Category Archives: Political Theory

Marx Gets A Manga Makeover and More

While George Bush preached ‘market fundamentalism’ yet again at weekend the photo-op named the G-20 summit, the ‘leaders’ agreed upon further stimulatory spending to stabilize the financial system, and to ‘reform’ the IMF and World Bank as global financial instruments.

In the midst of this world recession precipitated by the U.S. housing crisis and poor economy that subsequently has quelled demand critical to the functioning of other economies that depend on American buying power, young disgruntled folk are taking another look at Karl Marx.

Reporting from Japan, the Times London:

Japanese bookstores expect a comic version of Das Kapital to become the publishing phenomenon of the year (Leo Lewis writes).

The manga comic, which goes on sale early next month and is expected to sell tens of thousands of copies before Christmas, plays into a growing fascination among Japanese workers with socialist literature and joins a collection of increasingly fierce literary critiques of the global capitalist system. A sneak preview of the publication given to The Times reveals that Marx’s central themes are relayed in the comic via a cast of suitably downtrodden workers. However, when Marx alerted economists to “the knell of capitalist private property”, he may not have imagined the phrase cropping up in one of the speech bubbles in a comic strip for commuters in Japan.

In Germany, sales of Karl Marx’s 1867 work Das Kapital have leapt 750 per cent this year. Much has been written about Karl Marx and the current crisis of capitalism (UPI, NDTV) Usually it is the young academics that read Marx and Engels and I sincerely do believe that everyone should try to read through some of what Marx actually wrote and not mere bastardized interpretations. On the Jewish Question is a particularly good critique of liberalism and a personal favorite — the Marxist Archive has an entire library on Karl Marx and other like-minded scholars.

Is the collapse of capitalism an inevitability? While Marx might have prophetically stated this in The Communist Manifesto, it is nonetheless important to step away from grand, universalizing narratives and dichotomies (i.e. bourgeoisie/proletariat) that do exist in his writings. Capitalism does sow the seeds for its own destruction but so does any other stagnant ideology. Marx did suggest that “men make their own history” and that capitalism wouldn’t fall till it had fully perpetuated itself:

No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind only sets itself such tasks as it can solve

Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

If we are to believe in the predictive qualities of Marx, we have a long way to go.

(Till global warming strikes at least…)

More articles

Marx and the Current Crisis of Capitalism

This Marxist Isn’t Laughing

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The Perversion of Tolerance – I Don't want to be 'Tolerated' and neither should you

Tolerance is intolerant and demands assimilation.
—Herman Broch, cited in the Jewish Museum, Vienna, Austria

Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

-Herbert Marcuse

The mainstream, alternative press and bloggers are so inundated and knee-deep in the discourse of tolerance that hardly anyone has stopped to analyze the etymology and meaning of tolerance and its implications for society.

Tracy Hickman laments in The San Francisco Chronicle:

How ironic that the same people who call for tolerance of diverse lifestyles are perpetrating aggression against others for standing up for their beliefs and voting for the principles they hold dear?

Gary Bauer whines about “The Intolerance of the Same Sex Movement” (See also Lone Star Times, WorldNetDaily) while John Kass expresses disappointment at the lack of tolerance shown to T-shirts with political slogans.

Religious forces such as the LDS and Catholic Church take pleasure in pointing out the random and isolated attacks on churches, defacing of anti-gay yard signs, while right-wingers like Matt Barber are slamming the opponents of H8 for taking to the streets and not respecting the “rule of law” and democracy.

Even on the pro-migrant side, bloggers and organizations call for greater ‘tolerance’ as a response to the hate-crime against Latinos such as Marcello Lucero. The history of immigration discourse is ripe with tolerance discourse on all sides — tolerance for new immigrants, intolerance for ‘illegal immigrants’ and so on. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, religious minorities, gays and lesbians are all “tolerated” groups.

I have quietly sat on the side-lines for months, silently ‘tolerating’ the calls for tolerance. Enough.

I don’t want to be tolerated and neither should you. The discourse of tolerance–a noble and grandiose liberal experiment–must be stripped naked and exposed for what it really is: a colonizing discursive tool with the power to label and reproduce our identities, thereby designating minorities as permanent Others in civil society and globality, and justifying their ‘civilizing.’

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Filed under Desi, Immigration, LGBTQ, Political Theory, Racism

San Francisco May Become First City in the United States to Decriminalize Prostitution

And Michael Foucault wishes from his grave that he could have lived 25 years more had it not been for his misadventures in Iran.

(Hey, I love Foucault)

The jibe was in reference to his opposition to the repression of human sexuality and how governments had made ‘prostitution’ into a social problem. Government control of ‘prostitution’ does not just entail repressive mechanisms (following from Foucault’s repressive hypothesis), but has also created acceptable prostitution (the billion-dollar porn industry) and unacceptable ones (people forced to work the streets out of sheer desperation)

The ballot question technically would not legalize prostitution, since state law still prohibits it, but the measure would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to go after prostitutes.

Often, innocent transgendered and transsexuals are targeted by law enforcement for just ‘standing there’ – That should stop.

The first thought in my head upon hearing about Proposition K was a Why Not? Whoring is already decriminalized Re:Capital Hill, handsomely rewarded and more virulent! Does it matter whether it’s whoring out your body, your conscience or your principles? San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris is protesting that ‘prostitution is not a victimless crime’ – Yes Ms. Harris, the American people know that by now.

Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.

Alas, our wives and daughters are not enough. Now they are whoring out our livelihoods.

Vote Yes on Prop K

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Filed under LGBTQ, Neo-Liberalism, Political Theory

Threat Construction Triumphs – Paranoia is the Fear of the 21st century

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The bogeyman of this century is the ‘Other’ be it an unknown ‘Muslim terrorist,’ an ‘illegal alien’ or even our neighbor across the fence. It is the ‘not-yet-discovered’ or articulated security threat. And finally, a leading psychiatrist has pegged the paranoia stemming from a multitude of factors, as our greatest ‘fear.’

Yes, a leading psychiatrist at King’s College London has carried out the decade-long research and found that one in four people suffer irrational fears of either being threatened or in danger on a regular basis. In fact, according to Dr Daniel Freeman, paranoia is far more common than had been suspected and is on the rise, as a result of growing inequity, social isolation and a far more competitive society.

[…]

US research showed populations with the widest income inequalities also had the lowest levels of trust, and highest death rates. Mistrust was associated with greater numbers of deaths from cancer, heart disease and strokes. Dr Freeman also criticised the media for hyping up threats and adopting an “if it bleeds, it leads” attitude to coverage. He added that the news coverage given to crime outweighs coverage of ‘real killers’ such as heart disease, cancer and road accidents, which fosters a culture of paranoia.

The point is to remember that fear and actual risk or threat do not necessarily correlate but rather that the material conditions of life, especially the mainstream media and state elites, incite fear to achieve their hegemonic ends. George W. Bush and the war against Iraq is a perfect case in point that need not be reiterated here. The nativist overbloating of ‘illegal alien’ criminality and costs to the U.S. economy is another.

Freeman’s findings are published in Paranoia: The 21st Century Fear available now.

This book sounds like ‘fodder’ for the Critical Security Studies school of thought. I wrote a paper on this a while ago that is available in here. I hope the author touches on ideology and discourse while discussing media exaggerations of threats.

I’ll provide more resources and research on this if anyone is interested.

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Wall Street Collapse? Another Crisis of Capitalism

I wish I had the ability to be shocked when I hear about a ‘deep crisis’ that can cause staggering losses (a cyclical crisis of capitalism), a $700 billion bailout for private sector cronies and John McCain canceling a 2-3 hour debate appearance as a publicity stunt to resolve this crisis (as if, his presence would make a difference. Admittedly, he has a weak economic understanding). But I digress.

It’s not like a major financial crisis was unexpected in the near future. Political economists have been making predictions about the fall of the U.S. dollar for quite some time; this Wall Street financial collapse is just a start. Oil prices are dropping, Asian markets are coming down even immigration is down (ALIPAC must be happy; they are happily blaming immigrants for the meltdown too). Actually forget the contemporary political economists and politicians trying to pinpoint the source of this crisis; revisit the blog favorite Karl Marx, who held that the internal contradictions within capitalism as a system would create cycles of boom and slump, that over time would become more untenable as social forces opposing it built up, eventually leading to an overthrow of the system. What are these internal contradictions?

1. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall

2. The concentration of capital

3. Rise in unemployment

4. Overproduction or Underconsumption (crisis of realization)

5. Collapse of credit

6. Bigger firms buying out smaller and weaker firms (in this case, the government bailing out)

7. Crisis ‘solved’ till the next inevitable cycle

Do these predictions of more than 150 years ago sound familiar?
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Filed under Discourse Studies, Political Theory, Politics

Journal of Peasant Studies – Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India

This book review should appear in the upcoming edition of the Journal of Peasant Studies. I cannot publish the whole bit here even though it is my work, since I signed over licensing rights but it should be available through your college databases.

I don’t know whether I will have time for more book reviews in the future or if it is an endeavor that I am any good at, but it was worth experimenting and I am not too displeased with the results. (The Publisher ain’t complaining; why should I)?

Review: Vinayak Chaturvedi, Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, University of California Press, 2007.

by Prerna Lal

Small excerpt:

The untold narrative of peasant classes marginalized from the promise of the postcolonial nation-state is a popular subject of research and criticism among subaltern scholars seeking to pose ruptures and discontinuities in the hegemonic history of Indian nationalism.

In Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, Chaturvedi embarks on this project after a chance discovery while pouring through archives on the agrarian economy of Gujarat: he discovers notes by the district magistrate about the historically-celebrated Patidars forcibly extracting labor from the Dhalara peasants in Kheda. Upon further investigation, Chaturvedi discovers that the Dharalas were considered a ‘criminal class’ by both the colonialists and Indian nationalists through the passage of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and given their treatment, it came as no surprise that the Dharalas opposed Patidar-led nationalist politics along with colonialism.

Enamored by the prospects of an untold history of peasant pasts, the central thesis of this scholarship revolves around the actions, practices and discourses of the Dharala peasants before the emergence of an Indian nation-state. Chaturvedi claims that the Dharalas were political in their own right and their opposition to Patidar nationalism allied with Gandhi did not denote that these peasants lacked an understanding of politics or an inability to imagine political community. On the contrary, through rigorous fieldwork and archival study, Chaturvedi lays out a fragmentary and episodic history of the Dharala peasants that establishes their broad political discourses, complex understandings of political community, and subsequent resistance to both colonialism and nationalism.

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Filed under Desi, Ethnic Studies, Nationalism, Political Theory

Foucault on Geography and Population

“One might wonder, as a conceit or a hypothesis, whether geographical knowledge doesn’t carry within itself the circle of the frontier, whether this be a national, departmental or cantonal frontier; and hence, whether one shouldn’t add to the figures of internment you have indicated–that of the madmen, the criminal, the patient, the proletariat–the national internment of the citizen-soldier. Wouldn’t we have here a space of confinement which is both infinitely vaster and less hermetic”

Foucault: That’s a very appealing notion. And the inmate, in your view, would be a national man? Because the geographical discourse which justifies frontiers is that of nationalism?”

(Questions on Geography, Power/Knowledge)

I think the question can be seen assuming and also leading us towards a carceral archipelago–how a punitive system is physically dispersed and yet covers the entirety of society. One of the topics I really want to cover on this blog in the near future is Foucault’s concept of the ‘apparatuses of security’ and how they are applicable to our society. In liberal societies and the liberal international order, we are led to believe that our ‘freedoms’ require ‘apparatuses of security.’ As Foucault states, “Freedom is nothing else but the correlative of apparatuses of security.”

Stemming from this is my concern about the ‘archipelago of detention,’ especially concerning the increasing confinement of mobility regarding migrant bodies–bodies that are constructed and labeled as ‘criminal.’

Foucault also lays out a population/people distinction in Security, Territory and Population that is worthy of further exploration. Population has two meanings — one denotes a group of subjects with rights or subjects to a sovereign etc. but the one we are interested in is population as a process that needs regulation and management, a process that correlates with the awareness of the ‘public’ and maybe even the sharp binaries of citizen/non-citizen. Now, while Foucault poses the question of the ‘inmate’ as the “national man” and that is true since borders, citizenship and nationality are all confinements, I do want to focus on the (bi)(trans)(multi)-national Others as inmates, both literally and figuratively. And I don’t think we can leave economics out of the picture.

This post here – Documenting the ‘birth’ of illegal immigration, while not perfect, serves as a start and historical background in terms of the United States context.

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Filed under Immigration, Political Theory, Racism