I’ve been brain-storming about what a small state can do in an era where the US clearly can dictate terms within the world market. This thinking has been triggered by such recent events as the complete humiliation of the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, in pursuit of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden; the coup in Egypt to overthrow the democratically elected government there through tactics not unlike those employed against the democratically elected government of Chile in 1972; and by the ongoing events in Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and the so-called periphery of the euro-zone.
A small country like Bolivia, or Egypt or Greece can hardly expect to stand toe to toe with the US and its allies and trade blows. They typically do not have the economic, political or military power to confront the United States. This has led to the United States routinely ignoring their sovereignty, overthrowing their governments and sabotaging their economies.
Certain Marxists have their own weasel words to cover their statist inclination. Unless pressed to demonstrate it, they routinely refer to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (as one person stated to me) as “a ruling class’ instrument of the suppression of class enemies”. The employment of coercion against the capitalists, they assert, means the association of the working class is a working class state.
This idea is not to be found in Marx or Engels writings and it isn’t even in the anarchist criticism leveled against Marx by Bakunin.
This really makes it appear as if the difference between working class association and a bourgeois state is who gets suppressed by violence. It poses the problem of association in a way that isn’t even close to understanding how association differs from the state.
Full disclosure: I have known Lauren Smith, one of the subjects of this blog post, for over five years. We are online friends, and I first “met” her through a feminist community I once co-moderated.
An estimated 22 anti-capitalist protesters were arrested on Saturday after police clad in riot gear violently disrupted their march against colonial genocide, which is celebrated each year on Columbus Day. This was the second day of four days of action deemed, “decolonize the new world,” which is aimed at disrupting Columbus Day celebrations.
More than 100 people gathered at Bradley Manning plaza at around 2PM, before taking the streets of San Francisco’s deserted financial district at around 3PM. In between chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Columbus Day has got to go!” and “No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!” officers were splattered with paint. — Political Fail Blog
According to San Francisco police, members of the group were threatened with arrest because they did not ask for permission to protest on public streets and members became violent. (“Officers arrived in the area and were immediately struck by projectiles thrown by members of this group. One officer was struck in the head and sustained non-life threatening injuries.” — SFPD press release) Sympathetic sources argue that the police instigated any violence that occurred during the protest. Personally, I am far more inclined to agree with the protestors than with the cops. Even assuming that some of the protestors were lobbing rocks at the police, it appears that many — if not all — of the cops were wearing riot gear. They were more than protected from a few pebbles or paint in Ziploc bags. As per normal, the police responded with physical violence against the protestors, many of whom were protected only by sunglasses and bandannas.
But hey, it makes sense to me. Rocks win against helmets, while bandannas form an impenetrable forcefield against nightsticks and pepper spray, amirite?
Yes, it is very easy to find out Lauren’s Twitter info and our mutual friend’s info, but I’ve redacted it for my own reasons.
In between then and now, the police and the DA’s office are in the process of fighting with Twitter to get Lauren Smith and Robert Donohoe’s information, tweets released to them, as well as the political affiliations of everyone they are affiliated with, have ever contacted on Twitter, etc. As Lauren tweeted in the above screencap, this is an obvious ploy to create a network of information to use as a tool of political repression against anarchists, anti-capitalists, and other political dissidents.
Crazy talk, amirite?
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is, of course, skirting the real issue at hand, claiming that, “I don’t think that you have a right to privacy when you’re engaged in that type of criminal behavior.” (Because it’s not like that is a pretty fucked thing to say when you work in the damn criminal justice system.)
Smith and Donohoe have filed to quash the subpoena. In the meantime, a support group (Support the ACAC 19) has provided a form fax/email and a script for phone calls. That info is accessible right here. Please, share this link and fax, call, or email the SF DA’s office to pressure them into dropping the charges against the ACAC 19; also, if you have any cash to spare, you can donate to legal funds right here.
(Addendum: You can also email the Misdemeanor Managing Attorney at Wade.K.Chow@sfgov.org and this guy, James.E.Thompson@sfgov.org, who is handling the case for Laura Claster while she’s out of town.)
Whether you are a market anarchist, a communist, or a two party person, I’m sure you can see the frightening implications here. This is a clear move by the state to frighten people out of associating with dissidents, let alone subscribe to those views themselves. This is the exact type of shit that we — as Americans — like to tell ourselves doesn’t happen. Not here, not in this country. We live in a free country, damnit, not Communist China! I’m not somebody who typically shrieks “police state” every time I turn around, but can you really blame someone for thinking we live in a police state?
As part of my continuing occupation of the Marxist Academy, I have been looking at various Marxist theories of the crisis of neoliberalism. I am now reading the late Chris Harman’s “The rate of profit and the world today”, written in 2007, just prior to the big crash. This is part two of my examination.
Before we go any further, let me reiterate one thing: In Marx’s theory, the law of the falling rate of profit is not expressed in “stagnation of economic growth” directly or indirectly. The so-called “stagnation thesis” appears no where in the body of Karl Marx’s works on the capitalist mode of production spanning more than 40 years. Nor does it appear in any of Frederick Engels works on the same subject spanning nearly fifty-five years. It is not even an indirect result of the laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production. Moreover, in addition to the idea of “stagnation“, no Marxist can point to a single reference in the collective body of work by these two writers — together amounting to a century of research and publication — where either the terms “financialization” or “globalization” appear.
So, why the fuck are Marxist academics trying to explain these nonexistent phenomena? I think the answer to that question is simple: they are trying to explain stagnation, financialization and globalization because they can’t explain this:
Tags: Absolute Over-Accumulation, capitalist booms, Chris Harman, debt, Depression, economic growth, economic policy, fascist state political economy, Frederick Engels, great depression, Great Stagflation, Karl Marx, Keynesian economics, Marx, neoliberal, neoliberalism, otma, political-economy, rate of profit theory, stagnation, The Commune, The State
As part of my continuing occupation of the Marxist Academy, I have been looking at various Marxist theories of the crisis of neoliberalism. I am now reading the late Chris Harman’s “The rate of profit and the world today”, written in 2007, just prior to the big crash.
Harman appears to be one of a group of the influential Marxist thinkers in the last quarter of the 20th Century, and especially the period leading to this crisis, who helped refocus Marxist academic attention to Marx’s rate of profit theory. In this paper, to some extent an outline of his book, published in 2009, on the same topic in the middle of the crash, Harman presents the result of his research on the rate of profit and offers some ideas to explain his findings.
In Harman’s view Marx’s argument that the rate of profit falls over the life of capitalism has far reaching implications because it argues capitalist crises result, not from some sort of failure in the mode of production, but from its successes:
The very success of capitalism at accumulating leads to problems for further accumulation. Crisis is the inevitable outcome, as capitalists in key sections of the economy no longer have a rate of profit sufficient to cover their investments. And the greater the scale of past accumulation, the deeper the crises will be.
For some reason Harman does not follow up on this very interesting argument — if in fact capitalism’s crises are not a sign of failure but a sign of success, this indicates capitalist crises themselves should not be the focus of attention when studying the mode of production.
Crises are no more than a interval during which the mode of production resolves the contradictions produced by its previous successes. As such, these crises cannot be the reason why Marx labeled the mode of production a relative, historically limited, form of development. While the recurrent crises of increasing scale demand our attention because they momentarily bring economic activity to a near standstill these crises in no way are the source of processes leading Marx to his conclusion regarding the fate of the mode of production.
The conclusion resulting from this realization are pretty staggering: for all of its social consequences, the depression of 2001 is not the harbinger of the demise of capitalism, but an interval during which the mode of production prepares for its further expansion. This may explain why Marxists, when looking at the recurrent explosions of capitalism, see no reason why they cannot continue indefinitely.
They are looking at the wrong thing.
Tags: Absolute Over-Accumulation, capitalist booms, Chris Harman, debt, Depression, economic growth, economic policy, fascist state political economy, Federal Reserve Bank, Frederick Engels, great depression, Great Stagflation, Karl Marx, Keynesian economics, Marx, neoliberal, neoliberalism, otma, political-economy, rate of profit theory, stagnation, The Commune, The State, zero growth
As part of my continuing occupation of the Marxist Academy, I have been looking at various Marxist theories of the crisis of neoliberalism. This is the final part of my critique of Andrew Kliman’s “Neoliberalism, Financialization, and the Underlying Crisis of Capitalist Production” (PDF).
As can be seen in the chart above, most bourgeois economists look at fascist state economic data and conclude we are experiencing nothing like the sort of economic event that occurred in the Great Depression. The Great Depression was just that — a depression — while what we are experiencing is perhaps a more severe than normal recession generated in the aftermath of a financial crisis. For the bourgeois economist this description of the situation may or may not be entirely satisfactory.
For anyone attempting to understand the fascist state economic data using Marx’s theory of the capitalist mode of production it is less than worthless — it can turn Marx’s theory into a useless glob of shit that describes nothing — least of all what is occurring within the capitalist mode of production.
Tags: Absolute Over-Accumulation, Andrew Kliman, capitalist booms, debt, Depression, Depressions, Dominique Levy, economic growth, economic policy, fascist state political economy, Federal Reserve Bank, Frederick Engels, Gerard Dumenil, great depression, Great Stagflation, Karl Marx, Keynesian economics, Marx, Michael Roberts, neoliberal, neoliberalism, otma, political-economy, rate of profit theory, The Commune, The State, zero growth
I have been reading David Harvey’s “Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition” (2010). Harvey’s theory of the current crisis differs somewhat from the other Marxists I have been following. I actually rather enjoyed reading Harvey because he is simple to read without being simplistic like Wolff’s and Resnick’s piece. Harvey gave this originally as a talk to the World Social Forum in 2010,
Harvey opens his talk by stating boldly:
The historical geography of capitalist development is at a key inflexion point in which the geographical configurations of power are rapidly shifting at the very moment when the temporal dynamic is facing very serious constraints. Three percent compound growth (generally considered the minimum satisfactory growth rate for a healthy capitalist economy) is becoming less and less feasible to sustain without resort to all manner of fictions (such as those that have characterized asset markets and financial affairs over the last two decades). There are good reasons to believe that there is no alternative to a new global order of governance that will eventually have to manage the transition to a zero growth economy.
