According to Justin Fox, a paid apologist for capital at the Harvard Business Review, the difference between the Great Recession and the Great Depression can be summarized in a single chart. Fox explains his perverse reasoning:
“Basically, if you think this downturn was comparable in origin and inherent severity to the other recessions since World War II, then we’ve been the victims of economic-policy bungling of epic proportions. If, on the other hand, you think the proper comparison is the Great Depression, the last U.S. downturn brought on by a severe financial crisis, you’d have to say the White House, Congress, and most of all the Federal Reserve have done an absolutely brilliant job relative to their early-1930s counterparts. I’d lean toward explanation No. 2 — we did actually learn something from the Great Depression, although probably not enough.”
So, apparently, we have a choice of standards by which to measure the severity of the present crisis: the official unemployment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment during the Great Depression, which involved a greater percentage of the wage labor population than the present depression. Or the level of unemployment in the post-war period, including the depression of the 1970s, when employment actually increased over the whole of the depression.
Guess which one Justin Fox, of the capitalist mouthpiece, the Harvard Business Review, wants to use.
There is a lot of talk in policy circles and among speculators on Wall Street that the Federal Reserve will begin to ‘taper off’ its wholesale counterfeiting of fiat dollars before the end of the year. Whether or not this happens, I think any attempt to taper off counterfeiting dollars will have to be reversed in short order.
The reason why tapering will likely not happen is not to be explained by any lack of hyperinflationary risks associated with the insane counterfeiting of dollars Bernanke is engaged in — the risk of hyperinflation is actually quite high. But this risk of hyperinflation is dwarfed by the even greater risks associated with not insanely counterfeiting: outright deflation that threatens the very existence of the mode of production itself.
Christina and David Romer have declared that the argument from some policy quarters that Federal Reserve monetary policy doesn’t matter is “the most dangerous idea in Federal Reserve history”.
Let’s see why this might be true.
Tags: absolute overaccumulation, Ben Bernanke, capitalist breakdown, Christina Romer, David Romer, fascist state economic policy, Federal Reserve Bank, Henryk Grossman, John Keynes, john weeks, Karl Marx, Labor theory of value, neoclassical economics
I’ve been brain-storming about what a small state can do in an era where the US clearly can dictate terms within the world market. This thinking has been triggered by such recent events as the complete humiliation of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, in pursuit of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden; the coup in Egypt to overthrow the democratically elected government there through tactics not unlike those employed against the democratically elected government of Chile in 1972; and by the ongoing events in Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and the so-called periphery of the euro-zone.
A small country like Bolivia, or Egypt or Greece can hardly expect to stand toe to toe with the US and its allies and trade blows. They typically do not have the economic, political or military power to confront the United States. This has led to the United States routinely ignoring their sovereignty, overthrowing their governments and sabotaging their economies.
So what is the political economy of barbarism (fascism) and can it be critiqued by labor theory? I would suggest this is very difficult, since the law of value no longer operates freely in such a mode of production. What we take as the real categories similar to the ones found in Marx’s Capital can be entirely misleading unless we are careful in our analysis.
We can begin, as Marx did for political economy generally, by examining the mode of production as it appears in bourgeois political economy itself and do in reverse what Marx did prospectively in some instances. In various places in his writings, Marx clarified the workings of the capitalist mode of production in terms of how similar processes would appear under communism. An example is to be found in a 2011 dissertation produced by Peter Hudis, “Marx’s Concept of the Transcendence of Value Production“.
Hudis argues in chapter four of his dissertation that in Capital Marx makes critical comments about the capitalist mode of production by throwing light on how these same processes might appear in the new society. He employs these observations in an attempt to construct in rough outline how the transcendence of value might appear in the new society. For instance, he states,
“While the scope of Capital is restricted to an analysis of capitalism, an examination of its most important concepts shows that they contain a number of suggestions regarding his view of a postcapitalist society.”
Is it possible to do this in reverse? Can we examine barbarism as it appears in the conception of bourgeois economists in order to relate these ideas to the familiar categories of labor theory analysis of the capitalist mode of production?
Barbarism, Fascism or the American System
I am still looking for a good formulation of the idea that Washington is using the dollar to control all capital in the world market.
And it ain’t easy.
I think the elements of the basic argument can be found in Anitra Nelson’s, Claus Germer’s and Suzanne de Brunhoff’s chapters in “Marx’s Theory of Money“. The three together establish that insofar as labor theory is concerned the dollar is not money; doesn’t behave like money; and doesn’t serve any of the functions of money. At best the dollar can be considered a token of money with the caveat that tokens do not behave like money, nor do they fulfill any of the functions of money beyond that minimum required as medium for the circulation of commodities.
The first point is obvious: the dollar is not a commodity, nor does it possess anything more than a negligible value of its own. This fact is aggravated by such glaring problems as that a sheet of one dollar bills requires no less time for production than a sheet of twenty, fifty, or one hundred dollar bills. The problems is further aggravated by the instantaneous creation of any quantity of dollars at a computer terminal. (During the recent crisis, for instance, Bernanke showed the television audience that he simply created the currency to bail out the banks at a computer terminal.) This suggests not only is the labor time required for the creation of a dollar negligible, it is, in addition, indeterminant.
The second argument — the dollar does not behave like money — is equally easy to establish. In labor theory, the circulation of money is merely a reflex of the circulation of commodities. This reflexive movement is not the least bit true for any fiat currency at present, including the dollar. Although this might seem to be a small point, it is, in fact, quite significant, since it implies the dollar is not a medium of circulation. As medium for the circulation of commodities, money no more explains the movement of commodities than water explains the movement of fish. This argument, of course, does not deny that money, like water itself, is subject to forces that influence the movement of commodities, as water might for fish, but it suggests the effect on their movement is secondary. It is altogether the opposite with fiat dollars otherwise how could fascist state monetary policy exist at all?
The third argument is that fiat dollars neither can serve as measure of value nor standard of prices as money does in labor theory. I would argue that it is not as if these two core functions of money are separate: no money can serve as a measure of value if it cannot serve as a standard of price. Although as measure of value the function of money is merely an ideal one, this ideal function must be grounded in some actual relationship between the socially necessary labor time contained both in the money and in the commodity.
Assuming for the sake of this argument that these three problems of fiat currency are settled in labor theory, what then is fiat currency? I would argue 99% of the problem Marxist academics encounter with fiat money in labor theory is that they have no explanation for it if fiat dollars are not money. We are, in effect, dealing with an economy that functions entirely without money — which appears absurd. So far as labor theory is concerned, a moneyless economy is incompatible with capitalist relations of production. Since we are apparently dealing with a capitalist economy, the default theoretical position must be that fiat dollars are money unless proven otherwise.
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Tags: "Socialism or Barbarism", Anitra Nelson, association, barbarism, Claus Germer, commodity money, fascism, fiat, Frederick Engels, functions of money, Karl Marx, Labor theory of value, Rosa Luxemburg, soviet union, Suzanne de Brunhoff, theory of money
In the first part of this series, I make the following statements:
- The role of a commodity money in labor theory analysis is not determined by the material the state designates as money in the territory under its control, but by society.
- Gold (commodity monies generally) still performs the function of measure of value and standard of price despite this function not being recognized by any state within the world market.
- It is critical to labor theory analysis that commodity money is recognized as the only money that can serve as measure of value in analysis.
- There is an institutional bias, however, within Marxist scholarship, produced by decades of empirical research based on the mistaken idea fiat dollars are money in the full sense of the term and can serve as money in labor theory analysis. This fallacy serves to block recognition of commodity money as the only measure of value appropriate to labor theory analysis.
- Thus there has been a complete failure on the part of Marxists academics to recognize the significance of the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971.
- Even a cursory examination of the empirical data using gold as measure of value and nominal measures of economic activity produce starkly different results that have yet to be explained by Marxist academics.
These starkly different results demonstrate that state issued fiat money does not behave at all like commodity money and, moreover, there is no research (nor could there ever be research) that demonstrates state issued inconvertible debased fiat created out of nothing (“fiat” for short) can ever behave like commodity money for the ridiculously simple reason that while no institution in society determines what serves as money, the state alone creates fiat and forces it into circulation.
Money does not simply manifest the production relations of individuals engaged in a certain sort of social production, it implies those production relations are outside the control of the individuals creating them. Because the production relations individuals enter into are not mastered by them, these relation’s manifest themselves as an independent force standing over against them in the form of money.
It follows from this that gold did not formerly play a role in managing national or international transaction, as Caffentzis argues, but, rather, expressed the fact the relations of production and exchange were entirely unregulated.
1. Was Marx fundamentally wrong in his theory of money
Does the end of Bretton Woods and of the gold standard invalidate Marx’s argument on money? (When I say ‘gold’ in this case, of course, I mean any commodity serving in the role of money.) This is the question raised by George Caffentzis, in a 2009 paper, Marxism After the Death of Gold. Caffentzis writes:
“Marx clearly argues that gold is necessary for the functioning of capitalism; but since Nixon’s decision to “shut the gold window” on August 15, 1971, gold has played a peripheral role at best in the managing of national or international transactions. The last thirty-seven years have seen many crises in capitalism without, however, a crisis of capitalism (to use Lebowitz’s distinction) (Leibowitz 2003). Capitalism is surviving without the working class’s “cross of gold” in the same way it survived the end of chattel slavery. What might have seemed essential at one point in capitalist history has been shown to be a mere “accident” in the case of chattel slavery.(1) Does the same error apply to gold as money? I.e., does the end of gold (and indeed of any precious metal) as the money commodity constitute the crucial negative experimental test of Marxism?”
This begs a question for labor theory analysis of post-1971 economic events: Who said gold was no longer a commodity money? It is by no means unprecendented to have an entire territory where an inconvertible debased state issued fiat created out of nothing serving as the currency of that territory. Indeed, inconvertible fiat dates at least to 13th century China.
“The most famous Chinese issuer of paper money was Kublai Khan, the Mongol who ruled the Chinese empire in the 13th century. Kublai Khan established currency credibility by decreeing that his paper money must be accepted by traders on pain of death. As further enforcement of his mandate, he confiscated all gold and silver, even if it was brought in by foreign traders.”
Did the establishment of inconvertible paper currency in China displace gold as a money commodity? Of course not. So the argument Caffentzis makes in his paper must be that because all nations have dispensed with commodity money, somehow this makes gold no longer a commodity money. Nothing happened to gold in the interim, the only change was what nation states defined as currency in the territories they control.
Restated, the argument that gold is not money means the fascist state determines what is money. This proposition is not consistent with labor theory. Mr. George Caffentzis, however, thinks labor theory must be ‘stretched’ to include the possibility of non-commodity money. He does not explain why this has to be done, however.
At the start of this series I noted that, according to Elmar Flatschart, wertkritik states the abolition of labor is not the same as social emancipation. In his view, the abolition of value is only a condition of social emancipation, but social emancipation itself is a more complex problem.
At first glance this conclusion might be seen as very pessimistic, since it implies that even in the absence of any material need for labor, the great mass of society might still be trapped in compulsory labor and the debilitating division of labor to the sole benefit of an ever diminishing group of exploiters.
This is not a minor point. The concept of the abolition of labor is central to Marx’s and Engels’ theory. Uri Zilbersheid calls the abolition of labor one of Marx’s most important ideas; he notes the concept is central at least in “his early writings and to some degree in his later writings”. Yet, Zilbersheid observes, the abolition of labor receives little attention from Marxists:
“the radical Marxian vision—the abolition of labour—has not gained due recognition. Marxian thought is devoted to liberating humanity from all kinds of servitude, and the abolition of labour constitutes a major aspect of this liberation.”
Certain Marxists have their own weasel words to cover their statist inclination. Unless pressed to demonstrate it, they routinely refer to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (as one person stated to me) as “a ruling class’ instrument of the suppression of class enemies”. The employment of coercion against the capitalists, they assert, means the association of the working class is a working class state.
This idea is not to be found in Marx or Engels writings and it isn’t even in the anarchist criticism leveled against Marx by Bakunin.
This really makes it appear as if the difference between working class association and a bourgeois state is who gets suppressed by violence. It poses the problem of association in a way that isn’t even close to understanding how association differs from the state.
In one of my earlier posts, I accused some Marxists of being fascists. Needless to say this did not go over well with those Marxists who might fall into the category of people who, although claiming to be communists, nevertheless believe any attempt to actually dismantle the present state amounts to a neoliberal assault on the so-called ‘social safety net’ allegedly provided by some fascist state spending.
One person on reddit who might fit the description of a statist communist responded to my argument this way:
1. That’s a lie; 2. Even if that were true, that analysis is bollocks.
Congratulations, you have posted something which does not actually raise any questions but instead goes on about Communists being fascists without any material analysis of what either is.
And aside from all that, all the article really does is state a fact, a fact that we are well aware of and spend our time actually analysising in a Marxist framework. The article does not analyse it in any framework, it just states it and rubbishes Communism at the same time. Absolutely useless.
Here’s a criticism: you are full of shit. Fuck you, fuck off.
Okay fine. I guess this writer and I aren’t going to find any common ground soon.
5. Capitalistically Determined, Materially Determined and Superfluous labor times
If I understand Postone’s argument in his book Time, Labor and Social Domination, (and he can speak to this if I am misreading him) in the capitalist mode of production value (i.e., ‘socially necessary labor time’) appears in not one, but two distinct, historically determined forms. So far as I know, Postone is the first theorist since Marx and Engels to show how these two forms of labor time are embedded in the capitalist mode of production itself. He defines the two forms of value for us as,
“the total labor time determined as socially necessary by capital, on the one hand, and the amount of labor that would be necessary … were material wealth the social form of wealth, on the other”.
There is, as Postone explains, a duration of socially necessary labor time that arises from the material needs of the social producer, the combined body of all workers engaged in social production, and a distinct and separate duration of socially necessary labor time that arises from the needs of the capitalist mode of production itself. I will refer to the total labor time of society as the capitalistically determined labor time and the amount of labor that would be necessary if material wealth were the social form of wealth as the materially necessary labor time.
There is nothing to say that these two durations of socially necessary labor time must be the same. In fact, the recurrent crises of the capitalist mode of production is nothing more than the forcible adjustment of these two durations of socially necessary labor time. Moreover, as Postone shows in his reconstruction of Marx’s category of superfluous labor time, the aim of capitalist production is the constant and ever increasing extension of labor time beyond that duration required for the needs of the social producers. Which is to say, the aim of the mode of production is to maintain and increase, by all means at its disposal, an imbalance between the two durations of socially necessary labor time — to constantly generate labor that is completely superfluous to society.
3. The problem of identifying economic waste in a capitalist economy
As I argued in the previous section of this series, if we are going to set as our aim the complete abolition of labor, there is a big question posed by the problem of a capitalist economy. To reiterate it briefly: In an economy based on directly social labor, particular forms of concrete labor appear as abstract homogenous labor. The labor of the doctor, the janitor, the autoworker or the soldier do not appear in these concrete forms but only as wages, salaries, etc. The same is true for the various sectors of the economy — industrial, services, agriculture and the state. Finally, whatever waste might be present in the economy, and which would serve as the material basis for a reduction of hours of labor, appear in the economy as just another cost.
One expenditure of abstract homogenous labor is exactly identical in every way to every other expenditure of abstract homogenous labor
There is, therefore, no way to tell industrial production from industrial waste, medical care from murdering civilians simply by going through the North American Industry Classification System and cherry picking what labor is useful and what labor is not. If medical care is useful, is it still useful when it is being used to return a soldier to the battlefield? If industrial production is assumed to be useful, is it still useful when the product is military materiale? Is the industrial labor producing military boots more or less useful than the labor expended bussing a table in a restaurant? We can make moral judgments on this, but Obama’s morality is different than mine.
Tags: Chris Harman, commodity money, commodity production, currency, gold, Karl Marx, Labor theory of value, Moishe Postone, Money, socially necessary labor time, superfluous labor time, surplus value, value
I have already shown you this chart, which demonstrates that between 1964 and 2012, the nation’s labor force doubled.
During the same time as the labor force doubled, I showed, hours of labor doubled as well:
But this doubling of hours of labor only examines part of what has actually happened in the last fifty years. Not only has the labor force and hours of labor doubled, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows during that same period output per worker increased at an annual average rate of approximately 2 percent over the last fifty years. Which means output per employed worker has doubled as well.
That means we have achieved a five-fold increase in total material wealth produced annually between 1964 and 2012 in the United States. Yet, for all this increase in material wealth, poverty still exists.
It gets worse: According to data supplied by the Department of Agriculture, between 1964 and 2012, the farm labor force fell from 7.2 million to 872 thousand — a fall of 88%. Yet, despite the fall in the number of people engaged in agriculture over the period owing to improvements in the productivity of farm labor, people still go to bed hungry in this country. Total real material output rises to 500% overall and labor needed in agriculture falls 88%; yet, despite this improvement in material wealth, 43 million workers still live in poverty according to Washington. Moreover, there has been an actual increase in the number of workers living in poverty since 1964.
Despite these facts, Washington tells us we cannot afford our current material standard of living. Politicians say either retirement has to be delayed and medical coverage cut, or Washington must go still deeper in debt.
Now ask yourself: If you are working twice as long as your parents, producing five times as much material wealth, should you be better or worse off than they were? So where did all that increased wealth go? Since you are, in fact, poorer than your parents, it is obvious none of that increased wealth made its way into your pockets.
So why are we working like dogs if no increase in the amount of labor we do adds anything to our material standard of living? Ask politicians in Washington this question and they will give you two different answers. The GOP says you need to learn to live within your means, while the Democrats say you need to carry even more public debt. However, ‘your means’ have increased five-fold in the past fifty years, and debt cannot by anything that has not already appeared on the shelf at Wal-Mart. Both Republicans and Democrats say you aren’t working hard or long enough — you need to work more years and more hours. So, in return for all this additional work, they promise you less.
And why isn’t the communist Left addressing this issue?
Personally, I think they don’t talk about it because the labor hours issue doesn’t involve more fascist state spending. The communist Left in this country are a bunch of fascists dressed up as communists. For the communist Left, there is no problem that cannot be fixed with more fascist state spending.
The first and most banal of objections to the possibility labor can be reduced or even abolished altogether that I usually hear from communists is that any reduction in hours of labor must lead to a fall in real or nominal wages. This argument is entirely without any merit whatsoever and is made mostly by people who are either completely ignorant of the difference between nominal and real wages or prefer to pretend they don’t know the difference.
The argument is used only to distract people from the fact that nominal wages have been rising for decades while real wage has been falling. The real hourly wage peaked in 1970, as research shows, and has been stagnant even in the empirical data of the fascist state. This data is not to be trusted, however, since it rests on the most savage and highly suspect notions of ‘utility’. It is nothing more than an attempt to quantify how much it costs to maintain the working class at the lowest possible level of material subsistence consistent with the continued physical existence of the worker. And, moreover, the data itself is highly vulnerable to manipulation by anyone with a political agenda — in first place corporate interests in Washington.
However, if we measured wages in 2012 by the same objective standard used in 1964 — a definite quantity of gold with a definite exchange rate with dollars — the real wage in 2012 has fallen to just 18 percent of what it was in 1970.
Using this measure there is no question why you think you are poorer than your parents. You clearly are only earning in a week what your parents earned in a single day when they were your age.
The apologists for the fascist state (and dumb Marxist academics following them) argue employing gold as a measure for the real wage is ‘gold-buggery’ or fraudulent. Gold, they say, is a barbaric relic.
Really? Whoever showed this to be true? Marxists who agree with this bourgeois opinion need to provide evidence that this is true — any empirical evidence at all that the dollar gives gold its value, not the other way around. There are dozens of currencies in use today and hundreds in the last 200 years. Communists who mindlessly repeat the bullshit spewed by bourgeois economists need to show — employing actual empirical data, not their fevered delusions — how any currency in the world market today — from the dollar, to the euro, to the yen, or yuan — gives gold its value.
You fuckers using M.E.L.T. theory need to prove it or pack your shit and go back to the university cubicle where you fuckers belong.
There is no question at all that Americans are doing twice as much labor, producing 2.5 times as much output, for wages that are a fifth of what they were in 1964. Longer hours of labor has done nothing to increase wages; instead they have been accompanied by a continuous fall in wages. That 80 percent fall in wages between 1970 and 2012 had to go somewhere — if it did not go to the wages, then where?
There is no question what has happened in the past fifty years: every hour of additional labor has been diverted to profits and fascist state spending. The argument of the Republicans is that increased profits is necessary to the increase employment of the working class. The argument of the Democrats is that increased fascist state spending is necessary to increase the material living standard of the working class. In fact what is demonstrated in the data is that increased labor by the working class only increases profits and fascist state spending. Increased hours of labor does nothing for the working class but make it poorer — there is no trickle down.
What is so fascinating about this is that every statistic I have mentioned comes down to the same thing, which every communist researcher knows to be true. There has only been a deterioration of the condition of the working class over the past fifty years. However, no communist researcher ever seems to ever make the connection between this fact the working class is poorer today than fifty years ago and the increase in hours of labor over the same period. The cause of our increasing poverty is always attributed to some cause other than labor. Dumenil and Levy for instance argue:
“The new configuration of income distribution was the outcome of various converging trends. Strong pressure was placed on the mass of salaried workers, which helped restore profit rates from their low levels of the 1970s or, at least, to put an end to their downward trend. The opening of trade and capital frontiers paved the way to large investments in the regions of the world where prevailing social conditions allowed for high returns, thus generating income flows in favor of the U.S. upper classes (and broader groups that benefit to some extent by capital income). Free trade increased the pressure on workers, the effect of the competition emanating from countries where labor costs are low. Large capital income flows also derived from the growing indebtedness of households and the government. Extreme degrees of sophistication and expansion of financial mechanisms were reached after 2000, allowing for tremendous incomes in the financial sector and in rich households. The crisis, finally, revealed that a significant fraction of these flows of income were based on dubious profits, due to an increasing overvaluation of securities.”
So what is missing here? In all the talk of “new configurations of income distribution”, “income flows”, and “financial mechanisms”, the two writers produce a book totaling hundreds of pages and never even once mention that total hours of labor and that the productivity of this labor have both doubled in the past fifty years. This is entirely laughable, since Marxism asserts that it uses ‘labor’ theory in its analysis. How can you argue you use labor theory if you never actually look at labor itself?
How does that work? Are we just supposed to take your word that you employ labor theory when you never actually mention labor? Do you think we are so dumbed down by phony debates in DC, we will just accept any assertion you make?
Tags: Bureau of Labor Statistics, commodity money, Dominique Levy, fiat, Gerard Dumenil, hours of labor, labor statistics data, material wealth, nominal wage, Poverty, real wage, total nonfarm payroll, wage labor
Most of the stuff I read on Marxism today seems to miss a very significant point: The entire context of the debate has changed.
These writings can be divided into two groups:
- Those who continue as if nothing has changed, and
- Those who state everything before was a failure.
In the first group are the Leninists, soc-dems, assorted types, who approach the problem of social emancipation more or less the way the generation immediately following Engels approached it. The second group really emerges out of the interwar period and after. It is probably easier to think about this if I just state what I am thinking here.
Capitalism develops the productive power of the total labor power of society. What Marx and Engels realized is that ultimately this improvement would lead to the reduction of necessary labor for all of society. When they realized it, this idea was in its infancy, but it became the commonsense assumption of everyone. Even Keynes, the intellectual godfather of fascism, made this assumption.
In my previous post, I explained that the wertkritik school has come to a rather startling conclusion:
“The abolition of value does not equal social emancipation”.
The argument Postone, Kurz, Flatschart and others make with regard to the critique of value is not very complicated: Materially, socially necessary labor time can be reduced without a corresponding reduction in the quantity of labor actually expended.
But, can the material need for labor be reduced to zero without the end of wage labor itself? For some ungodly reason, Postone and Kurz take the anarchist position that even in the absence of any material need for labor at all, wage labor can still exist. Okay, fine. Let’s leave that to one side for now.
This means, a number of different theorists, employing various sorts of critical analyses, have all come to the same conclusion, which has been presented in the form of a non-identity: the abolition of value is not the same as social emancipation.
To really understand the significance of the wertkritik school’s argument, it could better be stated as follows: Not all the wage labor we perform is materially necessary. The reduction of the material need for wage labor does not, of itself, lead to a reduction of the amount of wage labor actually performed. So, there is a very high probability that most of the labor we perform everyday is entirely superfluous to any need.
At this point, the wertkritik scholar simply stands there with a grim look on his face and declares solemnly: “The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.”
Now you have to realize what wertkritik has stated: the fact that you get up every morning to an alarm clock and shuffle off to work in some disgusting cubicle for eight or ten hours a day has no ramifications for Marxist politics! And, the wertkritik school theorist proclaims, this is true even if the work you are doing is completely fucking unnecessary to you or anyone else!
Do you think they ever stopped to ask themselves: “Well, this very well might have no impact on Marxist politics, but what about the implications for the person actually performing the useless labor?” Do the rest of us have a fucking life, dreams, hopes and wants of our own, or are we just mindless fucking tools for the accumulation of capital? Apparently, it never occurs to the wertkritik school that their work might have some passing significance for cubicle jockeys watching the clock. It never occurs to these idiots that the dead space between the time you park your car in the company lot and the time you start it again to go home might be filled with something other than mindless production of surplus value.
Something, like, for instance, A FUCKING LIFE!
Instead, all we get from these asshole academics are indecipherable phrases like “negative critique”, or “the abstract and fetishized character of modern domination”.
You would think one of these assholes might just pick up some data from the fascist state and try to determine the extent to which material socially necessary labor has been eliminated and compare this with the amount of labor people are actually doing. But — NO! — that would be too much like relevant fucking work. And the last thing we want is for Marxism to be relevant to any-fucking-body’s life. Let’s just keep it as it is: an irrelevant circle-jerk among folks with eight semesters of fucking graduate-level Hegelian philosophy.
So, Wertkritik really does not have a complicated argument: it states most of the work we do is absolutely unnecessary — superfluous. But it states it in such dense and arcane language that, apparently, the message doesn’t even penetrate the brains of the handful who actually understand it.
If these fuckers can’t figure out what their theoretical effort has produced, who the fuck else is going to?
We really don’t need those assholes to pick their noses out of a fucking book long enough to understand what they are saying. Once we grasp their essential argument, it is possible to verify it without much difficulty.
And, once we do this, we will see that Elmar Flatschart is an idiot and that wertkritik has profound implications for Marxist politics.
So, let’s start with the numbers — and there are a lot of them..
At a recent conference sponsored by the Platypus group, Elmar Flatschart spoke of the most important abstraction existing in our society today, value, and stated:
“Marxism shouldn’t be understood as an identity-giving, wholesome position, which history proved to be erroneous, but should be reduced to a theoretical core that can help us to understand society, via a negative critique, even if it does not necessarily provide us with a way out. The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.
There is no new program or a master plan for emancipation that can be developed out of the abolition of value. Rather, it can be seen as a condition of emancipation from value and the abstract system of oppression it represents. How emancipation will be achieved is a more complex story. We know what will not work: much of what the Old Left proposed as Marxist politics. A lot of that should be abandoned because, essentially, abstract domination cannot be abolished through the imposition of some other kind of direct, personal domination. If we are to critique the abstractions of the economic forms, we similarly have to target the political form itself. While Marx and Engels suggested as much by their formulation of the state eventually “withering away,” I think we need to be a lot more radical. Emancipation ultimately has to mean the abolishment of the political as well. This is contradictory in the present political situation, but we should not try to postpone this task until after the revolution. We should see the constraints and the fetishizations immanent to the political form as something we want to get rid of now.”
This was an oddly ambiguous statement, with which his two co-speakers took issue. In response to Flatschart assertion, Alan Milchman stated: “The division Elmar drew between the domain of politics and that of Wertkritik is highly dubious.” Jamie Merchant also argued against Flatschart assertion, value criticism “have certain implications for politics.”
Flatschart statement was ambiguous because it is unclear whether he is speaking about a politics after the abolition of value, or a politics arising from the critique of value. If as a literal reading of the statement suggests Flatschart means there is no politics after the abolition of value, I think he is correct. But it is odd that both of Flatschart’s co-speakers seemed to think this was not at all what he meant. They appear to interpret his statement as meaning labor theory offers no guide to action on the question of social emancipation of the individual.
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Tags: Alan Milchman, Andre Gorz, Elmar Flatschart, empirical consciousness, Frederick Engels, Jamie Merchant, Karl Marx, Max Horkheimer, Mikhail Bakunin, Moishe Postone, negative critique, Platypus, Robert Kurz, socially necessary labor time, Theodor W. Adorno, value, wage labor
Part Two: (Nick) Land, Capital and Labor (Theory)
Clever Monkey’s argument against the accelerationists seems to rest on a precise formulaic incantation repeated over and over: the only accelerationism possible is Nick Land’s accelerationism. Thus accelerationism itself is merely a virulent subform of neoliberalist ideology that advocates commodification of all human relations. Which is to say all talk of accelerationism must lead us to embrace anarcho-capitalism, the Thought of Murray Rothbard, and the good folks at the Mises Institute.
Tags: accelerationism, Anarcho-capitalism, “Wertkritik”, benjamin noys, Bertell Ollman, Deleuze, Frederick Engels, Guattar, Joshua Johnson, Karl Marx, Keynesian economics, Labor theory of value, lyotard, neoliberalism, nick land, Occupy the Marxist Academy, ray brassier, shorter work time
Part One: The Grammar of Left Fascism
Twice in the past couple of weeks I Have been accused of being infected with an ideology known as accelerationism. To be honest, I had no idea what accelerationism was and never heard of it until the accusation was made. Nevertheless, I do accept the argument that ignorance of an ideology is no proof of innocence — at least insofar as people will make the accusation based on their criteria, not mine.
It turns out accelerationism is the idea that capitalist development can be sped up and the entire epoch brought to a close more rapidly than it would otherwise by pursuing measures designed to the end. Intrigued by this idea, I spent a few days trying to understand the concept, poring over the criticisms of those who oppose it, and thinking about the relation of this ideology to anything remotely suggested by labor theory.
What follows is my first take on the notion of accelerationism through the argument of one of its fiercest critics, Benjamin Noys, an editor at the venal academic paywall, Historical Materialism.
You can almost smell the frustration pouring off Paul Krugman these days, as he once again proclaims the latest in a series of victories of Keynesian economic theory over its monetarists opponents.
“Sorry, guys, but as a practical matter the Fed – while it should be doing more – can’t make up for contractionary fiscal policy in the face of a depressed economy.”
Krugman’s argument, which is a continuation and expansion on a more extensive argument by Mike Konczal can be simplified: Keynesian policies are better at generating an overworked working class than monetarist policies.
After reading and commenting on David Graeber’s post at the Guardian, I feel it necessary to comment more broadly on the problem the euro-zone faces in the crisis, as well as the problem posed by the austerity regime being pursued by the member nation of the European Union. My point is to show that the errors of the bourgeois economists Reinhart and Rogoff are not, as is commonly believed, a simple math or spreadsheet error. Behind these errors is concealed the fact that the euro-zone itself is founded on a fundamental structural flaw resulting from the monetarist economic theory on which it is constructed. This flaw was nothing more than an attempt to obstruct the working class majorities of the member nations from democratic control over their economies — a flaw that is now haunting the euro-zone and will likely cause its collapse.
David Graeber’s article in the Guardian, There’s no need for all this economic sadomasochism, is very disturbing because in it he adopts the argument of the MMT fascists. I want to state this clearly, although I am generally supportive of his activist work with Occupy, I think he is way off on this idea.
First he starts out by making the patently absurd argument that the euro-crisis is about morality, not profit:
“After all, as I and many others have long argued, austerity was never really an economic policy: ultimately, it was always about morality. We are talking about a politics of crime and punishment, sin and atonement.”
This, he knows, is not an accurate portrayal of austerity, but simply one that dovetails with his notions on debt in general. The aim of austerity has no more to do with morality than a tax on cigarettes has to do with discouraging smoking. The aim, in both cases, is to maximize fascist state control of economic life and maximization of profit through this control.
He then accuses Dutch and German voters of “fiscal sadism” because they don’t want their wages to bail out the holders of fascist state debts in Greece and Spain. What sort of nonsense is this? They should simply lie down and allow the banks to rummage in their wallets? The resistance to bailing out the Greece fascist state has less to do with “fiscal sadism” than a desire not to bail out German banks. I think, it is important we do not lump German voters in with German banksters in this crisis. While it is true, “Politicians locate economic theories that provide flashy equations to justify the politics”, this has nothing at all to do with the resistance of overwhelmingly working class voters to having their pocket picked by these politicians.
This conflation is bad enough, but then Graeber goes in to embrace the theoretical arguments of the fascistic Modern Money Theory (MMT) school. MMT is a ‘theory’ on the workings of so-called modern money, i.e., fascist state issued valueless counterfeit currency that began in use following the Great Depression. This counterfeited currency is employed by the state to manage economic activity within capitalist economies. It is the instrument by which the fascist state functions as national capitalist managing the national capital as direct exploiter of labor. It is impossible to employ this ‘theory’ in the interests of the vast majority of the society, who are being directly exploited by the state through the use of this currency.
Moreover, if MMT is correct, the problem faced in the euro-crisis exactly opposite of what it appears: there is not too much state debt, but too little. In modern money theory without sufficient debt, the excess capital sloshing around the system has no place to be profitably invested. To find a place for this fictitious capital, MMT argues, the fascist state must create an ever increasing quantity of debt instruments.
Which is to say, for German mercantilist policies to produce ever increasing quantities of excess capital, Greece must, at the same time, issue ever increasing quantities of bonds to absorb the German surpluses. Side by side with the German workers compelled to work long hours to produce otherwise unsellable exports, we get Greece workers working long hours to pay otherwise unrepayable public debts.
What sort of bullshit is this to adopt into Graeber’s anti-statist message?
The MMT argument is not particularly disturbing in itself. It merely carries the bourgeois economist’s argument to its absurd limits. What is disturbing, however, is the idea this “theory” is gaining any traction among antistatists. It is a completely fascistic theory that deserves only to be opposed wherever it rears its head.
Anti-statists have their own solution: wipe out all debts without exception and reduce hours of labor for the mass of society.
Anti-statists should not be trying to figure out how the states of Europe can carry even bigger loads of debt. Fuck the banksters — they can all go to hell and take their fascist mini-states with them.
Part One: “… the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution”
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes:
“Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views, and conception, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?”
In this statement Marx is arguing changes in material existence and social relations must produce changes in consciousness.
Based on his argument, we can assume when, in the German Ideology, he and Engels wrote capitalism gives rise to,
“a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness”,
they were making the argument capitalism gives rise to changes in material existence, social relations and social life that produces a communist consciousness.
I ask this, because I certainly don’t want to be accused of “stringing quotes together”. I want to be sure these two concepts — one from the Communist Manifesto, the other From the German Ideology — actually are related. I want to be sure the two arguments form a discrete, coherent and continuous line of reasoning going through their life’s work. This is so when I ask dumb fucking vanguardist groupuscules (like, e.g., the SWP (UK)) why they exist, I am on solid ground. But. more important, I want to make sure I am on solid ground when I begin looking at the arguments of both Kautsky and Lenin on the issue of working class consciousness. I don’t want any silly mindless vanguardists to say I am taking Engels or Marx out of context when I rip Kautsky and Lenin new assholes.
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.
An interesting question from George Magnus of the banking giant UBS via Zero Hedge: “Why Are The European Streets Relatively Quiet?”
To understand the background of Magnus’s question we have to go to 2010. At that time, the economist Michael Pettis predicted Europe would have three years or or so to impose its “labor restructuring” before all hell broke loose and national politics descended into chaos:
“I don’t in any sense pretend to be an expert on the subject, but one of the things that surprises me is that as far as I know (perhaps because I am looking in the wrong places) and in spite of very clear historical precedent, very few analysts, even the greatest euro-skeptics, are wondering about the changes in electoral politics that are likely to take place in Europe over the next few years as a consequence of the euro adjustment. For example Wolfgang Munchau has an excellent article in the Financial Times in which he concludes, like I did in my post last week, that:
The eurozone is manoeuvring itself into a position where it confronts the choice between two alternatives considered “unimaginable”: fiscal union or break-up.
Obviously I think he is right, but I would add that the window for that choice is a small one. If Europe doesn’t move quickly, within two or three years it will probably be very difficult, if not impossible, to engineer fiscal union. By then domestic politics are likely to be too unstable for the European political elite simply to arrange union over the heads of the citizenry.”
But here we are five years after the outbreak of the global crisis and almost three years after Pettis wrote his words, yet still European working classes are offering only limited resistance — nowhere near the sort of political chaos the bourgeois apologist Pettis imagined.
Okay, so this is not going to be the usual examination on the topic of wage labor, capitalism or communism. Sometimes when you run into a conceptual brick wall it helps to completely change perspectives. I am trying to find a new way to describe why and how capitalism itself anticipates communism without producing a predictable 20th century Marxism argument.
CAVEAT: Of course, this just might fall completely flat, but thems are the breaks. So you can be skeptical of the result, since I am just attempting a thought exercise.