The Dictator observations thread.

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Silent Majority » 06 Oct 2017, 7:34am

I don't much to give the above discussion, but I'm enjoying it a great deal.
'But also: hey dude, you can just go looking for more glasses. They're all free now. '

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Inder » 06 Oct 2017, 11:24am


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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 08 Oct 2017, 9:43am

My apologies for dropping another massive deuce on this thread.
Dr. Medulla wrote:
05 Oct 2017, 8:59pm
What I meant was that pre-Capital, there's something more recognizably revolutionary about Marx. Capital is deeply analytical, understanding the nature of the problem. The latter is more appealing to scholars who would prefer to go navel-gazing with theory.
Hmm, maybe. But I am under the impression that the 1844 manuscripts are very popular with academics.
I'm biased, but I think Marxian approaches to understanding popular culture are valuable.
Like I tried to clarify, it's not that Marxist approaches can't be insightful, but just that they don't have a monopoly on being so. Maybe a poststructuralist reading of e.g. Borges is more productive than a Marxist reading would be.
That's also Marx, tho: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."* How many Marxist scholars truly believe that anymore, tho? In their bones, I mean.
God, not many I'd think. We have a Marxist in the English department, and who's heavily involved in administration as well, and he was very opposed to Bernie Sanders and a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton because he's now committed to incrementalism. Seems a bit wacky for an avowed Marxist to go for Clinton in the primary, but there you go. I'm sure the potential impact of free university tuition on professor and administrator salaries had nothing to do with it. :shifty:

It's there in Marx as you say, but I do think people miss the forest for the trees when it comes to his theoretical contributions. The point of Capital is to provide ammunition for the movement. Capitalism develops quickly, though. It has proved very resilient at getting through crises. As I think Paul Mattick noted, one of history's great ironies is that really existing socialism and national liberation movements served as primitive accumulation for underdeveloped countries--rapid development of the economic base followed by a transition into capitalism. Marxism itself helped sustain capitalism.

Still, there have been some great developments in Marxian economic theory over the 20th century. In many respects I don't think one needs to read Capital so much as read a modern Marxian text (such as Sweezy). I mean, there's some great, memorable writing in Volume I, but if you want theory, you can get it in a more digestible form. Also, Capital has produced an industry of interpretation. More on that later.
But because I'm skeptical about Marxist prognosis, I'm not inclined to see it as a vehicle for changing the world. That's another thing where I have an affinity with Macdonald—there's a certain inhumane aspect of Marxism, whereby people are expected to serve the theory, to sacrifice to the theory, rather than be open to a range of possibilities to make the world less cruel.
I'm skeptical about the prognosis too if that means skeptical of the inevitability thesis. I think the productive forces have been unleashed by capitalism to such an extent that we could easily just extinguish the entire human species rather than move into socialism, whether through nukes or climate apocalypse.

I agree about the inhumane aspect. Even Bakunin was able to see that potential in Marx. I think anarchism's emphasis on autonomy and direct workers' control has a lot to contribute here to balance out those tendencies. Much of Leninism's legacy--one-party dictatorship, substituting leadership by party for direct workers' participation, making struggles over line a matter of life and death for cadres--has to be rejected. The idea that good faith disagreement and mistakes over line is impossible in the transition away from capitalism is religious thinking.

Speaking of, the way Marxist theory gets taught and discussed can be just godawful. Here's a quote from Joan Robinson on the subject:
I was a student at a time when vulgar economics was in a particularly vulgar state. … There was Great Britain with never less than a million workers unemployed, and there was I with my supervisor teaching me that it is logically impossible to have unemployment because of Say’s Law. Now comes Keynes and proves that Say’s Law is nonsense (so did Marx, of course, but my supervisor never drew my attention to Marx’s views on the subject). … The thing I am going to say that will make you too numb or too hot (according to temperament) to understand the rest of my letter is this: I understand Marx far and away better than you do. (I shall give you an interesting historical explanation of why this is so in a minute, if you are not completely frozen stiff or boiling over before you get to that bit.) When I say I understand Marx better than you, I don’t mean to say that I know the text better than you do. If you start throwing quotations at me you will have me baffled in no time. In fact, I refuse to play before you begin. What I mean is that I have Marx in my bones and you have him in your mouth. … suppose we each want to recall some tricky point in Capital, for instance the schema at the end of Volume II. What do you do? You take down the volume and look it up. What do I do? I take the back of an envelope and work it out.
I think internalizing theory as a method or a perspective is more valuable than being able to recite it. The application is much more useful than the chapter and verse stuff that passes for theory nowadays.
*Robin Kelley, who has written about, among other things, African-American Communists during the Great Depression, has told the story of interviewing one of those old guys. The guy took out a copy of the The Communist Manifesto and said, "Theory." Then he placed a box of shotgun shells on the desk and said, "Practice."
Ha! Reminds me of my dad. Brings us to another issue in Marxism (and somewhat in anarchism as well)--overemphasis on violence. It's true that political power rests upon force, but there is so much that goes into a revolution that isn't direct violence. Even the violent periods of a revolution can be relatively brief and restrained. Much of that seems to be dependent on preparation. If you really have the masses on your side, you can get the state to collapse by withdrawing the usual acquiescence. There always seems to be at least some fighting in a revolution--it's not a dinner party--but I think leftists tend to valorize the violent stuff. While I appreciate people willing to fight for a better world, it's the building of that better world that has always interested me more. The nitty-gritty of figuring out new ways to organize production for social needs is more interesting to me than the shooting. I mean, we're in this to minimize violence, aren't we? Including the all-encompassing violence of the capitalist state, where people die for lack of money.

I don't particularly relish the idea of gulags and purges either, and I tend to distrust leftists who do. Obviously some people are gonna be strongly opposed to any change, and not amenable to being rehabilitated--people like neo-Nazis. But shouldn't rehabilitation and restoration always be a goal? There are some evil people in power, but I'd be willing to forgive them if they changed their damn ways.

Anyway, a lot of this is still pretty hypothetical given we're struggling at the moment just to get basic reforms through. But we do have a situation where the system seems to be in crisis, environmental pressures are acute, basic social needs are not being met, while expectations are rising, and the forces of reaction have taken a fascist turn. That seems to presage a big crisis on the way. But who knows, we may just die of climate change before we get social change!
In terms of cultural stuff, Marxian-derived theories can be useful critical tools, but by no means are they the be-all. They offer one of many ways to make an argument. But they are just analytical, there's nothing about changing the world in them beyond possible consciousness raising.
Yes, that's exactly what I was crudely trying to get at. Marxism in those applications doesn't offer a greater insight, and furthermore that kind of activity does little to contribute to change, albeit sometimes it can have salutary effects on academia.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 08 Oct 2017, 10:44am

