Started reading David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope which is a good introduction for me on quite a few concepts of Marx and his work. Its interesting how Harvey introduces the book through his experience of teaching a module on Marx’s Capital (Volume 1) every year since 1971. At the time it was not the done thing in America but managed to go unnoticed for nearly a decade as it was taught in the geography department and was entitled Reading Capital. Harvey has managed to accumulate a unique position in doing so of peoples reactions to the text.
Spaces of Hope
specifically focuses on the spatial questions raised by Marx’s text, drawing out the importance space, geography and location has to the advancement and accumulation of capital, illustrated most simply by such methods of accumulation as buying cheaply in one market to sell at a premium in another. What Harvey is aiming to raise is the importance of the spatial to capital, how it is often been overlooked in Marx and I dare say how it may offer a space of resistance. Importantly this space also becomes the arena where class struggle is played out.
‘The geographical element in the Manifesto has to a large degree been ignored… When it has been the focus of attention it has often been treated as unproblematic in relation to political action… it is vital to recognize (as the Manifesto so clearly does) the ways in which geographical reorderings and restructurings, spatial strategies and geopolitical elements, uneven geographical developments, and the like, are vital aspects to the accumulation of capital and the dynamics of class struggle, both historically and today.’
He goes on to say how this account must be developed further, now, to develop more sophisticated understandings of bourgeois power and the suppression of workers rights.
This brings me at this point to two strands of thoughts for development. Firstly a clear call has been made to understand deeper the processes which shape capital accumulation (and invariably at its opposite pole deprivation) and also the question of class and the conception of work and labour. For me these form key themes which all of us share.
If we start with the latter points, that of class and labour it brings us nicely to what terry mentioned before, Mark Fisher. Totally interesting guy but something which stuck with me from Terry is who Mark talks of work which manages to go beyond class conceptions in their most commonly conceived forms. Instead and emphasis is put on the act of labour through which to unite. If we are to follow how Marx conceived of the working class it was as individuals who seal their labour for a wage and do not own the means of production of their labour. I think it is this in essence that Fisher gets at without any contentious class definitions. Indeed the process of defining ones class may only serve to divide and alienate a relatively united body of workers beyond the pale of recognition towards their shared goals and ideals. Adam Smiths term ‘the division of labour’ takes on a whole new meaning in this sense. Indeed the latest efforts to further push a wedge between ‘the people’ can be found in the Iain Duncan Smiths new conception of the benefit system Universal Credit. Cleverly disguised in name as an apparent socialist dream come true, it becomes devilishly clear that the intentions of the biggest overhaul of the welfare state is nothing short of an ideological attack on the conception of work and a workers rights therein. the rhetoric which accompanies this great upheaval of state benefit positions universal credit firmly within neo-liberal doctrine. The main points of which is a virtual ‘criminalisation’ of the work-less and unemployed and a concerted effort to further redact the commonality of waged workers. Indeed the increased number of social classifications employed by government to define its population such as the newly created managerial class serve to further alienate one from the other by creating false consciousnesses of differing interest and identity. This restructuring of the social space amounts to the removal of a workers right to choose their place of labour and in short is the ‘expropriation of the labourer’ which Marx speaks of – it is the removal of the commons from the worker not physically but conceptionally.
Likewise for university fees (I really need to extend this point but am running out of steam. At a later date! [Procrastination is resistance!])
What is interesting here is this initial request by Harvey to update our understanding of Marx has already been taken by the architect Keller Easterling in her book Enduring Innocence. In this book Easterling describes neo-liberal processes of capital accumulation through the expropriation of space by citing six contemporary examples, or stories as she calls them. One such story is that of the Love Boat, a holiday cruise ship that sails from South Korea to North Korea, and gains entry into some of North Korea’s most important and spiritual sites – a process that would seem impossible but is unbelievably true. How such contracts can be achieved in the quest to secure profit, which would fail around any other negotiating table, are based on certain jurisdictional ambiguities. Easterling argues that these ‘spatial products’ as she calls them, can only come about through the maintenance of righteousness which is built upon a base of excluding contradictory information.
Regimes or worlds of righteous belief are easy to find. Righteousness is a form of violence that most people cultivate. In marriages, families, professions, nations, and other consortiums of power, we are often in the process of recoding worrisome contradictory information to conform to our own story, our theoretical beliefs, the operational lore of our profession.
The ability of these spatial products to glance over political, social, ethical and jurisdictional subtefuges is based on a willingness to exclude problematics and maintain a decor of innocence. What is most important here though is that this protocol is not confined to neo-liberal processes of accumulation but is indeed practiced in most situations of exchange and upheaval. Similarly the guise of resistance can oft be seen to be wearing the mask of innocence and righteousness – it is a monoism of segregated worlds: that of the neoliberal as well as that of the radical. Due to the worrying closeness that forms of resistance can be to processes of capital gain Easterling suggests that effective activism may now rarely look like classic resistance. Indeed resistance need not correspond to that of ‘tragic counterculture with its principled self-valorizations – righteous dispositions they share with war’. What this set of positions risk is the same one as that of the avant-garde where intelligence is successive rather than coexistent.
Problematically for me is I am yet to find where Easterling actual describes what these alternatives may be. Indeed if we are to stay true to Marx when he says ‘philosophers theorise the world, the point is to change it’ (activism as opposed to fatalism) then it would seem that we are obliged to take steps towards nothing short of proletarian revolution. Yet I do not see these two positions as being contradictory but rather wish to embody the state of action that Marx demands but also to find alternatives to traditional forms of resistance in order to eschew the problematics of such actions found therein.
I haven’t watched the talk yet but perhaps this is where Alan Badiou asks whether activist art still has meaning (video link sent by Terry)
The author that Terry pointed us to, Paulo Freire, finds in the emerging global society a new context in which education cannot be indifferent to the reproduction of dominant ideologies and the interrogation of them. Freire shows why an acceptance of fatalism leads to loss of personal and societal freedoms, he argues against “progressive” liberalism and its acceptance of a world where poverty must inevitably coexist with opulence.
This is where I see our position now and think it is important to explore all of these points carefully in what we are uptaking. I am reluctant to use a language of resistance as I see reflected in it valorized self-righteousness which not only mimics the language of capital but also maintains systems of dominant ideologies. Secondly I think that in structuring what may become a syllabus we must as Freire requests interrogate these dominant ideologies and incorporate that into our structure. I think it would be a good idea to start with David Harvey’s lectures as you suggested Dan but also to incorporate the Marx library into this somehow. I think rereadings of Marx with updating is a vital endeavor in the current situation.