Chris Harman 1942-2009

This is a recording of Chris Harman, the influential British Marxist and SWP activist who died suddenly this weekend in Egypt, speaking at Marxism 2009  in the summer.  Chris will be greatly missed by the left for his activism and inspiration.   You can read a tribute to Chris written by Alex Callinicos by clicking here.

New post on Arcades / Promenades

Wesley has posted up the latest contribution to our ‘Reading the Arcades, reading the Promenades’ blog, where we are attempting to bring together our readings of Walter Benjamins’ ‘Arcades Project‘ and apply these to the British seaside promenade.

The Arcades Project
The Arcades Project

A taster of Wesley’s piece:

“Benjamin is, very, clear and, far too, concise in his summation of the method of The Arcades Project.  Convolute N, which deals with his historical method and his analysis of that method (moving into the philosophy of method and history), contains a very great deal of material but the following are his key methodological statements on the Project itself.

This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks. Its theory is intimately related to that of montage.
[N1,10]

Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse – these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.
[N1a,8] “

Hey big spender!

Will Hutton is interviewed about the economic crisis in this week’s Big Issue magazine. Despite Hutton’s position in the mainstream media as a bit of a maverick, he normally makes quite conservative predictions about economic and social matters, trumpeting the rise of China or promoting economic / managerial approaches to social and cultural change. As director of the Work Foundation, he is certainly not a radical voice and for that reason we should look at his predctions as representative of a current within mainstream political circles, albeit one that he is able to voice publicly due to his ‘outsider’ status in the media.

 

Hutton points out that an economic recovery will require a rise in spending, by consumers or businesses. The consumer, claims Hutton, is concentrating on rebuilding savings, while businesses are becoming debt-minimizers in order to future-proof themselves against difficult economic times. Whether the British are re-building savings or merely starting to save after years of credit-fuelled spending is a moot point, but the likely outcome of this is stagnation in the economy, as happened in Japan in the 1990s after their economy crashed following a sustained boom. Stagnation of course, is even more problematic than a recession for a capitalist economy. A recession and a collapse in asset values at least offers the opportunity for growth and the restoration of the rate of profit; a prolonged stagnation denies capitalists the ability to grow their capital and limits the potential for competition, destroying the engine of the economy.

 

The stagnation that Hutton predicts however, doesn’t look like stagnation at the level of the individual worker or their communities. In order to maintain profit levels, it is likely that the current rate of job losses could continue at 60,000 per month for another three years before stabilisation is achieved. This could (should) lead to a period of social change as the economy and social provision is restructured to reflect this new socio-economic reality. Whether this period of change can be politicised to promote positive political developments remains to be seen, but already the possibilities of workforce mobilisation and collective responses to the crisis are facing up to the use of the recession to intimidate and manipulate workers. Politicians are keen to avoid taking the blame for the current crisis, as each country seeks to line up other markets or ‘the world financial system’ as the villains of the piece. This tactic creates a moving, camouflaged target for the public at large to aim at, and one that is obscured further by techno-managerial jargon and PR.

 

Will Hutton’s prescription for the crisis is a super-Keynesian level of fiscal stimulus, mainly based around a massive programme of public works similar to that which helped to lift the US economy out of the great depression in the 1930s. This might include large engineering projects and the development of a green economy. Of course, after the 1930s the US was left with a vastly expanded productive capacity which could only be usefully employed on a war footing over the following 60 years. The government funded expansion of production can only fix the system in the short-term, eventually the levels of state production work against competition and so have to be reduced and the debts incurred have to be repaid.

As David Harvey has pointed out, the current crisis offers an opportunity, as do all crises, for the reconfiguration of society within a different ideological framework. A more equitable society is not the necessary outcome of this process. Previous crises have seen the deepening and strengthening of the current system of power and attempts to provide a stimulus to return the economy to ‘normal’ are attempts to do just this.  The human costs of this will be enormous, and should shame journalists and politicians out of their current fetishisation of the fiscal stimulus as they hide behind superlative descriptions of it’s size and importance.

David Harvey ‘The Crisis Today’ @ Marxism 2009

By far the best thing I saw at the conference and an insightful, challenging analysis of the next steps in the crisis in which David Harvey presents a new model of restructuring around seven ‘moments’ that offers an opportunity to the left for a reconceptualisation of it’s approach.

New arcades/promenades post

I’ve just posted about ‘the fantasy of cultural history’ and cultural materialism on the arcades/promenades blog.  Wesley has also posted a photo-essay that takes its cue from Brighton’s promenade.

“…fashion…this semblance of the new is reflected, like one mirror in another, in the semblance of the ever recurrent. The product of this reflection is the phantasmagoria of “cultural history” in which the bourgeoisie enjoys its false consciousness to the full.” (Benjamin 2002: 11)

The arcades/promenades blog is a representation of our attempt to grapple with the meanings and practices of the seaside promenade through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades Project’

More on the Marx revival

Comedian / activist Mark Steel writes in the Independent yesterday about the resurgence of interest in Karl Marx that appears to be happening as the economic crisis gathers pace….

“Even Karl Marx himself is in vogue. Most papers have had articles about him in their business sections, commending his analysis of booms and slumps, and he was on the front page of The Times. Soon a Times editorial will begin: ‘As the global downturn gathers pace, perhaps one economic remedy to be considered by our esteemed guardians is a violent workers’ revolution as envisaged by Mister Karl Marx, and championed with consummate aplomb on page 32 by William Rees-Mogg.'”

Continuing on the Marx theme, David Harvey has written on his blog about the US stimulus package and why it is “bound to fail”:

“The prevailing hostility in the United States to “spreading the wealth around” and to administering any sort of relief other than tax cuts to individuals, arises out of hard core neoliberal ideological doctrine (centered in but by no means confined to the Republican Party) that “households know best”. These doctrines have broadly been accepted as gospel by the American public at large after more than thirty years of neoliberal political indoctrination. We are, as I have argued elsewhere, “all neoliberals now” for the most part without even knowing it. There is a tacit acceptance, for example, that “wage repression” – a key component to the present problem – is a “normal” state of affairs in the United States. One of the three legs of a Keynesian solution, greater empowerment of labor, rising wages and redistribution towards the lower classes is politically impossible in the United States at this point in time. The very charge that some such program amounts to “socialism” sends shivers of terror through the political establishment. Labor is not strong enough (after thirty years of being battered by political forces) and no broad social movement is in sight that will force redistributions towards the working classes.”

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Reading Marx’s ‘Capital’

Over at this blog you can watch, listen to, download or subscribe to a series of lectures given by David Harvey on Marx’s ‘Capital’.   This is a great resource of video lectures by one of the world’s most important Marx scholars.  There is something of a Marx revival going on at the moment as a response to capitalism’s latest systemic crisis, but a real lack of explication of Marx in the public domain. I’ve embedded one of the lectures below, but I’d recommend downloading them and viewing them offline, probably with a notebook!

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