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This essay was first written in the Fall of 2010. Thanks to the prodding emails of readers, I have decided to revisit this section and publish it. [alex]

Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Part 3.2 – Marx and Colonialism

by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com

[Click here for Part 1 (Intro), Part 2 (What Marx Got Right), and Part 3.1 (Linear March of History)]

Image by Germ Ross, artnoise.net

“Do not terms such as ‘preindustrial’ and ‘precapitalist’ infest the marxian vernacular whenever analysis of noneuropean – that is, ‘undeveloped,’ ‘backward,’ or ‘primitive’ – societies is at hand? What possible purpose does the qualifier ‘pre’ – as opposed to say, ‘non’ – serve in this connection other than to argue that such societies are in the process of becoming capitalist? And is this not simply another way of stating that we are lagging behind those societies which have already become industrialized? Or, to take another example, to what end do marxists habitually refer to those societies which have ‘failed’ (refused) to enter a productive progression as being ‘ahistorical’ or ‘outside of history’? Is this to suggest that such cultures have no history,[i] or is it to say that they have the wrong kind of history, that only a certain (marxian) sort of history can be ‘real’?” – Ward Churchill, “False Promises: An Indigenist Examination of Marxist Theory and Practice” (Acts of Rebellion 233).

Marx’s linear march of history, as critiqued in the last section, leads him to deeply problematic conclusions about Europe’s relationship to the rest of the world. If capitalist Europe has attained the “highest” stage of social development, then everyone else is expected to follow in its footsteps to achieve liberation. Marx repeatedly characterized Europe as the most “advanced” or “civilized” continent (and within it England as the most advanced nation) as opposed to the “stagnation” of the “Asiatic” mode of production.

As we’ll see, he also held the dubious position that European colonialism was a necessary evil – simultaneously condemning its brutality while praising it as a progressive step in historical development. Such thinking implicitly marginalizes anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle as secondary to that of the industrial proletariat. At worst, some Marxists have even followed this logic to condemn anti-colonial struggle as reactionary because it seeks to “roll back the wheel of history.”

This essay is not about labeling Marx a racist; it is a critique of how Eurocentrism impedes the project of self-determination for peoples around the globe. For example, now that Europe’s colonies have given way to home-grown governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America, must these nations “Westernize” in order to “develop” their economies, or is there a road to freedom that doesn’t pass through capitalism? This remains a relevant question from Bolivia to China, and wherever self-identified Marxist regimes confront the twin problems of social inequality and ecological devastation.

European Superiority?

Kwame Turé (Stokely Carmichael)

The first time I ever questioned the correctness of Marx’s views was through reading Kwame Turé’s (Stokely Carmichael’s) autobiography, Ready for Revolution. Turé, an Afro-Trinidadian immigrant to New York, was a major figure in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a youth organization at the forefront of the U.S. civil rights movement. As Stokely Carmichael, he made headlines in 1966 when he first raised the call of “Black Power!” In his later years he left the United States for West Africa, living at the side of African liberationist leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Touré.

In Ready for Revolution, Turé reflects on a rocky relationship with Marxism which connects with my own. As a youth in the Bronx he got involved with young (white) Marxist organizers, and being very smart he quickly grasped the Marxist theories of historical materialism, dialectics, socialism and communism.

“For the first time I encountered a systematic radical analysis, a critical context and vocabulary that made sense of history. It explained the inequities and injustice I’d long been conscious of in the society around me and prescribed (even predicted) revolutionary solutions. That was wondrously exciting intellectually” (92).[ii]

Yet, he recalls that as a black man there was something that didn’t sit right about Marx’s focus on Europe as the model for progress. “The words Eurocentric and hegemonistic were not then in my vocabulary or consciousness. I never overtly or consciously thought about the curious fact that all these revolutionary thinkers were European or that all their theoretical models were fashioned out of European historical experience. I accepted them as ‘universal.’ At first” (94).

After witnessing the “Harlem stepladder orators” speak about Pan-Africanism, and organizing with other black radicals at Howard University for civil rights, Stokely realized that Marx hadn’t been speaking to him as a black man. Marx was speaking to Europe. “I could sense that something was missing from this seamless, ‘universal’ system. Somehow it did not seem to take into serious account the rhythms and historical presence of my people” (104).

In the vast majority of his writings, Marx did not take life outside of Europe into account. The few times he did write about non-European societies are seldom studied today, but as we’ll see, are deeply problematic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Johann Hari’s new book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” provides new, compelling evidence to support the argument from “We Are All Very Anxious” by the Institute for Precarious Consciousness. The argument is that most of us are deeply unhappy, and this unhappiness is a completely rational response to the unhappy conditions of our lives that capitalism has produced.

Specifically, Hari points out how the routine of work under capitalism is making us miserable: “There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful – that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It’s a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing – our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are “engaged” in their work – they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are “not engaged”, which is defined as “sleepwalking through their workday”. And 24% are “actively disengaged”: they hate it.”

Even the United Nations has concluded that “We need to move from ‘focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’’ to focusing more on ‘power imbalances'”. So if we want to be happy, we also need to democratize the economy and give people the power to determine how they want to spend their time and what kinds of work they would actually enjoy doing. [alex]

Is Everything You Think You Know About Depression Wrong?

Originally published by The Guardian, January 7, 2018.

In the 1970s, a truth was accidentally discovered about depression – one that was quickly swept aside, because its implications were too inconvenient, and too explosive. American psychiatrists had produced a book that would lay out, in detail, all the symptoms of different mental illnesses, so they could be identified and treated in the same way across the United States. It was called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the latest edition, they laid out nine symptoms that a patient has to show to be diagnosed with depression – like, for example, decreased interest in pleasure or persistent low mood. For a doctor to conclude you were depressed, you had to show five of these symptoms over several weeks.

The manual was sent out to doctors across the US and they began to use it to diagnose people. However, after a while they came back to the authors and pointed out something that was bothering them. If they followed this guide, they had to diagnose every grieving person who came to them as depressed and start giving them medical treatment. If you lose someone, it turns out that these symptoms will come to you automatically. So, the doctors wanted to know, are we supposed to start drugging all the bereaved people in America?

The authors conferred, and they decided that there would be a special clause added to the list of symptoms of depression. None of this applies, they said, if you have lost somebody you love in the past year. In that situation, all these symptoms are natural, and not a disorder. It was called “the grief exception”, and it seemed to resolve the problem.

Then, as the years and decades passed, doctors on the front line started to come back with another question. All over the world, they were being encouraged to tell patients that depression is, in fact, just the result of a spontaneous chemical imbalance in your brain – it is produced by low serotonin, or a natural lack of some other chemical. It’s not caused by your life – it’s caused by your broken brain. Some of the doctors began to ask how this fitted with the grief exception. If you agree that the symptoms of depression are a logical and understandable response to one set of life circumstances – losing a loved one – might they not be an understandable response to other situations? What about if you lose your job? What if you are stuck in a job that you hate for the next 40 years? What about if you are alone and friendless?

depression

Illustration by Michael Driver

The grief exception seemed to have blasted a hole in the claim that the causes of depression are sealed away in your skull. It suggested that there are causes out here, in the world, and they needed to be investigated and solved there. This was a debate that mainstream psychiatry (with some exceptions) did not want to have. So, they responded in a simple way – by whittling away the grief exception. With each new edition of the manual they reduced the period of grief that you were allowed before being labelled mentally ill – down to a few months and then, finally, to nothing at all. Now, if your baby dies at 10am, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10.01am and start drugging you straight away.

Read the rest of this entry »


A few years ago, I wrote about “The Paradox of Capitalism,” which reflected on the reality that we are dependent for survival on the very system that is threatening the survival of our entire planet.

paradoxWith the passing of time, the paradoxical nature of our world has only revealed itself more. The most powerful man in the world right now is perhaps the very worst possible person one could choose to hold such a responsibility. We’ve also seen a string of sexual abuse scandals begin to emanate from the most powerful people in Hollywood.

Why is it that those who abuse others seem to wind up in positions of authority and are enabled in their abuse, while those abused are often silenced for years or even decades? 

Let’s investigate this question through the use of paradoxes – I hope they will shed some light on the subject. I’ll begin with the most obvious and then build toward to the core of our question.

Age

The young take great pains to appear older; the old take great pains to appear younger.

For the young, time passes excruciatingly slowly; the older one gets, the more one realizes how rapidly time passes, and consequently how young one actually is.

Knowledge

The least knowledgeable are the most likely to declare what they think they know; the most knowledgeable are the most likely to admit what they don’t.

People who speak the most often have the least to say; people who speak the least often have spent the most time in quiet observation, and therefore have the most wisdom to share.

Confidence

Those who project confidence have likely spent the least effort challenging their own understanding — this is shallow confidence; those who reveal uncertainty likely have forged the strongest understanding in a cauldron of self-doubt — here is deep confidence.

Shallow confidence won’t stand up to scrutiny but is the least likely to be challenged – its brazenness and loudness leads to wide acceptance; deep confidence is constantly overlooked, challenged and dismissed, despite its actually being the strongest.

Power

Those with the least power in society are the most likely to blame themselves for their failures; those with the most power are the quickest to blame someone else. This helps ensure that those in power tend to remain in power, and vice versa.

People most likely to act on behalf of the best interests of everyone, i.e. those who would make the best leaders, are the quickest to doubt their own ability to lead; people most likely to seek leadership positions are also the most likely to act on their own self-interest and consequently make the worst leaders.

The concentration of power into the fewest hands accelerates the efficiency of the exercise of that power; it also ensures that the exercise of power will be divorced from the actual will of the people. This explains the creation of every system of abuse – from patriarchy to capitalism to the U.S. government to Hollywood.

Conclusion

Using this paradoxical viewpoint, especially highlighting the constant tension between what appears true on the surface and what is actually true deep underneath, opens up a window into the logic that has brought us to the terrible conundrum we are in – where the world is upside down.

The conundrum can only be escaped through democracy, the decentralization of power, and on a more personal level, the active practice of listening, asking questions, and philosophical self-doubt.


by Alex Knight, 1/6/17

Republished on Countercurrents.

In 2000, I was 17 years old. I didn’t know the first thing about politics, history, or social change. My first preference in the U.S. Presidential Election was for George W. Bush.[i] Somehow in my ignorance I had figured out that the Democrats were the more popular party, and I reviled what was popular. The President for the last eight years had been a Democrat. I also knew that the society I lived in sucked. It sucked for teenage me, and it sucked in general. So, without any deeper thought on the subject, my infantile rebellion led me to the only alternative in a two-party system, the Republicans. Once again in 2016, “non-college educated white men” like my teenage self followed similar logic to give Donald Trump just enough votes to sneak into the White House. When asked in exit polls what was the “quality that mattered most” in deciding who to vote for, the number one quality voters sought was a candidate who “can bring change.” Of those change-seeking voters, 83% were captured by Trump.

frederick-douglass-1

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.” – Frederick Douglass. History teaches us that hope can overcome fear through struggle.

After the election, it’s tempting to curl up into a state of shock and surrender to fear or apathy. The U.S. voting public just elected someone who is openly racist, sexist, and xenophobic. 30 states were won by a man who brags about sexually assaulting women, led a campaign to delegitimize the nation’s first Black president by questioning his citizenship, and wants to build a giant wall on the Mexican border to keep out poor immigrants who he called “rapists.” The people he’s now appointing to run organs of government are quite literally the very worst people in the country, whose entire careers have been based on undermining social and ecological protections. The future looks bleak. Is neo-fascism already here?

In our deeply cynical society, it is the task of revolutionaries to see the silver lining of hope that has just opened before us. We must appreciate that this moment is a great opportunity for radicalizing the millions of people who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Donald Trump is the most disliked major-party candidate to ever run for the Presidency. The election of a despised, buffoonish, billionaire capitalist to head the U.S. government provides anti-capitalists with a glaring demonstration that the system does not work.

In this article we will review how a figure as polarizing as Trump was propelled to become a viable candidate through the mass media’s obsession with celebrity and scandal. We will also explore how the failure of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party reflects the collapse of legitimacy for the status quo and its neoliberal capitalist project. Finally, we will face the threat of neo-fascism and explore what progressive radicals can offer now that a uniquely dangerous, yet uniquely unpopular, man is about to become the face of the U.S. government.

In the years after Bush II was elected, I was fortunate enough to encounter anti-capitalists who showed me and invited me into the amazing tradition of grassroots organizing. I was able to discover an alternative path where my teenage frustrations were sharpened into anti-capitalist critique and a lifelong commitment to social justice. It is now my calling to pay forward the gift that was given to me. We have a choice on how to respond to the election. We can either spend the next 4-8 years wallowing in fears of how everything can go wrong, or we can recognize the special opportunity we have to provide a path for people to discover genuine change, community, and meaning that can only come through participation in radical social movements.

A Billionaire Cartoon Villain is About to Become US President

(In the next two sections, we will analyze how the election reveals the dysfunction of the electoral system and mass media. To jump to the repercussions and how to respond moving forward, click here.)

The system has failed and Donald Trump is the personification of that failure. Before the election, only 38% of the American public had a “favorable” opinion of Trump, as compared with 58% “unfavorable.” That -20% margin makes Donald Trump literally the most unfavorable candidate ever to get the endorsement of a major US political party. Significantly, Hillary Clinton was the second-most unfavorable candidate ever, with a -12.6% gap.

The historic unpopularity of the two major candidates drove down turnout for the two major parties:

2016election

The US adult population grows by about 10 million people per 4-year election cycle. While the raw vote totals have remained somewhat stable, support for the two major parties proportional to US population has decayed since 2008. Consequently, 8 million people voted for “third party” candidates in 2016, which is more than in any election since 1996. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party combined for nearly 6 million votes. By comparison, Ralph Nader in 2000 was attacked as a spoiler for getting less than half that total. Putting Trump’s victory in perspective: it’s important to remember that 54% of voters, and nearly 75% of American adults, did not vote for Trump.

Read the rest of this entry »


cropped

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

 

Happy Mothers Day!  Many people have asked me if I’m still writing. The answer is yes!  Right now, I’m working on a big article on the history of activism at my alma mater, Lehigh University. First, though, I’d like to post this email exchange I had with a reader – Gabriela Castillo from Australia.

GC – Was it at your intention to create endofcapitalism.com to educate your viewers to improve the current state of our economy under capitalism? 

AK – I created the website The End of Capitalism in 2006, after I had written my Master’s Thesis on the subject at Lehigh University. My intention was, and remains to be, to explore the question of whether the global capitalist system is endangered by the combined social and ecological crises which capitalism itself has produced.  My hypothesis is that it is.

GC – In what ways do you think capitalism is to blame for global warming?

AK – Global warming is a direct result of the massive, industrial, systematic combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. This systematic combustion of fuels provides the energy for the capitalist economy to function as it does. Coal combustion provides electricity, gas combustion provides heating, and oil combustion provides the transportation necessary to move the enormous quantity of goods and products which are pumped out of low-wage industrial centers in the Global South to consumers in the North.

Without fossil fuels, capitalism in its current form could not exist, which is why with Peak Energy looming, capitalism faces a very uncertain future. The only question, in my mind, is whether the capitalist economy will collapse fast enough or soon enough to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of global warming, which according to some scientists, could mean the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  My hope is that this will be avoided, but only through a global democratic movement which re-orients society along the lines of social and ecological justice.

Read the rest of this entry »


What-Really-Happened-to-the-1960sWhat Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy

Edward P. Morgan

2010, University of Kansas Press

 

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.

– George Orwell, 1984

 

As a young and politically naïve college student, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take several of Ted Morgan’s classes. His “Movements of the Sixties” course was hugely influential for me, primarily because exposure to the upheavals of that era taught me that the project of transforming our world towards a more democratic, just, and ecologically balanced future has deep roots. Standing confidently atop those long, sturdy roots transmits the possibility and hope that we can indeed change the world, because we already have. Indeed, the black freedom, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation, gay and lesbian liberation, welfare rights and other movements of the 60s era so successfully challenged the dominant capitalist institutions of the U.S. that those institutions have been scrambling for the last forty years to systematically minimize the possibility of future freedom struggles.

In this book, Ted Morgan documents a key component of that reaction: the two-pronged mass media campaign to denigrate and obscure the democratic promise that the movements of the sixties still hold, while at the same time co-opting the symbols and imagery of the sixties to make Corporate America “cool” and thereby sell more products. This media reaction has gone hand-in-hand with material forces, such as student debt, coercing the population into inactivity and obedience. In Morgan’s words, the result is a “depoliticized society,” with a “diminished ability to make history” (pg. 7). This book therefore becomes a weapon against rootlessness and despair, which I especially urge young people to read.

 

The Promise of Democracy

The 1960s are typically remembered as a time of turbulence and change. We all know the iconic images: assassinations, war, protests, urban riots, men on the moon, long hair, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet, it’s a decade that Americans are still trying to make sense of, justifying an endless stream of retrospectives like CNN’s latest 10-part weekly series “The Sixties.”  Ted Morgan’s necessary book What Really Happened to the 1960s provides answers you won’t find on primetime TV. In his writing, the underlying story of that decade was a clash between capitalism and democracy, one in which perhaps millions of Americans participated in social movements and challenged the country to become more just and more democratic (8). In some ways they succeeded and in others they failed. But as the book’s subtitle, How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy suggests, the true history of that struggle has been consistently distorted and hidden from view. What the media still cannot comprehend, or perhaps would seemingly most like to forget, is the democratic promise that formed the basis of those sixties social movements.

“[L]argely disappeared from memory [is] the surge in democratic empowerment in which large numbers of Americans of all ages organized themselves to confront and transform a range of injustices rooted in American institutions” (6, emphasis added).

As a practice of democratic empowerment, students initiated the lunch counter sit-ins to challenge legal racial segregation in the South. (1961)

As a practice of democratic empowerment, students initiated the lunch counter sit-ins to challenge legal racial segregation in the South. (1961)

Morgan goes on to define the phrase “democratic empowerment.”

“[D]emocratic empowerment means one’s unfolding ‘freedom to,’ a lifelong discovery of one’s authentic self, the discovery of which progressively frees one from manipulation by others and potentially by the disabling scripts of the unconscious” (51).

In other words, the sixties’ social movements, at their best, were not just about stopping racism or war on a systemic scale, but also about the self-realization of the millions of individuals involved on a personal level. Forty years later, I experienced the same rush of democratic empowerment when I attended my first organizing meeting and realized for the first time that in working with others I had the power to impact the world around me for the better. The meaningfulness and self-confidence that comes from a politically active and engaged life contrasts dramatically from the dominant modes of apathy and self-loathing inoculated into us by capitalist society and its mass media appendages. The experience of activism allows people to see themselves differently and to grow into their full potential, gaining courage as they take on greater and greater challenges – from speaking at a meeting, to holding a picket sign, to risking arrest in direct action.

As civil rights organizer Jim Lawson is quoted, “ordinary people who acted on conscience and took terrible risks were no longer ordinary people. They were by their very actions transformed” (51). Read the rest of this entry »


Today I’m happy to repost a highly thought-provoking article called “We Are All Very Anxious.” The genius of the piece is that it centers the emotional reality that most of us experience while living under the capitalist system, and attempts to catalogue this emotional reality historically. Of course, what misery, boredom, and anxiety have in common is that they are all forms of powerlessness, because ultimately like any system of power, capitalism rules through convincing the vast majority of its subjects that there is no possible way to overthrow it. It’s therefore important how this article highlights the emotionally liberating content of social movements, and questions our strategies for emotionally connecting with the anxious public.

How do we create spaces and actions where people can most past fear and helplessness and feel genuine hope for a radically different future?

The discussion of the emotional “affects” of capitalism also brings to thinking about care. All living beings need to be cared for – physically, emotionally and sexually. Humans, like other creatures, instinctively care for one another. Therefore any power structure rules by threatening this mutual care and offering access to care only to loyal subjects who work for the system. Patriarchy, of course, structures this rewards and punishment system according to the gender binary, and designates women as the primary carers. How are we told to demonstrate loyalty to the gender system, and what care are we told to expect for such loyalty?

Capitalism has re-structured patriarchy in many ways, one of which has been to monetize care. Those with money are guaranteed to be cared for, while those without face the possibility of isolation and invisibility. Perhaps this is what our anxiety is rooted in – the fear of ending up alone and forgotten if capitalism leaves no room for us (as individuals) to earn a decent living. Could this be one way we imagine building a revolutionary movement in the 21st century – grounded in the universal need of human beings to access care?

