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.
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.
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:
- Enormous and drastic reductions in taxes, government employment, and government spending.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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. 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 and land workers. 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, one reaped generously without sowing. In Telekleides’ Amphictyons 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.