Category Archives: History and Culture

Formerly known as Cultural Periods and Styles

Connecting Dots (303/415)

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.”

Can anyone really imagine any American politician saying this out loud? Even as a metaphor– one of the ways James intended this statement– it’s impossible to envision the most “radical” political figures in national politics– an Ilhan Omar or a Rashida Tlaib– using such language. 

One of the secrets of American politics is that both Democrats and Republicans share a common philosophy: they are Liberal in the broadest sense of that term, which is to say they are devoted to the notion of a Free Market as the foundation of political rights, the social order, and economic prosperity. Unified by this commitment, in the absence of any substantial disagreement on the basic principle, Dems and Reps have had to find other ways to distinguish themselves from one another. The easiest, most inflammatory and engaging means of doing so is to fight Culture Wars that focus on issues of identity and morality rather than on the structural violence of the inequality that is an unavoidable outcome of the capitalist system. Though they may quibble about specific policies, on the issue of political economy, as Barack Obama affirms, the two parties are fundamentally in agreement.

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Materialist Conception of History (303/415)

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

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Try Harder (303/415)

In the email conversations I’ve had with students many of them have suggested they’d like to screen 1804: The Hidden History of Haiti for the film assignment. This choice is problematic for two reasons. First, it’s a documentary, not a fiction film. Second, it’s the outcome of only the most cursory research. If you google “haitian revolution film” it’s literally in the first couple of hits you get.

This latter point is very significant because it confirms that the Just Google It method of research produces homogeneous results. One of the weirdest and most threatening aspects of the internet is that if we let it, it will think for us. The search engine algorithm determines the object of our attention and thus the content of our thought.

Students who are interested in thinking independently, outside of a relatively narrow spectrum of Google-approved stuff, must try harder. Do a google search using the kw -.com, which weeds out some (not all) commercial sites. Use multiple search terms to narrow your focus. Refine your search as you go. Use the library. There are online books about the cinema of the African Diaspora. Access to those resources is essentially what you’re paying for (in addition to my disembodied voice, droning on endlessly).

Anybody who wants to actually Think Different, as the Apple Borg cube/monopoly insists everyone should, is going to have to work for it.

Primitive Accumulation 2 (303/415)

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.

The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.

— Capital, vol. 1