While it can be argued that anarchists, libertarians and Marxists have a huge ideological chasm between their various views and visions of a future society, it is obvious that on significant issues they share a common perspective. One question for the new year, and the run up to the 2012 elections, is will these diverse ideologies continue to allow their difference to stand in the way of real practical common action on those things which they agree?
Libertarians have elected several of their supporters in the last election cycle; Ron Paul is poised to take an important chairmanship in the house; and, the GOP is vulnerable to a libertarian challenge in the 2012 presidential sweeps. Marxists have committed disciplined cadre capable of playing a significant role on the ground should they find some common points of agreement with the libertarian rebellion now unfolding within the Party of Wall Street. Anarchists have the extraordinary ability to move between these two factions while remaining relatively free of the ideological prejudices of either group.
Can the strengths of each be turned to a singular focus on a set of demands that move progressive and conservative majorities in both parties along a different path? I am not sure, but I offer these demands below in hopes that a discussion can begin among libertarians, anarchists and Marxists toward some practical cooperation in 2011:
End the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; and withdraw all US military forces from overseas.
This demand is simple enough: we want all United States military forces withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan and all bases operating in foreign countries dismantled and the troops brought home.
End all Washington fiscal and monetary stimulus; and, reduce the work week until everyone who wants to work has a job.
We want Washington to end its wasteful and incompetent attempts to stimulate the economy to generate job creation and economic growth. There is enough work at present to go around if the work week is reduced until unemployment is eliminated. All fiscal and monetary stimulus is nothing more than the imposition of hidden taxes on society by Washington, and its attempt to grab more resources for itself at the expense of society.
End all Federal, state and local deficit spending and accumulation of public debts.
Public deficit spending and the creation of new debt through bond issues are another form of hidden tax on the population. By issuing new debt, government at all levels is able to garnish the future income of its citizens to enlarge itself at their expense. We should demand all levels of government spend only the revenue they raise through taxes to end the hidden accretion of government power.
Abolish the Federal Reserve Bank and the fractional reserve system; end the bailout of the too big to fail banks.
This is a no-brainer: the control of the nation’s money, its supply of currency, and its monetary policy should never have been delegated to a private cartel of banking interests in the first place. Washington must also end the ongoing bail out of the too big to fail and shut them down immediately.
End the prosecution and imprisonment of all persons convicted of nonviolent offenses; dismantle the Department of Homeland Security; and, abolish the Patriot Act and other repressive laws.
Again, another no-brainer: The growth of state power is clearly evident in the swollen population of American prisons and clogged courts as state authorities prosecute and imprison thousands of people each year for nonviolent offenses from drug possession to illegal entry into the United States. Additionally, our movements are being subjected to constant state surveillance, routine invasive searches of our persons, tracking of our correspondence and public and private conversation.
Is it possible to gather such diverse voices as those within the libertarian, anarchist and Marxist communities into a single chorus around these or a similar list of demands? I would imagine there is not a single true libertarian, anarchist or Marxist who disagrees with the above list, but getting to “Yes” on any common set of demands runs into heavy opposition from the forces of the State, who do not want to see such a coalition, and from petty disagreements among these diverse groups who have their own agendas for what comes next.
We must make an effort however, and I pledge to fight for unity among all libertarians, anarchists and Marxists on these issues during 2011.
I recently came across this excerpt from a short paper by the Marxist writer, Raya Dunayevskaya. The argument is a very dense consideration of a fundamental point of Marx’s theory. If it appears obscure and incomprehensible, that is okay; I offer it only as a reference for those familiar with the more arcane points of Marx’s theory. For everyone else, you can skip below, where I will address it directly in a way that makes its import both obvious and rather astounding:
Let me state right here that we have greatly underestimated Volume III of CAPITAL, which deals with these transformations. It is true that we caught its ESSENCE when from the start we put our finger on the spot and said the DECLINE in the rate of profit is crucial; the average rate of profit is completely secondary. Look at the mess we would have been in if we had not seen THAT and suddenly found ourselves, as did the Fourth [International], tailending the Stalinists’ sudden “discovery” (which had been precisely the PERVERSION with which the Second International PLANNERS had long ago tried to corrupt Marxism) that it was the AVERAGE rate of profit which was the “law of capitalism.”
