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Ravenwood

Critical-radical (theory + social science + politics)

Welcome to the ‘Ravenwood’ Blog

Hello, my name is Alex (‘Al Raven’ online) and this is my personal blog, where I share my notes, writings, and more. I’m a polsci student (soon-to-be MA, then I’ll have to sell my soul – I mean my labour power – to the all-powerful impersonal capitalist labour market) interested in political sociology, critical theory and critical social sciences. Though I don’t like really labels, the best way to describe my political and intellectual standpoint/viewpoint is a mix of libertarian communism (essentially anti-Bolshevik marxism and anarchism) and critical theory in the broad sense (preferring radical perspectives, from Marx to Chuang to the late bell hooks), while also to varying extents reading and listening to the more institutionalized and scholarly literature/discussions on the specific topics I want to understand/keep an eye on.

The purpose of this blog is to be a general space for writing what I think about various theoretical or thematic/political topics, both for sharing with others and as a medium/ for self-clarification… I also generally keep some lists of sources/literature/media on most of these topics, so I want to share these resources – it just might turn out to be useful for someone else, so that’s a good reason to share, in addition to forcing me to organize and outline/present things more clearly and neatly.


It’s tough to stay hopeful in the context of the latest/present phase of capitalist modernity, which is haunted not only by the “usual” horrors of this mode of production/social organization – such as dystopian exploitation, racist and gender-based violence and brutal class warfare from the ruling classes -, but especially the long term structural crisis of global capitalism (roughly, since the 1970’s) and even more grimly, the ever-worsening environmental and climate breakdown/mayhem. Navigating and coping with the various issues, conflicts and crises of this era, is genuinely tiring and frustrating.

But I always get back to the point that this sense of impending doom or ongoing social/global mayhem/disintegration/polarisation, and more specifically the feeling that the present social/global systems that are the roots of all this suffering, injustice and sheer brutality/destruction, are far too consolidated and overwhelming to be changed or overthrown, is what all oppressed and alienated people throughout history must have shared, often far worse than [some of us] can even imagine… The fundamental pursuit of joy, love, freedom and creativity was not abandoned by people who were taken from Africa to be tortured and sacrificed in the Transatlantic slave trade and racial capitalism, nor by women and LGBTQ+ people basically massacred and abused across nearly the whole world for a long time, nor by colonized peoples faced with settler and imperialist domination, nor by oppressed religious, ethnic/national or nomadic groups targeted by governments and states and demagogues. Especially in the postwar context, the pain and struggles of racialized and ‘migrant’ people/groups – as well as victims of genocides – have not prevented hope to arise in spite of and in part because of their depressingly hopeless situations. So this reminds me that as genuinely soulcrushing as the contemporary condition of people who want justice, freedom and a better world/society is, the only realistic political approach is to “demand the impossible” and refuse to give up on humanity (and everything else that is impacted by it) despite facing on a daily basis the seemingly unstoppable constant violence and oppression by some humans over and against others – not to mention humans’ unparalleled ability to self-destruct and destroy their environment. My political and ideological standpoint is basically made of two complementary and conflictual tendencies: pessimistic realism (we’re all fucked and solely because of humans brutalizing other humans) and hopeless radical optimism (the only thing worth fighting for – even against all odds – is a radical revolution of all human relations and systems to aim for a completely different future society).

The reason radical politics and critical theory are the ONLY relevant standpoint as far as I’m concerned, is simply that this overwhelming and quasi-dystopian current reality simply cannot be taken as inspiration for a proper way to move forward. Fanon wrote against eurocentrism not based on an abstract de-facto hatred of “Europe” – the kind of hatred on which Europe based its horrendous (and ongoing) conquest and exploitation of the rest of the world -, but as a decisive rejection of it not only because of its historical oppression of colonized/dominated societies, but also importantly condemning it as a fundamental failure of bringing humanity to a new, higher and better state, indeed succeeding only in doing the opposite. As he says, eurocentric capitalist modernity amounts to “an avalanche of murders” of the human condition, resulting in the ongoing concrete material murder of the non-Western world as well as the spiritual murder of the whole of humanity. Fanon’s words express much of the foundation and purpose of radical critical theory which, as Marx famously said, isn’t merely about “interpreting” the world but to change it. His message importantly highlights the need to get away from the path initiated and imposed on everyone by Europe (/the West), but it also insists that doing so is meaningful only as a form of revolutionary humanism (rather than a “return to nature”). Radical politics and critical theory are and can only be rooted in a joint critique of not only political and economic domination/oppression, but the dehumanization that characterizes it and which must be abolished and transcended in order to “set afoot” a new society and a “new man”.

When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders.

The human condition, plans for mankind and collaboration between men in those tasks which increase the sum total of humanity are new problems, which demand true inventions.

Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.

(…)

Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? The West saw itself as a spiritual adventure. It is in the name of the spirit, in the name of the spirit of Europe, that Europe has made her encroachments, that she has justified her crimes and legitimized the slavery in which she holds four-fifths of humanity.

(…)

All the elements of a solution to the great problems of humanity have, at different times, existed in European thought. But Europeans have not carried out in practice the mission which fell to them, which consisted of bringing their whole weight to bear violently upon these elements, of modifying their arrangement and their nature, of changing them and, finally, of bringing the problem of mankind to an infinitely higher plane.

Today, we are present at the stasis of Europe. Comrades, let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium. Let us reconsider the question of mankind. Let us reconsider the question of cerebral reality and of the cerebral mass of all humanity, whose connexions must be increased, whose channels must be diversified and whose messages must be re-humanized.

Come, brothers, we have far too much work to do for us to play the game of rear-guard. Europe has done what she set out to do and on the whole she has done it well; let us stop blaming her, but let us say to her firmly that she should not make such a song and dance about it. We have no more to fear; so let us stop envying her.

The Third World today faces Europe like a colossal mass whose aim should be to try to resolve the problems to which Europe has not been able to find the answers.

But let us be clear: what matters is to stop talking about output, and intensification, and the rhythm of work.

No, there is no question of a return to Nature. It is simply a very concrete question of not dragging men towards mutilation, of not imposing upon the brain rhythms which very quickly obliterate it and wreck it. The pretext of catching up must not be used to push man around, to tear him away from himself or from his privacy, to break and kill him.

No, we do not want to catch up with anyone. What we want to do is to go forward all the time, night and day, in the company of Man, in the company of all men. The caravan should not be stretched out, for in that case each line will hardly see those who precede it; and men who no longer recognize each other meet less and less together, and talk to each other less and less.

It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity. And in the framework of the collectivity there were the differentiations, the stratification and the bloodthirsty tensions fed by classes; and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, there were racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men.

So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her.

Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.

If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us.

But if we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries.

If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations, we must seek the response elsewhere than in Europe.

Moreover, if we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is no good sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection, of their society and their thought with which from time to time they feel immeasurably sickened.

For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.

Frantz Fanon (1961) The Wretched of the Earth. Conclusion.

Politics and critical theory/discussion are therefore only relevant in my opinion through the prism of radical humanism that Fanon and countless other revolutionaries have emphasized. And this standpoint genuinely is what drives me to try to study capitalist modernity as a step in the process of overthrowing the present state of things. Human emancipation should be the beginning and end horizon of all that we do, including research, analysis and discussion, and of course direct action, mutual aid/prefiguration and rising up🔥🔥🔥.

All emancipation is a return of the human world and human relationships to humans themselves. Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of bourgeois society, an egoistic and independent individual, on the other hand, to a citizen of the state, a moral person. Not until the real individual man has taken the abstract citizen back into himself and, as an individual man, has become a species-being in his empirical life, in his individual work and individual relationships, not until man recognises and organises his ‘forces propres’ as social forces and thus no longer separates social forces from himself in the form of political forces, not until then will human emancipation be completed.

Karl Marx (1964) MEW 1, p. 370.

the derivation of the human being from presupposed structures is not only traditional in its theoretical approach and perspective but, also, politically reactionary. The derivation of the human being from hypothesised structures does not inquire about the foundation of the human world and instead presupposes that this foundation is beyond comprehension—it is said to reside in the invisible whose hand makes the world go round. The acceptance of the invisible hand as the administrator of exact justice does not really lead to a vicious circle of metatheories. It leads, in fact, to the return of traditional theory’s most pressing concern, that is to legitimate existing relations of power. The “original position” of political theory is that of an ancilla constitutionis [servant to existing powers].

The weapon of critique shows that the world we inhabit is our world, rather than the world of capital, a world created by human practice, dependent upon human social practice and open to the constitutive power of human practice.

… The human being is inseparable, that is, it can not be separated, unless through force and violence, into an economic factor of production and, separated from it, a political being endowed with the rights of citizenship. In bourgeois society however this separation is real in practice: the separation of the human being from the means of production and the constituted existence of these as capital, underlies the separation between the political and the economic.

Werner Bonefeld, The Capitalist State: Illusion and Critique.

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