The Working Dead: Capitalism, Mortality, and Their Discontents (panel)

deadline for submissions: 
February 13, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Marxist Literary Group - Institute on Culture and Society: Transition
contact email: 

The COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate infection and fatality rates among the working class, coupled with the increasing peril from climate catastrophe, has foregrounded the existential precarity of those on the unfortunate side of the wage relation and empire. This panel considers, however, that in the absence of full human flourishing—in Marx’s word, Gattungswesen—the proletariat is, in a sense, already dead prior to the expiration of their physical bodies.

Thus, it would seem no insignificant endeavor for the working class to struggle against graves both symbolic and literal. Mortality studies within Marxism is still in its nascency, but several Marxists have contemplated death in relation both to the iniquities of capitalism and the communist horizon. Herbert Marcuse and Ernst Bloch, for example, agree that recasting death from an ontological threat to an empirical inevitability deflates its coercive potential in capital’s hands and unlocks the death concept’s radical generativity—expiration becomes a problem to be solved rather than the hard limit to human striving. A dialectic of death may therefore conceive mortality as a path into communism and a more just administration of decease as that foray’s result. At its most utopian, communism may even foreclose the grave as the compulsory end it has been thus far in history.      

This panel seeks topics including but not limited to: 

  • Historical instances of proletarian struggle against premature and demographically asymmetrical death
  • Mortality’s role in social reproduction and/or revolutionary production
  • How capitalism and communism differ in their understanding of symbolic and literal death
  • Historical- and dialectical-materialist models of mortality compared to others from the humanities and social sciences
  • Examinations of class struggle within critical paradigms that (e.g., transhumanism, Russian cosmism) 

Prospective panelists are encouraged to submit papers that treat topics at the intersections of Marxism and mortality studies, whether or not they contain literary analysis.


Please see the original conference CFP here for more information: