A Syrian Refugee, one story



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“Guerrillas of Desire” and the Revolutionary Potential of Everyday Struggle

Protesters gather outside the White House at the finish of the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)Protesters gather outside the White House at the finish of the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

A tension between political hunger and fruition runs throughout Kevin Van Meter’s new book on building contemporary revolutionary struggle, Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, published this month by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Van Meter’s book is a welcome contribution to build meaningful revolutionary struggle and to revive the sorely needed tradition of autonomist Marxism. Indeed, in the era of Trump and neoliberalism, the urgency and the desire for a revolutionary transformation animates many on the left. But we often struggle to realize these desires.

Van Meter’s central metaphor in this book, “guerrillas of desire,” seeks to awaken us to the revolutionary potential already found in everyday popular struggle. Resistance and refusal, sabotage and obfuscation, Van Meter argues, all bring forward revolutionary potential, the ability to break with the structures of an exploitative society and begin to construct something new. These acts of refusal, in particular the “refusal of work,” are central features of the book. Those who fight back against capitalism in this way are guerrillas, fighters against an ongoing war by capital to impose work and seize commons. These are regular people, often lost to history, the slaves, peasants and workers who fight to retain some degree of autonomy of their lives and themselves through acts that include the “theft of time and materials, feigned illness, sabotage, arson, murder, [and] exodus.” Their acts also clear the space for alternative worlds, and hence Van Meter’s use of “desire.” Quoting Zapatista militant Subcomandante Marcos, for guerrillas, “in our dreams we have seen another world, an honest world, a world decidedly fairer than the one in which we now live.” A desire for a new world, with revolutionary tactics, make the metaphor: guerrillas of desire.

What the book does exceedingly well is engage and update autonomist Marxism, bringing ideas into 2017. Van Meter’s concepts of class struggle are especially refreshing and deserve wide circulation in both activist and academic circles. Using the autonomist notion of the “social factory,” he shows us that class struggle is greater than wage conflicts on the shop floor, or coal miner shootouts with Pinkertons. Instead, if the structure of society supports the process of profit accumulation, and all of society is a “social factory,” then resistance and contestation in schools, in the home, in the bedroom and in the streets, are part of the struggle against capital. Further, the contestants on the bottom, the oppressed and marginalized, whether employed or not, are part of the working class. Therefore, the myriad forms of everyday resistance are both part of working-class struggles and the building blocks for revolutionary emancipation from capital.

This framework is hindered, however, by some overly general formulations. One frustrating element of Guerrillas of Desire is that Van Meter tries to convince us that capitalism is defined by the “imposition of work,” rather than wages, profits and commodities, and that resistance therefore looks like the “refusal to work.” But defining “capitalism as the endless imposition of work” is too narrow; capital is engaged in bigger projects than this single act. Furthermore, work can, with different social relationships, become a fundamental and meaningful part of human expression. Resistance, therefore, should be defined as the refusal to work on the terms of capital, of exploited or unremunerated work not in our interests and from which we are alienated, and not from work in general; his rhetorical use of “work” is more confusing than revealing. So, too, with his use of “everyday” in the forms of resistance he highlights. For slaves, peasants and workers, the groups that compose the three central chapters of the book, Van Meter is quick to include arson and murder in the forms of everyday resistance. Including these unusual forms of resistance with more common forms, like stealing, confuses the meaning of “individual” with “commonplace.”

At stake here is the relationship between individual and collective resistance. Van Meter is excellent in convincing us that these forms of small, “everyday” methods of resistance are the beginnings of potentially revolutionary struggle; what is not clear, however, is how these forms can be “scaled up” to make social revolution possible. Van Meter hints at this idea but does not fully explore it in the chapter on slavery, in which individual acts, “exodus” or fleeing, assassination and tool-breaking take center stage. Citing George Rawick, Van Meter argues that during the American Civil War, enslaved people refused work on a massive scale, provoking a crisis for Confederate leadership. True enough, but the progenitor of that idea, W.E.B. Du Bois, called those actions a “general strike” and placed them at the center of both forcing emancipation and leading to the ultimate defeat of the confederacy. If ever there was a revolutionary moment in US history, this was it, formed in collective struggle. Du Bois’s argument makes Van Meter’s case for him: The acts of individuals, increasingly moving in concert, can form enough collective power to topple even the most brutal of systems.

