Mob Terror and Police Politics

April 15th, 2021  |  Published in Uncategorized

Near the end of Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. Du Bois reflects on the role of mob violence in the counter-revolution of the 1860s and 1870s, which overturned Radical Reconstruction in the south. Of the Regulators, Ku Klux Klan, and other extra-legal forms of white terror, he remarks that "the kind of thing that men are afraid or ashamed to do openly, and by day, they accomplish secretly, masked, and at night. The method has certain advantages."

Prominent among these advantages is the plausible deniability available to the ruling class, when racist violence is undertaken outside, and nominally against the state—though Du Bois does note the porous boundary between the police and the mob, as when he remarks that "the New Orleans riot in 1866, which stirred the nation and influenced a presidential election, was due primarily to the fact that the head of a secret order was also Chief of Police."

In the era of "Defund the Police" and in the wake of the police murder of Daunte Wright, however, these passages take on a different significance. Consider a comment from Imani Perry, who says that "In some important ways what we see now is worse than lynching. Because it isn't a mob that engages in extra-legal violence. It is an agent of the state, with the authority of the state, killing people without any process..." That is, the police no longer need to enforce white supremacy by looking away from mob violence; instead, they can murder Black people and dissidents openly, before retreating to their fortress and raising the Blue Lives Matter flag, a symbol that differs from the Klan hood or the Confederate flag only in that it signifies loyalty to a racist terror organization that is also treated as a legitimate arm of the state.

Du Bois' commentary also illuminates stories like this one, one of many recent examples of rightist legislators attempting to officially recognize and legalize vigilante attacks, in this case the use of cars against protestors. (Transportation advocates might note that this move builds on the longstanding bipartisan project of legalizing vehicular murder, but that's a whole other topic.) So rather than merely allowing extra-legal violence as in the Reconstruction era (though that happens too), the police and their representatives in government are engaged in a project of extending their monopoly on legitimate terror to include select civilians as well.

All of this is relevant to the issue I considered in a recent Jacobin article: the way police, who take up a third or more of many municipal budgets, are able to undermine local democracy. Examples of this abound, including in my own back yard.

The attempt to extend state legitimacy to right wing vigilantes looks a bit different when we recognize that at a local level, the police already operate beyond democratic accountability, and therefore the difference between what is and isn't considered legitimate violence isn't dictated by the law, but by the police themselves. Laws like the Oklahoma let-them-run-over-protesters law is only codifying the facts on the ground, and making it harder for popular pressure to force police to enforce the law in ways they would prefer not to.

Which leads me to a final thing I thought about in light of Du Bois' comments on mob violence: the January 6 siege of the Capitol. Countless words have been expended in debates over whether this event represented a terrifying fascist assault on democracy and narrowly-avoided coup, or merely a cartoonish spectacle that will serve only to prop up the reputation of conservative Democrats and justify new powers of government repression.

But perhaps we should consider that what made the Capitol attack both ridiculous and terrifying was the place it occupies in the larger framework of what we might call modern, 21st Century American "police state politics". The genealogy of this politics can be traced directly to slavery and Reconstruction, which is why Du Bois' account remains so essential today.

If the attempted coup of January 6th seemed half-assed and farcical, perhaps that's because at the national level, the right still prefers to contest power through the mechanisms of bourgeois democracy. Which is not to say they do so democratically—witness the reliance on counter-majoritarian institutions like the Supreme Court and the Senate, as well as the central place that voter suppression now occupies in Republican strategy.

Nevertheless, this use of elections differs from what happens at the local level, where the police, and the capitalist interests they serve, have undertaken a very successful effort to completely separate the coercive apparatus of the state from democratic accountability, leaving city mayors and the like to bluster and deflect even as they are seemingly unwilling or unable to impose any sort of authority on the police forces they nominally control. You can see why a bunch of cops (a constituency well-represented on January 6) would think that occupying the Capitol might work. If they did that at my local City Hall, it might just work, and the reason it doesn't happen may just be because my mayor and city council are (with admirable but largely ineffectual exceptions) such reliable servants of police interests.

There's more I want to work through and think about here, but I think this way of seeing things helpfully complicates a lot of debates on the left over "electoralism" and the supposed alternatives to it. Much confusion is produced by an assumption, implicit in many of these arguments, that the United States is a bourgeois democracy, and that such a thing can be defined clearly in opposition to some kind of "authoritarian" alternative.

But capitalist democracy is always an unsteady tension between the rule of the people and the rule of money. And as Dylan Riley recently observed, the capitalist class has never accepted democracy except grudgingly and in limited ways. Socialist strategy, if it is to take seriously the argument that socialism is the project of making society genuinely democratic, must grapple with the obstacles to winning that struggle within a system that is not, as it stands, particularly responsive to democratic pressure—or where socialist elected officials may find that when they gain access to the levers of power, those levers have already been disconnected.

