Archive for January, 2011

Can government be reduced without limiting hours of Labor?

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Is it possible to get rid of government, either by abolishing it outright or gradually reducing it, without, at the same time, ridding society of Labor? This is a question posed by libertarians and marxists who declare their opposition to abolishing one or the other.

First, let’s define what I mean by Labor. As I am using the word, Labor is not work; I define work as any form of productive activity during which we create some useful object by mixing our human effort with natural objects. It is the metabolism of life: the exchange between nature and humans which is essential to life itself. Labor, on the other hand, does the above as well, but the aim of the activity is to create value — a commodity with a price.

Among Marxists, one would think this question had already been settled by the experience of the Soviet Union. There, despite Marxist expectations that the State would whither away once wage slavery was thought to be abolished, the State never even shrank. It continued to expand up until the point it collapsed entirely. Even if we accept the idea that the Soviet Union was confronted by an implacable enemy, it is hard to accept this as an explanation for the Soviet occupation in Eastern Europe, its massive accumulation of troop and military power, and the willingness of Moscow to sacrifice basic material standards of living of the country, when the United States is presently bogged down and slowly being defeated by isolated bands of mostly illiterate guerrillas in the mountains of Afghanistan — much as the USSR was previously. How, under any reasonable scenario, was the US supposed to occupy and pacify a population of freely associated, well-educated, highly skilled persons, spread over one sixth of the planet’s surface and eleven time zones?

But, marxists seem unable to absorb this lesson of history. Among libertarians, I am often in conversation with, and reading the posts of, those who are quite seriously opposed to the State, but fierce opponents of any limitation on hours of Labor.

In all honesty, folks, how is this supposed to work?

Total federal, state, and local government employment (not including the military) in 2008 stood at 22.46 million persons according to the Census Bureau (pdf). At the same time, total employment in the US stood at 145.36 million persons (pdf). Government provided approximately 15 percent of all direct employment — and this does not even begin to take into account those persons who owed their jobs directly or indirectly to government expenditures: those employed as a result of contracts with various agencies of federal, state, and local bodies — Blackwater, GE, Raytheon, and the entire Fortune 500 come to mind — and those whose jobs are at least in part the result of demand generated by various transfer programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunch programs, etc.

If we could remove all of these expenditures overnight by means of a magic wand, what would happen to the economy and the tens of millions of other jobs only indirectly affected by this? Where would all of the goods produced for this massive body of entirely superfluous laborers be sold? Even if we did not remove it entirely, but only limited it by refusing to raise the debt ceiling and preventing the expenditure of some 3 trillion additional dollars by Washington over the next two years, what now fills that void?

If libertarians and others who are seriously determined to get rid of the State have no answer to these questions, what answer will your congressperson have when Obama and Boehner grab them by the lapel and show them, in very graphic terms, exactly what their vote against raising the debt ceiling will do to employment?

The argument can be made that any limitation on hours of labor requires State coercion and limitations on the individual’s right to enjoy her property — every wage contract is a voluntary agreement between two property-owners, even if one of the parties has no choice but to make the agreement. However, thirty, forty, or fifty percent unemployment is also the coercive application of market competition. If some make the argument that capitalist coercion is somehow more “natural” than State coercion, I need only remind them that the State, having been around for thousands of years longer than Capital, is clearly far more “natural” than the latter.

I am not for coercion in any form — political or economic. I am not trying to abolish State coercion in order to allow the mechanisms of economic coercion room to expand, further intensifying the already Hobbesian environment of Civil Society. The vast majority of the population of the United States is dependent on selling their Labor Power — even those who are self-employed. The idea that they will come to see Washington as a greater threat to their well-being than the Koch brothers, WalMart, or BP is laughably naive. Start abolishing regulations, reducing the minimum wage, breaking pension plans, and slashing Social Security, and you will see how little love folks have for a stateless society that leaves them at the mercies of the owners of capital.

This really doesn’t require a doctorate in economics: those who are really serious about a stateless society, and not simply using it as a screen to advance their own agenda, will understand that State coercion cannot be abolished without also abolishing the coercion of the market in Labor Power.

Update: Courtesy of Zero Hedge, a list of Russell Index companies that generate 50 to 100 percent of their revenue from the federal government.

Update 2: Someone asked me a good question: Am I suggesting there should be no reduction in the size of government until hours of work can be reduced? Absolutely not. It would be a mistake not to do the two together, but the biggest mistake would be to do nothing until both can be done together. If the debt ceiling increase can be voted down today, it should be voted down; in time it will be obvious that hours of work must also be reduced.

“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

Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State: Some comments

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The Scream, Edvard Munch

I was somewhat surprised to see an interest in the theories of Karl Marx among at least a small section of libertarians, in the form of two recent articles, Brad Warbiany’s “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory” and Michael O. Powell’s “Rethinking Marx”. Given the continuing distortion among even most Marxists of Marx’s theories, not to mention the blatant misrepresentation of his views by official academic portraits of the man, I didn’t think anyone among those committed to the idea of a stateless society would be able to break through the clutter to try at least reclaim some of his ideas for our time.

That said, I want to clear up what I think might be some lack of clarity regarding his views that might allow others to experience them in a form that is more consistent with what I think was his intention. I am not an expert on Marx, so what I say here is only my best approximation of his ideas. They are always subject to dispute.

Brad Warbiany in his post made a serious stab at clarifying Marx’s views on the State. Based on his understanding of what Marx wrote, he found it quite incomprehensible that Marxists today can embrace the very machinery of repression that Marx himself rejected as illiberal, parasitic and oppressive. I agree that it is a complete betrayal of Marx by Marxists in this regard. However, Brad then makes what I think are a number of observation about Marx’s own views that are wrong, and reflect the distortions introduced into his theories by Marxists themselves.

Brad states:

Marx made what I would consider to be three critical mistakes in his analysis:

* Humanity has far too close of a relationship with property to function in an anarcho-socialist system.
* The state, once breaking the capitalists, had too many perks to let itself “wither away”.
* Much of his goals for workers “owning the means of production” are already beginning to occur within capitalism.

Brad then turns to the first of these mistakes:

“The first point is a bit of my own conjecture, but stems from Marx’s treatment of classes as classes rather than the more individualist libertarian treatment of classes as collections of disparate individuals. Marx saw the proletariat seizing the means of production and then finding harmonious sustainable ways to equitably distribute the fruits of such production. The 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. I do not believe human nature is so constituted — which, of course, is why I’m an anarcho-capitalist..”

Actually Marx’s view of social classes was probably the opposite of the way it is presented here. For Marx, capitalism is a society founded on universal competition much in the model of Hobbes’ “war of all against all”. Bereft of all means to produce for his own needs, the proletarian was the owner of himself alone; forced by this poverty to sell himself as a commodity. But, this sale took place in the context of a market where there were millions of like impoverished individuals; each of whom, on pain of starvation, were driven to conclude the same transaction in conditions of market competition. The intensely competitive environment into which they were thrown from birth onward was not by any means conducive to the formation of a social class consciousness. Marx argued that it was not really a class at all but merely the detritus of the decomposition of classes, composed entirely of individuals who had lost their property and, hence, were compelled to sell themselves into wage slavery. Although they shared a common circumstance, this circumstance was not by any means the basis for cooperative association. If they were to act more or less as a class, it would be the result of seeing their common interest through the dense fog of their relentlessly competitive environment.

His view of the capitalist class was not very different — under certain circumstances it could appear to act as a class, but there are also circumstances in which it clearly did not act as a class. In both cases, however, the relation between one capitalist owner and the rest was founded on a competitive clash of interests where the losers were consumed by the winners. So, both the class of proletarians and the class of capitalists were subject to an increasingly intense competitive environment. Moreover, both the relation between and among the class of capitalists, and the relation between and among the class of proletarians, rested on a larger ongoing class conflict between all capitalists and all workers over division of the product of the labor of the workers.

The picture one comes away with is that of 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. It is a condition under which all human relations escape the control of the members of society, all productive activity is carried on without regard to the ends of any individual, group of individuals, or all of them together — in which this activity exists only for itself, and operates as a blind uncontrolled force in society that respects no individual will. The activity of the members of society appear to them as the blind action of economic laws over which they have no control; and, which appear for all the world as impersonal as any law of nature. All gain and loss incurred by individuals, their position in society, and their circumstances generally, appear completely accidental: as personal character traits, or birth, education, and luck.

To a degree not imagined in any libertarian scenario, Marx’s theory identifies the individual as an abstract individual — no longer as a distinct member of some social formation, but rather as one who is progressively stripped of every conceivable sort of direct social connection: affinities based on family, community, religion, language, race, nation are unceasingly subjected to the withering erosion of a nasty, foul, merciless and relentless Hobbesian atmosphere until the individual as an individual is reduced to a mere abstract human being robbed of any particular identifying characteristics — a cipher, for whom any given characteristics are merely accidental and passing. It is this individual who makes his appearance in political economy, and in libertarian political thought, as the average member of society.

