In Letters of Blood and Fire:
Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism
Karl Marx wrote that the only way to write about the origins of capitalism in the 16th century is in the letters of blood and fire used to drive workers from the common lands, forests and waters. This collection of essays by autonomist Marxist George Caffentzis argues that the same is true for the annals of 21st century capitalism. Information technology, immaterial production, financialization and globalization have been trumpeted as inaugurating a new phase of capitalism that put it beyond its violent origins. Instead of being in a period of major social and economic novelty, however, the course of the last decades has been a return to the fire and blood of struggles at the advent of capitalism.
Emphasizing class struggles that have proliferated across the social body of global capitalism, Caffentzis shows how a wide range of conflicts and antagonisms in the labor-capital relation express themselves within and against the work process. These struggles are so central to the dynamic of the system that even the most sophisticated machines cannot liberate capitalism from class struggle and the need for labor. Moreover, the theme of war and crisis permeate the text but are also given singular emphasis, documenting the peculiar way in which capital perpetuates violence and proliferates misery on a world scale. The collection draws upon a careful re-reading of Marx’s thought in order to elucidate political concerns of the day. The essays in this collection have been written to contribute to the debates of the anti-capitalist movement over the last thirty years. This book is meant to make them more available as tools for the struggle in this period of transition to a common future.
George Caffentzis is a philosopher of money and a leading thinker in the development of autonomist thought. He has been a participant in numerous movements since the civil rights period, when he was first arrested in sit-ins during the early 1960s. He continued his political activism, especially in the antinuclear power movement, throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1974, he coedited the first issue of Zerowork and in 1978 cofounded the Midnight Notes Collective, publishing the journal of the collective over the next thirty years.
He has published many books and articles on issues ranging from the death penalty, self-reproducing automata, peak oil, the enclosure of knowledge in Africa, and the philosophy of money. His writing has been consistently motivated by his political engagements in the anti-nuclear, anti-war, anti-capital punishment, alter-globalization, pro-Zapatista, and pro-commons movements. Over the years, his original and powerful contributions to international anti-capitalist movements have stemmed from his stretching and developing of autonomist concepts steeped in the insights from feminist experiences of Wages for Housework, operaist thinkers and militants in Italy, and historical studies of class struggle inspired by E.P. Thompson and his comrades.
Caffentzis has taught and lectured in colleges and universities throughout the world and his work has been translated into many languages. His most recent book is In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism (PM Press/ Common Notions, 2013).
George Caffentzis has been the philosopher of the anti-capitalist movement from the American civil rights movement of the 1960s to the European autonomists of the 1970s, from the Nigerian workers of the oil boom of the 1980s to the encuentros of the Zapatistas in the 1990s, from the feminists of wages-for-housework to the struggle of the precariat for the commons. Trained as both an economist and a physicist he has taken fundamental categories such as money, time, work, energy, and value and re-thought them in relation to both revolutionary Marxism and to the dynamics of our changing movement.
An historian of our own times he carries the political wisdom of the 20th into the 21st century. He is a lively and dogged polemicist; he dances circles around the pompous marxologist; with the passing of time his thought has grown in depth and increasingly tends to be expressed with pleasure and humor. The lever by which he overturns the world is light as a feather, and its fulcrum is as down to earth as the housewife, the student, the peasant, the worker. Here is capitalist critique and proletarian reasoning fit for our time.
—Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All
Author: George Caffentzis
Publisher: Common Notions/PM Press
Published March 2013
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 288 Pages