhood memory, an ante-bellum idyll, but then is parted from her as the scientists send him into the far future to bring back the energy packs needed to regenerate society. On return to the present, attempting to escape execution by his captors, he asks the people of the future to send him back into the past so he can rejoin the woman he loves. He finds her but is followed and killed by one of the captors, realising at the last moment that he has become the object of his own childhood gaze. The image which ‘marked' him for life will have been that of his own death. The protagonist follows his fixation on an image to the point of incarnation, fulfilling it as a destiny by entering it, becoming simultaneously subject and object at the point of annihilation. The image here is not merely representational or descriptive but performative, it casts a spell, and unravels into love story and death sentence. La Jetée is a (modern) tragedy, in which narrative is predestination, action self-erasure, and the choice of humanity and love over ‘social regeneration' is paid for with death; the project of happiness ends with an execution. The film's implications are endless, contradictory, but seen in this constellation and at this conjuncture a timely reading suggested itself: that ‘sacrifice' is the price demanded for renewed ‘growth', and that society continues to use our memories and desires as ‘bait', trading our lives for a few more years of dominion.[1]

 

 

Image: Still from Robert-Jan Lacombe's Au revoir Mandima, 2010

 

The work most evidently influenced by Marker's technique in La Jetée was a video by a young Swiss artist, Robert-Jan Lacombe which likewise revisited a haunting childhood image. Au revoir Mandima (2010, video, 10') renarrated a photograph of the artist as a young (white, European) boy taking leave of the Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo) of his childhood, saying goodbye to his (black, African) friends and disappearing into the consumerism and cartoons of far away Europe. Lacombe's work literally and lucidly scans every section of the picture of his young self, preparing to embark on the journey to the North, to adulthood, and away from incipient civil war. Here, as in La Jetée, the image source is static - a colour photograph of the boy and his doctor parents preparing to climb onto a small plane, surrounded by their former friends, neighbours, and patients. The film dissects the central image and journeys out from it on divergent image chains, opening the family archive to reveal other scenes, the young boy at play with his cousins in France or with his friends in Zaire. Once again the protagonist of this story is displaced, sent across space and time (i.e. ‘combined and uneven development' means that all our journeys involve time travel), separated and reassembled for life in a richer, whiter society. ‘You're already thinking of Europe' says the voice over, addressing his childhood image, ‘You think of ice cream, Nutella, fresh milk, elevators, your cousins, cartoons at grandmas...' But the narrator is also losing something, almost everything: ‘But do you realise what is happening? Do you realise you wont come back?' It's goodbye to the old gang, to Swahili, to the people with whom 'you' learned to speak, ‘full stop'. Like the image of childhood in La Jetée we begin to understand this scene of departure as a kind of death, a kind of instant real subsumption under the future. The film itself is quietly devastating, successfully reanimating and reactivating an otherwise mute and private image. And one is acutely aware of other stories not narrated here that end in literal deaths, trauma of a different order.

 

As a whole (of fragments) Les Marques Aveugle sustained this level of coherence, each work engaging others in a productive play of resemblance and difference. There was evidence of both the continuing legacy of Marker and Frampton and, beyond the categories of authorship and the canon, the persistence of the image as a mark, a wound, in a supposedly virtualised reality. The show reminded one of the sting and burn of images. Not only those which, as in Frampton's film, are literally incinerated, or which burn in the memory (‘nostalgia' as an overblotting of images, a condition in which one instant is being over-written by the memory of the previous and the preview of the next), but also, as in Gitte Villesen's photocollage and video interviews with participants in the first Auschwitz trial, which hurt because of the ambivalence as well as the awfulness of their testimony: Authentic. Objective. Subjective. Or Which Rules Does one Follow? (2004) - the work's title raises the question of scientific standards of truth, a rather different but still related approach to that in Rosa Barba's archaeology. Here the reconstruction of a historical trauma was at issue. The occasion for the enquiry - the restaging of the trial as an art exhibition - provoked an insistence by the artist on her own part in the epistemological process, emphasising (in Heisenbergian fashion?) the interplay between subject and object: ‘the one asking the questions always affect[s] the answer and the reaction.'[2] This in turn raised questions about the whole process of re-enacting the trial, and what it says about contemporary society's potential to stop repeating its violent marking of us all. However solicitous to the past, to the truth, the obscenity of the system is perhaps most pungent where the effort is made to ‘do justice' to a particular atrocity.

 

Other works in the show engaged with the mark as historical record at drastically less momentous levels while, in their minimalist attention to their means, sharing a certain reference to film. At the entrance to the exhibition there was Pavel Büchler's conceptual piece The Shadow of its Disappearance, 30 September 2011, Sunrise/Sunset, 2011. Two framed sketches with the stubs of the pencils that made them, the work presented the indexical and representational trace of the two pencils' gradual consumption in the process of recording their own shadows over the course of a particular sunny day. A feedback loop of sorts producing a graph of the means of representation's progressive depletion. In his introduction to the work at the launch, Büchler was acute about its relation to Frampton's performance script, A Lecture, in which the film-maker (and retired photographer) demonstrated that the essence of cinema is not celluloid but the projector, and the creation of obstructions between it and the screen. ‘Our white rectangle is not "nothing at all". It is, in the end, all we have. ... So if we want to see what we call more, which is actually less, we must devise ways of subtracting, of removing, one thing and another, more or less, from our white rectangle.'[3]

 

Katja Mater's Density Drawing (polaroids), (2011) produced something out of the ‘nothing' of a corner of the exhibition space, putting the photographic image into a kind of representational relay with painting and installation. The process began with a white triangular wedge on the floor (still present) and ended with a series of polaroids of a monochrome painting pinned to the wall. Like the highest stage of a formal reification, the photos evidenced the vanishing mediator of the painting, which seems to have been altered progressively and rephotographed at different stages between two extremes of blankness - black and white. Like Büchler's work, this sequence could be read as a kind of film liberated from the condition of movement, a series of stills, like La Jetée. Minimalism's legacy here seemed to be a continued attention to the material/institutional support, but not one of institutional critique; Villesen's work was closer to this kind of enquiry into its conditions.

 

 

Image: Louise Hervé & Chloé Maillet, Avant le monde, et après (sérial), 2011
Courtesy: the artists and Marcelle Alix, Paris. Photo: Annik Wetter

 

On the other side of the exhibition, which it should be mentioned took place in the former warehouse space that constitutes the Centre d'Art Contemporain (the gallery itself is always the most material example of refunctioning and retroactive action ‘in' any show), was Louise Hervé & Chloé Maillet's new work Avant le monde, et après (serial) (2011). A translucent scroll of responses to Bachofen's hypothesis of prehistoric matriarchy or ‘Le droit maternel' developed in the mid 19th century, this particular ‘film' would be unrolled gradually over the course of the exhibition. Interspersed with scraps of advertising blurb instancing the fascination for ‘Prehistoric women', their ‘Savage struggle!' and ‘Primitive passions!' in pulp movies of the 1950s, this work of ‘Serial' archaeology placed two (or more) different texts in parallel to create another kind of (typographic/textual) ‘movie'. It read as an unscientific (playful, interested), but serious, enquiry into a primal scene rather different from, but related to, that which structures La Jetée or Au revoir Mandima. One could connect the historical constellation presented here to the post-WW2 ‘consumer society' as a new phase of primitive accumulation and struggle for recognition of women's labour, with its own reminting of myths and counter-myths. Or consider the present crisis through the prism of the lost maternal abundance which structures both Bachofen (and Marker's) narratives of social alienation. Can we go back? If we did, would She be there? Does idealised matriarchy only exist by virtue of the obstructions of (capitalist) patriarchy, a mythical back projection? (Chris Knight and Camille Power - please take note). As the carefully inked transparency with its montage of textual fragments made clear, Bachofen's influential theories emerged from this Swiss jurist's descent into the antique tombs below Rome, to the ancient city. As the artists point out, Walter Benjamin - whose ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History' link retroactive action with a materialist historiological principle of engagement (epistemological subject and object are mutually constituting, effect produces cause) - admired Bachofen. In the Arcades Project, he held up the notion that the ‘mother right' excavated by the jurist, and the conception of ‘nature as a ministering mother' could oppose capitalism's ‘murderous idea of the exploitation of nature.' On the other hand, Benjamin also suggested that the conditions of a mythical primal origin are ‘installed in the heart of commodity capitalism itself.'[4] No communism, polyamory and nomadism without domination - or at least, not yet.

