Ten Questions the Press Should Have Asked President Biden - Insight

Louis Proyect

From Zeynep Tukfeci, an alumni of Marxism list that preceded Marxmail.

Fuck Mindfulness Workshops – Spectre Journal

Louis Proyect

(Makes some of the same criticisms as Adolph Reed Jr. but not from the class-essentialist standpoint.)

Zach Snyder's Justice League: A Four Hour Ayn Rand Fantasia -

Andrew Stewart

“If you repress us, we will rise up even more” - Tempest

Louis Proyect

Myanmar’s military carried out a coup on February 1st against the results of a democratic election. The election would have given Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy an overwhelming majority in the government. Fearing that would compromise their hold on the country, the military arrested Suu Kyi and much of the rest of the leadership of the country and imposed a military dictatorship. Their coup has triggered a mass popular uprising of enormous demonstrations and general strikes throughout the country. The military has responded with the utmost brutality, gunning down protesters and arresting untold numbers of people. Tempest’s Ashley Smith talked with Me Me Khant about the uprising for democracy. She is an activist and poet from Myanmar who is currently pursuing a masters degree in international policy at Stanford University. She is also a Knight-Hennessy Scholar.

I Am a Victim of Republican Cancel Culture -

Louis Proyect

By Ted Rall

The debate over “cancel culture” centers around how Democratic Party, “woke” activists and politically-correct “social justice warriors” expel people from social acceptability or force them into joblessness because something they said or did provoked an online mob.

But Republicans have been canceling people for much longer.

I am living proof.

Art and Money Today: Goya Meets Beeple -

Louis Proyect

Tale of Two Artworks

On March 11, 2021, I bought an etching by Francisco Goya for $500. On the same day, two people with the pseudonyms Metakovan and Twobadour bought a Non Fungible Token by Mike Winkelmann (pseud. “Beeple”) for an astonishing $69 million at an online Christies auction. An NFT is a digital token representing the unique version of something, in this case a work of art.

Columbia grad workers still on strike

Louis Proyect

Student workers end second week of their work stoppage over a first contract. Key demands include a neutral arbitrator in harassment cases, union coverage for more student workers and a pay increase.

The Apocalyptic New Campus Novel

Louis Proyect

The Apocalyptic New Campus Novel

In Christine Smallwood’s story of scholarly precarity, what the academy wastes above all is human potential.


Early in graduate school, I had a curious dream. I had finished my dissertation, but no job was forthcoming. Taking pity on me, my department hired me to perform the functions of a janitor-cum-chambermaid. A pathetic scene followed. I found myself down on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor tiles of the humanities building, choking on the fumes of cleaning fluid, squeezing my rag into a bucket of dirty suds. Students teemed past holding lattes. My former professors averted their eyes. “At least I can tell people I work at Harvard,” I thought madly, as hot tears spilled down and mingled with the lemon disinfectant.

We are all going extinct. But academic literary critics, Smallwood suggests, are going extinct a little faster.

I recalled this nightmare of bourgeois indignity while reading Christine Smallwood’s debut novel of academic precarity, The Life of the Mind (2021) — the book’s key theme is the production of waste, and the task of cleaning up afterward. Smallwood’s sendup of contemporary academic life follows Dorothy, an adjunct instructor in the English department of a private university in New York City. The novel opens with Dorothy on the toilet in the middle of a bowel movement. It ends with her dumping a sheaf of student essays, each marked with a desultory A-minus, one by one into the trash.

Along the way, Dorothy muses obsessively on what we might call the metaphysics of garbage. After staring at a bespectacled graduate student in the library doggedly making his way through Kant’s aesthetics, she walks out into the rain and imagines a mountain of broken umbrellas and discarded consumer goods — a vision of “the garbage sublime.” Reflecting on her failed writing samples, she laments “producing so much waste.” She weighs the respective merits of garbagemen and academics and concludes that while sanitation workers dispose of trash, all she does is move it around. She thinks of herself, finally, as “a janitor in the temple” who keeps sweeping not because she still believes in the gods but because she has nowhere else to go. The novel’s parade of rubbish marches toward an abrasive suggestion: Today’s academy is in the business of producing at best detritus, at worst excrement, all fated to be swept away.

Yet Smallwood’s critique of the academy is not so simple. When we meet Dorothy, she has just had a miscarriage of an accidental pregnancy. The novel’s most powerful image of waste, then, is not an abandoned manuscript; nor is it mucus or feces or vaginal blood or an exploding cyst (although all of these things are described in the text with an impassive candor that recalls Ottessa Moshfegh, as well as what Kristina Quynn has called the “disgusting” campus novel). It is a grainy photo Dorothy takes home from the gynecologist: a sonogram of an empty womb. Her pregnancy, like her intellectual career, is interrupted before it has a chance to develop. In this story of scholarly stagnation, what the academy wastes above all is human potential.

The campus novel began as an oddball subgenre. Its origins as a distinct tradition date to 1950s fictions by Mary McCarthy and Kingsley Amis following the postwar expansion of higher education in the United States and England. From the start, the academic novel tasked itself with skewering professorial pretension and dissecting campus manners. Such an enterprise may seem like the ultimate insiders’ game, of little interest beyond the closed world of the campus. Who cares about the foibles of the faculty?

Everyone, it would seem. This minor tradition has quietly become one of contemporary American literature’s ruling genres. Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, and Jane Smiley are only a few of the eminent writers who have turned their hand to campus fiction. If we include allegories of academic life — such as Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (1999), a novel about elevator inspectors who study at the Institute for Vertical Transport and quarrel about which texts belong in the elevator-studies canon — this list would be even longer. More recent works by Brandon Taylor, Susan Choi, and others suggest the endurance of the campus novel not as an oddity but as one of mainstream literature’s prestige forms.

The surprising dominance of the campus novel in the literary field is in part due to the academicization of literature. The proliferation of creative-writing programs, the role of college syllabi in canon-making, the degree to which the university functions as a patronage system for writers — all these are signs of literature’s close entanglement with the academy. Many novelists are, like scholars, academics writing for other academics.

But campus novels reflect more than these institutional facts. They reflect a broader cultural obsession with the institutions that serve as sorting mechanisms for America’s shrinking middle class. Historians of the future might be forgiven for thinking that in the early 21st century, our country’s colleges were more powerful, and more nefarious, than its military. Certainly the former gets more scrutiny and attention. Our media environment indicates that the taste for campus satire is strong. Some corners of the media are, in effect, sprawling, serialized campus novels, filled with discontinuous and never-ending tales of politically correct absurdities. For some right-wing outlets, academic culture is virtually the only topic. Campus satire has become the preferred genre of conservative journalism — although their mockery is laced with fear.

This situation is treacherous for the would-be academic satirist. On the one hand, the ubiquity of campus fiction has diluted its satirical acidity. The campus has become a default literary setting, not outlandish but ordinary. On the other hand, because conservatives now specialize in the task of ridiculing academic tastes, the satirist risks having her work mistaken for a reactionary attack. There is also the risk that making fun of academics may just be petty. Scholars, thin-skinned as a rule, have grown increasingly harried, bludgeoned by right-wing caricatures and, especially in the humanities, by a jobs crisis that portends the collapse of several academic fields and a marginal sphere of influence for the survivors.

These conditions have fed a Schmittian tendency among academics to class people as either with them or against them, with no gradations in between. The stance of the satirist observing her own tribe, however, requires a more ambivalent or detached relation between the individual and the group. The most penetrating satire arises from conflicted affection.

Smallwood’s solution to this quandary is to select a protagonist who is doubly removed from her community. As a contingent faculty member, Dorothy is not a full member of the academy; nor is she entirely out of it. But above all, she’s too tired to care. She is detached from the academy not because she deems herself superior but because her academic career, like her life, is stagnant.

Through the vantage point of this listless heroine, Smallwood satirizes the protocols of English departments with a specificity that recalls the delicious Thatcher-era campus romps of David Lodge — especially Nice Work (1988), which, like this novel, scrutinizes the academy’s precarious working conditions. One gleefully ridiculous sequence is a flashback to Dorothy’s graduate-school years. She is sitting outside her adviser’s office, attempting to read Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction (1979). Dorothy’s rival Alexandra — later to win a tenure-track job at Berkeley — is meeting with the adviser they share. From inside the office, Dorothy hears her adviser make a pronouncement: Alexandra’s argument is “significant.”

Dorothy is shaken. Professors have described her work as “clever” or “promising,” yes. But “significant”? Never. Involuntarily stabbing holes in the pages of Bourdieu with her mechanical pencil, Dorothy jumps when Alexandra appears smirking over her shoulder. And then:

As Dorothy rose, Alexandra made a show of holding the door, which was already open. Dorothy interpreted this action of door-holding, which a stranger would have described, if they noticed it at all, as desultory politeness, as Alexandra’s way of drawing attention to the door itself, i.e., to herself, i.e., to Alexandra, because Alexandra’s research was about — doors.

Alexandra does not study the symbolic meanings attached to doors in the Victorian novel, as Dorothy first supposes, but instead the materiality of doors, who made them, what “power relations” doors indicate. This might seem farcical. But anyone who has inhabited an English department in the last decade will recognize it as not just plausible but familiar.

The Life of the Mind is filled with snippets of academic discourse. We have nods to Franco Moretti and Lauren Berlant, Silvan Tomkins and Mary Douglas; we have slogans about the radicality of “the episodic” and glimpses of the course Dorothy is teaching about apocalypse. But “ideas” enter the novel only superficially. We see little of the talent or passion that propelled Dorothy into academic life in the first place. Looking at her ultrasound at the doctor’s office (she likens her vaginal walls to Plato’s cave — a humorous reminder that “the life of the mind” cannot exist without the body), Dorothy thinks that the experience is “nothing like” her favorite scene in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1924), in which Hans Castorp has his X-ray taken. And Smallwood’s book, too, is “nothing like” Mann’s great novel of ideas. Compared with, say, J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello (2003), this is an academic novel in which intellectual matters are hardly discussed. The novel thus responds in kind to an academic system inhibited by fads, careerism, and pointless factional disputes, in which real intellectual inquiry is all too rare. Smallwood spoofs the academy’s shallowness by setting a big scholarly conference in Las Vegas — an appropriate encapsulation of an academic system in which the job market has become a lottery.

In keeping with the novel’s deflation of the romance of intellectual life, Dorothy’s academic field — 19th-century British literature — is brought down to earth, made sordid. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient mariner becomes a raving homeless man on the subway; Wilkie Collins’s woman in white appears in the waiting room of Dorothy’s ob-gyn. Dorothy is, by allusion, Dorothea Brooke, the heroine of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-72); she is also “Dodo,” an awkward creature slated for extinction. (In contrast, the adviser who gives Dorothy this Eliotic pet name is likened to an ostrich — glamorous, fearsome, sinewy.)

The Victorian writer who serves as the novel’s presiding spirit, however, is Thomas Hardy. Dorothy wonders whether she is somehow superfluous. The novel underscores this fear by providing her with a series of substitutes or doubles: Alexandra, her adviser’s favorite, who gets the job Dorothy hoped for; her best friend Gaby, who sings the karaoke song Dorothy meant to sing. In Vegas, Dorothy gives her paper on Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure (1895), in which the problem of superfluous life is shockingly dramatized in English literature’s most famous suicide note: “Done because we are too menny.” Dorothy’s attitude toward her own apparent superfluity is, in the end, more apathetic. “It didn’t have to be her,” she reasons, “who did what could be done so well by someone else.”

We are all going extinct. But academic literary critics, Smallwood suggests, are going extinct a little faster. Can the campus novel survive the fall of the English department? The Life of the Mind suggests it can. Brooding on apocalypse, the novel depicts an academic world in which absurdities are unavoidable. Lacking an office, Dorothy hides out in toilet stalls and faces off against scornful librarians. (“Are professors not allowed in the library?” she challenges a librarian while having a meltdown in front of a broken printer.) The campus novel is in its classic form a novel of manners. That some of the most educated people in the society can also be some of the most childish has long served as grist for comedy. As academic institutions weaken further, we should expect manners to get worse, not better; disputes over whatever tiny allotment of power remains in the hands of academic humanists will no doubt become more bitter and sanctimonious. All this will be bad for scholars. Whether it will be good for novelists is another question.

Documents Show Amazon Is Aware Drivers Pee in Bottles

Louis Proyect

Petra Kelly and the Radical Green Past | Boston Review

Louis Proyect

The Greens are on track to become Germany’s second strongest party. For many, this is proof that abandoning radicalism was the right choice, but a new novel offers valuable insights into why it should be recovered.

Georgia Rep. Charged With Felonies for Knocking on Kemp's Door as He Signed Voter Suppression Bill | Common Dreams News

Louis Proyect

LeftEast in the Dialectics of the Region’s Left - Lefteast

Louis Proyect

LeftEast has been around for just over eight years. It was preceded by two summer schools in Budapest, where some of its future editors—leftist East European(ist)s—met in a moment of happy recognition. One of them, Florin Poenaru, also happened to be the editor of the Romanian site CriticAtac, which hosted another meeting of East European leftists in late 2012 where it was resolved to initiate a medium to translate our experiences across the region into a united narrative and front.

Why the Suez Canal, now blocked, is so Important to the Global Economy and World History

Louis Proyect

Re: When Your Enemy's Enemy is Not a Friend - New Politics

Louis Proyect

On 3/26/21 2:59 AM, Roger Kulp wrote:
I know many of you have criticized Max Blumenthal, and the Grayzone, but Max does a very good job here exposing just who is behing the stories of Uyghur genocide in China. Including who funding the Chinese exiles providing these stories to US media and government.

Well, that's how he makes a living. That's how all of these websites collect money, from Global Research to Consortium News. They "follow the money" in order to expose some ties between the NED, et al, and some group of activists as a way of defending Xi Jinping, Bashar al-Assad, Viktor Yanukovych, et al.

That relieves them of addressing the more important questions of whether or not Uighurs are being forcefully assimilated. If you study the history of Xinjiang from the 19th century, you are dealing with colonialism. Blumenthal is a defender of colonialism pure and simple. For him, the history of Xinjiang does not start when the Qing Dynasty took it over, just like the USA took over Mexico. It started when liberals began to call attention to what amounted to concentration camps.

Leftists also called attention to China's colonization and forced assimilation but never he responded to them since he had no answers. David Brody is both a Marxist and a Uighur scholar. If you are going to recommend Blumenthal to Marxmail, I'd also recommend Brophy's analysis since he not only speaks Uighur and Chinese but has actually been to Xinjiang:

The camps are only the culmination of a series of repressive policy innovations introduced by party secretary Chen Quanguo since his arrival in Xinjiang in 2016. Many of these were already evident on a trip I made to Xinjiang last year: police stations at every major intersection, ubiquitous checkpoints where Chinese sail through as Uyghurs line up for humiliating inspections, elderly men and women trudging through the streets on anti-terror drills, television and radio broadcasts haranguing the Uyghurs to love the party and blame themselves for their second-class status.

I saw machine gun-toting police stop young Uyghur men on the street to check their phones for mandatory government spyware. Some have simply ditched their smartphones, lest an “extremist” video clip or text message land them in prison. On a weekday in the Uyghur center of Kashgar, I stood and watched as the city went into lockdown, making way for divisions of PLA soldiers to march by, chanting out their determination to maintain “stability.”

The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America

Dennis Brasky

A deep dig into how the steel industry collapse affected hundreds of thousands of decently paid workers, contrasted with the surge of hospital and nursing home hiring that never matched former pay rates or union protections afforded steel workers.

Re: When Your Enemy's Enemy is Not a Friend - New Politics

Michael Meeropol

Roger, please remember there were well meaning friends of socialism in the 1930s who argued up down and sideways that the attacks on Stalin were nothing but capitalist propaganda --- Then, when the transcripts of the Moscow Trials were published and all these Old Bolsheviks confessed to being spies for the capitalists, books were published like THE GREAT CONSPIRACY AGAINST RUSSIA which echoed these complaints without batting an eyelash --- and American Communists and fellow travellers and their families (I was a kid reading this stuff in my parents' home) swallowed all of it hook line and sinker ....

That doesn't make any of the "defenses" of Stalin and Stalinism true --- it just reminds us that there are well meaning journalists and political allies who convince themselves of what turns out to be errant nonsense ...

Now -- I don't read or speak Mandarin or Uyghur and I haven't "been there" but I still believe the information about how the Chinese government is treating the Uyghur minority .... and I CERTAINLY believe that the crackdown on Hong Kong is an abomination ...

On Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 2:59 AM Roger Kulp <leucovorinsaves@...> wrote:
I know many of you have criticized Max Blumenthal, and the Grayzone, but Max does a very good job here exposing just who is behing the stories of Uyghur genocide in China. Including who funding the Chinese exiles providing these stories to US media and government.

Re: When Your Enemy's Enemy is Not a Friend - New Politics

Roger Kulp

I know many of you have criticized Max Blumenthal, and the Grayzone, but Max does a very good job here exposing just who is behing the stories of Uyghur genocide in China. Including who funding the Chinese exiles providing these stories to US media and government.

Protect fish to increase catches − and cut carbon | Climate News Network

Louis Proyect

Re: Was the Soviet Union an idea ahead of its time? (Boston Globe)

Jim Farmelant

It should be noted that the Polish economist Oskar Lange was writing about this issue back in the 1960's. in fact his very last paper was on this topic. Back in his day there were basically just mainframe computers. Computer networking barely existed and the Internet was several years away. Nowadays, the British computer scientist and economist Paul Cockshott is probably the leading authority on this subject,




  Not quite 30 years ago I published an essay  On the Economic Theory of Socialism.1 Pareto and Barone had shown that the conditions of economic equilibrium in a socialist economy could be expressed by a system of simultaneous equations. The prices resulting from these equations furnish a basis for rational economic accounting under socialism (only the static equilibrium aspect of the accounting problem was under con­sideration at that time). At a later date Hayek and Robbins maintained that the Pareto—Barone equations were of no practical consequence. The solution of a system of thousands or more simultaneous equations was in practice impossible and, consequently, the practical problem of economic accounting under socialism remained unsolvable.

In my essay I refuted the Hayek—Robbins argument by showing how a market mechanism could be established in a socialist economy which would lead to the solution of the simultaneous equations by means of an empirical procedure of trial and error. Starting with an arbitrary set of prices, the price is raised whenever demand exceeds supply and lowered whenever the opposite is the case. Through such a process of tatonnements, first described by Walras, the final equilibrium prices are gradually reached. These are the prices satisfying the system of simul­taneous equations. It was assumed without question that the tatonnement process in fact converges to the system of equilibrium prices.

Were I to rewrite my essay today my task would be much simpler. My answer to Hayek and Robbins would be: so what’s the trouble?

Let us put the simultaneous equations on an electronic computer and we shall obtain the solution in less than a second. The market process with its cumbersome tatonnements appears old-fashioned. Indeed, it may be considered as a computing device of the preelectronic age.


  The market mechanism and trial and error procedure proposed in my essay really played the role of a computing device for solving a system of simultaneous equations. The solution was found by a process of iteration which was assumed to be convergent. The iterations were based on a feedback principle operating so as to gradually eliminate deviations from equilibrium. It was envisaged that the process would operate like a servomechanism, which, through feedback action, automatically eliminates disturbances.2

The same process can be implemented by an electronic analogue machine which simulates the iteration process implied in the tátonnements of the market mechanism. Such an electronic analogue (servo-mechanism) simulates the working of the market. This statement, how­ever, may be reversed: the market simulates the electronic analogue computer. In other words, the market may be considered as a computer sui generis which serves to solve a system of simultaneous equations. It operates like an analogue machine: a servo-mechanism based on the feedback principle. The market may be considered as one of the oldest historical devices for solving simultaneous equations. The interesting thing is that the solving mechanism operates not via a physical but via a social process. It turns out that the social processes as well may serve as a basis for the operation of feedback devices leading to the solution of equations by iteration.


  Managers of socialist economies today have two instruments of eco­nomic accounting. One is the electronic computer (digital or analogue), the other is the market. In capitalist countries too, the electronic com­puter is to a certain extent used as an instrument of economic account­ing. Experience shows that for a very large number of problems linear approximation suffices; hence the wide-spread use of linear programming techniques. In a socialist economy such techniques have an even wider scope for application: they can be applied to the national economy as a whole.

It may be interesting to compare the relative merits of the market and of the computer in a socialist economy. The computer has the un­doubted advantage of much greater speed. The market is a cumbersome and slow-working servo-mechanism. Its iteration process operates with considerable time-lags and oscillations and may not be convergent at all. This is shown by cobweb cycles, inventory and other reinvestment cycles as well as by the general business cycle. Thus the Walrasian tatonnements are full of unpleasant fluctuations and may also prove to be divergent. In this respect the electronic computer shows an unchal­lenged superiority. It works with enormous speed, does not produce fluctuations in real economic processes and the convergence of its iterations is assured by its very construction.

Another disadvantage of the market as a servo-mechanism is that its iterations cause income effects. Any change in prices causes gains and losses to various groups of people. To the management of a socialist economy this creates various social problems connected with these gains and losses. Furthermore, it may mobilise conservative resistance to the iteration process involved in the use of the market as a servo-mechanism.


All this, however, does not mean that the market has not its relative merits. First of all, even the most powerful electronic computers have a limited capacity. There may be (and there are) economic processes so complex in terms of the number of commodities and the type of equations involved that no computer can tackle them. Or it may be too costly to construct computers of such large capacity. In such cases nothing remains but to use the old-fashioned market servo-mechanism which has a much broader working capacity.

Secondly, the market is institutionally embodied in the present socialist economy. In all socialist countries (with the exception of certain periods when rationing was used) consumers’ goods are distributed to the population by means of the market. Here, the market is an existing social institution and it is useless to apply an alternative accounting device. The electronic computer can be applied for purposes of prognosti­cation but the computed forecasts have later to be confirmed by the actual working of the market.

An important limitation of the market is that it treats the accounting problem only in static terms, i.e. as an equilibrium problem. It does not provide a sufficient foundation for the solution of growth and develop­ment problems. In particular, it does not provide an adequate basis for long-term economic planning. For planning economic development long-term investments have to be taken out of the market mechanism and based on judgment of developmental economic policy. This is because present prices reflect present data, whereas investment changes data by creating new incomes, new technical conditions of production and frequently also by creating new wants (the creation of a television industry creates the demand for television sets, not the other way round). In other words, investment changes the conditions of supply and demand which determine equilibrium prices. This holds for capitalism as well as for socialism.

For the reasons indicated, planning of long-term economic develop­ment as a rule is based on overall considerations of economic policy rather than upon calculations based on current prices. However, the theory and practice of mathematical (linear and non-linear) pro­gramming makes it possible to introduce strict economic accounting into this process. After setting up an objective function (for instance, maximizing the increase of national income over a certain period) and certain constraints, future shadow prices can be calculated. These shadow prices serve as an instrument of economic accounting in long-term development plans. Actual market equilibrium prices do not suffic here, knowledge of the programmed future shadow prices is needed.

Mathematical programming turns out to be an essential instrument of optimal long-term economic planning. In so far as this involves the solution of large numbers of equations and inequalities the electronic computer is indispensable. Mathematical programming assisted by electronic computers becomes the fundamental instrument of long-term economic planning, as well as of solving dynamic economic problems of a more limited scope. Here, the electronic computer does not replace the market. It fulfils a function which the market never was able to perform.


1 The Review of Economic Studies, London 1936 and 1937. Reprinted in O. Lange and F. M. Taylor, On the Economic Theory of Socialism, edited by B. E. Lippincott, Minneapolis 1938--- back to the text

2 Cf. Josef Steindl, Servo-mechanisms and Controllers in Econom

Re: Fight the Constitution! Demand a New Republic! – Cosmonaut

Louis Proyect

On 3/25/21 3:31 PM, Roger Kulp wrote:

I believe the "New Union Act" proposed by this author is unrealistic, and typical of the solutions proposed by social democratic reformists.

Cosmonaut maybe wrong but social democratic reformists they are not. They are deeply into Kautsky, largely out of the influence the CPGB has had on them. On top of that, they get the class nature of the DP correctly, which for me at least is the acid test.

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