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Useless Theory

August 6, 2011

What is the point of theory? Below is a snip of something that’s gone around recently.

One of the not so cool things about the internet is that it has helped to produce a class of people who are, relatively speaking, quite comfortable in their general anti-oppression stance. Anti-oppression discourse, nowadays, isn’t even about a politics (i.e. working collectively to change the world you inhabit) as much as it is about style—about speaking the right language, using the right terms, expressing outrage at the right moment, etc. Unlike previous generations of people discussing anti-oppression ideas, we who are members of this class don’t need to go to long, drawn-out meetings or to join activist groups in order to satisfy our desire to be against oppression. The discussion, in many ways, comes to us—just follow the right people, read the right blogs, etc. Anti-oppression, that is, arrives to us with the slick, polished ease of a commodity.

But the fact that an entire industry has emerged to produce evidence about oppression without doing much at all to fight it should tell us something about where we’re at in terms of capitalism. Anti-oppression has become a commodity, too, and “we” are part of the machine by and through which that commodity is made and consumed. I’m not trying to trivialize or downplay the existence of oppression—oppression exists, and exists on a scale any in ways I am not even in a position to know or speak about. But I am trying to begin to understand how capitalism has enabled people—especially upwardly mobile, college educated people like me—to generate an anti-oppression discourse that allows many of us to feel as if we are doing much more to fight it than we actually are.

(Article initially found here)

On the one hand, it strikes me as absolutely true that these intensely liberal tendencies of “anti-oppression discourse”–indeed ones that are extremely seductive as they are vague–are entirely useless in that they do nothing to change the actual situation at hand. What is being “anti-oppression” mean, anyways? There is, after all, those who should be actively oppressed–cops, for instance.

Oppressing this guy doesn't sound too bad.

But, on the other, the above criticism does not go far enough, and in fact I would ask what the point of any theory, theorization, discourse, whatever, is without strategic value? Theory for-itself, that hideous phenomena, exists to either affectively fluff away liberal guilt or to bolster ones academic career. If there is no strategic insight, no strategic value, outside of those redemptive or career modes that much theory seems to embody, then it is probably useless to a large degree.

But the article therein suggests that people who buy into this discourse of anti-oppression-as-action would otherwise go out and fight against, say, capitalism. For me, this seems unlikely. Those of liberal positions will not be swayed into action by better arguments, better discourse, or the like. Without the degradation of their own material positions, i.e. the apparently “upwardly mobile college student”, there is no real reason outside of guilt for them to do anything.

And, that is where my real point of contention lie. Is it really the case that young people in the US, at this particular moment in history, are in fact upwardly mobile? With fledgeling unemployment, degrading aggregate wages, and disappearing prospects, it could be the case that this mildly liberal discourse is but a segue into something more interesting.

unannounced hiatus, soon to be over

July 27, 2011

As you know, there’s been a sort of “work stoppage” with respect to my attention directed towards this blog. I’ve been traveling through Europe for some time, though now that such is over there should be a regularization of new posts, material, etc. There is one group project being currently worked on, and furthermore a few other individual projects that are being crafted. So, in other words, more to come soon.

Though for now, I’d like to throw a little shout out: fuck the police:

Further Notes on Theorie Communiste, Engels, & Foucault

March 29, 2011

One of the logical conclusions of Engels The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State was, sadly, the pushing of gender relations to the sideline, with liberation for such individuals being consigned to something which could only take place “after communism”. This, as one could see, was highly insufficient.

But, despite this admittance, how different does Theorie Communiste’s conception land one strategically? If women are indeed the principal producers of the population (a categorical formulation related to Foucault’s biopower) then does it not follow that, again, one must simply wait for this pathetic society to crumble before gender distinction can be addressed? The answer is, again, yes.

