Should workers be entitled to yachts?

Poor-man-yacht

Credits: Gizmodo and Chicago Tribune.

The Marxian Matrix is not dead! After a long and difficult hiatus in which we grappled as much with Marx’s Capital as with present-day capitalist constraints, the time has come to set the stage of our engagement with Capital Vol. 1 by touching upon the works of those that Marx refers to in his magnum opus.

Not only should excerpts of related thinkers help show how Capital can be a step up from these, but they should also give a clue as to the power of Capital in highlighting with awesome lucidity the problematic nature of today’s capitalist social relations.

In our first element of decor, Bernard Mandeville about the status of the worker:

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All Power to the Soviets: Aftermath and Reflections

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Berlin Wall. Credits: Googlesightseeing.com

In 1917, the world sees not only the rebirth of the soviet institution, but the birth of the Soviet State. Last time, we finished our story by showing how the principles guiding the birth of the Soviet State proved to be problematic, and we promised we would delve not only into the solutions devised for these problems, but also into reflections on the significance of the soviet as a social institution whose power rendered possible three revolutions, with variable results, in the span of little more than a decade.

On July 10th, 1918, when the first Soviet state constitution is proclaimed, we already see a change from the ideal that has guided the Bolsheviks in their fight to take power: all power to the soviets. Let’s make no mistake and remember that they promised peace, bread and land and, in the initial movement, these three promises were kept. But faced with considerable opposition both from its national constituents (tsarist nationalists, the Orthodox Church, Cossacks, moderate social-democrats) and from foreign armed forces (England, France, Czechoslovakia, Japan and the USA all send foreign troops against the Bolsheviks), the political leadership will institute legislation to maintain its grip on power.

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All Power to the Soviets, P3: 1917 Rebirth

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B. Kustodiev’s 1920 “The Bolshevik”. Credits to UK Royal Academy of Arts.

Last time, we explored Russia’s 1905 crisis and revolution, specifically focusing on its specificity: the power of the Petrograd soviet. We ended by saying that social revolt had calmed for multiple reasons, the most important of which was the cancelling of the annual redemptive payments from the 1861 reform and the excellent harvests of 1908-1909. This time, we will delve into the heart of the Beast: Russia, 1917, and the rebirth of the institution that will define the 20th century.

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All Power to the Soviets, P2: 1905 Birth

On January 22nd 1905, on a Sunday, the priest Georgy Gapon is leading around a dozen thousand unarmed protesters to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II. At this point, workers are living in the difficulties we’ve previously described, but the Tsar is still seen by most as the father of Russian people. In this sense, the political consciousness of the workers is very minimally, if at all, developed: they mostly demand better wages and working conditions. There have been a few strikes before 1905, but these movements were rapidly and violently repressed, strike funds were illegal, and mutual aid funds were barely tolerated: whenever industrial entrepreneurs accepted negotiations, they received worker delegates, but as soon as negotiations were done, the delegates were fired and often even arrested.

Still they came to the Tsar, hoping that the father would hear out his flock. However, little time after arriving in the square of the Winter Palace, the soldiers opened fire and the cavalry charged them: from that point onward, the day would be known as Bloody Sunday.

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All Power to the Soviets, P1: Context

Petrograd-map

Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg. Credits: history.info

Previously, as we were moving on from the Matrix series, I said that the way to move forward would be to study Marx’s magnum opus, Capital. The reason I gave was that we had gotten to Marx through a few cherry-picked quotations, but that now we needed to have a systematic understanding of him.

(I also said that posts would be getting shorter, and this doesn’t seem to be the case for now.)

As time has passed, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an insufficient reason. We should have a concrete reason to study Marx, we should have a problem to propel us through his very dense and complex system of concepts and theories. In my Beginnings post, I hint at why I like Marx and why I’ve decided to dedicate time to this blog, but it stays on the feelings level.

So let’s go to the reasons level.

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Lay of the Land: Moving on from the Matrix

I feel compelled to add a few words, now that this series is finished, because I know I’ve left some pretty big moments of the movies out of the analysis: How does Trinity “revive” Neo at the end of the first movie? How does Neo deactivate or overload the Sentinels in the real world at the end of the second movie? How, precisely, does Smith get “self-destructed” at the end of the third movie?

And there are others. To my knowledge, Marxian theory cannot explain these scenes and happenings; and this is a good thing. It’s a good thing because Marxists have often used Marx’s theory as an explanation for everything or as a foundation upon which to build a theory that explains everything.

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Matrix analysis (4): Mister Anderson

Agents-Smith

Picture credits and copyright: Warner Bros.

Welcome to the fourth and final part of our Marxian reading of the Matrix. Along the way, I hope I’ve managed to express what I perceive as strong affinities between central elements and themes of the trilogy and conceptual creations of Karl Marx. In “Battery”, we found out that the “simulation” of the movies is shown to be our exact world, and that the notions that we are simply batteries for productive purposes is not only also argued by Marx, but also supported by some statistical evidence. After that, in “Machine Praxis”, through the infrastructure-superstructure conceptual couple, we argued that the words and actions of the ‘rebel’ humans reflected the ideology of the machines, who themselves engaged in the world not as a reality they have historically inherited and are producing by their actions, but as an achieved and impenetrable universe. Finally, in “Contradictions”, we came to suspect that the main adversary of the machines were not the human ‘rebels’, but rather the ‘exiled’ programs refusing to be destroyed; we suggested this to be the result of the machines’ design of the Matrix, comparing it to Marx’s maxim where “the bourgeoisie produces, above all, its own grave-diggers”.

Before we begin, I want to ask something of you, dear Reader: I would like for you to watch the video that follows. I will explain no further but I really think you might enjoy this exercise. It might even be interesting to see it again after reading my piece.

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Matrix analysis (3): Contradictions

barricade

Credits: Fine Art America.

Welcome to part 3! If you’ve made it this far, you’re set. It seems to me “Machine Praxis” was a big leap in theory compared to “Battery”, and I think this third part will be much easier, because we should be more focused on elements of the movies rather than on the theory.

So what have we seen until now? We’ve seen that 1) the material premise of the movie (a large majority of humans being grown for the reproduction of machines) is highly compatible with Marx’s account of the relation between Capital and Labour; 2) the language and actions of both machines (such as the Architect) and “rebels” (such as Morpheus) are characteristic of the properties Marx assigns to the Infrastructure-Superstructure conceptual couple (which ties into ideology), and uncharacteristic of revolutionary praxis.

At the end of “Reloaded”, Neo makes a choice which supposedly breaks the functioning of the Matrix, by refusing to return to the source of the Matrix, which would restart it and the whole process by which it maintains its existence. In part 4, we will deal with the consequences of this “choice”. In this part, I want to show clues among elements of the first two movies hinting that Neo’s choice in the Architect scene is not only possible, but probable, thus putting into question if we can really call this a “choice”.

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Being friends with Christians

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Credits: National Gallery of Art.

The other day, I came upon an article written by a self-appointed Christian, courtesy of the WordPress Reader, not too long and well organized, which ends on the recommendation of two films that “will equip you to do what you can where you are to combat Communism and Socialism”.

This made feel a bit queasy because I know a lot of people out there who are Christians and they’re usually not so fast to call to “combat” (not sure how violent this is). There’s lots of violent people out there with different “world views” though, communists included, so let’s leave this aside.

What bakes my noodle more is how to deal with this.

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Matrix analysis (2): Machine Praxis

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Credits: Pixabay.

Welcome back. This is part two of four of our analysis of the Matrix trilogy through the lens of Karl Marx’s writings. In the previous entry, we tried showing how the Battery Scene is indicative of a message within the movie which is extremely similar to the one propagated through Marx’s written work. Through the notions of wages, the content of the “first historical act”, the conditions under which something transforms into capital, some supporting data by Thomas Piketty and, finally, two dimensions of alienation, we argued that the battery scene and Marx were saying the same thing: that the human being has become, for all intents and purposes, a simple repository of the resource Capital needs so that it may exist and reproduce.

What we did not yet discuss is that, within this same scene, there is a problem, an internal incoherence, a contradiction.

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