Criminalization of Daily Life

July 27, 2011

That the charges in the trials often referred to events that had occurred decades earlier, that witchcraft had made a crimen exceptum, that is, a crime to be investigted by special means, torture included, and it was punishable even in the absence of any proven damage to persons and things — all these factors indicate that the target of the witch-hunt — (as it is often true with political repression in times of intense social change and conflict) — were not socially recognized crimes, but previously accepted practices and groups of individuds that had to be eradicated from the community, through terror and criminalization. ln this sense, the charge of witchcraft performed a function similar to that performed by “high treason” (which, signficantly, was introduced into the English legal code in the same years), and the charge of “terrorism” in our times.The very vagueness of the charge — the fact that it was impossible to prove it, while at the same time it evokcd the maximum of horror — meant that it could be used to punish any form of protest and to generate suspicion even towards the most ordinary aspects of daily life.

–Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch

RAND: Film piracy, Organized Crime and Terrorism [pdf]

“If it’s not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is?”

Feds Charge Activist as Hacker for Downloading Millions of Academic Articles

Decriminalization of Rape

July 23, 2011

However, by the end of the 15th Century, a counter-revolution [against peasant political advances made after the Black Death] was already under way at every level of social and political life. First, efforts were made by the political authorities to co-opt the youngest and most rebellious male workers, by means of a vicious sexual politics that gave them access to free sex, and turned class antagonism into an antagonism against proletarian women. As Jacques Rossiaud has shown in Medieval Prostitution, in France, the municipal authorities practically decriminalized rape, provided the victims were women of the lower class.

–Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch


Chicos Plásticos

July 19, 2011

As we sat on the porch and talked, a teenage boy wearing plastic pants and a plastic jacket walked past the house — a neighbor from down the andén. Such plastic clothes were considered very fashionable among Managua’s teenagers at the time; a whole terminology had sprung up around them: chicos plásticos (plastic boys), whose plasticity resonated with Ciudad Plástica (Plastic City), their favorite haunt. A modernistic, sprawling, mall-like complex at the south end of Managua, Ciudad Plástica sported a range of diversions: boutiques, restaurants, discotheques, and a bowling alley. “Look at that. Plástico, puro plástico,” Flora remarked as the youth walked past us. “Boys are out fighting and dying in the mountains today, and all some of these kids want to do is wear plastic and go to discotheques. What a disgrace.”

–Roger N. Lancaster, Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua (1992)

We Have It Worse

July 7, 2011

In the 1970s there was much talk of a ‘leisure age’ in which, thanks to automation, we would scarcely work at all — and a spate of books brooding earnestly on how we would fill our new spare time without becoming hopelessly lethargic. Anybody spotting one of these forgotten tracts in a second-hand bookshop today would laugh incredulously. The average British employee now puts in 80,224 hours over his or her working life, as against 69,000 in 1981. Far from losing the work ethic, we seem ever more enslaved by it. The new vogue is for books that ask anxiously how we can achieve ‘work-life balance’ in an age where many people have no time for anything beyond labour and sleep.

Francis Wheen, Das Kapital: A Biography (2006)

Rather than the pathetic equivocation of “work-life balance,” I propose a shift to older terms — working conditions. Don’t let some scowling supplicant to Capital from a previous generation tell you that you don’t know how good you have it; by every objective measure we have it worse.

(“Chained to your job” is less a metaphor than you might think, as unpaid prison slave labor proves so much cheaper than decent union jobs… but prisoners are often prone to radicalization…)

Capitalist Realism of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

July 5, 2011

You saw nothing in Coketown but what was severely workful. If the members of a religious persuasion built a chapel there — as the members of eighteen religious persuasions had done — they made it a pious wwarehouse of red brick, with sometimes *but this only in highly ornamented examples) a bell in a bird-cage on top of it. … All the public inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe characters of black and white. The jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town-hall might have been either, or both, or anything else, for anything that appeared to the contrary in the graces of their construction. Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspects of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial…. Everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not and never should be, world without end, amen.

Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854)

The town realises in a measure the utopia of Bentham. Everything is measured in its results by the standards of utility; and if the BEAUTIFUL, the GREAT, and the NOBLE ever take root in Manchester, they will be developed in accordance with this standard.

Léon Faucher, Manchester in 1844 (1844)

Lenin on “the struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism”

July 3, 2011

It was, however, different with Bolshevism’s other enemy within the working-class movement. Little is known in other countries of the fact that Bolshevism took shape, developed and became steeled in the long years of struggle against pettybourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows something from the latter and, in all essential matters, does not measure up to the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle. Marxist theory has established—and the experience of all European revolutions and revolutionary movements has fully confirmed—that the petty proprietor, the small master (a social type existing on a very extensive and even mass scale in many European countries), who, under capitalism, always suffers oppression and very frequently a most acute and rapid deterioration in his conditions of life, and even ruin, easily goes to revolutionary extremes, but is incapable of perseverance, organisation, discipline and steadfastness. A petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, and its tendency to turn rapidly into submission, apathy, phantasms, and even a frenzied infatuation with one bourgeois fad or another—all this is common knowledge. However, a theoretical or abstract recognition of these truths does not at all rid revolutionary parties of old errors, which always crop up at unexpected occasions, in somewhat new forms, in a hitherto unfamiliar garb or surroundings, in an unusual—a more or less unusual—situation.

–Lenin, “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder” (1920)

For my money, there’s plenty to recommend in left anarchism at this conjuncture; while it’s often reflexively anti-Bolshevik, there are plenty of Marxist anarchists with quite cogent analyses of the contemporary condition. However, it’s the petty bourgeois variants that you really have to watch out for, especially in the capital of middle-class individualism, the U.S.A. Knee-jerk anti-authoritarianism, individualist punk nihilists, and most alarming, the libertarian and “anarcho”-capitalist ideologies popular among self-styled rebel economists and dissident political scientists — these have a more immediate hold among a (white) America increasingly disenchanted with neoliberal empire. These are the ideologies (and “infantile” is still as apt a descriptor as any) that need to be fought as much as — perhaps more than — liberalism, whose hypocrisy and impotence are already on full display to everyone.

imperial nation-building and calculated precarity

March 20, 2011

Security action against ‘insurgents’ is only one small element of an American counter-insurgency doctrine which dates back at least to General J. Franklin Bell’s campaign of the early 1900s against Filipino ‘rebels’. Its principles include building a ruling elite to carry out the occupier’s plan; establishing security services accountable only to that elite; concentrating economic control within that elite; and setting up a generous aid policy which sustains a ‘trickle-down legitimacy’ for that elite. The underlying rationale, from the Philippines to Vietnam, has been to instil acquiescence. In the Palestinian case, the doctrine hopes to facilitate close collaboration with Israel and the dismantling of Palestinian resistance. In return, the Palestinians have been promised a depoliticised ‘state’ hardly worthy of the name and subservient to Israel. Perhaps, in such a state, a new Palestinian middle class might live more comfortably; perhaps the visible tools of occupation and control over Palestinian life would be more discreetly concealed; but such ‘statehood’ would amount to little more than a more benign occupation.

Alastair Crooke, “Permanent Temporariness”

This continues to be Western imperial strategy, from Sudan to Kosovo. This is in turn what is waiting in the wings for the revolutions in the Arab world, should the West gain much of a foothold. Hold strong, Libya!

But this piece is remarkable in another sense. It’s long been understood that the colonies were laboratories for a variety of techniques and technologies, which were then exported to the mainland: from concentration camps to industrial modes of accumulation.

It was Sharon who pioneered the philosophy of ‘maintained uncertainty’ that repeatedly extended and then limited the space in which Palestinians could operate by means of an unpredictable combination of changing and selectively enforced regulations, and the dissection of space by settlements, roads Palestinians were not allowed to use and continually shifting borders.

…a kind of Kafkaesque praxis that should ring familiar far beyond the Palestinian territories.

New Arks

March 15, 2011

Since most of history’s giant trees have already been cut down, a new Ark will have to be constructed out of the materials that a desperate humanity finds at hand in insurgent communities, pirate technologies, bootlegged media, rebel science and forgotten utopias.

–Mike Davis

the end of laissez-faire

March 7, 2011

Economists, like other scientists, have chosen the hypothesis from which they set out, and which they offer to beginners because it is the simplest, and not because it is the nearest to the facts. Partly for this reason, but partly, I admit, because they have been biased by the traditions of the subject, they have begun by assuming a state of affairs where the ideal distribution of productive resources can be brought about through individuals acting independently by the method of trial and error in such a way that those individuals who move in the right direction will destroy by competition those who move in the wrong direction. This implies that there must be no mercy or protection for those who embark their capital or their labour in the wrong direction. It is a method of bringing the most successful profit-makers to the top by a ruthless struggle for survival, which selects the most efficient by the bankruptcy of the less efficient. It does not count the cost of the struggle, but looks only to the benefits of the final result which are assumed to be permanent. The object of life being to crop the leaves off the branches up to the greatest possible height, the likeliest way of achieving this end is to leave the giraffes with the longest necks to starve out those whose necks are shorter.

If we have the welfare of the giraffes at heart, we must not overlook the sufferings of the shorter necks who are starved out, or the sweet leaves which fall to the ground and are trampled underfoot in the struggle, or the overfeeding of the long-necked ones, or the evil look of anxiety or struggling greediness which overcasts the mild faces of the herd.

John Maynard Keyes, “The End of Laissez-Faire” (1926)

An excellent short essay worth reading in its entirety.

things to never forget

February 25, 2011

…the displacement of political and historical analysis by ethical judgments and considerations is generally the sign of an ideological maneuver and of the intent to mystify.

–Fredric Jameson, “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture”