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Like What, Exactly? Part Two: Fascism, or the state as the direct exploiter of labor

January 7, 2013 2 comments

FDRLABOR

Part Two: Fascism, or the state as the direct exploiter of labor

One of the recurrent comments to my writing is the statement, in one form or another, that my use of the terms “the fascist state” is off-putting to the average reader — which is to say, the commenter thinks I am engaging in needless hyperbole. However, the question, “Like what, exactly?”, can only be answered if we have a common set of assumptions regarding the social context within which we are acting. One of those assumptions is a common definition of fascism and why the existing state can only be understood as entirely fascistic.

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How Did Antistatism Get Here?: A critique of David Graeber’s “Debt”

November 23, 2012 4 comments

In his book, “Debt: The First 5000 Years”, David Graeber levels the accusation against the Left, that it lacks imagination to see beyond present society. I think Graeber’s accusation is accurate and can be seen in his own antistatist (i.e., anti-political and anti-economic) argument. Contrary to Graeber’s argument that money has no essence, it is precisely because money has an essence that fascist state issued debt monies (treasuries) represent a world historical money-form: this debt-money implies money itself has become obsolete.

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Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Final thoughts)

March 9, 2011 1 comment

The argument i have tried to make in the previous parts of this series ( one, two, three and ) is simple: What is taking place in the battle in Wisconsin, and the battle against austerity generally has nothing to do with Capital directly, but instead is concerned with the massive population of working people rendered completely redundant by the progress of Capital’s development, and a huge mass of capital that must stand idle as a result of this progress. The specific problem at hand is that under existing social conditions this idle capital and redundant population can only be employed if the capital is wasted, consumed unproductively and absorbed by a population of working people whose daily labor creates nothing, satisfies no human need — not even their own.

This catastrophe expresses itself, first, in the monstrously bloated body of the State that grows to such proportion that it chokes off the employment of the productive capacity of society; and, second, that the State, however bizarrely swollen — as can be seen in the US accounting for 48% of global defense expenditures — is still not bloated enough; that it has not, despite the glaring obscenity of such wasteful spending in the face of growing poverty, grown to the proportion necessary to ensure the continuing purchase and sale of labor power, i.e., to ensure employment of capital for the extraction of surplus value.

The first aspect of this crisis, however, can only be resolved by the further expansion of the State — on pain of a growing class conflict and to suppress this conflict — and not through austerity. So it is not surprising that politicians, acting under the slogan “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”, blindly offer every manner of silly and contradictory policies to effect this expansion: tax increases and tax reductions; new public debt issues and urgent calls to balance the budget; committees formed composed of senior politicians and academics, corporate CEOs, and wealthy contributors to discuss “investment” in public education, infrastructure and new technologies said to offer society the opportunity to “win the future”, and, at the same time, efforts to dismantle existing State public services, and protections for workers and the environment. In short, a relentless effort by the capitalists to dump the entire burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of working women and men; and, an equally vigorous struggle by working people to avoid this burden.

The second aspect of this crisis places a material demand on the State to increase its burden on society. For all the bleating of politicians about how the country must increase its competitiveness the State grows, but it grows in a way that does not add to the productive capacity of society in any fashion. The nation must become poorer not richer as a result of this growth, less productive, less competitive, more dependent on imports from nations where the continuing employment of oxen in agriculture is not uncommon, and where — owing to the low productivity of labor — daily wages are a fraction of the American average hourly wage.

The method employed by the State to increase its size and overcome the rising antagonism between production and consumption, no matter whether the method adopted is the issuance of new public debt — as advocated by Keynesians like Paul Krugman — or the wholesale creation of new money directly through State expenditures — as advocated by Modern Monetary Theorists like Billy Mitchell — is depreciation of money; a depreciation that is only possible because the State previously debased money from the gold standard.

No other object in society touches on commodities more intimately than the ratio by which these commodities exchange for money itself. Absent crises, Capital presents itself in the form of the ceaseless, uninterrupted, and expanding dense network of interrelated transactions whereby money and commodities are exchanged — and within which any particular commodity may pass through many such transactions before falling out of circulation and being consumed.

However, what concerns every member of society is that she receives some definite amount of money in return for her commodity. If she is a worker, she seeks only an agreed upon wage; if she is a capitalist, she seeks only a return of her capital plus an average rate of profit in the form of some definite quantity of money. With its authority to determine what serves as money, the State can “purchase” the labor power of a worker, or the commodity of the capitalist by exchanging these commodities for money created out of thin air.

Thus, the ratio between the sum of money in circulation and the sum of commodities in circulation is upset in proportion to the injection of the new ex nihilo pecuniam; while, on the other hand, a portion of the existing capital and labor power in circulation is consumed without being replaced. The total sum of commodities in circulation are reduced, and the prices of the remaining commodities increase. In this way, both the existing capital and labor power are devalued simultaneously and together in proportion as the expenditures of the State increase.

Yet, despite this devaluation of the existing capital and labor power by the State, it should not be forgotten that devaluation must take place on any account. It is not the State that forces this devaluation on Capital, but Capital which forces it on itself. The antagonism between the conditions of production and those of consumption are such that without this devaluation Capital would altogether collapse in on itself.

The fact stands as follows: the problem posed by the antagonism between the conditions under which society produces and consumes cannot be resolved in any way other than a general reduction of hours of work. Absent this general reduction of hours of work it becomes necessary for the State to increase its expenditures of wholly superfluous employment of both capital and labor power — to devalue both through inflation in order to overcome the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production itself.

We who favor a stateless society should be absolutely clear on these points and never back down from them:

First, the State does not grow to care for the sick, feed the hungry, or add to and repair the roads, bridges and communications of society. It grows DESPITE these pressing social needs. Only by wasting productive resources on an ever increasing scale can any economic activity take place on the existing basis — the State indeed grows, but so do all of these nagging social ills.

Second, thirty million are unemployed not because there is no work to be done, but because it is not profitable to do those things that need to be done given the overly long hours work mandated by law. Factories are shuttered not because there is no need for their products, but because satisfying those needs intensifies the problem of recovering the capital laid out in their production plus an average rate of profit. The further expansion of the State addresses these problems only by intensifying them — by bringing into still greater antagonism the contradiction between production and consumption.

Should the thirty million unemployed find jobs it is only on the basis that their addition to the labor force comes directly or indirectly at the expense of the wages of the already employed 130 million, such that this larger labor force of 160 million now enjoy no more wages (or even less wages) than the 130 million did before — that the total wages formerly shared by the 130 million is now shared by 160 million, so that each suffers a proportional drop in their material standard of living.

There is no route out of this crisis through State economic policy: not through senseless battles to defend the coddled unions in the public sector, nor by stupid progressive slogans to tax the rich. The struggle against austerity cannot be won by defending the public unions, nor by silly attempts hold the line on public budget cuts or increase State expenditures. Only by reducing hours of work can we extricate ourselves from the deepening crisis of Capital and the relentless expansion of the repressive, aggressive and parasitic State.

Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Part four)

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

In part one, two and three, I have made several observations which can be summarized this way:

First, the argument that the event unfolding in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states are a battle over public union rights is disproved once we realize that these public unions are not and never were unions. The public unions are organs of the State, no different than the unions of the old Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China — organs for the management of public labor, entirely composed of a portion of the working class who, under this miserable mode of production, live on the surplus labor of the productively employed portion of that class. Although we may violently disagree with Walker and his political thugs, we still must acknowledge that the fight to defend the unions is essentially, and for all practical purposes, nothing more than a fight to defend the State itself and its parasitic domination of society.

Second, by the same token, without in any way standing with capitalists like the Koch Brothers, the argument that, in their hostility to the burden of the State, the Koch Brothers’ libertarian attitudes differ significantly from working class dissatisfaction with the burden of the State is belied by the very slogan raised by supporters of the working class themselves, “Make the Rich Pay”. Although the Left makes the argument that the hostility of capitalists like the Koch Brothers to the State is unique to the capitalist class, in the very slogans they raise the Left actually acknowledge this same hostility to the State among the working class. Neither of the two classes want to bear this burden; particularly in times of economic distress every member of society seeks to minimize the tax bite of the State. This reaction from the mass of the working class was entirely predictable, and explains the reluctance of writers like Felix Dzerzhinsky to wage the battle over austerity on the flimsy basis of defense of the public unions.

I now turn to the question of how this fight must resolve itself, and why, as events are proving in both the United Kingdom and Ireland, the austerity currently being pursued by Walker cannot work.

While the battle over the burden of the State on society assumes the form of a conflict between the classes over how this burden should be distributed, it would be wrong to say the events in Wisconsin arise from the conflict among members of society over the division of this burden between the two classes; rather, the truth is precisely the opposite: the conflict between the two classes produces a tendency toward the expansion of the State. We should not mistake the two: what is expressed in the austerity battle is not the conflict between the two classes, but their common hostility to the burden of the State; but, this ever expanding State is itself only the general social expression of the irreconcilable conflict between the two classes. The State is at once both the constantly expanding expression of the conflict between the two classes and a burden on them that each tries to cast off.

These two aspects of the relation between the State and society do not simply exist side by side, but influence each other: on the one hand, the growing conflict between the two classes presupposes the growing fascist character of the State — what Marx refers to as the employment of “democratic-republican institutions .. as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labor, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony.” This implies the constant expansion of the State. On the other hand, this growing domination increases the burden of the State on society, and, therefore, the conflict between the two classes over the division of this burden; as well as the more or less constant struggle by each class to cast that burden off entirely.

At the same time, since the expansion of the State is the increasingly necessary condition for the relation between the two classes — the increasingly necessary condition for the purchase and sale of labor-power, without which neither class can exist; and which implies the further reproduction of all the fundamental contradictions within Capital on an increasing scale — the expansion of the State presupposes the further immiseration of the mass of workers and the further centralization and concentration of capital into fewer hands. Any given expansion of the State, therefore, is always insufficient, and merely intensifies the inherent tendency toward the law of the falling rate of profit even as it works to counter this tendency; producing still more pressure for the further expansion of the State and of the World Market. Each new expansion of the State and of the World Market merely compels the further expansion of both.

What makes this a crisis of the State, i.e., something more than a mere economic crisis, is that it presupposes certain definite economic conditions which, on the one hand, cannot be resolved simply by austerity, i.e., reducing the total wages of the working class, as might be sought by capitalists like the Koch Brothers; nor, on the other hand, can it be resolved simply by reducing or taxing the excessive profits of capital, as is demanded in the sophomoric slogan, “Make the Rich Pay”. Only by imposing such conditions as reduce both the mass of wages and the mass of profits together and simultaneously — that is, by the devaluation of both variable and constant capital — through the expansion of purely wasteful State expenditures — by the still greater accumulation of absolutely superfluous labor; of labor-power that neither serves to produce new value, nor, on this basis, as self-expanding value, as capital — is the resolution of the crisis possible.

If those who want a stateless society are to offer a way out of this nightmare, it can be done only on the basis of a clear-headed understanding of the unfolding process. We cannot simply base our advice to working men and women on stupid progressive slogans. And, this is the subject of the final part of this series.

To be continued

Class War in Madison? Not so fast… (Part three)

February 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I stated earlier that I think the Koch Brothers are being framed for the events in Wisconsin, but I don’t want you to get me wrong here: the Koch Brothers will get no defense from me — nor would they need or want one. They are libertarians who really do want to get rid of the welfare state — or at least the parts they find offensive to their property rights; but show me an election where the libertarians have garnered more than two percent in any national election contest.

Still, I do not offer the argument that the Koch Brothers are innocent of this attempt to break the unions and impose austerity on working people. And, why would I offer that argument in any case? Isn’t it obvious already that the capitalists in their battle against the laborers always seek to reduce wages to the lowest possible sum? What do we add by jumping up and down like imbeciles wagging our fingers in their faces declaring, “You want to starve us!” like a bunch of naive progressives who believe the antagonism between capital and labor can be overcome at the negotiating table? The point isn’t that the capitalist always and everywhere wants to maximize profits by reducing the wages of the working class to the barest minimum, but that it is precisely this effort that constitutes the historical mission of that class — they are compelled by this insatiable hunger for profit to develop the productive capacities of society!

So I am amused by the meaningless statement by Felix Dzerzhinsky, in his post, Two, Three, Many Wisconsins on the Kasama website that, “we need to put the demand to make the rich pay at front-and-center…” It is a naive slogan almost universally reflected in the posts of Left-leaning writers who invariably point to the same shopworn examples of efforts by Capital to reduce their taxes:

Today’s “debt crisis” is the culmination of the long-term “starve the beast” strategy from an organized corporate-conservative movement. By cutting taxes for the wealthy they have starved the government, created massive debt (guess where the interest payments go) gutted the infrastructure, and put our country on the road to third-world status. This conservative movement has an agenda, and is not interested in working out “bipartisan” compromised.

All of this is incontestably true, but how does this effort on the part of Capital lead to the slogan, “Make the rich pay”? This sophomoric progressive slogan has nothing to do with communism. Pay with what? Every dime the rich have they have extracted from the labor of the working class. They “pay” for nothing — not even for the labor power of their wage slaves. That this demand, which is nothing more than the silly delusion of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, should be uttered by a communist is not just silly, it is incomprehensible.

Even for those with only cursory knowledge of Marx’s writings it is obvious that, in his theory, the entire cost of the State are nothing more than proceeds of the unpaid labor of one portion of the working class paid out as wages or subsistence income to another portion. That the capitalist class should want to shift these costs directly to the productively employed working class — to reduce their consumption by an amount proportionate to these costs, and therefore allow the wages of one worker to suffice for two — doesn’t require a degree in Hegelian philosophy. It only requires commonsense.

The capitalist class would be more than pleased to see the costs of the imperialist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countless military bases encircling the globe, and the ever increasing burden of debt service, deducted directly from the wages of the working class, and to not be forced to see their plunder of working people shared with the vile, parasitic organs of the State. My argument has nothing to do with entirely predictable attitudes of the Koch Brothers. I don’t think the Koch Brothers family agenda is the only force behind Walker’s provocation, and, the drive for austerity in general, as many on the Left imagine.

As the slogan, “Make the rich pay”, implies, the working class has no more desire to absorb the cost of the State than does the capitalist class.

Thus, we are left with no other conclusion but that both Capital and Labor — each class driven by its own empirical needs — are trying to throw off the burden of the State. That, in a society founded on class conflict, this general attempt by society to throw off the cost of this parasitic and wholly unproductive organ takes the form of a conflict between classes on how to divide this burden, should be no mystery to communists.

So long as fascist State economic policy assures an expansion of economic activity, the conflict between the two classes exists only in its latent form — the State issues lucrative contracts to capital; and, directly and indirectly prompts ever greater employment of redundant, superfluous labor-power. The two classes settle, into a more or less uneasy coalition made possible by the fact that each finds the essential condition for its existence — the purchase and sale of labor-power — relatively stable and expanding.

It is only when State economic policy runs into difficulty, when, for a shorter or longer period, the State is incapable of realizing general economic expansion, and when, therefore, the purchase and sale of labor-power is threatened on a more or less universal basis, that the contradiction inherent in the capitalist relations is again brought to the fore, and society descends into open class conflict.

During this period, when the economic crisis has assumed its sharpest form, the burden of the previous accumulation of superfluous labor, and of the costs associated with this superfluous labor, become intolerable and must be cast off. The mode of this casting off is already given in the contradiction inherent in capitalist relations themselves, as each class attempts, by all the means available to it, to push off onto its opposite the burden of the crisis.

The class conflict resulting, which must threaten the existence of the State itself, cannot be resolved simply by passing the burden from one class to the other, but only by the further expansion of unnecessary labor, and by expansion of the State — if this cannot be accomplished, or can only be accomplished in part, the crisis must lead to an unwinding of a part, or even all, of the accumulated superfluous labor, and the abrupt devaluation of both existing capital and labor-power — the form of resolution I turn to in the next part of this series.

To be continued

“It must be broken”: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State

January 26, 2011 2 comments

Afghanistan's War Wounded Come To Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar

We can now restate Marx’s theory in a way which will make it easily digestible by those who stand full square for a completely stateless society, as well as the various and sundry people who seem intent on getting him completely wrong in every possible variation — including the imbeciles who count themselves among his followers:

Marx came to the conclusion that capital was abolishing the need for labor and this abolition had profound, far-reaching, implications for the whole of society, and the social relations within which individuals carried on their activity.

Moishe Postone writes:

Until this historical stage of capitalism, according to Marx’s analysis, socially necessary labor time in its two determinations [necessary labor time and surplus labor time] defined and filled the time of the laboring masses, allowing nonlabor time for the few. With advanced industrial capitalist production, the productive potential developed becomes so enormous that a new historical category of “extra” time for the many emerges, allowing for a drastic reduction in both aspects of socially necessary labor time, and a transformation of the structure of labor and the relation of work to other aspects of social life. But this extra time emerges only as potential: as structured by the dialectic of transformation and reconstitution, it exists in the form of “superfluous” labor time. The term reflects the contradiction: as determined by the old relations of production it remains labor time; as judged in terms of the potential of the new forces of production it is, in its old determination, superfluous.

By concentrating property into fewer and fewer hands; ripping the mass of society out of its long historical practice of carrying on its activities in relative isolation employing crude instruments of production for a meager material standard of living that just barely ensured their survival; and, converting the mass of society into directly social laborers, capital was making it possible to apply the latest technological breakthroughs, advancing scientific knowledge, and economies of scale to the task of producing a basic minimal standard of living with as little labor as possible given the level of development of the productive capacities of the laborers themselves and the tools they employed.

No aspect of this process was being consciously undertaken by any member of society, any group of its members, nor even by the members of society as a whole. No one consciously declared their intention to abolish labor. Each person in society was only engaged in self-interested activity in pursuit of private ends: the proletarian, for whom the sale of her labor power was a matter of simple survival — a matter of life and death, the capitalist, for whom continuation as owner of property required the ever increasing surplus producing capacity of the capital under his control. No where in society was the abolition of labor the expressed aim of anyone engaged in this mean, brutal process.

Indeed, as mankind actually crosses the threshold, the event horizon, where it is no longer possible for the demand for productive labor to increase, despite the increasing social demand for new,  previously unimaginable, forms of material consumption, the members of society actually experience this incredible historical event as a loss — a terrifying regression to an earlier period of starvation and want — against which the whole of society blindly struggles, employing for this purpose all the instruments at its disposal, including the State, for the purpose of increasing the demand for labor where no productive employment of this additional labor exists, or can exist.

The human and material capacities of entire continents are laid to waste in an unceasing series of ever more barbaric wars; entire industries spring up overnight not for the creation of new means of production and consumption, but solely to destroy existing means; ever more terrible engines of self-extinction appear, and with them, a mass of proletarians whose sole purpose is to devise and create ever newer versions of these insane commodities. Alongside these industries, and essential to their existence, rises an entire industry of financial engineers, a class of public and private debtors, and the cancerous growth of fictitious capital and financial instruments.

Organizing, expanding and directing this obscenity, the State: that wholly superfluous organ of society, whose long bloody history of aggression, repression, and conquest, stands alone as the single greatest, longest running, continuing conspiracy against the rest of mankind, as well as its chief tormentor, torturer, and parasite in every age and in every epoch — a vile, filthy, parasitic collection of drones whose sole purpose in life has, always and everywhere, been to suck the life from society for its own enlargement — becomes, in the Orwellian world of Hobbesian chaos, the very instrument by which the members of society seek to stave off the results of their own activity.

In tandem with the ever diminishing material demand for productive labor, the social demand for labor in any and every form emerges as the rallying cry from every part of the society. In tandem as the State increases its invasive penetration into, and totalitarian control over, hitherto private and common activities, the Hobbesian chaos reigning within society intensifies, gains a more pervasive character, and further reduces each member of society more completely to an anonymous set of abstract data points which can be identified, sifted and measured by the high priests of economic policy — converted into the raw material of policy recommendations for potential State action over a shorter or longer period of time. The parameters of this potential State policy action itself becomes the focus of the mass of the members of society and subjected to the Hobbesian chaos of society as interests line up on each side of the debate and seek to gain control of the lever of State power. In turn, as this body of parasitic drones master the control of society and gains knowledge of how it can maximize the expansion of purely superfluous labor, its policy parameters narrow — not employment, but the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment”; not free trade, but “free trade agreements”; not economic growth, but “low-inflation economic growth”. In this way, State economic policy is gradually converted into those policies which maximize not the expansion of superfluous labor in general, but the expansion of the State itself as a completely superfluous, cancerous growth on society.

It is precisely this State which, Marx argues, cannot on any account serve as the foundation of the new society. It cannot be salvaged, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be utilized to emancipate society in any fashion. It must be broken: discarded by society; and, with it, Labor itself, and all the remnants of the existing order. The abolition of Labor, and the age-old division of labor that has for so long chained humanity to a set of alien, inhuman relations, increasingly becomes bound up with the question of the abolition of the State, and the abolition of the State is increasingly dependent on the abolition of superfluous labor in every form.

The Value of Nothing: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

In the first part of this series () I argued that Karl Marx’s Individual is the same Individual who appears in the writings of 18th and 19th Century thinkers. Moreover, Marx’s assumptions imply an environment of Hobbes’ war of all against all and an increasingly illiberal, repressive and aggressive, parasitic State.

In the second part of this series () I argued that Marx never believed that there would need to be a period of state socialism to achieve a stateless society. His model of a revolutionary reconstitution of society rested on the idea of a free voluntary cooperative association, which emerges directly out of capitalist society and, which would be the only form of social organization in this stateless community. Marx’s model of the emergence of this voluntary association assumed it occurred empirically, i.e., as an act of commonsense necessity to everyone.

In the third part of this series () I argued that Marx did far more than merely uncover the secret of the worker’s exploitation. Marx’s theory is not a theory of labor’s exploitation under the capitalist system but a theory of social decomposition and transformation of labor activity: ripping the producers from their property; casting them into the ranks of the Proletarians; molding their activity through centuries of despotic capitalist rule into directly social cooperative laborers employing means of production that could only be put into motion by their combined cooperative effort. The transformative process comes to an end when it is no longer profitable to employ labor power under any circumstances — an event which compels the proletarians to take control of their own productive capacities as individuals and organize their activity in free voluntary association.

In this part I will show why Brad is wrong when he states that Marx’s theory requires an unusually altruistic individual to realize the voluntary association. Marx’s theory does not in any way involve a society of unusually altruistic individuals, because it rests on the assumption that scarcity itself has been abolished.

Brad, in his post, “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory”, argues:

[Marx's] analysis does not take into account individual goals, which is a very human desire to maximize gains for one’s self and one’s own. Humans are cooperative, but we are cooperative individuals. Cooperation can be sustained in a system of mutual benefit, but humans typically have a difficult time sacrificing for the collective over the long haul. Anarcho-socialism relies on such mutual cooperation (and sacrifice) in the absence of a coercive entity, and thus relies on human nature to be compatible with such a system.

Is this assumption actually correct? Does Marx’s theory assume that the individual sacrifice for the collective over the long haul? Let’s begin by returning to Marx’s sketch of the circumstances surrounding the birth of a society founded directly on voluntary association.

In Marx’s model of the State, this parasitic entity appears to hover over society. This separation of the State from Civil Society is in some sense real and in another sense only apparent: as Brad Warbiany demonstrates, the best writers of the time saw in many State actions of the 18th and 19th Century the expression of some definite interest of specific groups in society — a trail of evidence that could probably be traced to the actual motives of specific individuals, as some have argued in the case of our own War on Terror. However, even with these observations it is far from correct to view the State as a mere instrument of any given interest within Civil Society — that it always expresses, for instance, the will of the capitalist class against the working class in some vulgar fashion. It is closer to the truth to understand that the State is the expression of the interests of Capital — a social relationship between and within the two classes, which is not, nor can it be, identical with the interests of either class, nor any particular faction of either class.

If some particular State action can be traced to the interests of one or the other class, and to one or another faction or groups of individuals within either class, it is necessary to point out that it represents those interests within the limits imposed on it by Capital itself. It is possible, therefore, for the State to both express the general interest of all social classes within the limits of capitalist relations, and, simultaneously, appear indifferent, hostile, and an increasingly intolerable burden to the whole of society. Thus, while bourgeois writers after Marx increasingly explain the actions of the State by reference to the interests of one or another faction of society — for the Nazis, it was Jews and communists; in our own time it has been black helicopter conspiracies, the Illuminati, or some other such nonsense — Marx’s theory explains those actions by referencing the general conditions prevalent under capitalist social relations.

I believe the above picture of the relation between the State and Civil Society has implications not only for the politics of capitalist society, it has implications for the manner in which the category Value expresses itself as well. Moishe Postone, in his painstaking reconstruction of Marx’s thinking on Labor as a Value creating activity, “Time, Labor, and Social Domination”, showed that Value — which Marx defined as the socially necessary labor time required to produce labor-power — was not only the basis for the exploitation of the worker in the form of surplus labor time — which, in his model, is the source of profit, interest and rent — but also the basis for a peculiar form of labor activity: superfluous labor time; the period of labor activity which is entirely superfluous to the productive employment of labor power either for the production of wage goods or capital goods.

Where does this superfluous labor time come from?

With the increasing productivity of social labor, an increasing share of the existing labor-power can no longer be profitably employed, i.e., employed by capitals for the purpose of creating surplus value. Capital begins to exhibit symptoms of relative breakdown: an entirely superfluous mass of proletarians who cannot find employment, a mass of machinery which can no longer be put to use by these proletarians, a mass of money-capital which cannot find profitable investment opportunities, and a mass of commodities which cannot be sold.

On the one hand, this so-called deficit in “aggregate demand”, Marx declares, is nothing more than the necessity for a general reduction in hours of work expressed in the form of the law of Value prevailing in capitalist society. On the other hand, since, the purchase and sale of labor power remains essential to Capital itself, and the basis for both the subsistence of the proletarians and the extraction of surplus value by capitals, the necessity for a general reduction in hours of work takes its opposite form: A general social demand from the two great classes in capitalist society for intervention by the State to increase “aggregate demand” by various measures — in other words, for action by the State for active economic policy intervention designed to ensure that the essential condition of Capital — the purchase and sale of labor-power — can continue uninterrupted.

This intervention, which is essentially fascistic, accompanies the rise of the Fascist State, and rests on the interests of both great classes in capitalist society insofar as they are considered only as poles of the relation, Capital, explains the astonishing growth of the State in the 20th Century, which expands from an estimated mere 3 percent of United States Gross Domestic Product to approximately 43 percent in 2010, with an accumulated debt that is greater than the total annual output of the United States’ economy — and currently increasing at the unprecedented rate of more than ten percent per year.

It is precisely in this unprecedentedly enlarged cancer on society that what Michael O. Powell, in his post, “Rethinking Marx”, calls the “high degree of capital to fund” voluntary association is already present in its latent form, as an constantly increasing mass of productive capacity being expended in the wholly unproductive — and from the standpoint of a voluntary association, wholly unnecessary — form of State expenditures. The conversion of the relative breakdown of Capital into its absolute form, which implies the collapse of active State intervention in the economy, frees the entirety of the productive capacity of society from both the dependence on profit as the motive force of productive activity, and the overwhelming mass of this capacity from its wasteful and superfluous employment by the State.

The members of society, who are by this collapse, compelled to create a voluntary cooperative association, find themselves awash in an abundance of productive capacity exceeding, by far, any measurable need for it. With the abolition of the State, the need for Labor itself disappears, taking with it the epoch of scarcity,the Law of Value, Class society, and all the ugly muck of ages.

“All I know is that I am not a Marxist!”: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Now, perhaps it becomes clearer why Marx, in his exasperation with his own followers, declared, “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” It was never about the machines, the buildings, the banks, the factories, the farms or profit, taxes and wages — it was about the Individual and her relationship to other Individuals and Society.

In his writings, Marx sets for himself an apparent impossibly wide chasm across which he has to build a theoretical bridge. In this, he does not allow himself to take any shortcuts through some inventive sham of attributing to human beings some quality that has not, as yet, been discovered by political-economy, nor of some revolutionary party for whom the future appears with a clarity that none of the rest of society can experience.

On the one side of this historical chasm, which Marx must bridge theoretically, is a stateless, classless society of amazing abundance, wherein the individual is able to develop her capacities in an environment of complete freedom, unimpeded by any external compulsion, be it natural or social, and in a free voluntary cooperative association with others in society. Her activity springs entirely from herself, and expresses only her interest as a well-rounded human being in the social and cultural wealth that is freely available to her, and to which she can freely contribute should that be her desire.

On the other side of this chasm is the Hobbesian nightmare we call present day society.

Faced with the seemingly impossible task of conceptually bridging these two models of society, Marx begins with nothing but the categories of political-economy discovered by the great classical liberal thinkers of the 18th and 19th Centuries — the Individual, the State, Civil Society, Classes, Property, Liberty — Marx does not invent these categories but imports them into his model.

  • The Individual who appears in political-economy — the abstract human being shorn of any identity or ties of affinity to family, gender, community, religion, language, race, nation — is the Individual alone who appears in his writings.
  • The State, which is already becoming characterized by illiberality, repression, aggression and totalitarianism, is the sole form of State in his writings. He does not, on any account, imagine some future benign State that can serve as a nanny for society while it finds its cooperative legs.
  • Classes, and Civil Society generally, are constantly being subjected to the intolerable stresses of the developing economic structure of society, in which no individual, group of individuals, nor all of them together, can establish control over the processes unleashed by their own productive capacities — and which capacities loom over them as if some impersonal god who mercilessly sweeps away their undertakings like Yahweh swept away Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Even the heroes of this theory — the Proletarians — are deformed, stunted, broken fragments of human beings whose constant defeat is the mode of Capital’s own self-expansion — who rise each time from their knees, their ranks more numerous than before, to stand bloodied and bruised, and to again demand what belongs to them, but who are each time knocked down by a capital that is no more than their own capacities facing them in the alien but recognizable form of the capitalist.
  • Finally, Value: that one category discovered by these great liberal thinkers that the whole of bourgeois political-economy after Marx was forced to reject, disown, and abandon.

Why is it that among all the categories of classical liberal thought Value alone was declared to be false and expelled from political-economy? What fear does it still strike in the hearts of economists? Why was it necessary to declare unremitting war on the category Value to this day?

Because this category of political-economy alone stripped all the other categories of their attribute of being Eternal Truths. Value declared all of these categories to be historically specific to the capitalist mode of production and, therefore, doomed to disappear taking with it the entirety of the inhuman Hobbesian environment that political-economy understood to be the permanent condition of mankind.

Value, Ricardo and the other classical thinkers declared, was the Individual’s own productive activity confronting her in the form of a commodity. Capital, Marx demonstrated, was simply Value that existed solely for its own self-expansion. It was nothing more than the activity of the men and women of society under conditions where their own activity, and all of the relations established by this activity, existed as a world for itself — impersonal, relentless, as formidable as any law of nature.

The Proletarians were simply former property-owners and their descendants who already had been stripped of their property, under whatever circumstances, by the brutal competition raging among the owners of property; with the fresh addition of former property owners added daily by Capital itself, society was being progressively turned into one propertyless mass. These former property-owners, now stripped of any independent means of “making a living”, were reduced to hiring themselves out as slaves in return for the means of life necessary to their survival.

(As an aside, Brad should not be confused by the much hyped expansion of the ranks of “property-owners” with those wage workers who are accumulating fictitious shares in companies through their 401Ks or, indirectly, through their pension funds — history shows that the big owners of property are always willing to offload these worthless paper claims to the sheeple at a good price, particularly when it is clear that the market is going to nosedive.)

Capital was only the result of this exchange, but, as a relentlessly expansionary social form, it required the continuous expansion of the ranks of proletarians — by outward aggression, for sure, but also by grounding under those property-owners with the misfortune to find themselves on the wrong side of its self-expansion. Thus, the process by which Capital satisfies its need for new material for its self-expansion not only implies the relentlessly aggressive and expansionary State, but the progressive concentration of property into the hands of an ever smaller circle of property-owners, as one after another they are cast into the ranks of the Proletarians.

However, the Proletarians, Marx wrote, were not simply being exploited — in all of written human history, no matter the stage of development, nor the mode of its realization, the labor of one portion of society has always been exploited by another section of society — with the capitalist mode of production the productive activity of the Proletarians was being transformed by Capital into directly social cooperative labor:

Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.

Time and again, the revolt of this mass of Proletarians might fail — would fail — but with each failure, Capital advanced the conversion of their activity into a single, globe-straddling act of cooperative social production. With each defeat, he explained, their ranks were being added to by the ongoing decomposition of the class of property-owners, and the expansion into new territories; and, with each defeat, this mass of property-less individuals were being converted into a single social laborer.

Marx, like Smith, Ricardo, Mill, Jevons and other classical liberal thinkers, theorized that capitalist society was headed toward a catastrophic event — a breakdown resulting from the logic of the category Value itself, where it would no longer be profitable to employ wage labor under any conditions. Ultimately, Capital would run up against its limit of expansion, when, as David Harvey put it, it would be clear to all members of society that “compound growth for ever is not possible: capital accumulation can no longer be the central force impelling social evolution.” In very stark terms, Marx described what this event would look like:

“…the utterly precarious position of labour–power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life…”

At this point, the propertyless mass of society — who had been conditioned to cooperative labor through several centuries of despotic rule of the capitalist, and who, as a result, were entirely at home cooperating in a common act of social activity — would be compelled, on pain of starvation, to assume control of their own productive capacities and employ them in a cooperative manner.

Farewell, Great Leader!: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State: Some comments

January 20, 2011 3 comments

Farewell, Great Leader!

Continued from

In his post, “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory”, Brad argues that the State, even under revolutionary conditions, will not whither away, but will find ways to persist and enjoy its privileged position in society:

The second point has been demonstrated in nearly every society which has taken a serious stab at state socialism. The rulers become quite fond of being the rulers, and enjoying the material and societal perks of being at the top of the food chain. Rather than dismantling the exploitive class, they replace it with themselves. If faced with the choice of “withering away” or putting down their opposition by whatever means necessary, they usually opt for the latter. Lord Acton’s old adage about power corrupting holds sway.

Michael, in his post, “Rethinking Marx”, quotes Peter A. Schraeder, who puts the revolutionary reconstitution of society this way:

“…a revolutionary situation emerges when advances in technological, scientific, and other forms of material development (the forces of production) outgrow an outmoded system of ownership of property among classes (the relations of production) such that the dominant class finds it increasingly difficult to maintain control over the rest of society through its traditional means. Because no “civilized” society ever forfeits its material level of development, the net result of the growing contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production is a heightened class struggle in which the ruling class is eventually overthrown…”

I can say without fear of contradiction that neither of these portraits accurately reflect Marx’s view of a revolutionary transition to a stateless society. To understand him properly, we must begin where Marx ends: This stateless society itself.

In Marx’s model, this stateless society is founded directly on free cooperative voluntary association itself. There is no state apparatus other than this association. The idea that there is some intervening period of transition under which the management of society is undertaken by any State form other than this freely constituted voluntary association is a distortion introduced into Marx’s theory either by those who wish to deliberately twist his words, or the confused, but perhaps well-meaning, imbeciles who claim to be Marxists but have no accurate understanding of the man’s theory.

One clue that betrays the lack of understanding of Marx’s theory here, and in almost all writings on the subject, is the portrayal of this revolutionary reconstitution of society as a decidedly political act. Now, think back to what I established as Marx’s view of the Individual and the State in the first part of this piece. In Marx’s model the Individual is a complete abstraction from every quality we associate with human beings — an average member of society — set in a completely atomized environment in which every interest is counter-posed to every other interest in society; and, society itself acquires the character of a permanent, all-sided, all-encompassing state of civil conflict.  The State that emerges out of this conflict is precisely a Fascist State that renounces the all-sided conflict of society and seeks to put an end to this conflict by totalizing its control over society.

Where, in this scenario, is there a basis for the revolutionary reconstitution of society? Who is the agent of this reconstitution? Where, in a Hobbesian social atmosphere of universal distrust, competition and conflict — in which the economic activity of each member is truly a matter of life and death — is there a basis for a cooperative consciousness to emerge in the form of a political movement to replace the existing relations with voluntary association? It doesn’t exist, which is why the pathetic imbeciles who imagine themselves to be followers of Marx, must invent, out of whole cloth, the idea of a transition to a stateless society during which society is managed on its behalf by some enlightened despotism under the personal direction of the Great Leader! This fantasy, which can be found nowhere in Marx’s writings, is a 20th Century invention — a child’s fairy tale retold again and again, until like Goebbels Big Lie, it has become incorporated into the accepted interpretation of Marx’s writings.

A second clue that betrays the lack of understanding of Marx’s theory is the objects seized by this revolutionary reconstitution of society. Brad describes this as, “the proletariat seizing the means of production and then finding harmonious sustainable ways to equitably distribute the fruits of such production.” This is indeed consistent with the view of almost all Marxists, and non-Marxist literature without exception. In the scenario outlined here the revolutionary reconstitution of society begins with the seizure of the fixed capital — factories, farms, banks, businesses, roads, bridges, telecommunications and other such items. All of these are brought under the control of the revolutionary administration — the above cited clarification of the manner of this administration is assumed — and managed by society on its own behalf, and no longer on behalf of the capitalist class or the State.

This confusion can also be traced to Marx’s own writings as interpreted by his misguided followers who completely misunderstand what he meant, and by those who, building on this misinterpretation, swallowed it whole as an accurate reproduction of his thinking. I cannot find support for such an interpretation when I examine his most extensive sketch of what this reconstitution will look like.

So, for instance, Marx writes:

This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.

But, then, oddly enough he goes on to say:

The appropriation of these forces is itself nothing more than the development of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves.

Marx is clearly making a distinction between the productive forces of society, and the material instrument of production corresponding to those productive forces. The point of the exercise is not to seize the fixed capital but the productive forces corresponding to this fixed capital. Moreover, this appropriation is identical with the development of the capacities of the individual. In the preceding section of the same work, Marx speaks of these productive forces as existing in:

…a world for themselves, quite independent of and divorced from the individuals, alongside the individuals: the reason for this is that the individuals, whose forces they are, exist split up and in opposition to one another, whilst, on the other hand, these forces are only real forces in the intercourse and association of these individuals.

So, the productive forces are nothing more than the capacities of the members of society, which, like they themselves exist in an environment of Hobbesian conflict and competition. The forces of production are their own individual capacities which, as we earlier wrote, have completely escaped their control as individuals, and evade every attempt by the members of society, singly or in concert, to reestablish control over them within this Hobbesian nightmare.

The revolutionary process has as its objective not to bring the fixed capital of society under its common control: this fixed investment in machinery, buildings, farms, and communications is actually a WORTHLESS CONGLOMERATION OF LIFELESS OBJECTS, which the capitalist, as a matter of routine operation, is constantly forced to devalue and discard under the competitive pressures of the market. Marx’s point is that it is the capacities of the individual members of society which constitutes its true wealth. These capacities must be brought under control in a fashion that is entirely consistent with the actual form in which they exist: as the capacities of each individual in society, indistinguishable from the physical container in which they repose: each individual.

A stateless society begins, therefore, with the individual seizing his own capacities back from this Hobbesian nightmare, and reclaiming them for his own. On this basis alone, free voluntary cooperative association can be constituted. Cooperative association can only be constituted by a society of individuals who are in complete control of their own human capacities as individuals, and, on this basis alone, can freely determine their relations with the rest of society.

To be continued

What help for the 99ers? (Part three)

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Why is Washington so implacably hostile to a reduction of hours of work as the solution to unemployment? And, why has it abandoned the 99ers to their fate?

The answer to these questions is simple: Washington depends on the unpaid hours of labor wrung from the working population as much as capital itself. Washington is not a neutral party when it comes to hours of labor; it is, without exception, the largest single consumer of surplus labor time in society. The entirety of its revenues amount to the unpaid labor of society either directly, in the form of taxes, or indirectly, in the resources it controls through debt or money printing.

This fact is never admitted by progressives, nor even by vulgar proponents of Marx’s theory. The argument made by the Marxists against the current State amounts not to a recognition that the machinery of state shares with capital the total pot of surplus labor time, and, as a result, must be interested in the longest possible duration of unpaid labor, but only that this machinery is under the control of capital and should instead be controlled by the working class. The progressive critique of the State amounts to a demand that this unpaid labor time be devoted to the “improvement of society”; the typical vulgar proponent of Marx differs from this only in that he proposes this be under the direction of a working class party. Neither raises the demand for the abolition of all unnecessary labor, and with it, the state in its entirety.

When the Great Depression erupted Washington suddenly had access to billions of hours of unpaid social labor which it, along with the other great powers, immediately set about throwing into preparation for World War II. Government, already the largest single consumer of unpaid labor time in society, expanded monstrously – consuming perhaps as much as 40 percent of national output. But, in the aftermath of that horrible conflict, we really see its voracious hunger, and insatiable lust for surplus as the Truman administration conceived of and implemented a policy of a permanent war footing: The Cold War.

In his annual message to the Congress, delivered January 12, 1951, Truman opened with these words announcing the birth of the national security state:

We face enormously greater economic problems, as I transmit this fifth annual Economic Report, than at any time since the end of World War II. Although our economic strength is now greater than ever before, very large new burdens of long duration are now being imposed upon it.

The United States is pledged and determined, along with other free peoples, to cheek [sic] aggression and to advance freedom. Arrayed against the free world are large and menacing forces. The great manpower under the control of Soviet communism is being driven with fanatic zeal to build up military and industrial strength. We invite disaster if we underestimate the forces working against us.

The economic strength of the free peoples of the world is, however, superior to that of their enemies. If the free nations mobilize and direct their strength properly, they can support whatever military effort may be necessary to avert a general war or to win such a war if it comes. The resources are on our side. The only question is whether they will be used with speed and determination. The answer will depend upon unity of purpose and of action–unity among the free nations, unity here in the United States.

Unity is imperative on the economic front. On this front, under the American system, everybody is involved–every businessman, worker and farmer; every banker and scientist and housewife; every man and woman. We can win our way through to ultimate triumph if we all pull together. Decisive action, essential to our safety, should not be halted by controversy now.

Truman, in his report, explains the implications of a conflict with the Soviet Union of a very long duration:

These manpower needs will call both for increasing our labor force by reducing unemployment and drawing in women and older workers, and for lengthening hours of work in essential industries. These manpower requirements can be met. There will be manpower shortages, but they can be solved.

For those readers whose critical facilities have been dulled by countless hours of exposure to American Idol, what we have here are the words of a craven hustler — a two-bit con artist trying to sell you something you don’t need. Washington is in the business of selling security and its sales methodology is the practice of sowing fear of chaos, terror, and the unspeakable strange unknown. This sales strategy required the creation of an adversary to the “American system”, as well as its domestic avatar buried deep within the populace, to create a pervasive sense of vulnerability and distress among the population. It doesn’t matter that this adversary is Soviet communism or “Islamofascism”, nor that its domestic avatar appear in the form of a devout Muslim citizen or communist trade union activist; what matters is that the threat be, at the same time, pervasive and discrete, universal and particular, potentially life-threatening and merely strange.

This impeccably crafted direct appeal to the collective lizard brain of society, which paralyzes critical thought as our painfully slow brain tries to calculate the odds that the Sikh gentleman sitting in front of us on the bus might be strapped with explosives — renders critical thinking useless, and, therefore, a mere impediment to the apprehension of our empirical circumstances, reduces each of us to a suggestible sheeple, and set us up for acquiescence to the burden of providing Washington with ever greater hours of unpaid labor.

On the one hand, this “service” provided by Washington is very profitable to capital in its own right, since it requires enormous amounts of otherwise unprofitable output in the form of every imaginable thing from paperclips to the most advanced spy satellites, and launchers to put them in orbit. On the other hand, the demand for these products are the very kinds of superfluous expenditures that become increasingly necessary for the continuation of this social form of production.

Once the identity of interest between capital and the State in the longest possible extension of hours of labor is established, it is possible to understand not only Washington’s hostility to work time reduction as the means to end unemployment, but also its imposition of the regime of global competition on the American economy, its facilitation of companies moving industrial facilities and service jobs off-shore, and its hypocritical promotion of amnesty for undocumented immigrants: the capitalist state is a state that must operate according the laws of capital because it is founded entirely on the consumption of the surplus labor created by capital.

It also helps us explain the abandonment of the 99ers to their fate, the impending evisceration of the social safety net and the brutality of the austerity regime now being prepared by Washington. Far from merely falling under the control of Wall Street, Washington itself wants and needs this brutal assault on the living standards of Americans because all other methods of increasing the extraction of surplus value have failed.

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