Left Conversion Therapy w/ Ian from Twitter

Ian (@ian_as_portrait) joins Natalie Smith to discuss the hyper-normative left rhetoric of philosophy instructor and frequent Jacobin contributor Ben Burgis. Emblematic of a certain deadpan logical sobriety seen in certain left circles, Burgis’s debate style downplays heterogeneity, pleasure, and generativity in an effort to convert libertarians and right-wingers to an incrementalist tax-to-spend vision of democratic socialism. Calling out the austerian and deeply fatalist assumptions of Burgis’s reactionary approach, Ian and Naty instead affirm the potentials of an inclusive, heterogenous, and emotionally wide-ranging left discourse.

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
http://flirtingfullstop.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @actualflirting

Modern Monetary Theory and The Trans Agenda

By Nia Cola

To be trans today is to be treated as a political agent at all times, but afforded no  substantive political agency. Everything you do is scrutinized, as your right to exist remains under constant review. In response, trans liberation means actualizing authentic ways of being, without waiting for the sovereign judgment of cis society. The question of how to achieve this will always be open-ended and multi-faceted. Whatever our focus, however, trans liberation requires a gender framework that expands the present bounds of possibility, in excess of the limited forms of life that have been previously afforded space. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) gives us just that framework. 

MMT allows space for limitless social rearticulation through public spending and employment. In positing money as an infinite public resource, MMT provides a viable counter-narrative to dominant theories of “commodity money,” which account for human differences as economic costs and potential liabilities when it comes to building a mass political base. And while the prevailing economics casts money as an unproductive and symbolic veil over finite resources, MMT’s insistence on money’s active role in directing production allows us to see the affordance of difference as a policy variable. MMT also serves as a powerful analogue for the trans struggle against what could be called “sound gender” ideology—the assertion of a strictly material gender reality that the introduction of new pronouns can only debase. 

Grounded in such materialist reductionism, the stigmatization of trans people is implicit in the hegemonic gender binary system, which is part and parcel of colonial systems of knowledge and control. The patriarchal family, as an “independent” driver of social reproduction, stands in for the Western nation-state’s self image as necessarily profit-seeking and extractive. And Western anxieties about queer and trans forms of life allegedly “replacing” traditional lifestyles are in some ways a projection of the West’s own justification for settler-colonialism, whereby the existence of colonizers required the genocidal “replacement” of indigenous populations.

The sweeping social identities that Western thought derives from the ideology of biological dimorphism, however, are by no means universal. Despite sexual dimorphism, not all cultures have held to a strictly binary view of gender. There are, in fact, many ways for sexual reproduction to be folded into social reproduction, and so the supposedly “practical” and “material” bases of gender identity are in fact socially constructed and essentially contestable. What is more, because the archetypal reproductive household is socially constructed, the very fact of trans existence holds open space for rearticulation and reconfiguration. Trans existence, in other words, belies the falseness of cis society’s claims about itself. If trans existence is so destabilizing, what we’re dealing with are the symptoms of repressed truths about gender—namely, that there are no fixed truths. 

A rigid gender binary restricts individuals from acting outside of a narrow scope of social norms and becomes the basis for social and economic exclusions predicated on one’s performance of gender. While there is nothing evil about trying on binary gender roles, the politics of performance must be self-consciously nested in a contingent and playful non-binary spectrum. This essential space to play and experiment with gender cannot be conceived merely as escaping coercion. It demands ongoing cultivation and maintenance by way of an MMT-based political economic “agenda” that aims to secure trans agency in myriad urgent ways.

The Trans Agenda

As a function of a repressive cis gender binary regime, trans people must daily confront tremendous hardships and challenges. They face extraordinarily high rates of unemployment, for example, often recorded at around three to four times the rate for cis people. Trans persons also suffer from meager wages, lower levels of college attainment on average, and extremely high rates of poverty. Due to social and institutional discrimination, a large proportion of trans people are involved in the Sex Work (SW) industry. The criminalization and stigmatization of this precarious line of work exposes trans people to high degrees of financial and bodily risk, contributing greatly to the high rates of violence perpetrated against the trans community. 

For this reason, decriminalizing SW is an essential part of any trans liberation agenda. It is undeniable, however, that a significant portion of trans participation in SW is tied to discrimination elsewhere, and so justice for trans sex workers cannot be taken in isolation. If trans people are going to achieve liberation, it will mean provisioning lives we want to lead—including those of us who happily participate in SW. 

The issue of discrimination at the point of access to social goods can be viewed as a matter of equal protection under the law, and for this the solution is simple: pass statutes that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. While this is of course a long Civil Rights fight, a good start would be passing the Equality Act, which would immediately alleviate explicit discrimination as a concern by making it illegal at the federal level. The Equality Act was passed by the House for the second time on February 25, 2021 and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. 

Still, the trans agenda must go further. A comprehensive policy platform could fill a tome, of course, and it would be good to develop such an agenda in the future. Here, however, I would like to focus on two key policies–a Federal Job Guarantee (FJG) and, below, Medicare for All–which are only realizable if we embrace the radical implications of MMT. 

The MMT lens implores us to look at the world in an expansive and generative way, rejecting binary and zero-sum thinking at the level of fiscal provisioning. The fundamental insight of MMT is that money is not a private commodity that must be taken from the market via taxation in order to fund the public sector. To the contrary, governments create money to finance their operations, and taxation is simply one tool among many to manage the shape and distribution of monetary demand (as well as ensure a common denomination. Money’s role in mediating access to and participation in social provisioning is a limitless public resource, which can be used however we want and across any time horizon. 

For this reason, the monetary agency of the Federal government to name and finance public priorities can be mobilized at any time to create a public option for employment. If designed and fought for as a fully inclusive and trans affirming program, a FJG would not only establish a wage-and-benefits floor for the entire economy and begin to challenge and change the social meaning of work. It would also create an inalienable foundation to both support and further facilitate trans liberation, while buttressing trans resilience against hostile employment authorities. 

Building a trans positive FJG, meanwhile, would build union power by diversifying and expanding the traditional white cis culture of union membership. As a unionized public works system, the FJG will no doubt irreversibly alter the balance of power between unions and employers throughout the economy. Yet while unions have in the past proven to be crucial countervailing forces against employers, traditional unions are far from perfect and insufficient on their own. Indeed, even in their heyday, large unions predominantly shaped and supported a repressive and exclusionary mid-center social order. 

A diversified FJG union, by contrast, will not merely boster trans life. It would also strengthen the bargaining power of public and private unions alike by preventing them from holding minority groups hostage to exclusionary majorities, or even corrupt alliances with management. A FJG union, moreover, would allow workers to refuse to work in striking sectors, providing an expansive foundation for industrial solidarity that transcends the false opposition between living for one’s self and living for one’s class. 

Too Many Pronouns Chasing Too Few Genders?

As with any expansion of government spending, the standard objection leveled against the FJG is that it will cause runaway inflation. Behind this explicit argument looms an implicit and quite violent social implication: If paying everyone to work increases the rate of inflation, as might be alleged by mainstream economists, the implication is that some of those people are being paid above what they’re worth. Or to paraphrase the economists, it is too many dollars chasing too few socially legitimate goods. Setting aside other critiques of mainstream economics, this is a startling statement about the value of the work of women, queer people, and people of color. It’s a declaration that we are not capable of producing work valuable enough to justify a living wage.

If one outright rejects the possibility that marginalized people can make social contributions that justify a living wage, then it follows that they either should live off the goodwill of “the productive” through redistributive policies, or that they don’t deserve to live at all. While few people will state the latter openly, the former view is highly patronizing and built to fail under pressure. Buttressed by such toxic logics, the work of marginalized communities has therefore long been under-valued, and the expectation that their employment will result in inflation reflects this legacy. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the inflation bogeyman is also wielded against trans people through opposition to trans healthcare. Medical interventions allow trans people to assimilate into cis society to the extent that they desire, or equally to challenge the gendered expectations that are hurting them in the first place. We can hear echoes of the inflation panic about illegitimate jobs in objections to trans inclusion in universal healthcare policies such as Medicare for All. According to this reactionary logic, gender affirming care is superfluous and cosmetic rather than “material” in some fundamental sense. The suggestion that there is a tradeoff between trans and universal healthcare implies that provisioning healthcare services for trans people is beyond the capacity of our economy to manage. But this is a demonstrably false statement. The expansion of trans healthcare would likely be a one-off event in terms of increased capacity needs. 

It is reasonable to expect the amount of trans people who would need to be served would increase as stigma falls, more people decide to transition, and healthcare provisions become more available; however, there is scarce evidence that provisioning such a future is somehow beyond our economy’s ability to adapt to these increased needs. It can be hard to shake the feeling that many of these detractors are opposed to trans healthcare not because they genuinely believe in a resource constraint, but simply because they do not wish to see trans people exist in public life. 

Queering Money

To guarantee adequate jobs and healthcare to trans people—and build coalitions around such struggles—we need a fundamental shift in thinking when it comes to government budgeting. When money is imagined as fundamentally scarce, social change is routed through the problematic language of redistribution and replacement rather than creation. This in turn creates an “any port in the storm” mentality when it comes to building coalitions, as the variegated experiences of trans people are reduced to a representative “average” trans person who can be more simplistically advocated for. And as we see, the impulse to reduce and assimilate what is particular into what is imagined as universal for the sake of “widening the coalition” is observable in class reductionist calls to not discuss trans healthcare at all, in favor of supposedly “universal” healthcare services.

MMT, by contrast, provides a different foundation that allows us to articulate a comprehensive trans agenda on generative rather than zero sum terms. In the MMT story, when public money is motivated toward some end, fiscal authorities create it. Because money is created rather than found, spending precedes rather than follows taxation. Creation does not need to be “paid for” by destruction, and the trans agenda does not need to be routed through such zero sum logics. Money creation authorizes public job creation at the same time that it authorizes private purchasing power.

In the dominant economic view, money creation is inflationary because it is imagined as abstract bids on fundamentally scarce goods. In contradistinction to this view, MMT sees public spending, not as subtracting from a fixed pool of public resources, but instead directing its expansion. This is because, as any heterodox economist will tell you, resources are as socially constructed as gender. The flow of inputs at every point of production is linked to the flow of outputs at another. Capacity is therefore created rather than given, and when the government invests properly it can create new capacity over time.

The policies discussed above are possible only with an MMT framework that speaks in the register of rights and guarantees, rather than goals and aspirations. A FJG will require large variations in spending, and any method of ‘paying for’ the program would have to be just as flexible. And while Medicare for All would likely entail more stable spending patterns, it’s too great a budget item to tie to taxation, dollar for dollar. The last thing we need is policy that analogizes gender affirming healthcare services to zero sum redistribution. A proper budget in an MMT framework would deliberately target resource bottlenecks and invest in expanding production where necessary. 

If properly wielded and understood, public money harbors radical potential to reshape society for the better. These two policies would vastly improve life for trans people, but there is no final word in what makes the trans agenda, any more than there is a final word in what makes a trans person. It is imperative, however, to go big. Putting a Federal Job Guarantee and Medicare for All into action for this trans agenda would be a great start.

* “Money” by free pictures of money is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Modern Movie Theory (MMT): Loki

Maxximilian Seijo, Andrés Bernal and Scott Ferguson plunge into the latest Disney Plus streaming series, Loki (2021), as part of their ongoing examination of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). For all its deliciously queer aesthetic & political potentials, they argue, Loki represents another MCU tragedy about the promise & perpetual failure of social contract theory, and fascism’s seductive exploitation of that failure. In doing so, they critique how the show’s neoliberal and tacitly Deleuzean conception of time as “univocal difference” problematically pits care against heterogeneity in a zero-sum trade-off between fascism and democracy. At the same time, they suggest that Loki’s polyvalent and often-campy aesthetics nevertheless express new longings for alternative modes of questioning and organizing the world.

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
http://flirtingfullstop.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @actualflirting

Processions – Season 1

In Processions, host Maxximilian Seijo reads and reflects on one page of a given text, five days a week. Taking a tour through a vast array of thinkers, concepts and methods, one snapshot at a time, Maxx explores the redemptive capacity of the Money on the Left Editorial Collective’s method of analogical critique.

To hear Season 1’s 15 episodes, follow the embedded link to the Soundcloud playlist. Find a detailed list of Season 1’s readings below.

  1. Jean Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra, (Page 1)
  2. Theodor W. Adorno, The Stars Down to Earth, (Pages 48-49)
  3. Dante Alighieri, Inferno, (Canto 1, lines 1-15)
  4. Rebecca L. Spang, Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution, (Page 6)
  5. Stuart Hall, Essential Essays (Vol. 2): Identity and Diaspora, “Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities” (Page 67)
  6. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, (Page 127-128)
  7. Greg Grandin, The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, (Page 8-9)
  8. G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, (Page 90)
  9. Ndongo Samba Sylla, “Colonialism’s Neoliberal Origins”, (https://moneyontheleft.org/2021/06/14/neoliberalisms-colonial-origins/)
  10. Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies, (Page 272-273)
  11. Siegfried Kracauer, History, the Last Things Before the Last, (page 42-43)
  12. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, (page 9-10)
  13. Sean Cubitt, Finite Media: Environmental Implications of Digital Technology, (page 7)
  14. Silvina Ocampo, “Forgotten Journey”, Thus Were Their Faces, (page 1-3)
  15. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, (page 16-17)

Subscribe to our Patreon: www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music by Nahneen Kula (www.nahneenkula.com)

The Mark of Fascism: Lebensraum for the Left (Essay)

By Maxximilian Seijo & Scott Ferguson

A thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invincible absence; and that, at the same time, stands at the threshold of all positivity, not in order to grasp its foundation or justification but in order to regain the space of its unfolding, the void serving as its site, the distance in which it is constituted and into which its immediate certainties slip the moment they are glimpsed—a thought that, in relation to the interiority of our philosophical reflection and the positivity of our knowledge, constitutes what in a phrase we might call “the thought of the outside.”

Michel Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside

Anti-fascism has always been central to critical theory. Yet in resisting fascism, critical theorists have too readily taken fascist projects at their word. When fascism asserts itself within a polity, for instance, or imposes order on another community, it posits territorial rule over and against what is tacitly framed as an external and pre-political commons. Crucially, such a commons is imagined to exist beyond any particular territory, somehow belonging to no one and everyone at once. From this initial commons, fascism decides who is permitted to exist inside the ethno-nationalist state and who must be pushed out. The very act of exclusion, then, strategically defines the ethno-nationalist state at the same time as it shores up its legitimacy.

One finds critiques of this formulation in numerous works, including those by the likes of Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Gilles Deleuze, and Giorgio Agamben, and others. All of these authors opt variously to counter fascist territorialization with a version of what Deleuze and Félix Guattari call a logic of “deterritorialization.” Deterritorialization seeks to undo fascism’s expulsive territoriality so as to carve out extra-territorial room for life. Such seemingly critical gestures are right to contest territorialization. We will argue, however, that they err by problematically repeating, even romanticizing, the appeal to a pre-political commons that drives fascist logics in the first instance. In this brief essay, we wish to not only challenge metaphysical appeals to a pre-political commons, but also set forth a far more capacious and anthropologically-grounded critique of fascist territoriality.

It is instructive to return to one of the relatively unknown architects of fascist theory, the Nazi linguist Jost Trier. An important influence on both Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, Trier argued that the origin of politics must be postulated through the question of terrain and the central problem of what he terms the “fence.” As he intones, “The fence marks the beginning. Deep and thoroughly defining, the fence, the border, nurtures [Hegung] the world formed by humans.” For Trier, the fence does more than establish a territory. It demarcates the political as such. And the political, on Trier’s reasoning, is nothing other than the function of an inherently exclusionary care.

Construed as a line of division inscribed on a blank slate, such logics borrow from Rene Descartes’ planar geometry, Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature, and John Locke’s extension of such logics to theorize the origins of the human psyche as a tabula rasa. Reducing the political to a foundational enclosure, Trier relies upon and gives voice to the metaphysical bedrock of modern Liberalism and its justifications for the private seizure of common forests, fields and waters in early modern England. Yet he also radicalizes Liberal metaphysics, carrying their suppositions to their implied logical and political ends. As a result, he reads the relationship between inside and outside through a univocal prism of absolute opposition.

In order to undo this violence, the critics we mention above respond to Liberalism and fascism alike by attempting to reclaim an original, external commons, which supposedly precedes and exceeds enclosure. Critics affirm “lines of flight,” to again borrow from Deleuze and Guattari, which would seem to defy and escape any sovereign interior. Against the univocal violence of enclosure, then, they picture a pre-political commonality or commons, where humanity and nature exist together in open and unbounded relations teeming with repressed social and ecological potential. In place of enclosure, modern critics construct a politics of exteriority and difference, which frequently appears to mirror, or simply invert, the absolutism of their fascist interlocutors. In the face of fascist efforts to secure a passive environment for a chosen people, these critics call upon a pre- and, in certain iterations, post-political commons to accomplish something disturbingly similar. As a consequence, such critics often naturalize the ontological core of fascistic violence and let Liberalism’s comparatively mild operations too easily off the hook. 

We in the Money on the Left Editorial Collective begin from wholly different premises. Rejecting the ontological exclusion of the fence, we regard the political and, with it, money as an originary multi-scale interdependence. In this way, we turn the entire edifice of Western political philosophy outside-in. Proceeding from heterogeneous institutions and forms of decision making that know no absolute exteriority, we refuse the figure of the fence as politically constitutive, as well as the illusory commons upon which it is based. Demarcations of course differentiate social and material relations in meaningful ways. But any demarcation, we contend, remains forever nested within and relative to broader domains of social and ecological mediation. Put another way, demarcation can never be said to intervene in an untrammeled or pre-political field free from integrated social coordinations and meanings. Eschewing an absolute commons or state of nature, we maintain that there is no legible or legitimate outside to the problem of mediating social and ecological dependence, no matter which side of demarcation one considers.

Crucially, such inclusivity is decidedly not spatialized, or at least not in any Cartesian sense that would imply linear partitions over an infinitely extended plane. Inclusion is instead a qualitative relation interior to infinitude, which relies on overlapping and vastly different proximities to particular centers of mediation and indicates no unaffected outside. Particulars necessarily participate in this ubiquitous inside which, despite their irregular differentiations, nevertheless manages to reach all. As such, the “externalities” and “marginalities” that so flummox neoclassical economists and delight continental philosophers endure always-already inside a broader human and ecological condition, even and especially when it comes to apparatuses of expulsion.

For this reason, Liberalism and ultimately, fascism fail in positing as origin the opposition between fence and commons. In contradistinction to Siegfried Kracauer’s self-conception as “extraterritorial,” what we have elsewhere called the inextricable “intraterritoriality” of existence undermines the modern metaphysics of expulsion. The failure of fascist demarcation to fully externalize those who it identifies as enemies does not, to be sure, make such regimes any less brutal. On our reading, it doubles their brutality, secreting away a clandestine ontological violence under cover of the manifest horrors of genocide. Fascism’s overt violence of course owes to its destructive practices, which perpetuate psychic and social terror in the name of an impossible, pure interiority. Yet what has hitherto been overlooked by fascism’s most trenchant critics is Western modernity’s violent externalization of naming, which surreptitiously legitimizes fascism’s spectacular failures. This violence does not derive, as critical theorists regularly argue, from the supposed imposition of nominalization on reality. It arises, instead, from the metaphysical delusion that nominalization penetrates Being from the outside.

Repudiating an absolute inside and outside, our claim is that designation and, specifically, designation through money always involves contestable analogies. Analogies are nothing but patterns of dynamic relation, entailing diverse spheres of obligation and need. On this view, analogies may partake of homology or likeness, but cannot be reduced to isomorphic sameness. Presuming a shared interiority, analogies forge difference within sameness, with sameness in this case understood as the heterogenous background of Being as such. Analogies at once disclose and shape not only power and its ongoing problematics, but also interdependence and the ongoing difficulties of care. They do so, not from some Archimedean point of mastery, but rather through partial and participatory articulations of nested relationality.

We draw regularly on chartalism and related traditions to show that the analogical conditions of moneyness represent a relative constant throughout much of human history, despite great variations in social and material life that comprise said moneyness. Diverse, multiple, and ubiquitously visible, such histories demonstrate that the conditions of moneyness are as generalizable as they are particular. They also harbor endless lessons for anti-fascist politics.

Take historian Robert Gates indispensable insights into Weimar-era struggle over the nature of money and its political capacities. While Germany’s Free Trade Unions supported a program of massive public works funded by direct public money creation, the Marxist leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) such as Rudolf Hilferding rejected the program as unrealistic and “un-Marxist.” Preparing for a nationalization program projected into some indefinite future, SPD Marxists actively worsened the catastrophe by calling on the party to permit the ensuing economic crisis and joblessness to run its allegedly natural course. Although certainly not solely responsible for the subsequent nightmare, they nevertheless unwittingly assisted in hastening fascist scapegoating of Jews and other minorities along with the meteoric rise to power of a once-beleaguered Nazi party.

Unexplored by Gates, SPD’s disastrous incapacity to approach monetary mediation otherwise relies upon a tacit externalization of inscription. According to the SPD’s logic, the capitalist mode of production and its countless contradictions appeared to operate as a univocal imposition of private property onto unbounded nature. In the face of private property’s total imposition, the SPD could only concoct an antithetical, yet equally univocal project of nationalization that would socialize private industry as part of an eventual dialectical movement toward what the young Marx once referred to as “lower-stage communism.” Far from effectively combating fascism, however, the SPD reified the metaphysical exteriority upon which fascism thrives. The result not only deepened a political and economic calamity the Nazis could exploit, but also paved the way for fascism to wield state money as a weapon of exclusionary uplift and mass extermination. 

Hardly isomorphic to present conditions in and beyond The United States, the work of revealing such historical possibilities and blind spots nonetheless offer haunting analogies for the fallout of persistent neoliberal austerity and the resurgent ferocity of ethno-nationalist violence. And yet, there is still so much more work to be done.

We need historians across disciplines and fields to assist us in tracing the possibilities and limits of the many analogous human attempts to thematize our inalienable dependence on monetary mediation in myriad and unpredictable forms. Through this expressly analogical practice, historians can enable us to envision money’s previously untapped potentials, as well as expose reactionary logics and practices we wish to avoid and struggle against. In doing so, the critical historian must prioritize the vast and heterogenous interiority of monetary inscription, while jettisoning the fascist mirage of exteriority that the Nazis notoriously hailed as “living room,” or Lebensraum.

Long held at arms-length by leftists as a noxious fiction belonging to the far right, the lure of Lebensraum in actuality looms as a powerful temptation for critical theorists as well. Echoing Michel Foucault’s meditation on Maurice Blanchot’s “thought from outside” quoted above, contemporary art critic and media theorist Boris Groys, for example, recently published an avowedly leftist ode to Western philosophy’s dream of immanent exteriority in the journal e-flux. Groys aches for the philosopher’s historic “meta-position” in a non-locatable elsewhere, criticizing the “politics of inclusion” as a form of univocal domination that miserably abets “a comfortable life of consumption.”

“[A] politics of inclusion,” Groys explains, “which presupposes the improvement of the living conditions of the excluded, is precisely directed towards the elimination of the meta-position that is occupied by the excluded. The politics of total inclusion aims to get rid of the space outside of society, to eliminate any external, potentially critical position towards society as a whole. This politics calls for everybody to play by the same rules, to obey the same laws, to pursue the same goals, to be seen and treated like everybody else and to see and treat everybody else in the same way.” Later, he surmises, “The truth is always on the side of the excluded. To recognize the excluded means not to include the excluded, but precisely to recognize this truth—to accept the dignity of the slave by rejecting all property and working hard (Christianity), or to accept the dictatorship of the proletariat (communism). It would not make sense to give a saint or a revolutionary a regular income and a comfortable life of consumption.”

Although he would surely bridle at the accusation, Groys in this piece seems to pine for a kind of living space, or Lebensraum, for the left. Such a realm, to Groys’s mind, would align free-thinking philosophers with the dejected. It would also furnish philosophy with a critical vantage point from which to evaluate society in its existing totality.

As enticing and, perhaps, well-intended as these twisted judgements may be, in truth Groys’s conclusions only further entrench the mark of fascism in the guise of its apparent opposite. Equating inclusion with punishing sameness and transformation with capitalist expansion, such reasoning explicitly flattens the path to justice to an impoverished common denominator born of subjugation. Dignifying the externality of slavery, propertylessness, and a dictatorial party, Groys’s left utopia looks just as univocal as his characterization of capitalist dystopia. Implicitly, moreover, Groys belittles, if not outright forecloses, profound political movements that confront money and mediation head on. Abolitionism or the Black Freedom Struggle for full employment, from this contorted purview, are predestined to conformist complicity.

The allure of what we are calling a left Lebensraum is a fascist trap that critical praxis must abjure. There is no place external to interdependence. Politics are never univocal. And neither care nor critique are micro-level affairs. Only by circumventing the false appeals of “thought from outside” can we begin to radically reconstruct the world we actually inhabit.

The Neoliberal Blockbuster: Star Wars: A New Hope Part 2 (Preview)

This Money on the Left/Superstructure teaser previews our seventh premium release from Scott Ferguson’s “Neoliberal Blockbuster” course for Patreon subscribers.

For access to the full lecture, subscribe to our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure.  

If you are interested in premium offerings but presently unable to afford a subscription, please send a direct message to @moneyontheleft or @Superstruc on Twitter & we will happily provide you with membership access.  

Course Description

This course examines the neoliberal Blockbuster from the 1970s to the present. It focuses, in particular, on the social significance of the blockbuster’s constitutive technologies: both those made visible in narratives and the off-screen tools that drive production and reception. Linking aesthetic shifts in American moving images to broader transformations in political economy, the course traces the historical transformation of screen action from the ethereal “dream factory” of pre-1960s cinema to the impact-driven “thrill ride” of the post-1970s blockbuster. In doing so, we attend to the blockbuster’s technological forms and study how they have variously contributed to social, economic, and political transformations over the past 40 years. We critically engage blockbusters as “reflexive allegories” of their own technosocial processes and pleasures. Above all, we think through the blockbuster’s shifting relationship to monetary abstraction and the myriad additional abstractions monetary mediation entails.

Blockbusters:

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999)

Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2018)

25 – The Official MMT Personality Test

Hosts Natalie Smith and Maxximilian Seijo dive into the world of personality types as exemplified by the likes of astrology, MBTI and Enneagram. Complicating John Ganz’s recent dismissal of personal types as univocal, alienating and repressive, Naty and Maxx queer such typologies, drawing attention to their playful, generative and relational meanings. Sprinkled with references to Adorno, Deleuze, Leibniz, and Hegel, the episode treats astrology, MBTI and Enneagram as analogical practices and asks how such practices can inform a non-zero-sum left politics of money.

Link to Ganz’s essay: https://johnganz.substack.com/p/thats-not-a-personality-sweetie

Decolonizing Money Through Deana Lawson’s “Portal” (Essay)

by Scott Ferguson

We owe others our language, our history, our art, our survival, our neighborhood, our relationships, … our ability to defy social conventions as well as support these conventions. All of this we learn from others. None of us is alone; each of us is dependent on others.

Toni Morrison

The challenge was to make the unseen–the abstract–seen, in a way.

Deana Lawson

In nearly all of her now widely-hailed large format prints, artist Deana Lawson flexes photography’s stubborn techno-social facticity in order to, as she puts it, “represent an entity beyond what is actually present.” Photography, here, operates not as a primarily deictic or indexical medium, as many would have it. It does not directly or, at least, exclusively index an immanent circuit from referent to apparatus, picture to the out-of-frame. Instead, it constitutes what Lawson construes as a “vehicle,” an “altar,” and also a “portal,” which defies oppositions between proximity and distance that underwrite modern Western conceptions of light, space, and locomotion. Part social documentary, part stylized portraiture, Lawson’s work saturates the photographic process in a “mythical,” “surreal,” and even “divine” inheritance. In contradistinction to notions of the spiritual as either super-added to or exceeding a bounded reality, then, Lawson foregrounds transcendence as a primary domain of mediation, one that encircles momentary comings and goings in nested layers of abstraction. 

Seemingly far afield from heterodox economics, Lawson’s aesthetic intervention, on my reading, has a lot to teach left Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) about decolonial politics.

Consider, for instance, Lawson’s “Portal” (2017), in which an enigmatic tear in a hotly lit brown leather sofa takes the iconic shape of the African continent. Rough and tattered, the seemingly bottomless icon renders Africa a distant presence. The result opens the photo’s punctual inscription in Rochester, New York–the birthplace of Lawson, the Eastman Kodak Company, and a certain American photographic vernacular—to the very real and rich realm of Black diasporic history and legend.

Portal (Deana Lawson, 2017)

The icon’s obscure depth has little to do with European perspectivalism and the infinite extensionality conjured by the camera obscura’s contracted vanishing point. Undermining this white patriarchal visuality, the iconic tear betokens a mysterious coincidence of near and far, now and then which, on Zadie Smith’s reading of Lawson’s work, discloses a passage “between the everyday and the sacred, between our finite lives and our long cultural and racial histories.” 

Draughtsman Making a Perspective Drawing of a Reclining Woman (Albrecht Dürer, 1600)

Tucked inexplicably behind and to the left of the photo’s mystical seat one glimpses a colorful drawing of a pink lily. According to Greek and Roman myth, the pink lily is a figure of feminine admiration, maternity, and nurture, associated above all with Hera, or Juno, queen of the gods. In a sense, the lily’s feminine majesty stands in for Lawson’s fierce and strikingly adorned Black men and women. Photographed in such disparate locales as Brooklyn, Port-au-Prince, and Gena, figures like “Sharon” (2007) pose as gods or royals in cramped and frequently run-down domestic spaces. Often leaning upon sundry chairs and couches, Dawson’s women in particular stare unflinchingly at lens, spectator, and world. Thus as one finds in the works of Simone Leigh, Dawoud Bey, and other contemporary artists, Lawson’s photographs explore the repressed powers of what bell hooks has famously termed the Black “oppositional gaze.” 

Sharon (Deana Lawson, 2016)

In another sense, however, the pink lily in Lawson’s “Portal” simultaneously speaks to a distinctly European feminine mythology. The racial and colonial implications of this distinction are then further reinforced by the picture’s surrounding surface, which is conspicuously white in contrast to the darkness that frames the coffee-colored sofa. The color contrast distances the lily’s femininity from Lawson’s Black divinities along racial lines at the same time as it invites convergence along the axis of gender. More complicated still is yet another gendered convergence in “Portal.” I refer to the fact that both the dark Africa-shaped tear and the pink European lily are similarly vaginal forms. More significant, the picture of the lily appears to be just as worn and soiled as the visibly aged dark sofa in which it is lodged. As a consequence, Lawson’s photograph stresses the misogynistic brutality that cuts through Euro-African history, implying both acute injuries and slow violence over time. Tying such entanglements to questions of African-American beauty through entwined legacies of picture making, Lawson’s photo thus calls forth a common, if disastrously asymmetrical, history of racialized and gendered subjugation and systemic disregard.

Sentinel (Simone Leigh, 2019)

Significantly, though, Lawson’s photography never reifies the crushing enclosure or isolation often associated with Black experience. One recalls the hellish Middle Passage marked by the overcrowded and alienating hold of the slave ship and the deadly chokehold of racist cops who regularly terrorize American streets. For scholar and poet Fred Moten, fantasy in the hold places Blackness in the “constant autodisclocation” of “nowhere,” trapped between the immediacy of touch and the propinquity of a transcendence “understood as immanence’s fugitive impurity.” For Lawson, however, remote mediation necessarily transcends attempts to contract being’s wide berth to a brute here and now. Abjection, for this reason, can never be absolute. And both the pains and splendors of Blackness issue from what from Lawson envisions as a fundamentally centripetal, rather than essentially fugitive ontology. Eschewing a reductive immanence that would externalize relationality, Lawson’s pictorial practice approaches Black experience not as immediate improvisations or inevitable disintegrations but as a variously shimmering and laden center, signified by turns as “Black diaspora,” “Mother Africa” and, as the artist once characterized it, an “ever-expanding mythological extended family.”

Hence the title of Lawson’s latest award-winning show, Centropy, a para-scientific concept associated with thermodynamics. In opposition to entropy and its dissipative logics of heat death and drive toward equilibrium, centropy, like its better known synonym “negentropy,” names a centralizing tendency toward life and coordination within diversity. Through Lawson’s myriad photographic arrangements, centropy both subtends and exceeds disorder and decay. Flying in the face of the modern West’s morbid investments in “being-towards-death,” such arrangements reckon with ongoing historical traumas and unmet needs by radiating the hidden magnificence of a shared though habitually unrecognized interdependence.

Centropy (Deana Lawson, 2021)

For this reason, Lawson’s photography goes further than merely registering and redeeming worldly injustice in syncopated extremes. To the contrary, Lawson’s work asserts a defiant counter-ontology, which affirms the enduring dignity of a vast interdependence in order to redeem the meaning of redemption as such from Western modernity’s expulsive metaphysics. Redemption, in this mode, does not take exclusion at its word. It does not rescue being from utter dehumanization. Rather, it refuses dehumanization’s claims on Blackness by illuminating centropy’s fraught yet inalienable radiance.

We discover radiance in the round torus hologram that hovers in middle of the Centropy exhibition, along with the crystal-encrusted mirrors that frame many of the show’s prints. Yet Lawson has inscribed this radiance deeply in her work from the outset. Take Lawson’s windows which, in her compositions, are rarely left uncovered. Be it the hastily taped paper concealing a bit of door glazing in Sons of Cush (2016) or the unfathomable billowing curtains in Chief (2019), assorted window dressings tend to obscure or outright block direct passage from foreground to background. Such occlusions do not confine or restrict pictorial space, paradoxically. Occlusion makes room for the supernatural by closing off Cartesian extensionality and its colonizing reach. As a consequence, Lawson tinges what Siegfried Kracauer has called photography’s “physical redemption of reality” with the kind of magical realism associated with Toni Morrison’s haunting spirits or Kara Walker’s phantasmagoric silhouettes.

Sons of Cush (Deana Lawson, 2016)

Chief (Deana Lawson, 2019)

What draws me, in particular, to Lawson’s centropic photography are the ways it unwittingly advances the MMT-informed project of decolonial humanization, as theorized in a forthcoming essay by Jakob Feinig and Diren Valayden in the journal Humanity. Bringing together the writings of Paulo Freire and Frantz Fanon with contemporary work in heterodox economics and law, Feinig and Valayden argue that, against racializing colonization dynamics that violently diminish participation and knowledge, radical humanization is “that which emerges when people pursue the creation of new relations and institutions without relying on exclusionary conceptions of humans-in-society.” Critiquing the Cold-War era UESCO strategy that sought humanization through culture to the exclusion of political economy, moreover, Feinig and Valayden crucially insist that any genuinely global humanization project must place money and its abstract modes of mediation at its heart.

Money, Feinig and Valayden assert, is not a scarce and decentered exchange instrument for acquisitive modern subjects. Money is a capacious public utility that, however well or miserably, organizes inextricable dependencies across heterogenous scales. Money comprises what I have elsewhere called a boundless public center, which remains forever able to mobilize care and participation, invention and repair. On this basis, Feinig and Valayden surmise that the dehumanizing designations of certain communities as “outside” or merely “surplus” are as erroneous as they are noxious. “If there is a center that can always mobilize and connect people and resources,” Feinig and Valayden conclude, “then surplus people cannot exist.”

Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart (Kara Walker, 1994)

Still, if, as scholars in heterodox economics and law argue, money emanates from government’s centralized “fiscal backbone,” as legal scholar Christine Desan has described it, then how might we envision money as a distinctly global relation, which is irreducible to the modern nation-state and can be redirected toward anti-racist humanization?

A political blueprint exists in present proposals for a Global Green New Deal. Developed to its greatest potential, any Green New Deal program worthy of the name should aim to abolish the carbon economy and military- and prison-industrial complex within a single country, territory, or region by building up a politically democratic, environmentally sustainable, and fully employed care economy in their stead. Extending this vision across the entire world, a Global Green New Deal would pursue social and environmental justice in a similarly holistic and productive manner. In place of today’s zero-sum imagination of competition, domination, and marginalization among allegedly sovereign nation-states and stateless actors, a Global Green New Deal will attune us to inexorable social and ecological interdependencies and then labor to decolonize such entanglements by working through complex problems and promises looming therein. As MMT economist Fadhel Kaboub reasons, a Global Green New Deal of this kind will require us to establish new world-wide institutions and processes. Kaboub proposes fashioning, for example, a “Global Truth & Reconciliation Commission,” which would “hear and acknowledge the grievances of people who suffer the socio-economic, environmental and humanitarian consequences of colonial and post-colonial policies that have contributed to climate change and global inequality.”

Baby Sleep (Deana Lawson, 2009)

To realize any such political project, however, it is imperative to overcome the entrenched ontological exteriority that has long buttressed colonialism and its de-humanizing racializations. Lawson’s centropic photography, I claim, provides one important, if preliminary, way forward. Without always overtly or self-consciously thematizing money, Lawson’s confined and often damaged interiors indicate how monetary projects of dehumanization historically shape empire, colonialization, and post-coloniality in ways that crisscross continents and undermine self-exculpating divisions between inside and outside. Repudiating Western modernity’s metaphysical oblivion,  Lawson’s pantheon of Black luminaries also enfolds multiple loci of monetary mediation into a voluminous diasporic center, wherein marginalized forms of belonging and indebtedness assert their inexpungible pride of place. With this, a global demand for deliverance coincides with the esteem of worldly belonging.

In this way, Lawson might be said to proffer a kind of propaedeutic for Feinig and Valayden’s notion of humanization and, ultimately, for a Global Green New Deal. As a preliminary and indispensable re-orientation to globalized dehumanization, Lawson’s photography enables us to newly imagine anti-racist humanization as a truly reparative project in which money becomes a problem of worldly care and dignity is not so much bestowed as exalted.

Neoliberalism’s Colonial Origins (Essay)

By Ndongo Samba Sylla

For those who have studied the history of colonial Africa through its fiscal and monetary dimensions, the similarities between colonial macroeconomics and neoliberal macroeconomics are striking. One might be tempted to see the neoliberal era as an avatar of colonialism. Actually, the main principles underlying the fiscal and monetary paradigm of the neoliberal era (1980 – 2021)—sound finance, regressive taxation systems, central bank independence, and the direction of the credit system by oligopolistic banks—were already applied in the European colonies, particularly in Africa.

In the neoliberal era, sound finance, as a principle of macroeconomic management, is based on the idea that governments should avoid fiscal deficits and should even aspire to fiscal surpluses. As Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) shows, this view is based on the misleading analogy between a household and a governing currency-issuer. Indeed, while it may be desirable for households to build up net savings, a government that issues its own currency may not always have an interest in running a balanced budget or even budget surpluses. For its fiscal deficit has as its exact counterpart the financial surplus of the non-government sector. If the government sector wishes to have a balanced budget, this means that the domestic private sector (households and businesses) will only be able to achieve a financial surplus if the rest of the world is in a deficit position vis-à-vis the domestic economy.

During colonial times, sound finance had much more basic and transparent justifications than it does today. As an imperial doctrine by essence, it amounted to saying that the metropolis did not intend to participate financially in the colonial enterprise, which was supposed to be self-financing. The “colonial self-sufficiency policy,” as historians call it, implied that the colonized territories had to pay for the costs of military conquest, the current expenditures of the colonial administrations as well as their investment expenditures, which were often oriented towards infrastructure projects that favored the profitability of private metropolitan capital. The metropolis was just supposed to intervene sporadically, by granting subsidies or loans, when the financial situation of the colonies required it.

In spite of the metropolitan rhetoric on the expensive or unprofitable character of the colonial enterprise, the fact is that the latter had been financed essentially by the colonies, through taxes and forced labor. Public transfers from the metropolis had been relatively minor, both for France and England, the two former and most important metropolitan powers on the African continent.

Since metropolitan governments ruled the monetary operations of their colonies, they managed through the colonial administrations to gradually impose a unit of account in which taxes would be collected. This meant, as MMT teaches, that they had no intrinsic financial constraint. In principle they did not depend on taxes to finance their local expenditures. The possibility to expand their fiscal space was not used, however, owing to the extractive orientation of colonial economic policy.

The choice to run balanced budgets implied that the colonial government did not usually create net financial wealth for the private sector (and in particular for the indigenous private sector). The accumulation of financial wealth by the private sector—and thus growth of domestic income and tax revenues—was made dependent on the external financial balance.

This extractive orientation was accentuated by colonial monetary arrangements and by the behavior of the banking sector, dominated from the outset by oligopolistic banks.  In parallel with fiscal austerity, the fixed parity between the colonial and metropolitan currencies in a context of free capital mobility between the colonies and the metropolis and the obligation to cover the money supply entirely with foreign exchange reserves (as with the currency boards in the British Empire) gave a highly restrictive character to monetary policy. The idea that private banks should organize the credit system with some freedom—the freedom not to finance productive activities as opposed to extractive activities—while colonial governments should maintain balanced budgets was part of the imperial credo.

In the major British colonies in West Africa, the Bank of British West Africa and Barclays DCO ruled almost unchallenged for the first six decades of the 20th century. The role of metropolitan banks had generally been to protect the interests of metropolitan businesses at the expense of local entrepreneurs through discrimination in access to credit. It had also consisted in facilitating the short-term financing of the exports of primary products as well as the transfer of local economic surpluses (financial savings) to the metropolis.

As captive markets and cheap sources of supply of raw materials, colonial empires also played the role of financial valve for the metropolises. In the case of England, the over-accumulation of foreign exchange reserves by its most resource-rich colonies had contributed significantly to its financial stability and to the alleviation of recurrent liquidity crises on the London money market.

During the last decades of the 19th century, England had lost its industrial and commercial edge over Germany and the United States. In this context, England was able to maintain both the international gold standard and its financial leadership only thanks to its control over India’s external surpluses.  In the aftermath of the Second World War, Nigeria and Ghana played a similar role in the sterling area. Capital exports from England to these two territories were lower than the sterling balances they had accumulated in London. These external surpluses were built up through a drastic reduction in their imports, a reality described by the concept of unrequited exports.

Nowadays, under neoliberalism, for many countries of the Global South, the priority given to balanced budgets and exports, the over-accumulation of foreign exchange reserves in a context where their local resources are under-utilized, the dominant role of foreign banks and financial institutions, the under-financing of the “real” economy, etc., all represent elements of continuity with the colonial period.

Neoliberal economics, it could be argued, is an iteration of the logic of colonial economics in a context where trade and financial flows are less and less hampered by the barriers once created by the coexistence of formal colonial empires. With neoliberalism, the latter are replaced with the networks and agencies of globalized capital. In the Global North, this pursuit of colonial economic logic entails an undermining of the previous socioeconomic and political achievements of working classes and hence a widening of within-country inequalities. In most of the Global South, next to the weakening of working classes power, neoliberalism has consisted in suppressing nations and peoples right to self-determination through the imposition of deflationary policies, forced “free trade,” privatization and financial liberalization.

To break with such an orientation, MMT is valuable in at least two aspects. On the one hand, it provides the elements for a critique of the constitutive principles of colonial macroeconomics (rigid separation between fiscal authority and monetary authority, sound finance, priority to exports, over-accumulation of external reserves, dependence on foreign finance, etc.). On the other hand, MMT allows us to reorient economic policy around the mobilization of domestic resources by emphasizing that, even in an unfavorable external environment, the countries of the Global South can create a fiscal space that is larger than usually admitted.

Achieving shared and sustainable prosperity will necessitate a strong epistemic challenge to neoliberalism’s colonial economics. It will also require concerted efforts on several other fronts: addressing global structures of domination that reproduce the economic logic of colonialism; submitting to popular control the orientation of public policies as well as the management of economic resources and instruments.  

The Neoliberal Blockbuster: Star Wars: A New Hope Part 1 (Preview)

This Money on the Left/Superstructure teaser previews our sixth premium release from Scott Ferguson’s “Neoliberal Blockbuster” course for Patreon subscribers.

For access to the full lecture, subscribe to our Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure.  

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Course Description

This course examines the neoliberal Blockbuster from the 1970s to the present. It focuses, in particular, on the social significance of the blockbuster’s constitutive technologies: both those made visible in narratives and the off-screen tools that drive production and reception. Linking aesthetic shifts in American moving images to broader transformations in political economy, the course traces the historical transformation of screen action from the ethereal “dream factory” of pre-1960s cinema to the impact-driven “thrill ride” of the post-1970s blockbuster. In doing so, we attend to the blockbuster’s technological forms and study how they have variously contributed to social, economic, and political transformations over the past 40 years. We critically engage blockbusters as “reflexive allegories” of their own technosocial processes and pleasures. Above all, we think through the blockbuster’s shifting relationship to monetary abstraction and the myriad additional abstractions monetary mediation entails.

Blockbusters:

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999)

Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2018)