Episode 5 of "The Exploits of Play"

Gargi Bhattacharyya and Max Haiven

Episode notes and references:

The Futures of Racial Capitalism, Gargi Bhattacharyya, Polity press, 2023

Other Books by Gargi Bhattacharyya

Max Haiven: Hello, and welcome to “The Exploits of Play”, a podcast about the strange and unexpected rules that games and play are playing in our stage of capitalism that just keeps getting weirder. My name is Max Haiven, and I’m the Canada Research Chair in the Radical Imagination.

Halle Frost: And I’m Halle Frost from the platform Weird Economies, and we’re presenting this podcast. Today we’ll speak to Gargi Bhattacharya, who lives and works in London as a professor of sociology at University of East London. She writes on issues of systemic injustice, racial capitalism, social reproduction, climate crisis, and collective survival. She’s the author of Rethinking Racial Capitalism from 2018, Dangerous Brown Men from 2008, and Traffic from 2005. Max, can you introduce Gargi’s work further for us?

Max Haiven: I mean, I’ve known about Gargi’s work for a long time, and it’s some of the work that I go to first when I’m trying to understand the strange intersections of race and gender and capitalism in our moment. For a number of years, I was teaching her phenomenal book, Rethinking Racial Capitalism, Questions of Reproduction and Survival, which came out in 2018. And it provides a really cogent articulation of how all of these pieces fit together.

I really wanted to bring her on this podcast to ask about something that’s been sort of pulling at the back of my mind for a while, which is the way that in the rise of the far right in the last decades has really circulated around this question of what I call the cheating other, this group that’s imagined to be cheating the welfare system, cheating the immigration system, cheating the social benefits system, and otherwise somehow disrupting or destroying what is presented as an otherwise fair and just system of racial capitalism.

Now, of course, this is usually a white supremacist fantasy that’s mobilized by white supremacist political parties and political figures to insist that, in fact, they and they alone can help stop the cheaters and make the game of living under capitalism once again fair. But I wanted with Gargi to sort of get to the bottom of where the appeal of this idea of the cheating other and the racialized cheating other comes from. What’s its history and how does it entangle itself in a moment of capitalism where everything feels like it’s changing and in flux?

Cast your mind back to childhood and a game that you remember playing that taught you something significant about life or the world or society.

Gargi Bhattacharyya: I’m sure lots of the writers and scholars you’ve talked to have said this, but of course, I was quite a solitary child as book readers tend to be. How sad. So it seems very cruel to say, ‘Oh, how few friends did you have when you were little?’ We all say it to each other. So I also was a solitary lone player in common with many others. I had a very extensive imaginary world that my play world was made in that interstices between a reality and a fantasy world where I found it quite hard to tell the difference and a quite extensive way of talking about and thinking about myself in the present and in the future and as other kinds of being.

And really practicing many different kinds of social relations and terms, kinds of embodiment that were not really, really available. What is real here? You know, as you know, as many children did, like tried out being taller, shorter, differently gendered, differently racialized, different periods, different family makeups, different ways of being self-sufficient in the world.

I was really interested in magic, but magic as a mode of self-sufficiency, as if like magic could be like, oh, you would always have enough or you’d have the spell to have enough or that you could quantify knowledge in a way that you would have enough. So I think some of the things I learned from those modes of play were both the kind of painful, hard realities of what magical thinking couldn’t do, but at the same time, always keeping a door open to what magical thinking might and could do, which I guess is what brings us to where we are today.

Max Haiven: Yes, yeah, absolutely. So we’re going to be talking today quite a bit about your new book, which just came out, just just came out as we’re recording this at the end of 2023, The Futures of Racial Capitalism, out from Polity. That book follows on your last book on racial capitalism.

And in the beginning of this one, you sort of invite us to think about racial capitalism as a puzzle. And I was really struck by this metaphor because this podcast is about the exploits of play, the weaponization and de-weaponization of games. And I hadn’t thought about the puzzle, but it’s a really potent metaphor to think through something.

