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Occupy: Associative versus collective liberation

November 20, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

So, what do Frankenstein, Karl Marx and the Occupy movement have in common?

Here is a fascinating quotation from anarcho-capitalist Ralph Raico:

It seems, therefore, that there are two theories of the state (as well as, correspondingly, two theories of exploitation) within Marxism. There is the customarily discussed and very familiar one, of the state as the instrument of the ruling class (and the concomitant theory which locates exploitation within the production process). And there is the theory of the state which pits it against “society” and “nation” (two surprising and significant terms to find in this context in writers who were supremely conscious of the class divisions within society and the nation). Moreover, it would seem suggestive that it is the second theory that predominates in those writings of Marx which, because of their nuanced and sophisticated treatment of concrete and immediate political reality, many commentators have found to be the best expositions of the Marxist historical analysis.

Raico’s argument is taken up by anarcho-capitalist Brad Warbiany: who chastises

It is thus interesting that those today who would call themselves “Marxists” support the very oppressive governments that Marx himself derided, while attacking the classical liberal underpinnings of Adam Smith and the classical liberals, who were likely very influential to Marx’s own thought.

It is so funny, when lame-assed Marxists get called out on their dumb shit by the very people who they purport to oppose, capitalists. The anarcho-capitalist has a better grasp of Marx’s writings than the Marxist who can do no more than distort and caricature Marx.

Raico and Warbiany are wrong, of course, but they are so much closer to the spirit of Marx than the cartoonish glosses of Marxists. What Raico and Warbiany call Marx’s two theories on the state is obviously one single theory of the state. The state is, on one hand, the product of the conflict within society; but, on the other hand, an independent power standing against society. The state is society’s own activity confronting it in the alien impersonal form of the state — it is society’s own idealized existence.

Its most developed form is the democratic state, where the suffrage of the individual herself constitutes the very power dominating her. The accuracy of Raico’s and Warbiany’s observations on Marx’s theory, reinforces my belief that libertarianism is a communist ideology.

I want to place their observations side by side with another set of observations on Marx’s theory, by Anitra Nelson. All three writers are examining the same period of time — the 1840s, before Marx becomes a ‘Marxist” in the modern “sense” of that term. That is to say, before the alleged dividing line between the “early Marx” and the “mature Marx.” Marx’s ideas are generally accepted as incomplete, or not fully formed in the earlier period, in contrast to his work culminating in Capital

Of course, this so called division in Marx’s writings is pure bullshit — as I will show.

In Nelson work, Marx’s Concept of Money, we see a pattern not dissimilar to the one noted by Raico and Warbiany on the state. In Marx’s theory of money, money is both the product of relations of production and exchange and an independent power ruling over them.

The analogies and metaphors involved in Marx’s analysis are as confusing as they are compelling. Man makes gods, gods do not make man: man produces his own ideas, his ideas do not produce him: man makes money, money cannot make man. So is money just an idea, a purely abstract concept, a thought-form of value, pure value-form?

The answer: money is obviously a product of man; yet, for all of that, it still assumes, and must of necessity assume, a form independent of him: gold, or some other commodity. While money, as a product of human activity, appears, ideally, to take any form we please, Marx nevertheless argues ultimately it must be a commodity.

And, as the highest form of the state is the democratic republic, the highest form of money is credit money. Both are constituted by the individual herself, so to speak: the democracy is constituted through her suffrage; while credit money is constituted in the form of her person, her credit worthiness.

…the debtor now exists as the veritable medium of money which further dehumanises, rather than rehumanises, them. The ‘spirit of money’, instead of residing in simple currency, becomes ‘my own personal existence, my flesh and blood, my social value and importance’; with credit the human stands directly for money.

Credit money, Marx argues, can only be constituted in the form of a person — which is to say this is the only means to create new money.

In this section there is an intriguing and obscure connection made between credit and ‘counterfeiting’, which is the term that Marx and Engels use for the over-issue of unsecured money or inconvertible legal tender. Marx states here that such ‘counterfeiting cannot be undertaken in any other material than in his own person’; creditworthiness itself being traded like a good, the ‘nominal’ money of credit is ‘counterfeit’ money in a fully human form.

All new money (that is not itself a commodity) can only enter exchange in the form of the credit worthiness of a person. Interestingly enough, Marx is making the argument state issued dollars are NOT money, not on any level; the state has no control over money. Money is the preserve of individuals, who create it in the form of their own persons and, moreover, it exists independent of both the state and the very individuals who create it.

These insights on both the state and money make a parallel argument: each are constituted by the individual, yet come to dominate her. And, both arguments appear in their fully developed form already well before Marx publishes Capital — in fact, prior to 1850. There is no indication that these two parallel arguments undergo fundamental revision in Marx’s later works. In both categories, Marx explicitly sets the individual in the center, as the creator who ultimately comes to be dominated by the creation.

Given his view that the individual is the creator who comes to be dominated by her creation it’s no surprise Marx loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

So, where does Capital fit into this argument?

If, as Nelson argues, Marx’s view of money undergoes no radical alteration in his later writings, and, as seems likely, neither does his view of the state, does Capital offer an alternative view of the place of the individual in his theory?

Marx begins his discussion of capital with an extensive look at the two fold character of the commodity. He extends this argument to the category of money, which emerges as the expression of the value of the commodity in exchange. At the opening of Capital, Chapter One, Section 4, Marx argues:

A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing.

But, by the end of his discussion on the commodity and money, as he turns his attention to capital itself, he shows that the individual herself, not the object she produces, is actually the commodity.

The highest form of development of money is the individual herself, and the highest form of state is constituted by her political activity. So, the highest form of the product of her labor are her own capacities, which she alienates as a commodity, labor power. In Marx’s theory, the individual is the commodity — not shoes or trident missile submarines. Marx’s focus is always on the individual. His theory is about the historical process that brings all these apparently disparate objects together in the individual and her activity.

The individual is ultimately the money, the state, and the commodity.

This is not simply a theoretical insight by Marx; I feel he is pointing the way toward an explosive source of social transformation that takes the individual as its starting point. We are used to thinking of social transformation in “collective” forms — classes, nations, religions, political parties, etc. Everyone wants to undertake the social revolution by establishing this or that political party or movement.

But, I think, the idea that “the emancipation of the working class must be accomplished by the working class itself” refers not just to the class, but also to the individuals composing this class, since it necessarily implies that each (and all together) overthrow their previous mode of activity, wage labor.

While this act has to be accomplished all at once and together, it is not a collective (political) act, but an associative one. Not only can no other social force perform on behalf of the working class what it must perform for itself, each individual must perform this act for herself. Folks engaged in the occupation across the country have to be told honestly and in no uncertain terms:

“No one is going to come and save your sorry ass. You do it yourself, or starve.”

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