 

Hervé & Maillet's work's own dialectical montage technique (antiquarian mythology intercut with pulp primitivism) emphasised the contradictions involved in a return to myths of matriarchy as a counter to techno-scientific domination. Barba's and Villesen's scepticism toward scientific mythology reverberated with this elegant piece of philological ‘cinema'. One wondered where the unrolling of the textual montage might lead over the course of the show, but clearly there was an attempt here to negotiate the Scylla and Charybdis of primitivism and patriarchy.

 

By emphasising the multiple valences of the ‘mark', Les Marques Aveugle reminded one of Adorno's conception of art as sedimented suffering. The aesthetic is always marked by social violence, every document of civilisation a document of barbarism. Along with its carefully structured correlation of art works and themes, it was also clear that this constellation itself is only possible because trauma remains abundant; the one raw material we don't seem to be running out of. Art's energy packs come not from the technologically perfected future, but as Benjamin saw, its ruinous past and crisis stricken present. To discover the persistence or resonance of some of Marker and Frampton's concerns and techniques evidenced through something more than mere recycling or reproduction indicates signs of life, or at least vigor mortis, in the culture of an undead capitalism. Les Marques Aveugles was encouraging in that it took a potentially hackneyed curatorial trope and made it remarkable once more.

 

Benedict Seymour <ben AT kein.org> is a contributing editor to Mute

 

Info

Also featured in the show: Hito Steyerl November, 2004, video, 25'; Margaret Salmon Untitled (Colour Line), 2011, 16mm film transferred to video, 3'; and Akram Zaatari, Red Chewing Gum, 2000, video, 10'. The project includes a four-screenings cycle presented at the Grütli cinemas. (19.01 - 22.01.2012): Chantal Akerman, James Benning, Brent Green, Isidore Isou, William E. Jones. Curators: Katya García-Antón and Emilie Bujès. The show is part of the project ‘Spirales. Fragments d'une mémoire collective autour de Chris Marker' (25.11 - 4.12.2011) developed in collaboration with various cultural partners in Geneva.

 

Footnotes

[1] Like Rosa Barba’s film, with ‘La Jetée’ we are again in the tunnels, though this time underneath the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. This is just up the avenue from the Palais de Tokyo and the Musee d’Art Moderne. The project to send a sensitive and memorious protagonist through time to save the world would, in an alter-modern future, be run not by aesthetically challenged scientists but by a curator like Nicolas Bourriaud. Cultural regeneration had the same utopian-technocratic temporal and economic logic, exploited the same ruse of history, though the scheming scientists were displaced by culturepreneurs. Artists took the bait, marked by an image from their childhoods, restoring a facsimile of ‘industry’ but ending up displaced and erased. The temporal convolutions always ended in coffeeshops. 

[2] Gitte Villesen in an interview with Lotte Møller, here: http://www.nicolaiwallner.com/texts.php?action=details&id=11 

[3] Hollis Frampton, ‘A Lecture’, http://hollisframpton.org.uk/frampton18.pdf

[4] Peter J. Davies, Myth, Matriarchy, and modernity: Johann Jakob Bachofen in German culture 1860 - 1945, p.399. Berlin, De Gruyter, 2010.

 

 

 

 

Trading Futures, Consolidating Student Debt

Metamute - December 20, 2011 - 8:44am
By Angela Mitropoulos

With a mass default on US student debt threatening to create the next subprime crisis, Angela Mitropoulos dissects the pious injunction to ‘live within ones means', reminding us that to do so has always implied the back-breaking, often immeasurable work of others

 

In the United States, student debt has outstripped credit card debt, nervously edging toward the one trillion dollar mark and tracked by escalating commentary, protest and defaults. Indeed, student debt has surfaced as one of the abiding themes of #occupy in recent months, foregrounding the already systemic alignment of those protests with university occupations, the anti-austerity campaigns in Europe, campaigns against foreclosures resulting from the collapse of the subprime housing market in the US which, it might be added, emerged a decade or so after the debt-elicited Structural Adjustment Programmes that spurred the anti-summit protests.

 

Facing one of the highest rates of unemployment in recent times, an unprecedented two thirds of 2010 graduates in the US held debts above the $25,000 mark. Moreover, the number of graduates carrying debt from the more Draconian private loans schemes leapt from just over 930,000 in 2003-04 to slightly under 3 million in 2007-08, and (leaving aside federal loans) is currently estimated at around six billion dollars. Pointing, as it does, to the possibility of large scale default, the growing gap between student debt and (potential) income is not only the financialised trace of conflicts over the expansion of contingent labour, of sharply declining wages and access to welfare, and of an increasingly privatised, costly education system. It is also the signal of the deeply racialised appearance of subprime loans schemes which are adjudicated by variable interest rates and unprecedented limits on the discharging of debts.

 

 

Image: Gustave Doré, illustration for Canto XII of Dante Alighieri's The Vision of Purgatory, Part 3, 1861-1868

 

To be sure, debt became the means of deferring declining incomes and, particularly in the case of recent student debt, the source of brief respites from - or hopes of escaping - increasingly precarious work. As education was privatised and tuition costs rose by six hundred per cent from 1980 (in the main to provision corporate managements and real estate value), by 2007 a thriving (and, it might be added, prescient) private loans industry was furnished with legislation that made it impossible to discharge debts through recourse to bankruptcy. Tightening restrictions on the bankruptcy provisions of student loans that began - perhaps unsurprising - in 1978, student debt is situated in the exceptional legal zone of debts accrued through fraud or crime. More recently, while President Obama promised debt relief, he excluded the private loan sector. Though its profits remain enormous, its earnings have fallen in recent times between 10 and 40 percent depending on the company, and so the private loan industry continues to spend heavily on political lobbying to stem further decline by ensuring the constant renegotiation of unbreakable contracts. While the greater proportion of loans remain federally-funded and guaranteed, the biggest increase in student debt has been in the subprime market. That is, private loans for smaller initial debts bearing more onerous conditions: over half of such loans are for attendance at institutions charging less than $10,000; they have few, if any, provisions for hardship; interest rates are not fixed, and they are almost impossible to discharge. That the expansion of student debt has been a lever for the increasing enrolment of poorer students is indicated by the rise in the numbers of African-American undergraduates taking out private loans, quadrupling between 2003-04 and 2007-08. Some of this went to supplementing insufficient federal loans, a further index of rising costs and declining incomes.

 

Rates of default, late payment and evasion continue to climb and are predicted to worsen. An estimated 50 billion dollars worth of federal loans are already in default. And, as with the subprime housing market, there are those who would denounce not the injunction to repay what could have been made available, but the fleeting avoidance of austerity in increasingly cramped conditions. There is talk of a speculative ‘bubble' in education, in readiness for a bust. Speculation, it seems, is the prerogative of Wall Street. As is debt, since it should go without saying that stock exchanges are involved in raising money for corporate use in the form of shares. Bailouts perform a similar function. For everyone else, debt and speculation remain morally suspect, the chance of deferring the settling of accounts and determinations of value, a dangerous break in the logic of commensurability, representation and right that ostensibly links income and labour, yet construes surplus labour as a type of indebtedness. That is to say, workers are assumed to owe employers more work than is reckoned necessary for their own renewal. This transactional modification of the sentimentalised, unmeasured ways in which domestic labour is often rendered as obligation, and that slaves were considered to be fugitives until they performed the labour regarded as due their masters,i continues to be understood as a variant of indebtedness. In its increasingly precarious forms, that indebtedness troubles the boundaries of recognition and recompense that apparently connect the wage to the ‘normal working day', returning us to the question of the allocation of the surplus rather than the assignment of right.

 

So, while these figures surrounding student debt are striking, they detail the larger questions campaigns against debt have to confront. Debt is, above all, the reach for a future that might be other than the present, or just a bit better. These student debts are contractual projections of financial obligation into the prospective time of the future. They forge intense links by way of interest rates, repayments and rescheduling between the speculative present and a calculable tomorrow. Yet it is in this distance, however fine, between speculation and calculation, between the bold gambling on possibilities and the settling of accounts, or between immeasurable uncertainty and calculable risk, that capitalist futurity becomes recomposed less as an inexorable necessity than a question of whether and how the restoration of austerity might proceed.

 

Generalised indebtedness holds open possibilities. If debt has become the prominent motif of protests around the world, this is not to suggest that all critiques of debt are anti-capitalist. Or, this is not to imply that all opposition to debt is concerned with the interlocking questions of debt, right and recognition that, for centuries, have made unpaid labour (whether as surplus labour or without pay at all) appear as a more or less naturalised form of indebtedness to capitalists. In other words, insofar as the expansion of debt marks a crisis of social reproduction (financially expressed as a gap between income and expenditure, but nevertheless articulated as a brazen reaching beyond the austerities obliged by this decreasing income), the political question to be posed of various critiques of debt is of the extent of their opposition to (or complicity with) the re-imposition of the injunction: ‘live within one's means'.

 

Do denunciations of debt servitude imply a critique of the indentured labour that debt obliges or do they merely demand its reallocation according to the seemingly natural lines of race, gender and class? Debt includes a salient instance of speculation (however cynical, foolhardy or prudent) that for conservative critics should only be the prerogative of those who can command the labour of others. Debt is legitimated by its connection to productivity. If debt is not to result in a diminution of income during repayment, it presumes a rising income. Either labour is extended, intensified or acquired from others. This, crudely, is the formula of capital. It is also the logic of investment in human capital that, as it turns out, must be outfitted with moral and legal limits in the form of the unbreakable contracts of student debt, lest the sequestered surplus of capital be misconstrued as general abundance.

 

Of course, these dynamics have a much longer history than that of recent student debt in the US. Before the much touted turn to neoliberalism in the US, the UK and elsewhere, with their increasingly privatised schema of social reproduction (education, welfare, housing, health care and so on) and the expansion of personal and household debt that this precipitated, the Keynesian welfare state that emerged in the wake of the Second World War was premised on deficit spending. That debt was underwritten by the below-the-line labour in the colonies, by former slaves faring a little better than before, recent migrants and unpaid domestic work. It was guaranteed by imperial force, the credibility of the US dollar as the de facto global currency and that combination of racism, sexism and nationalism that makes below-the-line labour appear natural or obligatory.

 

But the second half of the 20th century was also the history of the civil rights movement, second wave feminism and struggles around unpaid domestic work, the unprecedented reversal of colonial flows, the emergence of migrant workers' movements and more. In this, the boundaries that had limited the demands on the Keynesian state to the family wage claims of citizens gave way to fiscal crisis, switching the displacement of debt from the geographic, racialised and gendered architectures of Fordism to those of post-Fordism. This, in turn, entailed the spread of contingent labour, the relocation of debt from the state to households, and an emphasis on human capital formation. The post-Fordist financialisation of daily life, the indistinction between the time of work and that of life ushered in by the expansion of precarious work, and the personalisation of debt are, in this regard, less a signal of the appearance of a new epoch than of the collapse of the Fordist compromise between sections of the working class and capital in the wake of its challenge by those who were not deemed to be parties to the deal, but nevertheless made it possible.

 

If all this raises the question of just who is indebted to whom, it might also trouble the moral injunction against debt, reanimated during times of crisis, that was written into the historically pivotal pact between ecclesiastical authorities and merchant capitalists at capitalism's inauguration. Threatened by the anti-feudal struggles, the Scholastics turned to Aristotle to both enable speculation and limit it to its specifically capitalist (i.e., re-/productive) forms. In their insistences that income should only be accumulated by labour, just as sex should only be for the purpose of women going into labour, the Scholastic tirades against debt were always intended for the lower classes. Surplus was, is, reserved for capitalists. Church prohibitions against usury were invented at around the same time as purgatory and the introduction of indulgences. Just as sermons against gambling, sex and excessive pleasure reached a crescendo in the Middle Ages, the Church invented the space of purgatory situated between heaven and hell where one could pay off one's debts, and it fabricated the means by which one could literally buy one's way into heaven with a donation. These apparently anti-capitalist decrees, with significant caveats for capitalists themselves, remain the hallmark of conservative critiques of debt. They are the Middle Ages version of lobbying and bailout. Moreover, the current resort to the unbreakable contract (the neo-contractualism of welfare, student debt and more) returns to early forms of contract as it emerged from theological understandings of covenant: absolutely binding, transcendental and infinite. For conservatives today, the expansion of debt is a problem because the crisis of reproduction it signals can, with widespread default, segue into a crisis of capitalist futurity more generally.

 

Unpaid debt, very simply put, holds out the possibility of ‘living beyond one's means' when the means of re-/production are no longer in one's easy reach. The revival of Aristotelianism at the very moment of its historical obsolescence during capitalism's rise - something a little more complex than what Marx nevertheless grasped through his insight into the historically momentous separation of the worker from the means of production - marks a persistent feature of attempts to reimpose the demarcations that makes capitalism what it is. If the Scholastics borrowed Aristotle's understanding of language, with its stress on commensurability and representation, at a time when value had become speculative and uncertain, the recourse to an Aristotelian distinction between politics and economics today indicates a similarly anachronistic move in far from critical understandings of the conditions of capitalism. Aristotelian equality, as Marx notes, cannot conceive a specifically capitalist equivalence, the commensurability of the qualitatively incommensurate, just as (I would add) his realist theory of language has difficulty admitting the future-contingent that defines the contractual, and his understanding of logical axioms can only assume the representation of natural rather than contingent value.

 

As fleeting as Marx's remarks on Aristotle were, he nevertheless noted that this limit to Aristotle's thinking relates to the situation of slavery in ancient times. In other words, the neo-Aristotelian emphasis on a repartitioning of politics and economics - more or less explicit in the arguments of Polanyi, Foucault and Arendt, as well as in calls for a return to ‘real democracy' - rely on a crucial fudging. For Aristotle, the egalitarianism between free men in the polis (city) was necessarily predicated on the slavery that was relegated to the oikos (household). Leaving aside the question of whether the logic of democracy partakes of the sense of capitalist equivalence rather than equality as Aristotle could have understood it (as with Arendt's idealisation of ancient democracy), the resort to neo-Aristotelianism either romanticises the oikos (as do Polanyi and Foucault), or it sidesteps the decisive question posed by the expansion of debt at this particular time, and as the issue makes an appearance in the occupations.

 

In doing so, it abandons the critical conjuncture of default and occupation that points not to a revival of democracy (since the models of decision making are not democratic but take their cues from decentralised networking), but instead to experiments with ‘promiscuous infrastructures' that have been ongoing in protest camps for more than a decade, from Seattle to Tahrir and beyond.ii In the seemingly tangential arguments over how to organise the labour that goes in to sustaining the occupations, how to arrange kitchens, energy, medical care, shelter, communications and more, in the correlations between homelessness and the #occupy encampments, in the very question posed of how to take care of each other in conditions of palpable uncertainty, live the pertinent issues of the oikos in these times. It is not surprising, then, that in her discussion of the occupations at the University of California, Amanda Armstrong begins with foreclosures and the transformation of universities into real estate in order to go on to highlight the centrality of ‘bonds of care' to both the protests and the creation of a different kind of university.iii If debt marks a crisis of social reproduction, then the question surely becomes how to generate forms of life beyond its specifically capitalist forms?