I liked his argument here, but, I think, he could have clarified things by explaining what he meant by “three percent compound growth…” Growth is one of those terms from bourgeois economics that has been adopted into the lexicon of Marxism as a category without critical examination. When Harvey then proposes that “compound growth” must sooner or later give way to “zero growth”, he unwittingly injures his own argument.
Tags: David Harvey, Depression, economic growth, economic policy, Fascist State, fascist state political economy, great depression, Great Stagflation, Keynesian economics, neoliberal, neoliberalism, otma, political-economy, The Commune, The State, zero growth
The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over.
Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
I am now reading John O’Connor’s “Marxism and the Three Movements of Neoliberalism” (PDF)
O’Connor proposes what he calls a “Marxian conceptual and empirical framework for understanding the disparate research on neoliberalism”. As with Saad-Filho’s work, John O’Connor’s is deeply flawed and is not in any fashion based on Marx’s theory of the Capitalist mode of production. Rather than an exercise in historical materialist analysis, O’Connor serves up a rehash of progressive nostalgia for a mythical pre-1970s Keynesian social compact, combined with a laundry list of ideological and policy crimes by the Neoliberal world order. We end with no more understanding of this thing, Neoliberalism, within the context of history, than we did at the beginning. O’Connor fails the essential test of the historical materialist critique of the capitalist mode of production.
If Neoliberalism is simply an ideological, policy, or governance construct, why is this construct the necessary form of ideology, policy and governance at this stage of development of the mode of production?
Fascism and the Myth of Keynesian Social Accommodation
For some strange reason, O’Connor arbitrarily begins his narrative in 1950 — completely bypassing a decade of depression ending in world war . He wants us to ignore this catastrophe and the war of redivision of the planet that ended in the destruction of much of Europe and Japan — 80 million dead and the productive capacity of Europe and Japan laying in ruins. He also wants us to ignore the rise of the fascist state and the debasement of currency that made that war possible. This allows him to portray the period roughly from 1950 to 1974 as a “Golden Age of Capitalism” following Glyn and Hosbawm.
Completely ignoring the fact that Europe and Japan lay in ruins at the end of the war — and, therefore, that any measure of post-war expansion begins from a base determined by this previous horrific loss of productive capacity — O’Connor tells us the “post-war economic boom was exceptional in capitalist history for its explosive growth, high profits, technological innovation, and reliance on government policy.” This last thing “reliance on government policy” is the kicker, because O’Connor is now going to use it as a crutch to get him to 1974. The “Golden Age” was made possible by two things: class accommodation at home and state involvement in the accumulation process. We don’t get any critical look at this so-called class accommodation nor state involvement in the accumulation process. In fact, both are filler material, placed there solely to let O’Connor to segue into the “crisis” of 1974-82. With this filler material O’Connor can stuff in the typical myth-story about a “Golden Age”” which he finds already present in our national political discourse.
Gone is the Great Depression, the debasement of the currency and the rise of the fascist state, the catastrophic wars of the 30s and 40s, US aggression in Korea, and a series of other police actions and coups, the red scare, the arms race, the Suez incident, Vietnam and the horrors of the United States’ Southeast Asian murderous rampage. What was blood red in reality, becomes a hazy faint shade of pink in O’Connor’s make-believe world of “I Love Lucy”. At some point, someone is going to have to call Marxists out on their patriarchal, racist, elitist, Anglocentric, rewrite of history. Frankly, the shit is just fucking unnerving — there was no “Golden Age” of capitalism! For John O’Connor, Saad-Filho, Richard Wolff and the rest of the Marxist Academy to continue referring to this myth is just bizarre!
The period under question begins not in 1950, but in 1929 with the collapse of capitalism world-wide, from which capitalism never recovered. Rather, all industrial states stepped in as the national capitalist and immediately imposed a continuous wage reduction regime across the board on their respective working classes in a ruthless act of class warfare. Then each fascist state turned on its neighbors and slaughtered everyone they could get their hands on in an orgy of bloodletting. It wasn’t enough to kill them — NO! — they then leveled their cities, destroyed their factories and productive capacity, and stole their resources to starve them out.
You want to see the “Golden Age” of Keyesianism — just look at World War II. Thanks to Lord Keynes the United States was able to devote 40% of its GDP to slaughter and pillage, and still have “economic growth”. In the United States alone 1500 factories were built from scratch to murder strangers — not feed them and ourselves. Sixteen million men were withdrawn from all productive labor and sent to murder, fully outfitted and fed by American industry — the same American industry which, just months earlier, could neither hire nor feed them — that’s your fucking Keynesian “Golden Age”, bitches.
The insult to the 100 million dead in two global wars of redivision cannot be worst than out of the mouth of a Marxist who states, as John O’Connor does, “the USA and Britain took steps to ensure that a stable liberal world order was recreated”.
The Second Great Depression
Having used this “Golden Age” of capitalism as a crutch to get him to 1974, O’Connor misses the beginning of the crisis in the 1960s. Had he done the least bit of analysis on the period 1929 to 1950 he might have noticed a little event called debasement of the currency. With this debasement, and the devaluation of wages by 70% that accompanied it, American capitalism went through an expansion phase. That expansion was not just fueled by the devaluation of wages, but also the war expenditures of World War II and the absorption of a hefty section of post-war Europe and Japan into the newly emerging fascist American Empire. This expansion phase comes to a head not in 1974, but in the mid-sixties with the collapse of the London gold pool in 1968 (pdf) , which facilitated manipulation of gold bullion price and allowed the US to share in the extraction of surplus value wrung from the European and Japan working classes — the so-called “exorbitant privilege”, a term coined by the French. (Of course, since Marxists are MARXist in name only, they have ignored the implications of the French critique.)
The crisis begins in the mid-sixties with a run on US gold reserves, and culminates in the collapse of Bretton Woods, and the end of dollar convertibility for settling international obligations. But this is just its superficial expression — what really happened is that the new productive capacity of Europe and Japan came online. For a period this overaccumulation was disguised by the murderous war on Vietnam and the swelling of American domestic spending to stem protests. But all of this comes to a head with the opening moments of the Second Great Depression of the 20th Century — the Great Stagflation. This depression triggers the collapse of Bretton Woods and the end of dollar convertibility by the Nixon administration. And it occurs not in 1974 but years earlier, although the actual expression of this crisis in unemployment is itself triggered by the massive inflation that occurs as Washington tries desperately to spend its way out of the contraction. Those of a certain age will remember Nixon declaring fatuously, “I am now a Keynesian in economics”.
The attempt to slow the contraction by a massive expansion of government spending ultimately fails and the Federal Reserve has to choke off credit in the midst of a depression to slow the inflation of prices. Nixon is gone, Gerald Ford is running around handing out “Whip Inflation Now” (WIN) buttons, and the Fed is trying to douse inflation with unemployment. None of this has any effect on the depression, however, which continues unabated for the next five or six years — in other words Keynesian economic policy is overcome by the growing productive capacity of society and the dissolution of nation-state economic management begins.
Only at this point do we finally reach O’Connor’s dating of the initial emergence of what eventually becomes neoliberalism — the crisis has, by this time, gone on for nearly a decade.
Neoliberalism and the Demise of the Nation State
The easiest way to understand neoliberalism is to understand exactly what the fascist state accomplished that can now only be accomplished by its demise. The success of the fascist states rested on what O’Connor terms a “distinct structural, institutional, and class foundation.”
This state led monopoly capitalism, as described by Fine and Harris (1979), was marked by the socialization of economic activity, in which the state took an active role in the accumulation process. Economic socialization helped offset the unproductive costs of accumulation and the reproduction of the labor force (Gough and Eisenschitz 1996). Through a wide variety of non-market mechanisms, the state balanced the social nature of production with the private appropriation of capital.
Okay, I admit I haven’t a clue what this means — so I am going to parse it.
“State led monopoly capitalism” appears to be some sort of a distinction from the state-as-capitalist — a concept that is apparently alien to Marxists. What role does the state play in this “state led monopoly capitalism” – clearly it is not the capitalist, so is it leading the capitalists? So how is it leading them? And to where? Well, it appears to be leading them toward some “socialization of economic activity” — which is clearly not socialism, but “socialization”. Which is to say, the capitalist accumulation process, having grown beyond the control of various forms of private management, must at some point fall under the direct management of the state. How does this work? Well, the state takes “an active role in the accumulation process”.
Okay, now I am stumped. What exactly is “an active role in the accumulation process”?
O’Connor tells us that it “helped offset the unproductive costs of accumulation and the reproduction of the labor force”. So what are these unproductive costs of accumulation and the reproduction of the labor force? Clearly by “the reproduction of the labor force” O’Connor can only mean wages and (perhaps) a meager provision of public education and a national health system. Can the state add to wages, educate, or cure illness? Not likely, since it is a bloated parasite on society, it can’t even put a chicken in a single pot. Since the state creates nothing, and produces nothing, it can only “offset … the reproduction of the labor force” by driving wages down. Perhaps I got this wrong; perhaps the state can magically whip up a subsidy for wages by creating food, clothing, and shelter out of nothing. I am not as educated as fucking Marxists Academics, but it seems to me all O’Connor is suggesting is that the state devalues labor power!
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Obama is feeding the working class from that victory garden over at the White House.
And what are the “unproductive costs of accumulation”? How does the fascist state “offset” these costs pray tell me? Frankly, I have never heard of the term “unproductive costs of accumulation” before I read this paper — the term appears nowhere in Marx. Nowhere in three fucking volumes of Capital does Marx ever mention an animal going by the name of “unproductive costs of accumulation”. Even if we assume the state plays some role in offsetting these mysterious costs, there are only two classes for the distribution of the social product of labor: workers and capitalists. If the state is “offsetting the unproductive costs of accumulation” for the capitalists, it has to be taking it from the working class.
So when I parse O’Connor’s argument, “Economic socialization helped offset the unproductive costs of accumulation and the reproduction of the labor force”, I only get two things out of it: “devaluation of the wages of the working class” and “more devaluation of the wages of the working class”. Since I am not a Marxist, you probably can understand why I come to that ‘absurd’ conclusion. If I were a Marxist, I could invent another phantom source of value for the state to redistribute as wages and profits.
Once we get past the silliness about the Keynesian “Golden Age” of capitalism, it is clear neoliberalism is not in the least a switch from social accommodation between capital and wage labor to coercive competition as O”Connor argues, but simply an intensification of systematic impoverishment of wage labor, for which Keynesian state policy was, by the 1960s and 1970s, insufficient to realize. This does not in the least require any modification of Marx’s labor theory of value, nor any special explanations. It simply requires us to grasp national capitals behave just like privately owned capitals, but with grim consequences for both national sovereignty and national fiscal/monetary policy. Which means these national capitals, although for a time appearing quite permanent features of economic analysis, were always transitory and subject to the very same laws as determine the capitalist mode of production generally: equalization of the rate of profit, concentration and centralization of capital, overaccumulation, falling rate and mass of profit, a growing superfluity of capital, a growing mass of workers who fill the ranks of the industrial reserve, etc.
What is distinct about these national capitals, however, is the constitution of purely national political class struggles. The political contest between any class of wage laborers and their national capital is fought out within the context of a nation-state form that is rapidly approaching extinction. Already countries very close to the core of Europe have been stripped of their national sovereignty, not to mention peripheral nations. And the more these nations lose their sovereignty, the more indifferent they become to both their domestic working class and domestic capitalist class.
Tags: Depression, economic policy, Fascist State, Federal Reserve Bank, great depression, Great Stagflation, John O'Connor, Karl Marx, Keynesian economics, neoliberalism, otma, political-economy, The State
“…the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.”
In the first part of the series, I made three critical assumptions about present political-economic relations.
First, in 1929, Capitalism suffered a general breakdown, brought on by absolute over-accumulation — absolute over-production. This crisis, known popularly as the Great Depression, occurred in every major industrialized nation in the world market, and constituted a global over-accumulation of capital that was irreversible. It took the form of a great mass of unemployed workers, side by side with a mass of unemployed means of production and subsistence.
Second, the fascist states which emerged from this economic catastrophe took the form of the ‘political rule of the proletariat over itself’, effected through its suffrage in the nations where it formed the largest class.
Third, the only alternative solution to the breakdown of capitalism and the “political rule of the proletariat over itself” was and remains the reduction of labor hours.
I also attacked the “Marxist theory of the state” and argued this “theory” is, in fact, not supported by Marx’s critique of capitalist society. So far as I can determine, not a single point of Althusser’s 1970 statement of the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ is found either in Marx’s or Engels’ writings of the state. While it is true, Althusser agrees with historical materialism that the state is an organ of class rule, this simplistic description of the state is ahistorical and does not satisfy the historical materialist description of the capitalist mode of production as a distinct historical stage in the development of the forces and relations of production.
Althusser’s statement can be applied to any epoch of human civilization, and to every known mode of production. It does not explain what of the capitalist state is specific to the capitalist mode of production and the social relations within society that are founded on this mode. What is specific to the state under the capitalist mode of production is not merely, or even primarily, that it is an instrument by which the ruling class imposes its will on society: in the writings of Marx and Engels, the state under the capitalist mode of production is “essentially a capitalist machine,” that displaces and renders the capitalist class itself superfluous to the mode of production and functions as the national, i.e., social, capitalist.
Althusser treats the state as an ahistorical category, not as a real thing situated in the capitalist epoch. The state is reduced to an instrument of repression, which appears in the capitalist epoch already in its complete and unchanging form. Essentially, Althusser recycles Duhring’s argument on force and dresses it in 20th Century “Leninist” clothing. While he does not go so far as Duhring and Anarchism to give force the determining role in historical development, he treats the state itself as essentially unchanged by the material changes in society.
This essentially static view of the state can not help us understand our present condition, as it throws no light on existing social relations.
In the second part of the series, I examine Lenin’s and Kautsky’s argument that the class conflict takes place completely within the bounds of a commercial transaction and confirm it as agreeing with my understanding historical materialism. The recognition by Lenin and Kautsky of the limits of the purely economic struggle — of the struggle with the capitalist over the terms and conditions of the sale of labor power, however, is converted by Leninism into an argument that the proletariat is incapable of carrying out its historical mission of burying capital without theory. And, since the proletariat is not “the bearer of theory”, into an argument for a vanguard party.
The argument for a Leninist vanguard party on these grounds, however, is a non-sequitur, since, despite the limitations of the economic struggle, historical materialism insists the working class abolishes capital based on empirical comprehension of their circumstances — not on a theory purporting to describe these circumstances.
Marxists take Kautsky’s and Lenin’s arguments completely out of context of the capitalist mode of production itself, and abstracted from the impact the mode of production has on the state. Although the conflict between capitalist and wage laborer is essentially a commercial conflict, Engels description of the State shows how the capitalist (as personification of the relationship) is progressively displaced by the state as Capital develops. The marginalization of the capitalist does not resolve — overcome — the class conflict; rather, it converts it into a directly political struggle. Which is to say, the worker to assert her purely commercial interests in the class conflict, must also assert her political interest against the state.
If, on this basis, historical materialist investigation of the Fascist State refutes the arguments of the Marxists who trace their thinking to Lenin, still more clearly does it refute the European Social-Democrats who, having thrown Marx and Engels out the window entirely, propose to tinker with existing relations to render capitalism more humane. This latter gang of opportunists aspire to nothing more than perfecting the Fascist State as the social capitalist.
Against both failed variants of this tradition, we demand not a new brand of sectarian organization, nor reform of politics, but the abolition of the state.
While the historical task of the worker is simplified by the convergence of Capital and the State power and the emergence of the Fascist State, it is obvious this fascist state rests on universal suffrage of the proletarian majority. To put it bluntly, in her political activity the worker constitutes the very machinery of exploitation against which she fights. Her commercial interest as a seller of labor power, sparks her political activity to ensure this sale is consummated; the terms and conditions of this sale, and the prerequisites of these, figure as this or that economic policy of the fascist state. On the other hand, the enlargement of the state, its increasingly pervasive economic role, is no more than the expansion of the state as social capitalist and must lead to the ever increasing exploitation of the worker. The more she struggles to realize political relations to satisfy her requirements as a seller of labor power, the more indifferent the State becomes to her needs as a human being.
This must lead to two results that I can think of:
In the first instance, what was once concealed beneath purely monetary relations must become increasingly obvious to the proletarians: that their activity is the enlargement of an alien power standing over against them. As the state becomes the social capitalist, what was previously only a theoretical derived conclusion regarding the relationship between capital and wage labor is made explicit and comprehensible to the worker.
In the second instance, the increasingly comprehensible relation between capital and wage labor appears, not in its commercial form, but in the form of increasing antagonism to the fascist state, and to its role as social capitalist, stated in a political form, i.e., as demands against the state. However, expressed in this purely political form, it is now the empirical expression of a radical critique of all existing relations.
(I want to clarify that I am discussing certain writers, while withholding judgement on their overall work. It is not my intention to assert they were wrong in their time and place, only that their arguments have been taken out of context by what is currently referred to generally as “Marxism”. Moreover, by “Marxism” I include the body of work that traces its origins to both the Soviet experience and to Western Social-Democracy.)
Convergence of the economic and political conflict in society
In the first part of this series, I introduced some fundamental assumptions about 21st Century society. I also took issue with the Marxist theory of the state, as elaborated by Louis Althusser in his 1970 work, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Now, I want to sketch out my understanding of the historical materialist conception of both the State and Capital, in order to trace the error in the ‘Marxist theory of the State’ back to its likely roots.
The nexus of the relation between the two appears to arise just before Lenin and his work, What is to be Done. In chapter II of this book, Lenin quotes Karl Kautsky on the relationship between Marxist theory and the practical economic struggle of the working class:
“Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and the class struggle create, not only the conditions for socialist production, but also, and directly, the consciousness of its necessity. And these critics assert that England, the country most highly developed capitalistically, is more remote than any other from this consciousness. Judging by the draft, one might assume that this allegedly orthodox Marxist view, which is thus refuted, was shared by the committee that drafted the Austrian programme. In the draft programme it is stated: ‘The more capitalist development increases the numbers of the proletariat, the more the proletariat is compelled and becomes fit to fight against capitalism. The proletariat becomes conscious of the possibility and of the necessity for socialism.’ In this connection socialist consciousness appears to be a necessary and direct result of the proletarian class struggle. But this is absolutely untrue. Of course, socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the proletariat has, and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwüchsig]. Accordingly, the old Hainfeld programme quite rightly stated that the task of Social-Democracy is to imbue the proletariat (literally: saturate the proletariat) with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task. There would be no need for this if consciousness arose of itself from the class struggle. The new draft copied this proposition from the old programme, and attached it to the proposition mentioned above. But this completely broke the line of thought…”
Kautsky’s statement concerns the formation of consciousness under the capitalist mode of production. In it he proposes a dual track model of communist consciousness, where the direct conflict between wage labor and capital coexists side by side with, but separately from, the understanding of the implication of this conflict. The worker is engaged in the direct struggle, the intellectual brings to her a consciousness of the implications of her struggle — the need for her to assume control of the state.
In chapter III of the above book, Lenin imports Kautsky’s statement into his argument against what would later become the Mensheviks in Russian communism. However, we now have a problem: societies do not imagine themselves into existence. (I got this statement from somewhere, but can’t remember who, perhaps the Marxian writer Chris Cutrone) This is, in my opinion, a restatement of the fundamental historical materialist assumption — material conditions first, ideas second.
Kautsky’s statement, therefore, violates a fundamental assumption of historical materialism — its most important assumption. Perhaps a correction is in order: he does not directly violate this assumption, since he is only talking about Marx’s theoretical conclusion. As a theory, he may be correct, but communism cannot possibly rest on general acceptance of a theory. Which is to say, communism, as a real movement of society, must have been inevitable even if Marx had not discovered it. If the science had advanced no further than, say, Ricardo or Hegel or St Simon, the emergence of communism would still occur.
Discovering this inevitability, of course, was science, and this is a product of the intelligentsia — but not the historical process itself. The result is, if all communists were to disappear tomorrow, this process would still unfold according to its own logic. Communists are superfluous to it — a fifth wheel. We can no more change the outcome than can Ben Bernanke over at the Federal Reserve Bank.
I tried this argument out at Kasama.org and (after having a collective seizure) they asked me if this was true why was I a communist? More importantly, Why was Marx a communist? Why did he organize the working class movement? I had no real answer for this at the time.
I do now, because a tweep, @yelbley, asked how I would explain 1929 from a materialist perspective.
I think it was because Marx saw 1929 coming, and the implications of the Event — Engels actually stated it explicitly. At a certain point, both knew, the State would have to seize control of the entire machinery of production. Whether this ended in a social revolution, or what I now call the Fascist State would depend on the “political consciousness” of the class. How much of the theory of its own material condition it had absorbed would decide the outcome — not the final outcome, but the intermediate outcome.
That was the Event that should have seen the Paris Commune reborn on a global stage — a form for the proletariat to work out its final liberation — a liberation, not just from wage slavery, but from labor itself.
Marx was notorious for not talking about the future, only the immediate was important — because he was not given to making blueprints. The world did not need another utopian system — it only needed to understand its actuality and the process inherent in it. In Volume 3, however, and Engels in “Utopian and Scientific Socialism” we get a glimpse into the implications of his theory.
The fact is, in historical materialism properly understood, the Proletarian never even realizes she is a wage slave. As individuals, they act exactly like any other commodity seller, like small commercial players. The worker sells her one commodity over and over again and the conflict with the capitalist over the terms of this sale falls completely within the bounds of commercial rivalry.
Lenin explicitly states this idea in chapter III of What is to be Done; he argues that the trade union fight alone is insufficient for the development of a communist consciousness among the working class:
“The overwhelming majority of Russian Social-Democrats have of late been almost entirely absorbed by this work of organising the exposure of factory conditions. Suffice it to recall Rabochaya Mysl to see the extent to which they have been absorbed by it — so much so, indeed, that they have lost sight of the fact that this, taken by itself, is in essence still not Social-Democratic work, but merely trade union work. As a matter of fact, the exposures merely dealt with the relations between the workers in a given trade and their employers, and all they achieved was that the sellers of labour power learned to sell their “commodity” on better terms and to fight the purchasers over a purely commercial deal. These exposures could have served (if properly utilised by an organisation of revolutionaries) as a beginning and a component part of Social-Democratic activity; but they could also have led (and, given a worshipful attitude towards spontaneity, were bound to lead) to a “purely trade union” struggle and to a non-Social-Democratic working-class movement. Social-Democracy leads the struggle of the working class, not only for better terms for the sale of labour-power, but for the abolition of the social system that compels the propertyless to sell themselves to the rich. Social-Democracy represents the working class, not in its relation to a given group of employers alone, but in its relation to all classes of modern society and to the state as an organised political force. Hence, it follows that not only must Social-Democrats not confine themselves exclusively to the economic struggle, but that they must not allow the organisation of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities. We must take up actively the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness. “
What does Lenin’s statement imply about the empirical relation between these two great classes of capitalist society, and for the mode of production itself?
The capitalist as buyer of labor power confronts the worker as seller; and, later, the worker as buyer of subsistence commodities confronts the capitalist as seller. Both poles of this relationship rests on the successful exchange of labor power for wages. The sale of labor power appears, in the first instance, as the direct result of the exchange of labor power for wages. And, the sale of labor power appears, in the second instance, as the condition for the exchange, as means of purchase in the form of wages for commodities.
Historical materialism states that labor power has undergone a change between the first instance and the second instance. This change is both qualitative: labor power is consumed and this consumption turns it into various useful objects — shoes, cars, etc. But, there is also a quantitative change: the value of the latter — shoes, cars, etc. — is greater than the former — the initial labor power.
Empirically, however, it appears otherwise: while a qualitative change has taken place, there has been no quantitative change. This is because all the quantitative change has taken place outside the purview of the commodity sellers — outside of exchange.
Everything which, from the standpoint of the law of value, appears as a necessary result of the improvement in the productivity of social labor, appears to the society of commodity sellers in its inverse form: theoretically, there is creation of surplus value, but, empirically there is “not enough money in circulation”. Society is constantly threaten by overproduction and crises.
The entirety of the reality of the material relations of production is hidden behind money, not only from the capitalist but also the worker. Both classes are fucking clueless. And, they are engaged in this meaningless, never-ending, commercial squabble over terms of a filthy transaction. But, as repulsive as the relationship is, they are both trapped in it: without it, the capitalist cannot be a capitalist, while the worker starves.
The reproduction of the relation, the purchase/sale of labor power, is their entire, and intimately shared, basis for existence. And, as Engels shows, and many writers like Kevin Carson recount, the relationship becomes increasingly dependent on the state. Now let’s look again at the quote from Engels, I referred to in the previous part of this series:
But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions [my emphasis] of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.
What Engels is predicting here is an Event: that impending convergence of the purely commercial relation between the wage worker and the capitalist over the purchase/sale of labor power, with the incremental expansion of state management of the process of production itself. Stated simply: in 1880, Engels was predicting that the purely commercial conflict between the two great classes would be converted by the convergence with increasing state control over production into a directly political struggle — into a direct fight against the national — i.e., social — capitalist, the state.
In 1929, capitalism enters its end-stage, and becomes absolutely dependent on the State. The state, in turn, becomes the fascist state, representing not capitalist or worker, but Capital — the relationship itself. And, this happen 50 years after Engels wrote these words:
“The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist…”
From the moment this process culminates, the capitalist class is a side-show, lacking any real role in production beyond clipping coupons. Everything is being managed by the state. The fight against capital is now immediately political — expressed directly in the conflict with the state itself.
There is a massive black hole in the center of Marxism that cannot be ignored, since it touches on the question of social revolution itself. That question can be posed this way: What happened to the Soviet Union? But, the better formulation is this:
Why didn’t the Great Depression touch off a revolution in the West?
Numerous explanations of this failure have been offered by commentators of every variety within and without Marxism. During the Great Depression, it is clear, capitalism suffered an irreversible breakdown due to absolute over-accumulation. And, it is also clear that effective control over the state was already in the hands of the proletarian majority through its suffrage. Moreover, as now, the solution to the general crisis of capitalism was already obvious, and universally recognized: reduction of labor hours.
The principal explanations now fashionable within Marxism deny one or more of these facts. They propose: There is,
- no general crisis; or,
- no effective control over state power by the proletariat; or,
- that reduction of hours of labor will not work.
Every one of these explanations violate the assumptions of historical materialism.
If you deny there is a general crisis of capitalism, you are making the argument there can be absolute over-accumulation in one country leading to export of capital to the less developed regions of the world market, but there cannot be absolute over-accumulation in the world market itself. And, since Lenin’s theses on imperialism is entirely based on the concept of global over-accumulation, you have to reject his conclusions. Not too mention a materialist explanation of the more than 130 million dead in two world conflicts and the numerous conflicts following this.
If you want to deny universal suffrage of the proletarian majority is the sufficient condition for its effective political rule you must then impose conditions on this rule other than those that stem from its material position in society. You must then deny Marx’s thesis that the proletariat’s historical mission stems from who they are, not what they think. This position, as in the “Bolshevik model”, denies the capacity of the proletariat to empirically determine their own role in history.
Lenin advances the “Bolshevik Model” in “What is to be Done.” Which, I think, is a reaction to social-democratic reformism. No matter what the cause, this idea becomes embedded in Marxism so firmly that it has been enshrined as the concept of “vanguard party”. Anarchists rightly ridicule this by pointing out Marxism leads either to reformist social-democracy or despotic Leninism.
On the other hand, Marxism borrows from the argument of Anarchists like Noam Chomsky that, somehow, the effective power of the proletariat is a manufactured consent — the working class is indoctrinated. Their leaders are bribed, their organizations are co-opted, and their reality is hidden from them by deceptions spread in the media.
Finally if you deny reduction of hours of labor is the only solution to the general crisis of capitalism you can’t explain the fascist state. The fascist state emerges simultaneously in all industrial nations during the Great Depression despite their numerous historical differences. It clearly emerges as the political response to the general crisis, which is nothing more than massive unemployment a glut of productive capacity and intense competition between national capitals over division of the world market.
But, absolute over-accumulation is just accumulation of capital that can no longer function as capital that cannot expand its own value through exploitation of labor power, cannot realize the surplus value extracted as profit. It takes the form of a mass of superfluous means of subsistence, means of production, and idled workers, who are now available for war.
This surplus of mean of subsistence, means of production and idled workers is produced during the period of the social work day beyond that required for the wages of the productively employed population. Absolute over-accumulation simply means the work day can’t be longer than that needed to satisfy the material requirements of the laborers.
I think, any attempt to explain why the Great Depression did not end in a social revolution must begin with these assumptions. This explanation must, at the same time, account for the failure of the Marxist-Leninist model of revolution. The first failure is only the second failure presented in another form.
We can probably best begin to account for what happened during the Great Depression by examining the flaws in the Marxist theory of the state. For this, I want to use Althusser’s 1970 work, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.
Althusser has this formulation of the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ (the quotation marks are his, not mine):
To summarize the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ on this point, it can be said that the Marxist classics have always claimed that (1) the state is the repressive state apparatus, (2) state power and state apparatus must be distinguished, (3) the objective of the class struggle concerns state power, and in consequence the use of the state apparatus by the classes (or alliance of classes or of fractions of classes) holding state power as a function of their class objectives, and (4) the proletariat must seize state power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois state apparatus and, in a first phase, replace it with a quite different, proletarian, state apparatus, then in later phases set in motion a radical process, that of the destruction of the state (the end of state power, the end of every state apparatus).
The problem with this statement by Althusser of the ‘Marxist theory of the state’ is that it is a fantasy; and is not historical materialism. To figure out why, we have to work backwards in Althusser’s formulation — from (4) to (1)
With regards to (4), I have never encountered the formulation in Marx or Engels that the workers replace the bourgeois state apparatus with their own. In fact, I have never encountered Marx or Engels speaking of any state apparatus but the present bourgeois state apparatus. And, their verdict on this, based on the Commune, was definitive: It must be broken.
Not reformed, not replaced, not refurbished — broken.