But, looking back, there is a key difference that through the congested writing style prominent to Theorie Communiste is entirely lost: that revolutionary action which aims to dislodge systemic capital must place gender distinction at the center. Previously such problematics were consigned to the sideline, indeed a perpetuate state of waiting, while the others went out and did their class struggle. Now, according to this strategic formulation, the key theme in the overall picture of value production (namely, the distinction between those who are exploited to produce exploitable populations and those who are exploited in the workplace, or the double lives that women play in this game) is not just looking towards a moment of rupture that class struggle might be able to pull apart.

Rather, it is a difficult and balanced production between pulling apart not only that crack in capital’s side, but also itself as a self-reproducing category. What is interesting here is not the sort of normal behavior, where one utilizes a moral argument for why class struggle in particular ought care about gender. This highly patronizing activity (which is similar to those uncaring corporate entities which espouse “multiculturalism” in their workplace–a merely representative numerical ethic) is eliminated, as such moralizing maneuvers are replaced with strategic necessity.

Notes on Federici: Women and Primitive Accumulation

March 26, 2011

PART ONE: OVERVIEW

INTRODUCTION

The transition between feudalism and capitalism, indeed a social change that was anything but a smooth re-articulation of the basic premises of feudal society, contains within it a history of coercive force and discipline. Across the European feudal world, vast social changes prompted a new form of life, as peasants were systematically divorced from their means of production, the land, and were forced to choose between a life of vagabondage or wage dependency. Regardless of their choice, it was nothing more than lifelong squalor which preceded them; hence the revolutionary potential of such masses as seem in Marx’s initial analysis. But, this view of the transformation of society embodied in the traditional category of primitive accumulation, is only part of the overall historical picture. Missing from its preview is the changes that had taken place within the masses themselves, as with proletarianization also came the emergence of new subjective differences, or in other words, an accumulation of difference based on reproductive capacities, as is argued within Silvia Federici’s Book, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation. It is here where the figure of the proletariat women resides, consigned as she was to the tasks of reproduction within the home, as her emergence into the social world is an integral part of the process of primitive accumulation, with her subjective figure defined and consigned to her apparent reproductive functions. According to Federici, this production of the female subject is not one which occurred through random elongated historical shifts, but was instead the outcome of a historical shift economic imperative (and subsequently enforced through those who benefited from such economic arrangements), indeed both capitalists and feudalists alike, as they aimed to produce untenable situations for females who exhibited a capacity for regulating their own reproductive facilities, and persecuted them as witches. The production of the female body into its current and historical subject formations, then, can be understood as an ongoing and still occurring process of primitive accumulation, as it continues to adapt to the economic imperatives which continue to rule over those subjects. In the end, Federici’s book helps to understand how the pre-capitalist and capitalist system produced imperatives which had historically accentuated, and continues to accentuate, differences within the working classes so as to ensure that reproduction of working populations continues without disruption. This is, after all, the heart of what TC sketches out but does not historically elucidate–that at the center of the existence of labor as an existing category lie historical differences based on so-called gender which work to reproduce exploitable populations.

PRIMITIVE ACCUMULATION

According to Federici, this conquest of the female body finds its historical origin in a post-black death world where the decimation of working populations produced a shortage of work, and thus the capacity for peasants to successfully demand lower rents, less work, and more pay. The Plauge had killed off nearly 30% to 40% of the overall European population, resulting in situation where, “by the end of the 14th century the refusal of rent and services had become a collective phenomenon” (Federici 44, 45). This was a result of systemic tendencies, as wages had “increased by 100%, prices declined by 33%, rents also declined, the length of the working-day decreased, and a tendency appeared towards local self-sufficiency” (Federici 62). In short, the overall shortage of workers had allowed for a historical shift of power from feudal masters and into the hands of peasants.

By the late Middle Ages the “feudal economy was doomed, faced with an accumulation crisis that stretched for more than a century” (Federici 62). In an attempt to remedy the situation, various efforts were made to increase the rate of exploitation either through forced labor service restoration, or through the introduction of slavery (Federici 45). Both of these attempts failed, however, as the introduction of such new social policies tended towards sharpening class conflicts, and further emboldening peasant insurrections. And, since short-term solutions for the problem of ongoing laborer shortages found themselves only hastening the problems at hand, more long term economistic solutions could be found.