Scenes for a May Day

May 1st, 2019  |  Published in Uncategorized

Brad DeLong:

In the email inbox:

In Agatha Christie's autobiography, she mentioned how she never thought she would ever be wealthy enough to own a car - nor so poor that she wouldn't have servants...

Malcolm Harris:


Hence the truly dystopian prospect is that the worker herself is treated as if she were a machine, rather than being replaced by one.

Happy May Day, on to fully automated gay luxury space communism!

Bernie and the movement

February 20th, 2019  |  Published in Politics, Socialism, Uncategorized

I swore I wasn't going to do this, but here I go joining in with the endless commentaries on Bernie Sanders, who has at long last announced his candidacy for a Presidential election almost two years away.

To get one thing out of the way: I support Bernie Sanders. I will vote for him in the primaries. I will canvass for him. I still have a Bernie Sanders sign in front of my house, just waiting for me to take a marker and scrawl "2020" across it. None of the other candidates are remotely a match to Bernie; they range from obvious frauds and hacks like Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, to plausibly left liberal but non-socialist options like Elizabeth Warren.

For even social democracy, let alone socialism, it's still Bernie. I still wish there was another option, someone a bit fresher, a bit less of a lone-wolf survivor politician. But it's clear that the rising generation, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez generation, isn't quite ready for the Presidency. So Bernie it is.

What I'm concerned with however, is less Bernie's campaign than its effect on the left in general, and on my organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, in particular. Already, the National Political Committee is contemplating a formal endorsement, and a number of local chapters have already committed to going all in on Bernie 2020.

It's obvious why this is tempting. Bernie 2016 was both a huge surprise and an enormous boon to the left, and there's no way DSA would be pushing past 50,000 members without Bernie-mania and the attendant newfound interest in "democratic socialism" among a newly activated layer of young and old activists.

Some among DSA's current leadership clearly see a renewed Bernie campaign as a recipe for more of the same: get people out for Bernie, and then recruit them into DSA to continue the struggle. And no doubt this will be true to some extent. But it seems unlikely that there is another huge pool of people left to be activated in this way; more likely, we will mostly see a re-activation of the same people who were Bernie die-hards in 2016. That's reflected in the hundreds of thousands of people who rushed to give him their small donations yesterday. Certainly that's what's been happening in my social media environment, for whatever that's worth. And of course he is also reactivating the small core of liberals and leftists who are heavily invested in resenting Bernie and his fans.

Moreover, the expectations and potential impact of Bernie's candidacy are completely different this time around. In 2016, he came out of nowhere and offered, for the first time in many years, a clear alternative to a field that was still stuck in the doldrums of 1990s-vintage Clintonian centrism. For 2020, he will be competing against savvy opponents who realize that they need to co-opt his positions; witness the embrace of "Medicare for All" by figures who would have dismissed it out of hand a few years ago.

But even if the 2020 campaign isn't going to have the same payoff in terms of new socialists or DSA members, it might still be worth it. And I think it's inevitable, and probably wise, that a lot of DSA energy, nationally and locally, ends up going into the Bernie campaign at some point. There are, however, some costs to creating a too-close identification between DSA the organization, democratic socialism the ideology, and Bernie Sanders the person, whose own idiosyncratic "democratic socialism" doesn't necessarily match mine, Michael Harrington's, or anybody else's.

The short term problem with identifying DSA as the party of Bernie (who may still not even be a member, and certainly is neither a leader of DSA nor accountable to it), is that we end up forced to either defend or repudiate his less enlightened positions.

I'm not even talking about the vague insinuations that Bernie is racist, or sexist, or that his followers are all a bunch of harassment-crazed Bernie Bros. Off social media, I think these charges are neither very compelling nor very effective. And given the makeup of his staff, I anticipate less awkward missteps this time around, even if the candidate himself is sometimes still prone to awkward "color-blind" rhetoric.

What's more concerning are substantive political stances that are, to me at least, inconsistent with emancipatory socialist politics, of which two leap immediately to mind. First is the legislation called FOSTA-SESTA. These bills are promoted as remedies to sex trafficking, but sex workers have repeatedly warned that their real impact is to make their work and their lives more difficult and dangerous. Bernie was far from the only progressive to support these bills, but that's all the more reason to stake out an independent left standpoint from which to critique him on this.

Another example speaks to Bernie's overall weakness on foreign policy, which has been a consistent shortcoming throughout his time in the spotlight. When right wing opposition leader Juan Guaído attempted to seize power in a coup in Venezuela, Sanders released a tepid statement that, while not endorsing the coup, led with a denunciation of the elected Maduro government and its alleged "violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society." While Maduro certainly deserves criticism, this is hardly an adequate response.

