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Some Random Thoughts on Anti-statism and the Fear of Democracy

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

QUESTION: What’s a “Right” libertarian (or a “Left” Libertarian for that matter)?

Right-libertarian Marc Steyn takes on Left-libertarian Ron Paul“.

What the fuck does this headline mean?

Does “Right” libertarian mean: “I want to abolish the state because I hate those damn leftists?”

Does “Left” libertarian mean: “I want to abolish the state because I hate those damn rightists?”

Do “Right” libertarians ever get confused and suddenly abolish the state for “Left” libertarian reasons.

If so, do they get to take it back?

How can I tell whether any particular abolition of the state is “Left” or “Right” — and, should I be concerned? If, for instance, an abolition of the state is “Left”, but I prefer it to be “Right”, do i have to **un-abolish** that state and start over? How do you **un-abolish** a state anyway?

I find it amazing the fascist state will even appropriate communisms like libertarianism or Marxism to totalize itself. What better way to ensure the state’s existence than to posit its own abolition as a mere passing form of politics. The very concept of the abolition of the state, to be socially valid, must assume its opposite: a political position. Just as the statement, “There is no God!” is merely a preamble to “But God!”, unfinished. That is, a merely religious confirmation.

Are anti-statists afraid of democracy?

Must anti-statism only assume a form separate from politics? For the typical Anarchist, the answer is “Yes”; not so for the typical Marxist or Libertarian. But, the Anarchist imagines the world only exists in his head. He can by force of will render society apolitical; refusing to engage politically. So, unlike the libertarian or the Marxist, there is almost no mention of a “Left” or “Right” anarchist position. Whether you are AnCap or AnComm, insofar as you are an anarchist there is little political difference.

I notice among anarchists there is a strong belief that a post-state society may very well have many different “societies” within it. Since the entire world exists only inside the anarchist’s head as discrete moral objects you can have a commune founded on communism just down the street and around the corner from one founded on wage slavery. So long as the members of each are satisfied with the terms of their relations, no problem.

But, I digress.

The anarchist position is that anti-statism cannot be a form of politics, while libertarians divide themselves into “Left” and “Right”. Marxists have a similar division between revolutionary politics and reformist politics — European social-democrats are obviously “reformists”, while Leninist off-shoots declare themselves “revolutionary”. (Anarchists predicted this split in Marxism well before it actually emerged, I am told.) I think, the split between “Left” and “Right” libertarianism, and “Reformist” and “Revolutionary” Marxism, as well as the anarchist withdrawal from politics altogether, demonstrates anti-statism has been stymied by democracy, and incapable of engaging it as a form of the state.

There is, so far as I know, no theory of democracy generally accepted among anti-statists. And, since the fascist state rests on democracy, no generally accepted theory of fascism as well. Unable to adequately comprehend the democratic state theoretically, all these forms of communism lurch from “Left” to “Right”; waver between “revolution” and “reformism”; or collapse altogether into a stubborn apolitical stance.

Can anti-statism assume a political form? And, if so, what does this form look like?

If we take the typical anarchist position, the answer to the first is clearly “No”. The problem with this answer is the rest of society: since it is composed of folks who are by all accounts statists, anti-statism results either from imposition or a sudden and general acceptance of the need to abolish the state. Since, anarchists are morally opposed to coercion, we are left with a sudden emergence of general rejection of the state.

Assuming anarchists are correct about this, we have to ask what the preconditions are for this sudden and general rejection of the state? What compels statists to reject the state? Or what causes the sudden and general collapse of the state despite society’s statist prejudices? These might appear to be two different questions, but are they really in a democracy? The democratic state differs from previous states precisely in that it presupposes general acceptance of existing political relations. A collapse of the state appears to be nothing more than a collapse of the general acceptance of existing political relations. Which is to say, the two seem to be a tautology — although this may not be necessarily true.

For instance, is it the same to say:

“The collapse of the state is the collapse of the general acceptance of existing political relations”,

and,

“The collapse of general acceptance of existing political relations is the collapse of the state”

Can one of these statements be valid and not the other?

I think this question comes down to whether or not the state is the same as the “State”. The “State” is the state proper — the state as the state — i.e., a specific body carrying out specific public functions of society. Obviously, this bureaucratic body does not necessarily rely on general acceptance of its function — they do have guns, after all. On the other hand, the general acceptance of these social functions, is only the ideal form of the actual functions performed by the “State”. We can also call this general acceptance “the state”, i.e., the ideal representation of this general acceptance.

I guess that I am trying to say we conflate the ideal, expressed in democracy, with the definite body of folks composing it in reality. This vulgar conflation is made without acknowledgement every time we refer to the state or democracy. Moreover, it is not just the distinction between the two forms of state, but also their interaction that should draw our attention. Democracy presupposes the individual, but only on average within society. While the “State as state” presupposes this abstraction takes the form of definite individuals. In either case we are not speaking of the individual, but only the average of all individuals; that is, “the general interest of society”. It is this general interest that is expressed ideally in democracy and practically as the social functions performed by a specific body of individuals.

The State and the Law of Value

I find this approach to the state promising because, I think, it may recapitulate Marx’s argument on value and money. In Marx’s argument on value, it is not individual labor times that matter, but the average of labor times producers expend on production of their commodities that counts as socially necessary labor time or value. And, this value cannot be represented directly, but only in the exchange between an ordinary commodity and the commodity serving as the money. Since in either case the abstraction from the actions or ideas of the individual is given in the definition of the category, we need not concern ourselves with how these actions and ideas come to be opposed to their creators.

These conflicts form the preconditions of capitalist society, not its specificity as an historical mode. A theory of the fascist state would not seek to explain the conflict between the individual and society, on the one hand, and the conflict between the individual and the state, on the other hand, but how these two manifest themselves in a conflict between society and the state. And why, on this basis, society will be compelled, by necessity, to throw off politics and abolish the state itself.

Recapitulating Marx’s argument on value and money in a discussion of democracy and the state, seems to make it possible to unify the two. And on a materialist basis, where value and money form the material premise of democracy and the state. Of course, this could be just a reductionist argument. I can see the danger here. For one thing, as Germer argues, capitalism does not simply coexist with money, it dominates it – it makes money its bitch. So, in capitalism, value and money are not the same as in simple commodity exchange — the category is converted by capital. A determinist or reductionist argument would naturally follow if this is not understood.

Capital, Germer argues, is not money in Marx’s theory, it is self-reproducing value which can only reproduce thru circulation of commodities. But, in circulation money is not “money as money” — it is merely a token of itself. Capital exploits this representation of money to constantly expand itself by always staying in circulation — i.e., it becomes credit money. Germer’s argument suggests if there is a relation between value and money, on the one hand, and the state and democracy, on the other, that relationship is not to be found in the superficial similarities between the two spheres, but through the mediation of capital itself.

There are two reasons this might not be apparent:

  1. If you reject value, it is not possible to see a similarity between it and the state;
  2. If, accepting value, you nevertheless miss Marx’s argument on the relation between money and capital, you will also miss this concept.

In his argument on credit money as the form of money specific to capitalism, Marx was already telegraphing much more than this. Marx was setting the stage to enunciate the Holy Grail of Marxism: a unified theory of democracy and value that was not vulgar determinism.

Individuals, Classes and Capitalist Society

For many libertarians classes don’t exist, the interest within society are the interests of various individuals expressed through their political activity. Marxism, by contrast, tend to focus on class interests; or the interest of individuals expressed in collective class groupings.
(Don’t hate on me — I know this is by no means true in every case) There is a lecture by Rothbard discussing the Austrian concept “Praxeology”, on the Mises website (PDF).

(Roman, who goes by the twittername @neverfox offers additional resources on this: “For some good resources on praxeology, see here and particularly Long’s writings. Rothbard’s not the best source.”)

The argument between Marxists and Libertarians is often reduced to these polar conceptions of social development: individual versus class. Like all such oppositions, neither expresses reality. Obviously individuals act, not groups; but do peasant subsistence farmers act like shareholders in a modern corporation? Does the simple barterer of products of labor act like the wage worker? In the case of the shareholder and the wage worker their existence as categories rests on the continuous circulation of commodities. This is not true either of the peasant farmer nor the barterer of products.

In either case we are not compelled to reject the individual basis of action, in order to grasp the role of modern classes in society. We can go further: it is only by premising all action on the individual, that classes as actors in society can be understood and grasped. Classes do not explain individual actions, individual actions explain classes. Still, though individuals actions explain classes, classes are not reducible to merely these individual actions. To argue otherwise is also a reductionist fallacy — reducing classes to nothing more than the individuals that compose them. Marx does not argue individuals act as members of classes; rather he argues the reverse: individuals act as individuals and classes arise from these individual actions. In fact, Marx argues money relations conceal actual social relations from actors.

How is this so?

In precapitalist and in capitalist economies a commodity owner exchanges her commodity for money in precisely the same way. In the capitalist exchange, however, this simple exchange of the commodity for money is consummated also as the movement of capital. For the worker, the sale of labor power remains a simple commodity exchange; while, for the capitalist, the exchange of labor power for wages constitutes the first step in self-valorization. Since the exchange acquires this new function as a moment of self-valorization of capital, we need to examine this function directly. It does not help social criticism to skip over it, or to treat things as unchanged by this new function.

First, the commodity, which is peculiar in that it consists of nothing more than the productive capacities of the worker. Folks want to treat this commodity as if its sale is the sale of labor itself, but this is obviously untrue. Labor consists of the expenditure of productive capacities and. of course, can be sold as a service, as in the case of a musician. The musician performs for so many hours, and, in return, is paid so many dollars for her performance. On both sides, a simple commodity transaction has taken place. Even if the musician owns no means and all tools are provided, the exchange remains wholly within the bounds of simple commodity circulation. The difference between the circulation of commodities and of capital does not in the least depend on the circumstances of the worker. The musician could be penniless and bereft of all means to satisfy her own needs, still she sells her labor and not her labor power.

I could be wrong about this aspect of Marx’s theory, but I really doubt it.

What the musician has sold is a definite expenditure of her productive capacities for a definite period of time — nothing more. What makes this transaction capital has nothing to do with the terms and conditions of the sale on the part of the worker. The terms and conditions of the sale of this duration of labor is already given prior to capital, and forms its precondition. What transform the exchange into the first step in the process of self-valorization of capital is the aim of the capitalist, who employs the musician to produce surplus value with her labor power, not music — a profit. The economist misses this subtle alteration in the exchange, and thus the whole point of it.

It is important for anti-statists to recognize, even in class society, all action begins with the individual. We are not trapped within and doomed only to express capitalist class structures insofar as we are willing to recognize them.

Capital Rules Money

“Left” and “Right” libertarianism is an oxymoron, since all anti-statist arguments are, by nature, antipolitical. This is also true for the divison in Marxism between “revolution” versus “reform”; and in anarchism as total withdrawal from politics. As I stated earlier each of these splits are expressions within communism of an inability to engage democracy as a form of state. None of these communisms have a consistent theory of democracy, and thus, no theory of the fascist state.

However, Marx’s theory of value appears to me to offer also a similar theory of the state that is not a vulgar determinism a la Marxism. Of course, these are only similarities, and cannot, of themselves, be causal relations. The failure of Marxism is it wants to make this causal connection, so that economic interests translate directly into political interests. This produces the vulgar determinism for which Marxism is rightly reproached. It cannot explain for instance, why workers would support an imperialist war, or support lower taxes on capital, and it cannot explain Reagan Democrats. This has led to a reaction in some sections of Marxism to the idea of any link between the law of value and politics at all. Some argue you can explain politics through a Marxist theory or economics through a Marxist theory, but you cannot explain both simultaneously with the same theory

It has been clear to me for some time the state doesn’t represent the interests of workers or capitalists per se, but the interest of the relation between the two classes, capital. But, I could only say this, and I could point to evidence in Marx and Engels where this concept is expressed, I could not show it directly. So, I have spent that last period studying money in hopes something approaching a proof would emerge — Nelson, FOFOA, etc.

If, in Marx’s theory, Capital (not “the capitalist” but the relationship composed of both classes) rules the state, as it rules money according to Germer, a unified theory is both possible and existing in its entirety already within Marx’s theory, and need only be made explicit. I think folks really need to read Claus Germer’s “HOW CAPITAL RULES MONEY – MARX’S THEORY OF MONEY IN CAPITALISM”. It is available on the internet as an .rtf document, and it makes a very good argument that, I think, is overlooked by most anti-statists.

Germer argues, Capital, in Marx’s theory, takes the preexisting object money and adapts it to new functions bound up with the social relation. Engels made a similar argument about the state that is ignored by Marxists, who continue to caricature the capitalist state merely as “an instrument of class rule”. Engels’ argument is so explicit, it is hard to understand why Marxists continue to ignore it or employ it in their analysis.

Germer shows how powerful Engel’s argument is, by extending this same argument to money, to reveal important implications. Restated briefly, Germer argues money preexists capital and has specific functions arising from the circulation of commodities. These functions have nothing to do with capitalism, but are presented as the preconditions for the latter in Marx’s theory. Money begins as just another commodity among many, but becomes money gradually as its acquires the functions of money. In Marx’s theory, money is always a commodity, and must be a commodity; its functions are medium of circulation and measure of value. Money does not become money as such until a single commodity acquires these functions — thus, gold is money.

Marx, Germer argues, emphasizes that capital is not money, but is mistaken for money among economists, because it is based in money. Money continues to express the buyer/seller relation in capitalism, but capital represent a new relation: buyers and sellers of labor power. This new capitalist relation exists alongside the older money relation; as such capital absorbs the money relation in itself. The worker sells labor power to the capitalist and buys goods from the capitalist (a purely money transaction); while the capitalist buys labor power from the worker and sells goods to the worker (a purely capitalist relation).

Germer argues this is the decisive distinction between money and capital in Marx’s theory. Money (as money) is value crystallized and congealed into a hoard; but, in circulation it is makes only a ephemeral appearance as a token of itself. And, the value of the simple commodity is consumed along with its useful material. By contrast, capital preserves and expands itself as value so long as it remains in circulation. Money in the full sense of that term is a dead hoard of lifeless gold; on the other hand, capital is self-expanding value and must constantly circulate. With money, value is converted into the commodity and consumed; with capital, value is converted into the commodity to preserve and expand itself. With money, the contradiction within the individual commodity between value and usefulness becomes externalized in the exchange of the commodity for money. Capital combines this contradiction between use value and value into a dynamic process of conversion between labor power and money-capital.

Germer’s states:

“in capitalism money keeps its original character and properties but loses one part of its functions, which are performed by elements derived from capital”

As I understand Germer, capital is the combination of the contradictory qualities of the commodity between use value and value. This antagonism within the commodity is made explicit in the relation between the commodity and the money commodity. And this explicit antagonism is again combined into capital itself through its successive conversion from money to labor power to money ad infinitum.

Since capital is value in motion, i.e., value constantly converting from its money form to its general use value form obviously it cannot function as the measure of its own magnitude — the function of a commodity money is still essential to this. No commodity can express its own value; logically, capital, which suffers a defect similar to the commodity, cannot express its own value. I am not sure i would put it the way Germer does, when he states, that this function is “performed by elements derived from capital”. It seems to me, the function of measure of value remains with money as money — that is with the commodity serving as the money and not with capital.

The function of measure of value remains external to the capital as it does in the case of the individual commodity. But, the circumstances are completely changed: the social character of the commodity — its value — is determined by exchange; capital, however, does not need exchange or money to validate its social character — it is directly social from its inception. I think if Germer had pursued this line of argument, he would be more clear on the implication of capital for commodity money — money is not simply dominated by capital, but also gradually rendered superfluous to society.

Ultimately, capital does not simply push commodity money into the background, it prepares society for its abolition.

Capital Rules the State Just As It Rules Money

If Marx’s argument, as explained by Germer, also applies to the state, the implications are, I think, profound. And, I think, the evidence suggests just this sort of application. To see why, compare the argument by Althusser on the Marxist conception of the state to Engels’ own argument on the subject. According to Althusser, this is the Marxist view of the state:

“(1) the state is the repressive state apparatus, (2) state power and state apparatus must be distinguished, (3) the objective of the class struggle concerns state power and in consequence the use of the state apparatus by the classes (or alliance of classes or of fractions of classes) holding state power as a function of their class objectives, and (4) the proletariat must seize state power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois state apparatus and, in a first phase, replace it with a quite different, proletarian, state apparatus then in later phases set in motion a radical process, that of the destruction of the state…”

Basically, Althusser argues anti-statist have to seize state power, destroy the old state, create a new one, and see to the abolition of that one as well.

As I have stated several times, this is NOT Marx’s theory, but a silly abortion concocted by Marxists in various guises. It is a variant of the anarchist argument on the state — an inferior one to anarchism at that, in that it proposes to replace one state with another. Anarchists, at least, propose destroying the state once, while Marxists propose doing it twice. Which proves Marxists are twice as dumb as anarchists.

So, what is Marx’s actual theory of the state?

In Marx’s theory, the state is the ideal expression of real flesh and blood relation between members of the community. It is distinct from those real relations in the very same way the value of the commodity’s is distinct from its use value. The relations themselves are real, but so is the expression of these relations in the laws, etc. of the community. Saying the ideal expression of the relations are an abstraction from the real relations does not imply they are not real or material forces — racism and patriarchy are very real, not imaginary.

On the other hand, these ideal expressions of real relations within the community are given material form in an actual body of persons who perform the public function associated with the real relations of society — for instance, enforcing contracts established by members of society; coining money, etc. In the same way the value of commodities can only be expressed in money, the ideal relations expressed in society can only be expressed in the form of some definite body of individuals who carry out those public functions. Thus the ideal expression of the community and the state itself already precede capitalism and are given as its precondition.

Looking back at this history, Marx declared all previous forms of states essentially were the rule of the exploiters over the exploited. The laws, consciousness and morality of those periods expressed the actual exploitative relations within society. And, the state proper was nothing more than a dictatorship of exploiter over exploited. This idea is essentially expressed in Althusser’s argument only in a very vulgar and deformed fashion — it is actually unrecognizable in Althusser’s so-called Marxist statement.

But, the most important thing about Marx’s theory of the state as I outlined it here is that it is generic and applies to all epochs. From ancient slave societies to medieval feudal estates to capitalism, the state remains this generic object having no distinguishing features. In all epochs its remains an instrument for the dictatorship of the exploiter over the exploited. Marx doesn’t try to correct for this in his theory; because he doesn’t really need to correct for it — he already includes what makes each particular state unique to is own mode of production: what distinguishes each of the states from the others is not to be found in the state itself, but in the real flesh and blood relations within each of the societies concerned.

What determines the capitalist state from feudal estates, is not the state itself per se, but the relations of production bound up with capital — just as what determines how the law of value functions under capitalism as opposed to precapitalist epochs has nothing to do with gold, but with capitalist relations of production.

As Germer explains, the functions of money are not altered by capital; similarly, the state itself as an instrument of dictaroship of one class over another is not altered by capital as well. Instead, as with money, capital subordinates certain state functions to itself — laws on contract, etc., currency — in a vain attempt to overcome the obstacles created by law of value and by exchange.

As Brad Warbiany observed, as early as 1848 Marx was already describing how new relations in the division of labor were engendering complementary state functions. Kevin Carson detailed the arguments of both pseudo-Marxists like Sweezy and Libertarians along the same lines. In cases cited by Carson, the state was acquiring new functions under the pressure of evolving capitalist relations in society. Carson makes the convincing argument monopoly capitalism would not have been possible without the coercive powers of the state.