Van Meter and Guerrillas of Desire shows us that revolutionary struggle is already happening all around us, and for many of us, is already a part of our daily practice. Were this enough, however, we’d have achieved “fully automated gay space luxury communism,” to paraphrase a favorite meme, long ago. We haven’t. And so, the question that confronts us from the book is where to go for struggle of this type; in the author’s phrasing, exactly how “to make a revolution possible.” That Guerrillas of Desire can so thoughtfully provoke this question means it deserves a wide audience indeed. Our task is to take up the call.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Michael Reagan

Michael Reagan is an organizer and historian based in Seattle. He has a forthcoming book with AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies on class theory in the left tradition. Find him: @reaganrevoltion and www.mbreagan.com.

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The Racial Wealth Gap and the Problem of Historical Narration

The always cogent Destin Jenkins on racial wealth inequality, dispossession, and “war capitalism.”

The original can be found here:


From articles in the liberal press to histories of the “Frontiers of Wealth” during “America’s First Gilded Age,” the recent engagement with questions of inequality in the United States has broadened to include wealth alongside that of income disparities. Of course, scholars have long explored the relationship between the two: how income derived from ownership of bonds, stocks, and other assets can fortify and augment wealth and how intergenerational wealth offers a cushion to ease disruptions in household income. Nevertheless, the social, political, and economic consequences for middle class families whose homes were foreclosed following the 2007–2008 financial crisis, the subsequent dosages of austerity that compounded the woes of poor Americans, and the collection of rents of various sorts by the “billionaire class,” in the words of Senator Bernie Sanders, have elevated the wealth gap in political discussions about inequality.

There are two problems with much of this analysis, and the one feeds back on the other. The first is a debatable chronology of the wealth gap. Some, such as Sanders, identify the mid-1980s as the watershed for the “enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the wealthiest people in this country.” Taking in his sight wealth inequality in “rich countries,” the economist Thomas Piketty has identified the 1970s as the pivotal starting point. Both interpretations miss the earlier epochs in this history of distribution.

Relatedly, underlying these accounts are implicit archetypes of deracialized middle class and poor Americans getting the short end of the stick while a deracialized wealthy elite collects the spoils. Though strong on explaining the expanding wealth gap, their histories miss how changes over the last fifty years, whether under the guise of such metanarratives as neoliberalism, financialization, or post-industrialism, compounded the deeper history of racial disparities in wealth. Indeed, one wonders whether it is the growing wealth gap amongst white Americans that has forced pundits to engage with wealth disparities.

Exploring the racial wealth gap upsets this chronology. In a recent joint report, “The Asset Value of Whiteness,” researchers Amy Traub, Laura Sullivan, Tatjana Meschede, and Tom Shapiro took up the important task of centering the racial wealth gap and debunking popular narratives that marshal dubious causal explanations—lack of savings, more educational attainment, and the like—to either explain away or offer individualized solutions to racial disparities in wealth. The authors argue that policies associated with the New Deal welfare state are the historic underpinnings of the contemporary racial wealth gap. By setting the clock, so to speak, in the 1930s, they conclude that past policies such as Federal Housing Administration guarantees and the G.I. Bill continue to haunt black and Latino/a households and reward white Americans in the present.

However, this account misses much earlier chapters: those not explicitly centered on federal policy, but around dispossession through a compact between white settlers and capital backed by state power. A much longer story would necessarily engage with enslaved black bodies as wealth-generating assets and the incredibly violent history of expropriation and coercion; what historian Sven Beckert, obliquely building off the insights of W.E.B. Du Bois, Eric Williams, and Walter Rodney, has succinctly called, “war capitalism.” What follows instead is a short history of the racial wealth gap in the years between 1870 and 1930, during a moment of new forms of state-capital arrangements.

In addition to refining the chronology, I make a subtle, but consequential, analytical pivot.  Most analyses of the racial wealth gap focus primarily on disparities in the acquisition of wealth. Hence they use the language of amassing, inheriting, accumulating, references to “inherited poverty,” and claims that black people are “late comers” to acquiring wealth. But we should also think about the racial wealth gap in terms of racial disparities in the defense of wealth: the relative ability to defend wealth from expropriation, whether through violence, state-sanctioned seizure, and sometimes both. After all, what good is wealth if you can’t defend it? I suggest we think about the relation of the first (accumulation, amassing, and acquisition) to the second (the defense of wealth in the form of real property). How could the inability to defend wealth amassed lead to the widening of the gap?

