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J. Moufawad-Paul, Austerity Apparatus (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2017).

Moufawad-Paul, who blogs at M-L-M Mayhem is the author of two previous books: The Communist Necessity(2014) and Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain(2016). Austerity Apparatus rounds out a trilogy of sorts focused on the need to revitalize the theory and practice of an organized left.

In The Communist Necessity, the polemical “prolegomena” to this book, I argued that there needed to be a “new return” to the concept of the revolutionary party - a reclaiming of the theoretical tradition marked by world-historical revolutions - and that this new return was to be found in the “three-headed beast” of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. (Continuity and Rupture, xii)

Austerity Apparatus is perhaps less explicit about its Maoist foundation, but in its place it has an exhilarating thrust that comes out of the richness and density of its ideas. Influenced to a certain extent by Semiotext(e) books like The Coming Insurrection or Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War, Austerity Apparatus is, like them, deceptively brief (a view supported by the small format used in their publication). But Austerity Apparatus doesn’t rely on the allusive style of the Invisible Commity or Tiqqun, it comes out and says what it is trying to say. Compare the following passages:

Each body is affected by its form-of-life as if by a clinamen, a leaning, an attraction, a taste. A body leans toward whatever leans its way. This goes for each and every situation. Inclinations go both ways. (Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, 18).

The moment it rears its defiant head communistm is dismissed as heinous and unethical by the very people who claim fidelity to its history. Marxism “lacks an ethics” we are told, simply because it challenges the rules and philosophies of morality imposed by the bourgeois order, and so something else must be tried. Even self-proclaimed Marxists abide by this narrative when they complain about “Stalinism” and use the word totalitarianism. The order of the ethical that is proclaimed by the austerity apparatus is all that matters: anything that attempts to violate business as usual is barbarism. (Austerity Apparatus, 110).

Austerity Apparatus drops ideas like this and then moves quickly on. As a result, not only is the forward momentum maintained, but there is a rush from such a rapid succession of interesting ideas andeven when the ideas aren’t new, striking formulations.

It helps that Moufawad-Paul chose to focus the book around a concrete phenomenon, that of “austerity” - “What a mistake it was to recognize austerity - which leads through not only a diagnosis of the contemporary “state of anxiety” between the social peace of the Welfare State and the “state of emergency” which we are witnessing in the resurgence of fascism. This process leads to discussions of austerity as class collaboration and the domestication of the left, the anxiety of the contemporary subject, capitalist crisis, and, in perhaps the most explicitly “Maoist” section, the people’s war and the partisan war machine. You don’t have to be a Maoist to get a lot out of this book, and by the time the section on “The Partisan War Machine and its Counter-State” is reached, the groundwork has been sufficiently prepared that the revolutionary war machine, the “consummation of class war against capitalist hegemony” appears as the logical next step or conclusion of the process.

There are some things that strike me as deeply true, but expressed very succinctly. Take for instance, Moufawad-Paul’s account of what we often refer to as “imposter syndrome”:

The austerity subject is not inaugurated in the same manner as other subjects because its interpellation is caught within a vacillation between a state of social peace and a state of emergency. It is a subject unsure of itself; this is both its strength and weakness. (86)

Austerity Apparatus seems very much a book of the moment, a book that puts into perspective the political and economic whirlwind that often seems so perplexing. It provides a history and genealogy for what we are experiencing now, a diagnosis of the afflictions present in our daily lives, and a prescription for a possible future. It is an urgent book, full of suggestions for where to go next. I may not agree with everything in it, but it is a book not to be dismissed lightly, but to be read (and reread) with attention. Highly recommended.


Sam Popowich

Discovery and Web Services Librarian, University of Alberta

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