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Posts Tagged ‘Marx’

Like What, Exactly? (3)

January 9, 2013 11 comments
1937 – The 9th Party Congress was called the "Rally of Labour" (Reichsparteitag der Arbeit). It celebrated the reduction of unemployment in Germany since the Nazi rise to power.

1937 – The 9th Party Congress was called the “Rally of Labour”. It celebrated full employment in Germany since the Nazi rise to power.

Part Three: Conceived in Nazi Germany, Born in the USA

The search for a solution to the financial crisis

You probably are not aware of this, but in 2008-2009, when the world market faced its darkest hours of the financial crisis, the attention of many mainstream economists, who were desperately looking for a way out of that mess, turned to the halcyon years of the early Nazi regime. Yep, that’s right — economists scrambled to study fucking Nazi economic policies. Most Marxists don’t realize this, but the template for their cherished “social state” was the Nazi policies of the Great Depression.

Really, I am not making this up. Have a look at this quite interesting article from the New York Times in 2009:

“Every so often, history serves up an analogy that’s uncomfortable, a little distracting and yet still very relevant. In the summer of 1933, just as they will do on Thursday, heads of government and their finance ministers met in London to talk about a global economic crisis. They accomplished little and went home to battle the crisis in their own ways. More than any other country, Germany — Nazi Germany — then set out on a serious stimulus program. The government built up the military, expanded the autobahn, put up stadiums for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and built monuments to the Nazi Party across Munich and Berlin.”

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Like What, Exactly? Part Two: Fascism, or the state as the direct exploiter of labor

January 7, 2013 2 comments

FDRLABOR

Part Two: Fascism, or the state as the direct exploiter of labor

One of the recurrent comments to my writing is the statement, in one form or another, that my use of the terms “the fascist state” is off-putting to the average reader — which is to say, the commenter thinks I am engaging in needless hyperbole. However, the question, “Like what, exactly?”, can only be answered if we have a common set of assumptions regarding the social context within which we are acting. One of those assumptions is a common definition of fascism and why the existing state can only be understood as entirely fascistic.

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Professor Kliman’s “Radical” Critique of David Graeber and the Occupy Movement

May 5, 2012 44 comments

Or, why Zizek believed, ‘We must not succumb to the temptation to act’

Between Kliman’s critique of the Occupy movement, Ollman’s critique of Marx on working class consciousness and Zizek’s critique of Negri, I notice something of a pattern. Ollman in his piece, which I examined in my last blog, argues “between determining conditions and determined response is the class consciousness of the actors”. Action without this class consciousness is insufficient to accomplish the revolutionary project.

Similarly, in his 2001 critique of Negri, Zizek warns us not to yield to the temptation to act without questioning the hegemonic ideological coordinates because, as he argues,

“If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space”.

The space within which we act is dominated by the “liberal-parliamentary consensus” where the only rule is “say and write whatever you want-on condition that what you do does not effectively question or disturb the predominant political consensus.” To act against existing social relations without calling into question the political expression of these social relations is not sufficient.

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Cat Brain at Work: How Chris Harman explains the “Marxist theory of stagnation”

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

As part of my continuing occupation of the Marxist Academy, I have been looking at various Marxist theories of the crisis of neoliberalism. I am now reading the late Chris Harman’s “The rate of profit and the world today”, written in 2007, just prior to the big crash. This is part two of my examination.

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Before we go any further, let me reiterate one thing: In Marx’s theory, the law of the falling rate of profit is not expressed in “stagnation of economic growth” directly or indirectly. The so-called “stagnation thesis” appears no where in the body of Karl Marx’s works on the capitalist mode of production spanning more than 40 years. Nor does it appear in any of Frederick Engels works on the same subject spanning nearly fifty-five years. It is not even an indirect result of the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production. Moreover, in addition to the idea of “stagnation“, no Marxist can point to a single reference in the collective body of work by these two writers — together amounting to a century of research and publication — where either the terms “financialization” or “globalization” appear.

So, why the fuck are Marxist academics trying to explain these nonexistent phenomena? I think the answer to that question is simple: they are trying to explain stagnation, financialization and globalization because they can’t explain this:

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Chasing Unicorns: Chris Harman and the “Marxist theory of stagnation”

April 4, 2012 2 comments

"Friesian Unicorn" by Katrina Lasky

As part of my continuing occupation of the Marxist Academy, I have been looking at various Marxist theories of the crisis of neoliberalism. I am now reading the late Chris Harman’s “The rate of profit and the world today”, written in 2007, just prior to the big crash.

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Harman appears to be one of a group of the influential Marxist thinkers in the last quarter of the 20th Century, and especially the period leading to this crisis, who helped refocus Marxist academic attention to Marx’s rate of profit theory. In this paper, to some extent an outline of his book, published in 2009, on the same topic in the middle of the crash, Harman presents the result of his research on the rate of profit and offers some ideas to explain his findings.

In Harman’s view Marx’s argument that the rate of profit falls over the life of capitalism has far reaching implications because it argues capitalist crises result, not from some sort of failure in the mode of production, but from its successes:

The very success of capitalism at accumulating leads to problems for further accumulation. Crisis is the inevitable outcome, as capitalists in key sections of the economy no longer have a rate of profit sufficient to cover their investments. And the greater the scale of past accumulation, the deeper the crises will be.

For some reason Harman does not follow up on this very interesting argument — if in fact capitalism’s crises are not a sign of failure but a sign of success, this indicates capitalist crises themselves should not be the focus of attention when studying the mode of production.

Crises are no more than a interval during which the mode of production resolves the contradictions produced by its previous successes. As such, these crises cannot be the reason why Marx labeled the mode of production a relative, historically limited, form of development. While the recurrent crises of increasing scale demand our attention because they momentarily bring economic activity to a near standstill these crises in no way are the source of processes leading Marx to his conclusion regarding the fate of the mode of production.

The conclusion resulting from this realization are pretty staggering: for all of its social consequences, the depression of 2001 is not the harbinger of the demise of capitalism, but an interval during which the mode of production prepares for its further expansion. This may explain why Marxists, when looking at the recurrent explosions of capitalism, see no reason why they cannot continue indefinitely.

They are looking at the wrong thing.

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Marxist Academic Error 101: “A term is undefined and has no properties”

March 29, 2012 1 comment

As part of my continuing occupation of the Marxist Academy, I have been looking at various Marxist theories of the crisis of neoliberalism. This is the final part of my critique of Andrew Kliman’s “Neoliberalism, Financialization, and the Underlying Crisis of Capitalist Production” (PDF).

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As can be seen in the chart above, most bourgeois economists look at fascist state economic data and conclude we are experiencing nothing like the sort of economic event that occurred in the Great Depression. The Great Depression was just that — a depression — while what we are experiencing is perhaps a more severe than normal recession generated in the aftermath of a financial crisis. For the bourgeois economist this description of the situation may or may not be entirely satisfactory.

For anyone attempting to understand the fascist state economic data using Marx’s theory of the capitalist mode of production it is less than worthless — it can turn Marx’s theory into a useless glob of shit that describes nothing — least of all what is occurring within the capitalist mode of production.

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Theories of the Current Crisis: Saad-Filho and the “Crisis in Neoliberalism”

February 23, 2012 1 comment

There is a lot of material out there produced by Marxists trying to get their head around Neoliberalism and its role in the current crisis. So as part of my Occupy the Marxist Academy I am going to do a few posts on it.

First up: Alfredo Saad-Filho’s “Neoliberalism in Crisis: A Marxist Analysis”, which can be found here. Saad-Filho argues Neoliberalism is not simply an ideology or a set of policies, but the “current configuration” of capitalist accumulation. In particular, Neoliberalism is a response to the “structural problems of capitalist reproduction after the displacement of Keynesianism”.

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Capitalism without Crises?

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

At the end of his paper, Fred Moseley makes several statements that are important to parse. (PDF: )

This conclusion suggests that the debate over whether or not gold still plays a role in the function of measure of value in today’s economy is less important for Marx’s theory than previously thought. Whether or not gold still plays such a monetary role, i.e. whether it is assumed that credit money represents SNLT directly by itself, or indirectly through gold, it does not make any difference to the quantitative determination of the MELT in Marx’s theory. In both cases, the MELT is equal to the ratio Mp V / L, as in equation (7). Therefore, it also does not make any difference to the determination of the aggregate price level, nor of the total surplus-value produced.

Moseley argues Marx’s theory of money can be dispensed with, since it plays no role in determination of value, prices, and surplus value. As a practical matter, Moseley appears to be right on this: even in the absence of commodity money, labor produces value and surplus value. And, commodity money plays only a symbolic or token role in prices. Finally, if I interpret Marx correctly, money and the circulation of commodities occupy antagonistic poles not only in circulation itself, but between circulation, on the one hand, and a hoard of gold, on the other. Which is to say, between capital (as wealth in circulation, as self-expanding value) and money (as wealth at rest.).

If capital was not prone to crises arising from the mode of production itself, money in Marx’s sense of that term would be unnecessary. This is the side of the equation that Moseley grasps onto as if it is the whole of Marx’s theory of money. Mosley’s argument requires a capitalism without overaccumulation (overproduction) of capital, without crises and stoppages of industry. Once all these elements of capitalism are reintroduced into his argument, that argument collapses and must collapse. Now, the circulation of commodities is no longer smooth and unvarying, but subject to interruptions, imbalances, even periodic collapses. During these periods of crises what serves as money is of acute importance — it cannot be symbolic or token money, but must be actual gold.

During crises, the nominal value of token money, bills of exchange, derivatives, bonds, etc. vanish — as is happening right now in Europe. This devaluation of token money and credit money is expressed as the sudden appreciation of gold “prices” against all symbolic monies.

What remains to be shown is that even if we assume no overaccumulation, crises or industrial stoppages, Moseley never shows in his paper that symbolic or token money can not only serve as measure of the value of commodities, but actually materialize this value in its own form — these two are not the same thing.

To understand the difference consider the difference between labor power employed to produce an automobile or a manicure, and that employed to clear an occupation, or a village in Afghanistan. In the first case labor power is employed to produce a thing having value — even if this employment itself produces no material object. In the second case labor power is not employed to produce anything but broken bones and corpses. In either case tokens can be used to purchase the labor power employed, but only in the first case does the labor power replace its value.

If we consider the capitalist mode of production as the continuous circulation of value through the process of self-expansion the result is obvious: in the first case we get not only the replacement of the value of the labor power, but an additional surplus value; while, in the second case, we get neither replacement of the value of the labor power, nor any
surplus value — just piles of dead bodies.

The quantity of value in circulation has undergone a contraction in the second case of unproductive employment of labor power. Yet, there is no alteration of the quantity of symbols of money in circulation. While it is true these symbols of money now expressed the diminished quantity of values in circulation just as readily as they did the larger quantity previously, it is also clear that they express it the same way a bucket expresses the quantity of water it contains. There is, in fact, no way to tell how much water there is in the bucket merely by examining its outside. Is the bucket full? Half full? Or, empty? Does the bucket contain only water, or does it also contain oil or some other contaminant? If the bucket contains both water and oil, in what proportion are the two liquids present in the bucket.

The fact is, according to Marx’s theory of money, with debased tokens of money it is impossible to separate the socially necessary expenditures of labor time, from labor time that is wasted and unproductive. Without the ability to distinguish between the productive expenditure of labor time and unproductive expenditure of labor time we are led into the fallacy of neoclassical economic theorists who propose the prices of commodities are identical with their values. And, that the total sum of prices of commodities in circulation is identical with the total sum of values of those commodities.

When Andrew Kliman admitted that MELT is not a diagnostic tool, he was admitting that MELT was unable to distinguish socially necessary labor time of society, from labor time that is totally wasted and unproductive. But, the entire point of the social revolution is predicated on just this material differentiation. The whole of the struggle between the two great classes of capitalist society is a fight over what is socially necessary labor time. This takes the immediate form of the fight over the division of the social labor day between wages and profits, i.e., between value and surplus value. But, in the final analysis, it is a fight over labor time that is socially necessary in both these categories, and labor time that is superfluous to either category.

Anarchism, libertarianism, Marxism and Unpaid Labor

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is something I culled from Marx’s paradox of capitalist price — i.e., the so-called transformation problem — that all present variants of critical communist theory rejects (and, by all variants, I mean the usual suspects: libertarianism, Marxism and anarchism). All conflict in society is directly or indirectly a struggle over the length of the social working day. We could call this Marx’s basic theorem of social development. Marx stated his theorem this way:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.

But, this class struggle has always more or less directly or indirectly revolved around the uncompensated labor of one portion of society.

All three variants of communist consciousness have advanced their petty demands, while remaining mute on this pivotal issue. However, there is not a single demand advanced by any of them that does not touch on the length of the social working day. The libertarian complaint on taxes, the anarchist complaint on force, and the Marxist complaint on profit all come down to this. Moreover, each variant’s hostility toward the other is wholly rooted in the struggle over working time. It seems logical to assume since all three are only divided by which function of the state they oppose they must all share an ignorance regarding the premise of this state.

That common ignorance can be stated as follows: Each cannot imagine that the premise of the state is the uncompensated labor time of society. Each, therefore, imagines it possible to abolish the present state of things without abolishing its premise — uncompensated labor. Each imagines it possible to ignore abolition of uncompensated labor time, or reduce it to a mere byproduct of the state’s own abolition. Engels made the clearest argument against this ignorance in his argument against Bakunin:

Bakunin has a peculiar theory of his own, a medley of Proudhonism and communism. The chief point concerning the former is that he does not regard capital, i.e. the class antagonism between capitalists and wage workers which has arisen through social development, but the state as the main evil to be abolished. While the great mass of the Social-Democratic workers hold our view that state power is nothing more than the organization which the ruling classes-landowners and capitalists-have provided for themselves in order to protect their social privileges, Bakunin maintains that it is the state which has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by the grace of the state. As, therefore, the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to blazes of itself. We, on the contrary, say: Do away with capital, the concentration of all means of production in the hands of the few, and the state will fall of itself [fällt von selbst]. The difference is an essential one: Without a previous social revolution the abolition [Abschaffung] of the state is nonsense; the abolition of capital is precisely the social revolution and involves a change in the whole mode of production. Now then, inasmuch as to Bakunin the state is the main evil, nothing must be done which can keep the state-that is, any state, whether it be a republic, a monarchy or anything else-alive. Hence complete abstention from all politics. To commit a political act, especially to take part in an election, would be a betrayal of principal.

Uncompensated labor, Engels is arguing, is the essential precondition for the state. Marxists have used this quote as the dividing line between it and all other variants of communist consciousness. But, Marxists no more grasp it than either of the other two — hence, not a single Marxist sect raises demands on the working day. Even when they might, on occasion, weakly argue for it, it is nevertheless accompanied by a demand for money wages to remain unchanged. As if the question is not the uncompensated labor, but the worthless paper dollars exchanged for necessary labor.

In fact, paper money is a worthless token having no relation whatsoever to the real compensation the worker receives for her labor power — the only measure of the value of labor power is gold or another commodity money. Currency was debased precisely to make sure there would be no relation between the value of labor power and its price (wages). Keynes says this very thing in his “General Theory”, and I have pointed out the paragraph in which he makes his argument to Marxists time and again without penetrating their dull brains.

Though the struggle over money-wages between individuals and groups is often believed to determine the general level of real wages, it is, in fact, concerned with a different object. Since there is imperfect mobility of labour, and wages do not tend to an exact equality of net advantage in different occupations, any individual or group of individuals, who consent to a reduction of money-wages relatively to others, will suffer a relative reduction in real wages, which is a sufficient justification for them to resist it. On the other hand it would be impracticable to resist every reduction of real wages, due to a change in the purchasing-power of money which affects all workers alike; and in fact reductions of real wages arising in this way are not, as a rule, resisted unless they proceed to an extreme degree. Moreover, a resistance to reductions in money-wages applying to particular industries does not raise the same insuperable bar to an increase in aggregate employment which would result from a similar resistance to every reduction in real wages.

In other words, the struggle about money-wages primarily affects the distribution of the aggregate real wage between different labour-groups, and not its average amount per unit of employment, which depends, as we shall see, on a different set of forces. The effect of combination on the part of a group of workers is to protect their relative real wage. The general level of real wages depends on the other forces of the economic system.

Thus it is fortunate that the workers, though unconsciously, are instinctively more reasonable economists than the classical school, inasmuch as they resist reductions of money-wages, which are seldom or never of an all-round character, even though the existing real equivalent of these wages exceeds the marginal disutility of the existing employment; whereas they do not resist reductions of real wages, which are associated with increases in aggregate employment and leave relative money-wages unchanged, unless the reduction proceeds so far as to threaten a reduction of the real wage below the marginal disutility of the existing volume of employment. Every trade union will put up some resistance to a cut in money-wages, however small. But since no trade union would dream of striking on every occasion of a rise in the cost of living, they do not raise the obstacle to any increase in aggregate employment which is attributed to them by the classical school.

If Marxists can’t grasp the significance of these paragraphs for fascist state political-economy, what hope is there for those who imagine wages can be exchanged for labor power without wages slavery? The struggle against the state is nothing more than a struggle against the theft of uncompensated labor by the state in whatever form. If we cannot grasp this, we will continue to wander around as tiny little isolated sects, or sink further into lonely pessimism: The economic policy of the fascist state is nothing more than a device for compelling increasing quantities of uncompensated labor time from society.

Anarchism versus Marxism (Or, Dumb and Dumber, Part two)

January 17, 2012 5 comments

Marx (L) and Bakunin

I had a conversation with Tim (@timthesocialist) last night which was really interesting. I have not debated a Marxist about Marx in some time. I am really trying to understand the Marxist argument on the state — at least the Leninist wing of Marxism. As a Marxist by history this should be easy for me, but surprisingly it is not. I am looking for some distinction between anarchism and Marxism on the state — but it is quite difficult to find one.

Both anarchists and Marxists insist Marx’s theory involves something called the “worker’s state”, that replaces the present state. They both insist on this despite the lack of any reference to such an abomination in Marx’s own writings. Marx does indeed insist that had there been a successful revolution during his lifetime, the result would have been a “revolutionary dictatorship”. But, there are many curious features of his argument.

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