PRIMITIVE ACCUMULATION AND “WOMEN”

It was in response to this crisis that, Federici argues that the
European ruling class had launched a global offensive which was to change the history of the planet, “laying the foundations of a capitalist world-system, in the relentless attempt to appropriate new sources of wealth, expand its economic basis, and bring new workers under its command” (Federici 62). This is where the traditional Marxist account of primitive accumulation is often posited. Federici explains Marx’s theorization quite nicely, she notes that:

Marx introduced the concept of ‘primitive accumulation’ at the end of Capital Volume I to describe the social and economic restructuring that the European ruling class initiated in response to its accumulation crisis, and to establish (in polemics with Adam Smith) that: (i) capitalism could not have developed without a prior concentration of capital and labor; and that (ii) the divorcing of the workers from the means of production, not the abstinence of the rich, is the source of capitalist wealth (Federici 63).

Federici goes on to argue that this only a portion of the entire process. While land grabs were essential in getting peasants, accustomed to having direct access to the means of production, to rely on the wage for their own self-reproduction, it did not solve the problem of biological reproductive discipline. There was, after all, no intensive for proletarians living in veritable squalor to produce children, “as children were no insurance in old age, unlike the sons of the bourgeoisie” (Mies 105).
Women, then, as the bodies who were apparently responsible for the reproduction of the working population became the targets for such solutions. The “connection between the attack on witches and the development of a new concern, among European statists and economists, [has to do] with the question of reproduction and population size” (Federici 181). It is here where women, singled out as subjects whose biological capacities were now of more importance than their ability to work either in the field or in public industry, can be understood as direct targets in the process of primitive accumulation, especially since early historical developments of capitalism relied on vast numbers of potential workers.

The goal, then, was to require a “transformation of the body into a work-machine, and the subjugation of women to the reproduction of the work-force” (Federici 63). But mere restriction from the realm of public industry was certainly not enough to get these individuals to actively subsume themselves into this sort of task. Rather, it required the wholesale “destruction of the power of women which, in Europe as in America, was achieved through the extermination of the ‘witches’” (Federici 63). Witches, with their potions and magic, were conceived of as beings who had used mystical and practice methods to control their reproductive capacities, and were very often exterminated as such.

THE WITCH AND THE PRODUCTION OF WOMEN’S SUBJECTIVITY

The witch was certainly not a simply caricature of some old, backwards society whose obsessions bordered on insanity. The witch was, rather, a demonization of women, their passed down knowledges of reproductive medicine, and women’s autonomy in both the “personal” and the social-political sense. Previous to the witch-hunts, women were often at the forefront of peasant riots and insurrections. These were individuals who were, just like the men, in control to some degree of the means of production (the land) and had a vested interest in grounds which were held in common.

In the witch hunts (and this is seen in the archetypical caricature of the witch as it finds itself expressed today, typically old and haggard) there was special attention devoted to women who were older. Indeed, “many witches were midwives or ‘wise women,’ traditionally the depository of women’s reproductive knowledge and control” (Federici 183). To this day, feminist histories–even ones which circulate within the academy–find their origins in methods which are not traditional insofar as they are not archival documents, but have instead been passed down through alternative methods, such as through narrative or painting. It could therefore be argued that the targeting of such individuals who were the source of much information regarding resistance and reproductive remedies was extremely strategic, much like the peasant or worker destruction of property ownership or rent documents.

The destruction of these women also meant the destruction of an intense history of methods of resistance and of reproductive controls. It is no surprise that, central to the destruction of so-called witches, was most often issues which dealt with biological reproduction, and especially its termination or avoidance. By the 17th century, Federici notes that “witches were accused of conspiring to destroy the generative power of humans and animals, of procuring abortions, and of belonging to an infanticidal sect devoted to killing children or offering them to the devil” (Federici 180). The elimination of witches, then, could be considered one of the first great state utilizations and developments of biopower, as the object was to turn women’s bodies into machines that were capable and willing to keep working populations steady and ongoing (Federici 145).