One could also mention, in this vein, the response to the bogus controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar's "anti-semitic" criticism of AIPAC. It's nice that Bernie eventually called to offer her his support, and nothing he said about it was particularly bad. But in a situation where Bernie is treated as the mascot for American socialism, even an inadequate response can look like a bad one.

All of this makes the case for both diversifying our figureheads and maintaining some critical distance from any elected politician. And it's possible that DSA will succeed in doing that even if it gives Bernie an early endorsement, as seems likely. But I'm also concerned about the ramifications for DSA in the aftermath of the campaign, whatever its outcome. So let's run through the possibilities.

First, Bernie could lose in the primaries. This, of course, is what happened last time, and it led directly to a huge surge in DSA members and chapters. But there's no reason to think this phenomenon would repeat itself. Recall that both the near-success of Bernie and the election of Trump came as big surprises to most people who experienced them. Thus Bernie's loss felt like a win relative to expectations, while Trump felt like an unexpected defeat that could be attributed to the weakness of Clinton and her ideology.

None of that will be true this time. "Bernie would have won" has already turned into "Bernie will win," and any other outcome will be demoralizing and demobilizing. Moreover, it will lead to a period of recriminations over whether and how to support the Democratic nominee, who will, superficially and at the level of rhetoric, appear far more appealing to the left than Hillary Clinton. This does not strike me as a recipe for building socialism.

The second possibility is that Bernie wins the primary and loses the general election. This might be marginally better for the left, as it would at least feel like progress, and some sort of victory. But that would likely be outweighed by the immense demoralization caused by four more years of Trump (or Pence, or whoever), an outcome that liberals will rush to pin on Sanders and his supporters. In the aftermath, we will be asked to fall in line with liberals and centrists in the name of a popular front against fascism or some such.

The third and best case scenario, of course, is that Bernie Sanders becomes President of the United States. The problem with this scenario, however, is that now Bernie Sanders is President of the United States. Even with a favorable congress, he is unlikely to be able to pass a lot of his agenda, and so we will begin to see what compromises a President Sanders is actually willing to make.

That will be fine as long as we get that thing we're always promised when the left goes into electoral work: a mobilized mass base to hold those damn politicians accountable! This is going to be hard to pull off, though, if a big chunk of the left, including DSA, has gone even farther down the road of a personality cult around Daddy Bernie. If Bernie is equated with socialism, then criticizing him---much less protesting him---must be a betrayal of the political revolution. That's not to say we'll end up totally demobilized the way the Obama movement was after 2008, if only because Sanders has much better politics and is unlikely to actively work against an independent left the way Obama did. But all of this will be easier if we clearly separate the socialist movement from the Sanders campaign.

I'll add one final caveat to all of this. The impact of the Bernie 2020 campaign on local organizations, DSA and otherwise, will greatly depend on the viability of local socialist candidates---one, two, many AOCs and Julia Salazars. In any of the three scenarios outlined above, it will be possible to declare victory based on local struggles even if Bernie is a bust. Which brings me back to the In These Times editorial I linked at the outset: local base-building and cultivating successful local candidates is still the key task. Bernie-related energy will hopefully provide a boost to that work, but hopefully that can happen without conflating the movement for socialism and the movement for Bernie.

Erik Olin Wright: An Appreciation

January 15th, 2019  |  Published in Uncategorized

It is with great sadness that I've learned that one of my major intellectual influences, the Marxist sociologist Erik Olin Wright, is in his last days. But as he bravely narrates his last weeks, I can at least offer my own appreciation of his intellect while he is still with us.

Those who recall the last time I wrote something like this may find a surprising juxtaposition here. Both Wright and Moishe Postone, of course, are prominent contributors to Marxist theory. But they came from very different corners of the Marxist philosophical bestiary. Postone worked in the knotted, dialectical and post-Hegelian tradition of Lukacs and the Frankfurt School, and came out of the scene associated with German value-form theory.

Wright, meanwhile, was a proponent of the school of "analytical" or "no bullshit" Marxism. Along with figures like Jon Elster and G.A. Cohen, he promoted an approach that paired Marxist political commitments with the tools of analytical philosophy and mainstream empirical social science. Particularly in his theoretical work on class relations, he drew as much on Weber as on Marx, promoting elaborations of the core distinction between capitalists and workers that could encompass complex concepts like "contradictory locations within class relations" to explain various aspects of the petit bourgeoisie or the professional-managerial class.

Most formative for my own development, however, was Wright's later work, which eventually developed into the "Real Utopias Project". This was an attempt to, as Wright described it, "combine serious normative discussions of the underlying principles and rationales for different emancipatory visions with the analysis of pragmatic problems of institutional design." The books produced by the project tacked questions of democracy, markets, equality, and, of most interest to me in the two later books, distribution (particular the proposals for Universal Basic Income and stakeholder grants), and gender equality (in a book edited by my former adviser, Janet Gornick.)

Before engaging with any of that, however, I found a 2006 New Left Review essay called "Compass Points", which briefly and elegantly describe's Wright's own "real utopian" conception of the socialist project. Anyone familiar with my project in Four Futures will find the schematic structure of this essay familiar, as it engages with many themes found in my work, though from a different perspective.

His explication of different modes of economic regulation---state socialist, social democratic, capitalist, etc.---is built out of different configurations of the civil, economic, and state spheres. Though not one I completely adopt, I found this clear and refreshing, an application of "no bullshit Marxist" principles that was actually clarifying and precise, rather than crude and one dimensional as that approach sometimes feels.

More influential on me, however, were the other two components of the essay: the criteria for evaluating alternatives, and methods of historical transformation, even if I ended up putting this theoretical material to quite different purposes.

The three criteria, once again elegant but powerful, were those of desirability, achievability, and viability. I've written elsewhere about my appropriation of these terms, which correspond simply to the question of whether a given utopia was somewhere we wanted to get to, somewhere we actually could get to, and somewhere we could maintain and stay with once we did get there.

My break with Wright's approach, conditioned perhaps by the more dialectical side of my intellectual inheritance, was essentially just to reject the viability criterion as mis-specified. In my view, the places we want and can get to from capitalism are inherently not places we can stay. In the specific instance of social democracy, I elaborated this in the above essay in terms of the "Kalecki point" and the inherent tension between socialists challenging the foundations of capitalism and capitalists trying to impose discipline on the working class. This reflects something of an ideological difference: whereas Wright's perspective tended toward a Polanyian vision of humanized social democracy, I have always attempted to inject the Marxist perspective of crisis and rupture into my analysis of reformist politics.

This also relates to the final part of the Compass Points formulation, the distinction between ruptural, interstitial, and symbiotic transformation. These correspond, roughly, to the concepts of a revolutionary break and seizure of power, a building of alternative institutions and dual power in the interstices of capitalist power, and reformist class compromises that simultaneously win class power and solve contradictions internal to capitalism.

Again, I took these ideas in somewhat different directions, but I think I have always shared an emphasis on these being historically contingent and strategic distinctions, not matters of principle. And so in the analysis of the welfare state mentioned above, winning social democratic reforms, building dual power, and preparing for the inevitable moment of destabilization and rupture, all have their role to play.

Now to turn to another aspect of Erik Olin Wright, unfortunately one I only had brief personal experience with. He has been, rare among prominent academics, extremely generous and encouraging to those of us less experienced and established. Which is not to say that those sharp analytical instincts, honed in years of seminar combat, would not be turned on you at the slightest provocation. My first meeting with him, arranged through Janet Gornick, quickly turned into an interrogation of the ideas I was working on at the time, as Erik poked and prodded at the weak points of my arguments.

But Erik was also someone who, back before anyone knew or cared about me and my writing, wrote unsolicited to me praising my early work in Jacobin, and telling me to keep up the good work. And he was someone who, years later when I self-effacingly described my book as being about a 2x2 diagram, lit up at the thought in a way that only he could.

Finally, Erik Olin Wright has been someone who is equally serious about intellectual rigor and political relevance. He might not initially be everyone's ideal of the Gramscian organic intellectual. By his own accounts, his initial exposure to Marxism came in academia, where he remained for the rest of his career. You can find that story in his lovely little essay, "Falling Into Marxism, Choosing to Stay". Though I must warn those of you from my academic generation and later: you may find yourself a bit exasperated as Erik narrates his almost accidental journey from Harvard to Berkeley to Madison to the crowning heights of academic sociology, the kind of charmed career that was only available in a certain time and place, notwithstanding Erik's formidable talents.

But beyond the campus, Erik Olin Wright traveled the world listening to students, organizers, and anyone else willing to seriously engage with his work, listening and learning all the while. That, along with the body of work, is what he will leave behind, and that we will sorely miss.

Big Media Me

February 14th, 2017  |  Published in Uncategorized

I got some interesting interviews in the past week or so, which I figured I'd stick here for those who care.

First, Truthout made me their "progressive pick" for a week, and Mark Karlin ran [this interview](http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/39354-futures-shaped-by-automation-and-catastrophe-peter-frase-on-capitalism-s-endgame) about the general arguments of my book.

