Home > political-economy > On the stupid slogan: “Socialism or Barbarism”

On the stupid slogan: “Socialism or Barbarism”

Postone ends his critique of Michael Hardt with these words, the last sentence of which I find to be as theoretically repugnant as his critique of Hardt was sublime:

These brief considerations suggest that a future beyond capitalism would require a fundamental transformation of the division of labor and that, without movement in that direction, increasing numbers of people will be rendered superfluous, susceptible to hunger, disease, and violence. They will increasingly become the objects of militarized control. On this level, the current crisis can also be understood as a crisis of labor interwoven in complex ways with a crisis of the natural environment. Against this historical background, the old slogan of “socialism or barbarism” acquires new urgency, even if our understanding of both terms has been fundamentally transformed.’

I have a complete distaste for the slogan “socialism or barbarism”, because people who raise it most vociferously, apparently hold to the idea barbarism is somehow a future prospective alternative to communism. Those who raise that slogan are only saying shit hasn’t gotten deep enough to make them close their mouths yet.

I just have one response: “For Christ’s sake don’t swallow, idiot!”

I find it absolutely amazing as well that Marxists question my use to the phrase “fascist state”, when we have just witnessed 10 years of bloody war crimes. What the fuck do Marxists call fascism, if it is not the wholesale slaughter of innocents while the world stands by speechless and impotent. What do you call fascism if not when the US can dictate to the entire planet who can and cannot access the global banking system — even to the point of excluding entire nations from intercourse within the world market? What do you call fascism when every single word you broadcast on your computer is being sniffed in real time? What do you call fascism if not the ability of the US to manage the entire world economy from the basement of the federal fucking reserve?

Over the past thirty years or so, the working class in the United States just watched Washington pick up almost the entire non-critical industrial infrastructure of the United States and move it to China, Mexico, etc. Is this barbarism? Is this fascism? If this is not fascism can some Marxist please give me a fucking definition of fascism? If that is not barbarism — what the fuck is it?

Every time I hear a fucking Marxist utter the words “Socialism or Barbarism” as if we have a fucking choice, I can only shake my head in disbelief. You Marxists are fucking clowns.

The choice between socialism or barbarism was made in the 1930s, and society chose barbarism — we have been living with the consequences of that choice ever since.

The very idea there is a choice between socialism and barbarism presupposes we now exist in some limbo between the two. Nobody calls out the folks who “offer” this choice to demand they explain how what we are experiencing now is NOT barbarism. This slogan, however, has a history. One Marxist website says:

Marxists have used the word “barbarism” in various ways, but most often to describe actions or social conditions that are grossly inhumane, brutal, and violent. It is not a word we use lightly, because it  implies not just bad behaviour but violations of the most important norms of human solidarity and civilized life.

This statement is incomprehensibly insane and gets us no closer to understanding what barbarism, or fascism, means in terms of social development. In this form barbarism is just a bogey-man employed by Marxists to scare the working class into accepting their “necessary” leadership.

According to the simpletons at Monthly Review, for instance, Marx employed the term barbarism to refer to a stage of ancient society, to refer to the torturous methods employed to increase the productivity of labor, and the periodic breakdown of capitalism during crises. Marx also employed the term to refer to the outcome produced when the capitalist can shape the world according to his own image.

…in his critique of colonialism Marx was soon to invert his treatment of barbarism, which came to stand for what the modern bourgeois of the capitalist West “makes of himself…when he can model the world according to his own image without any interference.” “The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization,” Marx wrote in 1853 in “The Future Results of the British Rule in India,” “lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.” In his later writings, Marx became ever more critical of British imperialism in India as he became aware of what Mike Davis has recently labeled “Victorian holocausts”: the coincidence of the imperialistic expropriation of the surplus of Indian society with vast famines and the imposition of starvation wages on Indian workers. (The Temple wage that the British provided for workers engaged in hard labor in Madras in India in 1877 had a caloric value that was less than what the Nazis were later to provide to workers forced to do hard labor in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944.) Marx noted that British expansion was devastating India’s industry, spreading misery and degradation, while turning the country into simply a producer of agricultural raw materials for Britain. In fact, British imperialism served as a force of destruction, demolishing India’s productive forces and causing underdevelopment even as it introduced the forces of modern industry into Indian society. In his treatment of “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist” in Capital, volume 1, Marx quoted approvingly from Colonisation and Christianity by William Howitt who had written: “The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame, in any age of the earth.”

Marxists generally use the term barbarism in this last sense of the term: the untrammeled, unhampered, rule of the capitalist. In Marx’s day this was most clearly expressed in England’s colonial policy, where the rule of capital was unmediated by a class able to resist the predatory nature of the capitalist. The implication of this in the current employment by Marxists of the slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” is that this unhampered rule moves from the “colonies”, from the periphery of the world market to the metropolitan heartland. In the racist argument employed by Marxists, when a million Iraqis are murdered by US fascist state sanctions, this is not yet “barbarism”. It is barbaric, of course, but this barbarism has not yet become a global or universal feature of capital. It only becomes a universal feature of capitalist relations when it actually penetrates into the heartland of capitalism.

