If I had a hammer/ I’d hammer in the morning/ I’d hammer
in the evening/ All over this land/ I’d hammer out danger/
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters/
All over this land//…// Well I’ve got a hammer/ And I’ve
got a bell/ And I’ve got a song to sing/ All over this land/
It’s the hammer of justice/ It’s the bell of freedom/ It’s the
song of love between my brothers and my sisters/ All over
The Hammer Song, by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, 1958
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the
plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.
1. What Are We At?
Je voy encore du païs au delà, mais d’une vue trouble et en
nuage, que je ne puis desmeler. (I still see a country beyond,
but uncertainly and darkly, which I cannot recognize.)
Montaigne, Essais I.xxvi
In 1956, in the dead-end of the Cold War, Horkheimer and Adorno embarked on recorded
discussions in view of a new version of the Communist Manifesto for the new times (just as
Brecht had in 1944 felt the need to renew it for the age of world wars and in hexameter form, see
Essay 4). The Cold War was also the culmination of “military Keynesianism” with plentiful
funding for social needs of people and an attention to them in capitalist countries in order to
forestall the Soviet “communist” enemy. This led the two philosophers to state “that Europe and
America are probably the best civilizations history has produced up to now as far as prosperity
and justice are concerned. The key point now is to ensure the preservation of those gains. This can
be achieved only if we remain ruthlessly critical of this civilization.” While fiercely inimical to “Russian bureaucrats,” they affirmed “a greater right [of the Russian Revolution] as opposed to
Western culture. It is the fault of the West that [this] Revolution went the way it did.” (41). My
position is the same (though I’d update some terms).
A dozen years later, the great historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote an essay where he foresaw “a combination of social disintegration and economic breakdown… more explosive than anything
that occurred between the [World W]ars,” except in Nazi Germany (334). His then offbeat and
outrageous forecast has been proved in spades and beyond anybody’s imagination in that
generation, certainly including my own. The classical “marxist case against capitalism, that it
would not work, and against liberal bourgeois democracy, that it was ceasing to exist, being
replaced by fascism” (158), has become embarrassingly clear in the utter cynicism of the stockmarket
fascists (as one would have to call them) who by now rule the whole world. The
stockmarketeers are more elitist than the Nazi variety, but destroy the lives of labouring people
and democracy from below if anything more efficiently than Hitler and the Japanese imperialists,
with a global reach which those never managed: the number of hungry people has around 2009
reached the record figure of 1,250 million, near to one sixth of the world’s population…
In the half century between Hobsbawm’s lookout and today, capitalism has become more powerful,
unified, and speedy than ever before. It has not only found new niches by means of profit-oriented
sciences from cybernetics and electronics to genetics and nano-technology (see Essay 8), it has also
colonized in capillary ways culture and even naked life—say of the immigrants and other subproletarians
who are by now a world majority. In the last two decades, capitalism has definitely
forsaken its bourgeois industrial roots in favour of financial fantasies creating only shameful mass
misery and shameless billionaires. What may be crucial: it has most efficiently used the
degeneration of the communist idea in the USSR, and other States claiming to be such, to forestall
any mass rethinking on a real Left—today almost nowhere visible on the political map, so that we
have to enthuse over Chiapas and Bolivia. This was done by demoralizing, through a mixture of
half-truths and lies repeated with Goebbelsian obsession, intellectuals as well as labour or
proletarian movements (in the widest sense), cutting that link between them the presence of which
makes for the success of every revolution at its beginning, and the absence for its failure due to
ossification. The giant capitalist colonization of imagination has on the Left been recognized by
isolated thinkers, who therefore tend to obscurity both in their writing and their success or impact
outside a narrow academic group: the list of such lone intellectual giants goes from Walter
Benjamin and Alfred Sohn-Rethel to the US rethinkers around Fredric Jameson, and the only nonobscure
exception would be poets like Brecht and a few others. (If I have any valid insights, it
would be from standing at their crossroads, while sharing the double obscurity.)
However, capitalism (and all of us in the Leviathan’s belly) stands today in the presence of
Yeats’s rough beast advancing toward Bethlehem. Let me bracket his shambling, as in gunnery,
by one very general and one very particular shot. General: in Braudel’s view, finance capitalism is
not simply a stage but a recurrent “Autumn” signal of transition from one world regime of
accumulation and domination (e.g. the Genoese, Dutch, British, and US ones) to another (246); it
signals the destruction of the old regime and creation of a “new” one—a Winter which might be
better or worse (cf. Arrighi ix-xiv). Particular: the Chicago “ghetto” in 1988 was found to harbour "silent riots of everyday life," no less destructive if usually less than spectacular. Private capital
had completely withdrawn, in the years 1950-80 manual jobs fell from 36 to 5 thousand and white
collar jobs from 15 to less than 7.5 thousand. There was starkly insufficient welfare support, but
lots of alcohol and gun-selling shops—since police was incapable to protect victims from gangs,
families had to protect themselves; the school system served mainly for "parking" of children, and
infant mortality was higher than in Chile or Turkey. The informal economy was mainly based on
mass drug use, a veritable industry with sales in millions of $; drug pushing was also the main job
readily accessible to ghetto youths from under 10 on. There was "organizational desertification":
no banks but only currency exchanges, no public schools, cinemas, skating rinks, bowling alleys,
the last two clinics closed in 1989 (all in Wacquant). In short, we are here amid Weber’s "plunder
capitalism" that leads to pandemics of violence; and while Chicago might (or might not) have
improved in the meantime, the situation is still such in many other slums of capitalism, US or
Latin American or otherwhere, where by now live 1,200 million people. Winter is arriving fast
and it doesn’t look pretty. Particularly if one figures in all the wars from the First Gulf One
through Serbia, Second Gulf, and Afghanistan plus Libya—with more certainly to come. By their
fruits ye shall know them.
Gentle reader, you might wish to ask me: but what of a way out of our global trap? Of
course I’d have many ideas, not invented by me, about components of a way out—beginning, say,
with universal guaranteed income sufficient to modestly live on for all adults working 35 hours a
week, and a stress on education and health (and don’t tell me there’s no way to pay for this: just
pay trillions to people instead of banks and the military). Thus I honour the question as supremely
important: we need to get into health, activity, and tenderness--Hays’s and Seeger’s “love of my
brothers and my sisters.” But this book is primarily not about the way out (though that is its
vanishing perspective point) but about the trap of hunger, despair, and violence. For truth shall
maybe not make you free, but certainly enable you to become free.
2. Why the Essays in This Book
It is necessary to depict landscapes by images and remarks
because of the nature of the investigation. For it compels us
to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every
direction. The… remarks in the book are, as it were, a
number of sketches of landscapes made in the course of
these long and involved journeyings…. [A]lmost the same
points were being approached from different directions, and
new sketches made…. Thus this book is really only an
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
This book has three essays explicitly on Bert Brecht, and implicitly he has been shaping my
understanding for over half a century. Essay 1 (finished in 2000) deals with his concept and image of stance or bearing (Haltung) as fundamental for fixing the dynamics of a body—any body or all
bodies—poised and enabled to intervene into matters that concern any and all. I use fixing in the
sense of photography, where it means stabilizing and rendering visible, thus also sharable, a latent
image potentially existing earlier. This Haltung is opposed to the concept and image of “world
view,” which may be, like a snowball, momentarily useful but does not wear well because it is not
anchored in the ineluctably present labouring and enjoying (or exhausted and painful) body but
reduced to a pseudo-scientific eye only, passively observing. To the contrary, as in Marx, people’s
work and pleasure produce the world, meshing subject and object in a feedback: love is for Brecht
a production, indeed, the supremely pleasurable production of an intimately complementary
Such a stance is also the central link in a Brechtian chain of terms and images about
personality, involving equally everyday “upright posture” (Bloch) and the furthest horizons of
death—in our epoch much more urgently a societal rather than a biological decision, for example
in wars or the readiness to die for a cause, matters Brecht dealt with in most of his great plays
from Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses and the Lehrstücke to Mother Courage and Her Children
and Life of Galileo. Further, it enables us to rethink with him the most muddy hollywoodian and
TV reliance on emotion planned and deployed as an opposite of reason (see much more in Suvin, ”Brecht and Subjectivity”). Contrariwise, their fusion in a Haltung enables a body to understand
In a long-duration view, Brecht’s opus gives us the most persuasive example of how to
sublate—redefine and yet preserve—the great Enlightenment discovery of reason, outside which
there is no salvation for any or all. Not by “weak thought” or sickly emotion but by the loving
union of clarified emotion and precise reason; reason itself in this wider sense embracing both
concepts and topologies, that is configurations in empirical or imaginary spacetime (such as
The present volume fully participates in such an impossibility of keeping apart subject and
object, in the sense that each essay has a defined object but was also felt and held by me to be
most pertinent for myself and those who would be open to similar arguments, feelings, and
stances. This is obvious in the case of war caused by capitalism (Essay 3) but in more mediated
ways all essays have been enforced by its enraged and inflamed state in the last two decades. As
for stance, it has led me to reflect on and attempt to perfect my own. Within it, the other most
important opus to be constantly revisited, quarried, and updated has for me since my teens been
that of Karl Marx.
Essay 2 (1993) reacts against Post-Modernist truly weak thought tabooing the central
Marxian category of “totality.” It concedes that Hegel’s and the Positivists’ (in fact theological)
use of it as the presupposition of a static and “natural” ontology out there as a Stoic necessity
providing a stable yardstick for everything (as in Lenin’s weakest book, Materialism and
Empiriocriticism) is no longer tenable. But it then affirms that no useful epistemology—a way of
understanding our societal and natural environment—is possible without using a provisional
totality for well-defined purposes. This puts paid, as Walter Benjamin realised, to the bourgeois
concept of automatic progress: any progress we might achieve will be contingent and threatened.
History has proved that to the hilt.
Essay 3 (1999-2001) is encapsulated in the two verbs of its title, "Capitalism Means/Needs
War." On the one hand, psychologically, war is more than a metaphor for capitalist human
relationships, it is their essence: in them, man is wolf to man (with excuses to the maligned
wolves, who never kill more than they could eat). On the other hand, economically, capitalism has
not only never prospered without warfare, it could not survive more than a few years without the
trillions of $ of “military Keynesianism.” I cite a conservative estimate of world spending for
military purposes from 20 years ago standing at 1 trillion dollars per year or 2,500 millions daily; today I guess it might be anywhere up to the double. Humanity will never have the food,
education, and medicine it needs until wars are stopped. This means changing our whole way of
life and power system, so it may fail. Then we are—remember the Welfare State?—descending
into nuclear-cybernetic-nano barbarism.
It will be obvious from the essay’s section “Wars of Reterritorialization” how for this
author, born and bred in Yugoslavia, this theme became mandatory after the NATO bombing of
Serbia in the late 90s. This was, I found, a crass example of the worldwide warfare waged by the
capitalist class using the criminal or Lumpen class against the working and middle classes. This
has by now finally led me to return to Marx’s and Lenin’s not entirely clear but crucially
necessary category of class in Essay 11—better culpably late than never.
As to the Postscriptum of 2002, it uses one of my essays on terrorism (“Access,” and see “Exploring”) to compare it with war, and concludes that the boundary between them is being
A pleasing union of my masters and preoccupations then resulted in Essay 4 (2001) on
Brecht’s reworking of The Communist Manifesto for our age of world wars. To the last moment
of preparing this volume it was unclear whether The Brecht Heirs (an institution which is in the
production of The Brecht Industry analogous to capital owners, not least in fettering production)
will accord me the copyright permission for the translation of that text. This was finally given
against a small payment, but the problem remains.
A theoretical point embodied by that essay is whether poetry (and its sister arts, from
narrative prose through painting to music and dance) has a cognitive status. Having learned from
them at least half of what I know and cherish, my pragmatic answer is: yes, poetry is cognitive—
though in different ways than science and philosophy. I put some arguments to buttress this into
Essay 8 (and more in my case study “Cognition”), but this is only incipient greening of--so far as I
know--a theoretical desert.
Essay 5 (2003) was sparked by chance and kind friends but gave me a chance to look, with
growing dismay, at the discipline of English Studies, in which—though I had other interests too—I faithfully laboured for over one third of a century, teaching much from medieval drama,
Shakespeare, and Swift to Woolf. It is a case study of how ideology under capitalism infiltrates
and bends an intellectual profession. It tallied with my reflections on my own class, the
intellectuals (see “Utopianism” and “On Cognition”) and its “treason by clerics” against
emancipation and against its own reason for being. With bitter poetic justice, this class of mine
has now been downgraded into a push-pen amanuensis and gofer for the brainwashing at the basis
of capitalist power. Only a Swiftian stance can hope to render justice to this monstrosity, and I
have stolen from this all-time favourite of mine as much as I could lift.
Indignant frustration at my yearly bouts with residence permits
led to Essay 6 (2006-07; and
cf. its predecessor “Exiles”). It is a case not only of direct link between autobiography and
intellectual production, but also of what I feel is the latter’s psychic beauty: that creativity renders
the creator omnipotent, albeit only inside the tiny sub-creation and while it is being appreciated by
others. But even limited divine status—fortunately also challengeable within a vast pantheon of
creative godlets—is preferable to none. Inside the cognitions and pleasures of my work, police
bureaucracy is held at bay. As Adorno remarked, “theory is a kind of stand-in for happiness”
(53)—and it shared the ambiguous nature of all such ersatzes. Also, the alternative of “civil
cohabitation” I argue for is toothless, but it is young and may get some milk teeth at least, if
given a chance to grow. Which is why I’m republishing it, inside Leviathan.
Another lucky chance, the review of a misguided periodical issue, led to the brief Essay 7
(2008)—for how could I pass by an issue called “Brecht and Communism”? At the time I had
begun work on my major preoccupation in these last years, the anatomy of SFR Yugoslavia, a
self-proclaimed socialist State led by a self-proclaimed communist party. Most of the reviewed articles provided a perfect case of what I had to shun if I were, beyond praise or blame, to make
sense of either—and Brecht was there to help me along. The essay led to the tangent of how to
initially disentangle the term communism (is it a place, a horizon or an orientation?):
You've heard much untruth about it from enemies, from friends
Much untruth also…. (Brecht, Das Manifest, vv. 14-15)
Essay 8, “On the Horizons of Epistemology and Science” (2008-09) is, together with the one
on war, the longest and possesses the widest scope in the volume. It is the summation of what I
have, so far, understood about cognition in class society: the pernicious Unique Truth, the refusal
of human history, technoscience as the life-destroying bludgeon of capitalism, plus how to use
Hesiod’s concept-splitting to understand these and how to begin tracing “whither now?” To my
initial two (or with Walter Benjamin three) paragons, Nelson Goodman, Gramsci, Marcuse, and
Nietzsche had to be adjoined for guidance.
Essay 9, “Death into Life” (2009), was on the contrary an attempt at a summation in 5,000
words of what I would have to say to a more politically awake audience. It is not a foray onto new
terrain but a consolidation of already visited terrains. It ranges widely, it had to be compressed;
and I decided that I had to overcome my pusillanimous use of verse separately from prose (I’ve
published three collections of poetry, see the entries in Suvin, “Bibliography B” on Armirana
Arkadija, The Long March, and Abiko Annual nos. 24 and 25), or as citations to prove a point
(say, Blake in the preceding essay), or, at best, as an object of inquiry (say, Brecht in Essay 4). I
interleaved in each of the five essay sections a poem with its expository prose, and hope the brief
repetition in those sections of what I’ve mostly written before would gain a new dimension
through the condensed poems’ interaction with them and with each other.
Essay 10 arose from thinking of what I could bring to a conference of Left-wing European
economists in 2009, at the beginning of our Great Depression (but before the manmade tsunami
had devastated most of beautiful Greece). I went back to basics: having studied thermodynamics
and read much in ecology, I tried to bring this into a critical economics, issuing in some initial
policy proposals. The presupposition for them is that the power of capitalist financing would be
broken. As Buckminster Fuller told us in the 1960s, we are at Utopia or Oblivion.
Essay 11 is the working hypothesis for my forthcoming study of classes in ex-Yugoslavia.
My stance here, as elsewhere, is one of a mildly sceptical reuse of classical Marxism—which for
me cannot taboo some insights of Lenin—not as a dogma of Truth but as a flexible guide for
possible understanding and action today.
So, at the end, are these “sketches of landscapes“ by the road of life in these times a well-planned
and homogenous album? I’m afraid not. I believe they share a single Haltung, with a horizon of
poetic justice and an intolerance against what degrades people. They might be a collection of
some oil paintings interspersed with gouaches and drawings. Perhaps pictures from an exhibition
Lucca, April 2012
* This is the preface to my book IN LEVIATHAN’S BELLY: ESSAYS FOR A COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY
TIME, which is printed “on demand” by Wildside Press for Borgo Press,
Baltimore. It is composed of the essays referred to in the prefacem, which I here list for the reader:
1."On Stance, Agency, and Emotions in Brecht"
2. "Two Cheers for Essentialism and Totality: On Marx's Oscillation and its Limits (As Well As on the Taboos of Post-Modernism)
3. "Capitalism Means/Needs War"
4. “Brecht's Manifesto and Us: A Diptych”
5. “To Laputa and Back: A Missing Chapter of Gulliver's Travels."
6. “Immigration in Europe Today”
7. „Brecht and Communism: Reflections on and at a Tangent from a Symposium.”
8. “On the Horizons of Epistemology and Science ”
9. “Death into Life: For a Poetics of Anti-Capitalist Alternative”
10. “Toward an Economics of Physical and Political Negentropy”
11. “On the Concept of Class”
The book can be ordered for US$19.99 + postage (from USA or UK) from HERE
Darko Suvin is Professor Emeritus of McGill University and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has written thirteen books and hundreds of essays in the areas of utopian and science fiction, comparative literature, dramaturgy, theory of literature, theatre and cultural theory. He has also published three award-winning volumes of poetry.
Presupposed: the opuses of Brecht, Marx, Benjamin, Gramsci, some Nietzsche and much poetry.
This book is, as it were, the third in a trilogy embracing also my two books of 2010 and 2011
cited below; ideally, it should be read together with them, since they look at similar or identical
landscapes from various anglers and heights.
Adorno, Theodor, and Max. Horkheimer. “Towards a New Manifesto?” Transl. R. Livingstone.
NLR no. 65 (2010): 33-61. [cited as H-A]
Arrighi, Giovanni. The Long 20th Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times.
London: Verso, 1994.
Braudel, Fernand. The Perspective of the World. Civilization and Capitalism, vol. 3. Transl. S.
Reynolds. London: Collins, 1984.
Hobsbawm, Eric. Revolutionaries. London: Abacus, 2008 [original 1973].
Suvin, Darko. “Access to an Identification of >Terrorism<” (2001) and “Exploring
>Terror/ism<”: Numinosity, Killings, Horizons” (2004), both in his Darko Suvin: A Life in
Letters. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon Island WA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011, 263-305.
---. “Bibliography B,” in his Darko Suvin [see above], 355-62.
---. “Cognition, Freedom, The Dispossessed as a Classic” (2007) in his Defined by a Hollow:
Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010, 509-51.
---. "Exile as Mass Outrage and Intellectual Stance," in Maria Teresa Chialant ed., Viaggio e
letteratura. Venezia: Marsilio, 2006, 69-95.
---. “Utopianism from Orientation to Agency: What Are We Intellectuals under Post-Fordism to
Do?” (1997–1998) and “On Cognition as Art and Politics” (1997–1999), in his Defined [see
Wacquant, Loïc J.D. "America as Social Dystopia," in Pierre Bourdieu et al. The Weight of the
World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Transl. P.P. Ferguson. Cambridge: Polity P,