This was, after all, a time where science was deployed by the state, as censes statistics and facts came into existence around the 16th and 17th centuries (Federici 182). Similarly, this was a time where “scientific use of torture was born, for blood and torture were necessary to ‘breed an animal’; capable of regular, homogeneous, and uniform behavior, indelibly marked with the memory of the new rules” (Federici 144). This animal, indeed the origins of subjectivity of contemporary women, found its body defined by its reproductive capacities, and found its duty chiefly of one which had to do with this function (Federici 144).

Primitive accumulation was therefore “not simply an accumulation and concentration of exploitable workers and capital. It was also an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class, whereby hierarchies built upon gender, as well as ‘race’ and age, became constitutive of class rule and the formation of the modern proletariat” (Federici 64). Similar to the black man, whose subjectivity is a product of negativity via state practice, i.e. it comes into being in and through restrictive legislative moments historically in the form of slavery or criminality, women’s subjectivity find its origins also in negativity: the witch hunts. Counterposed to the witch, with her freedom of flight via the broomstick (ability to move outside of the home), and subversive potions (birth control), women’s subjective position became one which was akin to the working machine, though one much more dubious than that of proletarian men, as their work was to be shrouded in darkness, hidden from view, under the guise of privacy within the home. Their function was, nevertheless, obviously just as important to the development of capitalism as the men in the factories.

PART TWO: QUESTIONS

ARE “WOMAN” ANACHRONISTIC WITHIN CAPITALISM?

This historicization seems to be helpful in its ability to cast light onto the matter of subjectivity, especially with regards to femininity and the feminist movement. As Theorie Communiste have argued, women’s subjectivity was rendered strategically to consign them to the home, in the attempt at producing them into unpaid producers of one of capitals most valuable asset: labor-power (Theorie Communiste). The witch hunts, as historically altering moments of action which changed the lends through which individuals associate themselves, created separations between various parts of the proletariat that are still in existence today.

But the relation between these individuals is much different than in previous historical periods. Formal social and political right have been won, and women are now often eligible for equal rights under the law (again: formally) within many states. Many women, unlike past historical periods, are now free to choose their partners, engage in the realm of public industry, collectively bargain for wages, etc. Meanwhile, the subject position of women remains as solid as ever (despite ongoing cultural interventions), their real wages remain substantially subpar, their access to institutional support for reproductive health minimal, and they remain, by and large, the default guardians of the burden of children’s development.

This contradictory information might lead one to question: are women still relevant as the principal producers of the population under capitalist social relations? After all, one might think that, perhaps with a little more egalitarian measures capitalism could produce a situation of relative equality between the sexes, as it seems that there is no real structural need for women to exist as subjects. This conception could not be more incorrect, however, when considering the fact that women, still even today, remain bound to tasks found within the privacy of the home, indeed a relic of ongoing primitive accumulation(Mies 105). The only difference being that women today are forced to hold more than one job, as they attend work in the office or the factory only to come home to more, albeit unpaid, work as a childcare provider, housekeeper, etc.

PART THREE: WOMEN IN AN AGE OF CRISIS

Even further, however, is the fact that women’s subjectivities are necessary for capitalism as an auxiliary force. In keeping with the criticism of Gilles Dauvé, capitalism does not necessitate a democratic existence whatsoever, as it often requires in times of crisis a more centralized, “authoritarian” existence to keep its contradictions from exploding outwards (Dauvé). It is in these times of crisis that women might once again be subject to ongoing dimensions of primitive accumulation, expected to complete both work within the formal economic sector while also doing increasing amounts of unpaid domestic labor.