And you talk a little bit in that introduction about, you know, searching for the pieces of this puzzle and feeling like the pieces never all quite come together. What does that metaphor offer you? And for those listeners who are probably familiar with the term racial and the term capitalism, but not necessarily so familiar with what happens when you put them together, what does that term do for us now?

Gargi Bhattacharyya: I’ve started to think about the idea of racial capitalism as a puzzle, because I’ve been saying for quite some time, as you say, from the other book I wrote about racial capitalism, that I try to approach racial capitalism not as an end point theorization, but as a question that, you know, the putting together of racial and capitalism for me. And I think the kinds of traditions that I’m working in and building on and feeding on is much more about opening a question about why solidarity and class agency remains so elusive, given the parallel class violences done in the name of capitalism and through capitalism, and yet dispersed amongst populations that have arbitrary divisions between them. And those arbitrary divisions can be made in different ways, sometimes with different names, but I’m using the term racial as a shorthand for what the arbitrary allocation of status and category might mean, only to suggest that some other social categorizations are less absolutely arbitrary than the racial, which has no reference at all.

In terms of the puzzle, because I’ve been trying to think of racial capitalism as a question, not a final word theorization, I think a lot of people use that word racial capitalism, that phrase, as if it’s a new meta theory that will finally nail the difficulties of Western Marxism on the head, and then we’ll have finally kind of encompass what a world that Marxism is. Rather than that, I prefer to think of it as a way of, oh, well, we’re not yet there yet with freedom. And I’m trying to think of it as a puzzle, because as it changes shape, I was finding it harder to narrate the whole, not easier.

Now, I had some idea a few years ago, at least if you look backwards, you can see, here’s some modes of production, here’s some expansionist projects, here’s some settler colonial projects, here’s some technical innovations that remake global capital, put them together, and you have some idea of where we get to a certain point. But because I was then trying to understand how we might see racial capitalism in movement, so not what has just passed, but what is happening is just about to happen. The reason why the puzzle is a good metaphor is it disconcerts our habits of critique.

A lot of the left, including the left that I’m most engaged in and made from, thinks that you start to write and think and organise, once you have mastered the object that you stand against, and you stand in critique against it. That assumes all kinds of things about our ability to see the whole, to know what position we’re taking. And it also transforms our political voice and approach into a kind of ethical moment.

The puzzle says something different. The puzzle says, I can kind of see all the pieces, and I may or may not know that some of them are good or bad. But the thing I need to understand first is how the pieces are articulated against each other.

Because the politics has to come out of that understanding. I’m not sure if that’s making sense. But that is why I’ve been knocking about with the idea of the puzzle.

And I also think it makes us pay attention to each piece a little bit more. Because to put together the piece of the puzzle, you have to give some attention to every piece. And I think there’s something useful about holding, of course, we know, of course, capital is always totalising, we know all of that stuff.

But to just hold back on those habitual forms of thinking, as capital remakes itself slightly differently before us, so that we can might comprehend the components, because I feel like understanding the configuration of the components is necessary for our collective survival, for us to know where life could be. But that’s really what I think.

Max Haiven: In the book, some of the components that appear are prisons, and the kind of the new techno-carceral archipelago around the world, and borders and debts, and also platforms, you know, this new this new age of digital platforms, what some have called platform capitalism. And I wanted to focus in on that last one, because it’s perhaps the most relevant to our discussion about play and games. Yeah, I mean, we’ve seen over the last few years, a variety of really interesting publications that try and understand what’s happened now that big tech, in partnership with high finance has created these technologies that now seem like such a huge part of our life and how the world is organised and how capitalism is organising itself.

But we haven’t seen, I think, as much a kind of systematic understanding of how race and racialisation play into those platforms. And I feel you do some really important work in the book. And I wonder if you could just sort of summarise that.

Gargi Bhattacharyya: I mean, I have a few things, I think, for us to say to each other. One is that I’m not persuaded readily, that platform capitalism simply reconstructs the racialised landscapes that we already have a known from the last or the last few phases of global capital technological developments have been. So I think there’s at least a melding together of an existing landscape of inequality, which includes the sediment of dispossession, that is our, you know, the racialised history of capitalism, and at the same time, an odd opening of opportunity and shaking up that can remake racialised landscapes.

So I kind of haven’t gotten much further than that, that those two things together need to be understood and left open. At least one of the ways in which that happens, which people who have done all kinds of people that have been doing work around, working across within the platform economy have been talking about, is the awkward but significant way in which platform corporations in what I suspect is still that early formation, because we’re seeing these are quite rapid changes that are happening. And in many ways, we’re quite early in, you know, the articulations of what this might mean for the corporate form, more generally across many different sectors, we’re starting to see that movement happening, but it’s, I certainly can’t articulate again.

But certainly in the earlier phases around the kind of melding of what I would, you know, summarise as following others as the move of the kind of logistical elements of capital, of commodity distribution, and commodity transportation, and commodity storage, you know, all of those things are things that the big global platforms have been playing with. But in those kinds of work, the kind of work non work that emerges, migrant workers across all the global locations where people are mapping it, are significantly overrepresented within this new workforce. And it is a horrible new workforce.

And as with all of these moments, when capital remakes itself and goes to a bit of a technological leap, there’s nothing fun about being in the workforce that is included, except it’s better to be included than not included, if not included means to be abandoned, and to be in the spaces where even the most minimal access, the means of life is being taken out of those spaces. So that I think, is a clue, a clue of that component of the puzzle, that on the one hand, platform corporations squat within the pre existing dispossession of those who cannot enter the formal labour market easily, who might already have been multiply displaced, because of both economic and climate and political kind of pushes, and that they become the kind of first innovation workers of a very rapidly emerging corporate form. And they are hugely overexploited in ways that are also innovative in the most ugly of ways, all the ways that the refusal of the employment relation has become a corporate tactic across the world, you know, that’s a trick of this new reformation. And yet they are also the people who are entering work in large numbers, often multiple forms of work, because one form of connection with a corporation is often not enough to sustain life, at the same time as parallel populations or parallel spaces are falling out of anything that looks like work at all.

And that’s a kind of shifting around the patterns of racialisation and economic activity.

Max Haiven: I was going to bring up an example and see what you think about it. Because so for these last few years, I’ve been running a research project, activist research project called Worker as Futurist, where we’ve been supporting rank and file Amazon workers, mostly in North America, to write speculative fiction about the world after Amazon. So these are mostly warehouse workers, pickers in the warehouses and distribution centres and fulfillment centres, drivers, but also some other people you might not expect to be working for Amazon, like, you know, people working on the MTurk platform, which is this micro task platform where you basically go on and you bid against other workers to do, like, tiny micro tasks that take seconds, for like, basically pennies.

And this is the way that a lot of artificial intelligence data sets are developed, big data, how it’s kind of cleansed, so that the computer can read it. And there’s also other people who are like sellers on Amazon, like they’re their own independent business people using the Amazon system. So basically, we limited ourselves to people whose wages are dependent on Amazon.

And it was really, really interesting. And I think your book really helped shed some light on thinking through both the conditions under which these people work, and also their dispositions and their thinking about capitalism and about race and racialization. Because of course, almost all of our participants are from racialized backgrounds, that is who Amazon’s, like rank and file workforce is.

Most people are from migrant backgrounds, either having themselves migrated to Canada, the United States, or their parents. And many of them are also living in suburbs or exurbs, you know, where Amazon, as Charmaine Chua points out in her work, that’s like sort of where Amazon is recruiting a lot of people, in part because people there are, you know, very, they need work, because those areas have been denuded of a lot of forms of employment. But also because in various ways that Charmaine points out in her work, it makes the population a bit more exploitable.