From mortgage foreclosures to Indian removal, the mechanisms of indigenous dispossession were many. However, dispossession took on a different character during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Aiming to break apart reservations, the Dawes Act endowed the president with the power to “allot reservation lands to individual heads of families.” Lands would be “ineligible for sale” for 25 years. Theoretically, these rules governing the sale of land might prevent the further alienation of Indian lands. As Ronald Takaki has shown, though, “giving Indians what they already owned, their land, the Dawes Act also took lands away from them.” The federal government authorized the sale of “surplus” lands to white settlers such that in 1891, according to one estimate, Indian land reductions totaled more than 17.4 million acres.

Legislation passed in 1902 declared that upon the death of the owners of allotted lands, those lands had to be sold at a public auction by their heirs. One government official anticipated that, lacking the capital to repurchase land in a public auction whose bidding rules and norms were hardly obvious, “it will be but a few years before all the Indians’ land will have passed into the possession of the settlers.” Indeed, some 775,000 acres of “inherited land” was sold between 1902 and 1910. In effect, the heirs could not insulate their landed wealth from sale. Patterns of racial thinking that treated Indians as unproductive cultivators of land had become institutionalized in the form of racial differences in rules governing how inherited wealth was to be treated. Indian lands were somehow different from the wealth that elite Bostonians had passed down, and the Brahmins’ reliance on trustees to manage old wealth was not replicated elsewhere.

In 1913, California legislators passed the Alien Land Act, which restricted or prohibited aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship from owning land. Washington State passed a similar law in 1921 and, as historian Mae Ngai has observed, so did seven other states.

The attempt to dispossess Japanese landowners in Washington precipitated all kinds of maneuvers to safeguard their wealth. Some landowners placed their land deeds in the names of Japanese-American adults with citizenship rights. Others placed the deeds in the names of their American-born children. If those children were not of age, still others placed the deed in trust with local lawyers. Those lacking “similar means of escaping the law,” as one journalist noted, “were stripped of their property rights.” Indeed, the number of Japanese farms in Washington fell from 699 in 1920 to 246 in 1925.

If wealth takes the form of real estate, the plundering of the African American commercial district during the Tulsa Race War of 1921 and destruction of black-owned theaters and cafés exemplifies the centrality of the destruction of black wealth to the makings of the racial wealth gap. Black women such as Mabel Little, who, with her husband, owned their home and rental properties, and who saw the destruction of her beauty salon. All told, the white mob torched more than 1,250 houses and damaged property to the tune of $1.5 million (roughly $18.7 in buying power in 2017).

African American J.B. Stradford had accumulated considerable wealth through the ownership of rental properties, among other sources. After the Tulsa Race War and upon witnessing the destruction of that wealth, he fled to Chicago where he tried to recover $65,000 in insurance from the American Central Insurance Company. The confluence of Stradford’s precarious legal standing in the court of law and the ability of insurers to rely on a “riot clause” to avoid paying insurance claims meant that despite amassing wealth, “none of the riot victims” were able to defend, much less recover, the loss from the destruction of wealth.

By way of conclusion, I want to offer a few analytical points about studying the history of the racial wealth gap. Though an important, perhaps essential part of the puzzle, this history cannot be reduced to a story of white settlers, white people, and white capital expropriating the wealth of black, brown, and indigenous people. As Alexandra Harmon has persuasively shown, during the 1890s, the “most aggressively acquisitive” tribal citizens “ran roughshod over friends and neighbors” and “proved highly capable of manipulating the allotment process and the state legal system to their economic advantage.” Intra-wealth inequality—not just racial disparities in wealth between indigenous and white people—mirrored larger trends during this period. Wealth “generated or acquired by members of the southern tribes was also collecting in a small number of large pools.”

Nor can this history be reduced to how black people have suffered disproportionately, a simple observation that elides the obvious economic achievements of many black people. It is not enough, though, to highlight the accumulation and dispossession of wealth by and from men like J.B. Stradford and Pleasant Porter, the latter of which “amassed wealth in business and in ranching on tribal lands.” Instead, we might ask how the larger political economy of racial capitalism in general, and the flourishing of segregated enclave economies in particular (Jim Crow), allowed for the amassing of wealth? What were the different techniques used by New York City’s bourgeoisie and the Boston Brahmins to defend their wealth? Did African Americans, Japanese, and indigenous people have similar techniques at their disposal, and what do those circumscribed options reveal about the makings of the racial wealth gap?

