Day 13: Papa Smurf Part II

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So I woke up this morning and felt even worse than yesterday. Isn’t this cold-thing supposed to go away? Maybe it is a result of me having not yet tried any onion-related treatments (I did buy onions, though). I also tried to remember what I ate yesterday. Chinese takeout and pizza. Seems like they are not putting enough vitamins in junk-food these days. Shocking.  On the upside, however, I am able to remain heavily Nyquiled every night, which, at least for me, always results in incredibly vivid dreams (not always of the good kind). Last night I dreamt about sandcastles and I also seemed to be incredibly worried about what would happen to the sand-producing industry, now that all of Europe is banning smoking and public ashtrays do not need sand any more (yes, weird, I know–I already posted something to that effect somewhere else this morning–apparently at least my unconscious is funny). My apparent unconscious concern for the working sandman (if we want to interpret my dream as that–I would also be willing to go in the direction of sandman equalling desire to finally get a good night’s sleep, some displaced/overdetermined experience from yesterday, or, and thus might be the most disturbing interpretation, Sandman as in Freud’s “The Uncanny” in which case I shall be wearing squash goggles for the rest of the day–“ring of fire, spin about”–thanks E.T.A. Hoffmann!)–wow, long parenthetical interjection–so my concern for the working sandman will form the basis of of today’s post: February 21 as the publishing date of the Communist Manifesto.

The sad thing about the Communist Manifesto is that its over the top rhetoric that was supposed to rally the masses back when it was published is now the thing that drives the masses away from it. I would thus like to simply post some passages from the manifesto to remind people of how even over 150 years after its initial publication its criticism still not only rings true, but should inspire intellectual and scientific dialogue, rather than outright, idologically motivated, unquestioning and ignorant rejection. Here some passages:

“[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom–Free Trade.”

“It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

“[The bourgeoisie] has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons–the modern working class–the proletarians. In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e. capital, is developed, is developed, in the same proportion, the proletariat, the modern working class–a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”

 “The lower middle-class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle-class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.”

“Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, however, instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly that population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.”

Two things that should seriously be discussed here regarding the persistent logic of capitalism and the populace’s reaction to it (and to its critique): 1) “revolution” being such as scary word in the US today (ironically, after this country was founded on a revolution), it should be noted that the bourgeoisie is really the revolutionary class; 2) that this bourgeoisie even within the logical paradigm of running an unjust and exploitative system cannot even get that right, meaning we need a continued openness regarding what indisputably forms the character of capitalism, namely that it is based upon central systemic and logical inadequacies and contradictions.

yours in global and sandy solidarity

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14 Comments

  1. Bravo! Thank you for the manifesto excerpts. A good thing to wake up to.

    Revolution is a difficult proposition. Hard to talk about without feeling like a jerk because I’m sitting here in my underwear writing a note, rather than up in arms somewhere in the street.

    Where is our front?

    The best thing to do is keep organizing and watch for opportunities. Right now, there aren’t a whole lot in the US.

    It’s the idea of throwing seeds at the concrete waiting for something to come up. What else can we do?

    I’m sorry to hear your still suffering from the cold and sand labor struggles abroad. Have you tried Orange Juice and Zinc supplements?

  2. I told you- go buy a humidifier!

    I’m going to agree with you that the word revolution is scary. It’s not scary because I feel we need a change, or that it could bring about a war. What’s scary is the idea of who’s going to put everything back together when the revolution is successful? People read that Communist Manifesto, and look what happened. Sure, we can say, ‘Well, I know how to run this country properly,’ or, ‘I know how to convince everyone that the system they live within is flawed.’ But even if everyone agreed with you, how would you fix it? And would it be you, or some fools who think they are intelligent but really just revert to some sort of communistic, fascist system of oppression? What I’m suggesting is that revolution is scary because it brings forth the question of ‘what happens now’, and THAT is what’s scary.
    Now I’m no theorist or philosopher, but I can see that these passages have a good point. Is there any way to manipulate the system we have now? Can’t we bring about some solution that can save the ‘slave’s’ existence and then bring them up to the level of the common workman?