The simpletons at the Monthly Review, therefore, only recognize this barbarism when it assumes the form of neoliberalist fascist state policy:

Today the world is facing … a barbarism emanating from a single powerful country, the United States, which has adopted a doctrine of preemptive (or preventative) war and is threatening to destabilize the entire globe.

In this argument, it is not the 100 million who died in two world wars, and the countless millions slaughtered in wars of aggression since then that demonstrates the barbarism of the present period already realized, but the future prospects of Bush administration policies that created the threat.

You see, barbarism has to always be kept on the near horizon of present events, as a standing threat to mankind, because, frankly, Marxists have no idea how the working class would fight a real and existing barbarism. They present the choices as “barbarism or socialism” because they invest barbarism with assumptions that make socialism impossible.

In the Marxist argument all resistance to capital is a class or political resistance, and barbarism implies such political resistance is insufficient or altogether ineffective. The realization of capitalist barbarism implies the working class never achieved the level of class consciousness and organization necessary to offer resistance to predatory capitalist class activities prior to the emergence of barbarism — and this fact alone throws light on the theoretical vulgarism of Marx’s theory that is the essential core of Marxism.

Since, for dumb Marxists, this argument is completely incompatible with their conception of a transition to a post-capitalist society, barbarism can threaten to engulf humanity, but it can never actually engulf humanity. If it ever actually engulfed humanity, the only opening for socialism is finally and completely lost. Thus we are told by the simpletons at Monthly Review,

Capitalism [does] not necessarily lead to socialism or socialism necessarily to  communism. Rather both capitalism and socialism could degenerate into barbarism, which presented a brutal alternative to communism.

Capitalists, like cockroaches, can survive indefinitely, even as civilization decays into some dystopian nightmare. This is the same nightmare scenario offered by Kautsky, et al. to explain why capitalism would never suffer a breakdown as occurred in 1929. Since there could be no breakdown of capitalism independent of working class political action, capitalist breakdown was ruled impossible. Thus the Great Depression and the rise of the fascist state is defined not as the working out of the law of value, but, as Walter Benjamin wrote, require some extrinsic political explanation:

…every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.

The rise of the fascist state, therefore, can only be explained by reference to historical circumstances not given in the mode of production. These causes are political causes, since they presuppose a level of political consciousness among workers insufficient to realize the overthrow of capitalist relations of production.

The underlying assumption in this argument is that the working class can develop a political consciousness that is the exact polar opposite of its economic position in society — that while selling itself into slavery, it can act as a class of non-slaves politically. This is the sort of simple-minded thinking of the Marxist, whose irrational argument is never challenged in the academy. We are supposed to believe that the political activity of the working class can assume a form that is never assumed in its economic life. The worker can offer herself on the most degrading basis as a passive object to be employed by capital, but “wear boots” in the voting booth.

(Please, if you are sitting next to a Marxist right now, just reach over and bitch slap that idiot.)

The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” requires us to explain what doesn’t require an explanation: why society degenerates into barbarism. From its first instant of existence, capital was already an intrinsically barbaric relation; the utter degradation of labor and the laborer. This is a universal feature of the capitalist relation, already given not just in the activity of the capitalist,  but more importantly in the activity and daily existence of the worker.

You cannot even get to the capitalist relationship itself without already presupposing the worker treats her own body as a passive object to be employed by its buyer. This essential apathy toward her own physical person, constitutes the mode of the worker’s existence. If you cannot on the basis of this very passivity — this apathy — of the worker toward her own body and her own productive capacities as a human being, explain how communism is the necessary  result, you are not an historical materialist — you are a fucking charlatan engaged in spreading pseudoscience among the working class. The material reality of the worker’s own daily life presupposes there cannot be a political revolution by this broken mass of humanity.

It is not at all the case that barbarism begins on the periphery of the world market and invades the center — the case is the opposite: The intrinsic barbarism of the capitalist relations of production are exported from the center to the periphery and remakes the whole of society in its own image.

Categories: political-economy
  1. May 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Adorno and Horkheimer asked in 1944 why “humanity founders in a new form of barbarism instead of entering a truly human condition.” Seems about right, though even there I always found the phrase “socialism or barbarism” a bit un-dialectical. Hasn’t the problem of finally leaving human pre-history behind and entering human history (to paraphrase Marx) always been one of leaving a barbarism that capital has striven to perfect and lend a technological scope and ferocity Caligula could never have imagined in his wildest fever dream?

    RE: The Fascist State (see what I did there?), differentiating between “the state” and “the fascist state” is either a meaningful conceptual distinction or it is just moralizing.

    “I find it absolutely amazing as well that Marxists question my use to the phrase “fascist state”, when we have just witnessed 10 years of bloody war crimes. What the fuck do Marxists call fascism, if it is not the wholesale slaughter of innocents while the world stands by speechless and impotent. What do you call fascism if not when the US can dictate to the entire planet who can and cannot access the global banking system — even to the point of excluding entire nations from intercourse within the world market? What do you call fascism when every single word you broadcast on your computer is being sniffed in real time? What do you call fascism if not the ability of the US to manage the entire world economy from the basement of the federal fucking reserve?”

