Thursday, November 27, 2008

They Live

I don't remember who mentioned John Carpenter's film They Live, but if you haven't seen it do watch it. It's a work of sheer, unadulterated genius. Slavoj Zizek used it's hillarious ten minute fight scene in his lecture at the Historical Materialism conference last year, but if you don't feel the need for such official intellectual endorsement you might be persuaded by the following, golden line: 'I came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I'm all out of bubblegum.' See Randy (yes, 'Randy') Roddy Piper do his thing at the following links, but do watch the film (ideally after a few drinks)

First, Randy Roddy gets hold of some special sunglasses. Not only do they make him look dead cool; in addition, they allow him to see that all rich people, policemen, celebrities and politicians are aliens. He also notices that billboards and magazines display notices that read 'stay asleep', 'no thought', 'marry and reproduce', etc. :

He then gets very upset when his friend won't put the magic sunglasses on. They have a very big fight (it's not so funny when you can see the progress bar, but anyway...).

Notes on Wagner

Further to a conversation in the pub earlier this evening:

Towards the end of his life - in fact, I think this may have been one of the last things that he wrote - Marx made a collection of notes (for his own use) on a German political economist named Adolf Wagner. Wagner had had the temerity to summarise and explain Marx's theory of value, and predictably enough incurred Karl's wrath. A lesson to us all.

Anyway, the text is interesting, as in dismissing Wagner Marx also offers some useful comments about the account of value that he presented in Capital.

I also rather like this line:

"According to Mr. Wagner, Marx's theory of value is the cornerstone of his socialist system” (p. 45). Since I have never established a “socialist system,” this is a fantasy..."

I'm not going to be able to post a link to the essay on the transformation problem that we spoke about. If anyone wants a copy and didn't receive it via e-mail a few weeks back please send me a mail (

Here is something worth 6 minutes of your valuable time - a little film by an Australian comrade called Zanny


Treat (or trick)

See it here.

Treat (or trick)
Film by Zanny Begg
DVD 7min PAL
Sound Kate Carr
Camera Osama Yusif
For a full version email: zanny.b[at]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Value, Price and Profit


I mentioned this text to Kasim last week, but thought it might be useful for some of the other people who are doing the essay questions based around enquiry and analysis into your own economic situation. It's entitled Value, Price and Profit (sometimes entitled Wages, Price and Profit), and it's the text of a speech that Marx presented to the International Working Men's Association in 1865. It's worth looking at, as he's trying to outline the essentials of his ideas in an accessible manner, and in a way that would be of use to people concerned with understanding their own circumstances.

Perhaps I'm being completely stupid, but I couldn't find much Gramsci at all on the internet; the archive just seems to have the contents of his works and little else. If anyone else can find something online please do post it here.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Just a very quick suggestion: scroll down and have a look at the post that Jeff added on Heidegger and Marx last year.

Nick: sorry to hear that the HM conference was turgid in places, but it sounds like some interesting ideas were raised; we should pick up on some of the issues that you mention in the seminar. I was only able to attend the conference on Friday, and my own experience of it was pretty much positive. Pretty much everything I saw was on Adorno; none of it was bad, but one paper (delivered by a guy named Werner Bonefeld) was excellent. Maybe worth checking out

Historical Materialism report

Since I spent my weekend up to my neck in Marxist theory, I thought I would try and write up what little I understood of the Historical Materialism conference (which took place last weekend at SOAS, and featured a paper by our very own Tom, which I didn't see), since quite a lot of it was salient for this course, and for the upcoming essays.

The first thing I went to was an extremely turgid panel on Ecosocialism. Not really a good start, although it was useful in that I now know that the best way to approach the question of nature and the environment in Marx is through his discussion of 'ground rent' and ownership of the land, in the '1844 Manuscripts' and (apparently) in 'Capital vol. 3'. Having now read the manuscripts, the basic thrust of it seems to be that ownership of the earth is the root of all private property, and as such the origin of the process whereby capital turns living labour into dead money; the original neck form which the vampire sucked, so to speak.

Continuing this theme, there was a fantastic panel on Theories of Life Value, which tried to reformulate the theory of value for cognitive capitalism. How do you know what is living and what is dead labour when you're always on the end of a phone etc.... All stuff which has no doubt been covered in Mute Magazine or something like that (Amadeo was also at this talk and can possibly explain it better than me?).

The second talk in this panel was on bio-communism (related to this essay here- ) , and it tried to reintroduce Marx's concept of species-being (as discussed below by Tom) in the context of bio-power and particularly the environmental crisis. The paper argued that alienation from species-being (which was formulated as a kind of vitality or life-force which is the source of labour and class struggle) has only really now begun, as a result of capital turing the earth into a 'factory planet/planet factory...subsuming life's genetic and biological production'. This paper really did a lot to help explain Marx's rather problematic attitude to nature (I know he couldn't have known, but does anyone else wince when he implies that natural resources are not commodities because they are free and unlimited?)

Other than that there were some discussions about film-noir as the anti-capitalist cinema (oooh, nice and cultural-studiesy), and about urban-space in the global south as the new ground for global struggle, although by this stage my notes are too scrappy to write up.
There was also yet another debate on marxist interptretations of the financial crisis, which was great at first but then devolved into a theological debate about the rate of profit.

Anyways, it was all good fun, and was nice to see a few people from the course over the weekend. Apologies for the rather vacuous nature of this post however, if you've just read down to here and are wondering why you bothered.....


Fear of a red planet

A bit random perhaps, but maybe worth a mention:
Just finished listening to Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of The war of the Worlds. Fantastic, and well worth a listen. I'm sure you can hear it on Youtube or something similar, but if not you can get the script here:
The first part is set up like a live radio news broadcast (and allegedly led many listeners to believe the invasion was really happening; the wikipedia entry on the broadcast claims this is mainly an urban legend), and the second part consists of a monologue by Welles. It includes the following conversation between himself (Pierson) and a survivor whom he's just met:

STRANGER: Life. . . that's what! I want to live. Yeah, and so do you. We're not going to be exterminated. And I don't mean to be caught, either, and tamed, and fattened, and bred, like an ox.
PIERSON: What are you going to do?
STRANGER: I'm going on. . . right under their feet. I got a plan. We men as men are finished. We don't know enough. We gotta learn plenty before we've got a chance. And we've got to live and keep free while we learn, see? I've thought it all out, see.
PIERSON: Tell me the rest.
STRANGER: Well, it isn't all of us that were made for wild beasts, and that's what it's got to be. That's why I watched YOU. All these little office workers that used to live in these houses -- they'd be no good. They haven't any stuff to 'em. They just used to run off to work. I've seen hundreds of 'em, running wild to catch their commuter train in the morning for fear they'd get canned if they didn't; running back at night afraid they won't be in time for dinner. Lives insured and a little invested in case of accidents. And on Sundays, worried about the hereafter. The Martians will be a godsend for those guys. Nice roomy cages, good food, careful breeding, no worries. After a week or so chasing about the fields on empty stomachs they'll come and be glad to be caught.
PIERSON: You've thought it all out, haven't you?
STRANGER: You bet I have! And that isn't all. These Martians will make pets of some of 'em, train 'em to do tricks. Who knows? Get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. . . And some, maybe, they'll train to hunt us.
PIERSON: No, that's impossible. No human being. . .
STRANGER: Yes they will. There's men who'll do it gladly. If one of them ever comes after me, why. . .
PIERSON: In the meantime, you and I and others like us. . . where are we to live when the Martians own the earth?
STRANGER: I've got it all figured out. We'll live underground. I've been thinking about the sewers. Under New York are miles and miles of 'em. The main ones are big enough for anybody. Then there's cellars, vaults, underground storerooms, railway tunnels, subways. You begin to see, eh? And we'll get a bunch of strong men together. No weak ones; that rubbish -- out.
PIERSON: And you meant me to go?
STRANGER: Well, I gave you a chance, didn't I?
PIERSON: We won't quarrel about that. Go on.
STRANGER: And we've got to make safe places for us to stay in, see, and get all the books we can -- science books. That's where men like you come in, see? We'll raid the museums, we'll even spy on the Martians. It may not be so much we have to learn before -- just imagine this: four or five of their own fighting machines suddenly start off -- heat rays right and left and not a Martian in 'em. Not a Martian in 'em! But MEN -- men who have learned the way how. It may even be in our time. Gee! Imagine having one of them lovely things with its heat ray wide and free! We'd turn it on Martians, we'd turn it on men. We'd bring everybody down to their knees.
PIERSON: That's your plan?
STRANGER: You, and me, and a few more of us we'd own the world.
PIERSON: I see. . .
STRANGER: (FADING OUT) Say, what's the matter? . . . Where are you going?
PIERSON: Not to your world. . . Goodbye, stranger. . .

Monday, November 03, 2008

A busy weekend

As every year the 5th of November breaks up the spatio-temporal continuous and bring us back to 1605. Dress up accordingly and show up in front of the Parliament. Blow it up. The day after will be dedicated in toto to the activity of cleaning up the area, because we are also eco-friendly.

Friday, the Historical Materialism Central Committee - the eternally vigilant prophet - is meeting at SOAS. In its ever-renewed struggle against the insidious effects of bourgeois ideology on the thought of the proletariat, it will investigate the relation between the tasks of the immediate present and the totality of the historical process. Revisionists, Utopianists and false prophets not invited. The name of the three days Confererence "Many Marxisms" is clearly just another clumsy trap for naive Trotskyists.

What: Historical Materialism annual Conference "Many Marxisms"
Where: SOAS
When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday all day
How: Orthodoxly
Why: it is not causal, it is dialectical
Who: John Johnson