Right wing political positions are almost always proponents of family values, but there is a more structural logic than simply ones cultural attachment to a congealed past. The reliance on the so-called ‘sanctity of motherhood’, indeed a reinforced social dimension that exists both within right and leftist thought, could easily be summoned in order to ordain once more a more efficient economic structure. Services such as childcare are, after all, among the first to be depleted through recent austerity measures, as they are a burden on an economic system which requires ongoing dynamism for its own reproduction. With the ongoing hacking away of welfare state policies across the globe, it could be the case that we are about to enter a new phase of primitive accumulation, one which will disproportionately immiserate women subjects, and produce structural circumstances which might casualize their work even more, a feat that was perhaps once thought of as an impossibility.

It should be noted, then, that in this age of crisis, or in other words, in a world where various populations are becoming increasingly consigned to the category of surplus, women will continue to be sublimated depending upon the various structural imperatives of ones country. Be it harsh measures of restriction upon ones reproductive possibilities (ie China’s one-child policy and forced sterilization) or seemingly positive policies which aim to bolster a certain type of child (ie France’s policy of economic and surgical benefits for mothers), it is unlikely, that the shift to a situation of surplus populations will do anything for the destruction of women as an important category.

WORKS CITED

Communiste, Theorie. “Gender Distinction, Programmatism and Communisation.”     Revue Internationale Pour La Communisation. Web. 07 Dec. 2010. <http://meeting.communisation.net/archives/summer-meeting-2008/workshops/    article/gender-distinction-programmatism>.

Dauvé, Gilles. “When Insurrections Die.” Libcom.org. Web. 07 Dec. 2010. <http://    libcom.org/library/when-insurrections-die>.

Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation.     New York: Autonomedia, 2004. Print.

Mies, Maria. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International     Division of Labour. London: Zed, 1999. Print.

From Berlin to Wisconsin: Tear it up

March 11, 2011

Solidarity from Berlin. Wish I were still in the states.

Some Reflections on Lisbon, Portugal.

February 21, 2011

Overlooking the city it is easy to see the ongoing swaths of uneven development. Massive financial buildings adorned entirely of darkened windows tower opposite of buildings whose only embellishment are mere wet articles clothing flung from balconies.

Much like Los Angeles, the city seems to be entirely decentralized. To argue that a center exists here, one must first ask: what composes the center? Is it a vast grouping apparently important financial institutions? Various public service buildings? An immense high-capital collection of tourist-driven shopping centers and activity centers? Popular swaths of cultural day and night time activities? The only continuity that exists here is the ungentrified housing, perhaps a testament to a situation of limited credit…

There seems to be many pickpockets in the city. Signs scribed in both Portuguese and English are hung from all buses, trams and trains warning of such. It is, however, obvious that these signs were put there not to warn Portuguese people who work in such areas, but rather those outsiders whom crawl about the city snapping pictures and looking at historical monuments. The pick-pocketers perhaps remind us of the wall that the tourism industry has hit here; there is no other way to extract their wealth, no other method through which pennies could be syphoned from their pockets, except by cutting at their pants and catching their belongings as they fall. In any case they probably deserve the cash.

Another interesting thing is the amount of communist taggings that I’ve seen throughout the city. At least seven or eight today, and quite a few in various places each day. Along with these tagging were also at least three of four CP banners flung either from flat windows or in random places. Much different than in Berlin, where antifa/autonomen/anarchist tendencies are pretty easy to spot, not so much communist stuff, let alone CP references.

Accursed Share

November 4, 2010

With so many excesses, it’s difficult to see which might be that part of the share which is accursed, destined to be entirely devoured or destroyed.

Maybe the answer to this question is one that is directly linked not to keen objective analysis, but rather the inevitable outcome of impending class struggles. On one extreme, there is the double annihilation of populations and of the welfare state. Extreme austerity measures, perhaps a Malthus inspired solution, that leaves the destitute to drown in their own grime.

Or another possibility, that the tables are turned: that those living embodiments of capital, those of the capitalist classes, are essentially devoured, maybe even eaten, feverishly turned into the accursed share.