    That really is moralistic, and precisely in the sense that it uses moral outrage to sh(o)ut down thought. Capitalism was as cruel and horrific in 1800 as in 1900 as in 2000. You want death tolls? British colonialism introduced the first mass famines in India’s history, causing millions upon millions to starve in a couple of years. Long before what you consider “the Fascist State”, capital was murdering people by the millions, through slavery, colonialism, brutal working conditions that rival anything Foxcon can do in China.

    Your piece where you argue that “Fascism is, first and foremost, the recognition by society that the capitalist mode of production has outgrown its historical usefulness…” is more precise, but the problem presents itself here in a subtle way. To me, this reads as “Capitalism was once progressive (useful), but now it is Fascist” or to put it another way, capitalism furthered the conditions for communism at one point, but now it is wholly and completely regressive.

    • May 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      Excluding entire nations from international commerce is moralistic? It seems you locked in on the first example and missed the rest. Actually, the point of the piece is not US brutality but the inability of Marxists to offer a rational argument why the worker, who has been completely subordinated to capital economically, is supposed to offer political resistance to this same capital. 🙂

      Don’t change the subject. Ha!

  2. May 31, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I did not change the subject.

    Quite the contrary, it seems to me that you make an argument that capitalism can be parceled up into a progressive and a regressive period, or pre-Fascist State and Fascist State. My point is that capital’s essential relations are no different now than in 1867, though their mode of existence changes. You, however, reply with “excluding nations from international commerce is moralistic?”, presumably because it is Fascist (and therefore a new and distinctive feature). Except that it is not new. Capital in its very extension into other regions vis-a-vis colonialism simultaneously excluded those nations from international commerce.

    What I am getting at is that you, like every other Marxist with a theory of decadence, cut capital into an ascendant and decadent period, associated with a theory of breakdown. So now, after the breakdown, what was true of capital as a form of social relation in 1848 or 1871 or 1910 or 1925 is no longer true in 1945, 1968 or 2012. Like most Marxism, this hacks apart Marx’s core analysis of social form and the universality of capital in time and space.

    Since you are fond of pointing to Marx, you will have to show where he holds 1) to a breakdown thesis, and 2) where he holds to a decadence theory.

    • May 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      “Quite the contrary, it seems to me that you make an argument that capitalism can be parceled up into a progressive and a regressive period, or pre-Fascist State and Fascist State. My point is that capital’s essential relations are no different now than in 1867, though their mode of existence changes. You, however, reply with “excluding nations from international commerce is moralistic?”, presumably because it is Fascist (and therefore a new and distinctive feature). Except that it is not new. Capital in its very extension into other regions vis-a-vis colonialism simultaneously excluded those nations from international commerce.”

      When did I state this? Capital is a revolutionary form; it has no progressive and regressive periods. You accused me of being moralistic, and my response was that I said nothing that was moralistic, but described actually existing relations between national capitals. Come on now, you must keep up with this discussion. Go back and read your response to my answer, and then re-read my response to you.

      “What I am getting at is that you, like every other Marxist with a theory of decadence, cut capital into an ascendant and decadent period, associated with a theory of breakdown. So now, after the breakdown, what was true of capital as a form of social relation in 1848 or 1871 or 1910 or 1925 is no longer true in 1945, 1968 or 2012. Like most Marxism, this hacks apart Marx’s core analysis of social form and the universality of capital in time and space.”

      I do not cut capitalism into an ascendant and a decadent period. If you somehow believed you read that in my argument, you are misreading my argument. Again, in my actual argument — the one down on my blog — where do yo find this argument?

      “Since you are fond of pointing to Marx, you will have to show where he holds 1) to a breakdown thesis, and 2) where he holds to a decadence theory.”

      I never said Marx held to a decadence theory — why do you insist on putting words in my mouth? Aren’t my own words enough for you? Also, there is no breakdown theory in Marx as such, however, the theory still predicts the state would be compelled to assume control of the total social capital — an event which is often referred to as capitalist breakdown. This, in Engels words, and Marx never contradicts him on this point, represented an advance in the mode of production. However, this advance is not a passage from some ascendant to some descendant phase of development.

      Really, we cannot hold this discussion if you keep putting your own spin on my argument in your paraphrasing of it.

  3. May 31, 2012 at 9:52 am

    RE: the money-commodity theory, Michael Heinrich provides a succinct reason for why a money-commodity is not necessary within the confines of Marx’s own argument, though i would argue that Heinrich’s twisting about around Marx’s “mistakes” indicates the limits of his comprehension of Marx’s own method of argument and development of the categories, but that is another discussion.

    “II. The Problem of the Money commodity
    In his analysis of value form, Marx presupposed the necessity of a money commodity. In real exchange relations the money commodity must not be present, it can be substituted, as Marx already analyses in Chapter 3 of “Capital”. But the circulating signs, according to Marx, are substitutes of this special commodity, the money commodity. So the money commodity should be something like an anchor of the whole monetary system. Speaking on a theoretical level, Marx conceptualised his theory of money as if the existence of a money commodity (on the level of categories) would be absolutely necessary.
    If this conceptualisation would be correct, we couldn’t understand the contemporary monetary system with Marxian categories, because this system doesn’t depend on a money commodity, neither legally (since the end of the Bretton Woods system), nor really (there is no special money commodity: that central banks possess gold is a historic relic and since years they try to get rid of it by selling small portions, which will not lead to a crash of the gold price).
    Fortunately Marx’s conceptualisation is not correct. Not only in practice, also at the level of categories we don’t need to rely on a money-commodity. What Marx has demonstrated in value form analysis was the necessity of the money form (strictly speaking: the necessity of the general equivalent form). But he didn’t demonstrate, that the bearer of this form must be itself a commodity. He just presupposed, that this bearer is a commodity.
    In the first chapter of the first edition of “Capital” we can find an important hint, why it is not necessary, that the bearer of the money-form must be a commodity. Chris Arthur already accentuated the relation of money and commodity as the relation of the universal to the particular. But Marx showed more: In the first edition, Marx made clear, that money is a very special universal: Money is an universal, which exists as an individual at the same level as the particular. He used an impressive picture for this: it is as if besides the concrete lions, tigers, birds and so on, also “the animal” is existing and walking around (MEGA II.5, p. 37).
    Continuing this (what Marx didn’t do), we can conclude, that “the animal” cannot really exist as an individual besides the concrete lions, tigers etc. There must be “something”, which is accepted as “the animal”, which is a representation of “the animal”. “The animal” cannot exist as an individual, it can only be represented. It can be represented by a certain animal, the lion for example. Then the lion counts not only as lion but also as “the animal”. Or it can be represented by a plate with a big letter “A”.
    In short: At the level of value-form analysis it is not possible to determine the character of the concrete something, which is representing the universal as an individual. This something can be a commodity or a pure sign. So, a money commodity can exist, but its existence is not “necessary”.
    At the level of credit theory, which Marx started to develop in volume 3 of “Capital” it is possible to demonstrate, that a monetary system based on a money commodity can only exist for a limited period of historical transition. Although Marx himself didn’t draw this conclusion, his approach to the credit system gives all the elements for this demonstration.
    In the preface of the first edition of “Capital”, Marx made clear, that he didn’t want to analyse a special period of capitalist development, but capitalism itself. And at the end of volume 3 he formulated, that his aim is to present the “ideal average” of the “inner organization of the capitalist mode of production”. The money commodity however doesn’t belong to this “ideal average”. In this case Marx confounded a transitional attribute of the capitalist money system with its “ideal average”.”

    • June 1, 2012 at 7:17 am

      Thanks for the comment. I find Marx’s theory of money to be a fascinating topic. Let me give you my take on this:

      In this passage, Michael Heinrich makes the classic freshman economist mistake — one that is telegraphed in his opening sentence: “In his analysis of value form, Marx presupposed the necessity of a money commodity.” This is wrong. Probably the most important criticism of political-economy on the question of money raised by Marx is that the school treats money only within the context of means of exchange, and, therefore, takes money as a given, never investigating it as a category. Why is this important?

      The importance of this criticism by Marx of political-economy is addressed in his opening sentence of Capital: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity.” In this passage Marx explains that what is typical of Capital is that, unlike previous epochs, wealth exists for it as an immense accumulation of commodities, not as an immense accumulation of money. Money, therefore, is not wealth in the capitalist mode of production, commodities are. But these commodities are only wealth insofar as they circulate as commodities. At rest, commodities are not wealth, money is. In Marx’s argument on money, outside capitalist circulation, the money commodity differs from all other commodities in that it expresses its character as wealth when simply frozen in a hoard. Money, in the complete sense of that term, is the circulation of the commodity frozen midway through the process of conversion: C ==> M.

      So, in Marx’s argument on money, money only exists in the full sense of the term money, not when the money commodity is in circulation, but when it is at rest; while capitalist wealth only exists in the form of the commodity when it is in circulation. Capital is not simply a development of the existing money form, it is an inversion of this money form. Capital itself, when it is acting as capital, only acts as capital when it is in circulation; it, therefore, seeks always to remain in circulation. When it is forced by crises to assume the form of money, its character as capital vanishes. In this sense, we can state capital hates the money-form and constantly seeks to abolish the money-form, i.e., it seeks to remain in circulation and in the process of self-valorization. But capital is incapable of achieving the abolition of money, however much it seeks to realize this.

      This, I think, allows us to explain both why money is increasingly reduced to a fiction of itself over the course of capitalist development and why, no matter how fictitious this money becomes, it nevertheless is retained in circulation as the medium for the circulation of commodities. It also explains why the money commodity retains its character as the universal commodity form, whether or not this character is given legal recognition in state law. State law can only define what is to serve as money within capitalist circulation, but such laws have no impact on what serves as money when there is an interruption of exchange due to crisis. Despite these laws, during a crisis, when the circulation of commodities halts for a longer or shorter period of time, capital must become money in the full sense of that term, i.e., a commodity money.

      Whether commodity money is recognized a legal tender with a nation or not is completely beside the point. In any case, the amount of value represented by state issued tokens can never exceed the amount of commodity money (e.g., gold) that would replace it in circulation. This has profound significance for analysis based on Marx’s theory that well exceeds the space for this comment.

  4. May 31, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I would argue that capital can only realise its own essence – as value which valorises itself – by developing and revolutionising the productive forces. This has the consequence of reducing the socially necessary labour time for the production of all commodities or, to put it another way, this produces a general devalorisation of all products, of labour power and of all productive capital. That is to say that both the starting point and the goal of production – the self-valorisation of capital – entters into an insurmountable contradiction with the very means which it has put into action: revolutionising productive forces = devalorisation. This appears in every crisis with the massive destruction of productive forces which makes the invariably reactionary character of the capitalist relations of production evident and causes the contradiction with the productive forces to explode – contradiction that only the revolutionary proletariat can push to its ultimate consequences. Capital is just as incapable of abolishing economic anarchy (its own law!) as it is of abolishing the proletariat (bearer of communism!), the sole producer of value, value without which capital cannot exist. Capital tries to increase the valorisation of particular capitals but only realises itself by slowing down the rhythm of valorisation in general, which translates into increasingly powerful phases of expansion, inescapably concluded by crises, each one deeper and more brutal than the last, challenging the very existence of the whole capitalist social system economically, socially, ideologically and politically. Capital’s own development is always its greatest reform, its constant transformations and its necessary quantitative as well as qualitative changes (value must permanently valorise itself) are marked, not by two antinomic phases (ascendance/decadence) but by a succession of levels (the only basis for a periodisation of capitalism) in which all contradictions (the most basic of which is valorisation/devalorisation) appear in an increasingly exacerbated form each time.

    When you say that capitalism suffered a “breakdown” in the 1920’s and 30’s, it seems to me unclear. Capitalism did not lose the capacity to come out of the crisis. In fact, if “The Breakdown” becomes “a breakdown” because capital was able to smash working class resistance (1933-39 was the end of a counter-revolution that began in 1919-23), destroy massive quantities of capital on a near-global scale while giving opportunities for the expansion of capital in other places (some countries in Latin America, Argentina and Brazil, for example, enjoyed extensive development from 1939-45 because Europe and the U.S. and Japan were largely absent from the world market), and introduce new labor processes and technology which made it possible to achieve new drops in cost of production alongside the massive expansion of the consumption possibilities of labor in the wealthiest countries that raised the cost of labor, but not as quickly as the increases in productivity, then “The Breakdown” really merely is “a breakdown”, that is, a crisis that is not a “final collapse”

    Profits only increase with longer work hours as absolute surplus value, and this is very limited. One of the signs of developed capitalism is the increasing of relative surplus value. This does not mean that in some cases absolute surplus value is not important. For example, today in China, as previously in Russia in the early 20th century, labor is so much cheaper that in some cases it is more profitable to have workers manually carry bar steel across the plant than to employ the extremely expensive machinery that would be used in the U.S., Germany, Japan, or even Brazil or South Korea. However, capital can also drive down cost in some industries and this has an expansionary effect on relative surplus value production. Energy production is especially critical for this, but so is agricultural production.

    Capitalists prefer keeping work hours longer because they do not have to pay additional costs for benefits. There is also the benefit that higher unemployment puts downward pressure on wages, benefits, and worker resistance in general.

    The discussion of Keynes’ monetary and fiscal policy strikes me as not quite right. That is, I am not arguing that fiscal and monetary policy is not designed to let inflation depreciate wages, it certainly is, but the rate of inflation was over 3% in only 6 years from 1944-67, and half of that was 1946-8 during the post-War reconversion, the first years of the Marshall Plan, and big payouts on the G.I. Bill. In this period wage growth regularly exceeded inflation, but it did not exceed gains in productivity.

    You seem to link absolute surplus value production with mass, but that is not correct. You can increase relative surplus value production and increase the mass of surplus value, especially if productivity exceeds wage growth.

    This sentence makes it clear: “What we have been witnessing these past eighty years is not “economic growth” (whatever that nonsense phrase even means) but the continuous forcible devaluation of wages to prop up the extraction of surplus value.”

    “The Breakdown” would entail an end to accumulation of capital. However, your argument is that the accumulation of capital has continued unabated solely due to the devaluation of wages by state policies, which means that whether I agree with it or not, there is no way to talk about “The Breakdown” as in “The Breakdown of Capitalism”, there was only a crisis, which capital managed to get out of through the devaluation of wages.

    Of course, then I might ask, if it was merely the devaluation of wages, then why did the material wealth and possibility for consumption of age-labor broadly increase in the same period? Why was unemployment at often record lows? And why was inflation so low compared to growth in wages, meaning that real wage growth between 1945 and 1967 was positive?

    What you argue is true for 1971-the present, but again all this indicates is that real accumulation took place after WWII so that the breakdown was only a breakdown and capitalism had not run out of gas.

    The next stage of your argument is that increased production was propped up by state spending to ensure full employment leading to buying goods because the only way to keep surplus value extraction up was to keep workers working long hours. But then are we not robbing Peter to pay Paul? The money has to come from somewhere, and the transformation of the gold dollar to the IPM standard only explains so much.