But, it is under Engels’ pen that the logical implications of Marx’s theory were most explicitly drawn out: The state was evolving under the pressure of capitalist relations to become the social capitalist. According to Engels, eventually the state would displace the capitalists as a class and render them a superfluous mass of idle coupon clippers and speculators. It would be forced to assume the role of a national capitalist and manage production — not to end capitalist exploitation but to continue it. It would become the direct exploiter of the proletariat and cast out the capitalist.

Engels made this prediction, not in some obscure work, where is might miss the notice of Marxists, but  in “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” — an essential reading for anyone who calls herself a Marxist.

The blatant stupidity of Marxists, their utter hypocrisy and opportunism, is obvious with only the quickest glance at this Engels’ work. The state isn’t a sideshow in the ongoing war between capital and wage labor — it is the fucking capital! The essence of the fascist state is not its repressive functions, NDAA and wars, it is its economic functions — the very economic function Marxists, borrowing heavily from fascist theory, praise to the skies: minimum wage, social security, civil rights and endless public debt.

It is enough to make you sick to your stomach.

Conclusion

Assuming I have Marx’s theory of the state correct, several things become apparent:

1. engaging democracy likely means engaging the ideal form of the social capitalist. While individuals politically represent only their own interests, a democracy as a whole represent the average of these individual interests. Our appeal must not be to this ideal (average or general) interest, but to the flesh and blood interest of each individual. Statements like “the interest of the working class” or “the national interest” are precisely the sort of stuff to be avoided. The so-called “interest of the working class” is already represented by the state, insofar as it functions as the national capitalist. It is the interest of slaves who require some minimal subsistence in order to appear continuously in their role as slaves and reproduce. Anti-statists should appeal to the interest of the individual outside this wage labor relationship and as social individuals.

2. The fact that the state accommodates pseudo-communisms like GOPoseur libertarianism in its attempt to totalize itself, and turn its own abolition into a moment of mere politics, is nevertheless an admission of the possibility of its abolition. The fascist state cannot totalize itself, without totalizing its own abolition as a possible outcome of politics. On the other hand, its abolition is already given in the premise of its existence: that it’s just a capitalist, subject to the law of value. We should not fear to engage democracy directly and demand its replacement by association, since this is only an explicit argument for the process already in motion in the material processes of society.

3. There are a number of objections to this view, all of which are disproved before they can be enunciated:

First, that it is reformist: that is necessarily leads to minimal reforms at the margins of power. I think this objection can be countered with the observation political action is not conceived as the means of abolishing the state – abolition is already the premise of the state. Political action only gives this material process a political expression within democracy.

Second that it is a “right-wing” agenda: proposing to dismantle the state leaves working people vulnerable to predatory interests in society. This silliness of the argument is exposed once it is understood that the interests of property and the interest of the state are identical. The state IS the capitalist and the direct material representative of property interest in society — it is the direct exploiter of wage labor. The state doesn’t merely protect the interests of property, the state is a self-owned property, i.e., it is the interest against labor it defends.

Third, the anti-statist political program is an oxymoron. It is a contradiction in terms to pursue a political program to win the very levers of power that are being declaimed in our anti-statist program. I can only say that on the basis of this objection union organizing by ant-statists has to be questioned, since the object is to negotiate with our exploiters over conditions of our own exploitation. By organizing the working class in unions Marxists and anarchists are spreading the same confusion regarding our aim in abolishing capital. If we can creatively balance the apparent contradiction inherent in union organizing, we can do the same thing with politics. Abstention from politics is just a symptom of theoretical immaturity, where the state is some mysterious other we cannot comprehend.

Anti-statists need to produce an explicitly anti-political political mass movement where the avowed aim is replacement of the state by an association among members of society. We should learn from efforts like the Occupy movement, the Tea party and the Egyptian revolution – it should be open and avoid sectarianism. It should avoid any hint of Leninist vanguardism, GOPoseur libertarianism and anarchist childishness. Such a political movement must not confine itself to elections but must engage the democratic state both within and without elections.

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