Home > political-economy, shorter work time > A critical examination of Kevin Carson’s Mutualism (Part Two)

A critical examination of Kevin Carson’s Mutualism (Part Two)

Our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky…

I apologize to readers for the mind-numbingly extensive quotes in the previous post, but I wanted it to be absolutely clear that the historical record demonstrates Carson is entirely on firm footing when he asserts Capital — that is, Wage Slavery — would be impossible without the State — not just presently, but in the earliest moments of its emergence as well. I now want to be equally clear that Marx himself acknowledges this to be a fact, when he writes:

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

The question why this free labourer confronts him in the market, has no interest for the owner of money, who regards the labour-market as a branch of the general market for commodities. And for the present it interests us just as little. We cling to the fact theoretically, as he does practically. One thing, however, is clear — Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.

So, too, the economic categories, already discussed by us, bear the stamp of history. Definite historical conditions are necessary that a product may become a commodity. It must not be produced as the immediate means of subsistence of the producer himself. Had we gone further, and inquired under what circumstances all, or even the majority of products take the form of commodities, we should have found that this can only happen with production of a very specific kind, capitalist production. Such an inquiry, however, would have been foreign to the analysis of commodities. Production and circulation of commodities can take place, although the great mass of the objects produced are intended for the immediate requirements of their producers, are not turned into commodities, and consequently social production is not yet by a long way dominated in its length and breadth by exchange-value. The appearance of products as commodities pre-supposes such a development of the social division of labour, that the separation of use-value from exchange-value, a separation which first begins with barter, must already have been completed. But such a degree of development is common to many forms of society, which in other respects present the most varying historical features. On the other hand, if we consider money, its existence implies a definite stage in the exchange of commodities. The particular functions of money which it performs, either as the mere equivalent of commodities, or as means of circulation, or means of payment, as hoard or as universal money, point, according to the extent and relative preponderance of the one function or the other, to very different stages in the process of social production. Yet we know by experience that a circulation of commodities relatively primitive, suffices for the production of all these forms. Otherwise with capital. The historical conditions of its existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It can spring into life, only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour-power. And this one historical condition comprises a world’s history. Capital, therefore, announces from its first appearance a new epoch in the process of social production.

From this passage we can see that Capital, that is, Wage Slavery was, in Marx’s opinion, not a result of nature, nor was it the mere product of preexisting social development. Rather, it was a rupture — a world historical occurrence — in pre-capitalist social relations. Even with the appearance of commodities, trade, money, etc. the emergence of capitalist social relations is not a necessary outcome. It occurs in history only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence enters into a specific relationship with another who has the “freedom” to sell her capacity to labor and is, moreover, compelled by circumstances, on pain of starvation, to sell this capacity. However, as was shown in the previous post, even facing starvation, it still took relentless state violence over many decades — centuries — for this mass of pitiful sub-humans to be broken to a life of wage slavery.

Wage slavery is no natural state for any human being. Despite the violence of the State and the efforts to starve them into submission, domesticating human beings to the routine of modern wage slavery was nowhere near as clean and elegant as is implied by the supply/demand curve of the simple-minded economist. It was — and remains today — an arena of constant violent aggression within society against the worker, in which every means available — political, military and economic — are brought to bear to compel her submission. The neglect of this fact is all the more to be denounced, since, in the Fascist State, the wage slave is routinely portrayed as the willing partner in an otherwise unremarkable market transaction — the Fascist State is all too ready to deny the paternity of its bastard offspring, and swear them all to be the product of Virgin Birth.

Kevin Carson may be polite, and keep this discussion on an intellectual plane, but I am not so polite; I am willing to thrust the face of the Anarcho-Capitalist in the shit that is the history of Capital. As the Anarcho-Capitalist drones on and on about the “Rights of Englishmen”, and “Taxation as a form of Involuntary Servitude”, this nonsense can be brought to a sudden halt merely by asking him to consider how long the wealth of one would be safe, if the State could not be called upon to protect his property rights from the anger of the remaining 9,999 living on the edge of existence. Nothing converts a Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist into a model Fascist Citizen so quickly as the possibility of Voluntary Association of the laborers and the eradication of Wage Slavery.

On the other hand, we have the Marxist, who, despite his self-identification, could not pick Karl Marx out of a crowd of well shaven Keynesian economists. Unlike the Anarcho-Capitalist — who, reflecting his social base, decries the imposts of the Fascist State on the meager wealth of the petty capitalists, marginalized from productive employment of their capital by the progress of Capital itself, and forced to scurry about in various speculative enterprises to protect it from inflation — the Marxist is a poseur, who advocates on behalf of the wage slave — but only so far as she remains a slave of the State. Reduction of hours of labor to end unemployment forever? The Marxist has never heard of such nonsense, despite having read Capital, where Marx explicitly referred to it as the “modest Magna Carta” of the working class. In any case, the Marxist explains, we need the Fascist State to “invest” in “infrastructure” and “green jobs”, so the active laboring population must be worked to its absolute limit and the unemployed left to starve, so that the Fascist State may have the resources it needs to accomplish this. (Taking a page from the talking points memo of Fascist economists like Paul Krugman, the Marxist has taken to referring to wasteful Fascist State expenditures as “investments”.) If, by some fantastic chance, working people should overthrow this Fascist State, the Marxist explains, even then compulsory labor cannot be done away with. The workers is not prepared intellectually to manage her own affairs without the despotism of the party-state, which alone has the foresight and vision to manage society on her behalf until such time as she is deemed capable. When might this be? The party-state will know it, when the time arrives, of course.

Carson is not only right to take both Anarcho-Capitalists and Marxists to task on this point, he has the entirety of the bloody history of Wage Slavery on his side — a history both the Anarcho-Capitalist and the Marxist wish to ignore; which they wish to prettify by blaming its results either on the State, as the Anarcho-Capitalist does, or on Capital, as the Marxist does. The true facts are these: the Wage Slave was bludgeoned by decades of State violence, even as she was starved out by the monopoly owners of Capital, in an efforts to make her submit to the very conditions of life we now take as the natural state of society. If, Kevin Carson is to be criticized for anything in this regard, it is that he did not treat these critical communist trends with the contempt they deserve — that he did not call them out on their nonsense, and expose their muddle-headed arguments as such. I think there is a reason for this; and, I believe that reason lies in the flaws of Carson’s own argument regarding both Capital and the State — a flaw he shares with both communist trends.

I will turn to this in my next post.

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