Todd McGowan on the misrecognition of capitalist failure

Psychoanalysis reveals … that the subject’s satisfaction derives from the repetition of the failure to obtain the object, and the subject who recognizes the form of its satisfaction can see the necessity of the public world, which is the site of the subject’s original loss. The satisfaction of the subject does not reside in what it accumulates but in its repeated failures to accumulate. Though the capitalist subject sees itself as avoiding repetition by moving from object to object, this subject repeats the same trajectory without knowing it. Even though the object changes, the failure remains the same. The capitalist subject, just like every subject, finds satisfaction in failure. It is just that the capitalist subject doesn’t recognize the form of its own satisfaction. But this misrecognition can have dramatic effects on the structure of the social order.

— Todd McGowan. Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets. Columbia University Press, 2016. p. 121-122.

Roland Barthes on the whole and the remainder of the other

By a singular logic, the amorous subject perceives the other as a Whole (in the fashion of Paris on an autumn afternoon), and, at the same time, this Whole seems to him to involve a remainder, which he cannot express. It is the other as a whole who produces in him an aesthetic vision: he praises the other for being perfect, he glorifies himself for having chosen this perfect other; he imagines that the other wants to be loved, as he himself would want to be loved, not for one or another of his qualities, but for everything, and this everything he bestows upon the other in the form of a blank word, for the Whole cannot be inventoried without being diminished: in Adorable! there is no residual quality, but only the everything of affect. Yet, at the same time that adorable says everything, it also says what is lacking in everything; it seeks to designate that site of the other to which my desire clings in a special way, but this site cannot be designated; about it I shall never know anything; my language will always fumble, stammer in order to attempt to express it, but I can never produce anything but a blank word, an empty vocable, which is the zero degree of all the sites where my very special desire for this particular
other (and for no other) will form.

— Roland Barthes. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978. p. 19

Jodi Dean on comradeship

The comrade figures a political relation that shifts us away from preoccupations with survivors and systems, away from the suppositions of unique particularity and the impossibility of politics, and toward the sameness of those fighting on the same side. It draws out the demands on and expectations of those engaged in emancipatory egalitarian political struggle. Comradeship engenders discipline, joy, courage, and enthusiasm… If the left is as committed to radical change as we claim, we have to be comrades.”

— Jodi Dean. Comrade: An Essay on Political Belonging. Verso Books, 2019. p. 36.

Ernest Mandel on raising the self-confidence of workers

One of the main aspects of the direct action of the masses, of their strikes or mass mobilizations, is the raising of their level of consciousness through the growth of their confidence in themselves. In daily life the workers, poor peasants, small artisans, women, youth, national and racial minorities are all used to being crushed, exploited, and oppressed by a multitude of possessors and powers. They tend to feel that revolt is impossible and useless, that their enemies are too strong … But in the heat of mobilisations and great mass struggles, this fear, this feeling of inferiority and powerlessness, suddenly begins to disappear. The masses become conscious of their immense potential power as soon as they act together, collectively and in solidarity, as soon as they organise themselves and organise their struggles effectively. That is why revolutionary Marxists attach extreme importance to everything which increases the self-confidence of the masses, everything which helps to break them from the obedient and servile behaviour which has been impressed on them through thousands of years of domination by the possessing classes. ‘Servile masses, arise, arise’: these words from the first verse of the Internationale’ perfectly express the psychological revolution which is needed for the victory of the socialist revolution.

— Ernest Mandel. From Class Society to Communism: An Introduction to Marxism. Ink Links Ltd, 1997. p. 128-129.

HP Lovecraft on the Hidden and Fathomless Worlds of Strange Life

Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.

— H.P. Lovecraft. “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927).

Eric Cazdyn on the new chronic mode

We have entered a new chronic mode, a mode of time that cares little for terminality or acuteness, but more for an undying present that remains forever sick, without the danger of sudden death. The maintenance of the status quo becomes, if not quite our ultimate goal, what we will settle for, and even fight for. If the system cannot be reformed (the cancer eradicated, the ocean cleaned, the corruption expunged), then the new chronic mode insists on maintaining the system and perpetually managing its constitutive crises, rather than confronting even a hint of the terminal, the system’s (the body’s, the planet’s, capitalism’s) own death.
The new chronic extends the present into the future, burying in the process the force of the terminal, making it seem as if the present will never end.
— Eric Cazdyn. The Already Dead: The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness. Duke University Press, 2012. p. 5 – 8.

Grafton Tanner on the ghosts in our mausoleum culture

Our limitless nostalgia, our willingness to subscribe to an ideology that scrambles our codes of meaning in exchange for material pleasure, our addiction to information, and our distracted, regressive tendencies form the base of a greater societal crisis — a general failure of the future. The ghosts of the past, with their optimistic vision of the future, are welcome guests in our mausoleum culture, in which we enslave them … in order to revisit a time before now.

— Grafton Tanner. Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts. Zero Books, 2016. p. 69

Paulo Freire on revolutionary leadership

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is commonly read as a text for progressively-minded teachers, but less so as a text for aspiring revolutionaries. However, scattered throughout the text is a recurring concern for the correct methods of revolutionary leadership, specifically as it relates to building relationships of solidarity with the oppressed.

This flows from the fact that the role of critical pedagogy is not simply to reveal structures of oppression — but also to empower and humanize those who have an interest in overthrowing it.

Below is an except from Chapter 1 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed where Freire comments on the difference between treating the oppressed as subjects rather than objects, and underscores the need to work for liberation with the oppressed rather than on their behalf. After all, Marx famously said that “the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself.

The correct method for a revolutionary leadership to employ in the task of liberation is, thus, not “libertarian propaganda.” Nor can the leadership merely “implant” in the oppressed a belief in freedom, thus thinking to win their trust. The correct method lies in dialogue. The conviction of the oppressed that they must fight for their liberation is not a gift bestowed by the revolutionary leadership, but the result of their own conscentizacao [critical consciousness].

The revolutionary leaders must realize that their own conviction of the necessity for struggle (an indispensable dimension of revolutionary wisdom) was not given to them by anyone else — if it is authentic. This conviction cannot be packaged and sold; it is the leaders’ own involvement in reality, within an historical situation, led them to criticize this situation and to wish to change it.

Likewise, the oppressed (who do not commit themselves to the struggle unless they are convinced, and who, if they do not make such a commitment, withhold the indispensable conditions for this struggle) must reach this conviction as Subjects, not as objects. They must also intervene critically in the situation which surrounds them and whose mark they bear; propaganda cannot achieve this. While the conviction of the necessity for struggle (without which the struggle is unfeasible) is indispensable to the revolutionary leadership (indeed, it was this conviction which constituted that leadership), it is also necessary for the oppressed. It is necessary, that is, unless one intends to carry out the transformation for the oppressed rather than with them.

— Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 1993. p. 49.

A Note on Basic Income and Capitalist Labour Markets

Basic Income

Much of the existing debate in Ontario surrounding Basic Income (or Guaranteed Annual Income, or “Mincome”) has remained at the level of hypotheticals. The entry-point for the social democratic left has been to answer the following question in the affirmative: if implemented properly, wouldn’t such a policy have a transformative impact on the lives of working people?

And undoubtedly, it would. But it has fallen to socialists and anti-poverty activists to inject the reality that this policy is being crafted and proposed by a neoliberal austerity government, which has a proven track record of overseeing cruel and humiliating “reforms” to their existing social assistance programs. To skip over and/or bracket the question of its implementation and debate the merits of Basic Income as if it is being proposed in a vacuum is to play into the hands of those who are looking to launch this project in the interests of capital.

Moreover, as socialists, we are acutely aware that capitalism is a system with laws and limits, and our task is to provide a clear understanding of the role social policy plays in reinforcing the coercive structure of capitalist labour markets.  Grasping the historic function and present character of social assistance programs and EI is also going to be a vital in preparing our allies for the BI debate — that is, grasping that these programs have not been designed to to make life decent for workers, but have been instead designed to push workers back into the labour market as soon as possible.

This isn’t to suggest that social policy isn’t reformable, or that it’s impossible to fight for policies that improve the lives of working people. It is reformable, and it is possible, but we have to have a clear analysis of the structural limits inherent in the system itself.

Thom Workman and Geoffrey McCormick’s important work Servant State sets the terms very succinctly, and I’d highly recommend everyone read their book:

From the standpoint of capitalism, the coercive mechanics of capitalist labour markets cannot be loosened to the point where a pool of recalcitrant and unwilling workers would swell. Such dynamics would quickly lead to labour shortages and snuff out opportunities for profitable investment. The fact that workers — even those who are fond of their jobs — sell their labour power to employers out of necessity is the bottom-line reality that must be preserved through social policy. The cultivation of genuine alternatives for working people, perhaps in the form of alternative communities tied to the land (history abounds with such experiments) or in the form of legislation guaranteeing annual incomes which permit families to live modestly but with greater dignity, would have the effect of undermining capitalism by undermining its coercive labour supply.

It is not the seesaw of class struggle that determined the outcome of the battle for social policy over the last century. The capitalist state could never afford to be too generous without undermining one of the essential dynamics of capitalist social formations. It is one of the continuities of capitalist states that they must preserve the coercive integrity of labour markets, that the need to insure a constant supply of workers for the ever-growing capitalist economies forms a sort of delimiting condition that frames all social and economic policy.

— Geoffrey McCormick and Thom Workman, The Servant State: Overseeing Capital Accumulation in Canada (Fernwood 2015), p. 117-118