  3. Yes, it would indeed be me.
    Just kidding!
    Or not? Let’s wait and see. Ha, ha!

    There is a nice postscript to Paolo Virno’s _A Grammar of the Multitude_. Next to its engagement with that Hardt and Negri weirdness it recaps the efforts of the Italian Autonomia movement in the 70s (you know, their Italian anarchist/liberation theology version of the Red Brigades–gotta love them Italians for sticking to that anarchist stuff, Bakunin and all–very amusing). It lists a quote by Lazzarato, if I remember correctly, that sums up their feelings about a post-revolutionary situation after the movement failed upon almost being successful at taking over the entire country (and I am quoting freely here): “thank god that did not work–we had no idea what to do with the country once we would have taken it over.” This to me proves Jameson’s/Zizek’s argument at least partially that Marxism is at its best when examining why Marxism failed. This is one of the things you have to love about Marxism: its willingness for self-critique, which should be the basis of every ideological system. It also shows that Marxism is really good at figuring out what’s wrong, but that it may be up to us to figure out concrete solutions for improvement that work in our precise historical situation. Hell, we let ourselves be inspired by every jackass that comes along the way: Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, crazy astronauts in diapers–why not for once by Karl Marx? Maybe that little inspirational nudge into the right direction that is followed by independent critical analysis is all it takes.

    Your other question is the old “reform or revolution” question. At this point it’s pragmatic for me: whatever works. If there is a way to reform this thing, somebody do it. Personally, I do not see how the logical contradictions that ground capitalism, however, can be overcome without unearthing the whole logical system and finding something better. I guess that would be a revolution then. But maybe a revolution does not always have to be imagined as a bang–could be an ongoing, gradual process (a whimper =) ), maybe one of “permanent revolution” (to throw a bone to the potential Trotskyites and Leninists).

  4. Where’s our front? Shit, Harvey, you always have to make things unnecessarily complicated by asking the practical/action question. =)

    Let me give you a tendential, zombie answer: brains.

    I’ll think more about a more precise answer.

  5. In reference to this:

    have you seen _Waking Life_, which, I believe was the first Linklater rotoscoping movie? Generally, a pretentious piece of crap singularly suitable for the self-gratifying barroom discussions of beginning (PoMo) critical theory students, but there is one fantastic scene in it. The main characters walk by an old man who has climbed up a lamppost. “What the hell are you doing up there?” “I have no idea.” “Damn, he is the opposite of us. All action and no theory.”

    Friggin’ brilliant!

  6. Ha! That’s good. I’ll check it out.

    For an unpretentious piece of crap, check out neil young’s song, “piece of crap” on the Sleeps with Angels album. Young has lines like “I bought a toaster / it was a piece of crap” and then a crappy sounding chorus (presumably his bandmates, but who can tell?) chimes in “PIECE OF CRAP”! Awesome!

  7. Maybe one should write a modern version of the Communist Manifesto, one that’s more appealing to the masses of today. At least one shouldn’t run into copyright problems. I’d be interested collaborating in the German version (which should, probably, come first?)

    And _Waking Life_ is truly an unbearable piece of crap. Would mindfuck be a good translation for Hirnwichserei?

  8. cerebraljetsam, more and more the zombie answer is appealing to me. Maybe working in a University is starting to get to me.

    anaj, wasn’t Rage Against the Machine‘s debut album a contemporary version of The Communist Manifesto? Or does it need updating from 1993 now?

  9. @anaj: that would be fun. I figure it should be a graphic novel. That seems to be what the masses crave. After all, they just made the 9/11 commission report into a graphic novel, since the actual report seemed to be too long and complicated for people to read. So: picture books for the masses is apparently the way to go.

    @caveblogem: yes, sometimes I wonder the same thing. Are we mainly excited about the radical possibilities of education for reasons of self-validation? After all, people like Althusser, Baudrillard or more recently Balibar have been quite critical of this. But then we could still say: “screw you Frenchie” and defer to US theorists on radical pedagogy such as Ohmann, or Wald (not quite as fancy theoretically, but more concerned with action).

  10. re: mindfuck. hmmm… that word actually often has a positive connotation in US PoMo culture (see _The Matrix_), as it indicates being forced to question traditional ideological narratives. Damn PoMo experimentalists!
    I therefore propose the inclusion of the word “Hirnwichserei” into the English language, much like “Zeitgeist.” In fact the former is a good description of the contemporary latter. =)

  11. @caveblogem: I was unaware of this intention of the rave against the machine’s album, I had, admittedly, more romantic ideas of a studious re-translation, similar to martin luther’s translation of the bibel… but a graphic novel it would have to be… or rather a movie on youtube…

  12. anaj, I was mostly kidding. Zach De La Rocha was a marxist at the time, but the songs certainly don’t follow the text of The Communist Manifesto closely.

  13. oh… I’ve never been good at picking up irony, and I’m even worse in English—

  14. sorry, anaj. Irony is also particularly difficult to “get” on the internet. I guess that’s why everybody uses those “smiley” thinks all the time, and emoticons. Maybe I should start doing that, since I seem almost unable to communicate without irony. . . .


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