Universities Are Factories…

I was going to write about this occupation / protest by Middlesex University students since I love the situationist style of their banner ‘The university is a factory. Strike! Occupy!’. Instead I have been busy with the Gary Critchley campaign. So it goes.

What I was going to do was connect the occupation / protest to David Harvey’s new book The Enigma of Capital which I have just finished reading. And put in a link to Housmans online bookshop and say ‘buy this book’ for £14.99 .

Why? It is a damn good read and takes Marx’s critique of capitalism / political economy and applies it to the ongoing ‘credit crunch’ as the latest in a 300 year old sequence of economic crises -one of which (1974-1985) gave accidental birth to punk. Harvey argues that the current global credit crisis can be traced back to the one which (my point, not his) spawned punk.

Although Harvey is an expert on Marx, he is not a tedious Marxist. A fair chunk of his analysis overlaps with and supports the situationists’ / Guy Debord / Society of the Spectacle update of Marx – but with the added benefit of forty plus years of extra hindsight. To quote the product profile

For three centuries the capitalist system has shaped western society, informed its rulers, and conditioned the lives of its people. Using his unrivalled knowledge of the subject, Harvey lays bare the follies of the international financial system, looking closely at the nature of capitalism, how it works and why sometimes it doesn’t. He examines the vast flows of money that surge round the world in daily volumes well in excess of the sum of all its economies. He looks at the cycles of boom and bust in the world’s housing and stock markets and shows that periodic episodes of meltdown are not only inevitable in the capitalist system but essential to its survival. The essence of capitalism is its amorality and lawlessness and to talk of a regulated, ethical capitalism is to make a fundamental error. The Enigma of Capitalism considers how crises of the current sort can best be contained within the constraints of capitalism, and makes the case for a social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane.

But, as David Harvey mildly explains, to achieve a responsible, just and humane social order will require a proper revolution…

  1. majes
    May 10, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve been wondering myself about what interesting cultural movements could come out of the current economic situation. The last 15 to 20 years have seemed pretty barren on the radical front. There is a whole generation who have had it relatively easy up til now. That all seems about to change. Apathy seems to hold sway with most of the population. Maybe some adversity will generate a positive force for change.

  2. slyme68
    May 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

    who saw the excellent julien temple flim on detroit? this crucible of capitalism where ford invented the production line and general motors invented built in obsolesence is bankrupt, all the manufacturing has gone and the factories and offices are empty. the city has about 1/4 of its capacity population.

    but, freaks are moving in and dismantling the suburbs (while the totters dismantle the factories) so that they can set up small agricultural communities. some of it looks like a big festy or mutoid gig.

    i also wonder about this country’s “regenerated” inner cities, rebuilt on the ridiculous model of a “service economy” (how can an economy which makes nothing, producing no added value, sustain an explosion of shops other than by expropriating the labour of other parts of the world and trading on money that doesn’t exist?). the high streets and malls are emptying, waiting to be occupied, and look like fortresses. some even have moats.

    and don’t forget greece. have a look for riot dog, by the way, s/he’s got an excellent profile on the book of face.

  3. alistairliv
    alistairliv • Post Author •
    May 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks for the thought stimulating comments Majes and Slyme68. I would need to re-read The Enigma of Capital to respond properly. Haven’t re-read it yet so this is an improper response.

    Minerva’s owl only takes flight at dusk’. A quote from Hegel, from whom Marx sampled most of his material. Its meant to mean that understanding comes after the event. So if David Harvey has managed to understand capitalism, then it is nearly over. Harvey talks about Detroit and the ‘rust-belt’ of the USA. What he says is that for capital to survive, it has to keep growing at an average of 3% per year- for ever. If the cost of labour in one place – like Detroit – gets too high ( which it does when labour is organised via trade unions), then capital relocates to some where with lower labour costs.

    Somewhere like China for example. Stuff made in China is then cheaper to make so can be sold back in the USA at a lower cost but still make a profit. The competition also undermines organised labour so (he reckons) real wages in USA/ Europe have not risen for thirty years. But if real wages do not rise, then how can people keep buying stuff?

    Credit. Credit linked to suburbanisation and a housing boom (which also sucks life out of old city centres as those who can afford to relocate). The rising tide of credit means there is money to buy stuff produced in ‘developing’ (low wage) countries. But to keep the housing boom going more and more people have to keep trying to climb the housing ladder. So people ( ‘working class’ = poor) who can’t really afford to buy a house – because their real wages have not increased due to the shift of production to low wage countries – are conned into buying not renting.

    As private property owners of an asset of increasing value, they get access to credit to buy more stuff from China. Their dodgy mortgages are then mixed up with less dodgy ones and sold on as part of a huge financial bubble. But the merest flicker of doubt is enough to start a rolling crisis/ crash. House prices can go down as well as up…and banks too big to fail go belly up so the state has to imagine up trillions of dollars/ euros/ pounds to stop a melt down. Not to save capitalism from its own stupidity/ contradictions. Oh no, it is not capitalism that we have to save but ‘the nation’ . We will all have to make sacrifices to save our countries from economic destruction caused by ‘living beyond our means’.

    Where will it end? We don’t know yet…but it is starting to look like this train scene from the Marx Brothers’ film Go West …


  4. slyme68
    May 11, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    perhaps one of the intersting points about the banking crisis goes back to keynes. keynes’ reflation after the second war was a state driven initiative, governments spend out of recession by basically printing (inventing) money and spending it, thus saving capitalism.

    the problem in this for capitalism was that there’s no profit in it because the state is in control of the money supply and that the the side affect of inflation reduces the value of capital itself.

    one of the genius moves of the chicago school was to rubbish the keynsian analysis while appropriating it at the same time. instead of governments reflating, private banks would do it by lending and so get profits from doing so. the problem was that banks don’t have the money to do this so they released them from the requirement to hold in deposits enough money to cover their lending. banks only have to have 1% of the value of their loans in assets. this means that when you borrow one pound from a bank, they are actually lending 1p of theirs, the other 99p doesn’t exist, it is yet to be earned, by you, the borrower, and when it does exist it becomes theirs because you owe it to them.

    the result is unfettered reflation by profit motivated individuals. the side effect, instead of inflation is a massive credit bubble which the production of added value (work) can’t fill.

    of course capital moves production to where labor is cheapest, but politically we all (present company excepted) bought into the myth that we could all be middle class and that the service economy was a workable prospect.

    here’s the detroit flim, by the way http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OpXhd7iau8

  5. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy • Post Author •
    May 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Found some facts and figs on the ‘service economy’ on the Socialist Equality Party web site. [Just checked – The Socialist Equality Party is a Trotskyist group, part of the International Committee of the Fourth International. They were part of the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) until the majority of that party split [Ha!] from the ICFI in 1986. A group in the WRP supported the ICFI and split from the splitters in the WRP. Initially known as the Workers Revolutionary Party (Internationalist), they soon became the International Communist Party, based in Sheffield…. ]

    The years 1992 to 2007 saw the longest boom in the post war period. Real output rose by an average of 4 percent a year, but the results as far as the vast majority of working people are concerned have been meagre.
    Throughout Labour’s period in office, manufacturing continued to decline. The number of people employed in manufacturing fell from 4.2 million in 1991 to 2.8 million in 2007, while service employment grew from 2.4 million to 5.8 million, as Labour actively promoted the interests of the financial sector and fuelled a housing and consumer-led boom based on ever increasing household indebtedness.
    Finance’s share of output rose to nearly 10 percent and its profits to 12.8 percent in 2007. But despite London’s position as a major financial centre, this did not result in a significant increase in jobs. In 2007, even before the financial crisis took effect, the financial sector was not a major employer. It only employed one million people and generated at most about 500,000 jobs in related business services, but certainly no more than 5 percent of the workforce. That is not much more than half the number employed in Britain’s now depleted manufacturing sector.

  6. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy • Post Author •
    December 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Well spotted Majes. I just saw a glimpse of ‘ Spect…’ on some news footage. Perhaps now is the time for a reprint of ‘On the poverty of student life.. first published at Strasbourg University in 1966 –

    A modern economic system demands mass production of students who are not educated and have been rendered incapable of thinking. Hence the decline of the universities and the automatic nullity of the student once he enters its portals. The university has become a society for the propagation of ignorance; “high culture” has taken on the rhythm of the production line; without exception, university teachers are cretins…

    Full text at http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/4

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