What’s the big idea?

McKenzie Wark – Capital Is Dead, is this something worse? (Verso, 2020)

McKenzie Wark’s book is in a lineage. I’m going to call it a tradition now, because there’s enough of it already and 2020 is going to push it into the past for a while. It’s in the tradition of the accelerationist manifesto, its diasporas and controversies.

Paul Mason is the scarecrow in the middle of this field. The most visible and stuffed with straw. Mason is a bloody good journalist actually, and a very useful totem figure for the British Labour Left. But when he strays into risky philosophical-theoretical territory, he is likely to get himself pecked up.

Actually, reading Mason feels like a recent incident: A colleague of mine sat down at lunch, while talking assuredly about big ideas. He parked his coffee. I was all ears. Then he pulled open his shrinkwrapped baguette with some force. The sandwich flew high into canteen air – backwards, over his shoulder – leaving him contemplating the edible qualities of a cellophane wrapper (he might say ‘edibility’).

The shrieking grew louder over the far side of the room. The sound of chairs and tables being pushed back. Reading this stuff sometimes feels that way too. To coin a phrase that might be wartime code, when reading McKenzie Wark’s book ‘the sandwich flies through the air many times.’

Some of it is just a bit OTT. For instance, at one point, Wark describes neoliberalism as alt-fascism. Wark declares that privacy is a bourgeois indulgence. I’ll be round your place in half an hour to rummage through your stuff McKenzie. I don’t take it seriously, which shouldn’t be a problem. But finding that on page one makes me take the rest of the book with a pinch, which might be a problem. Perhaps it’s not my problem. Perhaps it’s Verso and Wark’s. A socialist might say it’s the movement’s problem. An anarchist of a certain stripe might claim indifference. I think it’s a book, with some writing in it.

And again, there have been a lot of books with writing in them recently, about roughly the same thing. A lot of them came out in Britain in the period between the Corbyn-Momentum headrush and now, the early 2020 sugar crash. The deadening December 2019 election result can still be felt, and it is horrible, right enough. But there is even a literature review of the reviews of this kind of book which can be done now. For instance, Owen Hatherley covered Paul Mason’s and Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s books on ‘postcapitalism’ very well in LRB, in June 2016.

I think that the subject of postcapitalism has two psychic modes.

Mode 1: the scary realisation that many of us in the West were living like Nero back there and nobody flogged us for moaning about it all the time; ‘after Capitalism’ meaning there is worse to come also kind-of means ‘ah shit, look…’

Mode 2: the giddy otherside to the skin-picking anxiety seems to be bobhatted Momentum tote-bag carrying evangelists pulling old ladies to one side to preach the virtues of asteroid-mining.

Before the egg mayo and cress hits the atrium windows once again – a segmented impact scenario, with a good deal of fallout – let me suggest two other binary modes of the postcapitalscape; perhaps some people are in Capitalism and some are already after Capitalism. Those who have achieved the supposedly impossible perpetuum mobile state of doing what they like and somehow making a living – they might not recieve universal basic income, it doesn’t exist, but it must feel the same way – as opposed to those who never do what they like and struggle simply to be.

Perhaps ‘Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor’ could now be translated into a new slogan. That slogan might be ‘postcapital for the privileged, in it for the masses.’ I am absolutely certain that ‘sustainable’ now simply means, to hijack Orwell, that ‘everyone is sustainable, but some are far less sustainable than others.’ Of course, the savvy will complain that those floating in some sort of buoyant state and those drowning all do so in Capital, and they will be right to do so. I’m just shoving a hard finger into some soft ribs.

I agree with them, but McKenzie Wark doesn’t. The groundwork of the book seems very good. Capitalism has essences and appearances. But even in Wark’s own arguments the appearance has shifted, but the essence remains. Then stubbornly Wark will insist that the essence has in fact changed, to the extent that Capitalism has gone.

The evidence need go no further than the act of reading Wark’s book. It is ordered via just-in-time processes on behalf of a company that turns profit and loss and creates surplus from labour processes. Wark’s attempt to suggest a kind-of Darwinian shift in human production is at least in part a gambit towards creating novelty in a corner of a saturated marketplace. The idea of Capitalism’s end is undermined in Wark’s idea of how Capitalism is ending. That self-undermining is then underscored by the mode of delivery of that argument.

The pulling back of a curtain to reveal a bigger monster than the one we thought we faced is part of that big sell. It is melodramatic and the melodrama ends with an offer of how to understand the new monster and what to do about it. Wark produces innovation in a corner of the marketplace – leftwing theory – and then embeds this in a future curve during which this innovation can be mined. Wark’s game then is at least partially, perhaps fully, Capitalist. We will not negate Capital – except through our own self-destruction – nature will now negate it, and us.

However I do agree with Wark that flinging chunks of ancient nineteenth century theoretical stuff into the Western breach will not fill it. What we are facing here needs new, not the ashen old Marxist or ‘progressive’ scripts. And I consider myself a kind of Marxist. Wark argues that we move from high theory to low theory. I like the concept of a profane, riffing, open ‘theory’. But in Wark’s hands it seems to mean that the rejection of grand theory says we can find transgressive microhistories. This just makes it a reversal to the posts- and to the Foucauldian. I think the recent reversal to a time before pomo and postructuralism is just bruised mourning, but I also think that retrenching into fragments of postmodernity is futile.

But there is a limit to how far theoretical innovation itself is useful. Because people with homes suddenly full of filthy water are not going to start saying ‘oh well that’s OK because I always wanted the line between nature and the man-made to blur.’ McKenzie Wark can say whatever McKenzie Wark likes precisely because McKenzie Wark doesn’t sleep in a doorway on the high street. When Wark describes the hacker class, Wark is suddenly describing McKenzie Wark.

Wark claims that negation has happened and that tech is an essence, not an appearance. Heidegger thought technology would never unconceal itself. Its essence was forever inscrutable. Yet Wark jumps in and claims it exactly just so. Hardt and Negri thought new media meant revolution was a moment away. I agree with Hardt and Negri more than Wark, and I don’t believe them at all.

Wark takes the opening of Marx’s Capital as a collection of things and says it is now information about things. In the commodities exchange in Manchester, information about things became lifted off the things themselves. Engels saw this and wrote about it in his own time. Those things included bales of raw cotton produced by abused, wageless black slaves forcibly taken from their homes in Africa. It all became abstracted in indexes. Wark understands that production has shifted to bad states with punitive regimes, yet still insists on the larger part of the book’s argument. That larger argument hangs in strips. It never knits. The shift from object to spectacle to web 2.0 is surely a shift to immersion. There are already accounts of the way information shifted, for which look to Friedrich Kittler and Leo Findeisen, particularly Findeisen’s essay ‘Some Code To Die For’.

But this book isn’t to be rejected. The key part of its argument runs that what at first was put in place to ‘assist capital to defeat Labour in the overdeveloped world was also a defeat for capital’. This is the crux. I think about this through the demand that Feudalism adapt and survive in the early nineteenth century, and that old capital also had to do something similar at other times. In terms of Wark’s territory, this begins in the late 1970s. Each period has particular shapes. The ruffles on the dress of history may only be ruffles, but the cloth falls in an unrepeatable way each time. Infocapital has its own peculiar effect. The ‘vector enters the flesh and commands it, and not just as meat, but also as information…’ Here, Wark hits on a rich seam of very real understanding and communicates it beautifully. I think the conclusion is on page 48, that ‘the vectoral infrastructure throws all of the world into the engine of commodification, meanwhile modifying the commodity form itself.’

This gets right to the heart of what Wark is trying to say. On page 69 Wark states that ‘the socialisation of knowledge’ is ’embedded into the form of technology as general intellect.’ These are excellent insights and strong contributions to contemporary theory, but the end of Capitalism it is not. The question of the title ‘Capital is dead, is this something worse?’ already has its parallel, metonymical reply: ‘Capital is always dying away and coming back with sharper fangs.’ It may be a vampire, a zombie – all metaphors, yes – it is probably both and it has not been superceded by a new monster. It is definitely vectoral, it has finally penetrated our minds and bodies, but it has not stopped being Capitalism. The ‘vectoralist class still sits atop a pyramid of exploited labour’ writes Wark on page 115. There you go. Capitalism.

Wark’s ‘Hacker Class’ is still interesting and useful too. Wark states that it ‘turns out that politics is much less about the relation between the friend and the enemy, and much more crucially about relations among nonfriends and nonenemies.’ This an American perspective on class, but I do believe we had our first American election in Britain in 2019. Not only was it Trumpian in important ways, but the old class perspectives are shaken. The Tories’ ‘Dave from Bolton’ is of course a bullshit advertisement, but there is enough that is real about him. (And also damn you Dave, what the hell do you think you are doing?!).

The post-EU open borders island has a mixed demographic of incomers who think more like Americans. The old British struggles of labour versus capital make less sense to them. The orthodox British left will no doubt strongly object, in a further refusal of basic reality. Others may scream ‘xenophobe’. Do what you like, I think a UK of vast cultural difference is great, but I don’t have to like a multitudinous politics and the multitude doesn’t have to like mine. Wark is good on this. The idea of a diverse workforce says ‘of course the algorithm is in theory very tolerant about who it exploits.’ The idea of the ‘California ideology’ in Wark’s book is very useful too, but it doesn’t take arcane theory to see everyone in the West has been affected by that.

But there are problems even here. The ‘class location blues chapter’ views everything through the lens of the laptopped New Yorker. This is the risk with the Hacker Class. If you are one of those people, it will be very tempting to see the vast assemblage through the lens of the connected. It’s one thing saying that all of capital is now vectors if you are in this world of flows yourself. If you work in a Chinese flip-flop factory, you would probably be better off reading mid-nineteenth century Marx. Wark goes hard on Marxists for not giving us a proper materialist reading, then weaves unsteadily between a critique of materialism and ideologies. Wark claims to be cleaving to a hardcore materialism, at the same time as thinking privacy is a bloated idea.

I prefer Benjamin Noys on all of this. He can do the philosophy properly. He doesn’t make ludicrous claims or write things that sound like a self-help manual. But what makes him very good is probably what makes less people know about him. In fact, I reckon Wark would be a better writer unshackled from the theoretical framework of Marxism entirely. When this work is good it is brilliant, but that tallies with more open, speculative thinking, rather than work trying to align or disalign itself with ‘the tradition’.

It fizzles out with the détourning Wark of old, ‘workings of the world untie’ and becoming acommunist. And yet and yet. Among all this dusting the ash off J.D. Bernal and others there is a flash of exactly what we need. A new Scientific Enlightenment completely aware of our precarious position in the universe:

‘Scarcity predates Capital and endures beyond it. The project to overcome it can (and must) be freely chosen but can never close the gap between the human and the nonhuman worlds. At best it might result in an inhuman apparatus less worse, less damaging, than the last.’

Wark cites Drew Milne’s poetry collection In Darkest Capital. In, not out, McKenzie, see? Milne is the essential antidote to the accelerationism of the Nick Land that ended up producing ‘Dark Enlightenment’. It is the slowest overthrow. Darkest Capital has the sense of ‘In Darkest Africa’ to it, and here is Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation, that capitalism begins with a defibrillator jolt of genocide and an injection of the raw materials that would have been available to the dead. Milne refers to Aristotle’s notion of ‘entelechy’, a sort-of self-organising motive force.

So I think behind all of this is Enlightenment. Nobody seems to be tackling Enlightenment. I send you to Noys, and via Noys back to Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno & Horkheimer. Extinction Rebellion are Enlightenment, but they need the negation of Adorno & Horkheimer. When Greta Thunberg says listen to climate scientists and use your freedom to do something, she is as Enlightenment as Voltaire’s knee breeches. And I salute those knee breeches, and I salute Greta Thunberg. But we can’t have Enlightenment like Steven Pinker thinks it. What Wark essentially describes is a sinister fold inwards of instrumentalised Enlightenment thought, but never says that.

Therefore Hatherley was right to say, back in 2016, just before all this literature became a curve, that much of it describes an absence. Capital is not Dead. It thrives. But there are glimmers of another book here and I want McKenzie Wark to write it.

– Steve Hanson

The sad passions

Vic Seidler – Making Sense of Brexit (Polity)

Everyone should read this book.

Seidler writes of the moment during the referendum campaign when it became clear that ‘people across the country had just stopped listening’. It comes up some pages later, where ‘stopped listening’ is italicised again.

It stuck in my head all the way through the book and so I will repeat it for you in this review: People ‘had stopped listening’. The repeated instances seemed important, as though historical amnesia might have affected everyone and only via repetition might we wake.

This book has the tone of the late great Zygmunt Bauman, without necessarily following his themes or style directly. This ‘tone’ seems to run parallel to the book’s ability to see into the dimensions of the subject that have always been there, but have been almost literally unspeakable. This is a key strength of Bauman’s writing – as it is here – and the book is dedicated to his memory.

Bauman’s memory. If the people have fallen into amnesia we have Bauman’s memory. We need Bauman’s memory more than ever. Seidler clearly remembers Bauman.

Seidler’s perspective of the situation of ‘Brexit’ as a western one and not just a local British political squabble is strong: Brexit is interwoven with the election of Trump – a close won thing, as was Vote Leave – and these are not facile comparisons.

The xenophobia of the Leave campaign is mirrored in Hungary and Orbán, in Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and the German AfD, the ‘alternative for Germany’, subtitled “there is no alternative”.

What is happening here is happening in and to the west as a whole. This is the wider terrifying dimension of the subject. It is bleak and mad and all the warnings from history are there in plain sight and yet still it seems to be happening. It feels like the slow motion horrors that occur when dreaming.

You are powerless to stop them, you can only watch as your own body is slowly puppeted through the madness.

Similarly, the logical flaws and gaps here – for instance in the alternative for which there is no alternative – are not anomalies to be smoothed over, but the places to begin to research the subject.

What we are seeing is the final disintegration of the post-WW2 settlement. This cannot be in doubt: Corbyn is as sceptical about NATO as Trump. Seidler returns to Trump’s ‘mistake’, when he proclaimed the enemy in ‘radical Islamic terrorism’, not ‘radical Islamist terrorism’. Again, these slips, ‘parapraxes’ as Freud named them, are not the places to change the subject, but the place where the subject starts.

Viewed one way, Trump’s climate change denial is simply a badge declaring his belief in it. The terrifying future that opens up here is all of what we are witnessing now, plus higher sea levels. World peace will not suddenly descend like a dove bearing an olive branch.

Theresa May is seeking to reach out to the US-UK ‘special relationship’ in an era when Trump is trying to turn America even further inwards. Seidler marks these longer historical changes well, between Kennedy and the US’s ambitions to police the global scene after WW2 and Trump’s quixotic ambivalence.

Old certainties are being reached for and empty air grasped. Seidler really conveys the sense of this without trying to be a prophet, or hammer out a correct line: This is a real strength.

Britain’s isolation could be felt acutely when the Russian attacks on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury were being reported. Suddenly, as we exit the EU, here was a different prospect entirely, even with the Litvinenko poisoning behind us.

Turning to America is a desperate and hollow prospect right now and Seidler marks this well. He goes back to Bauman on how people look for ‘magic’ in leadership – the example in Britain of course now being Corbyn – but because of this almost spiritual expectation they will inevitably be disappointed.

The book effortlessly deals with the immediate moment of crisis and the longer historical curves leading up to it.

A peculiar view has arisen over the last two decades that Labour and Conservative are all the same. As one far right attendee to a Higher Education project I am involved with pointed out, for him Labour and Tories are both leftwing, but UKIP aren’t rightwing enough.

The spatial geographical political metaphors have been scrambled. The compass you used to use works as it always did in some places, but in others only intermittently.

Two decades of mainstream political chicanery have led to this scrambling of any sense of a political true north. We have both Boris and Blair to thank for their blatant lies and as I write the attempt to stop a dictator murdering his people with chemical weapons is being made more difficult by Blair’s legacy of deviousness, and it is often being argued against by the same left who say Britain should have been in Spain in the 1930s.

But what Seidler brings to the subject that many commentators don’t is a view of maps and compasses as they might be seen by refugees from these genocides.

So, not only does this book contain the perspective that what is happening to ‘us’ in Britain is happening in the west more widely, but that this is also completely connected to the conflicts in the middle east. Seidler gives us a holistic view, but it’s a holism of uprooting, a map to a total landscape of deracination.

Seidler cites poet George Szirtes’ thoughts and feelings on encountering Brexit, from the point of view of a man who remembers arriving in Britain as a refugee, when a boy. Seidler’s own parents arrived from Vienna, a Jewish family attempting to escape the rise of Nazism.

But Seidler and Szirtes both show us that escape is never full. The escapees are psychologically riven internally, as those who died were riven apart outside the sanctuary they now inhabit. We have the poetry of Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs and now Szirtes to explain how that feels. Sachs is going to be published in a new translation by Andrew Shanks soon and we will cover that here. Its arrival at this point is beyond timely.

Szirtes’ last collection seemed almost psychically attuned to what was to come. As I wrote for Manchester Review of Books, his ‘poems now leer out of the pages with increased significance.’ The title piece of his last collection is about a globalised world that now feels like it is shrinking.

Szirtes’ poem ‘Bartok’ describes how eastern European folk music became transcribed, with all of its atonality for the concert hall, so that those audiences could hear music that ‘screeched and snapped like bullets freshly fired.’ The preceding poem describes the old men of this even older landscape, respectably concealing trenches with corpses in them. The plucked strings and bleary ravaged landscape of Bartok’s String Quartet No.4 then rises to the surface.

My point was that after Brexit, after Trump, this is not just a great collection of poetry – it is – but an essential book of any sort for our newly darkened times, it is an actual map and I fear that we are all going to need it. In Seidler’s book there is a volume to place right next to it on the shelf, whatever genre-clash that creates.

The bitter and resentful xenophobe is also internally split, although to directly equate them would be a horrible insult to those fleeing genocide. But this is the landscape of the human estranged from her or himself per se.

As his argument progresses, Seidler works his way into Brexit in relation to some of his previous themes. Seidler’s work on masculinity seems much less well known than it should be. He was involved with the journal Achilles’ Heel, suggesting that man’s weakness and vulnerability be emphasised and that from this perspective we should join feminism in re-approaching ourselves. Both the xenophobe and incomer should work along those lines, with one another, in an act of mutual recognition and transformation. It seems unlikely, but I don’t think it is impossible.

As we can see, and as I pointed out in my first book, there is nothing particularly national about the new nationalism now being labelled the ‘alt-right’: It is a global anti-globalist phenomena. The contradictions are the places to begin again. The dialectic only begins to move from these cracks in the seamless surfaces.

Almost everyone went to the polls knowing what they were voting for at the same time as nobody went knowing.

Seidler sees the swing to Corbyn, but worries over its investment in sexual and ethnic multiplicity. Seidler asks us to question the legacies of post-structuralism. I can see why, but from my perspective what advances were made under the inappropriate heading of post-structuralism are being jettisoned completely by the new young left.

Their return to a supposed solidity of knowledge that never really existed is as likely to work long-term as the magical leader is likely to satisfy. Postmodernism is also being rejected and one sees why. But there are larger dangers lurking here. There is a big difference between rejecting shallow postmodernity and its irony and embracing the new or what I call in my head neosolid. A ‘common sense’ left will inevitably, unconsciously, enshrine badnesses.

Therefore the changes we are seeing in discourses are across the left and the right. The left are also rejecting the identity politics of the previous epoch, sometimes with real insight and criticality, but in many instances the gleeful torching is little different from that of the right.

Seidler cites Daniel Barenboim’s comments at the Proms before conducting Elgar’s second symphony, that Elgar was really a pan-European composer. For those who know, yes he was, but to many he is a trope of Englishness. An English countryside modelled on Herefordshire as the idyll to be protected from the foreign attacker.

The English countryside as ethnocentric identity, as blood and folk, it is encoded in that sound. The tropescape is always present, it is the dark matter that glues the daytime together. Cultural documents like this are sewed into ideologies through their use in popular film and TV, or in the use of music that sounds very much like it. This is why postmodernism as a diagnosis of the quality of information in our times is not fully dead.

Similarly, Ode To Joy, performed by Barenboim and others after the referendum was perhaps badly picked, as Beethoven’s Ninth has become so freighted with meaning it has entirely submerged. We can now only hear the bubbles and foam as it sinks under its own weight.

Seidler’s final comments speculate on what is opening up. They are dark and dangerous times from anyone’s perspective. John Harris has rightly claimed Brexit as a kind of revolution with no future or precedent. Seidler reprises these arguments well in the book, turning them over carefully and examining them.

But I take issue with some of Harris’s coverage. He described some of the leave voters he encountered on the streets as ‘plain racist’, before separating them cleanly off from those who were concerned with migrants taking jobs and housing. Are they not also racist? I don’t try to answer this question for you, I think it needs to be discussed, although I certainly have a firm view of my own.

Perhaps only one thing is fully certain here and it is that it isn’t possible to neatly separate things. I wrote an article for Open Democracy called ‘False Consciousness, what’s not to dislike? To begin with I asked us to picture the 48% versus 52% of remain versus leave in shades of grey and simply see them as the smoke from a bonfire of rotten sentiments and dead ideas. It is of course possible to state facts, but I still think that mental exercise is worthwhile.

John Harris, although brilliant on many current questions, fears False Consciousness. It means calling out the working classes using a Marxist term. But False Consciousness is to be found at the same co-ordinates as Post-Truth and Neoliberal doublespeak. Post-Truth is Postmodern False Consciousness.

False Consciousness doesn’t mean the working classes are idiots, but it does mean that they have been systematically fed untruth by the media. Harris and many others are already saying this anyway, in one form or another.

False Consciousness is not a declaration that ‘the working classes are stupid’, it never was. There is not some place ‘over there’ where False Consciousness exists, in relation to a place over here where it does not. We are all blind to the full, macro complexity and Seidler understands this.

I also wrote an article for Open Democracy on my father’s occasional racist outbursts, at the same time as he considers himself to not be racist at all. Then there are my research participants. The engineer who works on complex global projects – a man of free movement if ever there was one – but one who claims that the ethnic other does not belong in Britain at all.

‘They don’t belong here’, he explained to me, as if to a child. I wrote about him in my first book, Small Times, Austere Times (Zero, 2014). He is partly of and not of the basic stereotype of the bad leave voter: He lives in the northwest, but he is not stupid or poor. But I am clear that he is a fascist, no other word should be used.

This said, the mix of bitternesses and resentments clouding our vision above this bonfire of the emotions cannot be neatly separated. But we still need to face the full extent of the fire that is now alight in order to try to put it out before it spreads.

We will all get burned doing this. It is going to be painful, but it needs to be done.

I co-authored a paper with Sundas Ali and Ben Gidley. Ali’s data shows a clear correlation with ‘Englishness’ – as testified to in the last census – and leave votes. There are only two serious anomalies, Hull and Luton, Hull perhaps explainable by being along the ‘Brexit coast’.

Yet at the same time, as Rakib Ehsan explains in a LSE post: ‘A number of jurisdictions with large South Asian populations delivered Leave votes’, including Luton (56.5% Leave), Hillingdon (56.4% Leave), Slough (54.3% Leave) and Bradford (54.2% Leave).

All have ‘South Asian populations of 25% and above’. Ehsan explains that it is ‘not unreasonable to think that such Leave votes could not have been delivered without a significant number of Asian voters opting for Brexit.’

A possible reason for this, Ehsan suggests, is ‘that many voters within the British South Asian diaspora don’t feel European’, as ‘Europe’ was never part of their integration process, yet the ‘pro-Commonwealth rhetoric coming from the Leave camp’, might well ‘have pulled on the heartstrings of many South Asian voters.’

Here we reach one of the major questions which it was the purpose of our paper to ask: It is possible to declare a correlation between whiteness and Englishness, due to the clear evidence that cities which voted remain and identify as British also have higher ethnic minority demographics: Does Brexit mean xenophobia?

This analysis is further underscored if we turn to a town such as Rochdale and scrutinise the Brexit vote district-by-district; Sayer (2017) points to the ethnic ‘minority wards’ that ‘bucked the Leave trend’ in Bradford, Oldham, Rochdale, and Walsall, and ‘were among the top 100 60% + Leave districts in the UK’.

‘Brexit’, Sivanandan said not long before he died, ‘means racism’. Yet the new left are bending over backwards now, attempting any kind of elaborate mental gymnastics to deny this, because it means calling the working classes racists.

Well, my family are racists and because of that I am not shy of declaring it. Many among the middle class left writing on the subject try to declare this dimension a mirage. The working classes must be noble and lionised at all costs. This is also false consciousness, with a long trail in the equally fantastical lineages of leftwing heritage: The noble workers that will rise through history? Come on. Really? And I say this as a Marxist.

But Seidler does not suffer from these delusions. He doesn’t come at it from my thorny perspective either, but he turns over the material and views it from different sides, as one might examine a crystal, through different facets.

The media has been a big problem. The right wing tabloids are seen as driving the Brexit ‘leave’ debates, before, during and after the vote.

If we look at newspapers by circulation the right certainly have the power. Newspapers with over one million units of daily circulation are The Sun – 1,666,715; Daily Mail – 1,511,357; Metro – 1,476,956; The Sun on Sunday – 1,375,539; The Mail on Sunday – 1,257,984.

The Guardian only just pips the Daily Record by circulation, although its online journalism is not paywalled and so its reach should not just be read through newspaper sales.

The print newspaper industry has been in decline for a number of years, down at least -4.3% year-on-year. Matthew Smith warns that the ‘National Readership Survey figures for 2016’ are ‘grim reading for those who worry a right-wing media bias.’

They show that ‘collective circulation of right-wing papers is leaving that of the left-wing papers for dust.’

The Mail and Sun are the most read papers in the country and the most rightwing. Jon Burnett cites purported Romanian crimewaves in the British rightwing press and other generated racist panics.

The only fully stable fact here is that racism morphs, it takes new shapes and resists being outlawed at all levels, conscious, semi-conscious and unconscious.

The hope that the xenophobic turn in England is generational and therefore will soon wane is not borne out by current analysis of newspaper circulation. But as the recent Facebook data harvesting scandal shows the battle of online media is only just beginning. Here is a far more slippery, shifting scenery.

Seidler makes the point that journalists are judged by the ‘number of hits their articles receive’, yet in some ways so are academics. The book takes me beyond Brexit into the new cultural and political landscapes that are unfolding before us, at different speeds.

What has happened to universities right across the period leading up to and across the referendum has been as disastrous as what is happening to politics, media, economics and belief. This book is not just about Brexit, it is about The New World. There is too much to cover here, this review would be longer than the book it is dedicated to, so I need to conclude.

I have only one slight criticism and it is that there’s a bit of an over-reliance on the Guardian as a source. In some ways this is understandable considering the media available in Britain, and the arguments I have just made about it, but there it is, you only have to browse the notes to see it.

I don’t think the book is particularly skewed because of it, but the Financial Times contains a lot of hard data. Capitalist swines need strong facts, not strong opinions (which is not the same thing as claiming the FT is ideology-free, far from it).

However, what Seidler brings to this work – something that is mostly absent elsewhere – is not knowing. At the end of the preface, ready to launch into his first substantive chapter, he frames his enquiry partly through it.

What is missing elsewhere is uncertainty and uncertainty – if it can ever be called such a thing in this context – is the ground the subject of ‘Brexit’ stands upon. The book explains the holes in stability as well as the holes in knowledge.

My complaint is nothing in the face of the strength of the analysis here, and in case people have simply stopped listening I’ll say it again:

Everyone should read this book.

– Steve Hanson

Clouds in the Silver Lining

Wolfgang Streeck – Buying Time (Verso)

When reading Streeck the more lively commentary must play out as in-head subtitling.

John Grahl, reviewing Anwar Shaikh’s thousand-page Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises (Oxford UP) explains that since 2008, ‘mainstream economics’ has ‘become an open scandal.’

I well remember my own suggestions, before 2007, that capitalism was empty and could fall through at any moment, being rebuffed by most people around me.

Streeck gives us the detail of that collapse as a series of macro-explanations of shifts in the fabric of state-capitalism. But you are going to have to supply the commentary that ‘they fucked it up and got away with it, again, the bastards’, yourself.

Tim Holst Celik reviewed the first edition of Streeck’s book for Thesis Eleven in 2016. He explained Streeck’s main thesis well, that ‘the state has changed since the 1970s’, that ‘the tax state (Steuerstaat) gradually transformed into a debt state (Schuldenstaat), in which “a large, possibly rising, part of its expenditure” is raised “through borrowing rather than taxation”‘. Streeck ‘sees “neoliberal reform” as absolutely integral to the transformation from the tax state to the debt state.’

And so 2008, possibly the last chance we had to force this mad zero-sum game to end. 2008, the chance we all missed, every last one of us. If you can face rewinding to what was possibly the end of the world, Streeck’s book is just one of a handful that really do macro-analytical justice to the present economic moment for us deux-mille huitards.

Anwar Shaikh’s book Capitalism is one of the others. It makes a great counterpart to Streeck’s work. Grahl explains that ‘Shaikh advances corrected or contrasting views, supported by statistical evidence, of each central problem with which he deals, to construct an alternative account of the workings of capitalism and recent economic developments, particularly in the United States.’

Here is a critique of political economy albeit ‘without the revolutionary social and historical perspective of Capital…’ Grahl claims that the ‘scope and scale’ of Shaikh’s work is ‘such as to invite comparison with Marx’s Capital itself, and it is a measure of Shaikh’s accomplishment that it appears by no means absurd to apply that standard.’

Streeck also attempts nothing short of a classical, popular critique of political economy. Celik, in reviewing it, wishes to unpack and deepen ‘the book’s relatively undertheorized conception of the state and political legitimation.’ He says that Streeck needs more of ‘the general pessimism’ of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse. A second edition has since arrived with a new set of introductions, although Streeck really just holds to his original line more firmly.

I am not concerned that Streeck is undertheorized at all. His theorizing is supple and rigorously underpinned. Streeck’s book is utterly necessary for anyone serious on the left. What concerns me is the poverty of theory generally in the face of our current historical ruptures: That all the OECD data in the world surely cannot provide a picture of the historical ‘free radicals’ currently ricocheting around the world.

Streeck and Habermas – neo-Kantian heir and heretic of the Frankfurt School – circled each other like stags in mating season over some of the issues contained in this book, without actually headbutting.

We could try, dialectically, to see the clouds in the silver lining, as Celik wishes, but the most depressing dimension of all of this is that none of them, or their critics, Streeck, Shaikh, have a clue what is going to happen next, and the rifles are coming out of their lockers all over. It isn’t just time that capitalism buys, it is gated compounds, mercenaries and arms.

It is no coincidence that Adorno & Horkheimer switched from economics to culture as the Weimar Republic collapsed. Here and now, sadly, identity, belonging and citizenship are the places where we might find the real ‘data’ we need to scry the future.

But Streeck ends with a classic bit of leftwing naive hope, arguing for a new Bretton Woods agreement for contemporary Europe. But Bretton Woods gave us the IMF as well as the funds to reconstruct and a Keynesian geist.

Those people had been through two world wars. Our ‘leaders’ are simply no longer there, and the disgusting failure to keep any of them in check across and after 2008 is part of the reason why they continue to pull all of us into a new and deadly vortex.

Notes

Grahl, John (2017) ‘A New Economics’ in New Left Review 104.

Holst Celik, Tim (2016) Review Essay in Thesis Eleven, Vol. 137 No.1, 106–120