I was invited to [this roundtable](http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04rq0px) for BBC radio, in which we discussed automation and its implications for the future of work. I'll just say that when you've gotten used to hearing Owen Bennett-Jones' plummy voice in the background on your radio, it's very odd to find yourself actually on the line with him. It was a well constructed panel, including both a professor from Ghana and a self-professed Luddite from Maine. Things got interesting at the very end, when one of the other guests tried to argue that technological progress automatically leads to shorter working hours--when it's almost axiomatic to me at this point that the causality runs in the [opposite direction](http://www.peterfrase.com/2011/07/cheap-labor-and-the-great-stagnation/).

Finally, I went straight from one Manhattan studio to another (in the middle of a blizzard) so that I could shift from the BBC to [the CBC](http://www.cbc.ca/radio/the180/bring-on-the-robot-jobs-canada-should-think-for-itself-and-why-are-canadian-politicians-so-boring-1.3975149/why-job-stealing-robots-might-liberate-us-from-the-tedium-of-work-1.3975259). Jim Brown and I had a nice little talk about my perpetual insistence that automation can liberate us from work--but only if our side wins the class struggle.

Finally, I got [written up](http://www.rollingstone.it/cultura/libri-strisce/quattro-futuri-tutti-per-noi/2017-02-04/) at Rolling Stone Italy. But I don't speak Italian, so anyone who does is welcome to tell me if I've been horribly misrepresented.

Which Side Are You On?

July 7th, 2016  |  Published in Uncategorized

Every second Facebook post I see today is seemingly about Philando Castile, and rightly so. It hits me all the more that he was shot down in my homeland, the Twin Cities. Between this and Jamar Clark, a lot of white people are being rudely awakened to the nasty racist underbelly of Minnesota "nice". And not a moment too soon.

But sometimes it's good to get out of your social and political bubble. And as a Minnesota sports fan, I sometimes tune in to internet streams of the local sports radio. Today, Paul Allen of KFAN decided to dedicate a segment of his show to talking about the shooting. For this I can only commend him--he resisted the usual flamers who insisted he just "stick to first downs", because he recognized that this was the most important thing going on in the cities right now, and his show was as good a place as any to talk about it. As he said on Twitter, "I control an environment for people to react, and few are thinking about 'first downs ....' right now."

But the call-in segment I listened to was remarkable for how callous and out of touch it was, in discussing the murder of a man who, by all accounts, was killed for doing nothing more than putting his hand in his pocket to reach for his wallet.

An enormous amount of time was taken up debating various details of Castile's behavior, particularly related to the--legal--gun he was carrying, and which he attempted to inform his killer about. Did he reveal his armed status at the right time? Should he have had his hands outside his vehicle sooner? Various callers insisted that they would have done this, or that, or been more compliant, or done something to prevent the officer from shooting. On and on it went.

Towards the end of the segment, one guy calls in to object to this line of reasoning, and offers that he sees no more reason to trust a police officer than any other random person who might approach his vehicle.

At which point Allen reacts in immediate disagreement, saying that one of his best friends is a police officer in the Twin Cities suburbs, he knows many officers, greatly respects them, and so on.

This was where I was really pulled up short by the cognitive dissonance running through the whole discussion. Allen and his callers' obsessive focus on minute details of Castile's reactions seems to imply that police officers are, in fact, wildly undisciplined and violent animals, who go into every situation prepared to commit murder at the slightest provocation. And yet the same people who talk this way, will turn around and talk about these same police as brave professionals deserving of our infinite respect.

The question to be posed to people like this is, which way do you want it? Are the police responsible professionals who have earned our deference? Or are they lawless killers who will shoot at the first wrong move? To want it both ways suggests either deep denial or an intensely fascistic mindset.

The Long March

March 16th, 2016  |  Published in Uncategorized

I had to stop using this as my Facebook profile pic so I could promote my book. But this post seemed like an appropriate place to pay tribute to 'Wario Tronti'.

Bernie Sanders will probably lose the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, after his impressive but inadequate showing on March 15th. But the left still won that night.

The Sanders campaign has energized and galvanized a big chunk of people, especially young people. And it has made it routine to talk about "socialism" in polite company. So as someone who has been out in the wilderness talking about Marxism and socialism for 20 years, I can't but love it for those reasons.

But inevitably, there's a layer of inexperienced activists who have such an affective investment in the campaign that they lose sight of the bigger picture. They make out this one politician to be more significant than he is, while at the same time misunderstanding his real value. Not just because Sanders' "socialism" is no more than what would, in many other contexts, be considered a tepid kind of European welfare capitalism. To really appreciate the significance of Sanders, you have to see his candidacy as something other than just an electoral campaign, something that's about more than just the ability of one guy from Vermont to win a certain number of delegates and prevail at a convention.

Recently, Corey Robin [wrote](https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/03/michigan-primary-bernie-sanders-nomination/) about the campaign and encouraged Sanders supporters to keep up the fight. Rather than "get too caught up in the question of delegate counts," he advised, we should "educate, agitate, and organize the body politic." And we should specifically do that through the Sanders campaign because while "the Left loves social movements," such movements are "not immune to the mood and medium of electoral politics," which he portrays as a way of concentrating and focusing the Left's energy.

I'd put it a bit differently. The Sanders campaign *is* a "social movement," and it would be a mistake to put too much emphasis on the fact that this particular movement is occurring through the medium of electoral politics. Certainly at the level of [infrastructure and personnel](http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/bernie-sanders-2016-inside-213692), Sanders draws on the remains of prior organizing around politicians like Howard Dean and Barack Obama. But Bernie as an unexpected social phenomenon and [dank meme](https://www.facebook.com/Bernie-Sanders-Dank-Meme-Stash-962428640512586/) inspiration is just as much a successor to recent non-electoral movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter.

It's in the ebbing and flowing of these interconnected movements that we can see the evolving components of a resurgent left, a nascent challenge to capitalism that takes multiple forms, some electoral and some not. Partisans of political candidates, especially presidential candidates, have a tendency to [hype up](http://harpers.org/archive/2014/03/nothing-left-2/) every election as the key turning point upon which all politics depends. But it's probably better to see things like the Sanders campaign as part of what the Italian ["workerist"](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workerism) Marxist tradition called the process of "class composition."

Class composition, as the [historian](http://www.amazon.com/Storming-Heaven-Composition-Struggle-Autonomist/dp/0745316069) of workerism Steve Wright puts it, deals with "the relationship between the material structure of the working class, and its behaviour as a subject autonomous from the dictates of both the labour movement and capital." The activists who developed the concept, like Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti, where struggling with an old Marxist problem: transforming a working class "in itself" into one "for itself." That is, how can atomized individuals, exploited in capitalism, become part of a self-conscious [collective](https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/11/an-imagined-community/), with a shared [identity](https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/06/stay-classy/) linked to social transformation?

For the original workerists, class composition was closely tied to the experiences of industrial workers in the factory. But later users of the concept, including [Antonio Negri](http://www.elkilombo.org/archaeology-and-project-the-mass-worker-and-the-social-worker/), began to expand the concept more broadly. They insisted that the experience of class reached out into the city, and into the family, so that the process of class composition had to take into account the fullness of a worker's life rather than just his or her experience in wage labor itself. Which means that the forces of class composition can include not just the minimum wage you make at McDonalds, but the police officer who harrasses you on the way home from your shift.

To take this all back to the concrete, and to the voting on March 15th, it's most illuminating to look not at the presidential primary, but to [something else](http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/03/chicago-primary-black-lives-matter) that happened in Illinois and Ohio. In Illinois, state's attorney Anita Alvarez lost her primary by a huge margin, while at the same time Tim McGinty was losing his race in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland. Like the Sanders phenomenon, neither of these were expected results until very recently.

What linked Alvarez and McGinty was their connections to notorious recent police murders: Alvarez waited 400 days to file charges against the officer who killed 17 year old Lacquan McDonald, and McGinty failed to indict the officers involved in the death of 12 year old Tamir Rice. Both of their losses are being seen, [correctly](https://www.facebook.com/malaya90/posts/10206961940499797), as wins for Black Lives Matter and related movements that have agitated and organized against state violence against people of color.

Chicago, in particular, is instructive, and really needs a detailed case study far beyond what I can offer here. To use the workerist terms, the class composition in Chicago is far more advanced than what's found almost anywhere else in the country. From afar, it's difficult to even untangle all the various strands. But they range from black feminist formations like [Assata's Daughters](http://www.assatasdaughters.org/) (who were central to the anti-Alvarez campaign) to the Chicago Teachers Union, whose successful [strike](http://www.versobooks.com/books/1569-strike-for-america) in 2012 made them a powerful institutional force for the broader Chicago left.

Even in Chicago, the left hasn't yet won its big prize, the removal of mayor Rahm Emanuel. But that may be yet to come, as the working class there gains power and coherence. And that should be a source of reassurance for Sanders supporters as well, giving confidence that his campaign isn't the end, but only one step in a much longer process.

Critique of Any Reason

February 6th, 2015  |  Published in Uncategorized

Further to my last post. Some years ago I went to a gallery in Queens, and as a byproduct ended up on a mailing list that periodically advertises at me with various art objects. As it turns out, you can literally shove the enlightenment [up your ass](http://www.eidia.com/store/view.php?id=19)!

