Challenging The Paradigm: A reply to PunkJohnnyCash
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.