What made the proletarian state power different from all preceding forms is that this apparatus itself was abolished at the outset. The Anarchists of the Commune replaced it with a working body combining both deliberative and executive functions. Marx could have differed with this, but he explicitly did not — he endorsed it.
With deliberative and executive functions combined, there is no state apparatus as distinct from state power. But, the present state consists of this division — of a useless legislative body and power concentrated in the executive. Since, there was no stand-alone executive in the Commune, the idea that the state is destroyed only in later phases is complete bunk. For this reason, Marx referred to what Anarchists created in the commune as no longer a state.
This has to be empasized: Marx looked at what the Communards created and said it was NOT a state.
And why was this: because the Anarchists had abolished the historical division between the executive and deliberative functions of the state. The new society was itself both the deliberative body and the means for executing its decisions. In both the Soviet despotic and the Western democratic forms of proletarian rule, we find exactly that this division is not done away with.
In (3), Althusser argues that the objective of the class struggle is to wield the state apparatus as a function of class objectives. But, as early as 1845, in The German Ideology, Marx described the proletariat as a class which was not a class, but the dissolution of other classes. In 1851 work, Reflections on Money, he explains how money relations conceal relations of production and classes.
Both classes shop the same stores, pay the same prices for the same goods — the only apparent difference is the amount of money in their wallets. While material relations of production determine society, these relations are buried deep beneath purely monetary ones. Given that, for the proletariat, it is not a class in any real sense, and given that its relation to other classes is concealed from it how is historical materialism to conclude that the proletariat wields state power as a function of its class objectives?
Since all interests are only interests in the exploitation of labor under given relations, how is labor itself to express such an interest? Against what class is this interest to be expressed other than itself?
In (2), Althusser expresses the opinion that state power and state apparatus must be distinguished. So, how are we to do this? Until the Commune had state power ever been exercised in any other form than through the state apparatus? Was there a discovery in 1970 of some epoch in which the state power of the ruling class was exercised directly and not through an apparatus?
Althusser is wrong on this, I think.
Throughout history, state power has consisted of an armed body of men to enforce the domination of the existing ruling class. This special interest, which having raised itself to position of the general interest, must become the objective of all special interests seeking to impose themselves on society as the general interest. The competition between classes over control of this apparatus only expresses the fact that the history of society is the succession of one after another special interests.
In (1), Althusser defines the state as “the repressive state apparatus”. But, Engels, in his 1880 work, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, is already describing the state as much more than this: “The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital.”
If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies, trusts, and State property, show how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first, the capitalistic mode of production forces out the workers. Now, it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus-population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.
But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.
Already, under the pressure of the capitalist mode of production, the state was undergoing a profound transformation. The state was not eclipsing the two great classes in bourgeois society, but coming more to function as the social capitalist.
“Well, what point of view would you expect to come out of this?” Noam Chomsky
In his mutualist economic work, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Carson asks us to consider two questions:
“1) if the “historical process” of primitive accumulation involved the use of force, how essential was force to that process; and if force was essential to the process, does it not follow that past force, as reflected in the present distribution of property, underlies the illusion of “free contract”; 2) how is it possible for employers to consistently pay a price for labor-power less than its product, if labor is free to bargain for the best possible deal? (Recourse to vague ideas of “social power” or “market power,” without an explicit examination of their nature, is not a satisfactory explanation.)”
With these questions, Kevin is actually throwing dust in our eyes to blind us; this is clearly some kind of literacy test for dumb Marxists:
Taking the second question first, in Marx’s actual theory the worker is never paid “less than her product”, since the only “product” in her possession is her labor power. There is no reason to explain how she is compelled to receive less than the value of this commodity; there is no need to appeal to vague nonsense phrases like “social power” or “market power” to explain profit — but then again, at no point in Marx’s theory does Maurice Dobbs or Benjamin Tucker make an appearance inform the parties how the law of value is supposed to function. In Marx’ model, competition between and among the capitalists and workers does not give rise to the value of labor power — this competition plays no role whatsoever in deciding how labor power will be priced. Rather, only after labor power becomes a commodity, and, thereby, acquires a value, does the universal competition between and among capitalist and workers arise. Competition does not explain wages, wages explain competition.
As is normal for a free market, the worker is entirely free to shop her labor power for the best deal; so, she always receives the full value for it. And, as Carson should already realize, there is not one act in this process but two as in any such exchange — an exchange of money for a commodity and its actual use — neither of which is, in any fashion, given by the other.
First, we have the exchange of wages for the labor power — an act, as Carson informs us, that is entirely innocent of all exploitative features, and not in any fashion to be regarded as threatening. As in any other commodity exchange we have to assume the capitalist and worker agree on a set price for this commodity, each with an eye to maximizing their gain by the transaction. The worker has to consider all the elements that go into the value of her labor power directly and indirectly — food, clothing, shelter, medical care, a Facebook page of her own, etc.; the capitalist approaches the transaction as he would any other business investment, with an eye to a return on his investment in the particular commodity negotiating the terms of its own purchase across the table from him. The question is: How much is the capitalist willing to offer for this labor power? While Carson has no difficulty understanding how a plot of virgin land containing a seam of coal might acquire a value in the market, with labor power, how it comes to acquire a value quite different than what it can produce seems altogether a mystery to him. However, as in the case of coal and land, the capitalist values this object as he does any other: by what he might gain by employing it as capital.
Carson argues, but never demonstrates, why this labor power should have its price determined by anything other than the same laws that determined the prices of any object. Yes, as Carson states, unlike the worker, coal does not require coaxing to give up its heat; but, by the same token, coal cannot be coaxed to pull itself out of the ground by flights of fancy of a better life in a furnace. A Mexican peasant, however, might be encouraged by such visions to leave her small plot of land to pick lettuce in one of the many agricultural factories in the United States. Even if we assume this job is unpleasant and avoided by Americans, we can easily imagine that purely economic interest might encourage the Mexican peasant to uproot herself from her small plot and make a remarkably dangerous journey to the United States in search of better economic opportunities. All we have to assume in this case is that the peasant obtains a material advantage over her present circumstances as a small-holder in Mexico by voluntarily selling herself into wage slavery in America. As Engels argued against Duhring, no force is necessary for this purely economic transaction; yet, the peasant voluntarily abandons her independent means of labor to become a wage slave precisely because she can improve her economic circumstances by doing so. Having separated herself from her independent means of labor to cross into the United States, the worker finds her labor power is now entirely useless to her, and, for this reason, is without any value at all unless she can find a buyer who has a use for it. But, it is useful to the capitalist only insofar as he can employ it as capital and produce a profit over the wage he has paid for it.
What is significant about this transaction, however, is this: until the transaction actually takes place, the labor power has not produced anything — it is merely a potential investment by the capitalist who hopes to employ it afterward to create a profit. For the moment, this is only a hope on the part of the capitalist. Whether this hope is realized is of no concern to the worker, who wants only to be paid the full value of her labor power in its present pristine form, unsoiled by the act of labor. So, when Benjamin Tucker sticks his nose into this private transaction to warn both sides that labor power is entitled to its full product, both sides tell him to go to hell, since, they agree, the labor power has not produced anything, and is itself the “product” being discussed. Asking Mr. Tucker to leave the room so they can finalize their agreement, they proceed to agree on a price. The first act of the transaction is complete — the labor power was purchased at it value, and all parties are satisfied with the deal. At no point was it necessary for either party to call in the State to sign onto the agreement “in letters of blood and fire.”
Only now do we get to the second act: the exploitation of this labor power by the capitalist. Carson wants the worker to be paid the full value produced by the actual consumption of the labor power; but, as we can now see, when the labor power is actually being exploited, it is no longer the property of the worker — it belongs to the capitalist who purchased it. The exchange of money for the commodity was only the first step and has been completed. It is now the property of the capitalist — although it still physically stands before him in the body of the worker. The labor power is not put to work until the capitalist has closed the deal to the satisfaction of both parties. Carson is entirely correct to say that the value of the labor power is its product, but this value is determined by the use to which its owner will now put it. Carson wants to skip over this observation, or treat it as inconsequential to the discussion; but it is, in fact, the heart of the matter. When the laborer puts her own labor power to use as an individual producer, its usefulness for her is directly realized in the product her labor can produce. If we could speak of value (wage) in this context (which, of course, would be silly) the “natural wage” of this labor would indeed be its product. This does not change one iota if we now assume the labor power is employed, not by the direct producer, but by the capitalist: the same condition holds: the usefulness of the labor power for the capitalist is directly realized in the product it produces.
Is there anything in this latter act of exploitation that requires State intervention? Is there anything in the latter act that requires unequal exchange in the former? Is there any reason why just this sort of exchange cannot happen completely as described in the absence of the State? Carson should answer these questions carefully, because he has made the argument that just such a transaction is benign, and is entirely consistent with his vision of a petty bourgeois market socialism. As a libertarian, he also believes a property owner has the right to employ his property as he sees fit without State interference or subsidy. The only difference between Carson and Marx in this above described scenario is that Marx states this is all that is required for exploitation, while Carson swears it to be the basis for market socialism.
Turning to the first question, an answer to which Carson demanded, we can now understand how Engels could argue that, in theory, the entirety of the premises of capitalism could arise by purely economic means without any appeal to the process of primitive accumulation Marx graphically describes in both the German Ideology and Capital. Indeed, in the very text cited by Carson with regard to Marx description of primitive accumulation, Marx himself refers to it as an artificial (i.e., not natural) means of abbreviating the transition from feudal to capitalist relations of production:
The system of protection was an artificial means of manufacturing manufacturers, of expropriating independent labourers, of capitalizing the national means of production and subsistence, of forcibly abbreviating the transition from the mediaeval to the modern mode of production.
Moreover, Marx in describing primitive accumulation notes that, side by side with primitive accumulation, the disintegration of the old society is already preceding apace:
The economic structure of capitalist society has grown out of the economic structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements of the former.
The immediate producer, the labourer, could only dispose of his own person after he had ceased to be attached to the soil and ceased to be the slave, serf, or bondsman of another. To become a free seller of labour power, who carries his commodity wherever he finds a market, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and the impediments of their labour regulations. Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and this side alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.
The industrial capitalists, these new potentates, had on their part not only to displace the guild masters of handicrafts, but also the feudal lords, the possessors of the sources of wealth. In this respect, their conquest of social power appears as the fruit of a victorious struggle both against feudal lordship and its revolting prerogatives, and against the guilds and the fetters they laid on the free development of production and the free exploitation of man by man. The chevaliers d’industrie, however, only succeeded in supplanting the chevaliers of the sword by making use of events of which they themselves were wholly innocent. They have risen by means as vile as those by which the Roman freedman once on a time made himself the master of his patronus.
There is, Marx notes, a two-sided process taking place — not simply the primitive accumulation occurring under the influence of emerging capitalist relations, but also a disintegration of the old feudal relations of production which sets the elements of these new forces free. Carson makes the argument that employment of these artificial means, even if they were limited only to that ugly period of human history, nevertheless taints the relations of productions down to the present day:
As for the fact that the pre-existing economic means must have been gotten by someone’s labor, once again, so what? Who said that force created production? One might as well say that the pre-existence of a host organism negates the principle of parasitism. And Engels himself admitted that the economic means might be in the hands of the ruling class as a result of past force. If the means of production under their control may indeed be the result of forcible robbery, what becomes of Engels assertion of these pre-existing means as a telling point against the force theory? In any case, it is quite consistent to posit a process in a series of stages, in which the progressive accumulation of capital, and the increasing exploitation of labor, are a mutually reinforcing synergistic trend, with force as still the primary cause of exploitation. In every case, the accumulated economic means that make heightened exploitation possible are the result of past robbery. As the Hindu theologian said of turtles, it’s force all the way down.
Carson makes a powerful argument here that an event precipitating a historical process expresses itself in the relations established long after the event has passed into history. Capitalist relations of production, even if they were not today influenced by continuous State intervention to maintain the system of exploitation, owe their existence to the ugly use of violence at the earliest moments of its emergence. However, as we have seen in this chicken-versus-egg farce of an argument, Capital is only the final stage of an historical process whereby the direct laborer is separated from the objective means of production — a separation that in no way begins with force, but with the material gain of the ancient family group when it replaced communal ownership with individual property relations under the encouragement of the earliest instances of commodity exchange between neighboring family groups. Rather than force all the way down, it has been just as Engels stated: material gain all the way down.
Thus, Marx provides us with the critical key to understanding what neither the Anarcho-Capitalist and Marxist critics of the Fascist State can explain, nor can be explained by the liberal and conservative apologists of Capital: not the use of force in exploitation, but consent within the democratic republic founded on universal suffrage to this exploitation, and particularly the role this universal suffrage plays in emergence of the Fascist State. Anyone trying to understand the argument of Marx and Engels by reading Maurice Dobbs or Paul Sweezy has already led himself into a theoretical cul-de-sac. Marx and Engels never assume the laborer is paid less than her product; rather, they assume precisely the opposite: the worker gains materially by entering into wage slavery with an utterly rapacious, vile, detestable parasite on the body human. This material gain need only be just significantly better than that which could be realized if the Mexican migrant instead remained on her small-holding.
What really has to be explained by any theory of historical development is why the numerically vastly superior mass of laborers, despite this Fascist State role, and despite the obvious consequences of this role, nevertheless voluntarily reproduce the relationship through their suffrage. To use one of Carson’s own analogies as the basis for furthering my argument:
Engels still did not show that exploitation was inherent in a given level of productive forces, without the use of coercion. He needed to show, not that parasitism depends on the preexistence of a host organism (duh!), but that it cannot be carried out without force. Every increase in economic productivity has created opportunities for robbery through a statist class system; but the same productive technology was always usable in non-exploitative ways. The fact that a given kind of class parasitism presupposes a certain form of productive technology, does not alter the fact that that form of technology has potentially both libertarian and exploitative applications, depending on the nature of the society which adopts it.
Carson employs the case of a parasite to argue against an alleged fallacy beneath Engels’ position that force presupposes material relations of production and does not create them. Carson explains that the existence of the host body does not, of itself, presuppose the parasitic infection. This is a good analogy since medicine has for the last 80 years actually introduced deadly live organisms into the human body under controlled circumstances precisely to inoculate humans from illnesses spread by these organisms. While the existence of the human body does not imply the existence of a parasite, the mere existence of the parasite in the human body does not imply an illness. In the case of inoculation it actually implies resistance to the illness caused by the parasite. You cannot argue that one condition necessarily implies the other — that coexistence of the use of force with exploitation implies the latter is dependent on the former, or vice versa. The two occur side by side throughout history, and, moreover, both influence and reinforce each other, and, at other times, altogether appear at loggerheads. Indeed history is replete with the use of force precisely aimed to overthrow existing modes of exploitation, and against the states that enforced these modes — our own Paris Commune is just one such instance.
The logical insufficiency of Carson’s force argument in this case is revealed when we inquire into how the most democratic of all republics — the United States — nevertheless appears most completely in the grip of monopoly interests. The State, in Carson’s argument, is constantly intervening in the market to enforce conditions of unequal exchange. Carson argues the intent of this intervention is to produce a material gain for monopoly:
Of course the use of force is aimed at the benefit of the user–who ever denied it? Who in his right mind would claim that exploitation is motivated by pure E-vill, rather than material gain? And since, by definition, means are always subordinate to ends, the ends are always more fundamental.
This reasoning appears to present no difficulty in certain previous incarnations of the State — the slave, for instance, did not enjoy universal suffrage — but, it’s actual practical failure as an explanation is revealed when it comes to explaining the democratic republic as the very instrument for enforcing the ruthless exploitation of the mass of society by a numerically small group of parasites. Having dispatched the materialist view of history, Carson should at least be required to offer an opinion on why a State based on universal suffrage, clearly dominated by a proletarian majority, might come to enforce circumstances where this proletarian majority are systematically robbed of their “natural wage” through unequal exchange with their own consent? What we have to explain is not, “pure E-vill” but, rather a complete lack of material gain to the majority of voters under the existing political relations of society.
Once you introduce the idea that capitalist exploitation is based on unequal exchange, you must now explain why the democratic republic continuously enforces this unequal exchange despite a obvious lack of material gain for the proletarian majority, and even at their expense. The easiest way to explain this, of course, is by identifying an obvious defect in existing political relations themselves — that, somehow, democracy is also infected with the parasite — that, in the words of Noam Chomsky, this consent is in some fashion manufactured, as he describes in a 1992 interview:
QUESTION: You write in Manufacturing Consent [(Pantheon, 1988)] that it’s the primary function of the mass media in the United States to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector. What are those interests?
CHOMSKY: Well, if you want to understand the way any society works, ours or any other, the first place to look is who is in a position to make the decisions that determine the way the society functions. Societies differ, but in ours, the major decisions over what happens in the society — decisions over investment and production and distribution and so on — are in the hands of a relatively concentrated network of major corporations and conglomerates and investment firms. They are also the ones who staff the major executive positions in the government. They’re the ones who own the media and they’re the ones who have to be in a position to make the decisions. They have an overwhelmingly dominant role in the way life happens. You know, what’s done in the society. Within the economic system, by law and in principle, they dominate. The control over resources and the need to satisfy their interests imposes very sharp constraints on the political system and on the ideological system.
QUESTION: When we talk about manufacturing of consent, whose consent is being manufactured?
CHOMSKY: To start with, there are two different groups, we can get into more detail, but at the first level of approximation, there’s two targets for propaganda. One is what’s sometimes called the political class. There’s maybe twenty percent of the population which is relatively educated, more or less articulate, plays some kind of role in decision-making. They’re supposed to sort of participate in social life — either as managers, or cultural managers like teachers and writers and so on. They’re supposed to vote, they’re supposed to play some role in the way economic and political and cultural life goes on. Now their consent is crucial. So that’s one group that has to be deeply indoctrinated. Then there’s maybe eighty percent of the population whose main function is to follow orders and not think, and not to pay attention to anything — and they’re the ones who usually pay the costs.
Innumerable variants of this silly thesis are employed by Libertarians, Anarchists and Marxists to explain how a Fascist State so clearly operating at the expense of the mass of society nevertheless enjoys their continued support or, at least, their apathy in the face of its ravages and predation. Marx’s theory, on the other hand, predicts precisely political support for the existing mode of exploitation, since he never assumes existing political relations are founded on anything other than the law of value, equal exchange, and material advantage accruing to both exploiter and exploited. It is the operation of the law of value itself, which encourages the small-holder to convert herself into a wage slave, that also ensures its continued existence, despite the obstacles Capital places in its own way, through the continuous intervention of the Fascist State.
The conclusion arrived at by Marx’s theory should be sobering for critical communist theory– the worker does not merely sell herself into slavery willingly, she also assures, through her political activity, that the conditions for her enslavement are maintained despite her exploitation. This conclusion cannot be ignored or jury-rigged out of existence by means of silly arguments based on alleged “social power”, unequal exchange, or manufactured consent. They must be faced squarely by critical communism. In this task, Carson’s mutualist synthesis of the dominant streams of critical communist theory is an utter failure.
Tags: Anarcho-capitalism, Benjamin Tucker, capital, compulsory labor, Eugen Duhring, Fascist State, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, Kevin Carson, labor, labor power, Marxism, Mutualism, Paris Commune, primitive accumulation, Stromberg, surplus value, The State, wage slavery
“…an ingredient in someone’s soup.” –Rod Serling
According to Carson the arguments of the Anarcho-Capitalist and Marxist variants of critical communist theory identify a movement of large-scale, organized capital to obtain its profits through state intervention into the economy, although the regulations entailed in this project are usually sold to the public as progressive restraints on big business, which creates, “a system of industrial serfdom in which politically connected capitalist interests exploit workers and consumers through the agency of the state.”
It should have been obvious to Carson at the outset that this argument by Anarcho-Capitalism and Marxism was always suspect, since it is just a simplistic inversion of the argument of “mainline ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’” that the Fascist State acts to restrain “the power of big business” by means of “Progressive and New Deal programs forced on corporate interests from outside, and against their will.” It doesn’t take any particular genius to see that the social class most advantaged by existing political relations might find it in their interest to portray these relations, not as advantages, but as limitations or constraints on their social power. That, this realization should be seen as an analytical accomplishment in the 21st Century is not just curious on its face, it is a commentary on the pathetic state of critical communist theory.
The simplistic mirror imaged world view of the conservative and liberal pundits is mirrored again in the simplistic conclusions of its Anarcho-Capitalist and Marxist critics, and the superficial analysis of the critical camp as a whole is itself merely the mirror image of the superficial analysis of the mainstream camp. The common conclusion of both critics and the mainstream is that the State is the autonomous author of political-economy, and economic players merely act out a script that emerged full blown from the central plan of society’s general manager. All agree — to one extent or another — that the role of the Fascist State has nothing at all to do with the relation between capitalists and the wage laborers as antagonistic poles of Capital and absolutely dependent for their existence as opposing classes on this relation. On this basis, Carson argues there is no antithesis between property and labor as such — that wage labor can coexist with property, if the State, which dominates both in the interest of monopoly, is abolished.
Kevin Carson’s attempt to synthesize the arguments of Anarcho-Capitalism and Marxism was always a fool’s errand. He produces a mash up of a critique of Capital from the viewpoint of the capitalist and from the viewpoint of the laborer, when what was really called for from him is a critique of capitalist labor itself — of the relation between these two classes and the implications this relationship has on the emergence and development of the Fascist State. We are led to believe that the relation between property and wage labor is entirely innocuous save for Fascist State intervention. Thus, Carson makes the assertion that wage labor can exist in a non-exploitative society without ever investigating the nature of wage labor itself as a historical social form. He essentially treats the worker as a self-owned commodity and applies to the labor market the same analysis he applies to the market in shoes.
Is this possible? Marx, who before he even begins to consider the commodity in circulation, and before he considers it as an essential element of the capitalist mode of production, takes the time to consider the commodity in its own right as an object. He begins by noting that every commodity has a two-fold character — that, for the producer, it satisfies no need for her and exists for her only as an object to be exchanged, a social use value. Without these two together, it is not a commodity:
A thing can be a use value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use values, but use values for others, social use values. (And not only for others, without more. The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.) Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.
Understand what is going on here in Marx’s analysis: the commodity has no usefulness to the individual producer, but it must have a usefulness for others. This appears altogether benign in relation to object like a sack of potatoes or shoes (although, as I will show, even here Marx argues it is surprisingly malignant) but, in relation to the human capacity to labor, it implies her productive capacities are entirely useless to her. Her own body is not her self, but a detachable object that exists only to be exchanged for money. Before he even begins to consider this object in the context of the capitalist mode of production, and its vital role in this mode, Marx has already demonstrated how for the laborer her own qualities as a human being no longer exists for her except as means. And, to be absolutely clear on this point, throughout all of Capital, labor power is the only commodity Marx is discussing — even when he uses quantities of coats and tons of iron as his practical examples. In his dry sarcastic academic style Marx is painstakingly describing precisely what it means to reduce a human being to a commodity.
He is discussing the capitalist mode of production and he is only speaking of the inherent qualities of the commodity that is specific to this mode of production — qualities it shares with other commodities, but which have quite unique results when applied to this one in particular. The pathetic abortion that passes for Marxism has no inkling of this fact. And, Carson, because he uncritically accepts the assumptions of the Marxist and Anarcho-Capitalist analyses of the capitalist mode of production, never ventures into an analysis of labor power on his own. As a result he offers nothing new in this regard, and fails to address the critical objection raised by Marx to the very idea that human capacities can simply be treated as another commodity for sale. Instead we get from Carson only that the value of this commodity consists in what it can be compelled to produce:
“[T]he natural wage of labor in a free market is its full product…”
The only thing differentiating one set of human capacities from another are not the uniquely human desires and wants of the individuals concerned, nor how these unique desires and wants are expressed in their activities, but the impersonal exchange value contained in each as expressed in so many ounces of gold. Thus, human beings can be compared to each other as one might compare linen and coats. This corrosive force, introduced into our very concept of what it means to be a human being by the capitalist mode of production and exchange, is never examined by Carson — as it is never examined by the Anarcho-Capitalist or the Marxist, nor by mainstream political-economy — but generally accepted among both apologists and critics of capitalist society as a fact.
This brings us to the refutation of Eugen Duhring by Frederick Engels — and to Carson’s objection to the views expressed by Engels in this debate:
Engels, to render the Marxian theory consistent (and to deflect the strategic threat from the market socialists mentioned above), was forced to retreat on the role of force in primitive accumulation. (And if we take his word on the importance of Marx’s input and approval during his writing of Anti-Dühring, Marx himself was guilty of similar backpedalling). In Anti-Dühring, Engels vehemently denied that force was necessary at any stage of the process; indeed, that it did little even to further the process significantly.
Every socialist worker [like every British schoolboy?]… knows quite well that force only protects exploitation, but does not cause it; that the relation between capital and wage labour is the basis of his exploitation, and that this arose by purely economic causes and not at all by means of force [emphasis added].
This raises the question of to what extent the legal system is presupposed in even “purely economic” relations, and whether more than one “purely economic” state of affairs is possible, depending on the degree of such state involvement. For example, are combination laws, laws of settlement, and laws on the issuance of credit without specie backing essential to the process of free exchange itself, or only to the capitalist character of such exchange?
Engels stated the case in even more absolute terms later on, denying that force was necessary (or even especially helpful, apparently) at any stage of the process.
…even if we exclude all possibility of robbery, force and fraud, even if we assume that all private property was originally based on the owner’s own labour, and that throughout the whole subsequent process there was only exchange of equal values for equal values, the progressive development of production and exchange nevertheless brings us of necessity to the present capitalist mode of production, to the monpolization of the means of production and the means of subsistence in the hands of a numerically small class, to the degradation into propertyless proletarians of the other class, constituting the immense majority, to the periodic alternation of speculative production booms and commercial crises and to the whole of the present anarchy of production. The whole process can be explained by purely economic causes; at no point whatever are robbery, force, the state or political interference of any kind necessary.
You can see Carson’s brain smoking here. How can exploitation occur when obviously the value of wages must be equal to the value of its product — yet, as a practical matter it does not? Indeed these are Engels words, and, moreover, they are fully consistent with the conclusions reached by Marx in his analysis — indeed Marx himself contributed an entire section to Engels polemic against Duhring. But, even if Marx had not made such a contribution, Engels words stand on their own as an exemplary piece of historical materialist argument. So let’s parse Engels argument.
Is Engels denying the role of force in history? Obviously not. He explicitly states force has been employed to enforce existing social relations throughout history, and that the capitalist mode of production was no exception to this role. So, although differing on a lot of fundamentals with Kevin Carson, Marx and Engels did not differ much with him on the historical record of the State; which is what makes the points on which they differ both significant, yet entirely beside the point: Kevin Carson believes exploitation cannot happen without the State; however, Marx and Engels are discussing an altogether different subject!
To do this, they document a number of then known instances where pre-capitalist forms of private property emerges without State action directly out of communal ownership. Engels shows how, in documented cases, the commons themselves were dissolved through the emergence of commodity production. Private property emerges spontaneously, and without any action by the State — gradually the commons is converted into a community of small-holders because the members see a material advantage to the dissolution of the commons:
Private property by no means makes its appearance in history as the result of robbery or force. On the contrary. It already existed, though limited to certain objects, in the ancient primitive communities of all civilised peoples. It developed into the form of commodities within these communities, at first through barter with foreigners. The more the products of the community assumed the commodity form, that is, the less they were produced for their producers’ own use and the more for the purpose of exchange, and the more the original spontaneously evolved division of labour was superseded by exchange also within the community, the more did inequality develop in the property owned by the individual members of the community, the more deeply was the ancient common ownership of the land undermined, and the more rapidly did the commune develop towards its dissolution and transformation into a village of smallholding peasants. For thousands of years Oriental despotism and the changing rule of conquering nomad peoples were unable to injure these old communities; the gradual destruction of their primitive home industry by the competition of products of large-scale industry brought these communities nearer and nearer to dissolution. Force was as little involved in this process as in the dividing up, still taking place now, of the land held in common by the village communities [Gehöferschaften] on the Mosel and in the Hochwald; the peasants simply find it to their advantage that the private ownership of land should take the place of common ownership. Even the formation of a primitive aristocracy, as in the case of the Celts, the Germans and the Indian Punjab, took place on the basis of common ownership of the land, and at first was not based in any way on force, but on voluntariness and custom. Wherever private property evolved it was the result of altered relations of production and exchange, in the interest of increased production and in furtherance of intercourse—hence as a result of economic causes. Force plays no part in this at all. Indeed, it is clear that the institution of private property must already be in existence for a robber to be able to appropriate another person’s property, and that therefore force may be able to change the possession of, but cannot create, private property as such.
Engels is not here discussing hypothetical scenarios of exploitation; rather he is discussing actual evidence from documented research of contemporary scientists into historical and contemporary communities. Moreover, he was an acknowledged expert in his on right on the subject he is discussing. In this research, he notes, there is compelling evidence to support the hypothesis that pre-capitalist private property spontaneously emerged from communal ownership, disintegrating this ownership, not due to force and violence, but due to the material advantages it offered over communal ownership. To what in this argument can Carson possibly object? Is Engels distorting or fabricating the research of these scientists? Is he spinning this evidence in a way that throws the best light on his own hypothesis? Is he concealing other exculpatory evidence that proves these communities broke, not on their own volition, as Engels states, but due to the force and violence of previously undisclosed players? This is a pure and simple presentation of the historical record, which cannot be refuted simply by dismissing it out of hand — as Duhring does — but must be met with equally persuasive evidence to the contrary, or with evidence Engels is making an erroneous interpretation of the facts.
Nowhere does Carson offer any such evidence.
