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Articles by Sandwichman

Opium of the People and Radical Chains

15 days ago

The historical dust has not settled, but at this moment it seems clear that a proletariat which does not embrace Marxism is entirely possible. Why not, then, Marxism without a proletariat? In a thoughtful article, "Radical Chains: The Marxian Concept of Proletarian Mission" (Studies on the Left, September-October, 1966), Oscar Berland argues that this is not only a thinkable but also a necessary thought. Ronald Aronson’s "Reply" to Berland agrees that the proletariat has lost its revolutionary potential, but forcefully asserts that to scuttle the concept of proletarian mission is to scuttle Marx himself. The present paper in general sustains Berland, but puts the argument in sharper terms. At the same time, and this is its major purpose, this paper attempts to show that Marx’s mature

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The University at War and the Iceberg Strategy

25 days ago

While looking for old sources discussing the "manpower channeling" policies of the U.S. Selective Service (draft) during the Vietnam war, I uncovered a treasure trove of 1960s essays on the military-industrial-academic complex. The first one that caught my eye was "The University and the Political Economy" by James O’Connor. O’Connor later wrote The Fiscal Crisis of the State and founded the journal, Capitalism Nature Socialism. "The University and the Political Economy" appeared in the 1969 first issue of Leviathan, which was a successor to Viet-Report, enlisting many of the latter journal’s key personnel.I had some difficulty finding a digitized copy online of the Leviathan issue but then it turned up on the old standby, JSTOR, which has a nice collection of alternative press

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SEIZE THE MEANS OF INSTRUCTION!

28 days ago

Fifty-four years ago Les Temps Modernes published an essay by André Gorz titled, "Destroy the University." I am posting it here adding occasional underlining for emphasis and commentary at the end. As I will explain in my comments, this piece is of interest to me because of its relevance to current student demonstrations but also because of Gorz’s pioneering thought on ecological politics and on the future of work.Destroy the University, by André Gorz1. The university cannot function, and we must thus prevent it from functioning so that this impossibility is made manifest. No reform of any kind can render this institution viable. We must thus combat reforms, in their effects and in their conception, not because they are dangerous, but because they are illusory. The crisis of the

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Leisure to Attend to Our Spiritual Business

April 10, 2024

ABSTRACT: Time is central to Martin Hägglund’s discussion of secular faith and spiritual freedom. Time is precisely what is finite in this life and presides over the relationships we value and our risk of losing them. Hägglund adopted the notion of disposable time from Karl Marx’s Grundrisse and reframed it as the more descriptive socially available free time. Following Marx, Hägglund advocates the revaluation of values so that socially available free time would become the measure of value rather than socially necessary labour time.A close examination of the origin of Marx’s analysis of disposable time suggests that questions of faith and freedom were inherent in the concept as it was expressed in the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties that influenced Marx,

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The Unknown Unknown Marx

March 29, 2024

– By Tom Walker

“The Unknown Unknown Marx,” EconoSpeak

Toward the end of his 1968 essay, “The Unknown Marx,” Martin Nicolaus quoted Marx’s enumeration of four barriers to production under capital that “expose the basis of overproduction, the fundamental contradiction of developed capital.” Nicolaus qualified what Marx meant by overproduction to be “[not] simply ‘excess inventory’; rather, he means excess productive power more generally.”

‘These inherent limits necessarily coincide with the nature of capital, with its essential determinants. These necessary limits are:

‘1. necessary labour as limit to the exchange-value of living labour-power, of the wages of the industrial population;

‘2. surplus value as limit to surplus

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The Unknown Unknown Marx

March 26, 2024

Toward the end of his 1968 essay, "The Unknown Marx," Martin Nicolaus quoted Marx’s enumeration of four barriers to production under capital that "expose the basis of overproduction, the fundamental contradiction of developed capital." Nicolaus qualified what Marx meant by overproduction to be "[not] simply ‘excess inventory’; rather, he means excess productive power more generally."‘These inherent limits necessarily coincide with the nature of capital, with its essential determinants. These necessary limits are:‘1. necessary labour as limit to the exchange-value of living labour-power, of the wages of the industrial population;‘2. surplus value as limit to surplus labour-time; and, in relation to relative surplus labour-time, as limit to the development of the productive forces;‘3. what

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Matt Huber’s and Leigh Phillips’s “classical Marxist critique” of Kohei Saito

March 9, 2024

I have expressed my disagreement with Kohei Saito’s Slow Down and Marx in the Anthropocene in previous posts. I welcome Huber’s and Phillips’s critique of Saito at Jacobin. They get much right in their criticism of Saito’s Utopianism and implicit primitivism but they share with Saito a fundamental misreading of Marx. This misreading is based on a speculative interpretation of a stirring but ambiguous passage in Marx’s Preface to his 1859 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes

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Labour power as a common-pool resource

March 8, 2024

Labour power as a common-pool resource: in memory of Paul Burkett

Human mental and physical capacities to work have elastic but definite natural limits. Those capacities must be continuously restored and enhanced through nourishment, rest, and social interaction. Over the longer term that capacity for labour also has to be replenished by a new generation of young people, reared by the previous generation.

It is this combination of definite limits and of the need for continuous recuperation and replacement that, according to Paul Burkett, gives labour-power the characteristics of a common-pool resource. As Burkett explained, Karl Marx also regarded labour power not merely as a marketable asset of private individuals but as a “reserve fund for the

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Lost in translation: Slow Down by Kohei Saito

January 2, 2024

Kohei Saito’s "manifesto" of degrowth communism was BIG in Japan, selling half a million copies in the first year and a half after publication. It’s debut in English is already tarnished, though, by a colossal, cringe-inducing Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion error that repeats throughout the book.The formula for converting Celsius to Fahrenheit is: multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8 and add 32. The addition of 32 is to account for the fact that the freezing point of water is 0° in Celsius but 32° in Fahrenheit. However, when converting a temperature change, such as the IPCC’s upper limit of 1.5° C above preindustrial global annual mean temperature, one doesn’t add 32. In Slow Down, the 1.5°C limit is rendered as 34.7°F, suggesting that the IPCC thinks we would be O.K. with a global

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Is Redistribution the Solution?

December 9, 2023

Toward the end of a very interesting and worthwhile conversation about how right-wing “populism” co-opts righteous anger at established institutions, Vincent Bevins asked Naomi Klein how she would counter that co-optation. Her answer was to advocate a “real left that has a political program that is actually redistributive,” which sounds good until you realize that the capitalist economy is already massively redistributive so “redistributing the redistribution” would end up building a doppelganger of capitalism, to use Naomi Klein’s own term.

Throughout his mature critique of political economy work from the Grundrisse to Capital to his work with the First International, Marx consistently advocated shorter working time as the prerequisite for the

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Seeing the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns

December 5, 2023

It is a problem that has vexed and eluded Marxists — and tantalized critics of Marx — for a century and a half. If I am correct, Karl Marx had an intuition of the argument I am about to present but he couldn’t quite bring himself to articulate it. A bit over a century later, in "Proletariat and Middle Class in Marx: Hegelian Choreography and the Capitalist Dialectic." Martin Nicolaus almost got it or may have gotten it but couldn’t put it into words. The question is usually framed in terms of a New Middle Class, although the agglomeration isn’t a class, it isn’t in the middle, and it isn’t particularly new. For background on the debates about this so-called new middle class, see Val Burris’s 1986 review article, "The Discovery of the New Middle Class" in Theory and Society, Vol. 15, No.

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Growth below zero and the development of the productive forces

November 18, 2023

Was Karl Marx a “degrowth communist” as Kohei Saito claims in Marx in the Anthropocene? In a word, no. But the whole truth is even stranger and more wonderful than Kohei Saito’s oxymoron anachronism.André Gorz is credited with the first use of la décroissance (degrowth) in the context of modern criticism of the political imperative of economic growth. The occasion was a public forum held in Paris by Le Nouvel Observateur on June 13, 1972 to discuss the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report. Gorz’s remarks were largely a reply to a speech and interview given by European Commission President, Sicco Mansholt.In the interview, Mansholt had called for “growth below zero” and the end of wasteful and environmentally destructive consumer society. Gorz acknowledged the compatibility of Mansholt’s

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Risk, Ambiguity and Daniel Ellsberg

June 20, 2023

The death of Daniel Ellsberg on Friday reminded me of his contribution to economics and his influence on my own thinking. In 1987, I was at Cornell, beginning an abortive PhD candidacy. In one of my courses there was an assigned reading on decision theory by Leonard Savage. One of the footnotes referred to an article by “Daniel Ellsberg” and I naturally wondered if it was the same Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. “Risk, Ambiguity and the Savage Axioms” was indeed by the same Daniel Ellsberg. It also happened that a copy of his PhD dissertation was available at the Catherwood ILR library, which I read eagerly.

Ellsbergian ambiguity is very similar to Keynesian uncertainty with the important distinction that Ellsberg performed experiments,

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The Unbearable Tightness of Peaking

February 5, 2023

– Sandwichman @ Econospeak

The Unbearable Tightness of Peaking

Sandwichman came across a fascinating and disconcerting new dissertation, titled “Carbon Purgatory: The Dysfunctional Political Economy of Oil During the Renewable Energy Transition” by Gabe Eckhouse. An adaptation of one of the chapters, dealing with fracking, was published in Geoforum in 2021

As some of you may know, the specter of Peak Oil was allegedly “vanquished” by the invention of methods for extracting “unconventional oil” from shale formations (or “tight oil”), bitumen sands, and deep ocean drilling. A large part of that story was artificially low interest rates in response to the stock market crash of 2008 and subsequent recession. 

What Eckhouse’s dissertation and

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The Unbearable Tightness of Peaking

February 1, 2023

Sandwichman came across a fascinating and disconcerting new dissertation, titled "Carbon Purgatory: The Dysfunctional Political Economy of Oil During the Renewable Energy Transition" by Gabe Eckhouse. An adaptation of one of the chapters, dealing with fracking, was published in Geoforum in 2021As some of you may know, the specter of Peak Oil was allegedly "vanquished" by the invention of methods for extracting "unconventional oil" from shale formations (or "tight oil"), bitumen sands, and deep ocean drilling. A large part of that story was artificially low interest rates in response to the stock market crash of 2008 and subsequent recession. What Eckhouse’s dissertation and article explain is the flexibility advantage that fracking provides because the investment required for a well is

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This Life: faith, work, and free time, part two

December 22, 2022

This Life: faith, work, and free time, part two

At the beginning of this year, I posted a response to Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular faith and spiritual freedom. In October I learned of a conference next May in Belgium at which Hägglund will be one of the keynote speakers. So I submitted an abstract to present a paper.

When it came time to start working on a draft for the conference, I remembered my blog post and it formed the core for the rest of the draft. In that earlier post, I wrote about Marx’s identification in the Grundrisse of the inversion between necessary labour time and superfluous labour time. During editing of a first draft of the conference presentation I took a break and went for a walk. There it struck me that the

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This Life: faith, work, and free time, part two

December 18, 2022

At the beginning of this year, I posted a response to Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular faith and spiritual freedom. In October I learned of a conference next May in Belgium at which Hägglund will be one of the keynote speakers. So I submitted an abstract to present a paper.When it came time to start working on a draft for the conference, I remembered my blog post and it formed the core for the rest of the draft. In that earlier post, I wrote about Marx’s identification in the Grundrisse of the inversion between necessary labour time and superfluous labour time. During editing of a first draft of the conference presentation I took a break and went for a walk. There it struck me that the inversion of necessary and superfluous labour time was a parallel to the inversion of this life and

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The Audition Commodity

November 17, 2022

The Audition Commodity

Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman produced the video, “Television Delivers People” in 1973. It manifests a critique of television mass media that was subsequently defined by communications scholar, Dallas Smythe as the “audience commodity” but the outline of which had already been presented by him in 1951 in the Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television:

The troublesome fact is that under our uneasy institutional compromise by which the stations are publicly licensed and commercially operated, the effective, if not the legal, responsibility is divided. And the voice which speaks most often to the consumer is that of the advertiser. Is it any wonder that the consumer is confused and inarticulate in trying to

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The Audition Commodity

November 11, 2022

[embedded content]Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman produced the video, "Television Delivers People" in 1973. It manifests a critique of television mass media that was subsequently defined by communications scholar, Dallas Smythe as the "audience commodity" but the outline of which had already been presented by him in 1951 in the Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television:The troublesome fact is that under our uneasy institutional compromise by which the stations are publicly licensed and commercially operated, the effective, if not the legal, responsibility is divided. And the voice which speaks most often to the consumer is that of the advertiser. Is it any wonder that the consumer is confused and inarticulate in trying to express his judgment as to how these media should conduct

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Happy 155th Birthday to volume one of Capital

September 16, 2022

Happy 155th Birthday to volume one of Capital!

In his 1965 farewell lecture at Brandeis University, Herbert Marcuse read a long passage from the Grundrisse’s “fragment on machines” and then observed: “But Marx himself has repressed this vision, which now appears as his most realistic, his most amazing insight!”

In Time, Labor and Social Domination, published 28 years later, Moishe Postone addressed the same section from the Grundrisse and commented:

These passages do not represent utopian visions that later were excluded from Marx’s more “sober” analysis in Capital but are a key to understanding that analysis; they provide the point of departure for a reinterpretation of the basic categories of Marx’ s mature critique that can overcome the

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Happy 155th Birthday to volume one of Capital!

September 14, 2022

In his 1965 farewell lecture at Brandeis University, Herbert Marcuse read a long passage from the Grundrisse’s "fragment on machines" and then observed: “But Marx himself has repressed this vision, which now appears as his most realistic, his most amazing insight!"In Time Labor and Social Domination, published 28 years later, Moishe Postone addressed the same section from the Grundrisse and commented:These passages do not represent utopian visions that later were excluded from Marx’s more "sober" analysis in Capital but are a key to understanding that analysis; they provide the point of departure for a reinterpretation of the basic categories of Marx’ s mature critique that can overcome the limits of the traditional Marxist paradigm.Who was right? Did Marx repress his most amazing insight

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Abraham Lincoln quoting Thomas Jefferson on judicial despotism and oligarchy

July 8, 2022

Abraham Lincoln quoting Thomas Jefferson on judicial despotism and oligarchy

At Springfield, Illinois, July 17, 1858

Now, as to the Dred Scott decision; for upon that he [Douglas] makes his last point at me. He boldly takes ground in favor of that decision.

This is one-half the onslaught, and one-third of the entire plan of the campaign. I am opposed to that decision in a certain sense, but not in the sense which he puts on it. I say that in so far as it decided in favor of Dred Scott’s master and against Dred Scott and his family, I do not propose to disturb or resist the decision.

I never have proposed to do any such thing. I think, that in respect for judicial authority, my humble history would not suffer in a comparison with that of

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Abraham Lincoln quoting Thomas Jefferson on judicial despotism and oligarchy

July 6, 2022

At Springfield, Illinois, July 17, 1858Now, as to the Dred Scott decision; for upon that he [Douglas] makes his last point at me. He boldly takes ground in favor of that decision.This is one-half the onslaught, and one-third of the entire plan of the campaign. I am opposed to that decision in a certain sense, but not in the sense which he puts on it. I say that in so far as it decided in favor of Dred Scott’s master and against Dred Scott and his family, I do not propose to disturb or resist the decision.I never have proposed to do any such thing. I think, that in respect for judicial authority, my humble history would not suffer in a comparison with that of Judge Douglas. He would have the citizen conform his vote to that decision; the Member of Congress, his; the President, his use of

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There is so little real friendship in the world!

June 1, 2022

On April 27 a bot began viewing one post on EconoSpeak every five minutes. It continued to do so until yesterday when I reverted the post to draft. That’s 288 fake views every day for a little over a month. Looking back at overall EconoSpeak traffic there are unexplained spikes that occur every two months or so. Tens of thousands of "views" suddenly appear out of the blue. There is so little real friendship in the world.

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The Cultural Marxism – Conservative Christian Consensus on America’s Culture of Violence

May 31, 2022

The Cultural Marxism – Conservative Christian Consensus on America’s Culture of Violence

Gun Culture and the American Nightmare of Violence by Henry Giroux, January 10, 2016:

Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that relies on violence to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Given the profits made by arms manufacturers, the defense industry, gun dealers and the lobbyists who represent them in Congress, it comes as no surprise that the culture of violence cannot be abstracted from either the culture of business or the corruption of politics. Violence runs through US society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all cultural sources, whether it be the nightly news or a television

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The “Red” Roots of the U.S. National Security State

May 31, 2022

During the time he was drafting collective bargaining legislation for the National Industrial Recovery Act in July 1933, Leon Keyserling wrote to his father: Under a capitalistic society, the same people who profited by the anarchy are likely to work most of the controls, and in the same stupidly selfish and self-destructive manner. Without revolution which transfers power to the workers and sets up a socialized state, little will be gained. But the establishment of controls and the centralization of authority make the revolution more likely, because the excesses of the capitalists will become so great and their abuses so violent that the reaction will be terrific.In February 1934, he wrote the following in a letter to his father:I am very much afraid that the country is recovering too

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