    If anything, the interesting change after 1972 is the growing gap, widening every year, between productivity and wages. Wages have become nearly stagnant compared to productivity, while inflation from 1968-the late 1990’s did in fact crush real wages. But that tapered off after the 1990’s. Inflation has been a non-issue for over a decade, and if that is the case, where is the devaluation of wages coming from?

    Also, housing growth drove the post-WWII economy. See Maya Gonzalez’s article in Endnotes #2, http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/3

    The general argument for the artificial propping up of longer hours is also very US-centric. In France, Germany, and Italy, the state has considered and in some cases implemented a shorter legal work week exactly as a way of attacking the working class because wages were not increased proportionately. http://libcom.org/library/aufheben/pamphlets-articles/stop-the-clock-critiques-of-the-new-social-workhouse

    “Now, this did not mean for all time no new factories or houses could be built — I want to be clear about that. Although, capital actually suffered a real catastrophic breakdown, new factories and new houses continued to be built. What fascist state economic policy really required was that no matter how much productive capital was added to circulation, the quantity of capital consumed unproductively — wasted — had to increase still faster. The problem of Keynesian economic policy is not the production of surplus value, but ever more rapid expansion of unproductive consumption of this surplus value. So, from 1934 until now, under the Keynesian economic regime, productive capacity rapidly increased, but not so fast as the unproductive expenditure of labor time.”

    So the fascist state keeps people employed via unproductive employment to prop up consumption? Which again begs the question, where does the state’s money come from? You can argue that printing money is what it does, but that should result in a runaway inflation that in fact did not happen until the 1970’s and which we have not seen in nearly two decades. If your theory re: money was true, which as i posted I think it is not, it does not change that simply printing money with no regard to valorization would somehow have maintained capital’s continued accumulation.

    • June 1, 2012 at 8:56 am

      I agree that “‘The Breakdown’ really merely is ‘a breakdown’, that is, a crisis that is not a ‘final collapse’” However, this breakdown differed from the previous breakdowns in that it resulted in the assumption of management of the total social capital by the state, i.e., the recognition by society of the social character of the mode of production. There are, I think, two things that must be said of this event:

      1. Insofar as it is a recognition by society of the social character of production, this still occurs only on the level of the nation state and not within the world market as a whole. It remains shrouded in the mystification characteristic of capitalist relations generally. Thus, in some quarters, this recognition is taken by Marxists to be some sort of historic compromise between the two great classes, capital and wage labor, when it actually is the effective expropriation of the capitalist class by the state, which emerges as the national capitalist. This emergence does not put an end to the exploitation of wage labor, nor even ameliorates this exploitation, but gives it a truly national character. It represents, as Engels argued, “an economic advance, the attainment of another step preliminary to the taking over of all productive forces by society itself.” Does this imply some sort of watershed moment? I think so, although I am willing to listen to some other interpretation. In any case, it does not, as in the dominant interpretation of the Marxist school, represent an historic compromise between classes, but the emergence of the state as the direct exploiter of wage labor — as the national capitalist. Further evidence of an interpretation of this event as a definite economic advance is indicated by the fact that, once it occurs, the periodic depressions of the previous period appear to cease altogether for a period of no less than eighty years — which is undoubtedly the longest period of time capitalism has gone without crises of this sort. This apparent cessation does not mean there are no periods of heightened unemployment, or periods of economic dislocations generally, but these symptoms of capitalist accumulation are actively managed by the state.

      2. What emerges out the Great Depression is a world market that can be characterized as a collection of national capitals, competing among themselves for dominance within the world market and subject to the very same laws that subjected individual capitals previously within each nation and the world market generally. This collection of national capitals does not put an end to the laws of capitalist development, but further develops the inherent antagonism expressed in those laws between competing capital and between wage labor and capital.

      You argument that “Profits only increase with longer work hours as absolute surplus value, and this is very limited” is, of course, correct insofar as we are speaking of individual hours of labor; however, in my above argument I explain how the social character of production achieves recognition, and this has implications for this problem as well. While the sum of hours an individual worker can labor is limited by the length of the day and her physical needs, the total sum of proletarians working is less subject to this limitations. So, over the last decades, the labor participation rates in the US at least has dramatically spiraled upward, adding to the total length of the social working day even as average individual hours of labor has declined somewhat. As you well imagine, this allows for the increase of both relative and absolute quantities of surplus value production. This development was planned by the fascist state, as will be evident in some of the speeches given by Truman during his administration, and is explicitly referred to in National Security Council Report 68. The economic argument made in that report was that by continuously expanding to social working day, Washington would be able to siphon off a portion of this expansion to facilitate a build out of its military encirclement of the Soviet Union. Truman, in a speech outlining this secret report, made the argument that the labor force needed to expand — particularly by bringing women into the labor force, compelling older workers to work for a longer period of their lives, etc. In case you are unfamiliar with this speech, I will briefly quote from it:

      In terms of manpower, our present defense targets will require an increase of nearly one million men and women in the armed forces within a few months, and probably not less than four million more in defense production by the end of the year. This means that an additional 8 percent of our labor force, and possibly much more, will be required by direct defense needs by the end of the year.