Good, we saw the essence, but that is insufficient, and because that is completely insufficient, we were incapable of being sharp enough even here. For it is insufficient merely to state that the decline [in the] rate of profit, not the average, is crucial for understanding VOLUME III. The full truth is: JUST AS MARX’S THEORY OF VALUE IS HIS THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE, SO HIS THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE IS IN REALITY THE THEORY OF THE DECLINING RATE OF PROFIT.
Why couldn’t we state it this simply before? It is because we have been too busy showing that profit is only a disguise which surplus value wears and must be removed, again to see “the real essence”: exploitation of labor. Because the opponents we were facing were Workers Party underconsumptionists, we had to overemphasize this EVIDENT truth. But to overemphasize the obvious means to stand on the ground the opponents have chosen. Freed from these opponents and faced with PLANNERS WHO ARE NOT UNDERCONSUMPTIONISTS the greater truth of what Marx was saying suddenly hits us in the eyes with such force that now we can say: How could we have not seen what Marx was saying? It is all so clear: Since the realization of surplus value IS the decline in the rate of profit, the poor capitalist MUST search for profits.
The argument Dunayevskaya is making here is simple: Marx proposed that capitalism would be increasingly hamstrung by a decline in the rate of profit. This decline was not an accident or aberration, since it rested on a fundamental feature of the economy: On the one hand, the capitalist was always seeking to maximize his profits by reducing labor costs. This drive leads businesses to produce more output with fewer workers. On the other hand, the source of profits were the unpaid labor time of the employed workers. Thus, even as the capitalist tried to maximize profit by reducing its work force, its success at reducing its work force reduced the pool of unpaid labor time that was the source of its profits.
So far, not much of interest, right? Just another cat fight among the followers of Marx over interpretation of his theory; and Marxists are, if anything, more prone to cat fights than a bag of wet cats. But, then Raya does something jarring: she throws in that sentence at the end and changes the entire nature of the argument:
Since the realization of surplus value IS the decline in the rate of profit, the poor capitalist MUST search for profits.
Let me perform an intellectual shortcut here: Although it may not be obvious what she has just done, Raya has just stated that Marx is setting the reader up, not for an explanation why prices of goods reflect the values of those goods, but why they can never reflect the values of those goods. On a micro-level, Marx is explaining why that $600 iPad you got for Christmas probably cost no more than $3 to manufacture in China.
To put this another way: Marx was describing why the actual labor time expended in a capitalist economy must always and increasingly be greater than what is socially necessary. The tendency built into a capitalist economy toward a secular decline in the rate of profit produces its opposite: a mad scramble on the part of each capital, and all of them together, to find every avenue to maintain profitability in the face of this tendency; and this tendency can only be countered by effort to extend the social work day beyond what is actually required by society. As we have argued elsewhere, if Marx is correct in his analysis, there is a vast pool of superfluous labor within existing society that can be abolished without touching on the material living standard of society.
To put it bluntly, Marx’s law of the tendency toward a fall in the rate of profit predicts that if total debt, total consumption and total hours of labor don’t constantly increase capitalism will collapse. The social relation is not only incapable of achieving equilibrium, but it becomes increasingly self-disequilibrating as the productivity of labor increases. Assuming Raya was saying what I understand her to be saying, I think this self-induced, self-reinforcing, disequilibrium results in, at least, the following 5 symptoms:
- The Market for output must constantly expand.
- Total employment must always rise more quickly than productive employment. And, total hours of labor must always increase more quickly than productive hours of labor.
- Because of the above, total consumption must always increase more rapidly than necessary consumption (i.e., production). Which is to say, waste and unnecessary consumption becomes a matter of life or death for the economy.
- Since waste becomes a permanent feature of the economy and the rising cost of wasted effort must be borne by society, total prices must always increase more rapidly than total value.