Engaging with these questions might allow for greater theorization about the relationship between the different epochs in the history of the racial wealth gap and the relationship between the first (“war capitalism”), the second described in this essay (state-capital dispossession), and the third (the racial welfare state).

Destin Jenkins is currently a postdoctoral fellow at The Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University. In 2018 he will begin a tenure-track position as the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago.

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Cuts at the UW

University of Washington Enacts Austerity By Choice

Michael Reagan

This spring, University of Washington graduate student teaching assistants began receiving news that their positions are to be cut from the upcoming academic year.

Roughly 25 graduate students from the College of Arts and Sciences had their positions eliminated because of budget shortfalls at the college level.  Students were informed by their departments, some of which faced drastic reductions.  In my own department, history, fully one-third of all TA positions were to be cut, although some of those positions have now been restored.  Other departments were cut by a quarter or a fifth. Still others chose to reduce their incoming cohort by 80%, or completely eliminate incoming grad students, rather than make cuts to current students.

Needless to say cuts this drastic hinders the core mission of the university: undergraduate instruction, production of new knowledge through graduate student research, and training the next generation of scholars. All suffer with these cuts.

It is hard to know the precise nature or the extent of the cuts because even now, a full three months after students were informed they were being let go, top university administrators including College Dean Robert Stacey, University Provost Gerald Baldasty and President Ana Mari Cauce, have issued no official statement about the cuts or their reasoning.

Instead what we’ve learned has come in bits and pieces from department chairs, private emails, and in conversation with top administrators.

University administrators say there is a $5 million budget shortfall in the College of Arts and Sciences. In November of 2015 however, just two-and-a-half months before he informed departments of cuts, Dean Stacey pledged $10 million to build a new bio-science building on campus.  According to the Seattle Times, “Stacey said his department is run so efficiently that the $10 million amounted to a windfall of extra money,” and that the College had an “unexpected infusion” of tuition dollars that could be spent on the new building.  The remainder of the funds for the new building will come from Wall Street bonds, which of course, are to be funded through student tuition.

In February of 2016 Dean Stacey turned around and told departments they would have to cut graduate positions.  In an email to department chairs Stacey explained the “bad news” that the College’s “instructional fund . . . allocations will not be sufficient to maintain next year the same number of TAs and lecturers you were able to support this year.” He called this a reduction in departments’ “TA purchasing power.”  (Later, during a September 1, 2016 meeting, Stacey denied knowing that the cuts would result in reduced graduate positions.)

Stacey now told chairs that cuts were necessary because key metrics in a new budget system, “activity based budgeting” or ABB, had declined.  The cuts came “as a result of declines in the number of degrees we awarded and declines in our total student credit hours,” he wrote.  Coupled with a confluence of other reasons (like a short fall of state funding, increasing union wages, and fees that were dropped), and months after spending millions of dollars on other priorities, Stacey now claimed a deficit.

It is difficult to say for certain what is happening on campus because of the lack of transparency coming from university officials. Some cuts have been rescinded by Dean Stacey, but we don’t know how many, and many more are still having their positions eliminated, including me.

The University claims the ABB budgeting model and declining enrollments necessitate cuts at the College of Arts of Sciences.  However, enrollments College wide are up, and Arts and Sciences has seen an increase in funding based on ABB.  Furthermore, ABB is not applied at the department level, on which Stacey has chosen to enforce these cuts.

At a September 1, 2016 meeting with impacted graduate students President Cauce and Dean Stacey heard from a Fulbright scholar who withdrew from her program because of the cuts.  The student explained that the cuts were likely the “new normal,” and that the prospect of years of uncertain funding was too anxiety provoking for her to continue. Another student, recently recovered from open heart surgery, shared that she would lose health coverage at the end of the month if her position was not restored.  President Cauce and Dean Stacey did not respond to these students’ concerns.

It’s clear that the cuts Dean Stacey and others are enacting is a choice; they are political, not fiscal.  Our university budget is healthy, with plenty of funding for other priorities.  University of Washington officials are choosing to undermine graduate research and instruction, a core mission of the public university, to favor construction contracts funded through bonds and tuition guarantees. This is a phenomenon we are seeing at public universities across the country, one that undoes the foundation of public higher education.