      These manpower needs will call both for increasing our labor force by reducing unemployment and drawing in women and older workers, and for lengthening hours of work in essential industries. These manpower requirements can be met. There will be manpower shortages, but they can be solved.

      I will end this here, since i have gone much too long. I think you point to a need for a fuller treatment of the questions you raise, and i thank you for that.

  5. June 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    I read your arguments quite carefully. You separate capitalist into a pre-Fascist and Fascist periods, which is implicitly “progressive” and “regressive”, however you are quite explicit, in fact.

    “Fascism is, first and foremost, the recognition by society that the capitalist mode of production has outgrown its historical usefulness; but this is only recognized in the negative sense with money that is worthless, labor that produces nothing and the production of “commodities” like aircraft carriers.”

    I’m pretty sure this separates capitalism into a period of its “historical usefulness” and its subsequent regression into a wholly reactionary phase marked by the “worthlessness” of its money form.

    I read your article quite closely. You confuse disagreement with incomprehension, which is no doubt consoling, but somewhat disingenuous.

    Re: Heinrich’s argument
    You will pardon me if I think you are wrong. Heinrich’s argument is Marx presupposed that money had to rely on a material commodity. You actually agree with this. In fact, your entire argument regarding the Fascist State and fiat money depends on this point.

    Heinrich disagrees with this point, which I do as well, but he argues that Marx holds to a MELT view of money. I don’t think that Marx in fact believes that money is commodity money (aka based on a gold standard), but that is because I think Marx proceeds in Capital in the manner of Hegel’s Phenomenology, by laying out each argument and then coming up against its limitations which drive us to the next moment.

    As such, I believe your argument above boldly contradicts your “Fascist State” thesis’ primary premise.

    • June 4, 2012 at 11:45 am

      I am sorry, but I do not separate capitalism into fascist state and pre-fascist state periods. Engels separates the history of the mode of production this way — by explicitly stating the assumption by the state of this new function constitutes an economic advance. Marxists, in the slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” acknowledge this division. My only argument in relation to this slogan is that barbarism is a reality, not a mere slogan regarding some future outcome. I only understand the fascist state in this fashion. So far as I can tell, this event occurs without changing the nature of the essential process Marx details in Capital — the state merely replaces the individual capital as the embodiment of the capitalist relations of production. But this constitutes an advance in the mode itself — a recognition of the social character of production within the limits of the territory dominated by the fascist state.

      The idea that the fascist state is a negative recognition of the historically outmoded character of capitalist relations of production was, perhaps, badly put in that statement, since by reference to “mode of production” I do not distinguish between the productive forces and the relations of production. In the fascist period, the relations of production are maintained at the expense of development of the forces of production. While this, as you can well attest, constitutes no change in how the mode functions all along, at a certain point, the total social capital productively employed has to shrink if surplus value production is to continue to take place. This leads to formation within the mode of production of labor time expended not for the further production of surplus value, but for the waste of already existing capital. Postone explains this wasted labor time as an expenditure beyond the material need of both production of material wealth and the creation of new means for the production of material wealth — value (wages) and surplus value (profit). Within the limits of capitalist relation of production, this expenditure is indeed necessary, but from the point of view of the new society, such labor constitutes superfluous labor time that would be returned back to the individual laborers. All of the above does not imply capital has entered some period of decay, only that increasing quantities of surplus value cannot be employed productively to extract additional quantities of surplus value.

      Eventually this is not just true for a portion of the produced surplus value, but is true for all of it — leading, not to another crisis or breakdown, but to the collapse of capital as a mode of production. So, yes, you appear to be confused by my argument. However, as you point out, your confusion may be, in part, explained by my own text. I do not think there is a period of progress followed by a period of regress.

      As to your second point, I do not know what you mean by “had to rely on”. I am not being stubborn here — perhaps you mean money tokens of all types have to refer to a commodity base? If so, I agree this is Marx’s argument. I did not deny this. Heinrich’s assertion that Marx held to some variation of MELT is wrong. As to your argument that Marx is employing the Hegelian method, this is beside the point completely. However, even if you are correct on this, since I have no knowledge of Hegel I cannot argue with you on what that phrase means.

      Marx always held to commodity money theory and his overall analysis of the capitalist mode of production does not work without this commodity money. Since you disagree with him on this, I think you need to state your argument in a longer form somewhere, so I can read it.

      As to your statement that my argument boldly contradicts my fascist state thesis, you must show me where this is true. The fascist state determines what is currency in an exchange, that is within the circulation of capital. It cannot determine what serves as money outside circulation. However, within circulation, money is only a token of money, not money in the full sense of that term. The fascist state, therefore, only determines what serves as the money token, not money itself. You must tell me how this argument contradicts my “fascist state thesis”.

    • June 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      One other thing: To get beyond this issue of my periodization, assuming I am wrong, and that somehow, in my argument there is an implicit argument for capitalist decadence, how does this change our understanding of the function of the state as manager of the total social capital in society and what Engels meant by state becoming the national capitalist?

  6. June 10, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    The (often very specific) meaning of the terms “civilization,” “barbarism,” and “socialism” in Marxist discourse often gets hopelessly confused. “Civilization,” at least insofar as it has been self-consciously conceptualized, is a modern phenomenon. In ordinary language we commonly speak of “ancient civilizations” — and they were justified, at least inasmuch as this modern understanding (linked closely with the idea of historical succession and progress) could be retroactively applied to the past. The first appearance of the term civilisation has been variously attributed to Turgot and the Marquis de Mirabeau, after 1750. At one point in Marx’s Capital, Marx states his basic agreement with assertion by the otherwise fairly lame vulgar economist Wade, that “capitalism = civilization.”

    There is also, of course, an etymological connection. Civilization is the expression of the city, the citizen (citoyen, de sive, burgher) or urbanite. Lefebvre already covered the consequences of the urban revolution, finally consolidated in the nineteenth century. Thus did Marx write of capitalism as the domination of the city over the countryside, as opposed to pre-capitalist social formations, in which the countryside dominated the city.

    Barbarism is slightly more complicated. There are premodern (i.e., traditional, precapitalist) modes of barbarism, and there are modern (i.e., non-traditional, capitalist) modes of barbarism. The new barbarities cultivated under capitalism tend to be less habitual, less instinctual. They tend to be more emotionally detached and deliberate. The point is, however, that the relationship of civilization to barbarism is historical. Capitalism at one point represented progress and the promise of new and greater forms of global freedom, even if it was bound up with all sorts of concomitant unfreedoms. This promise remains unfulfilled under capitalism, however, and at this point capitalist “civilization” has become so ossified and barbaric that it effectively impedes these higher realizations of human freedom and equality. This was the position not only of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotskii, but also predecessors such as Condorcet and Diderot, and successors like Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Adorno. Of course, appeals to the authority of “world-historical figures” such as these often ring empty. One doesn’t have to accept their interpretation, of course, but the facts they refer to are all there in the historical record.

    If anyone’s interested, I did a write-up on this idea of “civilization” just recently.

    You’re right, Jehu, that the choice between socialism or barbarism was made in the first part of the twentieth century. I would say that the decision was more or less made by 1924, and yes — we have been living out the barbaric consequences ever since. I agree that the appeals to socialism as an immediately viable alternative to the prevailing barbarism are not justified. The political conditions simply aren’t there, pending a major shift in social consciousness. But I’m not sure if one should conclude from this that the decision between socialism or barbarism in the early twentieth century was final, or if the question might one day again be meaningfully posed. And I hope that if that question ever is put onto the agenda once again, the choice will be made for the former.

    • June 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

      Wow, Ross! Thanks for the link. I will read it.

      I think the problem of “barbarism” is a practical one for us now. If, in fact, the 20th Century saw the victory of barbarism, how does this modify our activity as communists? My argument in this post is that Marxists have never considered this question because, for them, barbarism functions in their conceptions as a sort of standing threat. I often have exchanges with Marxists and progressives who say to me something to the effect: “Look at the far right. If they win, democracy loses.” Among activists, for whom these sorts of questions require answers, this is a very powerful argument.

      This argument is, of course, opportunist, but it serves quite well to cloud the situation we face. The question is posed: What if properly understood barbarism arises, not in opposition to democracy. but within democracy itself? What if the uncontested rule of capital itself is predicated on the suffrage of the working class? Now tell me what your plan B is. What the fuck are you going to do now? I think this is a large part of the resistance Marxists have to accepting my definition of the present state as fascist. Calling the present state fascist argues the uncontested rule of capital can coexist with a democratic proletarian majority. Marxists have yet to step forward with a solution to this problem.

      I think this is, in large part, why Chomsky’s “manufactured consent” thesis is so attractive on the Left. It proves a facile argument for why the present state can express the interests of capital despite a proletarian majority.

      • June 12, 2012 at 7:40 am

        If I may offer a friendly amendment to your periodization, I would say that capitalism had exhausted its emancipatory potential by 1848. At that point, bourgeois society began to stand in the way of furthering human freedom, rather than facilitating it. The period between June 1848 and August 1914 saw the increasing growth and development of a socialist workers’ movement as a viable alternative to the “civilized barbarism” of global capitalism. This is why, in my opinion, “socialism or barbarism” could be posed (first by Engels, then by Luxemburg).

        Civilized (modern, capitalist) barbarism is in many ways much more terrifying than uncivilized (traditional, precapitalist) barbarism. The Enlightenment legal theorist Cesare Beccaria made what I think is a helpful distinction on this point, in his “Reflections on Barbarousness and Civilization” (1768):

        “the barbarousness of the savage is restricted to a single set of ideas, whereas that of the civilized man is more contagious and universal. Savages may sometimes act barbarously, but the civilized reason barbarously.

        I’d argue that this is what distinguishes the kind of haphazard, commonplace, routine, and straightforward violence of precapitalist society, from the systematic, exceptional, systematized, and euphemized violence of capitalist society.

  7. June 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

    What an amazing quote, Ross!

  1. June 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm

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