- Since, wasted effort itself produces no new value, exchange itself is increasingly founded on debt; hence, the financial sector must always increase more rapidly than the industrial sector, and debt more rapidly than equity — leverage, which is, at root, only the relation between the sum total of social labor to the sum total of productively employed labor, must always increase.
Assuming I am correct about Raya’s comments about Marx’s third volume of Capital, and, that she is correct in her reading of the volume — two very big ifs, I admit — in his third volume of Capital, Marx is setting us up to understand how the State becomes an absolutely critical and absolutely necessary feature of capitalist society — a matter of life and death for capital. Each of the five symptoms of modern society I cited above are no more than functions taken on by the State to manage capitalist society through its increasingly devastating cycles of booms and busts.
Marx’s law of the tendency toward a decline in the rate of profit is, in reality, a theory of the State. To extend Raya’s statement: Marx’s theory of value is the foundation for his theory of surplus value; his theory of surplus value is the foundation for his theory of the decline in the rate of profit; and, finally, his theory of a decline in the rate of profit is the foundation for his theory of the modern State.
Powerful support for my interpretation of Raya’s argument can be found simply by looking at the title of the paper from which the above quote was drawn: “The despotic plan of capital vs. freely associated labor”. In this paper, Raya counterposes the modern State to the free association of individuals, explicitly arguing that planning arrived at by free association is completely incompatible with the various forms of State management of the economy with which we are familiar: everything from the centralized planning of the Soviet type to the fiscal and monetary levers of neoliberal political-economy. In 1950, with the ink still drying on National Security Council Report 68, Raya was making the argument that, in her words, “If the order of the factory were also in the market, you’d have complete totalitarianism.”
Effort by the State to manage the economy, as envisioned by the Truman administration, had to lead to an increasingly totalitarian reorganization of society. This, apart even from consideration of the aim of that management — which, for Truman, was a means of accruing the resources for a long-term conflict with the Soviet Union — implies the subjugation of the whole of social relationships to the despotism of capital.
Marxists and progressives who see in the increasing entanglement of the State in the economy — as borrower, lender, consumer and employer of last resort — some realization of the possibility for a humane society are not only wrong, but dangerously misguided in their approach to every social issue from the present intractable unemployment, to poverty, to every form of inequality, the environment and global relations. They are trying to use as a solution the very instrument of society which maintains those evils and makes their continuation possible.
I received this response to my post, What help for the 99ers? (Part four: It’s not personal), yesterday on GonzoTimes:
Turn your soul off. Turn your humanity off. Turn your brain off. And voila, you’ve turned into a Republican “pro-lifer” who says “screw the poor”. Genius!
The comment was a bit cryptic to me. Is the writer saying I have become a Republican pro-lifer who hates the poor? I could not be sure so I responded with this gem in a moment of anger:
If your cryptic comment is directed at me, I take offense — not with your remark, but with the phony humanitarianism hidden behind it. Giving the unemployed $300 a week does nothing to address the causes of unemployment, which is Washington itself. If you are moved by the plight of the 99ers, as I am, I suggest you link up and find ways to support them on an authentic basis, rather than mailing your support in via your taxes. But, more important, I hope you will be moved to fight to reduce hours of work to abolish unemployment and the system that creates it permanently.
You might also consider Badiou’s critique of phony humanitarianism in his book, Ethics.
I am not satisfied with this response. It was driven as much by defensiveness as by any positive statement on the situation of the 99ers. It, therefore, does nothing to convince those who really support the cause of the 99ers to take another look at their assumptions.
Am I a renegade? The question asked, of course, demands a complete response — not first to the commenter, but to myself. Am I on some slippery slope to the renegacy decried by Badiou? Definitely time for an attitude check, and a deep examination to make sure my humanity was still in working order.
I come away from this moment of self-reflection even more sure of my position and a more fervent opponent of unemployment compensation than before. I do not think my view is one of a renegade or heartless conservative, but one who remains committed to the aims I have stood for since I was a teenager and first encountered the idea of communism. I put forth below six reasons why I think it is the classical communist position to oppose unemployment compensation:
The question I asked myself is this: Would Marx have supported unemployment compensation in his day? And, my answer to that was, “Yes.” Without a doubt he would have advocated for it, and considered it a demand consistent with the aim of communism — a measure designed to protect the working class from the vagaries and misery of the business cycle. So, why am I advocating against it? This is not Marx’s day. In his day periodic crises were common enough and no more than temporary lulls between periods of expansion during which the productive capacity of society was being augmented by capital. The scale of production was being increased, and the numbers of laborers moving from agriculture into industry was, however subject to fluctuations and sudden fits and stops, progressively converting the labor process from that of solitary farmers into massive engines of immediately social production. The process was not pretty, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was moving society generally in the direction of the abolition of labor.
Today it is otherwise. Society is drowning in its own productive capacity and we face a State that, for its own purposes, seeks to drive us under altogether. This requires we rethink all our assumptions. So here are my thoughts:
First. Today’s crises are not the mere interruption of an otherwise revolutionary reconstitution and enhancement of the productive power of labor. They are failures of State measures to facilitate the constant expansion of completely superfluous labor. Supporting unemployment compensation today, when unemployment is no longer a temporary condition but a permanent feature of an economy drowning in a surplus population of able-bodied workers, and when the only effective policy to reduce this surplus population is to reduce hours of labor, is a travesty.
Second. Just as this crisis is not a momentary cessation between periods of expansion of capital, so it is not an accident, defect, or aberration. It has been established by economists that we are facing a long-term secular decline in Washington’s capacity to force the creation of new jobs. Washington’s tools of fiscal and monetary policy are gradually becoming ineffective in stimulating superfluous economic activity. It is also requiring more aggressive measures to produce the same effect — much like in the case of a junkie requiring larger doses of his preferred substance to achieve the same high. Washington is now creating massive amounts of new debt each month in a desperate attempt to keep this ugly Ponzi scheme right side up. The declining effectiveness of job creating measures stems not from lack of serious effort on Washington’s part, but on the very goal of the effort itself: to create work where there is no need for work.
Third. The strategy adopted by Washington to create unnecessary work was predicted to fail by many economists during the housing bubble; and at least as early as 1993, Hyman Minsky predicted a financial disaster was unfolding before our eyes. He warned of just the kinds of Ponzi schemes that Washington was facilitating in its deregulation of financial activities in its desperation to lengthen the working day by encouraging working families to accumulate unprecedentedly large personal debts. Despite these warnings, Washington, under the Clinton administration, and again under the Bush II administration, facilitated this accumulating family debt and even put in place measures to prevent working families from declaring bankruptcy to relieve themselves of it. Fully two thirds of all job creation during that period resulted from such debt accumulation.
Fourth. Beyond this, Marx and many other writers warned that a collapse of capital was inevitable. The growing output of industry resulting from improvements in productivity of social labor, Marx explained, was running into declining demand for productive employment of labor resulting from this improvement. In its drive to accumulate surplus, capital was making the ever increasing employment of superfluous labor into the necessary condition for the employment of productive labor. In time it would, he argued, become a matter of life or death for capital to find some means to increase the absolute waste of human labor in order to support profitable investment. That time arrived during the Great Depression when every industrialized nation suffered a catastrophic economic failure, and the State stepped in as the ultimate consumer of commodities and labor power rendered superfluous by overly long hours of work. Efforts by many to reduce hours of work during that period were defeated in Washington, which went on to erase the possibility of less work time from political-economic conversation.
Fifth. Despite all of the above, an argument could be made that we are nevertheless forced to support unemployment compensation because we have no power to change the situation in the short run. I think this argument is specious and even misleading: Unemployment compensation is exactly the wrong measure to pursue at present because it asks people to identify with the very cause of their unemployment. It is the political equivalent of asking people to lobby Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for handouts to ease their poverty. This “progressive” solution to the problem of the ever lengthening work day, which is the entire basis for the present unemployment, is to ask the very institution in society responsible for unemployment to ease the impact of the problem it created in the first place. We have to wake up to the fact that Washington is not a neutral actor in this play: it is the largest single consumer of surplus value in the society — and in human history; beside it, every other consumer — all “the rich” taken in their entirety — run a poor second. Washington not only knows the consequences of its policies, it fucking intends to create those consequences! The whole of its policies are designed to press the consumption of the mass of society to the lowest possible level in order that it may feed on the resultant surplus.
Sixth. We should be completely offended by the very concept of State aid for unemployment in any case. The entire argument for it, as offered by progressives and Marxists, rests on the image of the unemployed as helpless victims who must be protected from the vagaries of economic forces. As Badiou might argue, this image is completely isolated from its social context. The image of the suffering victim does not ask us how this pathetic creature came to be in her circumstance, nor does it seek to identify who caused her suffering. We are left with the need to do something — anything — to end the suffering. But, what? It is all too easy to write your congressperson or senator demanding an end to the suffering, and then sit comfortably at home watching the progress of the bill on the Rachel Maddow Show — self-satisfied that you did your part, and outraged at those who didn’t.
I am sorry, but I do demand you do something — something real, something authentic! I demand you go out of your house and find 99ers, create a network of support among folks in your community to support all 99ers. Make their plight your own in voluntary association with others. And, demand Washington cease to exist.
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In his thought provoking essay, Capitalism vs. Communism Challenging The Paradigm, I think PunkJohnnyCash has posed exactly the right question for our times:
Can the Capitalism vs. Communism paradigm be challenged just as so many of us have found the flaw in a left-right paradigm?
To my mind, this is the most important question of the year as it closes and we begin 2011.
What I have tried to argue in my posts, What help for the 99ers?, and on my blog for some time, is that the demand of the Left for the abolition of Capital and that of the Right for abolition of the State are the mirror forms of the same demand for the abolition of unnecessary Labor. Capital is a mode of production of surplus value based on the continuous extension of labor time beyond that duration necessary to satisfy human need. The State is nothing more than this same mass of superfluous labor time congealed into the form of a repressive, expansionist machinery of political, economic, legal and military coercion.
In economic terms, the State is the necessary companion of Capital, because it provides the types of superfluous expenditures which become increasingly important to Capital. As the mode of production achieves an extraordinary high level of development, the unprecedented productivity of labor itself becomes a barrier to profitable investment. The enormous and growing quantities of goods issuing from industry rests on the productive activity of an ever shrinking number of productively employed laborers. At the same time, an ever increasing mass of laborers are utterly cut off from any productive employment, and would be cut off from all employment were it not for the direct and indirect expenditures of the State.
At the same time, in Capital, the State — long a vile, unspeakably filthy, grotesque pustule on the body of human society — found a new source of superfluous economic nourishment on which it could feed; enlarging itself, establishing new tentacles deep into the interior of society and reaching beyond its local place of birth to feed on an ever widening circle of nations with the establishment of military bases, gained through uninterrupted imperialist adventures — at once, gorging itself on the superfluous labor of society and expanding the scale of its production. With the increase in the productivity of labor resulting from Capital’s desire to maximize profits, an even more rapidly increasing portion of all economic activity fed this parasite on society. Millions of laborers who would otherwise be unemployable found positions in the State as functionaries, bureaucrats and paper-pushers of every conceivable sort — rivaled only by the domestic industry of advocates, lobbyists and frauds, who daily discover new threats, domestic or foreign to the national interest; new, previously unknown, social maladies that require urgent government intervention; new reasons to tax some substance or regulate it, or require a prescription for it, or jail those who use it; new reasons to raid the public coffers, shake down the taxpayer, or further expand the nation’s debt to the banking houses on Wall Street, and, of course, a massive cottage industry of defense, police, intelligence, and penal contractors, manufacturers, and support services.
As PunkJohnnyCash has pointed out the Capitalism versus Communism paradigm is as false and misleading as the Left-Right paradigm. Capitalism offers nothing to society but more of what I have described above, and communism has no positive vision of a new society: understood properly, and not in the caricature of the vulgar Marxist, “Philosophically,” states the French philosopher, Alain Badiou, “communism has a purely negative meaning.”
Marx, in his own words, simply described communism as an event — a revolutionary movement of society — an “alteration of men on a mass scale” … “in which, further, the proletariat rids itself of everything that still clings to it from its previous position in society.” He offered little on what society would look like in the aftermath of such an event beyond this:
Only at this stage does self-activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off of all natural limitations. The transformation of labour into self-activity corresponds to the transformation of the earlier limited intercourse into the intercourse of individuals as such. With the appropriation of the total productive forces through united individuals, private property comes to an end. Whilst previously in history a particular condition always appeared as accidental, now the isolation of individuals and the particular private gain of each man have themselves become accidental.
What would this society look like? To the ill-placed frustration of many, Marx never speculated on this question, only that this event marks both the ridding of the old “muck of ages”, and the founding of a new society. Moreover, he decidedly separated himself from those who constructed plans or schemes for a new society.
And, there is a reason for this: under the conditions described by Marx, there are no longer any external constraints — natural or man-made — on the actions of the individual. This would be true for two reasons: first, assuming sufficient development of the productivity of labor, we are freed from the requirement to work — which becomes a matter of personal preference, and, therefore, expresses only the innate human need to be productive and creative. On the other hand, with the end of unnecessary labor, the State is entirely discarded and replaced with the free, voluntary, association of individuals.
Under these circumstances, there are no necessary principles on which to found our relationships with other members of society — in the sense of a set of external economic or political laws or constraints on our activities and relationships — and, thus, no possible way of conceiving what society might look like in the aftermath of such an event.
Although I can be very wrong on this, what I have concluded from Marx’s writings on communism is this: far from being the anti-pole of capitalism, in the writing of Marx, at least, communism is not a “new society” that can be counter-posed to capitalism, as the Soviet Union was counter-posed to the United States as great powers during the Cold War, communism is, instead, the concluding event of capitalism itself — an event in which the members of society put an end to the State, Labor, and Capital; and replace them all with their voluntary association.
I am very eager to hear what others have to say on this.
PFC Manning is currently being held in maximum custody. Since arriving at the Quantico Confinement Facility in July of 2010, he has been held under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch.
The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet.
The guards at the confinement facility are professional. At no time have they tried to bully, harass, or embarrass PFC Manning. Given the nature of their job, however, they do not engage in conversation with PFC Manning.
At 5:00 a.m. he is woken up (on weekends, he is allowed to sleep until 7:00 a.m.). Under the rules for the confinement facility, he is not allowed to sleep at anytime between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards.
He is allowed to watch television during the day. The television stations are limited to the basic local stations. His access to the television ranges from 1 to 3 hours on weekdays to 3 to 6 hours on weekends.
He cannot see other inmates from his cell. He can occasionally hear other inmates talk. Due to being a pretrial confinement facility, inmates rarely stay at the facility for any length of time. Currently, there are no other inmates near his cell.
From 7:00 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., he is given correspondence time. He is given access to a pen and paper. He is allowed to write letters to family, friends, and his attorneys.
Each night, during his correspondence time, he is allowed to take a 15 to 20 minute shower.
On weekends and holidays, he is allowed to have approved visitors see him from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.
He is allowed to receive letters from those on his approved list and from his legal counsel. If he receives a letter from someone not on his approved list, he must sign a rejection form. The letter is then either returned to the sender or destroyed.
He is allowed to have any combination of up to 15 books or magazines. He must request the book or magazine by name. Once the book or magazine has been reviewed by the literary board at the confinement facility, and approved, he is allowed to have someone on his approved list send it to him. The person sending the book or magazine to him must do so through a publisher or an approved distributor such as Amazon. They are not allowed to mail the book or magazine directly to PFC Manning.
Due to being held on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch:
PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day.
The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.
He receives each of his meals in his cell.
He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow.
He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.
He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.
He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.
He does receive one hour of “exercise” outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.
When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning.