Posts Tagged ‘voluntary association’

Marx’s Theory or Marxist Theory?: How Daniel Morley (mis)Educated Anarchists

April 3, 2011 1 comment

As Marx observed, no society has imagined itself into existence, which is to say, women and men do not set out to build their society according to some preconceived blueprint. The social relations resulting from human action appear to us in later times as the preconceived ideas of the creators of those social relations when, in fact, the ideas never existed until the social relations had already come into being.

An error arises in historical study: we attribute to the earlier periods of history ideas that existed nowhere during that earlier period, but only arise as a result of human action during that period. In the United States, for instance, every sort of nonsense, including wars of aggression and relentless Fascist State expansion, are promoted and justified by reference to the Ideals of the so-called “founding fathers” — ideals of Liberty, Equality, Right, etc. Society appears always in the grip of long dead men, whose ideas hover over us like ghosts, guiding us along some preconceived path of development. We, on the other hand, are merely the possessed, who, having been invaded by the ideas of the dead, only act out these ideas — see, for instance, Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History”, where, following Hegel, Fukuyama imagines the whole of social development after 1806 as only the universalization of the ideals of the French Revolution, and, which ends with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Marx offered a counter-argument to the notion that history is the unfolding of the Idea in human society: these ideas themselves emerge out of the material social relations and circumstances of women and men.

History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which exploits the materials, the capital funds, the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations, and thus, on the one hand, continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and, on the other, modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity. This can be speculatively distorted so that later history is made the goal of earlier history, e.g. the goal ascribed to the discovery of America is to further the eruption of the French Revolution. Thereby history receives its own special aims … while what is designated with the words “destiny,” “goal,” “germ,” or “idea” of earlier history is nothing more than an abstraction formed from later history, from the active influence which earlier history exercises on later history.

Not according to the Marxist Daniel Morley, however. In contrast to Marx himself, Daniel argues that the communist movement of society consists entirely of the development of ideas: the communist movement of billions of people is already prefigured in the ideas of Karl Marx — society are only acting out these ideas; incompletely for the most part, with a great deal of hesitation, and, on occasion, by going back over the same ground twice. Thus, the refusal of Anarchists to acknowledge the role of theory — and, in first place, Marxist theory — is the source of much dissatisfaction on Daniel’s part.

…there is a strong tendency in Anarchism to reject theory as a scientific study of society, as they associate this with the intellectual elite and inaction. For this reason they tend to see all talk of ‘historical laws’ in society, and of the objective roles of various classes, as intellectual charlatanism, as an idealist … invention with which to confuse the masses into accepting our leadership…

Because of their rejection of theory, many Anarchists have resorted to simply describing the problems of capitalist society, and proposing antidotes as superficial as the act of simply inverting the names they give to capitalist oppression…

Rather than study the causes for all these social problems, the Anarchists would treat them as arbitrary, and all that is needed to overcome them is for society to somehow collectively realise that it is suffering under some arbitrary injustice, and then collectively liberate itself. Political ideas, if they are complex … are complex because society itself is extremely complex, has a long history, and demands that serious attention be paid to it if it is to be changed in accordance with our wishes.

Morley’s argument here is simple: society is so complex that without theory a stateless and classless society will not emerge. He chides the Anarchist movement for its refusal to understand this important fact.

The problem with this sort of thinking, of course, is that it is Marx himself who exposes this idealist conception of human history for what it is: a sham, an inversion of the real movement of society, and, hence, to be explicitly rejected. If Marx is to be understood by Marxists, they will have to address this logical loop introduced by Marx himself into his work: if his theory and methods are indeed scientific, they are unlikely to have any significant impact on the revolutionary transformation of society. Communist theory is not only unimportant to the process of social development as a result of its faint influence on events, according to Marx it must be unimportant to this process.

Both the strength and the weakness of theory is that it brings us to conclusions that are counterintuitive — that are not empirically derived. Precisely when communist theory could make the greatest possible contribution to the communist movement of society theory will probably have its least impact. For example, the movement of the unemployed in this crisis aims at precisely the goal theory states it should not. While the unemployed are demanding increased Fascist State spending to create jobs or provide a subsistence income to the unemployed, theory argues for a general reduction of both Fascist State expenditures and hours of labor. Communist theory is inconsequential to the process precisely because no one but Marxists, Anarchists and Libertarians, is consciously trying to create a communist society. Society at large are mainly responding to their immediate empirical circumstances. If these empirical circumstances did not, of themselves, lead to a communist movement of society, there is nothing communists could do to impose it on society.

In Daniel’s view the problem created by the counterintuitive nature of revolutionary social theory can be circumvented by a committed cadre of women and men who have both achieved some degree of familiarity with the theories of thinkers like Marx, Rothbard or Kropotkin, and who have won positions of political leadership among the larger mass of the working class. Indeed,  Daniel argues the requirement for such a leading group of committed theoretically adept activists is so obvious that Anarchists, despite their explicit rejection of this “vanguard party” model, nevertheless also embrace it in one guise or another:

Contrary to Anarchist hopes, political leadership in our society is necessary for the working class. It could only be discarded, made superfluous, if the working class had the time and inclination to collectively develop revolutionary theory, collectively grasp the need for a revolution, and therefore organise it at once. The very existence of famous theorists such as Marx and Bakunin, who do play a leading role (whether they like it or not) by developing theory with which to educate the movement, is proof that in capitalist society this is not the case. Some Anarchists propose that, instead of a leadership of people, we have a leadership of ideas. Actually, this shows how the objective necessity for political leadership forces its way into Anarchist theory all the time. Only they give it another name instead. Anarchist theorists, themselves acting as leaders by developing theory to influence society, have variously made use of concepts such as ‘helpers’ of the working class, working class ‘spokesmen’, revolutionary ‘pathfinders’, the need for a ‘conscious minority in the trade unions’, or Bakunin’s concept of a disciplined Blanquist ‘directorate’ for the revolution. They use these terms but do not explain why they are necessary and how they really differ from political leadership. Why does the working class need helpers, pathfinders, a directorate, spokesmen, or a conscious minority? And what role would such people play? And if we merely have a leadership of ideas, then what of the people who developed those ideas (for they weren’t developed by the whole working class in a collective, uniform way), who presumably can explain them best, who can be most trusted to put the ideas forward in trade union negotiations, which, after all, cannot involve the whole working class at once? To change the name of something is not to change its essence.

The problem with this is not, as Daniel alleges, that Anarchists actually do follow a model only superficially different from Marxists, it is that he attributes the general lack of revolutionary theoretical development among the working class as a whole to the lack of time in which to develop this theory. Daniel’s argument that working people “lack the time” to develop revolutionary theory also appears earlier in his essay to explain why working people cannot directly manage production:

It is class exploitation and long hours of work that mean that in our society, workers cannot plan and direct production themselves, firstly because the capitalist class produces for their own private profit, and so cannot permit workers a say in controlling that profit, and secondly because workers do not have the time to democratically plan society … Only a globalised economy, a global division of labour … harmoniously planned on a global scale … can liberate the working class and put ordinary people in control, since only the high productivity it creates, and the technological sophistication involved, can shorten the working week to allow for mass participation …

The argument comes off as strained in both cases: owing to long hours of labor the workers lack the time to develop revolutionary theory on their own, and they also lack the time to democratically plan and direct production. If they had the time, and if they had the inclination, and if the capitalist class did not direct production for the sake of profit, the working class would not need theorists like Marx, nor the management of production by capitalists and communist technocrats. Since historical development is only the unfolding of a preconceived revolutionary blueprint for a new society through the activity of working women and men; and, since, owing to the lack of time, inclination, and the profit motive, working women and men cannot develop the blueprint they must afterward unfold through their activity, the theories of Marx and Bakunin become vital, and, with this, a committed cadre who have mastered the blueprint and can direct the rest of the working class in its realization.

The problem with this Marxist model is that Marx himself was not the kind of arrogant imbecile who thought he could dictate the course of human history, so he never left a theoretical blueprint for a new society. He did not even operate in such a way during his lifetime to impose some necessary model of the unfolding class struggle on the class struggle. He decried sects and sectarianism within the working class movement, which he described as those who, “demanded that the class movement subordinate itself to a particular sect movement.” In 1868 he wrote of one such sectarian incident:

You yourself know the difference between a sect movement and a class movement from personal experience. The sect seeks its raison d’être and its point d’honneur not in what it has in common with the class movement, but in the particular shibboleth distinguishing it from that movement. Thus when, in Hamburg, you proposed convening a congress to found trades unions, you could only suppress the opposition of the sectarians by threatening to resign as president. You were also forced to assume a dual personality, to state that, in one case, you were acting as the leader of the sect and, in the other, as the representative of the class movement.

The dissolution of the General Association of German Workers provided you with an opportunity to take a big step forward and to declare, to prove s’il le fallait [if necessary], that a new stage of development had been reached and the sect movement was now ripe to merge into the class movement and end all ‘eanisms’. With regard to the true content of the sect, it would, like all former workers’ sects, carry this as an enriching element into the general movement. Yet instead you, in fact, demanded that the class movement subordinate itself to a particular sect movement. Your non-friends concluded from this that you wished to conserve your ‘own workers’ movement’ under all circumstances.

Compare Marx’s attitudes toward sectarianism within the working class movement to Daniel’s view of the role of Marxists and Anarchists cadre within the working class movement:

Syndicalist Anarchists propose that a general strike, involving the vast majority of the working class, can be sufficient to overthrow capitalism, and moreover has the advantage of doing so without a party leadership. But the history of general strikes teaches otherwise – both in that on their own they are insufficient to overthrow capitalism (for we have had many general strikes but still have capitalism) and in that trade unions do have political leadership in them. Unfortunately, this leadership rarely has a determined revolutionary mission and tends to sell out general strikes. So the demand for a general strike must also be accompanied by a political struggle against the ideas of the reformist trade union leadership. But history has shown that such a struggle does not emerge, and certainly does not succeed, in a purely automatic fashion. In a general strike some organised political grouping must raise the idea of the need to use the strike as a launch pad to overthrow capitalism so that the working class can build socialism. And such an organisation would therefore be playing a leading role. Its task must be to win the struggle, to defeat the reformists by convincing the mass of the working class that its ideas are correct and necessary, in other words its task is to lead the working class to take power and overthrow capitalism.

Such is Daniel’s elaboration of the Marxist model of the relation between revolutionary theory and the working class movement. In contrast to Marx’s own view that sects are poisonous to the working class movement and should merge themselves into the broader working class movement, Daniel argues Marxists and Anarchists should “win the struggle, to defeat the reformists by convincing the mass of the working class that its ideas are correct and necessary…”

And, if the overthrow of capitalism requires the leading role of a sect utilizing the theoretical insights of Marx, Proudhon, or some other writer, how much more necessary would this sect be to managing the post-revolutionary society as it attempts to actually build a stateless and classless society. Thus, after the overthrow of the capitalist state, the working class is subject to more or less the same limitations as prevent it from theoretically preconceiving the overthrow of capitalism — it lacks the time to learn how to manage a complex, sophisticated society, and cannot manage the new society directly until the development of the productive forces of society allows for a general reduction in hours of work:

But a workers’ state, and genuine revolutionary working class leadership, is not the end goal for Marxists; we too see the need for a stateless society. That can exist only when the objective conditions that require a state apparatus (class struggle) have disappeared. In other words, when the working class has dissolved itself as a class by dissolving all classes, by uniting humanity in a global plan of production that leaves no lasting material antagonisms between classes or nations, and when production has attained such a level that the working week is sufficiently shortened so that all may participate in education and running society, then coercion and subjugation will have no objective role, and become worthless.

The problem, of course, with this model of a necessary leading role of a committed cadre to realize a stateless and classless society is that it is a complete fantasy that appears nowhere in Marx’s writings!

Since, Marx affords no role to revolutionary theory in his model of a communist movement of society, he did not propose a necessary role for a theoretically developed vanguard to lead the working class either before or after this revolution had erupted, nor did he propose that the present state should be replaced by anything other than the management of society by an association of society. This so-called theory of Marx is nothing more than an invention out of whole cloth by an insignificant sect that purports to speak in his name, but has yet to understand a single word he actually set to paper.

In Marx’s theory the stateless and classless society emerges directly out of the ruins of capitalist society. It arises not out of some theoretical insight into the inherent laws of capitalist society, but out of the practical experience of the members of society. True to his rejection of the Idealist model of history, the actual development of society places its members in circumstances where the actual necessity of a classless and stateless society is grasped empirically by them and does not arrive as the received wisdom of a handful of sectarians. This event presupposes, as Marx argues in the German Ideology, the actual empirical existence of women and men in their World Historical circumstances, which again presupposes that profit has ceased to be the motive force of production precisely because the actual development of the productive capacity of society has already made such motive impossible to continue not just in one or a few countries, but throughout the World Market as a whole. This latter condition presupposes that production of wealth itself is no longer compatible with the capitalist mode of production — that it cannot continue in the form of capitalist wealth, and, if it is to continue at all, must take the form of immediately material wealth, of mere means subordinated to the needs of the members of society, rather than an alienated power standing over them.

Marx’s differences with the other leaders and theoreticians within the working class movement did not hinge on their acceptance of his model of historical development — which model plays absolutely no role in society’s actual development — but with their insistence on one or another blueprint for a new society as the mode of society’s necessary activity. In the German Ideology, he expresses this disagreement directly:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.

Until Marxists grasp the importance of this statement and shed their sectarian attitude toward other trends of communist thought, and toward the working class movement in general, it will not simply be in violation of Marx’s revolutionary spirit, but also in violation of his actual theory. In Marx’s theory, there is no basis for a sectarian division among the various threads of communist thought — Marxist, Anarchist or Libertarian — nor any basis for a sectarian division between these threads of communist thought and the working class movement.

It is up to Marxists to take the first step in the direction of ending the sectarian division within the working class by dissolving their trend and its innumerable petty organizations entirely.

Stateless society and the uprising in Egypt.

February 5, 2011 10 comments

Can the events in Tunisia and Egypt reshape the way libertarians, anarchists and communists think both about a stateless society and how this stateless society can emerge?

I think it should.

The popular uprising, somewhat discredited as a means of achieving a stateless society until recently, appears to be in vogue again. What makes it of particular interest to me is that the uprising is itself a voluntary cooperative act by members of society against an intolerable state machine. It doesn’t take much curiosity to wonder if this voluntary association can do more than simply challenge the existing order.

Can it replace the existing order as was attempted with the Paris Commune?

I have been reading the French philosopher Alain Badiou’s recent talk “Alain Badiou on Tunisia, riots & revolution”. As usual, this monumental thinker clarifies a lot of things in my opinion. Just reading his talk aided my own understanding of the Egyptian uprising going on now.

Here is how Badiou analyzes the Tunisian uprising:

The particular problem of the riot, in as much as it calls state power into question, is that it exposes the state to political change (the possibility of its collapse), but it doesn’t embody this change: what is going to change in the state is not prefigured in the riot. This is the major difference with a revolution, which in itself proposes an alternative. That is the reason why, invariably, rioters have complained that a new regime is identical to an old one…

The power of the uprising, Badiou argues, “is essentially negative (‘make it go away’)” All uprisings are acts of despair and desperation and this desperate act is a striking out against, and throwing off of, the intolerable burden of the existing State.

The problem with this act is that it does not, of itself, address the question: “What now?”

The riot is a desperate rage against an intolerable State, which, even when successful, has no affirmative design beyond getting rid of the existing order. Absent a positive conception of a new order to replace the old one it offers no obvious solution to the problem of the intolerable power whose overthrow it has just effected. The danger posed by the absence of a positive aim after the overthrow of the old order is that the old order merely reconstitutes itself in a new form. In a remarkable passage in which he identifies Egypt as a potential target, Badiou explains this reconstitution of the old order:

The Western press has already responded by saying that what was expressed there was a Western desire. What we can affirm is that a desire for liberty is involved and that such a desire is without debate a legitimate desire under a regime both despotic and corrupt as was that of Ben Ali.  How this desire as such suggests a Western desire is very uncertain.

It must be remembered that the West as a power has so far given no proof that it cares in any way whatsoever about organising liberty in the places where it intervenes. The account of the West is: “are you walking with me or not?”, giving the expression “walk with me” a signification internal to the market economy,* if necessary in collaboration with counter-revolutionary police. “Friendly countries” like Egypt or Pakistan are just as despotic and corrupt as was Tunisia under Ben Ali, but we’ve heard little expressed about it from those who have appeared, on the occasion of the Tunisian events, as ardent defenders of liberty.

Without a positive conception of its aspirations the uprising will fall prey to the reconstitution of the old order that is not merely the Mubarak regime, but the empire headquartered in Washington, for which the Egyptian state is only the local outpost. The hallmarks of this reconstitution are constitutional reform, replacement of the most odious personalities, a reshuffling of the cabinet, and a promise of “free and fair elections” — what Badiou calls the “Western inclusion”. Beneath all of this reshuffling, however, the existing State continues undisturbed.

Badiou asks: “Is there another possibility?” He answers: “Yes.”

If it is true that, as Marx predicted, the space where emancipatory ideas are realised is a global space (which, incidentally, wasn’t the case with the revolutions of the Twentieth Century), then the phenomena of Western inclusion cannot be part of genuine change. What would genuine change be? It would be a break with the west, a “dewesternisation”, and would take the form of an exclusion.

If there were a different evolution than the evolution toward Western inclusion, what could that attest to? No formal response can be given here. We can simply say there is nothing expected from the analysis of the state’s process which, through long and torturous necessity, will eventually result in elections.

What is interesting about Badiou is he never feels the need to tack on some finishing touch to his analysis. He goes only so far as his analysis takes him and leaves it there. This gives his analysis the appearance of being unfinished, but it is actually his most powerful argument. Badiou simply tells us that, so far as he can see, there is no reason why an uprising has to end up with “free and fair elections” and the perfunctory reforms orchestrated by Washington. In the case of the Tunisian riots, he concludes only by stating that what the riot lacks in terms of an affirmative statement can only be discovered by studying the events themselves:

What is required is an patient and careful inquiry among the people, in search of that which, after an inevitable process of division … will be carried by a fraction of the movement, namely: statements. What is stated can by no means be resolved within Western inclusion. If they are there, these statements, they will be easily recognisable. It is under the condition of these new statements that the development of the organisation of figures of collective action can be conceived.

So, what can we learn from Egypt about the possibilities for a stateless society in light of Badiou’s analysis of Tunisia? In my opinion, the following:

In his inquiry Badiou poses the alternative affirmation as an essentially negative act: “an exclusion” or break with the West. It is expressed in the form of a declaration of intention by the uprising that is fundamentally incompatible with the existing order — with globalization and empire itself.

However, so far as I can tell, the uprising in Egypt is this negative act of exclusion already. By challenging the legitimacy of the Mubarak regime the uprising called into question the entirety of relations of which Mubarak and his henchmen are only the local expression. Confirmation of my conclusion can be seen simply by reviewing Washington’s response to the uprising — the Obama administration certainly believes that its fundamental interest are at risk.

What Badiou demonstrates, therefore, is that the uprising must become aware of itself as an active challenge to “the West” — to globalization and empire. To become more than a mere riot, the uprising must recognize that it is the first act of a voluntary association — the first act by which this voluntary association establishes itself as a new basis for society. Badiou demonstrates that it is not a question of organization, but a question of consciousness on a mass scale that is wanting.

The question we all have to ask ourselves at this point is simple: What separates the uprising of January 25 from the Paris Commune?

In the case of the Paris Commune, the uprising recognized itself as the solution to the intolerable burden of the State. It did not merely sweep away the existing order, but set about to manage society itself in voluntary association. It invited the rest of France to join with it.

Every local uprising like January 25 should aspire to become a non-local event – to declare itself as the new basis of social organization and to appeal to the oppressed of the world to join with it. The call for a transitional government, constitutional reform, new elections, etc., should be rejected. The January 25 uprising must avoid being defined as something of significance only to Egypt; it cannot win if it is confined to Egypt — it must strip off its national form. In response to the secret negotiations directed by Washington, the January 25 uprising will have to aggressively declare its intentions to go global.

If the January 25 movement does not acquire a consciousness of its own global significance it will be isolated and suppressed. It has to aspire to more than changing local personalities and declare that the empire, headed by Washington, is the enemy.

What is truly revolutionary in the uprising in Egypt is that it can become a universal event, spreading beyond Egypt – a general rising of the oppressed. To do this, the uprising will have to reject every attempt both to confine it to Egypt and pacify it with minor changes in the existing State.

The target is Washington and its empire; the aim is to replace this empire with the voluntary association of individuals.

“It must be broken”: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State

January 26, 2011 2 comments

Afghanistan's War Wounded Come To Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar

We can now restate Marx’s theory in a way which will make it easily digestible by those who stand full square for a completely stateless society, as well as the various and sundry people who seem intent on getting him completely wrong in every possible variation — including the imbeciles who count themselves among his followers:

Marx came to the conclusion that capital was abolishing the need for labor and this abolition had profound, far-reaching, implications for the whole of society, and the social relations within which individuals carried on their activity.

Moishe Postone writes:

Until this historical stage of capitalism, according to Marx’s analysis, socially necessary labor time in its two determinations [necessary labor time and surplus labor time] defined and filled the time of the laboring masses, allowing nonlabor time for the few. With advanced industrial capitalist production, the productive potential developed becomes so enormous that a new historical category of “extra” time for the many emerges, allowing for a drastic reduction in both aspects of socially necessary labor time, and a transformation of the structure of labor and the relation of work to other aspects of social life. But this extra time emerges only as potential: as structured by the dialectic of transformation and reconstitution, it exists in the form of “superfluous” labor time. The term reflects the contradiction: as determined by the old relations of production it remains labor time; as judged in terms of the potential of the new forces of production it is, in its old determination, superfluous.

By concentrating property into fewer and fewer hands; ripping the mass of society out of its long historical practice of carrying on its activities in relative isolation employing crude instruments of production for a meager material standard of living that just barely ensured their survival; and, converting the mass of society into directly social laborers, capital was making it possible to apply the latest technological breakthroughs, advancing scientific knowledge, and economies of scale to the task of producing a basic minimal standard of living with as little labor as possible given the level of development of the productive capacities of the laborers themselves and the tools they employed.

No aspect of this process was being consciously undertaken by any member of society, any group of its members, nor even by the members of society as a whole. No one consciously declared their intention to abolish labor. Each person in society was only engaged in self-interested activity in pursuit of private ends: the proletarian, for whom the sale of her labor power was a matter of simple survival — a matter of life and death, the capitalist, for whom continuation as owner of property required the ever increasing surplus producing capacity of the capital under his control. No where in society was the abolition of labor the expressed aim of anyone engaged in this mean, brutal process.

Indeed, as mankind actually crosses the threshold, the event horizon, where it is no longer possible for the demand for productive labor to increase, despite the increasing social demand for new,  previously unimaginable, forms of material consumption, the members of society actually experience this incredible historical event as a loss — a terrifying regression to an earlier period of starvation and want — against which the whole of society blindly struggles, employing for this purpose all the instruments at its disposal, including the State, for the purpose of increasing the demand for labor where no productive employment of this additional labor exists, or can exist.

The human and material capacities of entire continents are laid to waste in an unceasing series of ever more barbaric wars; entire industries spring up overnight not for the creation of new means of production and consumption, but solely to destroy existing means; ever more terrible engines of self-extinction appear, and with them, a mass of proletarians whose sole purpose is to devise and create ever newer versions of these insane commodities. Alongside these industries, and essential to their existence, rises an entire industry of financial engineers, a class of public and private debtors, and the cancerous growth of fictitious capital and financial instruments.

Organizing, expanding and directing this obscenity, the State: that wholly superfluous organ of society, whose long bloody history of aggression, repression, and conquest, stands alone as the single greatest, longest running, continuing conspiracy against the rest of mankind, as well as its chief tormentor, torturer, and parasite in every age and in every epoch — a vile, filthy, parasitic collection of drones whose sole purpose in life has, always and everywhere, been to suck the life from society for its own enlargement — becomes, in the Orwellian world of Hobbesian chaos, the very instrument by which the members of society seek to stave off the results of their own activity.

In tandem with the ever diminishing material demand for productive labor, the social demand for labor in any and every form emerges as the rallying cry from every part of the society. In tandem as the State increases its invasive penetration into, and totalitarian control over, hitherto private and common activities, the Hobbesian chaos reigning within society intensifies, gains a more pervasive character, and further reduces each member of society more completely to an anonymous set of abstract data points which can be identified, sifted and measured by the high priests of economic policy — converted into the raw material of policy recommendations for potential State action over a shorter or longer period of time. The parameters of this potential State policy action itself becomes the focus of the mass of the members of society and subjected to the Hobbesian chaos of society as interests line up on each side of the debate and seek to gain control of the lever of State power. In turn, as this body of parasitic drones master the control of society and gains knowledge of how it can maximize the expansion of purely superfluous labor, its policy parameters narrow — not employment, but the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment”; not free trade, but “free trade agreements”; not economic growth, but “low-inflation economic growth”. In this way, State economic policy is gradually converted into those policies which maximize not the expansion of superfluous labor in general, but the expansion of the State itself as a completely superfluous, cancerous growth on society.

It is precisely this State which, Marx argues, cannot on any account serve as the foundation of the new society. It cannot be salvaged, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be utilized to emancipate society in any fashion. It must be broken: discarded by society; and, with it, Labor itself, and all the remnants of the existing order. The abolition of Labor, and the age-old division of labor that has for so long chained humanity to a set of alien, inhuman relations, increasingly becomes bound up with the question of the abolition of the State, and the abolition of the State is increasingly dependent on the abolition of superfluous labor in every form.

The Value of Nothing: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

In the first part of this series () I argued that Karl Marx’s Individual is the same Individual who appears in the writings of 18th and 19th Century thinkers. Moreover, Marx’s assumptions imply an environment of Hobbes’ war of all against all and an increasingly illiberal, repressive and aggressive, parasitic State.

In the second part of this series () I argued that Marx never believed that there would need to be a period of state socialism to achieve a stateless society. His model of a revolutionary reconstitution of society rested on the idea of a free voluntary cooperative association, which emerges directly out of capitalist society and, which would be the only form of social organization in this stateless community. Marx’s model of the emergence of this voluntary association assumed it occurred empirically, i.e., as an act of commonsense necessity to everyone.

In the third part of this series () I argued that Marx did far more than merely uncover the secret of the worker’s exploitation. Marx’s theory is not a theory of labor’s exploitation under the capitalist system but a theory of social decomposition and transformation of labor activity: ripping the producers from their property; casting them into the ranks of the Proletarians; molding their activity through centuries of despotic capitalist rule into directly social cooperative laborers employing means of production that could only be put into motion by their combined cooperative effort. The transformative process comes to an end when it is no longer profitable to employ labor power under any circumstances — an event which compels the proletarians to take control of their own productive capacities as individuals and organize their activity in free voluntary association.

In this part I will show why Brad is wrong when he states that Marx’s theory requires an unusually altruistic individual to realize the voluntary association. Marx’s theory does not in any way involve a society of unusually altruistic individuals, because it rests on the assumption that scarcity itself has been abolished.

Brad, in his post, “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory”, argues:

[Marx’s] analysis does not take into account individual goals, which is a very human desire to maximize gains for one’s self and one’s own. Humans are cooperative, but we are cooperative individuals. Cooperation can be sustained in a system of mutual benefit, but humans typically have a difficult time sacrificing for the collective over the long haul. Anarcho-socialism relies on such mutual cooperation (and sacrifice) in the absence of a coercive entity, and thus relies on human nature to be compatible with such a system.

Is this assumption actually correct? Does Marx’s theory assume that the individual sacrifice for the collective over the long haul? Let’s begin by returning to Marx’s sketch of the circumstances surrounding the birth of a society founded directly on voluntary association.

In Marx’s model of the State, this parasitic entity appears to hover over society. This separation of the State from Civil Society is in some sense real and in another sense only apparent: as Brad Warbiany demonstrates, the best writers of the time saw in many State actions of the 18th and 19th Century the expression of some definite interest of specific groups in society — a trail of evidence that could probably be traced to the actual motives of specific individuals, as some have argued in the case of our own War on Terror. However, even with these observations it is far from correct to view the State as a mere instrument of any given interest within Civil Society — that it always expresses, for instance, the will of the capitalist class against the working class in some vulgar fashion. It is closer to the truth to understand that the State is the expression of the interests of Capital — a social relationship between and within the two classes, which is not, nor can it be, identical with the interests of either class, nor any particular faction of either class.

If some particular State action can be traced to the interests of one or the other class, and to one or another faction or groups of individuals within either class, it is necessary to point out that it represents those interests within the limits imposed on it by Capital itself. It is possible, therefore, for the State to both express the general interest of all social classes within the limits of capitalist relations, and, simultaneously, appear indifferent, hostile, and an increasingly intolerable burden to the whole of society. Thus, while bourgeois writers after Marx increasingly explain the actions of the State by reference to the interests of one or another faction of society — for the Nazis, it was Jews and communists; in our own time it has been black helicopter conspiracies, the Illuminati, or some other such nonsense — Marx’s theory explains those actions by referencing the general conditions prevalent under capitalist social relations.

I believe the above picture of the relation between the State and Civil Society has implications not only for the politics of capitalist society, it has implications for the manner in which the category Value expresses itself as well. Moishe Postone, in his painstaking reconstruction of Marx’s thinking on Labor as a Value creating activity, “Time, Labor, and Social Domination”, showed that Value — which Marx defined as the socially necessary labor time required to produce labor-power — was not only the basis for the exploitation of the worker in the form of surplus labor time — which, in his model, is the source of profit, interest and rent — but also the basis for a peculiar form of labor activity: superfluous labor time; the period of labor activity which is entirely superfluous to the productive employment of labor power either for the production of wage goods or capital goods.

Where does this superfluous labor time come from?

With the increasing productivity of social labor, an increasing share of the existing labor-power can no longer be profitably employed, i.e., employed by capitals for the purpose of creating surplus value. Capital begins to exhibit symptoms of relative breakdown: an entirely superfluous mass of proletarians who cannot find employment, a mass of machinery which can no longer be put to use by these proletarians, a mass of money-capital which cannot find profitable investment opportunities, and a mass of commodities which cannot be sold.

On the one hand, this so-called deficit in “aggregate demand”, Marx declares, is nothing more than the necessity for a general reduction in hours of work expressed in the form of the law of Value prevailing in capitalist society. On the other hand, since, the purchase and sale of labor power remains essential to Capital itself, and the basis for both the subsistence of the proletarians and the extraction of surplus value by capitals, the necessity for a general reduction in hours of work takes its opposite form: A general social demand from the two great classes in capitalist society for intervention by the State to increase “aggregate demand” by various measures — in other words, for action by the State for active economic policy intervention designed to ensure that the essential condition of Capital — the purchase and sale of labor-power — can continue uninterrupted.

This intervention, which is essentially fascistic, accompanies the rise of the Fascist State, and rests on the interests of both great classes in capitalist society insofar as they are considered only as poles of the relation, Capital, explains the astonishing growth of the State in the 20th Century, which expands from an estimated mere 3 percent of United States Gross Domestic Product to approximately 43 percent in 2010, with an accumulated debt that is greater than the total annual output of the United States’ economy — and currently increasing at the unprecedented rate of more than ten percent per year.

It is precisely in this unprecedentedly enlarged cancer on society that what Michael O. Powell, in his post, “Rethinking Marx”, calls the “high degree of capital to fund” voluntary association is already present in its latent form, as an constantly increasing mass of productive capacity being expended in the wholly unproductive — and from the standpoint of a voluntary association, wholly unnecessary — form of State expenditures. The conversion of the relative breakdown of Capital into its absolute form, which implies the collapse of active State intervention in the economy, frees the entirety of the productive capacity of society from both the dependence on profit as the motive force of productive activity, and the overwhelming mass of this capacity from its wasteful and superfluous employment by the State.

The members of society, who are by this collapse, compelled to create a voluntary cooperative association, find themselves awash in an abundance of productive capacity exceeding, by far, any measurable need for it. With the abolition of the State, the need for Labor itself disappears, taking with it the epoch of scarcity,the Law of Value, Class society, and all the ugly muck of ages.

“All I know is that I am not a Marxist!”: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Now, perhaps it becomes clearer why Marx, in his exasperation with his own followers, declared, “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” It was never about the machines, the buildings, the banks, the factories, the farms or profit, taxes and wages — it was about the Individual and her relationship to other Individuals and Society.

In his writings, Marx sets for himself an apparent impossibly wide chasm across which he has to build a theoretical bridge. In this, he does not allow himself to take any shortcuts through some inventive sham of attributing to human beings some quality that has not, as yet, been discovered by political-economy, nor of some revolutionary party for whom the future appears with a clarity that none of the rest of society can experience.

On the one side of this historical chasm, which Marx must bridge theoretically, is a stateless, classless society of amazing abundance, wherein the individual is able to develop her capacities in an environment of complete freedom, unimpeded by any external compulsion, be it natural or social, and in a free voluntary cooperative association with others in society. Her activity springs entirely from herself, and expresses only her interest as a well-rounded human being in the social and cultural wealth that is freely available to her, and to which she can freely contribute should that be her desire.

On the other side of this chasm is the Hobbesian nightmare we call present day society.

Faced with the seemingly impossible task of conceptually bridging these two models of society, Marx begins with nothing but the categories of political-economy discovered by the great classical liberal thinkers of the 18th and 19th Centuries — the Individual, the State, Civil Society, Classes, Property, Liberty — Marx does not invent these categories but imports them into his model.

  • The Individual who appears in political-economy — the abstract human being shorn of any identity or ties of affinity to family, gender, community, religion, language, race, nation — is the Individual alone who appears in his writings.
  • The State, which is already becoming characterized by illiberality, repression, aggression and totalitarianism, is the sole form of State in his writings. He does not, on any account, imagine some future benign State that can serve as a nanny for society while it finds its cooperative legs.
  • Classes, and Civil Society generally, are constantly being subjected to the intolerable stresses of the developing economic structure of society, in which no individual, group of individuals, nor all of them together, can establish control over the processes unleashed by their own productive capacities — and which capacities loom over them as if some impersonal god who mercilessly sweeps away their undertakings like Yahweh swept away Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Even the heroes of this theory — the Proletarians — are deformed, stunted, broken fragments of human beings whose constant defeat is the mode of Capital’s own self-expansion — who rise each time from their knees, their ranks more numerous than before, to stand bloodied and bruised, and to again demand what belongs to them, but who are each time knocked down by a capital that is no more than their own capacities facing them in the alien but recognizable form of the capitalist.
  • Finally, Value: that one category discovered by these great liberal thinkers that the whole of bourgeois political-economy after Marx was forced to reject, disown, and abandon.

Why is it that among all the categories of classical liberal thought Value alone was declared to be false and expelled from political-economy? What fear does it still strike in the hearts of economists? Why was it necessary to declare unremitting war on the category Value to this day?

Because this category of political-economy alone stripped all the other categories of their attribute of being Eternal Truths. Value declared all of these categories to be historically specific to the capitalist mode of production and, therefore, doomed to disappear taking with it the entirety of the inhuman Hobbesian environment that political-economy understood to be the permanent condition of mankind.

Value, Ricardo and the other classical thinkers declared, was the Individual’s own productive activity confronting her in the form of a commodity. Capital, Marx demonstrated, was simply Value that existed solely for its own self-expansion. It was nothing more than the activity of the men and women of society under conditions where their own activity, and all of the relations established by this activity, existed as a world for itself — impersonal, relentless, as formidable as any law of nature.

The Proletarians were simply former property-owners and their descendants who already had been stripped of their property, under whatever circumstances, by the brutal competition raging among the owners of property; with the fresh addition of former property owners added daily by Capital itself, society was being progressively turned into one propertyless mass. These former property-owners, now stripped of any independent means of “making a living”, were reduced to hiring themselves out as slaves in return for the means of life necessary to their survival.

(As an aside, Brad should not be confused by the much hyped expansion of the ranks of “property-owners” with those wage workers who are accumulating fictitious shares in companies through their 401Ks or, indirectly, through their pension funds — history shows that the big owners of property are always willing to offload these worthless paper claims to the sheeple at a good price, particularly when it is clear that the market is going to nosedive.)

Capital was only the result of this exchange, but, as a relentlessly expansionary social form, it required the continuous expansion of the ranks of proletarians — by outward aggression, for sure, but also by grounding under those property-owners with the misfortune to find themselves on the wrong side of its self-expansion. Thus, the process by which Capital satisfies its need for new material for its self-expansion not only implies the relentlessly aggressive and expansionary State, but the progressive concentration of property into the hands of an ever smaller circle of property-owners, as one after another they are cast into the ranks of the Proletarians.

However, the Proletarians, Marx wrote, were not simply being exploited — in all of written human history, no matter the stage of development, nor the mode of its realization, the labor of one portion of society has always been exploited by another section of society — with the capitalist mode of production the productive activity of the Proletarians was being transformed by Capital into directly social cooperative labor:

Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.

Time and again, the revolt of this mass of Proletarians might fail — would fail — but with each failure, Capital advanced the conversion of their activity into a single, globe-straddling act of cooperative social production. With each defeat, he explained, their ranks were being added to by the ongoing decomposition of the class of property-owners, and the expansion into new territories; and, with each defeat, this mass of property-less individuals were being converted into a single social laborer.

Marx, like Smith, Ricardo, Mill, Jevons and other classical liberal thinkers, theorized that capitalist society was headed toward a catastrophic event — a breakdown resulting from the logic of the category Value itself, where it would no longer be profitable to employ wage labor under any conditions. Ultimately, Capital would run up against its limit of expansion, when, as David Harvey put it, it would be clear to all members of society that “compound growth for ever is not possible: capital accumulation can no longer be the central force impelling social evolution.” In very stark terms, Marx described what this event would look like:

“…the utterly precarious position of labour–power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life…”

At this point, the propertyless mass of society — who had been conditioned to cooperative labor through several centuries of despotic rule of the capitalist, and who, as a result, were entirely at home cooperating in a common act of social activity — would be compelled, on pain of starvation, to assume control of their own productive capacities and employ them in a cooperative manner.

Farewell, Great Leader!: Rethinking Marx, Liberty, the Individual and the State: Some comments

January 20, 2011 3 comments

Farewell, Great Leader!

Continued from

In his post, “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory”, Brad argues that the State, even under revolutionary conditions, will not whither away, but will find ways to persist and enjoy its privileged position in society:

The second point has been demonstrated in nearly every society which has taken a serious stab at state socialism. The rulers become quite fond of being the rulers, and enjoying the material and societal perks of being at the top of the food chain. Rather than dismantling the exploitive class, they replace it with themselves. If faced with the choice of “withering away” or putting down their opposition by whatever means necessary, they usually opt for the latter. Lord Acton’s old adage about power corrupting holds sway.

Michael, in his post, “Rethinking Marx”, quotes Peter A. Schraeder, who puts the revolutionary reconstitution of society this way:

“…a revolutionary situation emerges when advances in technological, scientific, and other forms of material development (the forces of production) outgrow an outmoded system of ownership of property among classes (the relations of production) such that the dominant class finds it increasingly difficult to maintain control over the rest of society through its traditional means. Because no “civilized” society ever forfeits its material level of development, the net result of the growing contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production is a heightened class struggle in which the ruling class is eventually overthrown…”

I can say without fear of contradiction that neither of these portraits accurately reflect Marx’s view of a revolutionary transition to a stateless society. To understand him properly, we must begin where Marx ends: This stateless society itself.

In Marx’s model, this stateless society is founded directly on free cooperative voluntary association itself. There is no state apparatus other than this association. The idea that there is some intervening period of transition under which the management of society is undertaken by any State form other than this freely constituted voluntary association is a distortion introduced into Marx’s theory either by those who wish to deliberately twist his words, or the confused, but perhaps well-meaning, imbeciles who claim to be Marxists but have no accurate understanding of the man’s theory.

One clue that betrays the lack of understanding of Marx’s theory here, and in almost all writings on the subject, is the portrayal of this revolutionary reconstitution of society as a decidedly political act. Now, think back to what I established as Marx’s view of the Individual and the State in the first part of this piece. In Marx’s model the Individual is a complete abstraction from every quality we associate with human beings — an average member of society — set in a completely atomized environment in which every interest is counter-posed to every other interest in society; and, society itself acquires the character of a permanent, all-sided, all-encompassing state of civil conflict.  The State that emerges out of this conflict is precisely a Fascist State that renounces the all-sided conflict of society and seeks to put an end to this conflict by totalizing its control over society.

Where, in this scenario, is there a basis for the revolutionary reconstitution of society? Who is the agent of this reconstitution? Where, in a Hobbesian social atmosphere of universal distrust, competition and conflict — in which the economic activity of each member is truly a matter of life and death — is there a basis for a cooperative consciousness to emerge in the form of a political movement to replace the existing relations with voluntary association? It doesn’t exist, which is why the pathetic imbeciles who imagine themselves to be followers of Marx, must invent, out of whole cloth, the idea of a transition to a stateless society during which society is managed on its behalf by some enlightened despotism under the personal direction of the Great Leader! This fantasy, which can be found nowhere in Marx’s writings, is a 20th Century invention — a child’s fairy tale retold again and again, until like Goebbels Big Lie, it has become incorporated into the accepted interpretation of Marx’s writings.

A second clue that betrays the lack of understanding of Marx’s theory is the objects seized by this revolutionary reconstitution of society. Brad describes this as, “the proletariat seizing the means of production and then finding harmonious sustainable ways to equitably distribute the fruits of such production.” This is indeed consistent with the view of almost all Marxists, and non-Marxist literature without exception. In the scenario outlined here the revolutionary reconstitution of society begins with the seizure of the fixed capital — factories, farms, banks, businesses, roads, bridges, telecommunications and other such items. All of these are brought under the control of the revolutionary administration — the above cited clarification of the manner of this administration is assumed — and managed by society on its own behalf, and no longer on behalf of the capitalist class or the State.

This confusion can also be traced to Marx’s own writings as interpreted by his misguided followers who completely misunderstand what he meant, and by those who, building on this misinterpretation, swallowed it whole as an accurate reproduction of his thinking. I cannot find support for such an interpretation when I examine his most extensive sketch of what this reconstitution will look like.

So, for instance, Marx writes:

This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.

But, then, oddly enough he goes on to say:

The appropriation of these forces is itself nothing more than the development of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves.

Marx is clearly making a distinction between the productive forces of society, and the material instrument of production corresponding to those productive forces. The point of the exercise is not to seize the fixed capital but the productive forces corresponding to this fixed capital. Moreover, this appropriation is identical with the development of the capacities of the individual. In the preceding section of the same work, Marx speaks of these productive forces as existing in:

…a world for themselves, quite independent of and divorced from the individuals, alongside the individuals: the reason for this is that the individuals, whose forces they are, exist split up and in opposition to one another, whilst, on the other hand, these forces are only real forces in the intercourse and association of these individuals.

So, the productive forces are nothing more than the capacities of the members of society, which, like they themselves exist in an environment of Hobbesian conflict and competition. The forces of production are their own individual capacities which, as we earlier wrote, have completely escaped their control as individuals, and evade every attempt by the members of society, singly or in concert, to reestablish control over them within this Hobbesian nightmare.

The revolutionary process has as its objective not to bring the fixed capital of society under its common control: this fixed investment in machinery, buildings, farms, and communications is actually a WORTHLESS CONGLOMERATION OF LIFELESS OBJECTS, which the capitalist, as a matter of routine operation, is constantly forced to devalue and discard under the competitive pressures of the market. Marx’s point is that it is the capacities of the individual members of society which constitutes its true wealth. These capacities must be brought under control in a fashion that is entirely consistent with the actual form in which they exist: as the capacities of each individual in society, indistinguishable from the physical container in which they repose: each individual.

A stateless society begins, therefore, with the individual seizing his own capacities back from this Hobbesian nightmare, and reclaiming them for his own. On this basis alone, free voluntary cooperative association can be constituted. Cooperative association can only be constituted by a society of individuals who are in complete control of their own human capacities as individuals, and, on this basis alone, can freely determine their relations with the rest of society.

To be continued

Marx’s theory of property: self-ownership versus voluntary association

January 15, 2011 1 comment


In answer to Daniel’s reply to my post,Who are “WE”?: Toward the beginning of an answer to Mike…, I have argued here, here and here that self-ownership is not freedom, but the universalization of slavery. I have argued that precisely on the basis of this self-ownership society is able to reproduce all the incalculably horrific relations between human beings that were found in any earlier property form. Moreover, because self-ownership is fully compatible with these earlier forms of human social relations, I have argued that Hollywood can glamorize and romanticize the inhumanity of those earlier forms precisely because they appear to us as direct relations between human beings since they are not founded on market exchange.


But, I think, although I am entirely prepared to be convinced otherwise, the contrast between self-ownership and the earlier forms of property, can also allow us to understand why the argument of such scholars as Justice Antonin Scalia regarding the intent of the authors of the founding documents has such appeal to a large section of the population: it is precisely in those founding documents that the ideal of self-ownership is contrasted directly with the practice of slavery by the authors. Thomas Jefferson’s brutal, savage, and barbaric acts in the real world place the ideal of self-ownership in its sharpest possible relief. We adore the words penned by Thomas Jefferson, despite the fact that he was a slave-owner, but also because he was a slave-owner. Precisely because we can no longer be disposed of by others in the fashion of a slave on Monticello without our consent and an agreed upon remuneration, our own self-enslavement appears to us as the ideal form of freedom to the member of the Tea Party, and not as what it is: the freedom to consent to our own enslavement. For the progressive, it is an acknowledgment by Thomas Jefferson that, should he wish to employ Sally Hemming as before, he will have to pay her at least the minimum wage, deduct the proper amount of Social Security and other taxes, and observe OSHA regulations.

If proponents of self-ownership could confuse it with the expression of natural law within human society, this was only because, in relation to all other forms of property up to that time, it was more perfectly compatible with the new relations between members of society being established by the new economic forces than these older property forms, and only to the extent it was more compatible with these new relations. That we find it necessary to reassert our self-ownership against the existing state of society implies not a conflict with these older forms of property that are no longer compatible with the development of the economic forces of society, but a demand for the abolition of self-ownership as a form of property in ourselves, and, with it, every form of property.

This statement does not mean that the assertion of self-ownership, as a revolution against previous forms of property (insofar as we consider all of these the disposal by others over our individual labor powers) was not valid — only that it was limited by its very nature. Our individual labor power, which can be understood much as described by Murray Rothbard that, “…each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish…”, are not, and have never been, capacities existing apart from us in the form of some object external to us: they are who we are as individuals. When the bourgeois revolution against the old order demanded self-ownership, it was demanding the overthrow of the previously existing state of affairs wherein our human self, including these very capacities, were treated as the property of some feudal potentate.

However, never in any previous form of society was it possible to think of our individual capacities as something distinct from us; never did any feudal chief imagine that the capacities of his subjects existed apart from, and independent of, their physical self; never did Thomas Jefferson imagine that his ownership of slaves extended only to their sex organs, or their capacity as beasts in the field, or as a pair of hands in the kitchen. Nor did these slaves ever imagine that, apart from submitting to his periodic rape, or the time he demanded of them as draught animals, that they were otherwise free human beings.

This division between the individual and her capacities — in which her capacities not only can assume an independent object-like existence, but must assume this form — is also a thoroughly modern invention. And, it was not until this self-object — which Marx calls the “labor-power” of the individual, or, in its totality, “the productive forces of society” — emerged as the fundamental form of property in society, that the capacities of individuals were able to assume an independent existence standing apart from them, and, over against them as an independent social force with a life of its own.

Based on this argument Marx makes the startling assertion not that self-ownership must be replaced by state ownership of the individual — as was the case in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China — but that NO ONE controls these relations nor can anyone achieve control of these relations. The problem posed by self-ownership as a form of property is not the emergence of the State as a social Thomas Jefferson, but that with it human relations generally escape all control by society. Marx writes, “Never, in any earlier period, have the productive forces taken on a form so indifferent to the intercourse of individuals as individuals…”

Despite the demands by both Tea Partiers and progressives for the state to assume control over these human relations — and much to the chagrin of those like President Barack Obama and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke — no individual or group of individuals, no State or group of States, acting separately or in concert, can impose their control over the relations between human beings precisely because they exist in the form of the individual capacities of each of us in an objectified form.

These relations, Marx declares, can only be controlled by any of us, if they are controlled by all of us together and in a voluntary association which abolishes self-ownership as a form of property in ourselves:

It can only be effected through a union, which by the character of the proletariat itself can again only be a universal one, and through a revolution, in which, on the one hand, the power of the earlier mode of production and intercourse and social organisation is overthrown…

In order, Marx writes, not only to gain control over these relations — which are never at any point anything but our own collective capacities existing in the form of an independent social force standing over against us — but also merely to ensure our actual physical survival as living creatures, society will be compelled to establish a voluntary association, and make this voluntary association the exclusive mode of its activity.