 

The boundary between economics and politics is mutually constitutive. It has been constantly reconfigured not by capitalists but in the process of their pursuit of fugitive slaves from modern sites of oiko-nomics: the flight of women from the home, working class children from the factories their parents laboured in, the middle classes from increasingly precarious labour, the great grandchildren of slaves from the servitude of workfare, migrants from impoverishment and devastation. To dream of returning to a fanciful time of self-sufficiency and independence is to yearn for the conditions that made the subject of politics or the head of the household possible, and so for the reconstruction of the boundaries erected against this flight. Debt made this flight viable, but it is for the most part the debt that might be understood in terms of the irreducible, incalculable inter-dependence of sharing a world if not always a circumstance. As Annie McClanahan put it, the growing calls for mass student default mark a challenge to ‘the temporal logic of indebtedness', the discovery of ‘a present in which our debts are only to one another.'iv

 

In this sense, the increasingly common predicament of financial debt bondage calls not for the restoration of a common identity as the demos (the fantasy of a return to the putative nobility of politics untainted by slavery); nor for a rallying of the university as an apparently meritorious machinery of credit and value unsullied by the presence of (former) slaves; nor, still, for the re-imposition of what it might mean to ‘live within one's means' for those deprived of the means of life without labouring (not alongside but) for another. It calls instead for the political consolidation of student debt with all the other forms of debt that dare to venture beyond austerity, for the transformation of infinite debt into endless credit, and a break with the capitalist limits on speculation. As the implications of student indebtedness unfold into already-uncertain financial circuitry, or are quarantined by the wall of the unbreakable contract, debt may well serve as the projection of the present into a calculable, foreclosed future. Or, in the congruence of default and occupation, it just might wander beyond the intimate reckonings of human capital's self-imposed imperatives into the creation of infrastructures of another kind of indebtedness and conjecture.

 

 

Angela Mitropoulos <s0metim3s AT gmail.com> is presently in Sydney. Her most recent writings are 'Legal, Tender: The Genealogical Economy of Pride, Debt and Origin' (Social Text, 29:3), 'Uncanny Robots and Affective Labour in the Oikonomia (Cultural Studies Review, forthcoming 18:1), and Contract and Contagion (forthcoming) on which much of the above analysis is based.

 

 

 Footnotes

 

iOn this last point, see Stephen Best's The Fugitive's Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

iiThe phrase is borrowed from Anna Feigenbaum and the Creative Resistance Research Network's studies of protest camps.

iiiAmanda Armstrong, ‘States of Indebtedness: Care Work in the Struggle against Educational Privatization,' South Atlantic Quarterly 110:2, 2011.

ivAnnie McClanahan, ‘Coming Due: Accounting for Debt, Counting on Crisis', South Atlantic Quarterly 110:2, 544.

Stop the eviction of the Bloomsbury Social Centre!

Metamute - December 14, 2011 - 9:00am
By Bloomunist

The Bloomsbury Social Centre is currently under threat of violent eviction from SOAS management.  We need your help. We have been in existence now for three weeks. In that time we've helped organise towards the 30 November Strike, organised tenants' rights workshops, and co-ordinated with student occupations in Birmingham and Cambridge. We've hosted seminars and readings groups on the financial crisis, initiated Spanish classes to aid activists campaigning alongside migrant labour, screened political cinema, housed temporarily students, provided meeting space for students, workers and residents of Bloomsbury,  and – in general – have tried to push forward the struggle for better conditions of life both in this area and beyond it; both in the University and outside. During that time SOAS management made no attempt to negotiate with us. When post-graduates from the School came to talk about the future of the space, they did so on their own initiative. Two days ago we received a notice of possession. This evening representatives of the School arrived to serve us with a High Court Injunction. SOAS has no more intention than does the rest of the University of London to provide autonomous space for its constituents. Amid the proliferating commercial zones, outside the internal markets with their managers and their “booking systems”, spaces like this one are rare. Access to them is infrequent. Unless the attempt violently to eject us from the building is resisted, forcefully and with spirit, spaces like this might well cease to exist entirely. We write to request your support. The managements of SOAS (the current leaseholders) and the University of London (the previous, who left it to rot) can't be allowed to crush effortlessly all attempts to resist the markets they serve. By passing motions in your trade union branch or student union, you can raise the political cost of eviction. Below is a brief model text.  We would appreciate putting your name to it in a personal capacity, and/or passing through your branch in order to show support for the Social Centre.  To add your name reply to this email; we'd like to post the text on our blog today, with a short list of names to get the ball rolling. _________ Dear SOAS Management, We the undersigned believe that the Bloomsbury Social Centre represents a bright and necessary contrast to the market structures currently being imposed across UK Higher Education. It has been in existence now for three weeks. In that time it has helped to organise towards the 30 November Strike, organised tenants' rights workshops, and co-ordinated with student occupations in Birmingham and Cambridge. It has hosted seminars and readings groups on the financial crisis, initiated Spanish classes to aid students campaigning alongside migrant workers, screened political cinema, housed temporarily homeless students, provided meeting space for fellow trade unionists, and – in general – has tried to push forward the struggle for better conditions of life both in this area and beyond it; both in the University and outside. It is unreasonable and unjust to proceed with an eviction against students who are struggling to improve the education and conditions of life for their peers and their neighbours. The occupiers are willing to negotiate an exit in early January, which will allow them to complete their organising projects, and which will obviate the need for an expensive and potentially violent eviction. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to begin a process of negotiation with the Social Centre. There are political as well as monetary costs at stake.

 

AND:

Our response to SOAS management’s eviction threat

Dear SOAS management,

We write to express our disappointment that you have begun legal proceedings against us. We are aware that such proceedings can result in the use of violence against students; this is a situation we are very keen to avoid.

In addition to the SOAS students involved in the occupation from its beginning, many SOAS undergraduates, post-graduates and academics have flowed through our doors in the last three weeks. Most have been extremely supportive of (and many have been involved in) the activities here. The accessibility of this previously disused building, on lease from the University of London, has also been welcomed by students, lecturers and trade unionists from universities across the capital.

While you have claimed that you will suffer financial damages from our continued use of the building, this should be weighed against the political damages you may suffer in consequence of an eviction. This is a concern that has been raised in our discussions with affected SOAS post-graduate students, with whom our meetings and discussions have continued in a warm, friendly spirit.

We wish to continue our activities in the building for a time, not forgoing the peaceful, non-violent manner that – as you note in your application for an injunction – has characterised the Social Centre so far. To this end, we would like to negotiate a mutually agreeable time for our departure from the building. Our suggested date is January 10th 2012, at the beginning of the new SOAS term. This time would provide us with a few weeks in which to continue the necessary political work in which we are engaged with residents and employees in and around Bloomsbury.

We would appreciate a response before the court date on Thursday morning, as we believe that this kind of negotiation can save time and expenses for both of us.

Yours faithfully,

BSC

——————

If you would like to sign a statement in support of the Social Centre, please email bloomsburysocialcentre AT gmail DOT com

Mic check

Metamute - December 13, 2011 - 10:05pm
By belleletriste

the decision about what to do next is being mic checked:

some people

just can't break

down their sentences

efficiently

to be echoed

up the chain

and

keep saying

too few words

or too many and have to make with the

enjambement.

this seems

particularly hard

for those schooled

in the oratorical

habits

of the organised

left

their expressive

contours

are shattered

the rhetoric

halted

is this

reification

reified

(broken up)

(broken down)

or

reification

dereified?

retrogression/non

reproduction

and/or

the end of the line

for the socialist

movement?

the use of new

collective techniques

(low tech)

to extend

the range

of limited

technical

resources?

resources?

resources?

l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e

poetry like

ron silliman's

had already introduced

the autonomised line

which seemed to float

apart from the previous

and following line

quite some time

before 1989

a negation

of continuity

in response to the 60s

revolt against the

production line

extending revolt

into the line

of verse

[c.f. Joel Duncan

who argues this well

in a forthcoming

paper]

and now

it's back

by grace of

mic check

practiced on

an industrial

scale

subject to a hypotaxis

that he shunned

but which he

no doubt

wd love.

there is a total

abstraction

to where the line break falls

to what is said

with mic

check

but could there

should there

be some way

to make

it fun?

to make the words

repeated

break and spread?

to make the break to flow?

howard slater's

reading last week

at the mute

book launch

was the first

instance i

have encountered

of someone

feeding their

poetry to the mic check

and it was

also great.

but has anyone

written any

mic check

poetry yet?

and should it

rhyme?

with mic check

every line

is a double A rhyme

standard

or poor

unless it's double mic check

or doubledowned

dodecadoubleddown

like CDS bets

on TBFs

afar

from Oakland

Stupid Regulators and Greedy Financiers or Business as Usual?

Metamute - December 13, 2011 - 8:13am
By Chris Wright

As the occupy movement in the US this week shifts its attention from the shiny crystallisations of high finance to the hubs of material circulation, Chris Wright reviews Paul Mattick Jr.'s book, Business as Usual, and asks: what is missed by shouting down only one aspect of capitalism?

 

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations which have sprung up around the United States express in their very name the common sense analysis of the economic crisis which began in 2007-8. Wall Street (aka finance capital) is out of control and the regulatory mechanisms in place aren't working. And it is not just in the US. The debt crisis in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland threatens the stability of the entire eurozone and has engendered its own massive strikes and demonstrations. Speculative and credit instruments are to blame, cut off from the real production of real goods. Bad fictitious capital is undermining good real capital. Swimming against the current is Paul Mattick, Jr.'s book Business as Usual. Couched in a popular style, a bit too much so when he glosses over hotly contested ideas, it nevertheless represents a major improvement over more widely read works like David Harvey's Neoliberalism: A Brief History. If the style is popular, the analysis is not and it provides a necessary rejoinder to both left and right populism.

Image: 'Populism not Corporate Facism' - Occupation of Zuccotti Park New York, 2011

 

The book begins with some overview of the inadequate and obfuscatory concepts employed to understand the current crisis through professional economics. His main concern is to show that economic crisis is not caused by external factors, but is built into the functioning of capital. Most specifically, he makes the case, briefly and without sufficient development, that among views which see crisis as endogenous to capitalism, the problem is not one of underconsumption, disproportionality, or overproduction, which all amount to the same complaint about insufficient or imbalanced consumption. Mattick targets the tendency of falling profitability. This is one of those contentious moments, where a citation of relevant discussions in an endnote would have been appropriate, since this is a claim with a long history.

Image: Poster at occupation in Oakland, 2011 

 

The best part of this argument, however, is not in his popular presentation of a particularly contentious theoretical analysis, but his simple reflection on what drives the economy. Economists of all stripes, left as well as right, seem to operate under the assumption, consciously or unconsciously, that the economy is about the distribution of (scarce) resources to meet needs. However, this is not how capitalism operates. That it distributes resources to meet needs is a side effect of production for the sake of profit. Although this is a somewhat imprecise formulation, it sheds light on many of modern economics’ fallacies. For example, the idea that lower taxes will mean more investment and job growth is simply false if investment in production is not profitable enough. If higher profits can be garnered elsewhere, such as the pilfering of corporate assets by mergers and acquisitions, raiding workers’ retirement funds, reducing benefits, raising fees from workers and consumers, lowering wages, moving production overseas and/or replacing human labour with machines, then no amount of tax decreases will be an incentive to invest in new production and to hire workers.i

 

Mattick also takes up the problem that government spending does not increase profits either. This is because the government uses money from taxes, that is, value which has been produced elsewhere and appropriated by the government without an equivalent amount of value being created. This has not stopped government spending from being an increasingly important part of capitalist prosperity. Since the early 20th century there has been continual growth in government spending and when it has decreased, recession almost inevitably follows. What that spending is on may change. Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt by increasing military spending and decreasing taxes, while cutting transfer payments to the poor, elderly, children, students, etc. George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have all effectively done the same thing. Mattick is careful to show that matters were not better when a reverse policy was pursued by Francois Mitterand in the early 1980's. This led to Mitterand being forced to turn to the same neoliberal policies as the other heads of state by the end of 1983. 

Image: One Dollar Bill distributed at Occupation of Zuccotti Park, New York

 

In this way the book works to address all of the fundamental apologies for the current crisis: it's not a new phenomenon; it's not the outcome of external factors; government spending is integral to the post-WWI economy; government spending or policy is not a means to end the crisis, but at best a means to mitigate crisis and extend spending; the current prosperity enjoyed in the wealthy countries, especially the US, was predicated on a hitherto unimagined expansion of credit and debt at the level of households, corporations and states; capitalism can't avoid paying the debts it has accrued and it can only escape the current crisis of profitability by a wholesale depreciation of existing wealth.

Image: 'Labour Strife in Financial District', Wall Street Strike leads to a short-lived occupation, March, 1948.

 

These last two points hit hardest.

 

Firstly, eventually the piper must be paid. The evaporation in the last two years of the previous 10 years of accumulated wealth is a pretty clear indication that that wealth was largely illusory, or as the popular term has it, fictitious. Even worse, if Mattick is correct a large part of the foundation of ‘Western prosperity’, especially in the US and England where private household debt is well over 100 percent of yearly income, is built on quicksand. The mortgage crisis strikes deeply at the center of that edifice, especially as private home ownership has been the means to the equity which ensured access to loans to cover college for the kids, a high standard of living on cheap credit, low cost loans for a car, etc. The entirety of suburbanism as a development model is exposed to tremendous risk, especially as it always depended on extensive government subsidisation, directly and indirectly.ii

 

Secondly, getting out of the broader, long-term stagnation that began in the 1970’s will require a catastrophic devaluation and destruction of assets, wages, benefits, and the collapse of many, many companies, as well as probably a restructuring of the global political order in the face of the decline of the dollar. In other words, a renewal of productive investment would require a devaluation on a scale that would re-enable investment at a level of profitability exceeding the current pilfering and gambling. The last such devaluation and destruction of assets was called World War II. In suggesting that government spending can't get us out of this crisis, Mattick breaks sharply with writers like David Harvey who have suggested a ‘New New Deal’ is possible. If Mattick is right, there is no ‘New New Deal’. That avenue existed when government spending was a quite small proportion of GDP. Today, in all of the developed countries, government spending varies from 15 percent to over 50 percent, but in the countries where this appears to be lower, the debt to GDP ratio can be enormous, which is recognised uniformly as not good. Japan, with its mere 15 percent of GDP from government spending, has a public debt that is 225.8 percent of GDP.iii The US public debt to GDP was 62.3 percent, but gross (public and private), it was 92.3 percent, indicating the extremely high private debt load in the US Debt to GDP ratios for all of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Japan, that is, the most developed nations accounting for the vast majority of global wealth production and income, is almost uniformly over 60 percent, and that was in 2009. In the last two years, matters have gotten worse. Even if a ‘New New Deal’ were possible, which seems nearly impossible, it overlooks the politically reactionary character of the ‘New Deal’ internationally. The nationalism implicit in such an affair goes hand in hand with a more aggressive global financial stance and the decline of the dollar under conditions where no obvious replacement presents itself and where even if it did, it would entail the collapse of the United States as the dollar ceased to effectively be world money.

Image: Flyer distributed at the occupation of Zuccotti Park, New York, 2011

 

This does not mean that Business as Usual is a perfect book. Aside from the defects previously mentioned due to its popular style, the book is limited on several points.

 

Mattick is mistaken on the question of whether or not state expenditure is simply a redistribution of wealth because he overlooks the fact that the state can own and operate production facilities which produce commodities and which sells them. The distribution of profit may not go to private individuals or investors, but at that point there is no difference between the state as capitalist and a private or corporate capitalist. In fact, there is little difference between the internal accounting between units in a state run capitalist economy and the internal accounting between business units within a modern corporation. The market may not be open, but everything is paid for nonetheless as if it were purchased on an open market. However, distortions of the sort one has come to associate with the former ‘socialist states’ do occur because competition on a more or less open market is a critical regulatory mechanism. That is all, however. The state could take over enterprises and run them as a typical commodity producer where particular capitals refused to invest. In the case of needing to restart capital accumulation, it is certainly not impossible to imagine the state taking over certain industries that could then be operated in a market-priced manner at near zero profit for the benefit of total capital, such as energy production, transportation infrastructure and even most commercial and mass transportation systems, retirement, insurance, and healthcare. These are areas where immediate reduction in cost would improve the profitability of all other businesses across the board by dramatically reducing their direct costs. Whether or not this is possible politically is another matter.

 

The replacement of living labour with dead labour, with machinery, is pointed to as a progressive tendency of capitalist society and Mattick provides some very interesting data backing this up. Yet this point, which has enormous implications for the problem of restarting a new cycle of accumulation, is underplayed. The progressive displacement of living labour by dead is a key reason that each crisis of valorisation is harder to overcome than the last because the relative surplus value created shrinks relative to the overall investment, and today arguably, the absolute amount, of living labour shrinks. Each crisis of valorisation is also a crisis of devalorisation, of how much devalorisation is required for a new cycle of accumulation to begin and limiting how long it will last.

Image: Banner from 30 November strike and march, London, 2011 

 

The same problem of the crisis of the valorisation process also leads to changes in the labour process. The replacement of living by dead labour is also the replacement of an older labour process with a new labour process. Mattick recognises that the old working class identity and the old working class organisations are gone, but he fails to grasp the root of why this is so. The problem resides in the transformation of the labour process. Not merely the replacement of living labour with dead, but the actual transformation of the relation of living labour to living labour, of dead labour to dead labour, and of living labour to dead labour. The handloom weaver who was replaced by an automatic loom saw her own labour process mechanised and she could completely comprehend the operation of the new machine. The farmer who used to use his seed corn for next year's crop knows nothing about and could not reproduce the genetic manipulation of seed corn by a team of agricultural bioengineers. A highly skilled computer programmer or hardware technician could not produce or design a core processing unit, much less the millions of people who rely on a computer everyday for their work. The tendency is for the labour process to be the direct product and application of scientific knowledge and technique, not a mechanical extrapolation of the labourer driven labour process.

 

The conclusion is tentative about what can be done, if not what needs to be done, and understandably so in a period where the most radical popular idea about the current crisis seems to be held by both left and right wing populism: blame greedy financiers and regulatory mismanagement. The book is a valuable and eminently readable contribution that goes against the stream not only of apologists for capitalism, but against the stream of angry populisms which miss the mark because they lack a fundamental critique of capitalist production.

 

Chris Wright <cwright666 AT comcast.net> is a person living (too little) and working (too much) in Baltimore, MD in the USA

 

Footnotes


i On retirement funds see Ellen E. Schultz, Retirement Heist, 2011. Bank of America is currently facing a class action lawsuit over its unethical handling of account debits and credits which was designed to maximise customer penalties and levy the maximum number of overdraft fees.

ii Suburbanism is the term I use to describe the spatial development of capitalism which began to supersede urbanism (c.f. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, chapter 7, New York: Zone Books, 1995) after WWII.

iii CIA Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

Tesco Value Lager Saved my Life: One Man's Testimony of How to Beat Alcoholism Without Giving up Alcohol

Metamute - December 9, 2011 - 10:09pm
By Barry Curtis

As everyone knows, alcoholism can be a menace to the individual and society. But is there a safe “inbetween point” for those that like getting half-cut?

Dean Martin once said that you're not drunk if you can lay on the floor without holding on.

Of course, Martin's statement is not really advisable if one wants to live a fruitful live of reasonable length.

However, today's dominant ideology of restraint-at-all-times is also equally reprehensible. Those health warnings on all drinks that advise you should never drink more 2 pints on a day-to-day basis merely represent the Churchy other-extreme to someone like Martin.

In truth, alcohol is wonderful if handled skilfully, much like a sailor both has to negotiate the power of the tides whilst being in awe of the power of the open ocean and its weather.

Thus as a tip, my recommendation to people who have difficulty controlling their alcohol intake, is Don't join the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). You'll merely be oscillating from Dean Martin's extreme to the neo-priesthood of DrinkAware.

For example, the AA's first indoctrination to alcoholics is that “admit you are powerless over alcohol”. To my mind, this does not rescue the individual, it merely converts him into a Victim. For if you are truly powerless, you can't be the skilful sailor, merely a sap guzzling spirits to the grave in a delirium of abjectivity.

Of course the AA seek to advance on the “powerless” thesis by promoting religious self-flagellation instead. But if your previous God was alcohol, is the resurrected Jesus really any better? At least alcohol is real...

It's better to realise that you can drink within broadly safe parameters whilst still enjoying your thrill. The key here is to switch your drinks. You can drink the same amount if only you switch to drinks with lower percentages.

I think that when you hit your mid-thirties, it's time for the change. Until this point, I was drinking in excess of 100 units a week for most of the previous 20 years. (Note to Doctor: I didn't die, so you're wrong about that too). At my nadir (or height if you're from a pro-alcohol perspective) I exceeded 200 units a week. Mercifully this was only for 6 months whilst I worked an early morning graveyard shift at the local Co-op. I have probably incurred some liver damage from this epoch, but mercifully not enough that I have to become tee-total. Now I feel that Tesco Value Lager (TVL) is satisfactory for a night in (though I still like real ale if I'm in a pub). If I stayed in my Frosty Jacks/Carlsberg Special Brew period forever, I'd probably now be dead. But with the aid of TVL, I reckon there's a couple of decades of fight left in this bloated body.

Someone in the UK who was problematically drinking 6 cans of Stella Artois lager (5%) every night without exception should probably go through a Carlsberg phase (3.8%) before settling on a discount 2% brew available in most supermarkets, e.g. Tesco Value Lager, or Asda Smart Price lager. I infinitely prefer Tesco Value Lager to Asda Smart Price – although they're both now only 70p for a four-pack, the Asda concoction is brewed with wheat rather than hops which impairs the taste.

These low-percentage supermarket beers are literally a life-saver for those who sense they need to cut down yet hate the AA. Despite some reviews on the internet that say these beers are merely yellow-coloured water that taste vaguely of barley, in fact the Tesco variety is fairly gourmet.

On 2% lager, one could never attain Dean Martin's definition of drunkenness. But if you have at least 6 cans, you'll feel a tad happier. Moreover, you can drink almost as many as you want without harming your health drastically.

For example, studies have found that drinking up to 60 units a week gives you the same life expectancy as a tee-totaller (moderate drinkers live longer than tee-totallers). The Graph of Death is a J-shaped curve, meaning that someone that drinks no alcohol is at the same risk of premature death as someone who drinks 60 units.

If you go above 60 units per week repeatedly, then you will probably seriously curtail your life expectancy. Therefore someone who loves drinking lots of beer every night should make the switch to something like TVL .

For on TVL, you can drink 8 cans a night, only consuming 7.2 units per night, adding up to a weekly total of 50.4 units. Any alcoholics reading this might instinctively wonder if they'd be satisfied with 7.2 units if they're used to 30 units from a 75cl bottle of 40% vodka. But trust me folks – you get a bloated feeling that will mean you won't want much more, and your fix is still appeased.

Following my recommendations, if you are to die from an alcohol-related disease, it may be offset to your 70s rather than younger. Someone who stayed within the Government's boring limits of 24 units would probably live longer, but hey, at least you'll have a much more enjoyable existence than Mr Sensible.

As for those who are worried they are binging on wine, a good tip might be to switch to Lambrusco or some other low-alcohol wine. You can still drink every night, but what might have been 10 units a night can become only 4.

Switching to low percentage alcohol like TVL or Lambrusco is much like how heavy smokers find they can still enjoy the electronic cigarettes on the market, thus bypassing the patronising way they may be treated on the NHS. You can still get the nicotine, just a fair bit less, be yourself, and avoid being treated like an ignoramus who can't control their “addictions”.

Society needs a rational approach to alcohol. Rather than all the clamour for total restraint that emerges from health professionals and the Government which is really about prescribing a life of limits based on non-experimentation and self-denial, I'd recommend still having fun drinking, but cut down the percentage of your brand, if your drinking has become a problem.

So forget the AA – that is a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire. The demon drink can remain a friend to those for whom it temporarily overcame.

Of course most people reading this are probably already sensible drinkers. My advice is therefore aimed at the hardened – trust me, the adaptation will leave you better off.

The Illegitimacy of Demands

Metamute - December 7, 2011 - 8:50am
By Demetra Kotouza

 

With demands over the wage and welfare in austerity Greece deemed illegitimate because unaffordable, what shape can struggle take? Demetra Kotouza sees the all out attack on living standards as producing a de facto opposition that can't be cohered by ideologies of class

 

With austerity escalating in Greece this year, there has been a parallel effort to resist it. Several strikes in key industries such as transport and electricity have taken place, mostly in the public sector, and six general strikes, accompanied by demonstrations of growing size and intensity. The ‘indignants' direct democracy movement dominated attention in the summer, expressing parliamentary politics' legitimation crisis. In September, autoreduction practices became more frequent in response to new taxation, while universities and schools were occupied, the former against the new higher education bill and the latter triggered by delays in handing out books.1 In October, a 48-hour general strike, with increased participation from the private sector, and accompanied by the occupation of most of the country's public services and infrastructure, brought everything to a standstill. Despite what was called by many ‘the mother of all strikes' and the largest demonstrations in decades, which many thought might topple the government, the parliament passed a bill that essentially invalidates collective bargaining agreements and opens the way for wages to fall below the minimum. This sent the message that a large 48-hour strike is not enough to win a battle, and that worse is still to come.

 

Image: ‘Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear’, Exarchia, Athens 2010

 

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

This comes at a time when the struggle around the wage is becoming a matter of survival. Within a year, wages, even for those previously considered quite well off, have fallen below subsistence levels, to the point that paying bills, making rent payments and buying basics has become a widespread problem. This, combined with payment stoppages by employers, high unemployment and the decline of the petit bourgeoisie, as small businesses go bust one after another, is making survival the central question today, and the existence of the wage itself the most critical demand. However, it is not only this ruthless and abrupt attack on wages and labour rights, compounded by intensifying police repression, that makes these struggles particularly tough. Current struggles are facing a grim horizon, as the demands they voice are presented as impossible; even if small battles are won, it is unclear how winning the war would be possible when it is no longer fought at the level of a national economy, but rather in the midst of a global crisis with Greece as one of its epicentres. These battles are confronted with the risk of a default that could send shockwaves through the global financial system and bring about a wider recession and deeper impoverishment. To the extent that a default can indeed be triggered by the government's inability to implement austerity, these struggles appear to be self-destructive. But even if a default is inevitable, its prospect thwarts any hopes for a long-term victory that would make space for workers to go on the offensive. Facing this situation, it has become difficult to pose even defensive wage demands in a way that is effective and proportionate to capital's attack. The intense struggles that continue to take place have a feeling of despair, of hitting a wall.

 

This is not a condition that only characterises the class struggle in Greece, or even one that suddenly emerged in the current crisis. The global capitalist restructuring, which dismantles the social democratic institutions that guarantee survival for unemployed populations, began long ago. In so many ways it represents a return of the working class to its ‘proper' condition, to its ‘proper' entirely dependent relation to capital. Unemployment, both as a constant risk and a potentially long-term condition, as precarity, as integral to the condition of the working class, is becoming ever more prominent today. However, the current stage of crisis and restructuring is not a return to the situation existing prior to the birth of social democracy. The capitalist restructuring that began in the late '70s - characterised by the drive to reduce the cost of labour power through the development of advanced technology, the global zoning of production, and financialisation, with credit supplementing falling wages (up until 2007) to aid the reproduction of labour power in the western world - was a response to an earlier crisis of overaccumulation. The prospect of a renewed Keynesian ‘deal', of a realignment of consumption with the wage, to ‘productive' industrial capitalism, and the separation of national economies, is no longer possible because it is precisely what had to be done away with to overcome that crisis. Most importantly, the real subsumption of labour under capital has advanced to a level where there is no longer any possibility of a flight from capital for surplus populations as was the case with, for example, the creation of alternative, non-capitalist communes in the 19th century and Great Depression-era America. Class struggle is forced to address the capital relation itself, at the same time as capital denies the proletariat's role as the productive class which, as Théorie Communiste rightly argue, seriously undermines its ability to affirm itself within this antagonism.

 

This is confounded by the fact that there is no longer a singular, unifying working class experience that would generate a common identity on one side of the class struggle. The global and local zoning of production, and increasing precarisation, has fractured working class communities pushing, in the West, a large section into chronic unemployment and to survival through informal and illegal economies. In the global South, significant populations have been forced to emigrate to the West despite brutal repression.

 

In this moment of global crisis, this tendency manifests itself with great intensity in the ‘second' zone of capitalist development and particularly in Greece. When even the demand for work cannot be satisfied at a broader, systemic level, let alone for the capacity of the wage to cover subsistence, even defensive wage demands appear structurally illegitimate whilst also being a matter of survival. The working class is having a hard time affirming itself as life - as labour power that needs to be reproduced - let alone as a productive force, in its relation to both capital and the state that used to guarantee its survival. The question of ‘lost unity' also emerges as a central one, as conflicts within struggles intensify.

 

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

Image: ‘Fuck May 68, Fight Now’, Exarchia, Athens

 

The contradiction between the necessity of the wage demand, and its lost legitimacy reappeared in the indignants' direct democracy movement. The call for ‘direct democracy now' rejected, in principle, the address of demands to a denounced political establishment and parliamentary system. It rejected dominant avenues of representation - the political parties and major unions - and put forward a call for self-organisation: ‘taking our lives into our own hands'. But, despite this language of autonomy, the movement was also driven by a single demand, namely that the Mid-Term Programme be voted down in parliament.2 This suggests that building a defence within this face-off still takes precedence over any claim that it's time to self-organise and take over.

 

‘Burn the parliament', the crowd shouted, but that did not amount to a rejection of politics. The direct democracy movement was clearly a political one, attempting to create a new politics from below, and even a political programme. Operating primarily at the level of political discourse, the ‘direct democratic' imaginary envisioned a system of inclusive, bottom-up decision making, self-organised resistance and mutual support in neighbourhoods and workplaces. Similar to the indignants' campaigns in Spain and now the US, it was captivated by the notion that a more ‘decent' life would be possible, if only the citizens had the political power. In the Greek case, the dominant conviction was that direct democracy alone, as a form of decision making, would be able to make capitalist production commensurate with meeting human needs, or, in its rather more militant version, that the democratic self-management of production would ensure those needs were met. The discourse of self-management, coming mostly from an alternativist anarchist tendency, and the broader conception of ‘alternatives' - involving much speculation around alternative currencies and the autonomous circulation of agricultural products - sought to provide ideas for surviving the crisis or, less modestly, ways out of capitalism. However, all those ideas,beyond their historical limitations as practices, remain mostly just ideas, with the exception of creating a temporary self-organised enclave in public space. The attempt to develop immediate social relations within it (the rejection of money, a free collective kitchen, free lessons for homeless children) quickly reached the limit of an all encompassing capital relation (the return of money, closure of the kitchen because junkies and homeless ‘took advantage').

 

Public political debate, which the direct democracy movement saw as its major strength, was also its limitation. The movement's dominant citizenist, democratic discourse was intrinsic to its inter-class character, explainable by the austerity measures' devastating effect on the petit bourgeois. Militants' attempts to push the discourse of class conflict came up against the principle of the ‘people's' unity. In the midst of a relentless attack on the wage, debates around ‘what is to be done' were muddled, unable to refer to a common class subject, whilst sporadic calls for a long-term general strike and other direct actions remained at the level of discourse. The assembly in Syntagma as well as those in neighbourhoods and towns around the country, mostly resorted to symbolic protests, public statements and expressions of solidarity, boosting or linking up existing struggles. They laboured to initiate actions other than the occupations themselves, which soon reached their own limits.

