Home > Occupy the Marxist Academy > Anti-Capitalism (or, How to identify a Marxist without a clue)

Anti-Capitalism (or, How to identify a Marxist without a clue)

There are a few true indicators that a discussion you might overhear is dominated by people who have no idea what they are talking about.

For instance, if you hear anyone mention the term “fiscal cliff” in a discussion, you can safely ignore anything they have to say about the present crisis. The term “fiscal cliff” is a marketing term employed to produce an emotional response — it is not a category of sober economic analysis.  Also to be considered in this light are such terms as “debt limit”, “S&P rating”, “globalization”, “deleveraging”, “balance sheet recession”, “sequestration”.

To this, I want to add my own personal favorite: “Anti-capitalism”. If you ever hear the word, “anti-capitalism” or “anti-capitalist” from the mouth of a Marxist, you know he/she is a fraud. Feel free to tell them so. “Anti-capitalism” is one of those terms employed by Marxists who have absolutely no idea what a social revolution is. The term is a placeholder employed to define some vague post-capitalist society, the outlines of which are not at all clear to the person.

By contrast, Marx was very clear on what society after capitalism would look like — the individual will have complete control of her own productive capacities and her social relations. You can always tell when a Marxist doesn’t understand this, because he/she usually employs some vague terminology like “anti-capitalism”.

In his 2010 lecture, “Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition”, David Harvey reproduces all the defects of the Marxist academy with its vague and imprecise ideas on what comes next. davidharvey.org/2009/12/organi… In this lecture you will find just the sort of meaningless shit Marxists academics need to remove from their analysis if they are ever going to be worth more to the working class than the food they shovel in their mouths.

A case in point is David Harvey, who can’t even give us precise and clear definition of what his anticapitalist transition all about. In place of a real analysis of the present crisis, we get this shit stew:

The historical geography of capitalist development is at a key inflexion point in which the geographical configurations of power are rapidly shifting at the very moment when the temporal dynamic  is facing very serious constraints. Three percent compound growth (generally considered the minimum satisfactory growth rate  for a healthy capitalist economy) is becoming less and less feasible to sustain without resort to all manner of fictions.  There are good reasons to believe that there is no alternative to a new global order of governance that will eventually have to  manage the transition to a zero growth economy.

Harvey is not exceptional in this description of the present crisis. Pick up any Marxist literature on the crisis and you are likely to find nonsense at least as silly and incomprehensible as the above.

This crisis is about what every capitalist crisis is about: a more or less open or concealed conflict between classes over hours of labor. The capitalist class wants those hours to be as long as possible because its profits are tied to the surplus labor portion of the labor day; the working class wants the end of wage slavery.

How fucking difficult is this for Harvey to get this out of his goddamned mouth? Does he add anything to it with his academic gibberish? And how does a “zero growth economy” compare to the abolition of wage slavery? Is there some growth rate in the length of the compulsory labor day below which wage slavery becomes tolerable? Is there some level of compulsory labor consistent with the individual’s complete control over her productive capacities?

“The current crisis”, Harvey tells us, “originated in the steps taken to resolve the crisis of the 1970s.” He then follows this useless piece of information with a laundry list of items that is as subject to debate among Marxists as his own zero growth rate economy proposal is dumb. All of the items he lists come down to one policy: increase the hours of uncompensated labor, and, therefore, increase the rate of profit.

However, at no point in his argument do hours of labor ever appear as the subject of conflict between classes — just as it appears in none of the Marxist academic analysis I have read on the crisis so far. And there is a reason for this defect: they have all thrown out Marx’s labor theory of value! In place of this theory we get talk of  “The political forces that coalesced and mobilized behind these transitions… clothed in the vestments of a distinctive ideology called neoliberal.” According to Harvey, neoliberalism rests

…upon the idea that free markets, free trade, personal initiative and entrepreneurialism were  the best guarantors of individual liberty and freedom and that the “nanny state” should be dismantled for the benefit of all.

Really David? Only the capitalist class stands for free markets, free trade, personal initiative and dismantling the nanny state? Since when did communists stand for managed markets and trade, dependence and state management of the total social capital? When, in other words, did Marxism become a variant of fascism? The “nanny state’ is a capitalist state, representing capitalists interests; I would like Professor harvey to explain to me how can this state manage markets and trade in the interest of society?

Harvey asks:

“Can capitalism survive the present trauma?

His answer:

Yes. But at what cost?”

This is, in fact, the standard “modern” Marxist response to questions of this sort: capitalism can continue indefinitely. It is possible for capital to continuously reduce the necessary labor time required for production of the material needs without limit and never encounter an ultimate barrier. Marxists cannot prove this — they just assert it as a religious dogma; one they cling to more rabidly than even the capitalist. Harvey, in fact, has no idea whether capitalism can survive this crisis, and has no way on knowing it, because he has discarded Marx’s labor theory of value, which imposes a material limit on the reduction of socially necessary labor time, and, therefore, on the lifespan of the capitalist mode of production itself.

But since he has no answer to the first question, Harvey shifts to another:

“Can the capitalist class reproduce its power in the face  of the raft of economic, social, political and geopolitical and environmental difficulties?”

His answer to this is also affirmative, but,

“… the mass of the people will have to surrender the fruits of their labour to those in power…”

What the fuck does this silly shit mean? Every day of the week the working class “surrenders” the fruits of its labor to capital. So all we learn from Harvey is that in order for the working class to surrender the fruits of its labor to capital, it must continue to do so. In fact, for Marx, the demise of capitalism in no way depends on the worker suddenly refusing to surrender the fruits of her labor to capital. Rather, this surrender is precisely the means by which capital is driven to its demise.

After thirty years lecturing on Capital, you would think fucking Harvey would have gotten this through his thick skull by now. In the very first chapter of Capital we find value is not labor time per se, but only socially necessary labor time. The worker can surrender her surplus labor time to the capitalist, and even produce a surplus product, but nothing in this surrender implies the production of surplus value.

Read the fucking book, David!

The capitalist is not the least bit concerned about the worker surrendering the fruits of her labor, but about surplus value — profits. For Harvey, however, this nonsense lays the basis for him to completely confuse the issue of what is currently at stake in this crisis and the prospect of a new period of capitalist expansion:

“Since much of this is unpredictable and since the spaces of the global economy are so variable, then uncertainties as to outcomes are  heightened at times of crisis. All manner of localized possibilities arise for either nascent capitalists in some new space to seize opportunities to challenge older class and territorial hegemonies … or for radical movements to challenge the reproduction of an  already destabilized class power. To say that the capitalist class and capitalism can survive is not to say that they are  predestined to do so nor does it say that their future character is given. Crises are moments of paradox and possibilities.

This, of course, is just Harvey’s way of saying: “I haven’t a fucking clue what I am talking about.” But he couches this admission in meaningless verbiage that allows him to just keep running his mouth as if he has something to say.

Since harvey has no way of knowing what it takes for the capitalist class to emerge from the present crisis, and no idea how well they are doing in this regards, he assumes, like Zizek, that it is open for debate:

“Questioning the future of capitalism itself as an adequate social system ought,  therefore, to be in the forefront of current debate.

“Yet there appears to be little appetite for such discussion, even among the left. Instead we continue to hear the usual conventional mantras regarding the perfectibility of humanity with the help of free markets and free trade, private property  and personal responsibility, low taxes and minimalist state involvement in social provision, even though this all sounds  increasingly hollow.”

So despite the fact that the complete control of the individual over her personal productive capacities and her relationship is on the agenda, some people still continue to equate this social revolution with abolition of the state — and this has Professor Harvey’s panties in a bunch. Like all non-dogmatic 21st Century Marxists, Harvey has decided what is needed now is more fascist state power, but in some quarters people are reluctant to agree. Some people (you know who you are) continue to cling to the 19th Century idea that individual freedom requires abolition of the state. Although, Harvey admits, this entire crisis has seen the state move aggressively to protect capitalist interests, somehow more state intervention will secure a different outcome. Harvey then poses the question:

“So how will the capitalist class exit the current crisis and how swift will the exit be?”

He then provides us with a laundry list of opportunities for capitalism latent in the current crisis — as if this satisfies as an answer: The stock market seems to be doing okay, China and India seem to be “growing”, jobs are coming back — very slowly –  finance capital is leveraging up again, there is an orgy of competition to absorb the excess bankrupt capitals.

Given all I have said so far, it is not surprising that not once does the question of hours of work appears in this laundry list. Harvey doesn’t even acknowledge the struggle over what constitutes a legally mandated working day, although this conflict  figures in the euro-crisis — with the Sarkozy regime coming to power with the goal ending the 35 hours work week in France, attempts to “restructure labor markets” in Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Greece and the attempts to lengthen the working lifetime in the US and other countries.

Although every crisis capitalism has ever encountered results more or less from the length of the working day and the division of this working day, Harvey manages to name every fucking insignificant symptom of this present crisis without EVEN ONCE mentioning hours of work, directly or indirectly. Instead we get fucking crocodile tears over calls to dismantle fascist state programs among the supporters of the capitalist class.

Who the fuck cares: the capitalist class is a revolutionary class too! The defect of this class is that it tries to abolish the state in such a fashion that the state power must constantly increase. It tries to uproot all political impediments to its untrammeled rule, but finds the state itself is the necessary general representative of this rule.

It’s in the fucking book, David!

The difference between the working class and the capitalist class is not the hostility of one class to the state versus the other class,  but that the state protects the interest of the latter class while the former class has NO FUCKING INTEREST TO DEFEND. The working class, as distinct from all other classes in society, does not need the state.

On this point, Marx was not your typical modern day Marxist — he was, in every modern sense of the word, an anarchist. Which is to say, by no means and in no sense of the term, did Marx “believe” the state was anything but a thing to be abolished. Yet, to this day, we have a bunch of idiot Marxists shedding crocodile tears that the capitalist is trying to dismantle his own state. And they weep over this while the fascist state is ceaselessly trying to extend the hours of wage slavery through its economic policies.

Let us be honest here and get things out into the open:

What Harvey’s “anti-capitalist” argument comes down to is his deep hostility toward the Tea Party and other right-wing movements. Since movements like the Tea Party, with its Koch brothers type backers, emphasize reduction of the state by various measures aimed at the working class, Harvey, like a number of Marxists, take them as the main threat facing the working class today. While the real threat facing the working class is the fascist state economic policy of the Obama administration that are aimed at extending hours of wage slavery, for Harvey the real enemy is a handful of marginal Tea Party activists. And he is joined in this view by a host of other Marxist academics who see the Tea Party as a bigger threat to the working class than Obama.

When Harvey speaks about how a period of capitalist expansion will require the mass of the people “to surrender the fruits of their labour”, he is talking about nothing more than fascist state programs, like Medicare, Obamacare, Social Security or the Environmental Protection Agency — programs that have never, for even one instance, protected working people or the environment from anything. Ask a Marxist academic why they cannot demand an immediate end to government deficit spending without any increase in taxes, sooner or later it all comes down to these worthless fascist programs.

What a Marxist can’t tell you, because he doesn’t understand it himself, is that the elements of fascist state economic policy aimed at extending hours of labor come down to endless deficit spending, endless currency  creation by the federal reserve, absence of a commodity money standard for the currency, and efforts to restructure labor markets, extend the working lifetime and abolish legally mandated limits on hours of work.

Not a single one of these elements appears in any analysis by Marxist academics on the current crisis. They can go on and on about whether the rate of profit is rising or falling, what Marx said about the organic composition of capital, etc. They can even debate how many communists can dance on the head of a pin — but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of fascist state  economic policy they fall silent.

They can’t oppose deficit spending because then that would put them on the same side with Tea Party folks.

They can’t oppose Federal Reserve currency creation out of nothing, because that would put them in the same camp as the world government conspiracists.

They can’t demand a commodity standard for money, because that would make them look like gold bugs.

And they can’t demand an end to efforts to extend hours of labor — because, above all, that would require some understanding of Marx’s theory. And, above all, Marxist academics excel in one thing — not understanding Marx’s fucking theory! It is really the one thing they are good at.

How the fuck can you not realize removing a commodity standard from the currency allows the fascist state to endlessly create currency  and, therefore, endlessly employ labor power for whatever unproductive purpose it desires?

Simple: You haven’t a fucking clue to what Marx’s theory states even after lecturing on it for thirty fucking years!

All of the most widely read Marxist literature on the present crisis has no mention of a single one of these policies. This includes, Dumenil and Levy, Kliman, Harvey, Roberts, the Monthly Review school, Hardt, SaadFilho, O’Connor, and a host of others.

And from all of the writers you will get exactly the same indeterminate attitude toward the existing state: they never defend it, but they don’t quite condemn it either. On the one hand, they know the neoliberal argument against the nation state is clearly consistent with the interest of the capitalist class; on the other hand, they realize the nation state is clearly a representative of the capitalist class and an instrument of its class rule. Trapped between these two conclusions and having no independent basis for their own views (because they abandon Marx) the Marxist academic is stumped — the nation state, clearly a representative of the capitalist class, is being swept away by neoliberalism that is just as much in the interest of the capitalist class.

So they stand there with their fucking thumbs up their collective ass wondering plaintively “Should I embrace neoliberalism and condemn the nation state, or condemn neoliberalism and embrace the nation state?”

Since much of what Marxists like Harvey euphemistically calls “social provision” is bound up with the nation state, Marxists inevitably end up siding with the nation state against the historical process bound up with capitalism. This is the core of Marxism’s opportunistic embrace of the arguments against neoliberalism and globalization — they completely abandon Marx.

For all the defects of libertarianism — with their Austrian theory — the libertarians end up being better Marxists than Marxists. At least from them we learn federal deficits must be ended, the currency stabilized, and that fascist state programs are impoverishing society. But it is on these very questions we find the wrath of the Marxist directed, not toward the fascist state, but toward Austrian economics.

The single contribution Marxist could make to this argument — that the hours of wage slavery must be reduced and the scope for human emancipation increased — never gets made, because there isn’t a single fucking Marxist academic out there who understands anything about Marx’s labor theory of value.

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  1. Ben
    August 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm | #1

    Ah yes, Medicare, the scourge of the “fascist state” that has “never, for even one instance, protected working people … from anything” (except perhaps death and disease).

    Perhaps if you add the word “fucking” a few more times and insult everyone, then you’ll be able to berate everyone into agreeing with your absurdly binary view regarding the “fascist state”.

    You should probably just ally with the Ron Paul types in an attempt to roll back to the world to the 1890s. Then once everyone is impoverished, you can redo the revolution how it should have been, had it not been sidetracked with the terrible welfare state thing.

    • August 8, 2012 at 9:43 am | #2

      I take it, you are less than enthused by my treatment of the failures of the Professor Harvey and the rest of the Marxist academy? Beside your comment on Medicare, do you not find it unsettling Harvey, despite teaching Capital for 30 years, managed to miss an entire depression? Or, do we just chalk this up as another insignificant event along with all the other failures we have suffered?

      I mean, at what point do we begin to expect folks like Harvey to be aware of events like these and alert us to their outbreak?

  2. Ben
    August 8, 2012 at 10:44 am | #3

    Actually, I agree with much of what you say about the “Marxist academy” who divorced themselves from economic reality and are hence currently irrelevant.

    But that is a separate issue from your blanket condemnation of everything done by the state. In reality, much (but not most) of what is done by capitalist states, especially in Europe, consists of hard-fought concessions won by the working class, and you’re not going to have much success in getting a working class movement to join you in this Ron Paul-like dogmatic attack on the state.

    • August 8, 2012 at 11:14 am | #4

      This is the problem with your analysis in my opinion: most of what you call hard-won concessions to the working class began as an attempt to avoid reducing hours of labor. Most observers in the 1920s predicted that, by 1970, we would be working a 20 hours work week, and as little as ten hours by the year 2000. Despite that prediction, the world market is awash in hundreds of millions of propertyless folks who are locked out of the labor market due solely to the length of the legally mandated hours of labor. The great mass of this unemployed labor power is hidden from view in Africa, Asia and South America, where it escapes the notice of workers in the West until industrial capital flees their borders. Beyond the role this plays in explaining the stagnation of wages in the advanced countries, and the expansion of unproductive employment, this also explains the astonishing rate of accumulation that led to the most recent so-called financial crisis.

      Now, in the aftermath of this catastrophe, the very events that ultimately led to the crisis we are now facing is being used as a pretext to hammer the working class into giving up those so-called hard-won concessions. It is precisely those so-called hard-won concessions to which you point — advanced solely to avoid reducing the hours of wage slavery by even one minute, and therefore profits — that is being used as a means to exit from this crisis. Just as GM restructured itself by essentially defaulting on the medical insurance and pension guarantees it made to its labor force in the 1950s and 1960s, national capitals propose this as a solution to their own difficulties.

  3. Steven
    December 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm | #5

    Good read, i really enjoyed the ruthless cynicism against the utterly deranged neo-marxists. although i take a neutral stance in the other aspects about the state etc.

    I just severely hate Marxists, especially if they’re not even real Marxists, but some sort of crypto/pseudo Marxist who relentlessly barrage an audience with incoherent babbling that nobody is able to understand, or tie any knots with.

    Sharing this, thanks for the blog !

    Greets.

  1. August 17, 2012 at 8:21 am | #1

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