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Showing posts from April, 2011

The Libertarian Contradiction Behind Atlas Shrugged's Failure

Ayn Rand's monumental and insufferably reactionary novel Atlas Shrugged was recently turned into a film and, despite all the hooplah of insufferably excited libertarians, tanked at the box office.  Of course, in truly hypocritical libertarian style, the film's producer, John Aglialoro, chose to blame the critics and some nebulous and collective "fear of Ayn Rand."  Obviously when libertarians fail to maximize their liberty then it must be the fault of some collectivist conspiracy.

The idea that there is some pernicious and collective fear of Ayn Rand and her ideas––in North America at the heart of world capitalism––is patently absurd.  Libertarian ideology is the wet dream of capitalism, the fantasy of every capitalist and everyone who wants to be a capitalist.  The hatred of taxation, redistribution, and the "slavish" masses––the belief that history is made by strong, maverick individuals and not by the people at the bottom propping up the whole damn syst…

Bloody Minded Backlashes

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my comrades is worried by what appears to be a racist backlash amongst left activists.  Of course this is not the same explicit and typical racism of outright reactionaries, but the more implicit racism of supposedly "anti-racist" activists, an often sublimated racism that comes from an inability to understand structural oppression, an understanding of class as identity/essence, and a refusal to engage with theoretical resources that interrogate settler-colonialism.

Well this possible backlash appears to be alive and well in the radical blogosphere, though it is probably not as new as my comrade assumed and seems more like some ongoing backlash that keeps rearing its ugly head, even amongst the left, in multiple ways.  Very recently, on the People of Color Organize site, this left-racist backlash manifested (and I missed this craziness until now because I have been packing and moving and away from blogland) and follows the following …

Student Radicalism Versus Student Entitlement

What is it with university students and their sense of entitlement?  Obviously I say this with a clear understanding of my own position as a former university student, and with the understanding that I am only speaking of some university students.  It is all too easy to assume that every university student is privileged––but this is not two or three decades ago and I am often in charge of classes where the majority of my students come from poor and racialized families.  Of course their university education is being subsidized by a massive and future debt: our provincial and federal governments took their cue from the banks and realized that student loans, like credit card debt, could lead to massive amounts of profit.  So just as credit cards are given out to everyone these days, so are student loans.

Clearly graduate school will remain closed to many of these students: the farther up you get in academia the more privilege retains its traditional trappings… until, by the time you hit …

Our Complaints, Our Freedoms

Once again I have been informed, by those who believe they are in the know, that it is wrong for me to complain about the Canadian state since I have the freedom, unlike others elsewhere, to complain about this state in the first place.  Why agitate to overthrow capitalism here, why complain about welfare capitalism here, when people in, let's say, Egypt, are dying for the right to have liberal capitalism.  (And is that really what they are dying for––is that the limits of the Egyptian left's demands, nothing more than liberal capitalism with a parliamentary democracy?)
Clearly the most obvious problem with this argument is its logical form.  Here at the centres of capitalism we have all these "freedoms", including "free speech", but it's supposedly in bad taste to use these freedoms.  You're lucky you have the right to complain or even talk openly about anti-capitalism without being shot by a cop, we are told, so really it is just rude and perhaps e…

Utopian and Banal Positions on Revolution

In a previous post I wrote about the capitalist imaginary, the limits imposed upon our thought and our ability to imagine other possibilities.  And one of the results of these limitations is that the left living at the centres of world capitalism is often caught within this imaginary and barely able to think of other possibilities.  Despite the fact that we have multiple example, some of them world historical, that have demonstrated that existence beyond capitalism is necessary, we often accept the narrative of failure.  Even worse, we refuse to approach these failures critically: some of us turn them into utopian myths in rejection of ruling class ideology, some of us accept all the lies and half-truths promoted by capitalist propaganda about actually existing socialisms––both cases render us incapable of learning from the past, from understanding communism as a living science that develops through world historical revolution.  (Here I use "us" to refer to those of "us…

Ye Olde Trade Union Consciousness

A significant problem with the unionized or organized labour movement is its inability to communicate with the non-unionized and more exploited sectors of the working class.  We live in a society where being unionized is often a privilege, where the proletariat is not necessarily the workers operating in unionized spaces, and where the foundation for labour is most often precarious, casualized, and migrant.  There are large portions of workers who are excluded from the ranks of the unionized and for whom unionizing is not an immediate option.  Then there are the day labourers, the people who spend large portions of their lives relegated to the reserve army of labour, who nonetheless contribute to the functioning of capital but whose very nature of work, like many others, prevents them from ever being considered for a union drive.

We already know that the ruling classes will go out of their way to insult, belittle, and assault every union movement, every strike, every moment where the …

The Capitalist Imaginary

One of my many pet peeves (yes in my grumpity blog I have many pet peeves), as I'm sure should be evident by now because of multiple posts, is the whole capitalism-end-of-history discourse where we're expected to accept that liberal capitalism is synonymous with reality.  The ideology that capitalism is the final chapter of human history, and that it is impossible to transgress its limits, demonstrates how capitalism functions to diminish our imagination.

And yet every mode of production that has dominated the historical landscape has inscribed its supposed limits upon the human imagination.  Before capitalism emerged to subordinate the entire globe to its nightmare, other disparate societies––most often tributary (many of which still linger, their ruins incorporated in capitalism's worldwide machine)––made the same claims about their nightmares.  Every historical mode of production projects itself infinitely into the future, socializing its subjects into believing that th…

Imperialism and False Consciousness

In an earlier entry I suggested that the failure to express a truly anti-imperialist politics amongst progressives––amongst even those who profess "anti-imperialism"––is often due to a failure to understand and theorize "imperialism."  The refusal amongst certain sectors of the mainstream left to recognize the intervention in Libya, for example, as an instance of imperialism follows from the inability to conceptualize imperialism.  Thus Gilbert Achcar could veil his capitulation to imperialist logic with anti-imperialist trappings.  Jean-Luc Nancy, recently critiqued by Badiou, makes the same mistake.  And both Achcar and Nancy are symptoms of this widespread failure to truly appreciate the concrete reality of imperialism and then, upon this concrete understanding, to construct an anti-imperialist politics.

I think we can trace elements of this theoretical failure to certain overlapping strains/tendencies of academic marxism, predominantly an implicitly eurocentric…

Problems With Class Reductionism

Apparently J. Sakai's Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat is again making the rounds in activist circles and, as usual, is again provoking an uncritical dismissal that I critiqued, months ago, in a review of problematic reviews of the book.  What makes these snide dismissals rather sad (and entirely predictable) is that they often come from people who have not read, and even refuse to read, Sakai's book.  These uncritical rejections sometimes emerge from elements of the left that see themselves, or maybe their families, as part of "the white proletariat" that Sakai is critiquing.  Then, while openly refusing to read the book beyond the title, they tend to assert that the book is not for them.  One dismissal a good comrade passed on to me, for example, even went so far as to argue that Sakai was an arrogant "academic" who clearly had no understanding of the reality of the white working class.  The fact that the person who made this dismissal, re…