 

The imagined unity of national citizens against a failed system of government and decision-making also meant that immigrants were excluded by definition, except in the token action of inviting them to speak and organise events for a single day. Despite the active expulsion of extreme fascists from the Syntagma square occupation, the movement's citizenism was aligned with a growing nationalist anti-imperialist tendency, a response to the erosion of Greece's national sovereignty under the control of the Troika.3 This provided the natural environment for a nationalist campaign against the Memorandum, the ‘300 Greeks', to set up shop, and for autonomous nationalists - who were in many respects unidentifiable so long as they kept quiet - to take part in the movement.4

 

Ridden with contradictions, the direct democracy movement experienced a fleeting moment of victory during the general strike of 15 June. That was a high point of struggle for the wider oppositional movement, with the PM almost resigning. The police repression and extensive anti-police clashes and rioting that took place during the strike, however, brought up renewed conflict within the Syntagma assembly, when the majority of its constituents rejected a motion that condemned ‘violence in all its forms'. This moment was a major turning point that brought to a head the ongoing debate around proletarian violence. The direct democracy movement's relative tolerance of intense clashes with the police is not so much indicative of an anarchist influence, as of a wider tendency towards the use of such practices. Although these practices have been associated with anarchists, a growing number of their participants are lower-class, precariously employed or unemployed youths - though the age range is broadening - who are more or less unrelated to the anarchist milieu. They accounted for a significant subsection within the direct democracy movement, to the extent that much of the assembly audience responded to conspiracy theories about ‘violent agent provocateurs' by saying that ‘the rioters are us'. After the defeat of 29 June, when the Mid-Term Austerity Programme was finally passed in parliament, rioting, as well as police repression of the demonstration, became exceptionally fierce, driving even more of those who had previously favoured ‘peaceful protest' to change their minds. However this shift could not translate into practice at that stage. With the direct democracy movement weakened by its defeat, its internal contradictions combined with zero tolerance policing, a new round of struggles was anticipated.

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

Image: ‘Rob Me’, written on shutters of a bank, Athens, 2011

 

The voting through of the Mid-Term Austerity Programme was followed by August's fast tracked vote on the new higher education bill that limits degrees to three years, flexibilises work contracts and rationalises university management, making further steps towards a business model for higher education. Importantly, it also abolishes ‘university asylum' - the law that designates university grounds as off-limits to police - which has played an important practical role in social struggles since its institution after the fall of the junta in 1974. When students responded with occupations around the country after the start of the academic year, it already seemed too late. The peak of their engagement was in September, suggesting that the long occupations of 2006-7 may not be repeated this time.

 

Autumn also brought the rapid and ruthless slashing of indirect and direct wages in both the public and private sectors via cuts and emergency taxes. In response, auto-reduction practices spread more widely, having started a year ago in a more limited scale with the ‘I Don't Pay' movement under the auspices of the leftist ANTARSYA party. The Public Electricity Company union refused to implement new taxation via electricity bills, bills were collectively burned outside tax offices, and there was a widespread tacit agreement that certain taxes would simply not be paid. The discussion around these actions again had, by its nature, an interclass, citizenist and legalistic character. Nevertheless, the fact that these were less symbolic political acts forming a response to governmental policy, but primarily acts of survival, as a large section of the population is unable to pay these taxes, links these campaigns directly to the crisis of the wage relation. With little room left for workers' struggles to develop around wage demands, these practices have temporarily claimed back a tiny fraction of the indirect wage, displacing the conflict outside the workplace.

 

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

Image: Anonymous, ‘We Will Eat the Bourgeoisie’, slogan written outside the luxurious hotel Grande Bretagne in Parliament Square, Athens, 2009.

 

The sense of despair in relation to winning demands, however, does not signal the end of wage struggles. When the government announced the impending abolition of the minimum wage and of collective contracts, as well as mass layoffs in the public sector, two general strikes were announced by the major unions in October. That provided a basis for rank and file organising in workplaces to push for participation in the strike and for occupations in the public sector, especially in cases where they were met with resistance by management or by sectoral unions. Interestingly, although the entire public sector ceased to function for over a week due to mass occupations, these actions received public support, expressed in episodes such as residents blocking the way of strike-breaking private refuse collection vehicles - so much so that their drivers eventually went on strike themselves. The massive scale of the general strike of 19-20 October, and the emergence of rank and file organising at this juncture, does suggest that the struggle around the wage is what is driving social mobilisation in Greece right now. The staying power of rank and file organising, in spite of the general strike's inability to achieve its aims, is something to pay attention to. If their struggle escalates to the point that it challenges the official unions, but strikes and occupations are still not enough to win the fight to keep wages at a liveable level, what type of practices might workers resort to?

 

The impasse of demands, the lack of prospects for even basic subsistence in a future of poverty level wages and high unemployment, combined with extreme police repression, does seem to coincide with increasingly forceful clashes at demonstrations, both against the police and between demonstrators. The multiplication of direct attacks on the police, private and public property, as well as attacks on exchange and the obstacles to reproduction through looting - the latter fairly limited compared to recent riots in the UK and to those in Greece of December 2008 - signal that for many there are now zero stakes in social relations. Sustained attacks on the police are not ‘missing the target'. They are in essence attacks on the enforced reproduction of social relations as they are imposed today. The fact that riots take place during national strikes suggests that they are a direct reaction to the contradiction faced by struggles around the wage. They occur at the level of reproduction because this is exactly where the tendency of the wage to disappear is experienced.

 

The serious clashes during the general strike of 20 October in front of the parliament, between the Communist Party union cadre (PAME) and demonstrators who had clashed with police the day before, are indicative of this tendency. On the second day of the most dynamic national strike and the most intense and populous demonstration in decades, the Communist Party played its traditional role of striving to lead workers' struggles while keeping them under control by encircling and protecting the parliament and its Mps, effectively replacing the role of the police. Other demonstrators attacked them as if they were the police, sparking a fierce street battle. This was not just a conflict about political tactics, however. As the Agents of Chaos have pointed out in a recent text, this was not a conflict between anarchism and Stalinist communism, as is often claimed.5 It is a fundamental conflict between proletarian practices produced by the current cycle of struggles: on one side, the persistent attempt to affirm productive labour, to win demands within the capital relation, even the dream of ‘taking over the means of production'; on the other, destructive practices without demands by living labour that can no longer affirm itself within the capital relation - a relation that no longer provides for its reproduction as labour power.

 

The current struggles in Greece contain within them the central contradiction continually produced in our time: the working class experiencing the limits of its struggle, which are its own intrinsic condition as living labour and the relations that constitute it as such. These struggles continue, despite the risk of a self-destructive outcome, namely a (disorderly) default. The threat of the destruction of capital, and with that the unavailability of work, does not stop struggles. This suggests that they could escalate in ways that break with the ‘reasonable options' presented to them. Meanwhile, attacks on structures of social control, property and exchange, riots without demands and the inevitable conflicts they generate inside the struggles themselves, seem likely to intensify. It is the multiplication of these sorts of conflict, and not the triumph of productive labour and working class unity, that will shape the struggles to come.

 

p { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

Demetra Kotouza <demetra AT inventati.org> is a contributing editor to Mute

 

Info

 

This text was written while being at a physical distance from events. Many thanks to friends involved in the journal Blaumachen for providing invaluable information, ideas and feedback.

 

 

Footnotes

 

1 ‘Autoreduction' is the act by which consumers, in the area of consumption, and workers, in the area of production, take it upon themselves to reduce the price of public services, housing, electricity, taxation; or in the factory, the rate of productivity.

 

2 The Mid-Term Programme outlined cuts to services, wages, pensions and (what little remained of) benefits, and public sector layoffs, along with a long list of privatisations - the first step towards the total sell-off demanded by the ‘Troika'. An interesting ‘innovation' was that workers and pensioners were to be charged an extra ‘solidarity tax' to pay for the one-year benefit given to the increasing numbers of the unemployed. Furthermore, it forecast that even after all these measures had been taken, by 2015 Greece's external debt would only have been reduced by a tiny fraction.

 

3 ‘The Troika' is a slang term for the three institutions which have the most power over Greece's financial future - or at least that future as it is defined within the European Union: the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB).

 

4 The emergence of autonomous nationalism and of frequent violent attacks on migrants by mostly working class far-right groups again occurs in the context of the fragmentation of the working class. Migrants are seen as the reason for the failure of wage demands, and in an attempt to regain bargaining power, a section of the working class that has lost hope in the demand for ‘jobs for Greek workers', takes direct action to terrorise them out of the country, disregarding the laws of a sold-out government that is perceived as ‘betraying' its citizens. However, the inability to unify as ‘Greek workers' means that this tendency is very marginal despite its growth.

5 Agents of Chaos, '????? ?????, ??????? ?? ?????...' ['Without You, Not a Single Cog Turns...'], October 2011, http://libcom.org/library/without-you-not-single-cog-turns...

 

Syndicate content