Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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.....



Judy said...

Thank you Nick, I found that both useful and reassuring (vis-à-vis scrappiness).

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