The following post is a guest submission from musician Allen Murdoch. Allen is one of the founders of the Skeptical Libertarian Facebook page. His personal blog can be viewed here and his Youtube page (featuring his music) can be found here. You can also buy his album, Ashes of Stellar Alchemy, here.
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.” - Rebecca West
So, the interwebs are again lighting up in debate over the issue of “why aren’t there more women in the libertarian movement?”
So far, both sides seemed to have remained mostly civil, although these things have historically had a propensity for blowing up (or, if you prefer, devolving down) into so much shouting and name-calling. We’re not at that point yet, so here are a few mildly “outside-the-box” thoughts that I have had on the matter. What follows is emphatically not intended to be a polemic, nor should it be interpreted as anything like an attempt to make “a definitive statement” on the matter. They are simply conjectures, speculations, and questions that I have asked myself while pondering this issue. I hope to contribute something useful to the conversation, not to end it.
First off, we have to be clear about what we mean by “more women”. What is implicit in the question isn’t the issue of the raw numbers of people with XX chromosomes who identify as libertarians, or who are activists, or who are engaged as writers and scholars. Some such data on those numbers may (or may not) exist, but even if does, that’s not the question people are actually asking.
The question, rather, is “Why aren’t there more women relative to the number of men?”
It is not an issue of “how many”, but of “what ratio”, and the unspoken premise is that the ratio ideally ought to be – if not 1 to 1 – closer to 1 to 1 than it is, currently. And, to be clear, I take no issue with that aspiration.
But it seems to me that both sides are working from a woefully incomplete data set when making the issue about how either “women just can’t do libertarianism” or, conversely, about how “libertarian men cause women to not become libertarians”. Either, or both, or neither of these claims might be partially or completely true, in whatever configuration you prefer. However, focusing narrowly on the one specific (albeit mostly fuzzy and anecdotal) data point about “the libertarian movement” runs the risk of ignoring more broad and systemic questions.
This same issue, with the same partisan sides, making the same sorts of claims, is also playing out with some regularity in the organized skeptic and atheist movements, with no small amount of vitriol and antagonism. There are those on one side who assert that women are simply “too emotional” to understand the hard-nosed skeptical approach to critical thinking and detached analysis, preferring “intuitiveness” and “interrelatedness” to the rigors of objective reasoning and debate. This is one of the legacies of both “old boy’s club” style chauvinism, as well as certain strains of feminism: that men and women are fundamentally neurologically different in interests and aptitudes. The claim that men and women may have distinct neurological differences is not, on it’s face, offensive. It may even be true, for all I know (spoiler alert: idle speculation on this below). But the specific interpretation that “women are simply not inclined towards the principles of this movement” seems so shallow as to not even be a serious position.
For that interpretation to be true, the things inherently repellent to women about skepticism would have to be the same – or at least of the same genus – as what is allegedly so repellent to them about libertarianism. And, sure enough, we see the same sorts of claims made on the political side: that libertarianism is about “hard” principles, economic analysis, and vigorous amounts of bootstrap pulling. Women, by contrast, are mushy, have no head for economics and secretly yearn to be nurtured and protected by a benevolent nanny-state.
Nevermind for the moment that such claims require us to make almost as many baseless assumptions about libertarianism as they do about gender (since when do free people not take care of one another?) because there’s another side to the debate.
The alternative explanation is that it is the behavior of libertarian men (sometimes also indicted for some combination “whiteness”, “heterosexism”, “patriarchy”, “privilege”, et al.) that discourages women from becoming an active part of the libertarian movement. There are certainly enough insipid and vile comments floating around on online forums, blog posts, and You Tube videos to lend at least a measure of credibility to this position. But if my impromptu and highly unscientific survey of the internet is any indication, this places the tone of libertarians well within the same parameters as that of gamers, sports fans, and Apple fanbois.
While this may say volumes about how we speak to one another in the wide, wide world of web, it hardly seems like a specific indictment of libertarian ideas or of libertarian men, given that plenty of women still seem to manage to enjoy video games and use Android devices, with or without special consideration from the fellas, thankyouverymuch.
If we are discussing the relative presence or absence of women from what might loosely be called “the liberty community”, one data point tells us nothing. Instead, we have to ask: does the libertarian movement have a greater, lesser, or a ratio consistent with that of women to men as do the progressive and conservative movements? If the ratio between the three are mostly consistent (even if women are consistently underrepresented in all three) then we can safely do away with the notion that women just aren’t “fit for” liberty.
I certainly don’t have data on the matter either way, nor am I aware of any data that exists (it may, but I’ve not seen it). Failing that, let us posit temporarily that women are more or less consistently underrepresented in every prominent political movement, and proceed from there.
One may conjecture that perhaps women simply aren’t “into” politics, broadly. Women – the claim goes – can’t be bothered to think about big and important issues, because they’re simply too busy focusing on how to land a wealthy husband, or where to get the cutest outfit, or which stores have the best sale on make-up. You know: girl stuff. This troglodyte caricature of a position has very few full throated adherents remaining, but the sentiment probably isn’t foreign to many of us either, even if it is now typically expressed in a more subtle and faux-intellectualized manner than it has been historically.
That such a formerly common attitude must now be expressed with caveats and elaborate, ritual, hand-waving is probably itself evidence of progress (a point I never tire of belaboring), but proponents of the “women simply aren’t political” camp are, I suspect, probably no more or less overtly sexist than most people. More likely: they are simply blinded by their own sampling errors. These men, themselves passionate about political issues, perceive a dearth of women in the political conversation, and conclude that politics must be “for men”. What they fail to take into account are the scores of other men outside of their immediate circle of political friends who care more about local sports rivalries, stylish fedoras, and microbrews than they do about asset forfeiture reform and reigning in the national security state. Such otherwise apolitical men may have political opinions, but if merely having opinions is the threshold we use, then most people would conclude that almost everyone is politically engaged, gender be damned.
Of course, we aren’t talking about having opinions. What we want to know is, rather: where are the fellow activists, writers, voters, and conference attendees? And here we are, in the absence of hard data, left to conjecture.
So here is my thinking aloud, in the absence of meaningful evidence:
Perhaps it’s not that women are less likely to be libertarians, or be skeptics, or be politically informed or engaged. Rather, perhaps it is simply that women are, on balance, less likely to be drawn to and participate in movements than men are, regardless of the nature or objectives of any particular movement you can name.
The speculation is not intended to be and ought not be read as an indictment of women. Obviously, as a libertarian and a skeptic, I would love to see more women involved in both organized libertarianism and organized skepticism. But if we assume that there at least as many “bad” causes as there are “good”, then there is no reason to equate “attraction to movements” with intellectual or moral virtue, any more so than with intellectual or moral deficiency. If it turned out to be the case that there were fewer women than men in the trekkie, punk rock, or fundamentalist Christian communities, we would not conclude that women weren’t capable of appreciating science fiction, of loving loud guitars, or of having faith in a deity.
Pop commentators on gender will occasionally point out that, “on average, men score higher on math tests than women”, which is true enough, as far as contextless statements go. But what it leaves out is that men score both higher on math assessment tests as well as much lower, with women statistically more clustered in the middle. There are more math geniuses with Y chromosomes as well as more math illiterates (myself included). It’s not that men are “better”, so much as that men are more variable. And if there is nothing inherently virtuous or valuable about obsessive commitment to a cause or movement, then it’s at least possible that the issue is simply that men are more inclined towards psychological states of neurotic obsessiveness.
So maybe the issue isn’t “why are so few women involved this or that movement…” but, rather “why are so many men?”
Because we’re smarter? Because we care more? Because we act like jerks and chase women out? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Perhaps men are, broadly, simply more variable, and one of those variables happens to be pathological obsessions with political causes, religious delusions, or amassing the world’s largest collection of vintage Boba Fett action figures. What if the answer isn’t that women lack conviction, but that men are just more likely to be crazy people?
Speaking from the perspective of a man who has never known a woman who understood my need to own every single track recorded by Roy Orbison between 1955 and 1965 – including alternate versions, demos, and commercial jingles – I speak as one data point towards that theory, but one data point can’t tell you much.
Today, while browsing around various debate sites, this article (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100127395/crony-capitalism-is-failing-lets-try-the-real-thing/) was brought to my attention by yet another right-winger trying to persuade me of the supposed virtues of ‘real’ or ‘free market’ capitalism. This was just one of many similar encounters I’ve had recently, in which the system we currently have is continually referred to as either ‘crony capitalism’ or more often, ‘corporatism’ – this is however an argument that is suddenly dropped when they want to talk about the ‘achievements/prosperity of capitalism’.
What many socialists tend to do in this kind of debate is accept their opponent’s stance as an advocate of ‘free market capitalism’ and debate that, usually from a moral perspective. I feel this is a mistake. While I totally agree that such a system would be unjust and wrong, this argument requires much more time, effort and more complex philosophical discussion – especially with establishing certain concepts, such as what socialists mean by ‘private property’. The much simpler argument to make is whether such a system as ‘free market capitalism’ is even possible.
Free-marketeers generally accept the problems of corruption, state-granted privilege, etc, that exist in the current system, but here the problems begin. Their solution to these problems is generally simply something along the lines of ‘get rid of them’ so that we could then have some sort of perfect ‘free market’. However, they have no real plans of how to do this. The few ideas that they do have generally involve working within the state system. Murray Rothbard, the founder of ‘anarcho-capitalism’, could come up with no better idea than to campaign for ‘smaller government’. In recent years, many on the ‘free market’ right, particularly in the United States, have taken up the cause of Ron Paul as the supposed answer to all problems, but there are many ‘anarcho-capitalists’ who reject even this weak way of trying to achieve a cause. Their reason behind not backing Paul or other ‘libertarian’ candidates is that they consider voting to be a mark of supporting the state, which is fair enough, but leaves them with precisely nothing in the way of strategy. Many of this group of pro-capitalists seem to be under the impression that simply being against the state and providing arguments as to why is somehow beneficial to the cause of liberation from the state.
But that’s enough about the advocates of free markets for now, let’s discuss their actual feasibility. There are two main proposals for their existence. The first is the type of society advocated by people such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises; a ‘minimal state’ that would merely handle law and order, while the rest would be left to the market with no state intervention. A cursory glance at history indicates no such society has ever existed or come close to existing. And it doesn’t take much to figure out why. Advocates of free markets are often very quick to tout the supposed miracles of the ‘profit motive’ and ‘risks of investment’, but fail to recognise that its exactly these concepts which cause state intervention in the first place – businesses believe certain state action will bring them greater profits, and view their contributions to politicians and media as investments. This business-state collusion has occurred all the way through history.
The second proposal for ‘free market capitalism’ is that proposed by Murray Rothbard and the ‘anarcho-capitalists’. They propose that the potential for the state to be corrupted, as highlighted above, can be removed by removing the state from the picture altogether. This is a less obviously problematic scenario, but it still has its problems. For a start, the market. As David Graeber in his fantastic book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, market economies historically originated as a result of certain state action, usually to do with having to have large amounts of professional state employees (usually soldiers). As he put it in an interview about the book on RT (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnOqanbHZi4), “Societies that don’t have states generally don’t have markets.” So a ‘free market’ stateless society seems unlikely.
Also, property. This is an endless source of disagreement in arguments about capitalism, but suffice it to say for now that there are certain forms of property relations that only occur within state societies. One of the pillars of capitalism, private ownership of land, is one of these. Stateless societies generally do one of two things with regard to land ownership:
1. Consider the land owned by either ‘no-one’ or ‘everyone’.
2. Consider land owned by certain individuals, but unlike in state societies, make no distinction between the owner of the land and the occupier or farmer of it.
With that in mind, ‘free-market capitalism’ would also seem to be impossible in a stateless society.
Earlier, I noted the problems of the strategy, or rather lack thereof, of the free market right. This may not seem too much of a problem to the anarchist movement – maybe ‘anarcho-capitalists’ and the like have got it wrong, but surely they can still be of use in the battle against the state? No, far from it. They fail to realise the power structures inherent in the state, preferring to see the state as some sort of unfortunate accident that humanity has stepped into. Many will indeed acknowledge that big businesses and the finance industry are in bed with the state, benefit hugely from state intervention and are huge supporters of the state. However, when the obvious next step that these business powers that prop up the state are just as worthy a target of our anger as the state itself, they suddenly jump ship and become apologists for big business. If we take that attitude, we can never hope to eradicate power.
Thanks for reading.
I have been critiquing Barry Eichengreen’s unprincipled attack on Ron Paul and his demand for a return to the gold standard, but, so far, I have danced around the real question posed by this vicious hit piece. Eichengreen’s argument is not about whether or not Ron Paul’s ideas can be compared to the insanity of Glenn Beck, nor is it even about the criticism of the Fascist State proposed by the argument of Frederick Hayek, who plays in this venal attack only the role of betrayer — Ron Paul having based his argument on many of the insights of Hayek, is ultimately betrayed by him when the latter dismisses
the possibility of a return to the gold standard.
Hayek concedes, in other words, to the necessity of totalitarianism.
Ron Paul, having been deserted by Hayek, even before he begins his career as a politician, is left alone in the company of Glenn Beck, who (Beck) is trying to foist gold coin on you at an astounding markup. The implication of this being that if Ron Paul is not himself in cahoots with Glenn Beck, he is just another hopeless sucker to be played. Just another miser looking for a place to safely store up his accumulated wealth from the predations of the investment banksters.
All of this is nothing more than an attempt at misdirection, a ploy to distract you from asking the important question:
What is money?
Ask this question to Ron Paul, and he will tell you gold is money — honest money, not a fiction of money as is ex nihilo currency. When Ron Paul asked Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke if gold was money, the Chairman tried his damnedest to avoid giving a straight answer. The chairman knows that money can perform two useful functions: universal means of payment in an exchange, and store of value. Even if gold is not recognized as the official standard of prices in a country, it can still perform exceptional service as store of value. And, in this function, it entirely fulfills the definition of a money – moreover, it fulfills this function better than any other commodity. And, it certainly fulfills this function better than currency created out of thin air.
Yes. Gold is money. But, of course, that is not the question I am asking:
“What is money?”
Not what thing can serve as money, but what is money itself. No matter what serves as money, or the functions of money it fulfills; what is money itself, i.e., the functions to be filled by the things?
Simply stated: Gold is money, but money is not gold.
People always make this silly argument: “Why can’t dogs, or sea shells or emeralds be money?” Yes. Within limits, anything can serve as money; and, this fact makes the thing serving as money appear entirely accidental and arbitrarily established. So, for instance, whether gold or dancing electrons on a Federal Reserve terminal is money seems simply a matter of convenience and fit.
But, the real questions raised by this is why anything serves as money? That is, why money? This question appears to us entirely irrational. We take the existence of money for granted, and therefore, argue not about money itself, but the things to be used as money. Eichengreen wants us to believe the question, “What thing should serve as money?”, has no deeper significance but for a handful of scam artists and marks like Glenn Beck and Ron Paul. A fifty dollar gold coin (worth some $1900) is inconvenient for daily purchases; we should use dancing electrons on a Federal Reserve terminal.
But, why do we have to use anything at all when it comes time to fill up the SUV for a trip to the corner store? Why isn’t the gas free? In other words, what is money doing coming between us and the things we need?
“Because”, the economist Barry Eichengreen will tell us, “there is not enough of stuff to go around.” Well, how does Barry know this? Does he have some insight into how much of one or another thing is produced in relation to demand for that thing? No. He doesn’t. The function of money is to tell us which things are in shortfall relative to demand because those things have a price in the market place. Prices presuppose the existence of scarcity; of a relation to nature marked by insufficiency of means to satisfy human want. Money is not an attribute of a fully human society, but the attribute of a society still living under the oppressive demands of nature.
So, the question,
“What is money?”
really comes down to
“What is scarcity?”
And, this can now be answered: it is insufficient means to satisfy human needs. But, this answer is still insufficient, because we really have no way to know directly if scarcity exists, right? What we know is the things generally have a price, and we infer from this that things must be scarce. But, this too is a fallacy like “gold is money = money is gold”. I stated that prices presuppose scarcity — but I must now correct myself. Scarcity of means to satisfy human needs is necessarily expressed by prices, but prices do not of themselves necessarily express scarcity of means.
Catelization, monopoly pricing, false scarcity and the Fascist State
We know, for instance, near the turn of the 20th Century, certain big industries learned they could maintain artificially high prices on their products by creating entirely artificial scarcities. We know also how this expertise was put to use and the reaction of society to it. Or, at least, we think we do. Folks like Joseph Stromberg, Murray Rothbard, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy tell a much different story than the official record. That alternative narrative is summed up brilliantly by Kevin Carson in his work here.
But merely private attempts at cartelization before the Progressive Era–namely the so-called “trusts”–were miserable failures, according to Kolko. The dominant trend at the turn of the century–despite the effects of tariffs, patents, railroad subsidies, and other existing forms of statism–was competition. The trust movement was an attempt to cartelize the economy through such voluntary and private means as mergers, acquisitions, and price collusion. But the over-leveraged and over-capitalized trusts were even less efficient than before, and steadily lost market share at the hands of their smaller, more efficient competitors. Standard Oil and U.S. Steel, immediately after their formation, began a process of eroding market share. In the face of this resounding failure, big business acted through the state to cartelize itself–hence, the Progressive regulatory agenda. “Ironically, contrary to the consensus of historians, it was not the existence of monopoly that caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it.”
In fact, these folks argue, cartelization and monopoly pricing wasn’t very successful until the state stepped in at the behest of industry to organize them. Carson again:
The Federal Trade Commission created a hospitable atmosphere for trade associations and their efforts to prevent price cutting. (18) The two pieces of legislation accomplished what the trusts had been unable to: it enabled a handful of firms in each industry to stabilize their market share and to maintain an oligopoly structure between them. This oligopoly pattern has remained stable ever since.
It was during the war [i.e. WWI] that effective, working oligopoly and price and market agreements became operational in the dominant sectors of the American economy. The rapid diffusion of power in the economy and relatively easy entry [i.e., the conditions the trust movement failed to suppress] virtually ceased. Despite the cessation of important new legislative enactments, the unity of business and the federal government continued throughout the 1920s and thereafter, using the foundations laid in the Progressive Era to stabilize and consolidate conditions within various industries. And, on the same progressive foundations and exploiting the experience with the war agencies, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt later formulated programs for saving American capitalism. The principle of utilizing the federal government to stabilize the economy, established in the context of modern industrialism during the Progressive Era, became the basis of political capitalism in its many later ramifications. (19)
But, there’s a problem with this cartel argument by Austrians, like Hayek and Mises, and Marxist-Keynesians, like Baran and Sweezy: Following Rudolf Hilferding, they describe prices realized by cartelization as “tribute exacted from the entire body of domestic consumers.”
The “monopoly capital” theorists introduced a major innovation over classical Marxism by treating monopoly profit as a surplus extracted from the consumer in the exchange process, rather than from the laborer in the production process. This innovation was anticipated by the Austro-Marxist Hilferding in his description of the super profits resulting from the tariff:
The productive tariff thus provides the cartel with an extra profit over and above that which results from the cartelization itself, and gives it the power to levy an indirect tax on the domestic population. This extra profit no longer originates in the surplus value produced by the workers employed in cartels; nor is it a deduction from the profit of the other non-cartelized industries. It is a tribute exacted from the entire body of domestic consumers. (64)
The problem with this theory is this: if we assume a closed system where the wages of the working class are the overwhelming source of purchasing power for the goods produced by industry, with prices of commodities more or less dependent on the consumption power of the mass of workers who produce them, these workers are unable to buy what they produce. The problem cited by Marx that the consumption power of society is an obstacle to the realization of surplus value is only intensified by cartelization.
Cartelization, even if it could be achieved in one or two industries, could not be the principle feature of any closed economy. Moreover, Marx’s theory predicts as productivity increased, and the body of workers needed to produce a given output shrank, this imbalance worsens. Even with the full weight of the state behind it, monopoly pricing would result in the severe limitation of the consumption power of society. This wholly artificial limitation on the consumption power of society would be expressed as a reduced demand for the output of industry and generally falling prices. So, in any case, the attempt to impose a general scarcity on society through cartelization alone must, in the end, fail miserably.
At this point it is entirely necessary to again ask the question:
“What is money?”
But, this time, not in the fashion we previously addressed it,
“Why is money coming between us and the things we need?”
We now can ask it in the form Barry Eichengreen wants us to consider it:
“What thing should serve as the money?”
As we just saw, cartelization must fail, even if it is sponsored by the state, owing to the artificial limits on the consumption of society. The limited means of consumption in the hands of the mass of workers must place definite limits on the demand for the output of industry.
But, what if — and this is only a silly hypothetical — another source of “demand” could be found within society? What if, out of nowhere, government should suddenly find itself in possession of a previously untapped endless supply of gold? What if, no matter how much of this supply of gold was actually spent, the gold coffers of the state remained full to the bursting point. Indeed, what if, for every bar of gold the state spent, 2 or 3 … or one thousand bars took the place of the spent gold?
In this case, the consumption power of society lost by cartelization and monopoly pricing could be made up for by judicious Fascist State spending, for instance on the military or building out an entire highway system or leveling the industiral competitors of entire continents in a global holocaust or pursuing a decades long Cold War/War on Terror/War on Democracy, to offset the limited demand of society. Since all gold bars look pretty much the same, no one need know that the state had a secret vault that produced gold as needed. No one need know that gold had lost its “price” as a commodity, because it was so incredibly abundant as to exceed all demand for it.
Which is to say, no one need know that in gold-money terms, all other commodities, including labor power, were essentially being given away for free.
The only people who would know this would be the men and women who managed the vault. And, since they were getting a cut of every bar spent into circulation, they could be relied on to keep this a tightly held secret.
“What is money?”
Is it gold, a commodity in limited supply, and requiring a great deal of time and effort to produce? Or, is it the dancing electrons on a computer terminal in the basement of the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, DC? Is it real gold, available in definite limited quantities? Or, is it “electronic gold”, available in infinite quantities? The first choice makes it impossible for state enforced monopoly pricing and cartelization; the second makes it entirely possible.
So far as I know, I am the only one making this argument — Marxist or non-Marxist. But, it is the entire point of Ron Paul’s campaign. It is what makes his campaign a potentially revolutionary moment in American society. Of far greater importance than he imagines, because, like any petty capitalist, he is only looking for a safe place to store his wealth. The radical potential of a demand for the return to the gold standard, even from the mouth of this petty capitalist, this classical liberal is a dagger aimed directly at the heart of the Fascist State, and of its globe-straddling empire.
Tags: Austrian Economics, Barry Eichengreen, Depression, ex nihilo pecunaim, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, gold, Hayek, international financial system, Joseph Stromberg, Karl Marx, Kevin Carson, Libertarianism, monetary policy, Money, Murray Rothbard, Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, political-economy, Ron Paul, Rudolf Hilferding, Tea Party, Wall Street Crisis
Barry Eichengreen makes much of the role the theories of Friedrich Hayek play in Ron Paul’s world view for a reason that becomes immediately clear:
In his 2009 book, End the Fed, Paul describes how he discovered the work of Hayek back in the 1960s by reading The Road to Serfdom. First published in 1944, the book enjoyed a recrudescence last year after it was touted by Glenn Beck, briefly skyrocketing to number one on Amazon.com’s and Barnes and Noble’s best-seller lists. But as Beck, that notorious stickler for facts, would presumably admit, Paul found it first.
The Road to Serfdom warned, in the words of the libertarian economist Richard Ebeling, of “the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning.” Hayek argued that governments were progressively abandoning the economic freedom without which personal and political liberty could not exist. As he saw it, state intervention in the economy more generally, by restricting individual freedom of action, is necessarily coercive. Hayek therefore called for limiting government to its essential functions and relying wherever possible on market competition, not just because this was more efficient, but because doing so maximized individual choice and human agency.
Yes, folks: Ron Paul is a follower of the very same theories recently endorsed by that cheap huckster of gold coin: right wing conspiracy theorist nut job, Glenn Beck.
Indeed, Ron Paul hails from that portion of the libertarian movement that is a reactive response to the growing role of the state in the economic activity of society. While Marxists predict this increasing state role — demanding only that state power must rest in the hands of the workers whose activity it is — libertarians of Paul’s type reject this role entirely and warn it can only have catastrophic implications for human freedom. Thus, these two streams of communist thought diverge less significantly in their respective diagnoses what was taking place in 20th Century than in their respective solution to it.
As Eichengreen points out, Ron Paul sees in the ever increasing interference by the state in economic activity a danger to individual freedom and a growing threat of totalitarian statist power, in which the state attempts to determine the individual and society rather than being determined by them. This has echoes among Marxists, who themselves had nothing but disdain for nationalization of industry, and by Marxist writers, like Raya Dunayevskaya, who, during the same period Hayek was developing his own ideas, observed an inherent tendency of the state to organize society as if it were a factory floor.
“At the same time the constant crises in production and the revolts engendered befuddle the minds of men who are OUTSIDE of the labor process… where surplus labor appears as surplus product and hence PLANLESSNESS. They thereupon contrast the ANARCHY of the market to the order in the factory. And they present themselves as the CONSCIOUS planners who can bring order also into ‘society,’ that is, the market.”
Paraphrasing Marx, Dunayevskaya points to the inherent logic of this process:
If the order of the factory were also in the market, you’d have complete totalitarianism.”
What Eichengreen wants to treat as an observation specific to the “loony right” turns out to be a view held in common by both the followers of Marx and the followers of the Austrian School. Moreover, it is not just the fringes of political thought who warned of growing convergence between the state and capital, the mainstream of political thought also recognized this inherent tendency, Eichengreen acknowledges, by citing President Richard Nixon’s famous quote, “we are all Keynesians now.” What emerges from this is a very different impression than the one Eichengreen wishes us to take away from his tawdry attempt to discredit Paul by noting his affinity with Glenn Beck for the writings of Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian School within bourgeois economics: As Engels predicted, the state was being driven by Capital’s own development to assume the role of social capitalist, managing the process of production and acting as the direct exploiter of labor power.
While mainstream bourgeois political-economy was treating the convergence of Capital and State power as a mere economic fact, the followers of Hayek and the best of the followers of Marx warn not merely of the effect this process would have on economic activity, but the effect it must have on the state itself — as social manager of the process of extraction of surplus value from the mass of society, the state must become increasingly indifferent to its will, must increasingly treat it as a collective commodity, as a mass of labor power, and, therefore, as nothing more than a collective source of surplus value.
Although lacking the tools of historical materialist analysis, that comes from familiarity with Marx’s own methods, libertarians, like Ron Paul, have actually been able to better understand the implications of increasing state control over economic life than Marxists, who, having abandoned Marx’s methods to adopt spurious theories propagated from whatever academic scribbler, still to this day have failed to completely understand the Fascist State.
Eichengreen, worthless charlatan that he is, deftly sidesteps this critique shared by both Austrians and Marxists of the political impact of growing Fascist State control over the production of surplus value, and instead directs our attention to the entirely phony debate of whether gold as money serves society better than ex nihilo currency to abolish the crises inherent in the capitalist mode of production itself. He begins this foray by admitting the failure of of monetary policy to prevent the present crisis, but poses it as a non sequitur:
Why are Ron Paul’s ideas becoming more popular among voters?
The answer, as is Eichengreen’s standard practice in this bullshit hit piece, is to blame Ron Paul’s popularity on Glenn Beck:
BUT IF Representative Paul has been agitating for a return to gold for the better part of four decades, why have his arguments now begun to resonate more widely? One might point to new media—to the proliferation of cable-television channels, satellite-radio stations and websites that allow out-of-the-mainstream arguments to more easily find their audiences. It is tempting to blame the black-helicopter brigades who see conspiracies everywhere, but most especially in government. There are the forces of globalization, which lead older, less-skilled workers to feel left behind economically, fanning their anger with everyone in power, but with the educated elites in particular (not least onetime professors with seats on the Federal Reserve Board).
Only after we get this conspicuously offensive run of personal attacks on Ron Paul’s reputation, does Eichengreen actually admit: Ron Paul’s ideas are gaining in popularity, because the Fascist State is suffering a crisis produced by a decade of depression and financial calamity:
There may be something to all this, but there is also the financial crisis, the most serious to hit the United States in more than eight decades. Its very occurrence seemingly validated the arguments of those like Paul who had long insisted that the economic superstructure was, as a result of government interference and fiat money, inherently unstable. Chicken Little becomes an oracle on those rare occasions when the sky actually does fall.
Ah! But, even now, Eichengreen, forced to admit, finally, the present unpleasantness, cannot help but label Ron Paul a broken clock for having rightly predicted it in the first place. Okay, fine.
So, it turns out that the banksters really do extend credit beyond all possibility of it being repaid; and, it turns out that this over-extension of credit plays some role in overinvestment and the accumulation of debt, and, it turns out prices spiral to previously unimaginable heights during periods of boom — and, finally, it turns out all this comes crashing down around the ears of the capitalist, when, as at present, a contraction erupts suddenly, and without warning.
This schema bears more than a passing resemblance to the events of the last decade. Our recent financial crisis had multiple causes, to be sure—all financial crises do. But a principal cause was surely the strongly procyclical behavior of credit and the rapid growth of bank lending. The credit boom that spanned the first eight years of the twenty-first century was unprecedented in modern U.S. history. It was fueled by a Federal Reserve System that lowered interest rates virtually to zero in response to the collapse of the tech bubble and 9/11 and then found it difficult to normalize them quickly. The boom was further encouraged by the belief that there existed a “Greenspan-Bernanke put”—that the Fed would cut interest rates again if the financial markets encountered difficulties, as it had done not just in 2001 but also in 1998 and even before that, in 1987. (The Chinese as well may have played a role in underwriting the credit boom, but that’s another story.) That many of the projects thereby financed, notably in residential and commercial real estate, were less than sound became painfully evident with the crash.
All this is just as the Austrian School would have predicted. In this sense, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went too far when he concluded, some years ago, that Austrian theories of the business cycle have as much relevance to the present day “as the phlogiston theory of fire.”
(I think it is rather cute to see Eichengreen present himself as the disinterested referee between the warring factions of bourgeois political-economy, by gently chiding Paul Krugman for going too far in his criticism of the Austrians — after all, the Fascist State will have to borrow heavily from the Austrian School to extricate itself from its present predicament)
Where people like Ron Paul go wrong, Eichengreen warns, is their belief that there is no solution to this crisis but to allow it to unfold to its likely unpalatable conclusion — unpalatable, of course, for the Fascist State, since such an event is its death-spiral as social capitalist. Apparently, without even realizing it, this pompous ass Eichengreen demonstrates the truth of Hayek’s argument: Fascist State management of the economy, once undertaken, must, over time, require ever increasing efforts to control economic events, and, therefore, ever increasing totalitarian control over society itself.
Eichengreen pleads us to understand the Fascist State does not intervene into the economy on behalf of Capital (and itself as manager of the total social capital) but to protect widows and orphans from starvation and poverty:
Society, in its wisdom, has concluded that inflicting intense pain upon innocent bystanders through a long period of high unemployment is not the best way of discouraging irrational exuberance in financial markets. Nor is precipitating a depression the most expeditious way of cleansing bank and corporate balance sheets. Better is to stabilize the level of economic activity and encourage the strong expansion of the economy. This enables banks and firms to grow out from under their bad debts. In this way, the mistaken investments of the past eventually become inconsequential. While there may indeed be a problem of moral hazard, it is best left for the future, when it can be addressed by imposing more rigorous regulatory restraints on the banking and financial systems.
Thus, in order to protect widows and orphans from starvation, the Fascist State is compelled to prop up the profits and asset prices of failed banksters and encourage the export of productive capital to the less developed regions of the world market — not to mention, leave millions without jobs and millions more under threat of losing their jobs. Eichengreen even has the astonishing gall to state the problem of moral hazard identified by Austrians, “is best left for the future, when it can be addressed by imposing more rigorous regulatory restraints on the banking and financial systems.” Eichengreen takes us all for fools — did not Washington deregulate the banksters prior to this depression, precisely when the economy was still expanding? If banks are deregulated during periods of expansion, and they cannot be regulated during periods of depression, when might the time be optimal to address moral hazard?
The question, of course, is rhetorical — and not simply because Eichengreen is only blowing smoke in our face. Eichengreen actually argues that Fascist State intervention prevented a depression!:
…we have learned how to prevent a financial crisis from precipitating a depression through the use of monetary and fiscal stimuli. All the evidence, whether from the 1930s or recent years, suggests that when private demand temporarily evaporates, the government can replace it with public spending. When financial markets temporarily become illiquid, central-bank purchases of distressed assets can help to reliquefy them, allowing borrowing and lending to resume.
And, here we can see the role of the thing serving as money and its relation to the crises inherent in the capitalist mode of production. Ex nihilo currency does not abolish crises, it merely masks them from view: while ex nihilo dollar based measures of economic activity indicate the economy suffered a massive catastrophic financial crisis in 2008, gold indicates this financial crisis is only the latest expression of an even more catastrophic depression that has, so far, lasted more than a decade.
NEXT: The tale of two monies
Tags: Austrian Economics, Barry Eichengreen, Depression, ex nihilo pecunaim, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, gold, Hayek, international financial system, Karl Marx, Libertarianism, monetary policy, Money, political-economy, Raya Dunayevskaya, Ron Paul, Tea Party, unemployment, Wall Street Crisis
Washington has a problem, and Barry Eichengreen is doing his bit to save it. The problem’s name is Ron Paul, and this problem comes wrapped in 24 carat gold:
GOLD IS back, what with libertarians the country over looking to force the government out of the business of monetary-policy making. How? Well, by bringing back the gold standard of course.
Last week, Eichengreen published a slickly worded appeal to libertarian-leaning Tea Party voters, who, it appears, are growing increasingly enamored with Ron Paul’s argument against ex nihilo money and the bankster cartel through which Washington effects economic policy.
The pro-gold bandwagon has been present in force in Iowa, home of the first serious test of GOP candidates for that party’s presidential nomination. Supporters tried but failed to force taxpayers in Montana and Georgia to pay certain taxes in gold or silver. Utah even made gold and silver coins minted by Washington official tender in the state. But, the movement is not limited to just the US: several member states of the European Union have made not so quiet noises demanding real hard assets in return for more bailout funds for some distressed members burdened by debt and falling GDP.
No doubt, these developments are a growing concern in Washington precisely because demands for real assets like commodity money threaten to blow up its eighty year old control of domestic and global economic activity through the continuous creation of money out of thin air.
Although Eichengreen invokes the difficulty of paying for a fill up at your local gas station, “with a $50 American eagle coin worth some $1,500 at current market prices”; the real problem posed by a gold (or any commodity) standard for prices is that such a standard sounds a death-knell to a decades long free ride for the very wealthiest members of society, and would end the 40 years of steady erosion of wages for working people here, and in countries racked by inflation and severe austerity regimes around the world.
Make no mistake: Ron Paul is now one of the most dangerous politicians in the United States or anywhere else, because his message to end the Federal Reserve Bank and its control of monetary and employment policy has begun to approach the outer limits of a critical mass of support — if not to end the Fed outright, than at least to bring the issue front and center of American politics.
Eichengreen begins his attack on Ron Paul’s call for an end to the Federal Reserve by choosing, of all things, Ron Paul’s own writings as weapon against him:
Paul has been campaigning for returning to the gold standard longer than any of his rivals for the Republican nomination—in fact, since he first entered politics in the 1970s.
Paul is also a more eloquent advocate of the gold standard. His arguments are structured around the theories of Friedrich Hayek, the 1974 Nobel Laureate in economics identified with the Austrian School, and around those of Hayek’s teacher, Ludwig von Mises. In his 2009 book, End the Fed, Paul describes how he discovered the work of Hayek back in the 1960s by reading The Road to Serfdom.
For Eichengreen, Paul’s self-identification with Hayek is a godsend, because, as Eichengreen already knows at the outset of his article, Hayek ultimately opposed the gold standard as a solution to monetary crises:
At the end of The Denationalization of Money, Hayek concludes that the gold standard is no solution to the world’s monetary problems. There could be violent fluctuations in the price of gold were it to again become the principal means of payment and store of value, since the demand for it might change dramatically, whether owing to shifts in the state of confidence or general economic conditions. Alternatively, if the price of gold were fixed by law, as under gold standards past, its purchasing power (that is, the general price level) would fluctuate violently. And even if the quantity of money were fixed, the supply of credit by the banking system might still be strongly procyclical, subjecting the economy to destabilizing oscillations, as was not infrequently the case under the gold standard of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Eichengreen pulls off a clever misdirection against Ron Paul by deliberately conflating the problem of financial instability with the problem of limiting Fascist State control over economic activity. Ron Paul’s argument, of course, is not primarily directed at eliminating financial crises, which occur with some frequency no matter what serves as the standards of prices, but at removing from Washington’s control over economic activity not just at home, but wherever the dollar is accepted as means of payment in the world market — and, because the dollar is the world reserve currency, that means everywhere. But, by conflating the question of Fascist State control over the world economy with solving the problem of financial and industrial crises that are endemic to the capitalist mode of production, Eichengreen takes the opportunity to foist an even more unworkable scheme on unsuspecting Ron Paul supporters: privatize money itself:
For a solution to this instability, Hayek himself ultimately looked not to the gold standard but to the rise of private monies that might compete with the government’s own. Private issuers, he argued, would have an interest in keeping the purchasing power of their monies stable, for otherwise there would be no market for them. The central bank would then have no option but to do likewise, since private parties now had alternatives guaranteed to hold their value.
Abstract and idealistic, one might say. On the other hand, maybe the Tea Party should look for monetary salvation not to the gold standard but to private monies like Bitcoin.
It is cheek of monumental — epic — proportion. Even by the standards of the unscrupulous economics profession — a field of “scholarship” having no peer review and no accountability — the sniveling hucksterism of Eichengreen’s gambit is quite breathtaking. However, not to be overly impressed by this two-bit mattress-as-savings-account salesman, in the next section of this response to Barry Eichengreen, I want to spend a moment reviewing his examination of the problem of financial instability, and the alleged role of gold (commodity) money in “subjecting the economy to destabilizing oscillations… under the gold standard of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
Part Two: Money and crises
Tags: Austrian Economics, Barry Eichengreen, Depression, ex nihilo pecunaim, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, gold, Hayek, international financial system, Libertarianism, monetary policy, Money, political-economy, Ron Paul, Tea Party, unemployment, Wall Street Crisis
By: flogleviathan | Jun 10, 2011 Featured
It’s an emotion that we are taught to keep bottled up, to stuff down inside, or to find some way to ‘channel’ in a ‘healthy’ manner.
I’m an anti-authoritarian and I always have been. I’ve labelled myself in different ways as I went through different intellectual/political stages but a common vein has always been anti-authoritarianism; I cannot accept authority easily or lightly, most especially from those that would declare authority for themselves. And while I can (and have) come up with many intellectual descriptions and justifications for why I’m an anti-authoritarian; while I can intellectualize it and explain it and put it in terms that academics and armchair philosophers (I’m one of them, I’m not excusing myself) can nod their heads to and agree with, in the end there is a primary source, the well that I draw from, the fuel that I burn in the fire of anti-authoritarianism.
Raw. Fucking. Rage.
My anti-authoritarian attitude comes down to burning seething anger at every cop who harassed my friends and I when we were kids for the simple crime of being kids.
It’s for every teacher who tried to beat me down intellectually and emotionally, to make me conform and be the same as every other fucking drone they’d ever manufactured.
It’s for every time I’m considered ‘fringe’ because I don’t immediately buy the bullshit that I see on TV or hear on the radio.
It’s easy to dismiss all of the raw emotion, or to try to suppress it. There are great treatises written on anti-authoritarian thought, absolutely crystal and logical essays regarding the role relationship between the authoritarian and the subjugated. There are many, many reasons why those of us who call ourselves anarchists, anti-authoritarians, antifa, etc think the way we do.
And a good portion of people out there seem to think there’s something WRONG with raw emotion driving anti-authoritarianism, like it’s a BAD thing that my rage against authority drives me.
Again, bullshit. Intellectualism without emotional context is simply mental masturbation. To deny the rage that drives most anti-authoritarianism is to devalue the very philosophies that we claim to represent.
In the end, I find just as much inspiration through the expression of rage and contempt for authority in art, music, literature as I do for the logical reasoning by anarchist and other philosophers.
It’s expressed in music:
“Cops is anxious to put niggas in handcuffs, they wanna hang us, see us dead and enslave us, keep us trapped in the same place we’re raised in, then they wonder why we act so outrageous, run around stressed out and pull out gauges, ‘cause every time you let the animal out cages, it’s dangerous to people who look like strangers” -Dr. Dre
“Enough, I call the bluff. Fuck manifest destiny; landlords and power whores on my people they took turns, dispute the suits I ignite and then watch ‘em burn.” -Rage Against the Machine
It’s expressed in poetry:
“It had to be a large room full of murder
It had to be a mounted ass- a solid mass of rage
A red hot pen
A scream in the back of the throat”
-Allen Ginsberg, “Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox”
It’s expressed in literature:
“In a way, they seemed to be arguing the case as if it had nothing to do with me. Everything was happening without my participation. My fate was being decided without anyone so much as asking my opinion.”
-Albert Camus, from “The Stranger”
Through all of this, the common theme is not intellectualizing the anti-authoritarian – it’s recognizing with gut wrenching certainty that at it’s base level, humanity is FUCKING TIRED of being in cages. I have degrees in philosophy and political science; I have read extensive treatments of anarchism, marxism, etc; I’ve argued with people I consider brilliant about the merits of arguments from some of the great thinkers of history.
In the end, all of that pales in comparison to one thing:
For all of the thought hoops we jump through, for all of the wonderful analysis we see of our current situation, and what we might do to change it, I think it’s vital that we don’t lose the fire that drives us. For every reasoned argument I can come up with, for every intellectual point I can make as to why I am anti-authoritarian – I’m not ashamed to say that a big part of it is as simple as screaming “FUCK YOU!” at a world that would cage me up and force me to conform.
*Thanks to PJC for the chance to do some writing here – if you like what you see here, follow me on Twitter @flogleviathan
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.
Tags: Anarchism, communism, Daniel Morley, Francis Fukuyama, Hegel, Ideal conception of history, Idealism, Libertarianism, Marxism, Materialist conception of history, sectarianism, The State, voluntary association
The issues of race and gender seem to have blown up here at Gonzo Times. This has not been without resistance. The article I posted in October specifically seems to be getting a lot of attention. I have ran into the classic colorblind concepts in response to much of what was written. I thought to myself that I would lay off the subject a while and get to something more along the lines of economics or warfare but then I realized that the amount of resistance to discussing such concepts seems to be an indicator that there is a great deal that needs to be said, and that the problem is real.
We must not fool ourselves into thinking that they are issues we are immune to. I asked why certain people groups are less dominant in the libertarian and anarchist circles. This was often met with defense of what is. The libertarians seem to take an extremely right wing stance on the subject. They regurgitate the Rush Limbaugh take on racism. They wonder why people call them racist. If we are unwilling to discuss the issues how are we any different from the right wing who also refuses to discuss the issues?
The ‘race card’ ‘race baiting’ and other common right wing catch phrases seem to be brought up. Some of this is from an individuals desire to not discuss a problem and some of it is just from people who do not see the problems. Just about any people group is and can be ethnocentric. We are not immune to this. Looking outside and hearing others will help us to break free from this. We don’t see where our problems lie, but it is easy to point out the flaws in others. One of the things that I have done in Gonzo Times is to challenge my beliefs. This has led to much of the writing you read on the site.
Why is it that when the issue of gender is brought up so many libertarians are upset? I see few libertarian publications addressing the issues, they are too busy with their heads in economics as the end all answer to every problem. Are race or gender issues really something that will be solved with economics? If you believe such then you really are clinging to a Utopian belief of libertarianism. Some are offended and call me a communist. Some jump to the conclusion that the only answer is the state. I will say now that the absence of a state is not the answer to racism or sexism. I will also state that currently under the state we see proof that the answer is not the state. It has not been eliminated under the state or outside of the state. When we present real workable solutions to these issues outside of the state maybe then the label of racist and sexist might fall away. As long as the issues are considered non-issues and we look away the labels will stick.
This article is not about racism or sexism specifically but the reaction of the libertarian and some anarchists when the issues are brought up. These are issues deeply ingrained in society and our perspectives of what is and should be. It is in our entertainment, news, media and in our language. I am not implying or stating that libertarians are racist. I am not saying that all white men are racist. I am however stating that there are some reactions to race and gender issues when I bring them up here and other places from libertarians that are counter productive.
I am often attacked or quickly brushed aside when I bring up the issues. The issues of race and gender are met with hostility by many within libertarian circles. Shall these issues continue to go under our radar? The right wing tends to wish them away and pretend there is no issue of race or gender. They often point to the symptoms of the problem as the justification of the problem. Those who cling to the state for an answer and do not wish the state to address this issue I ask why is it you look to the state for justice in other areas of injustice but not this one?
We tend to quickly address issues pertaining to race and gender with one word solutions. For those who are facing such issues one word is not sufficient. Our movement should be listening to those who have been impacted by these problems. The idea that we are just going to accept racism is absurd. The injustices of racism and sexism are the issues we should speak out against. We do not accept the injustice of rape, theft or murder. Why then should we accept these? If this is a movement that embraces oppression then I want nothing to do with it. I would rather join the ranks of the womanists.
Often the issues that come up I do not think are complete racism. They often may come from people with truly good intentions not seeing the barriers that are being put up. This barrier is often one of ethnocentrism. This is not unique to the white man any more than it is exclusive to other people groups. This is one that can throw up barriers and often leads to being blind of the issues that impact another. How myopic is your perspective? I’m certain that mine can be at times but the problem is that we do not see our own blind spots easily.
Many right libertarians spend a great deal of time reading Austrian theories and delving into economic discussions only to get the same redundant sound bytes from Rachel Maddow fans in response. The frustration is there that people have not taken the time to learn about an issue or to truly comprehend what it is you are saying or where you claim the problems lie. They just come back with phrases that they hear recited daily in the news. The issue of race is often met with the same wall. Countless intellectuals have studied these issues and some libertarians almost steal the right wing responses to these issues they have not taken the time to research or learn about. Many libertarians can often become the sound bite replay they so often are frustrated with.
There are libertarians who have addressed these issues. There is often a strong movement towards patriarchal apologetics that seems to attract many. I would dare say that many who I know either see it as a non-issue or are afraid to speak out on this topic for fear of the reactions they will receive. I have met a hostile reception on many occasions in addressing these issues. Then there are those who have also embraced it with open arms or at least without taking a defense. Taking a defense when bringing up certain disparities is indicative of a problem that may be laying under the surface here.
You must choose to deny the issues or confront them. They will not go away and we will not be able to move forward until we have confronted them. The denial will not homogenize society. It will only create greater rifts and support oppressive social norms.
I predict that my calling this subject out will be met with quick uncritical dismissals. I will be called a ‘communist’ or be said to be ‘playing the race card’. These are the common reactions. I also suspect that many will deny that any issues of race or gender exist. I hope that people will open dialogue and seriously begin to discuss issues or race and gender instead of continuing to look the other way.
I want to be clear that many libertarians have done so and are not guilty of trying to quiet the discussion. Many have left insightful comments and have not thrown up a defensive wall when these issues come up. I was not planning on writing on race or gender this week. It just so happened that the beginning of the week it was a topic that many writers here brought up by coincidence. I had issues of the EPA and government footing the bill for corporate PR to discuss, but those took a back seat after the strong reactions I got from what was brought up earlier this week. At first I just considered avoiding race issues but then realized that I was caving and allowing this issue to be shut down. I can not let that happen.
First, the argument that the event unfolding in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states are a battle over public union rights is disproved once we realize that these public unions are not and never were unions. The public unions are organs of the State, no different than the unions of the old Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China — organs for the management of public labor, entirely composed of a portion of the working class who, under this miserable mode of production, live on the surplus labor of the productively employed portion of that class. Although we may violently disagree with Walker and his political thugs, we still must acknowledge that the fight to defend the unions is essentially, and for all practical purposes, nothing more than a fight to defend the State itself and its parasitic domination of society.
Second, by the same token, without in any way standing with capitalists like the Koch Brothers, the argument that, in their hostility to the burden of the State, the Koch Brothers’ libertarian attitudes differ significantly from working class dissatisfaction with the burden of the State is belied by the very slogan raised by supporters of the working class themselves, “Make the Rich Pay”. Although the Left makes the argument that the hostility of capitalists like the Koch Brothers to the State is unique to the capitalist class, in the very slogans they raise the Left actually acknowledge this same hostility to the State among the working class. Neither of the two classes want to bear this burden; particularly in times of economic distress every member of society seeks to minimize the tax bite of the State. This reaction from the mass of the working class was entirely predictable, and explains the reluctance of writers like Felix Dzerzhinsky to wage the battle over austerity on the flimsy basis of defense of the public unions.
I now turn to the question of how this fight must resolve it self, and why, as events are proving in both the United Kingdom and Ireland, the austerity currently being pursued by Walker cannot work.
While the battle over the burden of the State on society assumes the form of a conflict between the classes over how this burden should be distributed, it would be wrong to say the events in Wisconsin arise from the conflict among members of society over the division of this burden between the two classes; rather, the truth is precisely the opposite: the conflict between the two classes produces a tendency toward the expansion of the State. We should not mistake the two: what is expressed in the austerity battle is not the conflict between the two classes, but their common hostility to the burden of the State; but, this ever expanding State is itself only the general social expression of the irreconcilable conflict between the two classes. The State is at once both the constantly expanding expression of the conflict between the two classes and a burden on them that each tries to cast off.
These two aspects of the relation between the State and society do not simply exist side by side, but influence each other: on the one hand, the growing conflict between the two classes presupposes the growing fascist character of the State — what Marx refers to as the employment of “democratic-republican institutions .. as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labor, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony.” This implies the constant expansion of the State. On the other hand, this growing domination increases the burden of the State on society, and, therefore, the conflict between the two classes over the division of this burden; as well as the more or less constant struggle by each class to cast that burden off entirely.
At the same time, since the expansion of the State is the increasingly necessary condition for the relation between the two classes — the increasingly necessary condition for the purchase and sale of labor-power, without which neither class can exist; and which implies the further reproduction of all the fundamental contradictions within Capital on an increasing scale — the expansion of the State presupposes the further immiseration of the mass of workers and the further centralization and concentration of capital into fewer hands. Any given expansion of the State, therefore, is always insufficient, and merely intensifies the inherent tendency toward the law of the falling rate of profit even as it works to counter this tendency; producing still more pressure for the further expansion of the State and of the World Market. Each new expansion of the State and of the World Market merely compels the further expansion of both.
What makes this a crisis of the State, i.e., something more than a mere economic crisis, is that it presupposes certain definite economic conditions which, on the one hand, cannot be resolved simply by austerity, i.e., reducing the total wages of the working class, as might be sought by capitalists like the Koch Brothers; nor, on the other hand, can it be resolved simply by reducing or taxing the excessive profits of capital, as is demanded in the sophomoric slogan, “Make the Rich Pay”. Only by imposing such conditions as reduce both the mass of wages and the mass of profits together and simultaneously — that is, by the devaluation of both variable and constant capital — through the expansion of purely wasteful State expenditures — by the still greater accumulation of absolutely superfluous labor; of labor-power that neither serves to produce new value, nor, on this basis, as self-expanding value, as capital — is the resolution of the crisis possible.
If those who want a stateless society are to offer a way out of this nightmare, it can be done only on the basis of a clear-headed understanding of the unfolding process. We cannot simply base our advice to working men and women on stupid progressive slogans. And, this is the subject of the final part of this series.
To be continued
Tags: austerity, capital, economic policy, falling rate of profit, fascism, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Karl Marx, Koch Brothers, labor, labor power, Libertarianism, make the rich pay, Scott Walker, starve the beast, Stupid Left Tricks, stupid Marxist tricks, Stupid progressive tricks, superfluous labor, the politcal-economy of fascism, The State
I stated earlier that I think the Koch Brothers are being framed for the events in Wisconsin, but I don’t want you to get me wrong here: the Koch Brothers will get no defense from me — nor would they need or want one. They are libertarians who really do want to get rid of the welfare state — or at least the parts they find offensive to their property rights; but show me an election where the libertarians have garnered more than two percent in any national election contest.
Still, I do not offer the argument that the Koch Brothers are innocent of this attempt to break the unions and impose austerity on working people. And, why would I offer that argument in any case? Isn’t it obvious already that the capitalists in their battle against the laborers always seek to reduce wages to the lowest possible sum? What do we add by jumping up and down like imbeciles wagging our fingers in their faces declaring, “You want to starve us!” like a bunch of naive progressives who believe the antagonism between capital and labor can be overcome at the negotiating table? The point isn’t that the capitalist always and everywhere wants to maximize profits by reducing the wages of the working class to the barest minimum, but that it is precisely this effort that constitutes the historical mission of that class — they are compelled by this insatiable hunger for profit to develop the productive capacities of society!
So I am amused by the meaningless statement by Felix Dzerzhinsky, in his post, Two, Three, Many Wisconsins on the Kasama website that, “we need to put the demand to make the rich pay at front-and-center…” It is a naive slogan almost universally reflected in the posts of Left-leaning writers who invariably point to the same shopworn examples of efforts by Capital to reduce their taxes:
Today’s “debt crisis” is the culmination of the long-term “starve the beast” strategy from an organized corporate-conservative movement. By cutting taxes for the wealthy they have starved the government, created massive debt (guess where the interest payments go) gutted the infrastructure, and put our country on the road to third-world status. This conservative movement has an agenda, and is not interested in working out “bipartisan” compromised.
All of this is incontestably true, but how does this effort on the part of Capital lead to the slogan, “Make the rich pay”? This sophomoric progressive slogan has nothing to do with communism. Pay with what? Every dime the rich have they have extracted from the labor of the working class. They “pay” for nothing — not even for the labor power of their wage slaves. That this demand, which is nothing more than the silly delusion of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, should be uttered by a communist is not just silly, it is incomprehensible.
Even for those with only cursory knowledge of Marx’s writings it is obvious that, in his theory, the entire cost of the State are nothing more than proceeds of the unpaid labor of one portion of the working class paid out as wages or subsistence income to another portion. That the capitalist class should want to shift these costs directly to the productively employed working class — to reduce their consumption by an amount proportionate to these costs, and therefore allow the wages of one worker to suffice for two — doesn’t require a degree in Hegelian philosophy. It only requires commonsense.
The capitalist class would be more than pleased to see the costs of the imperialist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countless military bases encircling the globe, and the ever increasing burden of debt service, deducted directly from the wages of the working class, and to not be forced to see their plunder of working people shared with the vile, parasitic organs of the State. My argument has nothing to do with entirely predictable attitudes of the Koch Brothers. I don’t think the Koch Brothers family agenda is the only force behind Walker’s provocation, and, the drive for austerity in general, as many on the Left imagine.
As the slogan, “Make the rich pay”, implies, the working class has no more desire to absorb the cost of the State than does the capitalist class.
Thus, we are left with no other conclusion but that both Capital and Labor — each class driven by its own empirical needs — are trying to throw off the burden of the State. That, in a society founded on class conflict, this general attempt by society to throw off the cost of this parasitic and wholly unproductive organ takes the form of a conflict between classes on how to divide this burden, should be no mystery to communists.
So long as fascist State economic policy assures an expansion of economic activity, the conflict between the two classes exists only in its latent form — the State issues lucrative contracts to capital; and, directly and indirectly prompts ever greater employment of redundant, superfluous labor-power. The two classes settle, into a more or less uneasy coalition made possible by the fact that each finds the essential condition for its existence — the purchase and sale of labor-power — relatively stable and expanding.
It is only when State economic policy runs into difficulty, when, for a shorter or longer period, the State is incapable of realizing general economic expansion, and when, therefore, the purchase and sale of labor-power is threatened on a more or less universal basis, that the contradiction inherent in the capitalist relations is again brought to the fore, and society descends into open class conflict.
During this period, when the economic crisis has assumed its sharpest form, the burden of the previous accumulation of superfluous labor, and of the costs associated with this superfluous labor, become intolerable and must be cast off. The mode of this casting off is already given in the contradiction inherent in capitalist relations themselves, as each class attempts, by all the means available to it, to push off onto its opposite the burden of the crisis.
The class conflict resulting, which must threaten the existence of the State itself, cannot be resolved simply by passing the burden from one class to the other, but only by the further expansion of unnecessary labor, and by expansion of the State — if this cannot be accomplished, or can only be accomplished in part, the crisis must lead to an unwinding of a part, or even all, of the accumulated superfluous labor, and the abrupt devaluation of both existing capital and labor-power — the form of resolution I turn to in the next part of this series.
To be continued
Tags: austerity, capital, economic policy, fascism, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Kasama, Koch Brothers, labor, labor power, Libertarianism, make the rich pay, Scott Walker, starve the beast, Stupid Left Tricks, stupid Marxist tricks, Stupid progressive tricks, superfluous labor, the politcal-economy of fascism, The State, WEAC
Call me unnecessarily skeptical about these things, but when I run into a narrative that fits neatly into my assumptions I immediately begin to question my assumptions.
The cartoonish battle unfolding in Madison just does not hold up to scrutiny: we have unions that are not unions and only exist because the state of Wisconsin granted them the right to organize the labor force. These unions have no protection under the law and were expressly excluded from the Wagner and Taft-Hartley slave labor acts.
We also have two-bit players in the oil industry, who, despite resounding rejection in an election contest, have managed in just 30 years to rise to the position of the cutting edge of the capitalist onslaught against labor — setting the agenda of the fascist State.
Excuse me, but, as a jury member, I am not buying the circumstantial evidence.
I often like to surf Marxist sites and tweak their noses by crapping on their archaic analysis of the world around them. Despite years of painful self-examination these Marxists insist on donning the blinders worn by decades of predecessors regarding the State.
In a recent foray, I visited the Kasama site to see how they were covering the events in Madison and was greeted with pretty much the same insipid analysis as that presented by labor historian and author Peter Rachleff in the first section of this piece. One writer, Felix Dzerzhinsky, has called for, “Two, three, many Wisconsins”; a play on Che Guevara’s call for revolutionaries to emulate Vietnam in its resistance to American imperial aggression in the 1960s. Of the prospect for a successful outcome in Wisconsin, Dzerzhinsky dutifully writes:
All of this could change for the better or worse tomorrow. Everything depends on the ability of workers to maximize the disruption of business as usual in the state: keep the Capitol shut down, keep as many schools as possible closed and teachers and sympathetic students at the Capitol or in the streets, etc. The rest of the country is watching, and the activists among us are wondering if we’ll be able to reproduce this level of constructive anger in response to the attacks that we face.
Predictable Marxist pap, but what is interesting about Felix’s analysis — why I am fascinated by it — and what escapes most of the idiots on the Left, with their knee-jerk support for the Potemkin village unions currently battling Walker’s assault, is that Felix alone seems to have an inkling that defense of these worthless company unions was precisely the wrong place to begin the fight against austerity.
Why has Wisconsin risen up? I’m happy to report that they were able to start in a place where I suggested we not start: with a militant defense of the rights of public-sector workers. Economic hard times, I wrote, mean that this is a bad place to start, because so much of the public resents public-sector workers who have benefits that they do not have. Better to defend public-sector workers only in the context of a broader fight against service cuts, I said, and then we need to put the demand to make the rich pay at front-and-center, lest we lose too many people to capital’s mystifications about taxes. I still think a lot of this holds true going forward, but I also think I underestimated the catalytic potential of public-sector workers. After all, their unions are still the big battalions of the fight to defend public services. And perhaps more crucially, no matter where you are, everyone knows a teacher. Everyone knows a city trash collector or state worker. Everyone knows a firefighter; they were exempt from Walker’s direct attack, but they know the meaning of solidarity, and are aware that their own bargaining positions will be weakened if other unions are weakened, so they showed up at the Capitol in some strength. And yes, everyone knows a cop: they were also exempt from Walker’s attacks, but reports indicate that plenty of them showed up to support the other unions as well — out of uniform, of course, but thereby marking the first time you were ever grateful to see a plainclothes policeman at a demonstration.
Despite his insight regarding the danger of letting the battle against austerity turn into a battle for the defense of the public unions, Felix welcomes this disastrous turn of events. The reason why this is a disaster still holds, he acknowledges, but, blinded by the apparent numerical strength of these fictitious unions, and their enthusiasm, he gets swept up in the unfolding events.
Moreover, it never seems to occur to Felix that this was the entire motive of Walker’s unnecessary, and wholly gratuitous, attempt to remove the bargaining rights that, as I have already shown, the public unions never really had in the first place. The attack on bargaining rights was an ambush; a deliberate provocation designed to bring the unions into the streets. Walker wanted to goad the public unions into a fight they could not win so he could paint them as the face of the public sector. The public unions are to serve as the black welfare queen of the 21st Century — the racist stereotype of the single mother introduced by the Reagan administration — and which stereotype was confirmed by President William Clinton when he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act into law — with the strategic placement of smiling black women on either side of him.
The union leaders — instead of warning their members, and admitting the reality of the unions’ cardboard existence — led them into a fight in which they are outclassed and have already lost.
Is it possible to recover from this disaster? Frankly, it doesn’t look good.
According to Kasama, “The 97-union South Central Federation of Labor voted Monday night to prepare for a general strike that would take place if Gov. Scott Walker succeeds in enacting his budget repair bill, which would strip most bargaining rights from most public employee unions.” Only about 15% of workers in Wisconsin are covered by unions — a percentage that is higher than the average for the United States, but down from the more than 20% union membership rate in 1989. Moreover, a spokesman for the Federation was unclear on how many of its 385,000 members would actually take action, nor did he give an estimate of how many of the more than 2.2 million non-union labor force could be expected to join.
Finally the spokesman provided little information on what strike action would take place or its target:
“It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to stop working on a particular moment or day,” Aniel said. “It means that we are preparing so that the decisions are made in a very significantly different way so that it protects the people of Wisconsin.”
But some services would be shut down, he said. The labor group would still have to determine which services would be shut down, he added.
“If it was decided the governor’s mansion really wasn’t that important and it wasn’t that important to heat it or give it electricity or to guard it, then those things wouldn’t happen,” Aniel said.
Two or three more disasters like this? We can only hope not.
To be continued
Tags: austerity, black welfare queens, company unions, Democratic Party, Felix Dzerzhinsky, GOP, John Birch Society, Kasama, Koch Brothers, Libertarianism, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, Peter Rachleff, Ronald Reagan, Scott Walker, SEIU, The State, unions, WEAC, William Clinton
The battle lines seem familiar enough: on the one hand we have a coalition of the most regressive right wing forces who have set out to destroy unions and the rights of labor generally; and who appear intent on driving wages to levels commensurate with those of the age of robber barons. On the other hand, a coalition of unions who are bearing the brunt of this unrelenting assault, and who, inspired by events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are making a determined stand against it.
Labor historian and author Peter Rachleff provides us with an overview of the forces arrayed in this battle, which, at first glance, seems less like David and Goliath, and more like a collision of two massive powerful sumo wrestlers:
WITH THE Koch Brothers footing the bill for his campaign, Scott Walker assumed the governorship of Wisconsin on January 7, 2011. Walker’s first action as governor was obeisance to the corporate class that that put him in office: he gave $140 million in tax breaks to businesses, including WalMart, and then screamed “budget crisis!” This move allowed him to introduce his “budget repair bill,” which would require state workers to pay $5,000 to $7,000 a year towards their health insurance benefits and pensions.
Uninformed, public-sector-bashing Walker supporters see this as an overdue come-down in public sector workers’ unfair advantages. But the scope of Walker’s bill is much broader than public sector wages, benefits and unions. It is a salvo in the broader Republican war against working people and all unions, proposing radical positions in the right’s plan to create a permanent under-class of non-unionized workers: 1) reduce public employee collective bargaining strictly to wages; 2) prohibit all public employee strikes (the National Guard is on stand-by in Madison); 3) eliminate automatic deductions for union dues; 4) limit collective bargaining contracts to one year; and finally, 5) require union members to vote each year to “re-certify” bargaining units.
Of course, the bill also proposes cuts in public education and public services. And right behind Walker’s “budget repair bill” is an additional bill to make Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, which would severely limit the powers of private-sector unions. The one-two punch.
Giddy with the alignment of Republicans behind him in the House and Senate, Walker called a special session to demand immediate passage of his “budget repair bill.” Simultaneously, he sent a letter to every state worker, warning that there would be no extensions of current contracts beyond March 13–a decree which would eliminate collective bargaining. He declared all of this non-negotiable.
Look for the Union Label
The sheer breadth and depth of Walker’s comprehensive demands on the unions should be enough to alert us that, though formally appearing as equals on the plain of battle, the unions are far from equal to the forces Walker has deployed against them. Walker has essentially demanded that the unions cease to exist: constantly fight for their life as organizations by stripping off the routine automatic deductions that fund their operations; seek annual recertification from their members; and make it impossible for them to enforce any of their demands by threat of strike. Such demands as he made would be unthinkable had Walker confronted labor organizations capable of fighting back and both willing and determined to bring Wisconsin government to its knees to defend themselves and their members.
Simply placing these demands on the unions, Walker exposed them as coddled, dependent in-house organizations, that survive and operate only at the pleasure of the State. The demands are excessive not by reason of the comprehensiveness of the ultimatum, but because the comprehensiveness of the demands themselves demonstrate how little need there was for the demands in the first place. These organizations were never unions, they were in-house organs for the management of public employees by the State.
The Union-busting Kochtopus from Hell
If you want poster boys for the Right-wing conspiracy against working people, you need look no further than Charles and David Koch. Name an organization on the Right that wants to strip workers’ rights and turn the economy into a vassal-state of Capital, and more than likely you have named an organization receiving contributions from the Koch Brothers. They have been linked to astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity, Patients United Now, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Citizens for the Environment.
According to the Wiki:
Charles and David Koch also have been involved and have provided funding to a number of other think tanks and advocacy organizations: They provided initial funding for the Cato Institute, they are key donors to the Federalist Society, and also support the Mercatus Center, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Institute for Justice, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, the Institute for Energy Research, the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
With billions of dollars at their disposal and a family history of extreme Right-wing causes — including the founding by Papa Fred Koch of the John Birch Society — the family has long been opponents of the post-war statist agenda. In 1980, Charles Koch was candidate for president on the Libertarian Party ticket and has long advocated not only the abolition of Social Security, but also public education and even the Central Intelligence Agency. In the 2010 election cycle, according to the wiki, the Koch Brothers backed Scott Walker’s campaign and one of their related organizations, Americans for Prosperity, lobbied for Walker’s public union-busting plan.
Today, Charles and David Koch must feel a little like a young black man on trial: convicted of an as yet unknown crime before the trial has even started. On the Left, almost unanimously, they are being singled out as the chief instigator of the unrelenting assault on the company unions in the public sector. Somehow, against alleged widely held, long-standing, liberal society expectations, these minor bit players in the oil industry, who barely garnered one percent of the vote in the 1980 presidential election, have managed to change the terms of the debate in all of society against the public unions who compose half of all unionized workers in the country.
Frankly, I smell a frame-up.
To be continued
The following post is by Stefan Molyneux from “Lost Liberty Cafe.” I found it through Beyond The Corral. I do not completely agree with Stefan Monyneux, but it illustrates a major point in my philosophy.
One of the most difficult – and essential – challenges faced by libertarians is the constant need to point out “the gun in the room.” In political debates, it can be very hard to cut through the endless windy abstractions that are used to cover up the basic fact that the government uses guns to force people to do what they do not want to do, or prevent them from doing what they do want to do. Listening to non-libertarians, I often wish I had a “euphemism umbrella” to ward off the continual oily drizzle of words and phrases designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence. We hear nonstop nonsense about the “social good,” the “redistribution of income,” the “education of children” and so on – endless attempts to bury the naked barrel of the state in a mountain of syrupy metaphors.
It is a wearying but essential task to keep reminding people that the state is nothing but an agency of violence. When someone talks about “the welfare state helping the poor,” we must point out the gun in the room. When someone opposes the decriminalization of marijuana, we must point out the gun in the room. When someone supports the reduction of taxes, we must point out the gun in the room – even if one bullet has been taken out.
So much political language is designed to obscure the simple reality of state violence that libertarianism sometimes has to sound like a broken record. We must, however, continue to peel back the euphemisms to reveal the socially-sanctioned brutality at the root of some of our most embedded social institutions.
I was recently involved in a debate with a woman about public schools. Naturally, she came up with reason after reason as to why public schools were beneficial, how wonderful they were for underprivileged children, how essential they were for social stability etc etc. Each of these points – and many more – could have consumed hour upon hour of back and forth, and would have required extensive research and complicated philosophical reasoning. But there was really no need for any of that – all I had to do was keep saying:
“The issue is not whether public schools are good or bad, but rather whether I am allowed to disagree with you without getting shot.”
Most political debates really are that simple. People don’t get into violent debates about which restaurant is best because the state doesn’t impose one restaurant on everyone – and shoot those trying to set up competing restaurants. The truth is that I couldn’t care less about this woman’s views on education – just as she couldn’t care less about my views – but we are forced to debate because we are not allowed to hold opposing views without one of us getting shot. That was the essence of our debate, and as long as it remained unacknowledged, we weren’t going to get anywhere.
Here’s another example. A listener to my ‘Freedomain Radio’ show posted the following comment on the message board:
If you say “Government A doesn’t work,” you are really saying that the way that individuals in that society are interacting is lacking in some way. There are many threads in this forum that address the real debate. This thread’s counterarguments all focus on government vs. free market society. The rules defining a free market are all agreed upon interactions at some level, just as a government is. Don’t debate that a government is using guns to force others, when it’s really individuals with guns, instead show how the other way will have less guns forcing others or how those guns could force others in a more beneficial way.
I responded in this manner:
But – and I’m sorry if I misunderstand you – government is force, so I’m not sure how to interpret your paragraph. Let me substitute another use of force to show my confusion:
“If you say that rape doesn’t work you are really saying that the way that individuals in that society are interacting is lacking in some way. There are many threads in this forum that address the real debate. This thread’s counterarguments all focus on rape vs. dating. The rules defining dating are all agreed upon interactions at some level, just as rape is. Don’t debate that a group of rapists is forcing others, when it’s really individual rapists, instead show how the other way will have fewer rapists forcing others or how those rapists could force others in a more beneficial way.”
Do you see my confusion?
It is a very helpful sign for the future of society that these euphemisms exist – in fact, I would not believe in the moral superiority of a stateless society if these euphemisms did not exist! If, every time I pointed out to people that their political positions all required that I get shot or arrested, they just growled: “Sure, I got no problem with that – in fact, if you keep disagreeing with me I’m going to shoot you myself!” – then, I would find it very hard to argue for a stateless society!
In more than 20 years of debating these issues, though, I’ve never met a single soul who wants to either shoot me himself or have someone else shoot me. I take enormous solace in this fact, because it explains exactly why these euphemisms are so essential to the maintenance and increase of state power.
The reason that euphemisms are constantly used to obscure “the gun in the room” is the simple fact that people don’t like violence very much. Most people will do almost anything to avoid a violent situation. Even the most bloodthirsty supporter of the Iraq invasion would have a hard time justifying the proposition that anybody who opposed the invasion should be shot – because it was to defend such freedoms that Iraq was supposed to have been invaded in the first place! But how can I have the right to oppose the invasion of Iraq if I am forced to pay for it through taxation? Surely that is a ridiculous contradiction, like arguing that a man has a right to free speech, and also that he should be arrested for speaking his mind. If I have the right to oppose the invasion, surely I cannot be forced to fund it. If I am forced to fund it, then any right I have to “oppose” it is purely imaginary.
In essence, then, all libertarian arguments come down to one single, simple statement:
“Put down the gun, then we’ll talk.”
This is the core morality of both libertarianism and civilization. Civilized people do not shoot each other when they disagree – decent people do not wave guns in each other’s faces and demand submission or blood. Political leaders know this very well – I would say better than many libertarians do – and so constantly obscure the violence of their actions and laws with mealy-mouthed and euphemistic weasel words. Soldiers aren’t murdered, they “fall.” Iraq wasn’t invaded, but “liberated.” Politicians aren’t our political masters, they are “civil servants,” and so on and on.
Although libertarianism is generally considered a radical doctrine, the primary task of the libertarian is to continually reinforce the basic reality that almost everyone already is a libertarian. If we simply keep asking people if they are willing to shoot others in order to get their way, we can very quickly convince them that libertarianism is not an abstract, radical or fringe philosophy, but rather a simple description of the principles by which they already live their lives. If you get fired, do you think that you should hold your manager hostage until he gives you back your job? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position on unions, tariffs, and corporate subsidies. If you find your teenage son in your basement smoking marijuana, would you shoot him? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position on the drug laws. Should those who oppose war be shot for their beliefs? No? Then you already hold a libertarian position with regards to taxation.
Like the scientific method, libertarianism’s greatest strength is its uncompromising simplicity. The enforcement of property rights leads to an immensely complex economy, but the morality of property rights is very simple – would you shoot a man in order to steal his property? The same complexity arises from the simple and universal application of the non-aggression principle. It’s so easy to get lost in the beguiling complexities and forget to keep enunciating the basic principles.
So forget about esoteric details. Forget about the history of the Fed and the economics of the minimum wage. Just keep pointing out the gun in the room, over and over, until the world finally starts awake and drops it in horror and loathing.
In the first part of this series (here) 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 (here) 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 (here) 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.
Tags: abstract individual, abundance, Adam Smith, aggregate demand, capital, capitalists, Civil Society, class interest, class society, Classes, Classical liberalism, deficit spending, economic policy, fascism, Federal Reserve, fiscal policy, gdp, general interest, hours of labor, interest, Karl Marx, labor power, law of value, Libertarianism, Liberty, Marxism, Moishe Postone, monetary policy, productive forces, profit, Proletarians, Property, prouctivity, public debt, rent, scarcity, superfluous labor, surplus value, the Individual, The State, value, voluntary association, wages, War on Terror
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.
Tags: abstract individual, Adam Smith, Civil Society, Classes, Classical liberalism, David Ricardo, fascism, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Libertarianism, Liberty, Marxism, productive forces, Proletarians, Property, Stanley Jevons, the Individual, The State, value, voluntary association
I was somewhat surprised to see an interest in the theories of Karl Marx among at least a small section of libertarians, in the form of two recent articles, Brad Warbiany’s “Marxism And Libertarian Exploitation Theory” and Michael O. Powell’s “Rethinking Marx”. Given the continuing distortion among even most Marxists of Marx’s theories, not to mention the blatant misrepresentation of his views by official academic portraits of the man, I didn’t think anyone among those committed to the idea of a stateless society would be able to break through the clutter to try at least reclaim some of his ideas for our time.
That said, I want to clear up what I think might be some lack of clarity regarding his views that might allow others to experience them in a form that is more consistent with what I think was his intention. I am not an expert on Marx, so what I say here is only my best approximation of his ideas. They are always subject to dispute.
Brad Warbiany in his post made a serious stab at clarifying Marx’s views on the State. Based on his understanding of what Marx wrote, he found it quite incomprehensible that Marxists today can embrace the very machinery of repression that Marx himself rejected as illiberal, parasitic and oppressive. I agree that it is a complete betrayal of Marx by Marxists in this regard. However, Brad then makes what I think are a number of observation about Marx’s own views that are wrong, and reflect the distortions introduced into his theories by Marxists themselves.
Marx made what I would consider to be three critical mistakes in his analysis:
* Humanity has far too close of a relationship with property to function in an anarcho-socialist system.
* The state, once breaking the capitalists, had too many perks to let itself “wither away”.
* Much of his goals for workers “owning the means of production” are already beginning to occur within capitalism.
Brad then turns to the first of these mistakes:
“The first point is a bit of my own conjecture, but stems from Marx’s treatment of classes as classes rather than the more individualist libertarian treatment of classes as collections of disparate individuals. Marx saw the proletariat seizing the means of production and then finding harmonious sustainable ways to equitably distribute the fruits of such production. The 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. I do not believe human nature is so constituted — which, of course, is why I’m an anarcho-capitalist..”
Actually Marx’s view of social classes was probably the opposite of the way it is presented here. For Marx, capitalism is a society founded on universal competition much in the model of Hobbes’ “war of all against all”. Bereft of all means to produce for his own needs, the proletarian was the owner of himself alone; forced by this poverty to sell himself as a commodity. But, this sale took place in the context of a market where there were millions of like impoverished individuals; each of whom, on pain of starvation, were driven to conclude the same transaction in conditions of market competition. The intensely competitive environment into which they were thrown from birth onward was not by any means conducive to the formation of a social class consciousness. Marx argued that it was not really a class at all but merely the detritus of the decomposition of classes, composed entirely of individuals who had lost their property and, hence, were compelled to sell themselves into wage slavery. Although they shared a common circumstance, this circumstance was not by any means the basis for cooperative association. If they were to act more or less as a class, it would be the result of seeing their common interest through the dense fog of their relentlessly competitive environment.
His view of the capitalist class was not very different — under certain circumstances it could appear to act as a class, but there are also circumstances in which it clearly did not act as a class. In both cases, however, the relation between one capitalist owner and the rest was founded on a competitive clash of interests where the losers were consumed by the winners. So, both the class of proletarians and the class of capitalists were subject to an increasingly intense competitive environment. Moreover, both the relation between and among the class of capitalists, and the relation between and among the class of proletarians, rested on a larger ongoing class conflict between all capitalists and all workers over division of the product of the labor of the workers.
The picture one comes away with is that of 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. It is a condition under which all human relations escape the control of the members of society, all productive activity is carried on without regard to the ends of any individual, group of individuals, or all of them together — in which this activity exists only for itself, and operates as a blind uncontrolled force in society that respects no individual will. The activity of the members of society appear to them as the blind action of economic laws over which they have no control; and, which appear for all the world as impersonal as any law of nature. All gain and loss incurred by individuals, their position in society, and their circumstances generally, appear completely accidental: as personal character traits, or birth, education, and luck.
To a degree not imagined in any libertarian scenario, Marx’s theory identifies the individual as an abstract individual — no longer as a distinct member of some social formation, but rather as one who is progressively stripped of every conceivable sort of direct social connection: affinities based on family, community, religion, language, race, nation are unceasingly subjected to the withering erosion of a nasty, foul, merciless and relentless hobbesian atmosphere until the individual as an individual is reduced to a mere abstract human being robbed of any particular identifying characteristics — a cipher, for whom any given characteristics are merely accidental and passing. It is this individual who makes his appearance in political economy, and in libertarian political thought, as the average member of society.
On this basis, we can not only understand the liberal background of Marx’s theory, but also what Chris Cutrone calls the increasingly illiberal State that appears to separate itself from this universal all-sided conflict; and, to hover over civil society as an interest independent of civil society and in conflict with it. In Marx’s model, it is not simply economic relations that escape the control of the members of capitalist society; all relations escape their control. The increasingly illiberal State reflects the fact that no one in society can establish any degree of self-interested control over economic processes without also establishing their self-interest as the general interest of the community — i.e., as a matter of State interest. Marx, in a more complete excerpt of the quote cited by Brad, warns that the State was,
“…increasing at the same rate as the division of labor inside the bourgeois society created new groups of interests, and therefore new material for the state administration. Every common interest was immediately severed from the society, countered by a higher, general interest, snatched from the activities of society’s members themselves and made an object of government activity – from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and the communal property of a village community, to the railroads, the national wealth, and the national University of France. Finally the parliamentary republic, in its struggle against the revolution, found itself compelled to strengthen the means and the centralization of governmental power with repressive measures. All revolutions perfected this machine instead of breaking it. The parties, which alternately contended for domination, regarded the possession of this huge state structure as the chief spoils of the victor.”
In Marx’s model, the State itself is being further developed as a parasite on society by the very forces of the ongoing civil conflict within society itself and the increasing complexity of this conflict. This complexity is nothing more than the increasingly sophisticated division of labor within society; and, the condition of utter dependence of the individual on society, who is, at the same time, in a state of universal competition against every other member of society and all of them together. The result of this process is not the realization of the bourgeois ideal of liberty, but an increasing illiberality of a State founded on an all-sided universal competitive conflict — ultimately leading directly to 20th Century Fascism, in which the State appears as a renunciation of civil conflict between classes, but also as its necessary political expression.
It is this model of society, which finds its expression in the categories of political-economy, as Liberty, the Individual, and the State, that serves as Marx’s point of departure for his own theory. Marx does not propose anything more than what the liberal writers of the 18th and 19th Centuries themselves assume with regard to the nature of these categories. And, it is important to understand that Marx — while rejecting the idea that these categories are in any way Eternal Truths — begins by accepting all of their assumptions as the starting point of his own work.
Then he begins to outline his theory on how the working out of the social process through these categories leads ultimately to voluntary cooperative association.
To be continued.
By: Scott F | Jan 16, 2011 Featured
What is Left-libertarianism?
It is libertarianism synthesized with leftism. It is the awareness that the two are not contradictory or opposites on a spectrum but properly understood are the same.It should be clear from the beginning left-libertarians reject the statism of traditional leftists.Many do not consider such individuals to be leftist.Merely left-libertarianism is the understanding that libertarianism leads to leftist conclusions – that libertarianism is a philosophy from which to view the causes and solutions to traditional leftist concerns such as bargaining power,bosses or corporations.To use Gary Chartier’s phrase it is “socialist ends by (free) market means”.
Central tenets of left libertarianism.
- ‘Subsidy of History’ .Further awareness of how history has had no golden ages and elites have benefitted from statism in past while average person has suffered due to state e.g. in the Industrial Revolution.
- The political class.The State has throughout history to present day acted to artificially privilege the rich,corporations, landlords and employers(The political class) at the expense of everyone else particularly the poor, employees,women, black people,foreigners, tenants,small businesses,the self employed, unions and the like(the exploited class).Following from this left-libertarians are on the side of the downtrodden and the marginalized.
- Two Kinds of Government intervention. As Kevin Carson says there’s two kinds of government intervention.Primary which are privileges such as subsidies to the rich etc.Secondary which the government puts in place to hide the injustice of primary intervention and make the system seem humane e.g. minimum wage,welfare etc yet which remain harmful as ever.
Concern for the downtrodden.Furthermore concern for the downtrodden follows from left-libertarian opposition to aggression against innocents.Those aggressed against- the oppressed- are just one group of the downtrodden.
- Current Distribution of wealth and land.Following from the previous link, the recognition that current distribution of wealth and land is largely due to state intervention whether that be barriers to entry or statist privilege and that just because someone is wealthy need not mean they achieved it themselves and just because someone is poor does not mean that they make bad lifestyle choices.Following from this understanding we must reject classist prejudices.
- Belief in Anarchist Pluralism.This is a belief that various legal and political arrangements would exist in anarchy ranging from back to nature communes,co-ops, collectives to voluntary socialist federations and so one.No one arrangement would and should dominate.Anarchist arrangements will compete and finally truly be put to the test.
- Opposition to Thin libertarianism and belief in Thick libertarianism.Left libertarians are not arguing that there should be a set moral creed for libertarians but also that morality is not irrelevant.It is worth discussion in anytime there is a discussion of rights.We should always keep in mind that while there may be a right to do X that does not imply that it is morally right to do X.Even prominent ‘thin libertarian’ Walter Block is really thick.He speaks of religion as potentially being a bulwark against the state and that it is important for libertarians to support it when it does so.This is thick libertarianism.There are many kinds of thickness varying in degrees and one can belief in one kind while rejecting another.One kind is the basic left libertarian position that while opposition to aggression against innocents is vital and necessary ,it is not sufficient.Left-libertarians broaden the scope to include cultural matters such as structures of domination and dehumanization.
- Belief in ‘Thickness from grounds’- A kind of thickness.This is values which lead you to libertarianism or are implied as part of it, that lead to a concern for wider issues.An example of the links here would be:- concern about aggression leads to general concern for others .Concern for others leads to concern about dehumanization.Concern for dehumanization and about aggression leads to concern for the marginalized and downtrodden of which the aggressed against are one group.
- Belief in Thickness from consequences- As Charles Johnson explains it “there may be social practices or outcomes that libertarians should (in some sense) be committed to opposing, even though they are not themselves coercive, because (1) background acts of government coercion are a causal precondition for them to be carried out or sustained over time; and (2) there are independent reasons for regarding them as social evils.”Examples of this are sweatshops,’contract feudalism or authoritarianism arising from land ownership.
- Rejection of conservative baggage of traditional libertarianism.Historically classical liberalism defined itself largely in opposition to state socialism.Libertarianism with it’s opposition to state socialism during the progressive era and the cold war has done likewise.This is due to unfortunate alliances with the old right and conservatives.Libertarianism has unthinkingly and knee jerkedly embraced evils in the name of opposing state socialism as a package.Libertarians have engaged in the fallacy of package dealing here and in doing so have accepted evils which socialists of all stripes-statist and anarchist- rightly oppose.Left-libertarians seek to help the philosophy of libertarianism shed this baggage.This baggage can be seen in opposition to leftist language and concepts or the belief that voluntary socialism is impossible- an argument that likewise can be turned back on the arguer.Also this tendency is exhibited in anarcho-capitalist selective re-reading of history to downplay or exclude elements of classical liberalism/libertarianism which came close or even were left-libertarian.
- Opposition to Vulgar Libertarianism.Kevin Carson Defines Vulgar Libertarianism as the tendency to falsely believe that X condition holds because the actually corporatist we live in is a free market.An example would be to say workers who have horrible working conditions should just quit.This ignores the extent to which workers bargaining power is reduced by statism.
- Anti-corporate.There are many left-libertarian criticisms of corporations.But the most basic is that corporations are defined by (1) state granted limited liability and (2) corporate personhood. (1) It is an error to think left-libertarians oppose limited liability per se.More correctly,we oppose state grants of limited liability which amounts to the state legally privileging a company owner ,manager or higher staff (especially corporations) to be exempt from prosecution.This is not a free market contract because the state is enforcing this against non agreeing third parties.It is essentially a kind of social contract.Now it is true this can sometimes be ignore by the state when pressing for prosecution but this is rare.(2) Left-libertarians oppose corporate personhood which is the treating of a corporation- an organization as if it is an individual with rights as an individual.It’s true individuals in a corporation have rights but the organization itself does not.This is an epistemological error and one which should he gross to libertarians who favour individualism.These two criticisms lead left-libertarians to the conclusion that corporations are products of statism and could not exist on the free market or at very least would be very improbable.Important to note is that corporations are defined by thesr two privileges, a company missing the latter one is just a artificially privileged company not a corporation but left-libertarians oppose these all the same.
- Seperation of management and ownership.At very least, left-libertarians think this can be problematic and at most think it is immoral or a violation of rights.
- Unions are not inherently coercive.Unions have been co-opted at times by the state.Left-libertarians oppose this.We believe in unions that work for left-libertarian goals and seek to level the playing field between employer and employee.
- Belief in Strategic Thickness ,that is values that would help lead to and maintain a free society.
- Reduced/limited Bargaining power. The state limits job opportunities by instituting barriers to entry such as licenses and monopolies.Thus workers either cannot be self employed or independent contractors or the numbers of individuals taking up such kinds of employment are vastly reduced.This means that workers do not have much ability to turn down job offers ,look for better working conditions such as hours,oppose boss petty authoritarianism or argue for benefits such as child care.Workers are stuck with what there is,so the employer holds all the power in their relations.The State is the enemy of the worker.
- Solutions to reduced bargaining power.Possible solutions include Workplace democracy,Worker Self management, collective bargaining,labour organizing,work to rule, go slows etc.
- Ambiguity in labour contracts allows employers to take advantage of employees reduced bargaining power and require things not specified in the contract.
- ‘Contract Feudalism’.Reduced bargaining power means that employees can do little when employers extend their authority into the private lifes of workers such as preventing criticism of the company on social networking sites.Kevin Carson calls this ‘Contract Feudalism’.Employer authority is extensive and all embracing.
- SweatShops.Due to reduced bargaining power which results in workers reduced ability to seek better worker conditions sweatshop workers have limited options.They are not choosing the second best option nor even the best option but the best option ALLOWED by statism.
- Poverty. While libertarianism has always emphasised how statism causes and maintains poverty, left-libertarianism are strongly in favour of making sure it is not forgotten in case status quo apologetics or classism enter in.The state’s cause and maintenance of povety is extensive resulting twofold:- statist privileges and statist intervention which holds down the poor.The group most harmed by statism at any time is the poor.The State is thus the enemy of the poor.
- Pro-migrant.Culturally, left-libertarians are pro-migrant which follows from concern for the downtrodden( and opposition to xenophobia) since often migrants come into a country due to state created poverty or war.Left-libertarians view the most flourishing society as one in which their is a variety of groups and cultures.Left-libertarianism is on the side of the migrant.
- Opposition to I-it relationships which result in dehumanization- that is treating of individuals as objects, as lacking in free will and determined by their group- Examples of these include sexism,racism,classism,xenophobia, transphobia and homophobia.
- Statism on the side of the bigot.Since we don’t have free markets , to some degree employers are protected from suffering from loss of profit due to discrimination because of state reduction of competition and corporatism.Walter Block is wrong.
- Authoritarianism due to land ownership. At minimal concern about how land ownership might be used to mistreat or control others.At most ,outright opposition to land ownership for this very reason
- Equality. The Belief that large wealth disparity is due to the mix of statist privilege and barriers to entry and that minus these in a free market, wealth and land would be more widely distributed and wealth would be less inequal.The Free market is a form of wealth redistribution.It is inherently corrosive to wealth concentration and inherently leftist.
- Artificially large firms. Firms have two forces involving their size:- economies of scale and diseconomies of scale. The vulgar libertarian analysis assumes current size of firms is due to serving the needs of the masses.This is claimed because it is said that certain factors reduce production by unit and allow for increase of firm size.These are economies of scale.Diseconomies of scale are factors which limit the size of firms such as costs,transport etc.The vulgar analysis is mistaken because it assumes a free market which is what this clear law applies to.The situation as left libertarians point out is more complex in the current corporatist atmosphere.An analogy will help illustrate. Imagine a set of scales.On the right side is economies of scale and on the left, diseconomies. The way it would work in a free market ,is the right will become weighted by economies and the left weighted by diseconomies( both factors are always in play ) until the left diseconomies outweights the right economies.But in Corporatism, statist privilege artificially reduces if not in some cases eliminates diseconomies on the left side of the scale and adds extra economies of scale onto the right side.The result of this is artificially larger firms.Absent these factors in a free market,firms would have clear diseconomies and thus would be smaller to some extent than currently.
- Fewer firms. Statist privileges allow firms to grow to artificially large sizes while barriers to entry reduce smaller businesses entering the market to compete or prevent their entry in the firstplace(the unseen of barriers to entry) The result of this is fewer bigger firms- the traditional leftist complaint.Thus it follows the solution to this problem is not statism since it is the cause.
- Prices. Since on a free market, competition tends to result in lowered prices and better quality goods and services with statism hampering if not at times eliminating competition completely then these two tendencies do not hold currently and we have artificially higher prices and artificially lower quality goods and services than we could have.You might say this doesn’t seem to be true.Things seem to be get better all the time.While it seems this way ,things could be much better in a free market.
- Rent. By artificially creating scarcity via barriers to entry for example rent control or zoning and statist privilege, statism results in reduced supply of land while demand remains the same.The result of this is artificially increased prices in buying or renting land and artificially high rents.
Artificially increased overheads.The state artificially raises overheads.Overheads are the costs of running a business.The costs are raised by such things as the cost of filling tax reports, complying with regulations etc. clearly now to deal with those requires large bureaucracy in businesses.Smaller businesses and individuals have a harder time to keep up with these costs so artificial overheads reduce their amount or actually exclude them from the market -especially in the case of the poorest.
I would be happy to see others follow in my path and write their own manifesto’s either following my general outline or not.
Hopefully my explanations are full enough to generate more understanding of what left libertarians believe.
WARNING: This post contains adult discussion which may not be appropriate for children or a work environment.
In my first reply to Daniel (Marx’s theory of property: Whore or Just “Easy”?), I made an argument that, despite Marx’s assertion that property is a relation between people, he would entirely agree with Daniel that the commonsense — perfectly logical — view of things is that property is an object outside of us that we own. Moreover, let me state for the record at this point: these relations between us that we refer to as property can ONLY exist in the form of an object external to us. The very idea that property is some thing, some object, which is not us, but which we own, presupposes that, even if property is only a relation between each of us and other members of society, it has to have an object-like existence. So, if a particular piece of property we own does not actually exist in the form of an object that is independent of us, we have to create it, so to speak.
In my examination of my transactional tryst with my companion, it was, as a matter of agreement, that she present to me, in exchange for my one hundred dollars, her sex organs and her body generally as an object, a mere means of my satisfaction, to complete our agreement. For that sixty minutes or so, she was not her self, but a commodity — a collection of orifices (oral, anal, vaginal) — which I, like any purchaser of an iPod, was free to employ according to an mutually agreed upon Terms of Service.
The Terms of Service state that, despite my use of her body as means of my satisfaction, ownership of it remained with her — she was not selling her self into any permanent condition of servitude. It also stated that, in exchange for my use of her body as a means of my own satisfaction, she was not obliged, in return, to pretend to enjoy the experience herself — except as she might decide would enhance my experience with her body — nor was I required to provide to her any sort of pleasurable experience — her object was not satisfaction in the form of a good fuck, but in the form of my one hundred dollars. It also stated that, at the end of my sixty minutes of use, I was to return her body to her self in such condition as did not leave it in a damaged state, and, therefore, unable to serve as a commodity in a later exchange of this or another type.
Although she is not a commodity, but a human being, she nevertheless had to present her body as an object outside of her self. Although, she is not an object but a person, she had to treat her personhood as if it were somehow detachable from her body and deliver this body without personhood as an object for my use. That she is not, for me, a person but only a body without personhood is given in my exchange of one hundred dollars for the use of it — so far as I am concerned, she is only my one hundred dollars in the particular form of oral, anal and vaginal cavities I can employ for my own satisfaction, just as an iPod is one hundred dollars in the form of an mp3 player.
As I argued in my second post (Marx’s theory of property: Who owns me?), that this object, property, appears to have passed through a very long historical development until it emerges full blown in the founding documents as self-ownership, does not in the least make it false or a social fiction. It simply means that it arrives on the scene not as the expression of natural law within society, but as a break in historical development during much of which we did not own our capacities but were ourselves owned in some fashion by others.
Concealed from us behind the liberating bourgeois manifesto of self-ownership, Marx warns, is not only freedom from enslavement to others, but also the history of property itself as slavery in various forms throughout history: self-ownership, Marx declares, while a definite advance over ownership by others, is not authentic human liberation, but merely self-enslavement. Rather than being an object at the disposal of some feudal chief, we are now each of us our own object.
In the internet series, Ghetto Gaggers, a number of young African-American women sit passively, or passively allow themselves to be variously positioned, as two anonymous white men engage in savage and quite horrifying acts of sexual abuse for about a half hour or more in each video. There is no hint of sentimentality in the actions of the three, no illusion of mutual engagement. Each woman is alternately gagged with the penises of the two men until they are forced to vomit, buggered, flipped and fucked, positioned for double penetration, and finally facialed. This abuse sometimes getting so intense that the woman’s pretension that she is a mere object momentarily slips and she sheds tears — a slip which is always captured by the camera because it enhances, rather than detracts from, the spectator’s experience of her objectification. It is, on the surface, a particularly jarring example of the pornography increasingly available to us through the internet. As, social criticism, however, it is unparalleled, as these three individuals, each owner of themselves — as their own slaver, their own petty entrepreneur — convert themselves into commodities on-screen for the enjoyment of their audience.
That the entire history of the United States is only a history of white male abuse of African-American women is demonstrated in the flesh by the descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s systematic rape of his girl slaves, whom his more legitimate descendants were so hesitant to acknowledge until recently, but, is a matter of public record. What makes these videos a matter of critical significance is that, even after the bourgeois manifesto of self-ownership was extended to Jefferson’s bastard descendants, the same patterns of behavior reappear in the form of a pornographic video starring three self-owners — two white, one black. In no previous age did we imagine that such horrific sexual abuse could be a voluntary act of a free individual. In our age — that of self-ownership — the very irrationality of this act not only appears rational to us — even if somewhat uncomfortable to watch — but, more importantly, earlier epochs of human civilization where it was decidedly not a voluntary act, and where, because this enslavement was not accompanied by the purchase/sale of a commodity, are re-imagined in film as a banal sentimental romance, Jefferson in Paris.
The age of self-ownership — the bourgeois epoch — Marx argues is society marked not by the abolition of slavery, but by its universalization; it is an age not where the shadow of the slave master hovers over the crouching young girl who is legally unable to defend herself, but the age where that young girl rises to her own two feet as her own slave-master groomed from birth onward to employ herself as her own object. We arrive at a state of society where, it appears, property is perfectly compatible with freedom, but find that we are free only to the extent we are willing to enslave ourselves to each other.
It is this irreconcilable conflict, which is inherent in the very concept of self-ownership itself, that offers the basis for true freedom, and the subject of my final post.
By Davi Barker This was originally posted at Examiner.com. Comments on the original are appreciated.
For those interested in the science behind authoritarian sociopathy no studies are more poignant, or more chilling in their ramification than the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment. But their sentiment was perhaps best expressed by Thomas Jefferson in an often overlooked passage of the Declaration of Independence:
“All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
After World War II the world stood in shock and horror as the details of the Holocaust came to light. Jew, Gypsies, Homosexuals and virtually anyone deemed an enemy of the state were put to death by the Nazis. The constant, even robotic refrain from these soldiers during the Nuremberg Trials was “I was just following orders.” And as the world cried, “Never again!” Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist asked, “how did this happen in the first place?” The Milgram Experiment was designed to measure the willingness of otherwise psychologically healthy people to obey the unethical orders of an authority figure. His shocking results were published in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.
In the Milgram Experiment participants were divided into “teachers” and “learners” and placed in separate rooms. They could communicate, but could not see each other. The experimenter instructed the “teachers” to read questions to the “learner” and if they answered incorrectly to administer an elecro-shock of ever increasing voltage. Unknown to the “teachers” was that the “learners” were actually plants and the electro-shocks were fake. The “teachers” were the actual subjects in the experiment. After a few volt increases the “learner” began to object, to bang on the walls, and complain about a heart condition. After some time the the “learner” would go silent. If the subject asked to stop the experiment for any reason he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter to continue. “Please continue,” “the experiment requires that you continue” “you must constinue,” etc. Most continued after being told that they would not be held responsible.
Of the experiment subjects 65% administered the experiment’s maximum massive 450-volt shock even though every subject expressed some level of objection in doing so. Some began to laugh nervously. Others offered to refund the money they were paid for participating in the experiment. Some exhibited signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner. But the vast majority were willing to administer a lethal jolt of electricity to a complete stranger based upon nothing but the verbal prodding of a scientist in a lab coat. None of those who refused to administer the deadly shock insisted that the experiment itself be terminated.
The Stanford Prison Experiment was a study conducted by Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo to determine the psychological effects of prison life. Participants were screened to be otherwise stable and psychologically healthy and assigned randomly as either “prisoner” or “guard” to live in a two week long prison simulation in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Guards were given uniforms, mirrored glasses to prevent eye contact, and wooden batons meant only to establish status. Prisoners were dressed in smocks and addressed only by the numbers they were issued. Guards were instructed only to keep a fixed schedule, and that they should attempt to make the prisoners feel powerless, but could not physically harm them.
The experiment was halted after only six days.
After a prisoner revolt on the second day guards began to display cruel, even sadistic behavior. A system of punishment and reward soon followed including, spraying disobedient prisoners with fire extinguishers, depriving them of bedding or restroom privileges, forcing them to go nude and locking them in “solitary confinement” in a dark closet. After the initial revolt, and a brief hunger strike, prisoners on the other hand developed submissive attitudes, accepting physical abuse, and readily following orders from the “guards” to inflict punishments on each other. They even engaged in horizontal discipline to keep eachother in line. One prisoner began showing signs of mental breakdown after only 36 hours, yet they stayed even though they were all made aware that they could stop the experiment at any time. As Zimbardo explained, both prisoners and guards had fully internalized their new identities.
Zimbardo ultimately halted the experiment when he realized that his judgement had been compromised by being sucked in to his role as “Prison Superintendent” and allowed abuse to continue that could be considered torture. His recent book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, details his findings and how they relate to the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
Ethical concerns raised by these results have made it illegal to repeat these experiments. In fact, under current ethical guidelines the State makes it very difficult to study the psychology of power and authority at all. Still, there have been some more recent studies that flesh out the findings of these classic experiments which we will be discussing in Part 2, on honesty, Part 3 on compassion and Part 4 on integrity.
What is clear to me from these experiments is that human nature is not evil, but essentially adaptive. If you take an otherwise good person and invent for them a role that incentivizes evil they will adjust to their new circumstances. And if you internalize “obedience to authority” as a core personality trait you will become capable of the worst forms of murder, and tolerant of the worst forms of abuse.
“Most libertarians also reject the laissez-fairist position that it is morally imperative to obey all laws, no matter how despotic, as well as the all-too-common laissez-fairist patriotic devotion to the American Constitution and the American State. They have also found current laissez-fairists (though this was not true of the 19th-century brand) to be conspicuously silent in mentioning the heavy responsibility of big business for the growth of statism in 20th-century America; instead, the blame is almost always placed on unions, politicians, and leftish intellectuals.”
(It seems Rothbard noted it as a problem even then.)
“Even at its peak, however, the effectiveness of the Randian movement was severely limited by two important factors:
One was its extreme and fanatical sectarianism; Randians refused to have anything to do with any person or group, no matter how close in outlook, who deviated by so much as an iota from the entire Randian canon – a canon, by the way, that has a rigid “line” on every conceivable question, from aesthetics to tactics. (An odd exception to this sectarianism, by the way, is the Republican Party and the Nixon administration, which includes several highly placed Randians as advisors.) Particularly hated by the Randians is any former colleague who has deviated from the total line; these people are reviled and personally blacklisted by the faithful. Indeed, Rand’s monthly magazine, The Objectivist, is probably the only magazine in the world that consistently cancels the subscription of anyone on their personal blacklist, including any subscribers who send in what they consider to be unworshipful questions.
The second, associated factor is the totalitarian atmosphere, the cultic atmosphere, of the Randian movement. While the official Randian creed stresses the importance of individuality, self-reliance, and independent judgment, the unofficial but crucial axiom for the faithful is that “Ayn Rand is the greatest person who has ever lived” and, as a practical corollary, that “everything Ayn Rand says is right.” With this sort of ruling mentality, it is no wonder that the turnover in the Randian movement has been exceptionally high: attracted by the credo of individualism, an enormous number of young people were either purged or drifted away in disgust.”
“While Rand opposes the war in Vietnam, for example, she does so on purely tactical reasons as a mistake not in our “national interest”; as a result, she is far more passionate in her hostility to the unpatriotic protestors against the war than she is against the war itself. She advocated the firing of Eugene Genovese from Rutgers, on the surprisingly anti-individualist grounds that “no man may support the victory of the enemies of his country.” And even though Rand passionately opposes the draft as slavery, she also believes, with Read and the laissez-fairists, that it is illegitimate to disobey the laws of the American State, no matter how unjust – so long as her freedom to protest the laws remains.”
“Anarchocapitalism, however, also contains within it a large spectrum of differing ideas and attitudes. For one thing, while they have all discarded any traits of devotion to the State and have become anarchists, many of them have retained the simplistic anticommunism, devotion to big business, and even American patriotism of their former creeds. ”
“The factional differences centered on the problems of revolution, relations with the Left, and communalism vs. individualism. For as the RLA youth took the concept of alliance with the New Left to heart, they increasingly and to varying degrees became “leftists,” thus setting up an extreme-left tendency within the anarchocapitalist movement. Leading this tendency was former Goldwater speechwriter Karl Hess, who had been one of the most spectacular converts to right-libertarianism during 1968. Going through a Randian phase – reflected in his famous Playboy article “Death of Politics” in mid-1969 – Hess had passed through the center and on to lead the extreme left by mid-1969.”
“Responsive to the call for alliance with the New Left, the Left tendency began to oppose any criticisms of their newfound allies, leading to an uncritical adulation of the Black Panthers and other groups on the Left, including the anarchocommunists headed by Murray Bookchin. As in the history of many ideological movements, tactics began to merge into principle, so that many of the extreme left began to become anarchosyndicalists or anarchocommunists, or, failing that, to see little or no difference between the various branches of anarchism.”
(this seems somewhat conservative judgement on Rothbard’s part)
“Another split within the libertarian movement centers on “youth culture”: drugs, rock, dress, etc. Almost exclusively, the split is generational, with the over-30s (with the exception of Hess) lined up against the youth culture, and the under-30s (with the exception of dyed-in-the wool Randians) strongly in favor. However, the California youth lead their generation in pushing youth culture as a supposedly mandatory part of the libertarian struggle; a similar but less important split centers on “Women’s Liberation” and “Gay Liberation,” both of which are pushed strongly by the CLA youth. “
While it can be argued that anarchists, libertarians and Marxists have a huge ideological chasm between their various views and visions of a future society, it is obvious that on significant issues they share a common perspective. One question for the new year, and the run up to the 2012 elections, is will these diverse ideologies continue to allow their difference to stand in the way of real practical common action on those things which they agree?
Libertarians have elected several of their supporters in the last election cycle; Ron Paul is poised to take an important chairmanship in the house; and, the GOP is vulnerable to a libertarian challenge in the 2012 presidential sweeps. Marxists have committed disciplined cadre capable of playing a significant role on the ground should they find some common points of agreement with the libertarian rebellion now unfolding within the Party of Wall Street. Anarchists have the extraordinary ability to move between these two factions while remaining relatively free of the ideological prejudices of either group.
Can the strengths of each be turned to a singular focus on a set of demands that move progressive and conservative majorities in both parties along a different path? I am not sure, but I offer these demands below in hopes that a discussion can begin among libertarians, anarchists and Marxists toward some practical cooperation in 2011:
End the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; and withdraw all US military forces from overseas.
This demand is simple enough: we want all United States military forces withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan and all bases operating in foreign countries dismantled and the troops brought home.
End all Washington fiscal and monetary stimulus; and, reduce the work week until everyone who wants to work has a job.
We want Washington to end its wasteful and incompetent attempts to stimulate the economy to generate job creation and economic growth. There is enough work at present to go around if the work week is reduced until unemployment is eliminated. All fiscal and monetary stimulus is nothing more than the imposition of hidden taxes on society by Washington, and its attempt to grab more resources for itself at the expense of society.
End all Federal, state and local deficit spending and accumulation of public debts.
Public deficit spending and the creation of new debt through bond issues are another form of hidden tax on the population. By issuing new debt, government at all levels is able to garnish the future income of its citizens to enlarge itself at their expense. We should demand all levels of government spend only the revenue they raise through taxes to end the hidden accretion of government power.
Abolish the Federal Reserve Bank and the fractional reserve system; end the bailout of the too big to fail banks.
This is a no-brainer: the control of the nation’s money, its supply of currency, and its monetary policy should never have been delegated to a private cartel of banking interests in the first place. Washington must also end the ongoing bail out of the too big to fail and shut them down immediately.
End the prosecution and imprisonment of all persons convicted of nonviolent offenses; dismantle the Department of Homeland Security; and, abolish the Patriot Act and other repressive laws.
Again, another no-brainer: The growth of state power is clearly evident in the swollen population of American prisons and clogged courts as state authorities prosecute and imprison thousands of people each year for nonviolent offenses from drug possession to illegal entry into the United States. Additionally, our movements are being subjected to constant state surveillance, routine invasive searches of our persons, tracking of our correspondence and public and private conversation.
Is it possible to gather such diverse voices as those within the libertarian, anarchist and Marxist communities into a single chorus around these or a similar list of demands? I would imagine there is not a single true libertarian, anarchist or Marxist who disagrees with the above list, but getting to “Yes” on any common set of demands runs into heavy opposition from the forces of the State, who do not want to see such a coalition, and from petty disagreements among these diverse groups who have their own agendas for what comes next.
We must make an effort however, and I pledge to fight for unity among all libertarians, anarchists and Marxists on these issues during 2011.
By: Jay Batman | Dec 20, 2010 Featured
This post has been removed at the request of the Author.
Can the Captialism vs. Communism paradigm be challenged just as so many of us have found the flaw in a left-right paradigm? I was once like most Americans, I opposed socialism and communism. I knew that capitalism was the only way because that was just a fact. It was one of those unquestioned facts. Just as some fall into the ‘capitalism is evil’ or ‘free markets are evil’ I was doing the ‘socialism is evil’. As I expanded my philosophy to reject the state completely I began to look at other concepts. I started to see flaws in capitalism. I started to look at ideas within socialism. I was adamant about bashing on the left – right paradigm, but the free market – socialist paradigm was sacrosanct.
Over time I would discover Proudhon and the concept of Mutualism. I began to associate more with Mutualism than with the capitalist – communist paradigm. I want to challenge all of those. I do not want to outright reject any, but I do wish to look at each one for it’s merits and flaws as we should. Can or will I pull out every merit or flaw in this article? No, that is not possible. I simply wish to guide the conversation in new directions. At this point I am really liking the two terms ‘Free Market Socialist’ or ‘Free Market Syndicalist’.
I love some ideas that come out of the Anarcho-Capitalist camp. They offer many practical solutions. Often these solutions can be used outside of a rigid Capitalist situation. These groups tend to overlook the hierarchy and power over others that is made possible in a Capitalist society. There is potential in the power side of the free market for power to corrupt. This is true for any form of power. This is also true of a socialist system. Every example we currently have of socialism or capitalism is within the confines of the state. So looking to history for the answers is not what we are doing. History has pitted these two against each other aggressively.
Now up to this point I have loosely used socialism and communism interchangeably as well as capitalism and free market interchangeably. I would like to say that there are real differences, but I am trying to speak more on lines of this paradigm that seems to exist between two polarized sides. The Free marketer is often the capitalist friendly and the socialist is also often communist friendly. This is not always the case. I do acknowledge vast differences.
We should look at the positives and benefits of each system and use what works. It’s that simple. If we are constructing a stateless society who is to say that there will be one way everything is ran to begin with? In our construction of a stateless society why can we not build diverse alternatives and drift towards the systems that work? So, to pick elements of a free market that are positive and to pair them up with elements of socialism would tend to make sense. Pruning what is counter productive to our goals or what is contrary to our means will be a process. When I say ‘our means’ I most specifically refer to non-aggression as the critical means, but also an absence of rulers, domination of others or hierarchy.
I am not going to get into tearing down capitalism, communism, free markets or socialism. I do wish to point out that each has it’s critics and each points to a potential of each becoming counter to the means we seek to work within. Each points out potentials of forming tyranny or hierarchy and other such fearful situations. There are some who would focus on the ownership and power present in state capitalism. They would point to the potential for landlords as well as wage slavery and other potential abuses by those who have used a capitalist system to gain power over others. Is seems that many of it’s defenders would take a stance that is the market is a form of power in the ‘voting with dollars’ concept. The consumer is empowered to end the company. The later I stand by firmly. The element I feel we can take most specifically from the free market is the power of the consumers, or the people to dictate the survival or success of a corporate entity. The empowerment of the common worker is the element we can pull from a free market. How can that fit with socialism?
I want to now go to the idea of property rights. This is one idea that people will fight over for generations, possibly even in our stateless society. I am going to look at the basic idea that the product of ones labor is their property. The worker owns their property. Under this idea I feel that the basic form of a company or corporate entity that we should try to build towards should by a syndicate. It seems to me that if the product of our labor is ours then we can best represent property rights through a socialist form of syndicates on a free market. To gain through basic wage labor is to benefit from the property of another. In this manner I can agree that this is one way property can be theft as Proudhon stated. The positives of a free market focus should not be to gain power for one over others, but to return power to each and every one of us essentially ending power over one another.
This is all very basic at this point, and I wish to expand on much of this in the near future, but there are a few other ideas I want to throw into the mix here. The first being a divide in property rights philosophies. When we achieve a staeless society it is Utopian to believe that we will all suddenly agree on the definition of natural rights, property rights or any of the other concepts that divide will suddenly be agreed upon. To take a realistic approach on these we will have to accept the idea that people will remain divided. Under this reality it is safe to assume that different solutions will be present falling under each of these divergent philosophies, and that over time they will work through forms of litigation to iron out the differences in how to cooperate in a stateless society.
My neighbor on the right could be a part of a syndicate that creates cars on an assembly line for people. This system could have socialized resources for protection, health, defense and other such needs being met through that syndicate. My neighbor on the left could be a potter. His trade is not one where he works in a large group, and this has found his needs through a market that is free in that manner that if offers many choices to suite the needs of most concievable situations. He could go to co-ops and other socialized resources that have risen in the community to meet such needs, or he could have shopped around to fins a company or syndicate that provides those needs at a fair market price. Through a process of achieving this stateless society we iron out the specifics necessary to meet needs of people and to provide to fit the needs of all. There is no one solution for anyone, after all this is Anarchy. Anarchy, not chaos, so the forming of a social structure that honors non-aggression. Without rulers we are free to meet our needs and be liberated by those who would take our property, opportunities and livelihood.
We must not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ when it comes to any concept of the structure of society. We must not measure them by the ideas of the past, but look to the possibilities of the future. Why would we throw out every idea of socialism or a free market? Why not look at what parts seem to be positive and what is negative and focus on the liberty afforded in a voluntary society to create what it is we are able to create? If we can begin to think outside of the state why can’t we think outside of the economics of the state also? I am declaring that under economic structure we should be willing to criticize every structure and form that exists just as some of us would criticize every form of state and power. We should also not be naive enough to throw out realities and true solutions.
I’m going to do some more reading and research and I will get back to this topic.
I think the first book I am reading in search of some clarification on this topic is one by Kevin Carson, Studies In Mutualist Political Economy. You can read it with me and follow me down this path. I am interested in seeing what he has to say about a Political Economy. I’ve read Marx, Rothbard, and some Proudhon and my fill of Austrian economists.
Tell someone you want to get rid of government, and they will immediately ask you about police, firemen and teachers — you’ve just branded yourself as a proponent of crime, chaos and ignorance.
Tell them you want to get rid of property, and they will immediately label you a Bolshevik intent on reducing the entire society to poverty and totalitarianism.
Tell them you want to get rid of labor, and they will ask, “But, how will we make things. Where will our food come from?” The very suggestion to them that we can live without labor almost always comes down to, “But who will do things like collect garbage.”
People have a real hard time with garbage collection.
Everyone is anti-statist to one extent or another; they are conditional or arbitrary statists who take exception with one or another feature of modern society.
Marxists, for example, hate inequality, private property, and the concentration of wealth. So, they see no problem taxing wealth away, and even confiscating it. Libertarians, are advocates of property and have an intense dislike of all government interference in individual property rights. So, they are not averse to eliminating the minimum wage, public education, unions (especially public unions) and so forth.
Both Libertarians and Marxists share some common features, however. If you really press a Marxist, soon you will find she is hostile not to property in general, but only private property. She will cogently explain to you why this private property must be replaced by public ownership of the means of production. And, if you really press a Libertarian, you will soon find out he is probably not against all government but just those functions identified with “the welfare state’, i.e., the social safety net erected after the Great Depression to protect society from the booms and busts of the business cycle, and from the greed of the wealthy.
Each, despite a hostility to the agenda of the other, nevertheless wants to retain some features of the existing society expressed in the others ideology.
There is another feature both sides agree on: in my experience both seem hostile to the idea of ridding society of labor itself. While a Marxist might be willing to adjust labor on the margins — say, by some minimal reduction of the work week or flexibility in those hours — the idea that labor itself can be done away with entirely appears to her altogether a fantasy. A Libertarian, if he thinks about labor at all, only thinks of it when he considers the impediments to the freest possible exercise of the property owner’s rights — in other words, only when he advocates to eliminate the minimum wage, unions, mandatory overtime pay, and workplace safety regulations.
For the Marxist, there is some willingness to consider a reduction of hours of work, but only on condition that wages remain unchanged. For the Libertarian, there is some willingness to consider a fall in wages as long as there is no limitation on hours of work. The idea that both wages and hours should go to zero — that all paid work should be abolished — is so inconceivable as an option for society, that even the most determined and radical opponents of the present order find it, at best, Utopian, and, at worst, a recipe for social collapse.
Both ideologies, however, have a profound hostility to empire. militarism, and the imperial adventures of Washington. While they may violently disagree with each other in terms of their positive program for the reorganization of society, they tend to be on the same side with regards to many issues related to the empire and its global machinery of war and repression. I recently came across a Marxist in the ‘net who initially became radicalized under the influence of Libertarianism at a very young age. He tells a fairly incredible story about how he and a friend once invaded a Republican Party meeting to introduce one resolution after another against US involvement in Central America:
… before I was an anarchist, I was a libertarian. As in the Libertarian Party. As in Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Murray Rothbard. As in the Koch brothers who fund the Tea Party. I was raised in a left-liberal academic family, attended anti-war demonstrations as a kid, generally identified with anti-colonial struggles around the world, at the age of 9 cheered AIM when they seized Wounded Knee, read Malcolm and Che in junior high, and got involved in anti-nuclear power activism and the Citizens Party (an early version of the Greens) in High School. And then at 16 I became a libertarian and got deeply into that for the next several years.
I was more or less done with the libertarians when on a lark I convinced a friend to attend a Republican precinct caucus with me in the early years of the Reagan administration. We combed our spikey hair down, wore ill-fitting suits that we had bought at church sales and even a couple American flag pins and I introduced resolution after resolution in solidarity with the Nicaraguan Revolution, the armed struggle in El Salvador, the ANC and so on with my buddy seconding them and forcing a debate before each one was voted down 38 to 2. When the time came to elect delegates, my friend nominated me and some other guy seconded after explaining that while he disagreed with everything I said he was just glad to see young people “getting involved.” There were ten nominees for ten seats, five delegates and five alternates. I came in tenth, making me the last alternate. That proved good enough to get me called to attend the County Republican Convention where there was a big fight between the grassroots anti-tax crazies and the more respectable moderates. There was a rabid anti-tax resolution and the moderates were offering a modest amendment of support for law enforcement charged with enforcing existing tax laws, a matter on their minds in the wake of a recent local shootout between some far right anti-tax activist and the FBI. I rose to speak against the amendment, arguing that as our taxes were going to support U.S. policy in Central America we should applaud any actions that would starve the imperialist beast, suggesting incongruously that the posse comitatus nut was some sort of anti-imperialist hero. After I had spoken, a few of the anti-tax people came up to me and urged me to go back and run for precinct captain, but I wasn’t prepared to take that particular stunt any further.
My own story is similar to this person’s, except I was moving from the other direction: I was a Marxist who was strongly influenced by the “anti-tax crazies” in the late 1070s and early 1980s. Although I could not put into words what puzzled me about this movement, I knew they were on to something and the Marxists were missing an important opportunity. It was only in conversation with another Marxist, as I tried to argue for the importance of the anti-tax movement, that it suddenly dawned on me why it was significant: “Why do you care whether they are against paying more in taxes?” I asked her, “It isn’t your government; it isn’t your state — it’s the capitalist state and people hate it.”
That conversation sealed a moment for me. All of a sudden I could see the hidden connections between the arguments both the Left and the Right were making against government in a way, I believe, did not confine me to the ideological prejudices of either side. It has not been easy — honestly it has taken another 20 years to shake off the muck of ideology and realize both what the Left and Right have in common both in positive terms and negative.
Today, for me, the question has become: “What does it take to create a humanist anti-politics?” I want you to notice that I deliberately write the term, humanist anti-politics”, in lower case letters, here. I am not talking of, nor imagining, a movement toward something greater than us as individuals, but something completely subordinated to us — its only over-arching theme is that it has no theme and seeks only to let each of us create our own particular theme alone or in free voluntary association with others. It is movement which puts people — as individuals — in place of things.
A humanist anti-politics doesn’t ask for amnesty for illegal immigrants because governments do not own the earth, we do, and no government has the right to control our access to it.
A humanist anti-politics doesn’t argue for the right tax policy or the right fiscal policy or the right monetary policy for the economy, because we care only about what is right for people not the economy.
A humanist anti-politics doesn’t ask how Washington can protect us from terrorism, but asks how we can protect ourselves from the terrorism of governments around the world.
A humanist anti-politics doesn’t ask how government can create jobs to end unemployment, but how we can end wage slavery.
A humanist anti-politics doesn’t ask how government can improve the education system, but how individuals can be freed from Labor, Property and the State to develop their own capacities as complete human beings.
Humanist anti-politics is humanist because it seeks everywhere to put the liberation of society, as individuals, at the center of social discourse; it is anti-politics because it asks for nothing from government except that it cease to exist.
Is this possible? Can a consistent anti-statist movement be built out of the competing ideologies who each seek to impose their vision of the future on us?
Posted by Ross Kenyon
Thomas Paine wrote — probably to annoy me — that “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” With the American midterm elections this week, I find myself pensively reflecting on the cruel irony of being a political libertarian. There appears to be a direct correlation between how radical one’s libertarian sentiments are and the amount of resentment felt by being ensnared by American democracy.
Libertarians are nonaggressive and essentially want to be left alone. They don’t (or shouldn’t) seek to hurt or exploit anyone. I personally would like to live in peace with all people and trade. I respect the labor of others in the hopes that they might too respect mine. We libertarians have lives we enjoy leading; friends and family to do things more fun than politicking with, music to create, wilderness to explore, a whole world of delights waiting, and some of us even enjoy moving our bodies rhymically to well-ordered sounds. We would surely all choose such activities, full of spunk and life, over participation in the jaundiced political nightmare we are currently faced with, but alas, we are not permitted to escape the fatigue of supporting our philosophy.
Market anarchists envision a world without poverty or war, where individuals are not forced to subsidize the domination of one another, nor have our own lives paternalistically guided by bureaucrats, politicians, or generals, irrelevant of how they were placed in a position of political power.
This world is possible, and it isn’t really all that complex of an idea: there should be no arbitrary political boundaries and thus no forced collectivization. Political relationships should be based upon consent and problems resolved through decentralized common law negotiation amongst the affected parties, not non-refusable legislative representation based upon geographical lines.
Libertarians form intentional communities in places like New Hampshire through the Free State project, but also inhabit substantial online communities on sites like Facebook and Reddit, where people spend huge amounts of time sharing media related to recent government hijinx, political and/or economic theory, and historical mischief. Unless one just desperately needs this sort of town crier attention, I believe most of us would prefer to leave political libertarianism behind us for good and live our values in real life without unjust interference.
I imagine living some place like Moab, Utah, where I would buy a used four-wheel drive truck and romp into the wilderness for days at a time. When I’d meander back to civilization, I’d strum a guitar, and maybe find a hardword floor to lindy hop over. I don’t imagine having to work all that much either, as I wouldn’t be funding corporate privilege or the deaths of children overseas against my will. My economic competition wouldn’t be artificially advantaged over me through the state as they currently are, and I wouldn’t face onerous regulations, zoning, and licensing laws which entrench the well-connected and severely disrupt low overhead producers such as myself. It’s not that I desire a large amount of wealth, but the American breed of political and economic strangulation is denying me the fullest expression of my humanity, and yours too.
When anarchists come up against a system of voting inside of meaningless boundaries where everyone votes on how much forced labor we should make our neighbors perform and for which ends, not with their explicit permission but through some vague invocation of social contract, we find ourselves especially embittered.
If you see a libertarian or anarchist in the next week, show them some love. Their choices unsavory, the system illegitimate; it makes for a frustrating experience to hope for any semblance of a sane political future. While our ideas might sound utopian, we think it is far more utopian to believe that a political system based upon arbitrariness and forced collectivization can lead to anything worthwhile.
We would never seek to hurt you, another peaceful person, but please, we need to get on with our lives. Help us in ending the cruel irony of political libertarianism, so that all of us Americans might now maintain the countless wasted hours and wealth the political system saps from us, and replace our fatigue once more with the joy of living.
Originally posted at C4SS: The Cruel Irony of Political Libertarianism