On Endnotes

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pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 04:20
On Endnotes

n+1 (issue 29, Fall 2017)

DEAR EDITORS,
There was a factual error in your review (“The Bleak Left,” Issue 28) of the ultraleft journal Endnotes. The ultraleft theorist Gilles Dauvé was not involved in the journal Invariance. Since the 1970s, Dauvé has been involved in publications ranging from Le Mouvement Communiste and Mordicus to Troploin. Jacques Camatte was one of the main authors of Invariance and there is a world of difference between Dauvé’s perspectives and those of Camatte. A wrong answer on something as crucial as this could get you bounced out of the final round on Jeopardy.

Regarding Endnotes: my understanding is that after Marx died, Engels reminisced that when the two began their partnership as young men, they resolved to write all their works at a level that would be readily comprehensible to persons of average intelligence and educational level. Anything other than this they regarded as being irrelevant to the real movement to abolish existing conditions. A set of theories that can contribute to a liberatory downfall of the global market order must emerge from ongoing involvement in public action that has some potential to generate this. It must try to suggest practical strategies and tactics of use to nonacademic working people. It has to grow and adapt as it engages with the complex, contradictory reality outside a theorist’s comfort zone. This does not take place in Endnotes.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who doesn’t have a doctorate in advanced Marxoid studies reading Endnotes. It is even more difficult to see how its insights can be put to use. If transit-system operators, transit-system riders, supermarket cashiers, and enlisted people in the armed forces will never encounter Endnotes, then in real-world subversive terms, Endnotes does not exist. Pessimism about the possibility of global revolutionary change is understandable, but the specific kind of pessimism exhibited in Endnotes is consistent with its subjectively insurrectionary authors’ lack of a credible will to act on what they believe — outside a cosseted academic echo chamber, in contexts where they can be taken seriously by friend and foe alike.
For all its undoubted brilliance, Endnotes inadvertently proves that there is an impermeable firewall separating all college Marxist theory, no matter how subjectively radical, from life outside academia. What happens within the precincts of the bourgeois academy stays there. Ongoing collective action against what capitalism does to our lives has never been more necessary, and the conditions that give rise to it in the United States grow more promising by the day. If a body of supposed revolutionary theory does not contribute to mass collective resistance to capitalism, however, this theory adds up to nothing.
— Kevin Keating

pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 12:26

We need communist literature to be done in plain English. Period.

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Khawaga
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Aug 24 2017 14:20

Agree, but Keating's invocation of Marx here doesn't make sense given how tough Das Kapital is to understand.

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Aug 24 2017 14:38
pannekoek2007 wrote:
We need communist literature to be done in plain English. Period.

Translate: watered down

pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 14:53

Writing plain does not have to mean watered down. If people can't understand it, then it's not going to change a thing. And if people don't have to understand it, why bother? American political rhetoric has for decades taught people understand ideas better when communicated in plain english (words with anglo-saxon origins vs classical language words).

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Aug 24 2017 15:31
pannekoek2007 wrote:
(words with anglo-saxon origins vs classical language words).

Sorry, I misread you.

Translate: dumbed down

pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 15:36

Whatever works.....

http://plainlanguagenetwork.org/plain-language/what-is-plain-language/

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Aug 24 2017 16:03

Eh, use plain language to explain concepts when they are introduced. After that, use the concepts. Texts can teach people to understand more complex language, after all, people aren't idiots (and sadly, this kind of attitude is often in the minds of people who rail on about difficult language). Then again, in our society we have this ridiculous approach to texts that they are supposed to be read individually; get a group together and even so-called "uneducated" people can make sense of even a really complex text.

All I am saying is that there is a middle ground to be found between "dumbing down" and highly specialised academic texts.

pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 16:26

Agreed Khawago, we do need to bring back collective reading. Even radical christians like the Emergents have started doing this...

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Aug 24 2017 16:59
pannekoek2007 wrote:
American political rhetoric has for decades taught people understand ideas better when communicated in plain english (words with anglo-saxon origins vs classical language words).

This suggestion falls fully within the American anti-intellectual tradition:

Quote:
Over 60 percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. In the vocabulary of the sciences and technology, the figure rises to over 90 percent.

So ditch science and explain capitalism with nursery rhymes. As I said, you're suggestion means dumbing it down.

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Aug 24 2017 17:13
Quote:
It is difficult to imagine anyone who doesn’t have a doctorate in advanced Marxoid studies reading Endnotes.

I think that's a bit hyperbolic - I have never been to college, I just have a high school education. I can usually get at what Endnotes is saying. I think the extent to which I was taught Marx on schools is that we were shown the "ten planks" of the Manifesto and told that's what communism is - complete government centralization and control, according to Marx. I think that having a good understanding of Capital is probably a prerequisite - I'm about halfway through the 3 volumes currently.

But I do agree that it's often difficult to understand, and these journals could really use simpler language. Troploin is far easier to understand than Théorie Communiste, for example, which is a shame, since I tend to side with TC.

I think the Engels quote makes sense - he regrets that Capital isn't easier to understand (which might explain his works that try to explain things in simpler language), looking back.

pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 18:04

It's our job to bring communist ideas to the multitude whatever their level of understanding. I think we have already a lot of texts at the academic level, not so much at the other end. Tho I notice someone has retranslated the Communist Manifesto in Plain English.

pannekoek2007
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Aug 24 2017 18:05

I believe if I remember correctly Otto Ruhle did a simple version of the first volume of Capital in the 1930's.

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Aug 24 2017 21:26
pannekoek2007 wrote:
I believe if I remember correctly Otto Ruhle did a simple version of the first volume of Capital in the 1930's.

He didn't change the language, just shortened it: https://www.marxists.org/archive/ruhle/1939/capital.htm

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Aug 26 2017 19:51
Khawaga wrote:
Agree, but Keating's invocation of Marx here doesn't make sense given how tough Das Kapital is to understand.

Compare Capital Vol. I to the Grundrisse. Marx definitely changed a lot about the presentation and language of the former in an attempt to make it more accessible, and he definitely harboured the hope at least that it would be read and understood by ordinary members of the working-class.

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Aug 26 2017 23:23

I agree. He aimed for that, but was largely unsuccessful. Then again, his lectures "value, Price and Profit" and "Capital and Wage-labour" are quite accessible.

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Aug 27 2017 15:35

Well, there's a question of perspective. Compared to the philosophical tradition he emerged from, Marx's work is eminently readable. I remember the first time I tried to read Hegel's Phenomenology, I felt like I needed a specialist dictionary to translate every other word from 'Hegelese' into plain English. The section on ethical life references the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles extensively, without ever directly referring to them. I don't know about you, but the comprehensive school I went to didn't teach me much about ancient Greek tragedy. Without contemporary footnotes the average reader would be totally lost.

There's also the difficulty that, past a certain point, making something simpler becomes a process of completely removing the actual content of a work. One of the biggest issues in the dissemination of Marx's work after his death seems to be the way in which it was often absorbed through questionable second hand accounts. IIRC Kautsky's book 'Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx', a book which among other things claims that wages would exist in 'socialism', was much more widely read in the SPD than the original article.

I think a lot of what Marx published in his own lifetime is actually in a very readable style - the Manifesto, Poverty of Philosophy, Wage-Labour and Capital, the 18th Brumaire and The Civil War in France all spring to mind. Apart from Vol. I most of the really obscure passages of Marx's work occur in unpublished works like the 1844 manuscripts and the Grundrisse.

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Aug 27 2017 22:13

Good not to forget that the more difficult texts in Marx's work (ie. also the ones that have a higher standing among academics and other lovers of difficult for the sake of difficult, as objects of exegesis etc.) are ones that Marx didn't prepare for publication at all. They were written for his own sake, for elaboration and development of his critique. Explains a lot of the 'style', or lack of consideration for any readers other than Marx hisself. Which is not to say that there aren't a lot of very striking passages to be found in them.

That said I really agree that anticapitalists should make theories accessible by using language in non-jargonistic way, which doesn't mean to "avoid" concepts or their names, but by integrating those in more common language, making them common, useful, concrete. The academicism is mostly a matter of never arriving at that level, and delving ever deeper in the "complicatedness" of concepts. Impressive for fellow theorists but not very much for anyone else, and also quite pointless, if the concrete purpose is lost or not arrived at.

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Aug 27 2017 22:40

Carlo Cafiero's Compendium of Capital badly needs translating into English. Written by an anarchist, approved by Karl Marx himself.

zugzwang
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Aug 28 2017 05:20
Zanthorus wrote:
... I think a lot of what Marx published in his own lifetime is actually in a very readable style - the Manifesto, Poverty of Philosophy, Wage-Labour and Capital, the 18th Brumaire and The Civil War in France all spring to mind. Apart from Vol. I most of the really obscure passages of Marx's work occur in unpublished works like the 1844 manuscripts and the Grundrisse.

Maybe accessible among intellectuals, but not among ordinary, illiterate working class people who could hardly wrap their heads around Marxian theories, especially with the cultural/literary references and switch of languages like in Capital, not to mention the resources we have at our disposal today for understanding Marx which they didn't back then. Even to say that Marx is accessible today, maybe true for you and others in hindsight after studying all his works, is a bit condescending for someone just starting to read him. Little wonder why parts of the working class in revolutionary Russia, illiterate and impoverished, sympathized more with the instinctive, anti-intellectual anarchists than the theoretically-inclined, intellectual Marxists. To quote Avrich: "Such a philosophy of immediate revolution inevitably attracted its largest following in the relatively backward regions of Europe, in those countries still groping towards modern industrialism, countries where the hopes of the déclassés were dim, where the peasantry remained large and impoverished, and where the workers were unskilled and unorganized. In such circumstances , the abject and illiterate populace could scarcely respond to the 'gradualism' or to the theoretical intricacies of Marxism. Whereas Marx foresaw the revolt of a mature proletariat in the most advanced industrial nations, Bakunin insisted that the revolutionary impulse was strongest where the people truly had nothing to lose but their chains. [...]"

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Aug 29 2017 20:04

Well, if you take the elections to the Constituent Assembly as a barometer, most of the population clearly supported the Social Revolutionaries over either the Bolsheviks or the Anarchists. So if that's our criteria for contemporary politics I guess we should all start singing the praises of peasant socialism.

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Aug 29 2017 21:06
spacious wrote:
Good not to forget that the more difficult texts in Marx's work (ie. also the ones that have a higher standing among academics and other lovers of difficult for the sake of difficult, as objects of exegesis etc.) are ones that Marx didn't prepare for publication at all.

Well, Das Kapital is not exactly bed-time reading even though Marx prepared and re-prepared it for publication.

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Aug 29 2017 23:15
Khawaga wrote:
Well, Das Kapital is not exactly bed-time reading

Nonsense. It's just the thing when you have trouble sleeping. Whenever I can't get to sleep, a couple of paragraphs from chapter 1 is always guaranteed to knock me out. Admittedly, while it never becomes a page-turner exactly, it does pick up a bit a few chapters in.

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Aug 29 2017 23:31

Point taken wink

Having said all of that, I find Das Kapital to be a really exciting book. One of the few ones I've bothered to read more than 2 times.

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Sep 16 2017 18:06

I don't know of much books which have a countless number of books attributed it to help you read it. It would be awesome if some one did "translate" it to "plain language", I'd read the fuck out of it if that was the case. Frankly though, I always cringe when political groups publish newspapers and books nowadays. The most relevant format is video. There is a great channel called libertarian socialist rants, who does videos based on the AFAQ and such.

https://youtu.be/pI6a7WySFsU

More of this needs to be done

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Sep 16 2017 22:06

Books and videos are not comparable in any sense. What you get out of reading an issue of endnotes is larger both in quality and quantity than what you will get from a youtube video.