> Anal Scroll is a limited edition series of 5 custom crafted butt plugs made of pH neutral cast silicone, dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 2.3 inches (14.5 x 3 x 5.8cm). Inside each plug is a scrollable text printed on 7/8 x 144 inch (2.5 cm x 360 cm) fabric ribbon of, "Of Space" from Critique of Pure Reason by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Anal Scroll was infamously performed in the eponymously titled work by the artist's alter-ego Renny Kodgers at Newcastle University, Australia in 2014 as part of The Grotto Project presents: Art and the Expanded Cover Version -- curated by Sean Lowry PhD. Accompanying each Anal Scroll is: Instructions for Use as well as Disclaimer: "Entry At Your Own Risk". Price $300 with one artist proof $400 for Plato's Cave performance; The Groker, Exhibition: January 24, 2015 - February 21, 2015.

It’s the End of a Year

December 31st, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

I didn't really stop to think about it until the last few weeks, but this has really been a hell of a year, for me personally and for the world in general. A lot of things were really different on January 1, 2011, and a lot of things didn't go at all as I expected. So pardon me if I get a little *verklempt*. A year ago...

Mubarak and Ben Ali and Gaddafi were in power, and nobody believed that the protests then underway in Tunisia were going to lead anywhere.

The Wisconsin anti-Walker protests and Occupy Wall Street were unimaginable, nobody was talking about inequality, and political debate revolved around congressional obstructionism and deficit fearmongering.

I didn't know what the rest of my graduate education was going to look like or whether I was going to have funding; now I'm just back from 3 months in Luxembourg thanks to the support of the [Fondation National de la Recherche Luxembourg](http://fnr.lu/).

[*Jacobin*](http://www.jacobinmag.com) was just a quixotic little magazine project that my friend Bhaskar started and that I agreed to write for; now I'm a co-editor, we've seen faster growth than I could possibly imagine, and the latest issue has better content, better design, and better attention from people I respect than I ever hoped for.

And this blog was just a place for me to vent my thoughts and practice my writing, with no particular expectation that anybody would read it (except [John](http://www.twitter.com/#!/jboy), of course). Thanks to everyone who's read and commented here---I get more from you than from most anonymous academic peer reviewers.

In keeping with what appears to be a new Internet tradition, these were the five most-read posts on this site (this doesn't include traffic to my cross-posts at the *Jacobin* blog, which would probably change the rankings):

[The Partisan and the Political](http://www.peterfrase.com/2011/10/the-partisan-and-the-political/). One link from Talking Points Memo was all it took to get 11,000 people reading this one in a day. It was an argument I'd been meaning to write down for years, but I guess I'm glad I waited.

[Anti-Star Trek](http://www.peterfrase.com/2010/12/anti-star-trek-a-theory-of-posterity/). The gift that keeps on giving. This post wasn't even written in 2011, but nobody read it until it got launched into the blogosphere in July. My vision of a rentier dystopia led to countless posts on artificial scarcity, as well as what I think is my most complex and original contribution to *Jacobin* thus far.

[Cheap Labor and the Great Stagnation](http://www.peterfrase.com/2011/07/cheap-labor-and-the-great-stagnation/). This is the great thing about the Internet. I raise a critique of blog-star Tyler Cowen's book, and the next thing you know Cowen himself is linking to it. This was one of those that I thought almost too obvious to bother writing down, but I guess it really needed to be said.

[Capitalism Without Capitalists](http://www.peterfrase.com/2011/03/capitalism-without-capitalists/) One of the first posts of mine that ever got attention from a noteworthy blogger, laying out a sort of tricky argument that I still go back to now and then.

[The Basic Income and the Helicopter Drop](http://www.peterfrase.com/2011/09/the-basic-income-and-the-helicopter-drop/). In this one I got to bang the drum for the Basic Income *and* pretend I understand the finer points of Federal Reserve monetary policy. And I don't think I even made too much of an ass of myself!

This year, my ideas and arguments have spread to a wider audience than I ever expected, and I've encountered lots of interesting people along the way. If you had told me that Charles Stross would tweet a link to my essay, and that one of my faulty arguments would get corrected by Cosma Shalizi, *dayenu*. But in addition:

- [Bhaskar Sunkara](http://www.twitter.com/#!/el_bhask), [Seth Ackerman](http://www.twitter.com/#!/SethAckerman), Mike Beggs, and the whole Jacobin crew are awesome and helped create something I'm really proud of.
- [Mike Konczal](http://rortybomb.wordpress.com) gave me way more exposure than I deserve, and he's that rare liberal who takes Marxists seriously. And I even got to make friends with him IRL!
- [Aaron Bady](http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com) is another guy who gave me undue props, and he impresses me by thinking way harder about the role and responsibility of small, non-institutional bloggers than I ever did.
- [Henry Farrell](http://henryfarrell.net/) has been a thoughtful interlocutor and a consistent promoter of Peter Frase/*Jacobin* content.
- [Rob Horning](http://www.popmatters.com/pm/blogs/marginal-utility/) is always fun to argue with, even if he'll never be able to abide my relentlessly optimistic techno-futurism.
- [Matt Yglesias](http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox.html), whatever my disagreements with him, deserves credit for being the first person to link to both "Capitalism Without Capitalists" and "Anti-Star Trek", starting me on the path to whatever small amount of Internet attention I now enjoy.
- On a similar note, I'm grateful to [Reihan Salam](http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda) if only because now I can say that my ideas were denounced by the website of the *National Review*. It's kind of like in college when all I wanted was to be personally denounced by the right-wing campus paper.

I could go on like this forever, so apologies to all those I've omitted.

Back when I didn't have readers, I didn't worry too much about letting the blog lapse for weeks or months when I didn't feel the urge to write. Now I feel a little more pressure to produce, but the discipline of posting regularly is good for me...so I'll be back for more in 2012. Resolutions include: more statistical graphics, more engagement with female writers, and more veiled references to unspeakably nerdy topics.

It's the end of a fucked up year, there's another one coming:

Return of Friday Links

December 9th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

Back by [popular demand](http://twitter.com/#!/zunguzungu/status/143167557971615745):

- The big Occupy news this week is the kickoff of [Occupy Our Homes](http://www.thenation.com/article/165024/occupy-wall-street-your-street). I can't describe how stoked I am about this, and I hope it continues and gets much bigger.

- Other, head-exploding Occupy news: [Occupy Wall Street occupies "Occupy Wall Street"](http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/12/breaking-ows-occupies-movie-set-replica-itself-real).

- Voting for the [3 Quarks Daily semifinalists](http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/the-nominees-for-the-2011-3qd-prize-in-politics-and-social-science-are.html) ends tomorrow. I'm quite pleased that among the top vote-getters are me, Corey Robin, Aaron Bady, and [Lili Loofbourow](http://www.theawl.com/2011/10/the-livestream-ended-how-i-got-off-my-computer-and-into-the-streets-at-occupy-oakland), whose excellent essay on Occupy Oakland I neglected to highlight earlier.

- The renewed attention to my "Anti-Star Trek" post comes at a good time, because that post was sort of a preparatory sketch for my essay in the forthcoming *Jacobin*, in which I extend the argument and embed it in a larger theoretical framework.

- In Anti-Star Trek Watch-related news, the Supreme Court is threatening to legalize some [truly insane patents](http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/12/oblivious-supreme-court-poised-to-legalize-medical-patents.ars) on medical knowledge. Elena Kagan, in particular, is revealing herself to be a really awful appointment.

- Newt Gingrich, [Whining electron orgy](http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1020).

- Sam McPheeters [wrote a novel](http://loomofruin.blogspot.com/2011/12/new-ive-written-novel.html). It will probably be really funny.

- One of the big problems with earnest policy-wonk liberalism is that it insists on treating every right-wing claim as though it were an empirical proposition to be taken seriously. Case in point, the argument that raising taxes on capitalist "job creators" will cost lots of jobs when they start slacking off and hiring fewer people. This is transparently ridiculous when CEOs [don't even know how much they pay in taxes](http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/jp-morgans-ceo-doesnt-know-what-tax-rate-he-pays/2011/08/25/gIQA1JDGfO_blog.html) and even the business lobby itself [can't come up with any of these rich people who will stop hiring if their taxes go up](http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/where-are-the-millionaire-job-creators-npr-does-the-big-hunt)

- Is it finally time for [Euro-doom](http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/12/09/europes-disastrous-summit/)? I'm concerned, if only because I'm about to return to the US. I missed the Occupy explosion while I was in Luxembourg, so surely I'll miss all the Euro-insanity when I'm back in America.

- Steelworkers are striking against [Luxembourg's biggest company](http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/12382/trans-national_steelworker_strike_underscores_plight_of_industrial_labor_in/).

- Daniel Little discusses some [interesting historical evidence](http://understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2011/11/beyond-divergence.html) for my previously-discussed belief that cheap labor can cause technological stagnation.

- This is sort of an [odd essay](http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n24/jenny-turner/as-many-pairs-of-shoes-as-she-likes) about modern feminism, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in it, particularly the parts about Selma James.

- No big deal, just a Reuters business columnist calling for [debt jubilees and handing out free money](http://blogs.reuters.com/james-saft/2011/12/08/dont-fear-the-death-of-excess-debt/).

- I've posted a lot of Ice Cube videos in these link roundups, but this one is something different: