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Books I'm Reading and Enjoying

Since I haven't had the time to post anything substantial for a while, and since the fall my general business has made my posting rather sparse, I figure I'll expend a post promoting some of the non-fiction books I'm currently reading.  Like many people I have the tendency to read several books at once, moving back and forth between them (and sometimes in the same hour), so as to not get bored by one narrative.  If a book (fiction or non-fiction) becomes more engrossing than others than the others will temporarily be set aside, but usually I'm cycling between multiple books––some of which connect to what I'm researching/writing.  So aside from rereading Capital, as mentioned in the previous post, here are some of the non-fiction books I've been reading at the same time.

1) Governing by Debt (Maurizio Lazzarato)

I expected to dislike this book, due to my problems with its predecessor (The Making of the Indebted Man), and am only reading it because, despite said problems, Lazzarato still managed to say some useful things about the financial crisis that were fresh, anticipated other analyses, and were somewhat interesting.  Governing by Debt, though still mired in some of the idealist problems that hampered his previous book, has actually surprised me in its ability to step beyond the limitations––imposed by an overreliance on Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari––of Indebted Man.  What was most unexpected was Lazzarato's decision to return to Lenin's analysis of finance-capital; usually autonomists treat Lenin like a relic.  (There are still things I dislike about it, particularly the failure of Lazzarato to slip into theoretical speculation rather than deal with concrete material processes.)

"Crisis and fear constitute the inexorable features of neoliberal capitalist governmentality. We will not escape the crisis (at best it might change intensity) quite simply because crisis is the form of government of contemporary capitalism."

2) Being and Being Bought (Kajsa Ekis Ekman)

I've been meaning to read this one for a while.  Not simply because Ekman does a good job of demonstrating how the pro-prostitution "feminist" discourse is full of shit (the first chapter tears apart the entire contemporary "sex worker" discourse and demonstrates that the people who make it do not represent the majority of women in the sex industry, lie about empirical research, and make the most contradictory claims), and from a position indebted to marxist analysis, but because I'm also intrigued by the second half of the book which is about surrogacy.

So far I've been impressed by certain aspects of Ekman's abolitionist argument, but less impressed by others: there's a throwaway sentence that runs the danger of being transphobic and that has nothing to do with her argument, some other random comparisons that are problematic, and a refusal to really engage in the entire class nature of this question, though she dangles this fact out now and then, due to some fear of the use of the word "proletarian" because it sounds too… victimizing?  This last point is somewhat ironic considering that Ekman takes the piss out of the whole "victim" discourse that pro-prostitution ideologues often utilize.

"Like all systems that accept inequalities, the neoliberal order hates victims. To speak of a 'vulnerable person' points to the lack of, and need for, a just society… Making it a taboo to talk about victims is a step towards legitimizing class divisions and gender inequality. This takes place in two stages. First we are told that the victim is by definition weak, passive and helpless. But because in reality vulnerable people develop a variety of strategies to cope with their situation, it is 'revealed' that the idea of the victim is false. The vulnerable person was not passive and helpless, but exactly the opposite: she was strong and brave with a devil-may-care attitude. As a consequence, victimhood must be abolished. It follows, therefore, that we must accept the existing social order––including prostitution, a class society, global inequalities––if we want to resist labeling people as passive and helpless."

3) The Entropy of Capitalism (Robert Biel)

Having copy-edited the second edition of Biel's Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement, a subterranean anti-revisionist classic (a PDF of the first edition can be found at the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online in the UK section), and being lucky enough to have Biel write me a very nice plug for the back of my own book, I have intended to read The Entropy of Capitalism for some time.  It's been sitting on my shelf, waiting for the next round of multiple books, and I am now annoyed with myself for not having read it earlier.  Why?  Because it's the most creatively unique book about marxist political economy and political ecology (though this description of the subject matter doesn't do it justice) that I've encountered in some time.  I should qualify this statement a bit, considering that I have encountered a lot of creatively unique books that have something to do with marxist political economy that have been more "creative" and "unique" than this book but, unlike this one, have been the kind of books that "theory heads" like because they spend most of their time in the world of nebulous speculation, making up words and categories that are so divorced from concrete reality that they are ultimately useless.  Biel's creativity is definitely tied to the concrete.

Of all the marxist analyses of capitalism and the environment that I've read to date, Biel's is by far the best.  One of the reasons it took me so long to get into it was not because of lack of interest but because some of the descriptions I'd read made me think that its topic was so rarified, what with its reliance on thermodynamics and information theory, that it would be a more difficult read than it actually is.  Really, Biel's use of the concept of entropy, thermodynamic systems theory, etc. is just a way in which to creatively engage with multiple questions about capitalism as a structure that generates crisis that links every aspect of the crisis together and is able to talk about all of the complexities as a single structure.  So at the end of the day it's not just about the environment, although it is about that, but about the capitalist system as a whole and its entropic limits (and here it does a better job understanding the financial crisis than Lazarrato does), which means it necessarily is about political ecology while not being about political ecology at the same time.  Does that make sense?  Probably not, but it's difficult to explain this book's extensive terrain that, while extensive, is still focused.  Plus, he does all this while still upholding his anti-revisionist ML background, peppering his sober analysis with quotes from Lenin and Mao.

"Addressing the issue of a system which lurches towards disaster by processing signals so as (in place of corrective action) to accentuate the current trajectory, we introduce the notion of 'exterminism'. […] Sanctions, bombing, depleted uranium weapons and privatised military contractors are part of this. Capitalism's traditional delusion of an omnipotent science controlling nature is projected into that of a high-precision, robotised war. Denial becomes crucial at this level. In the imagined model, where irregular repressive forces battle a self-propagating, rhyzome-like enemy, chaos would rule at whole-system level, with predictability maintained only within gated notes of privilege. […] A key symptom of the system's decadence is the hollowing-out of its core: not content with continuing to devastate its periphery the ruling order seems bent on consuming its own civilisation in a kind of auto-cannibalism."

As an aside, the second edition of Biel's Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement is finally going to press and will be out in May.  It is also an extremely important book, both in its time and now (with the new additions), and I will review it in more detail when it's released.


  1. you say " imposed by an overreliance on Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari" and " usually autonomists treat Lenin like a relic."
    firstly, all you are saying is that they should not read and learn from any other current of radical thought but stick to the canon. I think Lenin is mostly a relic, but he does have a few good things to say.

    For me, Maoism has been discredited, and there has to be a new form rather than the same tired Marxist Leninist parties and politics.

    you should turn your own insight around, and see that you rely too much on Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao and have dismissed Deleuze, Nietzsche and most especially Laruelle as a 'new fad'. you should take seriously the Anarchist turn in philosophy, as championed by Simon Critchley and Judith Butler.

    for instance, I think your party and other similar ones would have far more support if you didn't call yourselves Maoists. For most people, that name itself will put them off. Yet, I'm sure that on your policies, many people would support. Drop the Maoist tag, but keep a revolutionary politics, i think you'd do much better.

    You should also study Charles Taylor.

    I guess that could be called non-Maoism.

    1. This is called trolling. You assume that I "rely too much" on orthodox authors (including Stalin, who I never cite btw), and that I "dismiss" other people such as Deleuze. While I do dismiss Nietzsche, whose thought is completely backwards and not "new"––and I see Laruelle's work as utterly useless (and if you're the same person who tried to defend Laruelle you offered no evidence but rhetoric)––I do have a fondness for Deleuze, Butler, and a lot of other people.

      You have no idea about the growth and development of the organization I support aside from the fact that, in your mind, it is offensive it uses the term "maoist". Then you cite Charles Taylor who is a liberal scholar that other [non-Maoist] theorists, such as Himani Bannerji [who, btw, likes Foucault and Butler] has taken a apart for his understanding of multiculturalism. Maybe you should study the names you throw out, and what you mean by an "anarchist turn in philosophy" (lol, I don't think you know very much about philosophy as a whole––it would actually be nice if there's an anarchist turn, it would be better than its overall liberalism), before name-dropping and pretending that you're a clever individual. I think you should "turn your own insight around" and see that you "rely too much" on a whole bunch of assumptions about reality that are rootless, vague, and lack any social investigation.

    2. Do you not cite Stalin b/c you don't like his writings or b/c it's not kosher?

    3. Again, read what I've written about Stalin. I do not think his theoretical output is, as a whole, entirely useful aside from assembling a doctrinaire Leninism and revealing the limits of this Leninism. Hence, *Foundations of Leninism* is a useful book to read, in my opinion, because it reveals the difference between that kind of Leninism and the way in which Maoism interprets the Leninist terrain. I also think it is useful to be aware of Stalin's understanding of the monolithic party so as to grasp why this concept of the "party as the general staff of the proletariat" is problematic. So when I do cite Stalin, and I do, it is to critique Stalin's approach to marxist theory, or at least argue that it demonstrates the historical limits of ML [without the other M], and that's about it. As I've noted elsewhere, I feel that Stalin and Trotsky's approaches to theory are quite similar, despite key *formal* differences, which those who would call themselves "Stalinist" would probably view as heretical.

  2. Maoism is not offensive to me. I just think it is a name that will not garner you much support. You don't quote Stalin, because you know that will lose you support. Secretly, you uphold Stalin, and Maoism is based on Lenin and Stalin.

    the anarchist turn was a conference hosted as the New School and featured Simon Critchley.
    Charles Taylor has lots of interesting things to say. but most of all, you should study Negri and Holloway.

    1. Yep, still trolling. Thanks for telling me about what I uphold and what Maoism is when you clearly don't know: a) what it is as a body of theory (hint: it's more than just what Mao said, just as Leninism is more than what Lenin said or Marxism is more than what Marx said––hey, didn't Negri say something about htis once? I thought you read him); b) what I've written about Stalin in the past and why I don't "secretly" uphold him––I know you probably think you have some secret insight into my thoughts but no matter how powerful you imagine your intellect to be, even you must not be that delusional.

      Thanks also for telling me that people I've read have "interesting things to say" when I clearly disagree (and without saying what those things are), as well as telling me to read people I've read before, and probably before you encountered them.

      You should probably take some to read the people you name drop as well because, so far, it's clear you don't even understand the theory of the names you throw out, or the names of the people you think I uphold, because this is all you're doing: name dropping.

  3. Do you have future topics in mind or do you just write them as they come?

    1. At this moment I'm just writing them as they come… In the past I've planned out topics but, since January, I have been too busy to think about what I'll write on this blog.

  4. You should write a micro-review of The Heaviest Radicals!

  5. have you ever studied the Shangai Textbooks?

    1. You mean The Fundamentals of Political Economy? Yeah, years back. Actually just a loaned my copy to a political science colleague a couple months ago.


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