[alex]

We Are All Very Anxious: Six Theses on Anxiety and Why It is Effectively Preventing Militancy, and One Possible Strategy for Overcoming It 1
by the Institute for Precarious Consciousness
Republished from Plan C

1: Each phase of capitalism has its own dominant reactive affect. 2

anxiety1Each phase of capitalism has a particular affect which holds it together. This is not a static situation. The prevalence of a particular dominant affect 3 is sustainable only until strategies of resistance able to break down this particular affect and /or its social sources are formulated. Hence, capitalism constantly comes into crisis and recomposes around newly dominant affects.
One aspect of every phase’s dominant affect is that it is a public secret, something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. As long as the dominant affect is a public secret, it remains effective, and strategies against it will not emerge.
Public secrets are typically personalised. The problem is only visible at an individual, psychological level; the social causes of the problem are concealed. Each phase blames the system’s victims for the suffering that the system causes. And it portrays a fundamental part of its functional logic as a contingent and localised problem.

In the modern era (until the post-war settlement), the dominant affect was misery. In the nineteenth century, the dominant narrative was that capitalism leads to general enrichment. The public secret of this narrative was the misery of the working class. The exposure of this misery was carried out by revolutionaries. The first wave of modern social movements in the nineteenth century was a machine for fighting misery. Tactics such as strikes, wage struggles, political organisation, mutual aid, co-operatives and strike funds were effective ways to defeat the power of misery by ensuring a certain social minimum. Some of these strategies still work when fighting misery.

When misery stopped working as a control strategy, capitalism switched to boredom. In the mid twentieth century, the dominant public narrative was that the standard of living – which widened access to consumption, healthcare and education – was rising. Everyone in the rich countries was happy, and the poor countries were on their way to development. The public secret was that everyone was bored. This was an effect of the Fordist system which was prevalent until the 1980s – a system based on full-time jobs for life, guaranteed welfare, mass consumerism, mass culture, and the co-optation of the labour movement which had been built to fight misery. Job security and welfare provision reduced anxiety and misery, but jobs were boring, made up of simple, repetitive tasks. Mid-century capitalism gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life; it was a system based on force-feeding survival to saturation point.

Of course, not all workers under Fordism actually had stable jobs or security – but this was the core model of work, around which the larger system was arranged. There were really three deals in this phase, with the B-worker deal – boredom for security – being the most exemplary of the Fordism-boredom conjuncture. Today, the B-worker deal has largely been eliminated, leaving a gulf between the A- and C-workers (the consumer society insiders, and the autonomy and insecurity of the most marginal).

 

2: Contemporary resistance is born of the 1960s wave, in response to the dominant affect of boredom.

If each stage of the dominant system has a dominant affect, then each stage of resistance needs strategies to defeat or dissolve this affect. If the first wave of social movements were a machine for fighting misery, the second wave (of the 1960s-70s, or more broadly (and thinly) 1960s-90s) were a machine for fighting boredom. This is the wave of which our own movements were born, which continues to inflect most of our theories and practices. Read the rest of this entry »


The following book review was published in the Fall issue of Fifth Estate.  I originally wrote a much longer version here. This one’s short and sweet. [alex knight]
calibanwitch250
Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, is an essential read for those of us seeking to overthrow systems of domination and build a liberated future.

What is most fascinating about Caliban and the Witch is how it challenges the widely-held belief that capitalism, though perhaps flawed in its current form, was at one time a “progressive” or necessary development. Uncovering the forgotten history of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe in suspicion and fire for more than 200 years, Federici demonstrates that capitalism has always relied on spectacular violence, particularly against women, people of color, workers, and those cultivating a more egalitarian future.

The book recalls the enormous and colorful peasant movements of the Middle Ages, which pointed towards non-capitalist futures for Europe, and by extension, the world. However, these paths were blocked. The “shock therapy” of the Witch Hunt was used to terrorize rebels and visionaries, impose new discipline on the body, on female sexuality in particular, and usher in a new social system based on a landless working class and the devaluation of women’s labor.

Federici writes, “It is impossible to associate capitalism with any form of liberation or attribute the longevity of the system to its capacity to satisfy human needs. If capitalism has been able to reproduce itself it is only because of the web of inequalities that it has built into the body of the world proletariat, and because of its capacity to globalize exploitation. This process is still unfolding under our eyes, as it has for the last 500 years.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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