On this basis, we can not only understand the liberal background of Marx’s theory, but also what Chris Cutrone calls the increasingly illiberal State that appears to separate itself from this universal all-sided conflict; and, to hover over civil society as an interest independent of civil society and in conflict with it. In Marx’s model, it is not simply economic relations that escape the control of the members of capitalist society; all relations escape their control. The increasingly illiberal State reflects the fact that no one in society can establish any degree of self-interested control over economic processes without also establishing their self-interest as the general interest of the community — i.e., as a matter of State interest. Marx, in a more complete excerpt of the quote cited by Brad, warns that the State was,

“…increasing at the same rate as the division of labor inside the bourgeois society created new groups of interests, and therefore new material for the state administration. Every common interest was immediately severed from the society, countered by a higher, general interest, snatched from the activities of society’s members themselves and made an object of government activity – from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and the communal property of a village community, to the railroads, the national wealth, and the national University of France. Finally the parliamentary republic, in its struggle against the revolution, found itself compelled to strengthen the means and the centralization of governmental power with repressive measures. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the chief spoils of the victor.”

In Marx’s model, the State itself is being further developed as a parasite on society by the very forces of the ongoing civil conflict within society itself and the increasing complexity of this conflict. This complexity is nothing more than the increasingly sophisticated division of labor within society; and, the condition of utter dependence of the individual on society, who is, at the same time, in a state of universal competition against every other member of society and all of them together. The result of this process is not the realization of the bourgeois ideal of liberty, but an increasing illiberality of a State founded on an all-sided universal competitive conflict — ultimately leading directly to 20th Century Fascism, in which the State appears as a renunciation of civil conflict between classes, but also as its necessary political expression.

It is this model of society, which finds its expression in the categories of political-economy, as Liberty, the Individual, and the State, that serves as Marx’s point of departure for his own theory. Marx does not propose anything more than what the liberal writers of the 18th and 19th Centuries themselves assume with regard to the nature of these categories. And, it is important to understand that Marx — while rejecting the idea that these categories are in any way Eternal Truths — begins by accepting all of their assumptions as the starting point of his own work.

Then he begins to outline his theory on how the working out of the social process through these categories leads ultimately to voluntary cooperative association.

To be continued.

Paul Butler on jury nullification | Cop Block

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Former prosecutor Paul Butler on when and why you should refuse to convict even someone you determine is guilty.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Categories: Uncategorized

Marx’s theory of property: self-ownership versus voluntary association

January 15, 2011 1 comment


In answer to Daniel’s reply to my post,Who are “WE”?: Toward the beginning of an answer to Mike…, I have argued here, here and here that self-ownership is not freedom, but the universalization of slavery. I have argued that precisely on the basis of this self-ownership society is able to reproduce all the incalculably horrific relations between human beings that were found in any earlier property form. Moreover, because self-ownership is fully compatible with these earlier forms of human social relations, I have argued that Hollywood can glamorize and romanticize the inhumanity of those earlier forms precisely because they appear to us as direct relations between human beings since they are not founded on market exchange.


But, I think, although I am entirely prepared to be convinced otherwise, the contrast between self-ownership and the earlier forms of property, can also allow us to understand why the argument of such scholars as Justice Antonin Scalia regarding the intent of the authors of the founding documents has such appeal to a large section of the population: it is precisely in those founding documents that the ideal of self-ownership is contrasted directly with the practice of slavery by the authors. Thomas Jefferson’s brutal, savage, and barbaric acts in the real world place the ideal of self-ownership in its sharpest possible relief. We adore the words penned by Thomas Jefferson, despite the fact that he was a slave-owner, but also because he was a slave-owner. Precisely because we can no longer be disposed of by others in the fashion of a slave on Monticello without our consent and an agreed upon remuneration, our own self-enslavement appears to us as the ideal form of freedom to the member of the Tea Party, and not as what it is: the freedom to consent to our own enslavement. For the progressive, it is an acknowledgment by Thomas Jefferson that, should he wish to employ Sally Hemming as before, he will have to pay her at least the minimum wage, deduct the proper amount of Social Security and other taxes, and observe OSHA regulations.

If proponents of self-ownership could confuse it with the expression of natural law within human society, this was only because, in relation to all other forms of property up to that time, it was more perfectly compatible with the new relations between members of society being established by the new economic forces than these older property forms, and only to the extent it was more compatible with these new relations. That we find it necessary to reassert our self-ownership against the existing state of society implies not a conflict with these older forms of property that are no longer compatible with the development of the economic forces of society, but a demand for the abolition of self-ownership as a form of property in ourselves, and, with it, every form of property.

This statement does not mean that the assertion of self-ownership, as a revolution against previous forms of property (insofar as we consider all of these the disposal by others over our individual labor powers) was not valid — only that it was limited by its very nature. Our individual labor power, which can be understood much as described by Murray Rothbard that, “…each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish…”, are not, and have never been, capacities existing apart from us in the form of some object external to us: they are who we are as individuals. When the bourgeois revolution against the old order demanded self-ownership, it was demanding the overthrow of the previously existing state of affairs wherein our human self, including these very capacities, were treated as the property of some feudal potentate.

However, never in any previous form of society was it possible to think of our individual capacities as something distinct from us; never did any feudal chief imagine that the capacities of his subjects existed apart from, and independent of, their physical self; never did Thomas Jefferson imagine that his ownership of slaves extended only to their sex organs, or their capacity as beasts in the field, or as a pair of hands in the kitchen. Nor did these slaves ever imagine that, apart from submitting to his periodic rape, or the time he demanded of them as draught animals, that they were otherwise free human beings.

This division between the individual and her capacities — in which her capacities not only can assume an independent object-like existence, but must assume this form — is also a thoroughly modern invention. And, it was not until this self-object — which Marx calls the “labor-power” of the individual, or, in its totality, “the productive forces of society” — emerged as the fundamental form of property in society, that the capacities of individuals were able to assume an independent existence standing apart from them, and, over against them as an independent social force with a life of its own.

Based on this argument Marx makes the startling assertion not that self-ownership must be replaced by state ownership of the individual — as was the case in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China — but that NO ONE controls these relations nor can anyone achieve control of these relations. The problem posed by self-ownership as a form of property is not the emergence of the State as a social Thomas Jefferson, but that with it human relations generally escape all control by society. Marx writes, “Never, in any earlier period, have the productive forces taken on a form so indifferent to the intercourse of individuals as individuals…”

Despite the demands by both Tea Partiers and progressives for the state to assume control over these human relations — and much to the chagrin of those like President Barack Obama and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke — no individual or group of individuals, no State or group of States, acting separately or in concert, can impose their control over the relations between human beings precisely because they exist in the form of the individual capacities of each of us in an objectified form.

These relations, Marx declares, can only be controlled by any of us, if they are controlled by all of us together and in a voluntary association which abolishes self-ownership as a form of property in ourselves:

It can only be effected through a union, which by the character of the proletariat itself can again only be a universal one, and through a revolution, in which, on the one hand, the power of the earlier mode of production and intercourse and social organisation is overthrown…

In order, Marx writes, not only to gain control over these relations — which are never at any point anything but our own collective capacities existing in the form of an independent social force standing over against us — but also merely to ensure our actual physical survival as living creatures, society will be compelled to establish a voluntary association, and make this voluntary association the exclusive mode of its activity.

“None of us know what triggered this attack”: How President Obama revised history

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

President Obama speaking at the memorial service for the victims of the outrage in Tucson, Arizona. Having lulled us all by detailing the accomplishments and lives of the victims, he then proceeds to erase from our memory, and from history itself, two years of deliberate effort by the Party of Washington and the Party of Wall Street to whip their respective supporters into a frenzy of hatred and vitriol for purely partisan purposes, and as a means of exploiting the divisions of society to rule over society:

For the truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. (Applause.) But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. (Applause.) That we cannot do. (Applause.) That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

Marx’s theory of property: Ghetto Gaggers as social criticism

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Ghetto Gaggers - Jessica (

In my first reply to Daniel (Marx’s theory of property: Whore or Just “Easy”?), I made an argument that, despite Marx’s assertion that property is a relation between people, he would entirely agree with Daniel that the commonsense — perfectly logical — view of things is that property is an object outside of us that we own. Moreover, let me state for the record at this point: these relations between us that we refer to as property can ONLY exist in the form of an object external to us. The very idea that property is some thing, some object, which is not us, but which we own, presupposes that, even if property is only a relation between each of us and other members of society, it has to have an object-like existence. So, if a particular piece of property we own does not actually exist in the form of an object that is independent of us, we have to create it, so to speak.

In my examination of my transactional tryst with my companion, it was, as a matter of agreement, that she present to me, in exchange for my one hundred dollars, her sex organs and her body generally as an object, a mere means of my satisfaction, to complete our agreement. For that sixty minutes or so, she was not her self, but a commodity — a collection of orifices (oral, anal, vaginal) — which I, like any purchaser of an iPod, was free to employ according to an mutually agreed upon Terms of Service.

The Terms of Service state that, despite my use of her body as means of my satisfaction, ownership of it remained with her — she was not selling her self into any permanent condition of servitude. It also stated that, in exchange for my use of her body as a means of my own satisfaction, she was not obliged, in return, to pretend to enjoy the experience herself — except as she might decide would enhance my experience with her body — nor was I required to provide to her any sort of pleasurable experience — her object was not satisfaction in the form of a good fuck, but in the form of my one hundred dollars. It also stated that, at the end of my sixty minutes of use, I was to return her body to her self in such condition as did not leave it in a damaged state, and, therefore, unable to serve as a commodity in a later exchange of this or another type.

Although she is not a commodity, but a human being, she nevertheless had to present her body as an object outside of her self. Although, she is not an object but a person, she had to treat her personhood as if it were somehow detachable from her body and deliver this body without personhood as an object for my use. That she is not, for me, a person but only a body without personhood is given in my exchange of one hundred dollars for the use of it — so far as I am concerned, she is only my one hundred dollars in the particular form of oral, anal and vaginal cavities I can employ for my own satisfaction, just as an iPod is one hundred dollars in the form of an mp3 player.

As I argued in my second post (Marx’s theory of property: Who owns me?), that this object, property, appears to have passed through a very long historical development until it emerges full blown in the founding documents as self-ownership, does not in the least make it false or a social fiction. It simply means that it arrives on the scene not as the expression of natural law within society, but as a break in historical development during much of which we did not own our capacities but were ourselves owned in some fashion by others.

Concealed from us behind the liberating bourgeois manifesto of self-ownership, Marx warns, is not only freedom from enslavement to others, but also the history of property itself as slavery in various forms throughout history: self-ownership, Marx declares, while a definite advance over ownership by others, is not authentic human liberation, but merely self-enslavement. Rather than being an object at the disposal of some feudal chief, we are now each of us our own object.

In the internet series, Ghetto Gaggers, a number of young African-American women sit passively, or passively allow themselves to be variously positioned, as two anonymous white men engage in savage and quite horrifying acts of sexual abuse for about a half hour or more in each video. There is no hint of sentimentality in the actions of the three, no illusion of mutual engagement. Each woman is alternately gagged with the penises of the two men until they are forced to vomit, buggered, flipped and fucked, positioned for double penetration, and finally facialed. This abuse sometimes getting so intense that the woman’s pretension that she is a mere object momentarily slips and she sheds tears — a slip which is always captured by the camera because it enhances, rather than detracts from, the spectator’s experience of her objectification. It is, on the surface, a particularly jarring example of the pornography increasingly available to us through the internet. As, social criticism, however, it is unparalleled, as these three individuals, each owner of themselves — as their own slaver, their own petty entrepreneur — convert themselves into commodities on-screen for the enjoyment of their audience.

That the entire history of the United States is only a history of white male abuse of African-American women is demonstrated in the flesh by the descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s systematic rape of his girl slaves, whom his more legitimate descendants were so hesitant to acknowledge until recently, but, is a matter of public record. What makes these videos a matter of critical significance is that, even after the bourgeois manifesto of self-ownership was extended to Jefferson’s bastard descendants, the same patterns of behavior reappear in the form of a pornographic video starring three self-owners — two white, one black. In no previous age did we imagine that such horrific sexual abuse could be a voluntary act of a free individual. In our age — that of self-ownership — the very irrationality of this act not only appears rational to us — even if somewhat uncomfortable to watch — but, more importantly, earlier epochs of human civilization where it was decidedly not a voluntary act, and where, because this enslavement was not accompanied by the purchase/sale of a commodity,  are re-imagined in film as a banal sentimental romance, Jefferson in Paris.

The age of self-ownership — the bourgeois epoch — Marx argues is society marked not by the abolition of slavery, but by its universalization; it is an age not where the shadow of the slave master hovers over the crouching young girl who is legally unable to defend herself, but the age where that young girl rises to her own two feet as her own slave-master groomed from birth onward to employ herself as her own object. We arrive at a state of society where, it appears, property is perfectly compatible with freedom, but find that we are free only to the extent we are willing to enslave ourselves to each other.

It is this irreconcilable conflict, which is inherent in the very concept of self-ownership itself, that offers the basis for true freedom, and the subject of my final post.