They’re very busy, they have kids, they’re driving a long distance, or using public transportation to go long distances. And for various ways, this actually makes this workforce more exploitable by Amazon and more disposable by Amazon. So your writing had me thinking about this, because these are also often spaces, these exurbs that are associated with the kind of decay of white America, and the left behinds, as they’ve been sort of framed somewhat problematically by sociologists.

And just thinking about how in these terrains around these distribution centres, you have all of this complexity play out, as capitalism reconfigures itself, and conscripts various types of bodies into its apparatuses, and different forms of racialisation, and how racialisation changes in that mix as well.

Gargi Bhattacharyya: No, no, absolutely. And I think that’s almost one of the exemplary examples. I think Amazon’s activity is one of the exemplary examples, for all the reasons you say.

But what I think is often not said, that is implied both in what you’ve said, and in what I’ve said, is that although, of course, Amazon operates a whole business model that relies almost explicitly on the sedimented outcomes of racialised dispossession, as you say, why some people are geographically and socially and economically located in such a place that all of this rubbishy work is an offer, and an offer that really cannot be refused for a lot of them. I think there’s something useful to thinking, that we don’t know yet what that means in terms of the politics of race. That when we’ve talked about, we the left, global left, have talked in previous generations about the hyper exploitation of the racially subordinated and or migrant workforce, that has always been implicitly and often explicitly, in comparison to a mainstream workforce, who may be racially privileged, and or caste privileged or geographically privileged.

Implied within those forms of privilege are a certain form of infrastructural privilege of residential privilege with a whole set of amenities attached to that, whether provided through the company wage or the social wage. What I think is in such rapid flux that it’s almost impossible for us to see is the absolute disintegration of that implied centre, along from which the subordinated labour force is meant to take its meaning as less than. So it’s not clear to me what happens then.

That doesn’t mean that we move into some post racial future, or that great things happen. It just means that, once again, capital finds new ways to fuck us. That’s what accumulation means, isn’t it?

That just as we find ways of semi reforms and to organise ourselves, capital’s innovation will find ways to immiserate us some more. It’s not about being kind or unkind. It’s within the logic of accumulation.

What can I take from the workforce is one of the things I can take from, not the only one, but it’s one of the places I must take from. So I just kind of think it’s helpful for us as people of goodwill who would like us to live in a survivable planet and live decent lives. To think, well, racism can change or the work that racism does for capital can change.

And that even as we maintain our critical purchase on what has just happened about the poor quality of work, the refusal to admit that this is waged work, and the kind of erasure of working conditions, we should also be alert to the ways in which the Amazons of the world are remaking everyone’s working and living life, and perhaps positioning us in ways that we cannot yet imagine in terms of the politics of race.

I just don’t know. I mean, it’s a long winded way of saying, I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen when racialized bodies do the rubbishy work, but there’s nothing but the rubbishy work, which is a world that I think in many locations we are already very close to.

Yeah, I think then a lot of bets are off and we need to think how we both retain our anti-racist critique of local and global politics, while also understanding what differential entitlements of the world of work and beyond means. None of which is happy. It’s kind of important.

Max Haiven: One of the siren songs of this phase of capitalism that is associated with the rise of platforms, and I’m thinking here like platforms like Uber, let’s say, or even Instagram, or TikTok, is that anyone can use these platforms to get ahead. You know, that you too can be a player, to use part of the terminology that we keep circling back to in this podcast, that, you know, there was always the myth since the 70s that the neoliberal revolution would have a revolution, would sort of be the rising tide that would lift all boats, that it was going to be the world of opportunity. And then since the 90s and capitalist globalization, we had this whole mythology that’s, you know, there was nothing preventing an extremely poor person in, you know, a poor country from competing toe to toe with Bill Gates to build the next computer system or some, you know, nonsense like this.

But now with these rise of these platforms, that’s gone from common sense to gospel truth that, you know, and one of the things I noticed with the Amazon workers is a lot of people sort of believed this, that there was a kind of a new meritocracy of some sort being brought about. And people when we would talk about the intersections of race and capitalism, many of our participants would sort of say, well, like that might have been true at one point that there were these systemic barriers, but now you have only to, you know, have a little bit of talent and a competitive spirit. And, you know, especially for people, you know, in their 20s, you could become an influencer, you could, you could rise up from, you know, being an Uber driver into some or, you know, driving, doing food delivery to some other plateau.

What do you make of this? Is this just like the democratization of false consciousness, like the democratization of a kind of normative bourgeois idea? Or I sense that there might be something else going on, too, about people’s strange optimism in this moment, that somehow capitalism is giving people the opportunity to transcend former racial barriers.

Gargi Bhattacharyya: It’s odd, isn’t it? Because I think people can think more than one thing at once. So I do think that there’s, there’s something about the kind of disruption and unpredictability around racialized barriers, which echoes what I’ve just said.

And I think that there is something in that, not that racism is receding, but just passing terms of a quite relatively, you know, static racial order, very much tied to particular in particular places to a racial state, to a castle system, to a moment when the national state is far more cleanly and overtly tied to a mode of capital, which itself had a kind of national or sometimes national affiliation, you know, at least, you know, even when capitalism is moving in, you know, it’s had its favoured spaces. Whereas now, a lot of things are much more uncertain, it’s uncertain.

If you start to make it uncertain for the affluent workers of two generations ago, which is really what we’re seeing everywhere, then some of the things about racialized barriers have also become uncertain, because that was what the barrier was between, between, are you going to be a racially subordinated class, so we can make the pretended sense of the affluent working class, or the lower middle class make sense. And I think all of that is in flux. But whether people truly believe that capital can save us, can give us the good, any of us the good life, is sustainable.

I think that’s very variably thought, and I haven’t been doing big fieldwork on this, but just around different things you read in People You Know, I just think the idea that capital is killing us all and killing itself is kind of part of the zeitgeist in many locations. And very much thought by younger people. In those ways, I think older people still might be still enthralled to the pretence that capital can fix itself.

And I think the generational divide in terms of attitudes to climate crisis is an indication of that. The difference between people under 40 who think, well, obviously, we’re going to die very soon, because a lot of people are already dying. And people who kind of act like you can just carry on business as normal.

Because capital wouldn’t let us die. But you know, that feels that’s a straightforward generational divide around when people were socialised into capitalist living. Those differences happen at the same time.

But I think they might be co-constitutive, that the disruption of previous racialised orders, which belonged to a moment of global capitalism, that thought that at least in some parts of the world, there could be an ordering of social space for the interests of capital, using the local state as its machinations. And a moment where all bets are off around most of that, for most of the world. Some bits of Europe I know are holding on, certainly not Britain, but some other European, you know, maybe.

But certainly, that game seems to me to be over. And that means that those racial categorisations and statuses are very much in flux, at the same time as capitalists’ self-immolation is ever nearer. And I think a lot of people are trying to think both those things at the same time.

Max Haiven: I want to drill down into that feeling that emerges from holding those contradictory ideas at the same time, which, you know, I think we all hold those two contradictory feelings at the same time in a funny way, which is the idea of cheating and being cheated. And I want to, there’s a number of different components of this I want to talk through with you. But the beginning, I think, is what works and what doesn’t work about sort of the approaches that say that like the formerly sort of privileged, those who feel they’re privileged slipping away as racial subjects, that they feel sort of cheated by this system and that they’re sort of on the lookout for who cheated them. This argument, for instance, gets made in Arlie Hochschild’s “Strangers in Their Own Land,” where she likens the plight of working-class whites in Louisiana, United States, to feeling cheated out of something they were entitled to. She’s sympathetic to these subjects, critical on the left. What do you make of that discourse?

Gargi Bhattacharyya: It’s politically tricky, isn’t it? Because subjects who articulate a sense of being cheated by the promise of capitalism are those who’ve held arbitrary privilege, largely on the basis of someone else’s disprivilege in recent times.

Another way of telling that story doesn’t mean that people’s sense of disappointment and not having something they hoped for isn’t genuine. But it’s tricky when most of the world has never enjoyed those things and never expected them. What happens when we think of that as being cheated? What would have to happen for that sense of being cheated to be transformed into a consciousness of having joined the mass of humanity? What could be done if people found ways to understand themselves as finally joining the human condition rather than being in a suspended state of pretended protection, which is very brief?

We have a similar discourse and experience in Britain, but it was a brief amount of time when broadly white working-class communities through hard class war and the concessions won through hard class war, plus major military disruption across the world and the remaking of national economies, bought only a few decades of rapid material gain. It was an unusual experience, globally and historically, for those communities that enjoyed it, like the welfarist moment in Europe or the post-war social contract in North America.

We should acknowledge those wins as real and talk about the importance of the social wage, but we also need to be honest about the factors that allowed those wins and the things we miss and feel cheated out of unless we’re upfront and honest about them.

I don’t know how much this applies to North America, but living in London now, which is very different from the rest of Britain, and having lived in the Midlands in Birmingham for over 20 years, I have less sense that younger British people racialized as white are invested in their whiteness as people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s were. In my youth, the marker of whiteness was very important to my peers. I don’t get that sense from younger white people. The breakdowns done around the Corbyn moment show if you had done a general election with people under 24, the Corbyn Labour Party would have won everything. That tells you something about racialized identifications and the markers around internationalism, foreign policy, and reckoning with the colonial past.

That’s also what I mean about the disruption of the racialized order. What does the former racialized order give to younger white people? Less and less, if anything. We need to recognize that and think about what kind of opportunity that presents for us. Until now, it was very hard to think of how you would bring white people of my age around to a truly internationalist class politics because of the payoffs of the wages of whiteness. But what are the wages of whiteness if you’re 22? I don’t see anything they’re getting that was promised.

You see it in the numbers of young people out in the streets of Palestine, in the global movement for Black Lives. All of that is like, you know, it’s our job to clock it in a way that is not only nostalgic. I want to come back to this question about young people because that generation emerging now into politics is very gameful and playful.

Max Haiven: I want to continue with this question of the cheat and the fear of the cheat because on one hand, you have a new breed of clownish far-right politicians who make incredible political mileage by accusing mostly racialized groups of being cheaters. These are the people claiming welfare benefits or presumed to be claiming welfare, migrants at the border, or crossing borders. On the other hand, this new breed of far-right politicians are objectively and often quite nakedly cheats themselves. Even the clown car of the British Conservative Party is full of people who’ve cheated many times.

What do you make of this?

Gargi Bhattacharyya: In Britain, both major parties are part of a rapid downward spiral of institutional implosion. The specter of the proud and self-proclaimed cheat across the global right is a bigger historical phenomenon. Even within my lifetime, it would have been a scandal for some of the things members of the current Tory government or the current shadow cabinet have done.

There’s a real hollowing out of democratic institutions, leaving us with a corporate free-for-all. The absolute hollowing out of democratic institutions, whatever minimal impact they’re meant to have, leaves us with this kind of free-for-all. It’s a dangerous moment not because the electoral process works for all, but because of the absolute hollowing out of democratic institutions.

I don’t understand how this has happened so quickly in my lifetime. Even in the ’80s, there was still public discourse holding to account. It feels like as the 21st century has proceeded, we’ve moved away from that across the world.

What’s the point of being a critical journalist now? It’s all these things that, on a better day, I think are part of rapid reformulation. But one of the things our side must learn is to recognize where the sites of political power are and find techniques to hold them to account because what we have now is just an empty theater on all sides.

Many electorates know that. It’s built into the neoliberal moment that’s passing. We can’t carry on like this. What would it mean to remake politics in our moment?

Around the world, opinion polls on almost every issue are starkly divided by age. As a living fossil and Marxist dinosaur, I don’t go on TikTok often, but whenever I do, I’m impressed by the wit articulated in political terms by a younger generation. There’s something emerging that speaks against fatalism.

There’s something beautiful in the kind of joke shared by workers in scenes of exploitation. It comes back to the question of young people. It feels like in some periods, like the pre-revolutionary moment, where you can’t walk down the street without people trying to push 25 different pamphlets into your hand. It’s like that online. We can see this is not it, but let’s speak to each other in many registers of entertainment and affinity.

I think there’s something in our ability to laugh together, even in the most difficult of circumstances, which gives an insight into how we are remade and might remake each other. It might not always be about jokes. Most of the best human jokes are unexpected moments of shared energy that buoy us through the dayThrough the next bit of our difficult day.

Now that energy between humans as we touch each other, and touch each other not in competition or antagonism, or racialized division, but just in the possibility of laughter. I think that’s worth just hanging on to for a minute. I don’t absolutely know how it works, as you pointed out.

Once, what normally happens when I write a book is I start off thinking, I don’t know this, and I’ll go through all the ways I don’t know it, and then I know a bit more about it, but at the end it’s like, I don’t know this other thing. The other thing I think I don’t know is, okay, there’s something in human association.

which is the kernel of what revolutionary solidarity must be. Doesn’t mean we’ve got it yet, but it’s not going to come from outside us. It can only come from us. So part of the prefiguration of that might be, when we laugh together. I also just wanted to write in a book somewhere, but ‘When the masses laugh, the powerful quake.’

But on that, set at my funeral, that’s what I believe. Yeah, me too, me too. It reminded me of a really interesting essay from maybe 20 years ago now by Paolo Vierno, the Italian Marxist theorist, about wit. And in it, I mean, it’s been a while since I read it. So, you know, I might be hallucinating Apollo Mirnaud article here, but I think what’s interesting is like, this is part of the kind of autonomous attempt to figure out what, what it was that capital was after ultimately.

What, what is the living in living labor that capital must feed upon like a vampire. And he kind of, he drills down, he drills down and eventually he comes to like wit and he comes to puns. And and I just think it’s such an interesting, I mean, we live in a world where, of course, comedy is hyper commodified, you know, comedians, in fact, we’re in a allegedly a golden age of stand up comedy right now.

And people have written interestingly about the work of comedy. Yes. But to set that aside, I think it’s. What your work and Werno’s work was making me think about in this regard is just that there’s, like, when we think about, you know, after capital is taken, absolutely everything, you know, it’s not, it can’t take your sense of humor away.

And that kind of joke that even the gallows humor shared by workers in scenes of horrendous exploitation. Or, you know, to think about, like, James Scott’s work on the hidden transcript of Resistance. You know, setting aside accusations that James Scott may or may not have given information to security forces.

We’ll not comment on that, but in any case, it was, you know, an interesting theory where you know, he’s suggesting that even a kind of look and a smirk, or, or even sometimes the comedy that can come from just doing things a little too early or a little too late, I think there’s something really beautiful there to keep our focus on in times that feel very dark.

But it comes back to the question, and I wanted to come back here to the question of young people, because I think as a living fossil and a, you know, a Marxist dinosaur, I don’t really go on TikTok often, but whenever I do, or, you know, like a living fossil, I see things from TikTok that are shared with me on other more paleo social media platforms.

I’m always incredibly impressed. The, the kind of wit that is being articulated also in political terms by a younger generation who have at their disposal, these platform technologies, which of course have so many forms of exploitation baked into them. So many forms of attention capture and data capture and all the rest.

And yet. Very interesting things are happening and and there’s something that’s emerging there, I think, that speaks against the kind of fatalism that, you know, we just have to accept the fact that capitalism is a fundamentally broken system and there’s nothing we can do about it. I sense that among younger people that, that might be what emerges on the surface of the discourse, that like, we hate this system, we know it’s rotten, but we have no idea what to do.

There’s something, it feels to me. Insurgent, incipient, and imminent in the forms of humor on these platforms that seem important to me. But that’s as far as my thinking has gone. What do you think? Yeah, no, absolutely. And I also think that that kind of horror in the face of global collapse Is giving rise is a, is giving rise to a widespread gallow’s humor, which is also a gallow’s imagination.

So, so I don’t mean that it’s a fatalism, it’s a kind, it’s it’s an abolitionist moment that, you know, stop, stop messing about you old people trying to fix this, this kind of militarized vehicle, which is killing you and killing us. We need to build something else. and let’s laugh as we do it and we’ll speak to each other differently as we do it and the affiliations that you’ve relied upon why it doesn’t look to us like they work so we’ll make remake our affiliations on them with the process of doing that so I think all of that is kind of that kind of explosion of too much stuff to hear is partly that moment.

The pre-revolutionary moment where you can’t walk down the street without people trying to push 25 different, slightly different pamphlets into your hand. So then it’s that kind of online thing that, you know, We can all see this is not it, but let’s speak to each other, speak to each other, speak to each other, and speak to each other in many registers of entertainment and affinity as well, which I also think is interesting, isn’t it?

Because that’s a difference from, we had ourselves, we decided this is how we’re going to save you, now read our literature and come to our meeting. Instead, not that anyone I know ever did that, but instead a kind of a model of political discourse, as you say, which is, you know, Embedded in the platforms of entertainment.

So it’ll just come up on your phone amongst many other odd things around cats and makeup. But it will just be all intertwined about how you feel and how you feel about each other. And you’ll make unless something emerging. And I think it’s that’s still undecided. I’m pretty certain it’s not Leninism.

I’ve only ever heard one joke that Lennon used to tell, and it was about Germany, which is that there would never be a revolution in Germany because they’d go and they’d say, comrades, take the train station. They’d all go to the train station and everyone would line up to stamp their ticket appropriately. And they’d never get to the revolution because everyone would be in the lineup.

Max Haiven: As someone who lives in Germany, I could appreciate the joke. I never heard any other one that he told, though. I don’t want to suggest Lenny knew no jokes. I just think he didn’t like everyone to have a say all at once. Is there anything we missed? Anything you’d like to add?

Gargi Bhattacharyya: I guess the thing that I did want to say, which I hope speaks back to the broader theme of your series, is that as well as the laugh, the laughter that happens from the masses and between the masses, even in the darkest of times, I would also like to make a kind of pitch for the role of playfulness and an openness to being and seeing the ridiculous as part of our political futures and imaginations.

I think playfulness, of course, playfulness can always be misused, can’t it? You know, what has been commodified more than our desire to play? And as you’ve already said, that the kind of platform economy that we are living through absolutely colonizes our desire to play and uses it to re-discipline us as these differently emerging economic subjects.

But at the same time, I think there are things about the possibility of play, certainly that you might do with many others who are not yet like you. But in the process you build affinity with through the yet kind of uncharted realm of pain, which almost always must be remade on the hoof. But you can see that in new political formations, and I think we should cop that and let’s run with that.

That’s worth running with. And the other thing, which I’ve just been trying to make a pitch for in many places. But I’ve been raised in a left that takes itself very, very, very seriously. The world is a terrible place, and we are the ones who know it best, and we have made our critique, and we’d like to now share our critique with you.

Don’t you smirk at me because let me tell you that things are very bad and serious. And I understand why people hold that weight. But I also wonder if our ability to be open to what is puzzling about the changes in the formations we see and how our enemies arrange ourselves means that we might have to give up always being so serious about ourselves.

Because we might have to say things that are silly, or we’re not certain about, or just be open to being ridiculous to each other. Because some of that needs to be tried out, and I’d really like to sell that pitch to people as a thing worth doing. And it doesn’t mean people won’t have to take anything you say seriously, I think it’s also about that, to be easy with appearing or being ridiculous in moments.

Just might be required of the most serious comrades. Because look what is before us. Anyone who says they know where we have to go next, and that will, in a way that will save us all, is not being honest with themselves. So we need to find some playful and buoyant and imaginative ways to be with each other because the world depends on it.