The cuts, administration priorities, the lack of transparency, and other recent problems indicate a failure of leadership at the very top of this university. At a minimum the TA cuts should be rescinded for next year.  More broadly, we should think about what kind of university we want to have, and what kind of leadership can get us there.

Michael Reagan is a graduate student in the history department at the University of Washington

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AWDU – Study Group

To help us think about building for the future, and once all this frenzied organizing dies down a bit – let’s read!!!!

Other folks have done what we’re trying.  In Chicago rank and file teachers got pissed, self-organized, formed a caucus, and now lead their union.

And there’s a book about it!

“How To Jump Start Your Union” covers all the basics of how CORE grew from a bunch of teachers angry about neo-liberal reforms in their schools, to one of the strongest and most exciting unions in the labor movement right now.

Linked here are selections from three chapters.  Bradbury et al – How To Jump Start Your Union – ch 3. Bradbury et al – How To Jump Start Your Union – ch 5 (selections). Bradbury et al – How To Jump Start Your Union – ch 12

Come join the discussion:

Friday May 6th – 4PM
Cafe on the Ave
4201 University

Mark your calendars! Talk to your phone! See you on the 6th!

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Undocumented Immigrants Pay Billions in Taxes to Fund Programs They’re Banned From Using

By Meredith Hoffman

April 13, 2015 | 2:45 pm

Undocumented immigrants are often portrayed as drains on the US economy that pay next to nothing in taxes while receiving free public education for their children, access to infrastructure, and protection from local police and fire departments. Researchers from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, have argued that the 11 million undocumented people estimated to be living in America create a fiscal deficit for the government.

But as American citizens and permanent residents file their taxes this week, the reality is that undocumented immigrants will also fork over billions worth of their hard-earned dollars to the IRS — and they could end up paying even more if they’re ever granted legal status.

The US government estimates that at least half of undocumented immigrants pay income tax, and analysts told VICE News the population will contribute at least $12 billion to the federal government this year, and at least $10.6 billion to state and local governments via income and payroll taxes.

“It’s really important to debunk the myth that undocumented immigrants aren’t paying taxes,” Meg Wiehe, the state tax policy director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), told VICE News.

The ITEP previously found that undocumented immigrants paid $10.6 billion in 2010 to state and local governments, and Wiehe said the figure is now “at least that or higher.” The group will release an updated report later this week.

Undocumented workers pay their part despite the fact that they are explicitly banned from taxpayer-funded programs such as Social Security, Medicare, welfare, and food stamps. Undocumented immigrants contributed about $12 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund in 2010, according to the Social Security Administration.

University of Nevada tax law professor Francine Lipman told VICE News that the workers often pay taxes to satisfy demands of their employers, who increasingly push to pay employees on the books.

“More and more employers are wanting to pay people above the table through the tax system because they want the tax deduction,” Lipman said, explaining that the companies receive a tax rebate for claiming more workers.

To receive another tax break, some businesses even overstate the money they pay employees on their W-2 forms. Afraid that reporting the false claims will expose them to deportation, the undocumented immigrants end up paying more than they actually owe.

According to Lipman, who has researched immigrants’ tax contributions the past 10 years, people who entered the country illegally can also end up paying higher taxes because they don’t qualify for the earned income tax credit (EITC), which is intended to benefit low income workers.

“Earned income tax credit is a refundable federal credit you get to claim on your annual income tax return,” Lipman said. “But everyone on the return has to have a valid Social Security number, so undocumented immigrants don’t get that now.”

Analysts told VICE News that many undocumented people file taxes to comply with US laws, hoping it will lessen their chances of deportation and eventually help them gain a path to citizenship or a green card. According to a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), undocumented workers would contribute $69 billion more in federal taxes and $40 billion more in state and local taxes over the next ten years if they were granted legal status.

Philip Wolgin, CAP’s associate director for immigration policy, told VICE News that the potential windfall would be the combined result of more employees stepping forward to pay taxes, and the fact that documented workers tend to earn higher wages.

Wolgin explained that government costs would not immediately increase because federal benefits such as welfare don’t typically kick in until five or 10 years after workers receive legal status. “It benefits the entire economy,” Wolgin said. “Workers earn more money with legal status, so they have more money to spend at local businesses. Then local businesses can create more jobs — you see wages going up for everyone, not just the undocumented population.”

Conservative groups remain skeptical of those arguments, maintaining that granting “amnesty” to immigrants that entered the country illegally would incur more costs for the government.

Jerry Kammer, a senior research fellow at Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that describes itself as “low-immigration, pro-immigrant,” warned in a blog post last week that the earned income tax credit could actually draw more immigrants to the US.

“One has to wonder if the EITC could become another financial magnet, another powerful draw for impoverished people living in impoverished homelands where the idea of a social safety net — including a cash payout from the government for taking a low-paying job — is an impossible dream,” Kammer wrote. “Only in America.”

But Randy Capps, the director of research for US programs with the Migration Policy Institute, told VICE News that the greater tax contribution by immigrants with legal status would offset the cost of the EITC. And, in the bigger picture, he noted that taxes are just a small part of the role immigrant workers play in the US economy.

“The greatest contribution is the work,” Capps said. “The biggest benefit is to society is from the work they’re doing.”

Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman

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Ghost in the Machine: Reflections on the Poetry of Xu Lizhi

M Reagan

Borrowed from the philosophy of mind, specifically critiques of Cartesian conceptions of mind-body duality, the idea of the “ghost in the machine” has taken on changing meanings since its introduction in the post war period. Originally the phrase was intended as a diss of Descartes philosophy of mind as a kind of occultist ephemera, a hazy notion of cognition somehow separate from the “mechanical” – biological and chemical – functions of the brain. The idea grew from a materialist determinism of the scientific community in the height of the post-war triumph of capitalism, and drew on a scientific and rationalist worldview that had long animated the industrial revolution, and industrial capital. Belief in ghosts, a human mind, and human affections, outside the machine, industry and the body, was a kind of backward superstition.

Of course in reality the body, materialism and industrial capital have plenty of ghosts. In Marx’s theory of alienation, the animating spirit of human labor, a defining characteristic at the very “essence of the species”, was removed from working people through the mechanization of production, and more importantly, the loss of control and ownership of the materials of production and human creative activity. Humans, workers under industrial capital, lost the ability to control their labor, and their lives; they became alienated from their products, their labor, and themselves. People became a kind of living accessory to the machine, ghosts that haunt the process of production and capital formation itself. In his more poetic moments, Marx extended the metaphor, calling capital a kind of “living machine” that derives its animating spirit from the ghosts of labor, from the histories and generations of “dead labor” it sucks and destroys, “vampire-like” in its quest for further profit.

That process continues today, all the more harshly and dramatically in the industrial landscapes of southern coastal China, places like Shenzhen. Here, Xu Lizhi’s life and poetry are embedded in these processes, a testament to the resilience and obstinacy of the human ghost caught in the heat of the inhuman machine. When Xu writes of the “yoxuung workers” for whom “industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall,” he indelibly marks for us the clarity of it all – the dehumanization, alienation, loss of control, of one’s life and even one’s affections, in Foxconn, and other sites of world profit making.

But his poetry does something more. It demands of us a reevaluation of the very materialist conceptions of history from which his, and our, world springs. His “disgraceful poems” push out to us a corporeal person, now a ghost – living, plunging, and falling asleep, in the deadly and deadening machine of the current information economy; his work a humanist affront to the dead economism of the materialist framework.

Of course, the overwhelming tragedy of his work is his suicide. Xu, now a ghost , cannot give us more. His words are silenced, his future insights erased, “before they have a chance to fall.” But there is joy here too, a joy found in resistance, in the assertion of the human. Xu joins the ranks of countless workers lost to capital – the ghosts of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the Homestead rebellion, the Haymarket martyrs, the Foxconn suicides – whose stories and lives, their very humanness, stand in contrast and resistance to the machine of capital.

Echoes of past recriminations of capital could not be more present. To paraphrase August Spies, a Haymarket martyr, the power of their voices are made all the more resonant through their silencing at the hands of the state and capital. They stand to tell us that if given to this machine, all that is left are the ghosts. Xu seemed to understand this too; marking his legacy as one of resistance. In his words “Whether I speak or not / With this society I’ll still / Conflict.”

Xu Lizhi, his life and life’s work, are now given over to this great silence in the graveyard of the machine; he, and those like him, are the specter that forever haunts capital. For a poet there can be no greater achievement.

The pomes of Xu Lizhi can be found here: https://libcom.org/blog/xulizhi-foxconn-suicide-poetry

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