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Posts Tagged ‘soviet union’

Where the fuck is the ‘revolutionary subject’ in the European crisis? (2)

April 2, 2013 2 comments

Humpty-Dumpski

Why the working class is not effectively defending itself actually is not a question posed by this crisis. Rather the question is:

“So what else did you expect?”

No matter how the working classes of Europe responded to this crisis politically, they were already effectively rendered politically defenseless before the crisis by the very structure of the euro-zone, which stripped the fascist states of Europe of their monetary sovereignty. So even before this crisis erupted into the open, the member states with their overwhelming proletarian majorities were already effectively kneecapped and rendered toothless. The very structure of the EU was nothing more than an attempt to rob the working class of any means to defend itself in a crisis. With monetary policy centralized in the European Central Bank the member states must follow procyclical policies during economic downturns. Essentially, they have no choice but to reduce their expenditures when the euro-zone experiences a depression.

Read more…

MONEYLESS: FOFOA on the Dollar, Gold and the Present Crisis

December 1, 2011 4 comments

I am now reading FOFOA’s Moneyness, an epic length blog on the history of money. I was lured into reading it by the title, which I stupidly misinterpreted as tongue in cheek on the order of Colbert’s Truthiness. In fact, it is an attempt to bring his view on money to an analysis of the current global monetary crisis.

Read more…

Why Rothbard was wrong on the Soviet Union, and why it matters now

August 15, 2011 2 comments

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

I am spurred to write this because, thanks to tweep @jdenigma, I was introduced to Murray Rothbard’s “plan for desocialization” of the Russian economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rothbard’s plan was first published in 1992, in the Review of Austrian Economics, and can be found at the Mises Institute website.

In the conclusion of his article Rothbard lays out a summary of his proposal:

The dimensions of the proffered Rothbard Plan for desocialization should now be clear:

  1. Enormous and drastic reductions in taxes, government employment, and government spending.
  2. Complete privatization of government assets: where possible to return them to the original expropriated owners or their heirs; failing that, granting shares to productive workers and peasants who had worked on these assets.
  3. Honoring complete and secure property rights for all owners of private property. Since full property rights imply the complete freedom to make exchanges and transfer property, there must be no government interference in such exchanges.
  4. Depriving the government of the power to create new money, best done by a fundamental reform that at one and the same time liquidates the central bank and uses its gold to redeem its notes and deposits at a newly defined unit of gold weight of existing currencies.

All this could and should be done in one day, although the monetary reform could be done in steps taking a few days.

The terms and  timescale of this proposal are rather breathtaking, considering we are speaking of a major industrial power encompassing a population then numbering about 150 million people, with the world’s largest accumulation of nuclear weapons. Moreover, this was not by any means a typical Western economy: it was heavily centralized, and effectively consisted of a collection of large industrial monopolies created from scratch by an extremely powerful central authority employing the labor of several generations.

For all intents and purposes, the Soviet Union was one giant interlocking company, masquerading as a nation-state — a company town with its own military, police force, courts, diplomatic staff and government.

At the bottom of this immense, complex structure were the women and men who were held as virtual prisoners of a rather brutal and arbitrary party-state management apparatus, which extended its control to every sphere of public and private life. For the most part, they lived at its mercy, although it may be true the grip on their activities was nowhere near as tight as in the days of Stalin.

As might be expected, Rothbard’s plan went nowhere, and mainly comes down to us as the musings of a thinker who boldly conceived on a grand scale about dismantling the existing state.

I made just such an attempt several years before Rothbard along the same lines as part of my honors thesis for my degree in Economics. My ideas, however, began with the assumptions I made above: that the Soviet Union was a company town, and addressing the chronic problems of its final years was not likely something to be undertaken without focusing on the masses of working people trapped under the weight of an oppressive totalitarian monstrosity.

Like Rothbard, I thought a plan of action should be undertaken quickly; but unlike Rothbard, I proposed to start at the bottom of society, not the top. I was not interested in markets, or property right, or laws, or money — I was concerned with the folks who would be threatened by the attempts to establish these.

So, I proposed a simple reform:

Reduce hours of labor by forty percent.

That was my entire proposal.

The problem of the late Soviet Union was not the lack of markets, money or property rights; it was the vast accumulation of superfluous working time embedded in the economy by a rather startling increase in the productivity of labor in the decades following Stalin’s rise to power.

The quickest way to fix this problem was simply to give people more time away from work — to essentially starve the gigantic machinery of production of its supply of human labor power, and force it to restructure and become more efficient. What people did with their newly acquired free time, was not a concern of government.

Not surprising, the Yeltsin government ignored not only Rothbard’s plan, but my own plan as well. Actually, in both cases our effort was not intended to influence events in the former Soviet Union, but to think seriously about what dismantling the state looks like using a real life case study.

Events brought Jefferey Sachs, then at Harvard University, to “advise” Boris Yeltsin on the economic policy of the new Russian government. While differing significantly from either Rothbard’s approach, and my own, I think it is fair to say, Sachs proposed a solution a magnitude closer to Rothbard’s than my own. In place of the then existing centrally planned economy, Sachs’ plan sought to establish a working market economy in one bold move.

It was a fucking disaster! — a cruel and unmitigated catastrophe for a nation of honest working people who had no inkling what was about to hit them. A crippling generational cataclysm, from which Jefferey Sachs emerged with his reputation intact, while women were reduced to prostituting themselves for food. Almost immediately the entire wealth of the nation fell into the hands of a tiny oligarchy of former managers of the old state-run economy.

Sachs now has opinions on how the West should fix its current crisis.

I think there is a lesson in the differences in the approach taken by Rothbard and myself: forget the state-dominated economy and think about people. It is a lesson that should be observed without exception in the present deficit debate.

*****

Yesterday, Mark Thoma offered us an American version of this concern for markets over people in the form of a false menu of options on the deficit debate: we can reduce debt or we can reduce unemployment. This typical Hobbson’s Choice politics, for which the Fascist State excels — offer the sheeple two unpalatable choices:

“Come on Sheeple, do you want to be buried in debt or starve in your freezing houses this winter.”

Since, this is a democracy, the choice between these two options is yours. The menu offered is carefully calibrated for two entirely different audiences: the Tea Party patriot, and the socialist-minded progressive. It is a subtle play on the “Southern strategy”, but with a twist: neither side of this argument is made to change voter’s minds. Which is to say, the aim is not to convert Red states to the blue column, or Blue states to the red column, but to play them off against one another as is.

The argument against deficits is made to both sides on exactly the same terms: more spending will mean more people living on government handouts. If you imagine these folks as the unprecedented numbers of unemployed who have been locked out of the market in labor power — you’re on one side. If you imagine them as lazy niggers who have no wish to work and only want to suck on the teats of producers, you are on the other side.

The “debate” over the deficit requires no more than a fairly adept management and knowledge of The Singular Division in American society — race. This division already exists in ready made form in society — a festering pus-filled wound that is periodically tortured by the Fascist State.

Please, do not tell me I am oversimplifying things — the object of politics is oversimplification. That is why you’re debating the deficit. All this debate comes down to is the deficit on the one hand, and a dysfunctional social stratum of chronic losers on the other. Before you even began debating the deficit you had already formed this simplistic model of the issue in your mind.

For the Tea Party patriot, the deficit comes in the form of everything they are not: smelly brown people speaking in unintelligible tongues. For the socialist minded progressive, it is the unfolding of history: civilization is measured by the degree of the state control of society. The progressive sees society as one giant factory, and wants only for it to be managed according to the principles of Fred Taylor. For the Tea Party patriot, society is a suburb set on the edge of a dangerous crime-ridden ghetto — they want it to be managed by the principles of Bull Connor.

The debate over the deficit does not invent these different views of society, but takes them as its premise. Since, as with all premises of this type, they are self-evident to the participants, we throw no light on the debate by admitting them. All will admit this is a debate on whether society is a prison pen for incorrigibles, or the interior of some gigantic hive of worker bees. Although hesitant to admit to their own views, they well admit that of their opposites — their arguments consists of counter-exposures. So, we only do here for both together what they each do only for the other.

But, anti-statists are not disinterested observers, standing on the sidelines of the great debate. To really grasp the implications of this debate, we must, account for our own presence as well as the contending factions. If we are successful, we won’t end up like Mark Thoma, who imagines himself on the sideline offering value-free advice to the Fascist State.

The first assumption has to be, that we are motivated by the same social process as Tea Party patriot, socialist-minded Progressive and Mark Thoma with his value-free advice to the Fascist State. If we are going to assign the values of Bull Connor to the Tea Party patriot, and the values of Fred Taylor to socialist minded progressives, it is only right to assume Mark Thoma’s value-free advice to the Fascist State is not really free of values.

The values of the Tea Party patriot appears to her as “commonsense thinking”, and this is also true for the socialist minded progressive. So, Mark Thoma’s value-free advice to the Fascist State, like Jeffrey Sachs’ value-free advice to the Yeltsin government in 1992, appears to him as value-free advice, because, for him, it is common sense.

Based on a read of Rothbard’s plan for desocialization of the Russian economy, it would seem anti-statists too are subject to this double fallacy: it is not value-free, but it appears to be sensible to us and without value bias. Rather than trying to argue our view is value-free, we must openly admit our bias, and declare this bias as our starting point.

But, even this is not enough: we must also subject this bias to the same scathing critical treatment we apply to Tea Partiers, progressives, Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Thoma.

No. The world is not a prison pen, nor a factory floor; and our choices are not value-free, and must themselves be the subject of criticism. We must find a place to stand, without for a moment deluding ourselves this place, fraught with hidden fault lines, is Terra Firma. Which is to say we declare we are anti-statists while never imagining we completely grasp the full implication of this position all at once.

The Black Hole: Marxism, the State and the Social Revolution (3)

August 13, 2011 Leave a comment

“…the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.”

In the first part of the series, I made three critical assumptions about present political-economic relations.

First, in 1929, Capitalism suffered a general breakdown, brought on by absolute over-accumulation — absolute over-production. This crisis, known popularly as the Great Depression, occurred in every major industrialized nation in the world market, and constituted a global over-accumulation of capital that was irreversible. It took the form of a great mass of unemployed workers, side by side with a mass of unemployed means of production and subsistence.

Second, the fascist states which emerged from this economic catastrophe took the form of the ‘political rule of the proletariat over itself’, effected through its suffrage in the nations where it formed the largest class.

Third, the only alternative solution to the breakdown of capitalism and the “political rule of the proletariat over itself” was and remains the reduction of labor hours.

I also attacked the “Marxist theory of the state” and argued this “theory” is, in fact, not supported by Marx’s critique of capitalist society. So far as I can determine, not a single point of Althusser’s 1970 statement of the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ is found either in Marx’s or Engels’ writings of the state. While it is true, Althusser agrees with historical materialism that the state is an organ of class rule, this simplistic description of the state is ahistorical and does not satisfy the historical materialist description of the capitalist mode of production as a distinct historical stage in the development of the forces and relations of production.

Althusser’s statement can be applied to any epoch of human civilization, and to every known mode of production. It does not explain what of the capitalist state is specific to the capitalist mode of production and the social relations within society that are founded on this mode. What is specific to the state under the capitalist mode of production is not merely, or even primarily, that it is an instrument by which the ruling class imposes its will on society: in the writings of Marx and Engels, the state under the capitalist mode of production is “essentially a capitalist machine,” that displaces and renders the capitalist class itself superfluous to the mode of production and functions as the national, i.e., social, capitalist.

Althusser treats the state as an ahistorical category, not as a real thing situated in the capitalist epoch. The state is reduced to an instrument of repression, which appears in the capitalist epoch already in its complete and unchanging form. Essentially, Althusser recycles Duhring’s argument on force and dresses it in 20th Century “Leninist” clothing. While he does not go so far as Duhring and Anarchism to give force the determining role in historical development, he treats the state itself as essentially unchanged by the material changes in society.

This essentially static view of the state can not help us understand our present condition, as it throws no light on existing social relations.

*****

In the second part of the series, I examine Lenin’s and Kautsky’s argument that the class conflict takes place completely within the bounds of a commercial transaction and confirm it as agreeing with my understanding historical materialism. The recognition by Lenin and Kautsky of the limits of the purely economic struggle — of the struggle with the capitalist over the terms and conditions of the sale of labor power, however, is converted by Leninism into an argument that the proletariat is incapable of carrying out its historical mission of burying capital without theory. And, since the proletariat is not “the bearer of theory”, into an argument for a vanguard party.

The argument for a Leninist vanguard party on these grounds, however, is a non-sequitur, since, despite the limitations of the economic struggle, historical materialism insists the working class abolishes capital based on empirical comprehension of their circumstances — not on a theory purporting to describe these circumstances.

Marxists take Kautsky’s and Lenin’s arguments completely out of context of the capitalist mode of production itself, and abstracted from the impact the mode of production has on the state. Although the conflict between capitalist and wage laborer is essentially a commercial conflict, Engels description of the State shows how the capitalist (as personification of the relationship) is progressively displaced by the state as Capital develops. The marginalization of the capitalist does not resolve — overcome — the class conflict; rather, it converts it into a directly political struggle. Which is to say, the worker to assert her purely commercial interests in the class conflict, must also assert her political interest against the state.

If, on this basis, historical materialist investigation of the Fascist State refutes the arguments of the Marxists who trace their thinking to Lenin, still more clearly does it refute the European Social-Democrats who, having thrown Marx and Engels out the window entirely, propose to tinker with existing relations to render capitalism more humane. This latter gang of opportunists aspire to nothing more than perfecting the Fascist State as the social capitalist.

Against both failed variants of this tradition, we demand not a new brand of sectarian organization, nor reform of politics, but the abolition of the state.

*****

While the historical task of the worker is simplified by the convergence of Capital and the State power and the emergence of the Fascist State, it is obvious this fascist state rests on universal suffrage of the proletarian majority. To put it bluntly, in her political activity the worker constitutes the very machinery of exploitation against which she fights. Her commercial interest as a seller of labor power, sparks her political activity to ensure this sale is consummated; the terms and conditions of this sale, and the prerequisites of these, figure as this or that economic policy of the fascist state. On the other hand, the enlargement of the state, its increasingly pervasive economic role, is no more than the expansion of the state as social capitalist and must lead to the ever increasing exploitation of the worker. The more she struggles to realize political relations to satisfy her requirements as a seller of labor power, the more indifferent the State becomes to her needs as a human being.

This must lead to two results that I can think of:

In the first instance, what was once concealed beneath purely monetary relations must become increasingly obvious to the proletarians: that their activity is the enlargement of an alien power standing over against them. As the state becomes the social capitalist, what was previously only a theoretically derived conclusion regarding the relationship between capital and wage labor is made explicit and comprehensible to the worker.

In the second instance, the increasingly comprehensible relation between capital and wage labor appears, not in its commercial form, but in the form of increasing antagonism to the fascist state, and to its role as social capitalist, stated in a political form, i.e., as demands against the state. However, expressed in this purely political form, it is now the empirical expression of a radical critique of all existing relations.

The Black Hole: Marxism, the State and the Social Revolution (2)

August 11, 2011 1 comment

Karl Kautsky

(I want to clarify that I am discussing certain writers, while withholding judgement on their overall work. It is not my intention to assert they were wrong in their time and place, only that their arguments have been taken out of context by what is currently referred to generally as “Marxism”. Moreover, by “Marxism” I include the body of work that traces its origins to both the Soviet experience and to Western Social-Democracy.)

Convergence of the economic and political conflict in society

In the first part of this series, I introduced some fundamental assumptions about 21st Century society. I also took issue with the Marxist theory of the state, as elaborated by Louis Althusser in his 1970 work, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Now, I want to sketch out my understanding of the historical materialist conception of both the State and Capital, in order to trace the error in the ‘Marxist theory of the State’ back to its likely roots.

The nexus of the relation between the two appears to arise just before Lenin and his work, What is to be Done. In chapter II of this book, Lenin quotes Karl Kautsky on the relationship between Marxist theory and the practical economic struggle of the working class:

“Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and the class struggle create, not only the conditions for socialist production, but also, and directly, the consciousness of its necessity. And these critics assert that England, the country most highly developed capitalistically, is more remote than any other from this consciousness. Judging by the draft, one might assume that this allegedly orthodox Marxist view, which is thus refuted, was shared by the committee that drafted the Austrian programme. In the draft programme it is stated: ‘The more capitalist development increases the numbers of the proletariat, the more the proletariat is compelled and becomes fit to fight against capitalism. The proletariat becomes conscious of the possibility and of the necessity for socialism.’ In this connection socialist consciousness appears to be a necessary and direct result of the proletarian class struggle. But this is absolutely untrue. Of course, socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the proletariat has, and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwüchsig]. Accordingly, the old Hainfeld programme quite rightly stated that the task of Social-Democracy is to imbue the proletariat (literally: saturate the proletariat) with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task. There would be no need for this if consciousness arose of itself from the class struggle. The new draft copied this proposition from the old programme, and attached it to the proposition mentioned above. But this completely broke the line of thought…”

Kautsky’s statement concerns the formation of consciousness under the capitalist mode of production. In it he proposes a dual track model of communist consciousness, where the direct conflict between wage labor and capital coexists side by side with, but separately from, the understanding of the implication of this conflict. The worker is engaged in the direct struggle, the intellectual brings to her a consciousness of the implications of her struggle — the need for her to assume control of the state.

In chapter III of the above book, Lenin imports Kautsky’s statement into his argument against what would later become the Mensheviks in Russian communism. However, we now have a problem: societies do not imagine themselves into existence. (I got this statement from somewhere, but can’t remember who, perhaps the Marxian writer Chris Cutrone) This is, in my opinion, a restatement of the fundamental historical materialist assumption — material conditions first, ideas second.

Kautsky’s statement, therefore, violates a fundamental assumption of historical materialism — its most important assumption. Perhaps a correction is in order: he does not directly violate this assumption, since he is only talking about Marx’s theoretical conclusion. As a theory, he may be correct, but communism cannot possibly rest on general acceptance of a theory. Which is to say, communism, as a real movement of society, must have been inevitable even if Marx had not discovered it. If the science had advanced no further than, say, Ricardo or Hegel or St Simon, the emergence of communism would still occur.

Discovering this inevitability, of course, was science, and this is a product of the intelligentsia — but not the historical process itself. The result is, if all communists were to disappear tomorrow, this process would still unfold according to its own logic. Communists are superfluous to it — a fifth wheel. We can no more change the outcome than can Ben Bernanke over at the Federal Reserve Bank.

I tried this argument out at Kasama.org and (after having a collective seizure) they asked me if this was true why was I a communist? More importantly, Why was Marx a communist? Why did he organize the working class movement? I had no real answer for this at the time.

I do now, because a tweep, @, asked how I would explain 1929 from a materialist perspective.

I think it was because Marx saw 1929 coming, and the implications of the Event — Engels actually stated it explicitly. At a certain point, both knew, the State would have to seize control of the entire machinery of production. Whether this ended in a social revolution, or what I now call the Fascist State would depend on the “political consciousness” of the class. How much of the theory of its own material condition it had absorbed would decide the outcome — not the final outcome, but the intermediate outcome.

That was the Event that should have seen the Paris Commune reborn on a global stage — a form for the proletariat to work out its final liberation — a liberation, not just from wage slavery, but from labor itself.

Marx was notorious for not talking about the future, only the immediate was important — because he was not given to making blueprints. The world did not need another utopian system — it only needed to understand its actuality and the process inherent in it. In Volume 3, however, and Engels in “Utopian and Scientific Socialism” we get a glimpse into the implications of his theory.

The fact is, in historical materialism properly understood, the Proletarian never even realizes she is a wage slave. As individuals, they act exactly like any other commodity seller, like small commercial players. The worker sells her one commodity over and over again and the conflict with the capitalist over the terms of this sale falls completely within the bounds of commercial rivalry.

Lenin explicitly states this idea in chapter III of What is to be Done; he argues that the trade union fight alone is insufficient for the development of a communist consciousness among the working class:

“The overwhelming majority of Russian Social-Democrats have of late been almost entirely absorbed by this work of organising the exposure of factory conditions. Suffice it to recall Rabochaya Mysl to see the extent to which they have been absorbed by it — so much so, indeed, that they have lost sight of the fact that this, taken by itself, is in essence still not Social-Democratic work, but merely trade union work. As a matter of fact, the exposures merely dealt with the relations between the workers in a given trade and their employers, and all they achieved was that the sellers of labour power learned to sell their “commodity” on better terms and to fight the purchasers over a purely commercial deal. These exposures could have served (if properly utilised by an organisation of revolutionaries) as a beginning and a component part of Social-Democratic activity; but they could also have led (and, given a worshipful attitude towards spontaneity, were bound to lead) to a “purely trade union” struggle and to a non-Social-Democratic working-class movement. Social-Democracy leads the struggle of the working class, not only for better terms for the sale of labour-power, but for the abolition of the social system that compels the propertyless to sell themselves to the rich. Social-Democracy represents the working class, not in its relation to a given group of employers alone, but in its relation to all classes of modern society and to the state as an organised political force. Hence, it follows that not only must Social-Democrats not confine themselves exclusively to the economic struggle, but that they must not allow the organisation of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities. We must take up actively the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness. “

What does Lenin’s statement imply about the empirical relation between these two great classes of capitalist society, and for the mode of production itself?

The capitalist as buyer of labor power confronts the worker as seller; and, later, the worker as buyer of subsistence commodities confronts the capitalist as seller. Both poles of this relationship rests on the successful exchange of labor power for wages. The sale of labor power appears, in the first instance, as the direct result of the exchange of labor power for wages. And, the sale of labor power appears, in the second instance, as the condition for the exchange, as means of purchase in the form of wages for commodities.

Historical materialism states that labor power has undergone a change between the first instance and the second instance. This change is both qualitative: labor power is consumed and this consumption turns it into various useful objects — shoes, cars, etc. But, there is also a quantitative change: the value of the latter — shoes, cars, etc. — is greater than the former — the initial labor power.

Empirically, however, it appears otherwise: while a qualitative change has taken place, there has been no quantitative change. This is because all the quantitative change has taken place outside the purview of the commodity sellers — outside of exchange.

Everything which, from the standpoint of the law of value, appears as a necessary result of the improvement in the productivity of social labor, appears to the society of commodity sellers in its inverse form: theoretically, there is creation of surplus value, but, empirically there is “not enough money in circulation”. Society is constantly threaten by overproduction and crises.

The entirety of the reality of the material relations of production is hidden behind money, not only from the capitalist but also the worker. Both classes are fucking clueless. And, they are engaged in this meaningless, never-ending, commercial squabble over terms of a filthy transaction. But, as repulsive as the relationship is, they are both trapped in it: without it, the capitalist cannot be a capitalist, while the worker starves.

The reproduction of the relation, the purchase/sale of labor power, is their entire, and intimately shared, basis for existence. And, as Engels shows, and many writers like Kevin Carson recount, the relationship becomes increasingly dependent on the state. Now let’s look again at the quote from Engels, I referred to in the previous part of this series:

But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions [my emphasis] of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.

What Engels is predicting here is an Event: that impending convergence of the purely commercial relation between the wage worker and the capitalist over the purchase/sale of labor power, with the incremental expansion of state management of the process of production itself. Stated simply: in 1880, Engels was predicting that the purely commercial conflict between the two great classes would be converted by the convergence with increasing state control over production into a directly political struggle — into a direct fight against the national — i.e., social — capitalist, the state.

In 1929, capitalism enters its end-stage, and becomes absolutely dependent on the State. The state, in turn, becomes the fascist state, representing not capitalist or worker, but Capital — the relationship itself. And, this happen 50 years after Engels wrote these words:

“The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist…”

From the moment this process culminates, the capitalist class is a side-show, lacking any real role in production beyond clipping coupons. Everything is being managed by the state. The fight against capital is now immediately political — expressed directly in the conflict with the state itself.

The Black Hole: Marxism, the State and the Social Revolution

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Louis Althusser

There is a massive black hole in the center of Marxism that cannot be ignored, since it touches on the question of social revolution itself. That question can be posed this way: What happened to the Soviet Union? But, the better formulation is this:

Why didn’t the Great Depression touch off a revolution in the West?

Numerous explanations of this failure have been offered by commentators of every variety within and without Marxism. During the Great Depression, it is clear, capitalism suffered an irreversible breakdown due to absolute over-accumulation. And, it is also clear that effective control over the state was already in the hands of the proletarian majority through its suffrage. Moreover, as now, the solution to the general crisis of capitalism was already obvious, and universally recognized: reduction of labor hours.

The principal explanations now fashionable within Marxism deny one or more of these facts. They propose: There is,

  1. no general crisis; or,
  2. no effective control over state power by the proletariat; or,
  3. that reduction of hours of labor will not work.

Every one of these explanations violate the assumptions of historical materialism.

If you deny there is a general crisis of capitalism, you are making the argument there can be absolute over-accumulation in one country leading to export of capital to the less developed regions of the world market, but there cannot be absolute over-accumulation in the world market itself. And, since Lenin’s theses on imperialism is entirely based on the concept of global over-accumulation, you have to reject his conclusions. Not too mention a materialist explanation of the more than 130 million dead in two world conflicts and the numerous conflicts following this.

If you want to deny universal suffrage of the proletarian majority is the sufficient condition for its effective political rule you must then impose conditions on this rule other than those that stem from its material position in society. You must then deny Marx’s thesis that the proletariat’s historical mission stems from who they are, not what they think. This position, as in the “Bolshevik model”, denies the capacity of the proletariat to empirically determine their own role in history.

Lenin advances the “Bolshevik Model” in “What is to be Done.” Which, I think, is a reaction to social-democratic reformism. No matter what the cause, this idea becomes embedded in Marxism so firmly that it has been enshrined as the concept of “vanguard party”. Anarchists rightly ridicule this by pointing out Marxism leads either to reformist social-democracy or despotic Leninism.

On the other hand, Marxism borrows from the argument of Anarchists like Noam Chomsky that, somehow, the effective power of the proletariat is a manufactured consent — the working class is indoctrinated. Their leaders are bribed, their organizations are co-opted, and their reality is hidden from them by deceptions spread in the media.

Finally if you deny reduction of hours of labor is the only solution to the general crisis of capitalism you can’t explain the fascist state. The fascist state emerges simultaneously in all industrial nations during the Great Depression despite their numerous historical differences. It clearly emerges as the political response to the general crisis, which is nothing more than massive unemployment a glut of productive capacity and intense competition between national capitals over division of the world market.

But, absolute over-accumulation is just accumulation of capital that can no longer function as capital that cannot expand its own value through exploitation of labor power, cannot realize the surplus value extracted as profit. It takes the form of a mass of superfluous means of subsistence, means of production, and idled workers, who are now available for war.

This surplus of mean of subsistence, means of production and idled workers is produced during the period of the social work day beyond that required for the wages of the productively employed population. Absolute over-accumulation simply means the work day can’t be longer than that needed to satisfy the material requirements of the laborers.

I think, any attempt to explain why the Great Depression did not end in a social revolution must begin with these assumptions. This explanation must, at the same time, account for the failure of the Marxist-Leninist model of revolution. The first failure is only the second failure presented in another form.

We can probably best begin to account for what happened during the Great Depression by examining the flaws in the Marxist theory of the state. For this, I want to use Althusser’s 1970 work, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.

Althusser has this formulation of the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ (the quotation marks are his, not mine):

To summarize the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ on this point, it can be said that the Marxist classics have always claimed that (1) the state is the repressive state apparatus, (2) state power and state apparatus must be distinguished, (3) the objective of the class struggle concerns state power, and in consequence the use of the state apparatus by the classes (or alliance of classes or of fractions of classes) holding state power as a function of their class objectives, and (4) the proletariat must seize state power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois state apparatus and, in a first phase, replace it with a quite different, proletarian, state apparatus, then in later phases set in motion a radical process, that of the destruction of the state (the end of state power, the end of every state apparatus).

The problem with this statement by Althusser of the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ is that it is a fantasy; and is not historical materialism. To figure out why, we have to work backwards in Althusser’s formulation — from (4) to (1)

With regards to (4), I have never encountered the formulation in Marx or Engels that the workers replace the bourgeois state apparatus with their own. In fact, I have never encountered Marx or Engels speaking of any state apparatus but the present bourgeois state apparatus. And, their verdict on this, based on the Commune, was definitive: It must be broken.

Not reformed, not replaced, not refurbished — broken.

What made the proletarian state power different from all preceding forms is that this apparatus itself was abolished at the outset. The Anarchists of the Commune replaced it with a working body combining both deliberative and executive functions. Marx could have differed with this, but he explicitly did not — he endorsed it.

With deliberative and executive functions combined, there is no state apparatus as distinct from state power. But, the present state consists of this division — of a useless legislative body and power concentrated in the executive. Since, there was no stand-alone executive in the Commune, the idea that the state is destroyed only in later phases is complete bunk. For this reason, Marx referred to what Anarchists created in the commune as no longer a state.

This has to be emphasized: Marx looked at what the Communards created and said it was NOT a state.

And why was this: because the Anarchists had abolished the historical division between the executive and deliberative functions of the state. The new society was itself both the deliberative body and the means for executing its decisions. In both the Soviet despotic and the Western democratic forms of proletarian rule, we find exactly that this division is not done away with.

In (3), Althusser argues that the objective of the class struggle is to wield the state apparatus as a function of class objectives. But, as early as 1845, in The German Ideology, Marx described the proletariat as a class which was not a class, but the dissolution of other classes. In 1851 work, Reflections on Money, he explains how money relations conceal relations of production and classes.

Both classes shop the same stores, pay the same prices for the same goods — the only apparent difference is the amount of money in their wallets. While material relations of production determine society, these relations are buried deep beneath purely monetary ones. Given that, for the proletariat, it is not a class in any real sense, and given that its relation to other classes is concealed from it how is historical materialism to conclude that the proletariat wields state power as a function of its class objectives?

Since all interests are only interests in the exploitation of labor under given relations, how is labor itself to express such an interest? Against what class is this interest to be expressed other than itself?

In (2), Althusser expresses the opinion that state power and state apparatus must be distinguished. So, how are we to do this? Until the Commune had state power ever been exercised in any other form than through the state apparatus? Was there a discovery in 1970 of some epoch in which the state power of the ruling class was exercised directly and not through an apparatus?

Althusser is wrong on this, I think.

Throughout history, state power has consisted of an armed body of men to enforce the domination of the existing ruling class. This special interest, which having raised itself to position of the general interest, must become the objective of all special interests seeking to impose themselves on society as the general interest. The competition between classes over control of this apparatus only expresses the fact that the history of society is the succession of one after another special interests.

In (1), Althusser defines the state as “the repressive state apparatus”. But, Engels, in his 1880 work, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, is already describing the state as much more than this: “The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital.”

If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies, trusts, and State property, show how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first, the capitalistic mode of production forces out the workers. Now, it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus-population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.

But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.

Already, under the pressure of the capitalist mode of production, the state was undergoing a profound transformation. The state was not eclipsing the two great classes in bourgeois society, but coming more to function as the social capitalist.

A critical examination of Kevin Carson’s Mutualism (Part Three)

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Even when it was laissez, it wasn’t faire

If it were merely a historical question of the material role the State played in the emergence of Capital, and the role it continues to play in Capital’s own development even now, Kevin Carson and Karl Marx would be in complete agreement on the facts. Even if we extended Carson’s argument to include the idea that every step in the development of Capital has required State coercion and violence, Carson would get no argument from Marx. Finally, Marx would entirely agree with Carson’s argument that the present system is exploitative; and that its exploitation depends solely on the state.

The disagreement between Marx and Carson is not with these historical and material facts, but with the question raised by them of, which, the State or Capital, is the driving force in this development. While Carson believes the State is the autonomous actor in the development of capitalist exploitation, Marx believed the State’s absolutely essential role in the development of Capital results from inherent internal barriers created by the capitalist mode of production itself. In support of my assertion on these points, I offer no other evidence than Marx’s own words as written in Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 15:

“If, as shown, a falling rate of profit is bound up with an increase in the mass of profit, a larger portion of the annual product of labour is appropriated by the capitalist under the category of capital (as a replacement for consumed capital) and a relatively smaller portion under the category of profit… Furthermore, the mass of profit increases in spite of its slower rate with the growth of the invested capital. However, this requires a simultaneous concentration of capital, since the conditions of production then demand employment of capital on a larger scale. It also requires its centralisation, i.e. , the swallowing up of the small capitalists by the big and their deprivation of capital… It is this same severance of the conditions of production, on the one hand, from the producers, on the other, that forms the conception of capital. It begins with primitive accumulation…, appears as a permanent process in the accumulation and concentration of capital, and expresses itself finally as centralisation of existing capitals in a few hands and a deprivation of many of their capital (to which expropriation is now changed). This process would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production if it were not for counteracting tendencies, which have a continuous decentralising effect alongside the centripetal one.”

In this sketch of the contradictions inherent in Wage Slavery, Marx demonstrates why continuous state intervention is necessary not merely at the earliest periods of the emergence of the social relation, during the period of primitive accumulation, and in its latest period of development, a period of absolute over-accumulation of capital, but why state intervention in the social process of production is required during the whole of the capitalist epoch. On its own, the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production itself would drive it to rapid extinction.

As with Carson’s Mutualist analysis, there is in Marx’s theory no period of laissez-faire political relations in which “the… character of the system was largely… a “neutral” legal framework…” This much should already be obvious, since, in 1848 — six years before Benjamin Tucker was born, more than two decades before he became an Anarchist, and nearly three decades before his first published work  — Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

Precisely when the mainstream historian, the Anarcho-Capitalist and the Marxist propose the State operated as a neutral legal framework, and not to enforce the system of Wage Slavery — and, precisely when each proposes Capital was in its alleged “competitive”, as opposed to its alleged “monopoly”, phase — Marx was describing the State in exactly these terms. Historical materialism has never proposed any other relation between the State and the total social capital than the one cited above — that the State, insofar as it can be considered a distinct entity in capitalist society, acts as the general social manager of the mode of production.

However, even if we go beyond the merely formal distinction between Capital as a form of private property and the State as the general manager of the interests of these private capitals — i.e., as the general manager of the system of Wage Slavery — and assume the State has acted throughout history directly on its own behalf as the social capitalist, it is still obvious that the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production impose on the State-Capital entity precisely the same laws as are imposed on the total social capital when it is formally operating independent of the State. The entirely formal distinction between the State, on the one hand, and the total social capital, on the other, has absolutely no impact on the influence of the relations of production on political relations generally, but only on the ways this influence is expressed in actual political events.

This is because, in historical materialism, the State, whatever its relation to the existing mode of production prevailing in society, is nevertheless only a body composed of members of society carrying out the particular public functions of the State. It is a part of the general division of labor prevailing in society, and not, as mainstream political-economy would have us believe, an entity standing outside this division of labor. It does not matter in the least whether politics forms a sphere separate from the direct exploitation of labor power in the capitalist mode of production — as, for instance, is said to prevail in the United States — or is entirely fused with this direct exploitation of labor power — as might be argued in the case of the People’s Republic of China at present — the contradiction arising from the process of production of surplus value itself gives rise to the same necessities.

Moreover, in every historical epoch known to us, the State is not, and has never been, anything but a given quantity of surplus product of the existing mode of exploitation of labor organized in the form of the State. Since, in all epochs for which historical records are available, it is composed of men and women who are, by definition, unproductive drones within society, wasting the productive capacity of society on efforts, which, under any and all previous epochs, are entirely superfluous to human needs, it follows that its entire constitution depends on the productive labor of the remaining portion of society, and on the actual mode of production of surplus product prevailing in the society, however historically determined. For the State to be otherwise, it would no longer be the State, but a particular element of the productive capacity of society itself.

Finally, it is an obvious conclusion that whatever the social relations under which the surplus product of society is produced in an epoch, these social relations are of paramount importance to the State, precisely because it has bearing not only on private interests bound up with the mode of production, but with the interests of the State itself. If this relation between the State and the prevailing mode of extraction of surplus product had not been already explicitly argued for by centuries of observers, it could be easily deduced from historical experience. Thus, for example, Wikipedia tells us, in the literature of Ancient Greece, the only basis on which utopian society is organized without a slave population is that where labor itself has been abolished:

The Greeks could not comprehend an absence of slaves. Slaves exist even in the “Cloudcuckooland” of Aristophanes’ The Birds as well as in the ideal cities of Plato’s Laws or Republic.[161] The utopian cities of Phaleas of Chalcedon and Hippodamus of Miletus are based on the equal distribution of property, but public slaves are used respectively as craftsmen[162] and land workers.[163] The “reversed cities” placed women in power or even saw the end of private property, as in Lysistrata or Assemblywomen, but could not picture slaves in charge of masters. The only societies without slaves were those of the Golden Age, where all needs were met. In this type of society, as explained by Plato,[164] one reaped generously without sowing. In Telekleides’ Amphictyons[165] barley loaves fight with wheat loaves for the honour of being eaten by men. Moreover, objects move themselves—dough kneads itself, and the jug pours itself. Society without slaves is thus relegated to a different time and space. In a “normal” society, one needs slaves.

What is particularly offensive in this regard, is the implication made by Kevin Carson, that somehow, Marx held to the same conclusion as the ancient Greeks, namely, that the system of Wage Slavery could only be abolished given the abolition of labor itself. Carson argues:

A second failing of Marxism (or at least the vulgar variety) was to treat the evolution of particular social and political forms as natural outgrowths of a given technical mode of production.

No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. (169)

For the Marxists, a “higher” or more progressive form of society could only come about when productive forces under the existing form of society had reached their fullest possible development under that society. To attempt to create a free and non-exploitative society before its technical and productive prerequisites had been achieved would be folly. The proper anarchist position, in contrast, is that exploitation and class rule are not inevitable at any time; they depend upon intervention by the state, which is not at all necessary. Just social and economic relations are compatible with any level of technology; technical progress can be achieved and new technology integrated into production in any society, thorough free work and voluntary cooperation. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, all the technical prerequisites for steam engines had been achieved by the skilled craftsmen of the High Middle Ages. Had not the expropriation of the peasantry and the crushing of the free cities taken place, a steam powered industrial revolution would still have taken place–but the main source of capital for industrializing would have been in the hands of the democratic craft guilds. The market system would have developed on the basis of producer ownership of the means of production. Had not Mesopotamian and Egyptian elites figured out six thousand years ago that the peasantry produced a surplus and could be milked like cattle, free people would still have exchanged their labor and devised ways, through voluntary cooperation, to make their work easier and more productive. Parasitism is not necessary for progress.

Is this right? Is Marx making the absurd statement that Wage Slavery could not be abolished until the productive forces founded on Wage Slavery “had reached their fullest possible development under that society.” Carson offers not one bit of evidence to support this outrageous claim, and is demonstrably wrong on it.

I will examine this absolutely incomprehensible charge in my next post.