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Sep 17 2017 12:32

they aren't comparable no, and it's not that I don't see the value in books or that I don't read. I think we've just to come to people where they are at. It's like anarchism is a band and we're trying to distribute our propaganda on sheet music or gramophones. People like to say its not about a battle of ideas, but the revolution needs to be popular to happen, so until there is a large amount of class consciousness, part of it very much is. Did you watch the video I linked? I think you'll find he doesn't have to water anything down, in fact he quotes a lot more studies than I have ever read in any political theory books.

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Sep 17 2017 13:53

I agree with Croy; you have to mix it up. Leftists organisations are way, way too obsessed with the written word, with no small amount of impersonal power granted to those who can and do write a lot (these folks are often seen as more important or more intelligent than those who do not write). Of course, it is important for an org to publish statements, longer articles and so on, but you simply won't reach quite a lot of people. Publishing a video or a podcast with more or less the same content should go hand in hand with written pieces. A benefit of videos and podcasts over written pieces is that sound and video is something that can be heard and read together and everyone will be done at the same time; a written piece is always read in silence, at different speeds and as individuals. There are benefits and drawback to writing, just as there is to any other medium that you use.

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Sep 17 2017 15:27

Of course I've seen the video, I've followed Cam since he was CammehYaBams. But his political theory is not that good and watered down. It's the usual pop anti-capitalist rhetoric about profits. It distorts what is really at the center of capitalism; generalized commodity based production.

The main problem with your argument is that you are turning radical politics into a commodity to be marketed and sold. You are also assuming that proletarians need us communists to sell them our politics to become "class consciousness", which is just deft opportunism. Class consciousness is not something to be spread, it is not butter. Proletarians become class consciousness through their own material struggle, they learn to use their power by using their power. No revolution has started with it just being popular because an idea was sold hard enough, it starts with spontaneous struggle by the masses. Radical politics will never be "popular" because the ruling ideas of a society will always be the ideas of the ruling class, as Marx would say.

Also, not everything has to be agitation material. Nobody is bringing Endnotes issues to sell at events. What you can get out if is an understanding of historical and current movements and their development.

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Sep 17 2017 15:46
ComradeEmma wrote:
Class consciousness is not something to be spread, it is not butter.

That is a great line, I may borrow that in the future.

ComradeEmma wrote:
Proletarians become class consciousness through their own material struggle, they learn to use their power by using their power.

Yes, but in many cases, people may want to struggle, but just don't have any idea how to actually do that. A somewhat common question on libcom is: boss is stealing wages, forcing overtime, being racist/sexist etc. How do I go about combatting that? How do I get my fellow workers to struggle with me? How do I avoid getting fired while struggling? Answering these questions does require some butter. And after struggling for some time (successfully or unsuccessfully), the questions may be: Why is this happening? Why, after we thought we won, have we come back to square one? Why is the boss sowing racial/gendered discord? With these questions, you need something more in-depth, like Endnotes or Capital. But surely, that material can be presented not only in text form? Putting something on video does not automatically mean watered-down, "commodification" (in the sense of aping after the aesthetic form of things that are sold) etc. And if the first video/text a new class conscious worker is told to read/watch, bleats on about surplus-value, exploitation, generalised commodity production, it may be a turn-off due to this specialised language. Talking about profits vs. you not being able to put food on the table may then be the first step; all the Marxist lingo can come later and can, even, be explained much more straight forward (like Prole-Info did in Abolish Restaurants; I've yet to encounter a restaurant worker that did not understand and even agree with that text).

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Sep 17 2017 18:08

What I called commodification was not the idea of distributing theory through videos but the band analogy, the idea that radical politics is something that needs to be "marketed" in some sense on a market of ideas.

There is of course value in some form of agitation but one problem I think that comes with this form of agitation with watered down material is the lack of theoretical discipline. There is no point in just teaching something the wrong thing because it's easier, proletarians are not daft.

I'd also like to add that I think cory is going about it from the wrong direction; you can't start with agitation by itself. You can't just throw watered down theory on people and have them go "now I get it". They learn from their own spontaneous struggle, like strikes or anti-gentrification struggles.