Two Questions on Reform and Capitalist Materiality

Two questions:

First question is about reform in Holland’s text, the second is about the explanatory power of minor marxism in an urban context, and what it might mean for anti-cap strategy.

1) I want to draw attention to the question of reform, how is it understood and what the best response to it would be. While not a central point in the essay, I want to consider the moment when Holland suggests that there is never good reason to shy away from reforms. He suggests that because of the opaque relation between cause and effect, the evaluation of future potential outcomes is impossible. Because we can’t ever know the full impacts of bifurcation points, there is no reason to shy away from reforms, because the effects which they bring will almost certainly exceed any prediction or goal. The question is, are there situations in which reform’s must be rejected? If so, how are we to know what those situations are? Are there (or ought there be) generalizable criteria for rejection?

2) What would a minor marxism look like in an urban context? We are told that the goal of mm is to address the structural preconditions for capital accumulation, to disrupt and reverse primitive accumulation. In addition, the city exists as a rationalization and monumentalization of this accumulation, then the question becomes what might an anti-capitalist struggle look like in the city? Holland quotes Marx, who claims “so-called primitive accumulation is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production.” What would be a form of resistance for the food service worker, the sanitation worker, the cab driver, who are all cut off from owning the means to produce surplus value. Harvey describes the value of a worker’s strike in an urban context, where the elite are more completely dependent on the unobstructed flow of goods. But so too are the workers, and so we see the importance of what Holland calls “non-capitalist ways of procuring the means of life.” What would be required for these means of life to be procured, but not made accessible to capture by capital?

This leads us to one of the more gnawing questions from the class’s discussion regarding what exactly capitalism IS. Is it people doing things like the brokers and bankers? Or maybe anybody who shows up at work as the owner of the means of production? Is it the material infrastructure of vaults, files, servers, and buildings? Is it conceptual or epistemological infrastructure, the laws of competition and capitalist understandings of value? Depending on what we imagine to be the materiality of capitalism, the proper political response will change. Do there exist interventions which operate on only one of these registers? If anti-capitalist interventions blur these categories and if effects are not meaningfully knowable, how can we develop and refine anti-capitalist strategy?

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2 thoughts on “Two Questions on Reform and Capitalist Materiality

  1. Pingback: A thought experiment | Nomad Scholarship

  2. Thinking about your second point, and Harvey’s mention that the elite are more dependent on the flow of goods- I think it is true that the ‘elite’ is more dependent (though I don’t really like Harvey’s language), if only for the reason that they often lack (a gross generalization here, but maybe not wholly off base) phronesis when it comes to the material world. Sure, they may have deep understanding of economics, financial instruments or flows of capital, but what do they know about putting something together with their hands?

    (I apologize in advance, Keith, but this is a good example….)
    Keith is a structural engineer and according to his students, ‘he’s legit’. He understands how to calculate the forces in a building like nobody’s business. You should see his calculator. Recently he was complaining about his rickety desk and asked to borrow my socket set to tighten it. When I dropped off the set, I took one look at his desk and said, ‘The desk legs have to go on the outside of the base. Otherwise there is no stability.’ We flipped the desk, reversed the legs and the desk was stable.

    So we have an engineer with mad math skills, but he couldn’t troubleshoot why his desk was wobbly; and myself, having built a lot of things but unable to calculate forces, with a different kind of knowledge of how the material world ‘works’, compared to his abstract world of calculations. Which is not to say that Keith isn’t resourceful. 😉 Having physical skills to lean on is helpful. Given the preponderance of immaterial labor today, writing ‘code’ won’t shelter us…

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