eumaas wrote:
08 Oct 2017, 9:43am
Hmm, maybe. But I am under the impression that the 1844 manuscripts are very popular with academics.
Could be our own preferred fields and what the chief scholars in them are emphasizing. The main stuff I keep running across ends up being Capital and the Grundrisse, with The German Ideology popping up here and there. The guy I did my Marxism field with was wholly a "mature Marx" guy, but he was far more analytical than revolutionary.
We have a Marxist in the English department, and who's heavily involved in administration as well, and he was very opposed to Bernie Sanders and a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton because he's now committed to incrementalism. Seems a bit wacky for an avowed Marxist to go for Clinton in the primary, but there you go. I'm sure the potential impact of free university tuition on professor and administrator salaries had nothing to do with it. :shifty:
One of our best friends, who teaches in the history dept, self-identifies as a Marxist (lived in a commune back in the 70s), but is more of a champagne socialist. Very pro-institution, enjoys the perks of a professor's life. I always snort when I read right-wingers going on about all the Marxists who dominate academia. Even if some self-identify as Marxists, in practice they're squishy liberals preaching tolerance and pluralism. They certainly aren't pushing revolution.
As I think Paul Mattick noted, one of history's great ironies is that really existing socialism and national liberation movements served as primitive accumulation for underdeveloped countries--rapid development of the economic base followed by a transition into capitalism. Marxism itself helped sustain capitalism.
From a different direction, the Frankfurt critics, in indicting the Enlightenment's validation of abstraction, blamed Marx and his method for furthering that same abstraction. Marx wasn't providing the way to human liberation, but its greater enslavement.
I'm skeptical about the prognosis too if that means skeptical of the inevitability thesis. I think the productive forces have been unleashed by capitalism to such an extent that we could easily just extinguish the entire human species rather than move into socialism, whether through nukes or climate apocalypse.
My skepticism is both that inevitability belief—the history as science nonsense—but I also can't disregard that those revolutionary movements that have claimed Marx as inspiration and guide have been monstrous. It's lazy rationalizing to say, "Well, that isn't real Marxism." If "real Marxism" requires ideal conditions, then we can disregard it right now.
I think internalizing theory as a method or a perspective is more valuable than being able to recite it. The application is much more useful than the chapter and verse stuff that passes for theory nowadays.
Right. As an undergrad, I took a Soviet govt polisci course from a genuine Stalinist. This was during glasnost, and he hated Gorbachev. Now, admittedly I was a dumb, poorly read shitsack, but everything I wrote or said in that course, he responded with, "Marx [or Lenin] meant more than that." Undoubtedly, but I came away thinking how would a worker's revolution ever take place if the real meaning was still two steps away. Intellectuals have value, but not as priests.
Brings us to another issue in Marxism (and somewhat in anarchism as well)--overemphasis on violence. It's true that political power rests upon force, but there is so much that goes into a revolution that isn't direct violence. Even the violent periods of a revolution can be relatively brief and restrained. Much of that seems to be dependent on preparation. If you really have the masses on your side, you can get the state to collapse by withdrawing the usual acquiescence. There always seems to be at least some fighting in a revolution--it's not a dinner party--but I think leftists tend to valorize the violent stuff. While I appreciate people willing to fight for a better world, it's the building of that better world that has always interested me more. The nitty-gritty of figuring out new ways to organize production for social needs is more interesting to me than the shooting. I mean, we're in this to minimize violence, aren't we? Including the all-encompassing violence of the capitalist state, where people die for lack of money.
A friend of mine, the prof who sent me down the road of history, is a Trotskyist and was a friend of Eugene Genovese, one of the great historians of American slavery. Genovese was a Marxist until late in life he converted to traditional Catholicism (perhaps out of trauma from the collapse of the Soviet Union, I dunno). Anyway, they once chatted about The Revolution and what it would look like. Genovese said, matter-of-factly, "Lots of bodies swinging from trees." Which is true but that's also something that should give us pause. Not necessarily to reject an idea but to realize that Marxism encourages a love affair with blood.
I don't particularly relish the idea of gulags and purges either, and I tend to distrust leftists who do. Obviously some people are gonna be strongly opposed to any change, and not amenable to being rehabilitated--people like neo-Nazis. But shouldn't rehabilitation and restoration always be a goal? There are some evil people in power, but I'd be willing to forgive them if they changed their damn ways.
One of the reasons why I'm so attracted to Gramsci is, I suspect, my pacifism (edit: that is, it allows me to participate without mandating a commitment to violent revolution). Gramsci certainly didn't reject violence, but he understood the importance of consciousness raising, that culture and language was vital for normalizing a particular worldview (and discrediting others). It's not the only way to bring about true change, but coercion is of limited value. The state's use of coercion—and so, I would think, the opposition—is a result of not being able to win the cultural or consciousness battle. The use of violence is an admission that contrary ideals are being given fair play.
Anyway, a lot of this is still pretty hypothetical given we're struggling at the moment just to get basic reforms through. But we do have a situation where the system seems to be in crisis, environmental pressures are acute, basic social needs are not being met, while expectations are rising, and the forces of reaction have taken a fascist turn. That seems to presage a big crisis on the way. But who knows, we may just die of climate change before we get social change!
Climate change strikes me as the greater threat to capitalism than worker consciousness. Capitalism is rooted in, among other things, an assumption of limitless resources that allow for limitless, increasingly efficient production. Climate change and the problem of sustainability compromises that assumption. Almost all of human history has been dominated by a problem of scarcity, of somehow producing enough to survive to continue. Capitalism initiated a culture (and problem) of abundance, but also initiated an environmental crisis that promises to return us to a norm of scarcity.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Flex » 13 Oct 2017, 12:40pm

I'm a little surprised that Susan Collins is staying in the Senate. Internal polling weaker than expected on gubernatorial election? Maybe she was pressured into staying because the party was worried the seat would go D if she left? Would be curious what the closed-door decision-making here was.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 13 Oct 2017, 12:49pm

Flex wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 12:40pm
I'm a little surprised that Susan Collins is staying in the Senate. Internal polling weaker than expected on gubernatorial election? Maybe she was pressured into staying because the party was worried the seat would go D if she left? Would be curious what the closed-door decision-making here was.
I read a few things a couple weeks ago that Democrats were asking her to stay because she was a moderate (ho ho, relative measurements and all that) within her party and one of a few keeping the crazies from completely taking over. Yeah, that ship sailed a long time ago …
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 13 Oct 2017, 12:58pm

Dr. Medulla wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 12:49pm
Flex wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 12:40pm
I'm a little surprised that Susan Collins is staying in the Senate. Internal polling weaker than expected on gubernatorial election? Maybe she was pressured into staying because the party was worried the seat would go D if she left? Would be curious what the closed-door decision-making here was.
I read a few things a couple weeks ago that Democrats were asking her to stay because she was a moderate (ho ho, relative measurements and all that) within her party and one of a few keeping the crazies from completely taking over. Yeah, that ship sailed a long time ago …
I read recently that some DNC consultants were urging them to use the pied piper strategy again--try to get the more extreme person as the GOP candidate in a race. Apparently they have forgotten that they did that with Trump and it was a bad idea.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 13 Oct 2017, 1:05pm

eumaas wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 12:58pm
Dr. Medulla wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 12:49pm
Flex wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 12:40pm
I'm a little surprised that Susan Collins is staying in the Senate. Internal polling weaker than expected on gubernatorial election? Maybe she was pressured into staying because the party was worried the seat would go D if she left? Would be curious what the closed-door decision-making here was.
I read a few things a couple weeks ago that Democrats were asking her to stay because she was a moderate (ho ho, relative measurements and all that) within her party and one of a few keeping the crazies from completely taking over. Yeah, that ship sailed a long time ago …
I read recently that some DNC consultants were urging them to use the pied piper strategy again--try to get the more extreme person as the GOP candidate in a race. Apparently they have forgotten that they did that with Trump and it was a bad idea.
Yeah, I keep seeing that as well. It seems great in the abstract, but it assumes that those who vote don't want the crazy person as opposed to the “centrist.” It's also a type ideological gerrymandering, seeking to make the choice one of insane versus a shitty status quo. That attitude also cares not a whit for further erosion of civic culture by encouraging coarser behaviour and airing of more idious views simply to win elections. In fact, it validates them as a legit political option now and in the future. Foollish Germans, they should have let the Nazi party exist so that liberals could more easily win elections.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Flex » 13 Oct 2017, 1:12pm

I get why it's hard to let go of power and adapt when you still have some of it. The Dems losing control of all three branches of government, and being decimated almost across the entire country at the state level, was supposed to be their "free pass" for re imagining the party. It's insane that, even in the runious crater of their total countrywide failures, they're embracing the same old strategy of centrist triangulation and feeding the Fascist Republican Beast that, actually, has been successful beyond anyone's wildest nightmares.

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 13 Oct 2017, 1:27pm

Flex wrote:
13 Oct 2017, 1:12pm
I get why it's hard to let go of power and adapt when you still have some of it. The Dems losing control of all three branches of government, and being decimated almost across the entire country at the state level, was supposed to be their "free pass" for re imagining the party. It's insane that, even in the runious crater of their total countrywide failures, they're embracing the same old strategy of centrist triangulation and feeding the Fascist Republican Beast that, actually, has been successful beyond anyone's wildest nightmares.

gjge and all that
It's the neoliberal belief that Trump is an aberration, a historical fluke, rather than a signal (like Sanders' successes) that neoliberalism has been severely discredited. As long as Democrats believe that Americans want more of the Obama years, more of the Bill Clinton years, even more of the Reagan years, they'll see their problem as one of marketing and focus all their efforts at a better slogan, a better media strategy, rather than actual policy and principle debate. The Electoral College was awful for both giving Trump the win and for persuading Democrats that they didn't actually lose.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 16 Oct 2017, 10:14am

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Dr. Medulla » 18 Oct 2017, 10:01am

On New Atheists, gamers, and other likeminded assholes: https://thebaffler.com/latest/new-athei ... rs-nichols
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by Flex » 18 Oct 2017, 11:25am

Dr. Medulla wrote:
18 Oct 2017, 10:01am
On New Atheists, gamers, and other likeminded assholes: https://thebaffler.com/latest/new-athei ... rs-nichols
Great piece.
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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by eumaas » 18 Oct 2017, 11:37am

It is intensely weird to me that so many lefty journalists/pundits now are former somethingawful goons.
"The only thing that really occurs to me that I can say on this is to point out how fascinating it is that the Hassan-i-Sabbah archetype keeps turning up over and over again ... He disappears up into the mountains and is never seen again. Believe me, he'll never be seen again. He'll live forever because of that."

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Re: The Dictator observations thread.

Post by BostonBeaneater » 23 Oct 2017, 7:27pm

We use Detroit water is a bragging point.

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