Home > political-economy > Some notes on Marxism and social emancipation (3)

Some notes on Marxism and social emancipation (3)

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The impending implosion of the Marxist school

Historically speaking, for Marx, the capitalist mode of production, no matter its defects, could be justified on the basis that by ruthlessly exploiting the worker, stunting her development and reducing her to the status of a slave, it nevertheless brought about an increase in the productive capacity of social labor. It was admitted that this increase in the productivity of social labor was in no way the aim of the mode of production, but merely a byproduct of the unending search for still greater profits. On this basis Marx answered the critics of Ricardo:

“It is that which is held against him, it is his unconcern about “human beings,” and his having an eye solely for the development of the productive forces, whatever the cost in human beings and capital-values — it is precisely that which is the important thing about him. Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production.”

When studying the operation of the capitalist mode of production, Marx was not given to outbursts of moral anguish about the capitalist mode of production and the results of the capitalist epoch. This is what separated him from the moralizers and utopian socialist of his day: that despite all the defects of the mode of production it carried the seeds of its own supercession by a higher mode of human society — the social individual.

What separates Marx from the Marxist academy, however, is that in his view capitalist relations of production were only historically justified to the extent they materially contributed to the development of the productive forces. The discussion of capitalist relations of production within the Marxist academy today takes no account of this. If wage slavery can be justified at all, it is only on the basis this wage slavery produces more material wealth than individual production. Individuals producing separately, whose activity only becomes social through exchange, cannot produce a material wealth anywhere near the scale of this same mass of individuals engaged in directly social labor. If the catalyst to the formation of directly social labor was found in wage slavery, we only inherit this as the premise of our own time to be abolished.

This is what is so amazingly stupid about Carchedi’s essay on the so-called Marxist multiplier: having demonstrated (as best he could) that fascist state economic policy cannot add to the wealth of society, but can only unproductively consume (destroy) it, he then adds this idiocy:

“The above should not be construed as if labour should be indifferent to state-induced capital-financed redistribution and/or investment policies. On the contrary, labour should strongly struggle for such policies. But this struggle should be carried out not from a Keynesian perspective but from the proper, Marxist, perspective.”

Mind you, Carchedi’s finding is not just that fascist state economic policy does not increase the wealth of society, he found, in addition to this fact, the fascist state only works by unproductively consuming wealth. Despite this finding, Carchedi recommends the working class ignore his results and “fight” for these policies. On what basis does Carchedi make his perverse recommendation?

“From the Marxist perspective, the struggle for the improvement of labour’s lot and the sedimentation and accumulation of labour’s antagonistic consciousness and power through this struggle should be two sides of the same coin. This is their real importance. They cannot end the slump but they can surely improve labour’s conditions and, given the proper perspective, foster the end of capitalism.”

Of course, the fascist state cannot improve the worker’s lot without deepening the crisis, but the struggle to make the fascist state improve the worker’s lot can? How? The fascist state only destroys material wealth, but fighting for this destruction will produce an “antagonistic consciousness”? The crisis is wholly produced by the dependence of the production of material wealth on capitalist profits, but fighting for fascist state economic policies — which only destroys the wealth that can’t become capital — will foster an end to capitalist production?

An inversion of Marx

In the most amazingly brazen act of revisionism, Carchedi completely inverts Marx’s reasoning: where, for Marx, capitalist relations of production may be morally repugnant, but justifiable because they increase the productive power of social labor, Carchedi argues fascist state intervention does nothing to increase this productive capacity, but is justifiable because of a placebo effect. Although fascist state economic intervention cannot add to the production of material wealth, workers should fight for it because they think it will. Left political activity can, somehow, avoid the problem that no state action of any sort can “solve” the crisis, because this Left activity can produce a consciousness that is antagonistic to capitalism.

Once you realize this is Carchedi’s entire argument, you realize how completely bankrupt post-war Marxism really is.

Carchedi’s argument is not the only expression of this problem. The blog, The Commune, shows how Carchedi’s findings are being welcome within the Marxist school:

“Carchedi has recently argued in the International Socialism Journal that  Keynesian measures “cannot end the slump, but they can surely improve Labours Conditions and given the proper perspective, foster the end of Capital” But he fails to inform us how Marxism can be reconciled with Keynesianism, particularly in the light of his demonstration in the same article, with his Marxist multiplier, that the economics of Marx and Keynes are incompatible. But it does not prevent him from speculating that “from a Marxist perspective state induced capital financed distribution and investment policies need not carry the ideological content attached to the word, the community of interests between two fundamental classes”. It seems, Keynesian reformism or looking to the Capitalist state for reforms can be given a Marxist twist. “

The writer complains Carchedi fails to reconcile Marxism with Keynesian policies, but the real subtext is a plea for a proposal on how the Left can avoid the necessary conclusion that state action of any sort cannot have a positive result. If Carchedi’s conclusion is to be accepted, the Left has no choice but to accept that political demands for state action are worse than useless. In this case the Occupy, who resisted advancing any demands, were instinctively correct, and the Marxist camp was wrong.

Further, the alleged distinction between so-called limited reforms and revolutionary demands dissolves into nothing. There are no reforms short of abolition of capital possible, since Carchedi’s argument demonstrates nothing short of getting rid of wage slavery and the profit motivewill do. Moreover, Carchedi’s findings are not limited to the inability of the state to solve the crisis — although the idiot never noticed it — he actually proved the state can only destroy material wealth, it can only consume existing material wealth without replacing it.

This is the point of Carchedi’s essay: even if you could improve the lot of the worker, you would only reduce profits. Once profits are reduced, the crisis intensifies — more workers are thrown out of work. Political demands for state intervention into the economy, therefore, have only the perverse results of destroying the very material wealth activists demand be redistributed. Fighting for reforms only produces reforms, and these reforms only destroy material wealth.

A deep crisis with Marxism

Carchedi’s argument is, therefore, an expression of a deep crisis within Marxism. Marxism is a political critique of capitalism, but politics itself is dead — it cannot in any way improve the lot of the working class. Without politics, Marxism is dead and Carchedi has unknowingly composed its obituary.

There are no demands to be made on the state to address the crisis because the state’s own actions only express the crisis and deepen it. The Left is in the unenviable position, however historically necessary, to embrace Reagan’s argument:

“Government is the problem”

What is destroyed by the state is not so much the means of consumption but the means to produce consumption — labor and capital. The impact of this destruction is doubled by the fact it cripples future consumption as well. So much of today’s labor is diverted from production to unproductive consumption reducing tomorrows consumption. This is the aspect of the problem Carchedi never makes clear because he wants to justify reformist political activity.

Similar to Carchedi, Kliman argues any successful attempt to redistribute income downward will lead to a deepening of the capitalist crisis. However, Kliman is not so stupid as Carchedi and points out the logical result of reformist political action that must only intensify and deepen the crisis.

“If my argument is sound, what are the consequences? Well, under  capitalism, a new economic boom requires the restoration of profitability, but downward redistribution of income will reduce profitability. It will therefore tend to destabilize capitalism even further. It might trigger renewed panic in the world’s financial markets, and who knows what will happen then? In this way, or by causing investment spending to fall, downward redistribution could lead to a deep recession, even a depression. And because progressive policies will have failed, again, to make capitalism work better—for itself—the stage will have been set for other people and other ideas to come along and fix the mess. Even fascism might become a serious option, as it was in Europe during the Great Depression.”

(NOTE: With Kliman, as with Marxists in general,  fascism is always only a threat waiting in the wings — they can’t admit present political relations are entirely fascistic for the same reason they cannot admit political action is entirely useless: They have no Plan B.)

Kliman has a solution to this dilemma but it doesn’t appear to include openly stating Keynesian policies must be opposed and the state must be abolished:

“Working people need to be prepared to confront the fact that their struggles to protect themselves in the face of the economic slump are not in the system’s interests, and that successful struggle might well set off a virulent reaction.”

(WTF is “the system”? Never mind, I don’t want to know.)

Having decided, like Carchedi, that “the system” will not tolerate an increase in the consumption of the working class, (an observation that is entirely valid BTW), Kliman offers what alternative? In a long passage during which Kliman wrestles with himself and his dilemma, Kliman admits,

“It is one thing to recognize the instability of capitalism, but another to show that an alternative to it is possible.”

He adds,

“It would be disastrous merely to call for socialism while ignoring the problems of mass unemployment and foreclosed homes that may well persist for many years to come. Merely thinking about alternatives to capitalism while ignoring these problems is no solution either.”

Kliman is clearly having a problem here with his own theoretical dead-end: he knows state intervention in the economy doesn’t work but neither does merely demanding socialism. However since he is such a simpleton Marxist academic, he can only think in these two superficially contradictory forms. Still, he argues,

“Yet it is wrong to counterpose thought and activity in this manner. They are not opposites, but go hand-in-hand.”

Which is to say, the theoretical conclusion that there is no alternative to communism and the practical fact that there is no communist alternative go hand in hand. A page or two passes in his book, and still Kliman has no idea how these “not-opposites” facts can actually becomes not-opposites. A few pages later we learn the emancipation of the working class must be its own act — a truth not evident until Kliman told us, I guess. Now drifting helplessly, Kliman tells us we need to figure out how a society can be organized without capitalist relations of production — completely forgetting that is why the reader picked up his book in the first place. Finally, Kliman throws in the towel, stating

“I am painfully aware that these reflections are not yet an answer to the ‘Like what, exactly?’ question.”

Really, Andrew, I am pretty sure you did not experience the pain your readers must feel following this long-winded bullshit. In the end Kliman admits he hasn’t any more clue than Carchedi to the problem posed by the Marxist critique of Keynesian theory:

“Unless and until a credible answer is worked out, it seems to me that the most likely alternatives we face are either full-scale destruction of capital value, or persistent economic sluggishness, mounting debt burdens, and recurrent financial crises and downturns.”

The Marxist fraud

It is almost as if Carchedi, Kliman and the Marxist school were completely unprepared for the results of their own finding. Which, of course, means they never had any idea on measures short of useless demands for FULL COMMUNISM than equally useless demands for Keynesian reforms. This is an indication that the Marxist school has hit bottom and is now lying in the gutter — with Carchedi’s critique of Keynesian theory, Marxism is exposed as a fraud. It never had any answers to the crisis that were not simply a variation of Keynesian economic policy prescriptions.

The previously mentioned blog argues along the lines of Kliman and Carchedi:

“Capitalist accumulation has crisis written into its DNA. To survive there has to be the destruction of capital, so that it can revive itself for another round of accumulation. That means idle machinery, derelict buildings, unused materials, speculative bubbles bursting, high unemployment to lower wages, inefficient capitalists going bankrupt. After all, fiscal stimulus and the New Deal did not bring capitalism out of depression in the 1930’s. It was the material destruction of the second world war, the destruction of capital, and the defeat of the European workers movement by fascism. But despite this, some on the left still argue for a more militant and more full blooded version of Keynesianism advocated by the trade union bureaucracy, which is really nostalgia for the golden age of capitalist prosperity.”

Of course, the argument advanced here assumes even the destruction of capital can lead to revival of capitalism. This is not at all the case. While destruction of capital in this crisis is in theory necessary, there is no actual level of destruction of capital that is sufficient to allow for the revival of capitalism. By definition no amount of capital destruction can revive capitalism after the onset of absolute overaccumulation.

To an extent the lack of a Marxist alternative to fascist state economic policy was concealed by the success of fascist policies. Marxists were relieved of a need to offer an alternative short of communism because the crisis always resolved before the subject came up. But this depression is not going away, Marxist are having to face the fact that Keynes is not a solution to capitalist crisis and they don’t have one. Now that fascist state policies are failing to bring about a recovery, Marxists are being forced to admit they never had an alternative. And they haven’t a clue what an alternative even fucking looks like.

The complete fraudy of Marxism was concealed by the fact they could simply demand redistribution in favor of the working class and quietly ignore the massive destruction of productive capital the fascist state actually employed to recover from the crisis. Now that they have to face their theoretical poverty, they go on and on about the development of ‘antagonistic consciousness” and “workers’ can only emancipate themselves” and every other sort of useless bullshit.

The real problem is that they have been sleeping with the fascists on the pretext there were worse fascist (alternately described as neoliberals, minarchist libertarians, militarists — really take your pick ) lurking in the background. They argued the reduction of wage labor was worse than wage slavery and on par with unemployment. They bought into the argument that the fascist state could increase economic activity, that the distribution of the social product could be changed by government, and that employment could be increased by state spending. They even bought into the bourgeois myth that a reduction in hours of labor could lead to a fall in the consumption of the working class.

As if the activity of the working class had any connection whatsoever to do with the consumption of the working class.

As if it this activity was not aimed solely at the production of a surplus over their consumption.

As if a reduction itself did not have to reduce the mass of surplus value first before it ever touched on the mass of wages.

Surplus value results solely from that portion of the labor day beyond the period the value of the worker’s wages are produced. Reducing hours of labor cannot reduce wages unless it proceeds so far as to reduce necessary labor time.

The cause of capitalist crisis is always capitalism itself

In labor theory these three propositions must be true:

  1. The resolution of the crisis requires the destruction of capital;
  2. the capital that must be destroyed is the product of surplus labor time;
  3. the surplus labor time that produces the capital that has to be destroyed can only be reduced by reducing hours of labor

I really am not sure what is so fucking difficult about this for Marxists to grasp — even assuming they are simpletons. This is not some mysterious formula hidden in the crannies of macroeconomic calculus, it is simple labor theory of value. All the elements of this argument can be grasped without reading beyond the first few chapters of Capital. What amazes me is the some of these folks, like Kliman, actually hold positions in universities and can’t connect the dots. Instead we get pages of nonsense before Kliman finally runs out of ink and is forced to admit: “I am painfully aware that these reflections are not yet an answer to the question.”

Now that Keynesian economic theory has been debunked by Carchedi the real problem for Marxism emerges: In addition to having to define the aim of social emancipation, Marxism is now also confronted by a need to constitute goals short of this. As Kurz explained, Marxism’s fraudulent pose always rested on answering the problem of social emancipation after seizure of state power. The struggle for reforms short of complete emancipation was held to be the path forward, culminating in the seizure of political power. Only once this phase of struggle had been completed, and power lay in the hands of the working class, the real task of emancipation would begin.

With the complete debunking of the Keynesian scam, Marxism is now left without any narrative for the path to political power. And it should be seen precisely as a narrative, since no Marxist ever really had any idea how progressive reforms would produce a revolution. The idea that the struggle for reforms eventually end in revolution was a myth story Marxists told themselves in the absence of a real path. You cannot reform away money-relations, wage labor, commodity production, the machinery of state, etc. The Commune did not reform the state, it abolished it outright. Soviet production did not reform money-relations, the relations were abolished and replaced by a plan.

  1. Chris Wright
    January 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    “Soviet production did not reform money-relations, the relations were abolished and replaced by a plan.”

    When did it do this? From when to when?

    • January 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      When they subjected production to the first 5 year plan.

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