The separation of the laborer from the objective conditions of labor is by no means accomplished all in one leap as Carson would have us believe, but is a process lasting thousands of years, beginning with the dissolution of the early human communities founded on common ownership. The emergence of commodity production and exchange, and private property with it, directly out of the commonly held property of the community was the initial step by mankind on the long road leading to the complete separation of the laborer from the means of production — an act only finally completed with Capital, when the laborer herself is turned into a commodity. True, in its earliest moment of development, this separation is only rudimentary; however, in a community founded on common ownership of the means of production, all members had access to all of these commonly owned means. The separation of the producer from the means of production begins exactly with the division of this common property into private hands, when the individual’s access to the now privately held property of the community can only take place on the basis of exchange. The individual is now in possession of his own individual means of production, but he is, by the same token, severed from the greater portion of the total communal means of production which now are the property of other members of the community. On the one hand, with the disintegration of the community, the total communal means of production is now divided into privately held properties, and, on the other hand, the producers are themselves divided from the mass of total communal means. This world historical separation, of course, is simply the outcome of a process that begins with the producer’s own act of commodity exchange — an act which is nothing less than a separation of the individual act of labor from satisfaction of the needs of the producer.
Engels is not discussing exploitation; he is discussing how society itself, and our conception of ourselves as human beings, is being transformed by the way we go about our productive lives. A transformation that, as I will discuss in the final part of this series, culminates in the emergence of a completely unique circumstance: exploitation based entirely on equal exchange of value within the world market.
Tags: Anarcho-capitalism, Benjamin Tucker, capital, compulsory labor, Eugen Duhring, Fascist State, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, Kevin Carson, labor, labor power, Marxism, Mutualism, Paris Commune, primitive accumulation, Stromberg, surplus value, The State, wage slavery
“woeful work they have made with it…”
Kevin Carson asserts Marx held to the idea the abolition of the system of wage slavery could not occur until the productive forces it represents had reached their fullest possible development. According to Carson, Marx made the argument that an attempt to create a society free of exploitation before technical and productive prerequisites for it had been achieved would be unwise. This argument is vital for Carson, because he intends to assert on the basis of this alleged error by Marx that, absent State coercion, a market in wage labor would not spontaneously give rise to a system of wage slavery. According to Carson, State coercion is the necessary condition for exploitation of the worker to take place. Without this State coercion, the worker cannot be reduced to a wage slave simply by the act of selling his labor power. Quoting Benjamin Tucker, Carson states, “the natural wage of labor is its product.”
But, by raising the charge against Marx, Carson is, in fact, changing the entire nature of his argument. Instead of sticking strictly to a historical argument, he now switches to a hypothetical one. He is asking the question: “In theory, is it possible for free and non-exploitative social relations from replacing the State before all of the technical and productive prerequisites are in place?” He asserts, without offering any evidence, that Marx answers this question with a negative. So, I have to pause for moment to disprove Carson’s charge.
The first problem with this hypothetical question is that Carson never details, on the basis of Marx’s argument, the technical and productive prerequisites for a free and non-exploitative society — that is, he never describes what the phrase “fullest possible development” of wage slavery means. And, the reason for this failure is obvious: Marx assumed Capital had already created the basis for the voluntary association of labor, by creating modern industry, the world market and a mass of individuals in all the most developed nations who had all the attributes necessary to effect this association.
In the German Ideology, Marx explains that Capital has already rendered a great mass of society propertyless, and produced great wealth and culture, based on a great increase in productive power of labor. It had already developed the productive forces and brought about universal competition within society; which produced a global labor force of wage slaves, made each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and effectively created a perverse sort of global community founded on wage slavery.
Thus, in 1845, Marx argues, the premises for a voluntary association were already in existence. These developments, in Marx’s opinion, not only made a free and non-exploitative society possible, they made its eventual emergence inevitable. By buying into the argument of Benjamin Tucker with regards to Marx’s theory, Carson is forced to ignore Marx’s own writing on this question in the German Ideology — an error which, apparently, is not difficult for Carson, since, as we have seen, he already failed to find any reference to primitive accumulation in the very same text.
In that text, Marx writes:
Thus things have now come to such a pass that the individuals must appropriate the existing totality of productive forces, not only to achieve self-activity, but, also, merely to safeguard their very existence. This appropriation is first determined by the object to be appropriated, the productive forces, which have been developed to a totality and which only exist within a universal intercourse. From this aspect alone, therefore, this appropriation must have a universal character corresponding to the productive forces and the intercourse.
The appropriation of these forces is itself nothing more than the development of the individual capacities corresponding to the material instruments of production. The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves.
This appropriation is further determined by the persons appropriating. Only the proletarians of the present day, who are completely shut off from all self-activity, are in a position to achieve a complete and no longer restricted self-activity, which consists in the appropriation of a totality of productive forces and in the thus postulated development of a totality of capacities. All earlier revolutionary appropriations were restricted; individuals, whose self-activity was restricted by a crude instrument of production and a limited intercourse, appropriated this crude instrument of production, and hence merely achieved a new state of limitation. Their instrument of production became their property, but they themselves remained subordinate to the division of labour and their own instrument of production. In all expropriations up to now, a mass of individuals remained subservient to a single instrument of production; in the appropriation by the proletarians, a mass of instruments of production must be made subject to each individual, and property to all. Modern universal intercourse can be controlled by individuals, therefore, only when controlled by all.
This appropriation is further determined by the manner in which it must be effected. It can only be effected through a union, which by the character of the proletariat itself can again only be a universal one, and through a revolution, in which, on the one hand, the power of the earlier mode of production and intercourse and social organisation is overthrown, and, on the other hand, there develops the universal character and the energy of the proletariat, without which the revolution cannot be accomplished; and in which, further, the proletariat rids itself of everything that still clings to it from its previous position in society.
Again, not to put to fine a point on this, in 1845, Marx states explicitly that this voluntary association of labor results “from the premises now in existence.”
So, in complete contradiction to Kevin Carson’s assertion, and to the muddle-headed arguments of the Marxist, Marx himself argues in 1845 that all the conditions for a voluntary association of labor had already been achieved by society. On this basis, any charge made against him that the system of wage slavery had to reach “their fullest possible development,” is both an egregious distortion of the facts, and a lie. It follows from what I have said, that Marx greeted the Paris Commune — led, as it was, by Anarchists/Libertarians — as an authentic communist attempt to realize a voluntary association of labor and put an end to wage slavery.
Even if we consider Carson’s assertion that
Just social and economic relations are compatible with any level of technology; technical progress can be achieved and new technology integrated into production in any society, thorough free work and voluntary cooperation.
we only arrive at the conclusion that in all epochs men and women have struggled to put an end to the exploitation of their labor under whatever were the prevailing conditions of its extraction and realize a society in which they were not treated as the property of another in one guise or another. Marx makes no argument against this assertion, except to state that, owing to the conditions of society up to Capita,l all of these attempts merely end in new fetters on the individual. While the existing mode of the exploitation of labor is abolished, it is merely replaced by a new mode of exploitation. He does not offer a theoretical response to Carson’s hypothetical argument, but a historical one, in which men and women replace one limited mode of existence with another.
Carson, however, is not satisfied with this answer, so he further argues:
Had not the expropriation of the peasantry and the crushing of the free cities taken place, a steam powered industrial revolution would still have taken place–but the main source of capital for industrializing would have been in the hands of the democratic craft guilds. The market system would have developed on the basis of producer ownership of the means of production.
The point of Carson’s argument is, of course, that the market in wage labor need not result in a system of wage slavery. However, Marx never once argued development of the productive forces could not take place within a producer owned context; he only argued that the actual historical development of productive forces took place in opposition to peasant property and the free cities. Far from making the patently absurd argument that development of the productive forces could not take place within the context of producer control over the forces of production, Marx made the argument that, with the system of wage slavery, producer control of the productive forces could be achieved only through their voluntary association and the means of production made the common wealth of society — there was no other possible route to ownership and control over the means of production by the great mass of propertyless wage slaves other than by establishing this control in a voluntary cooperative union.
Moreover, Marx argues the system of wage slavery was itself the drag on the development of the productive forces. The productive power of social labor would never be truly realized as long as wage slavery existed. The system of wage slavery, he argued, increasingly demonstrated its senility as it proved unable to overcome the obstacles placed in the path of the development of the productive forces created by the system of wage slavery itself.
Thus we find, in the previously cited Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 15:
On the other hand, the rate of self-expansion of the total capital, or the rate of profit, being the goad of capitalist production (just as self-expansion of capital is its only purpose), its fall checks the formation of new independent capitals and thus appears as a threat to the development of the capitalist production process. It breeds over-production, speculation, crises, and surplus-capital alongside surplus-population. Those economists, therefore, who, like Ricardo, regard the capitalist mode of production as absolute, feel at this point that it creates a barrier itself, and for this reason attribute the barrier to Nature (in the theory of rent), not to production. But the main thing about their horror of the falling rate of profit is the feeling that capitalist production meets in the development of its productive forces a barrier which has nothing to do with the production of wealth as such; and this peculiar barrier testifies to the limitations and to the merely historical, transitory character of the capitalist mode of production; testifies that for the production of wealth, it is not an absolute mode, moreover, that at a certain stage it rather conflicts with its further development.
He later adds:
Capitalist production seeks continually to overcome these immanent barriers, but overcomes them only by means which again place these barriers in its way and on a more formidable scale.
The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.
From these passages, it is clear that Marx could not have believed that a non-exploitative society had to wait until the productive forces created by wage slavery reached their fullest possible development, because he believed the system of wage slavery itself created barriers to development of the productive forces. It follows from the evidence I have offered here that, for Marx, it was not a matter of tolerating the system of wage slavery until it has reached its fullest possible development, but precisely the opposite: without abolishing the system of wage slavery the productive forces of society could not reach their fullest possible development!
How Carson manages to stand Marx’s argument on its head, and to level this charge against him is simply incomprehensible to me, but is not the least bit surprising, since Carson sets out, not to disprove the arguments of the Anarcho-Capitalist and Marxist variants of critical communist thinking, but to synthesize their arguments with his own mutualist argument that a market in wage labor is consistent with a non-exploitative society. He therefore, ends up appropriating both the theoretical blunders of the Anarcho-Capitalist and the Marxist along with their insights.
I will turn to this angle in my next post.
Tags: Anarcho-capitalism, Benjamin Tucker, capital, compulsory labor, Fascist State, Karl Marx, Kevin Carson, labor, labor power, Marxism, Mutualism, Paris Commune, primitive accumulation, Stromberg, surplus value, The State, wage slavery
Even when it was laissez, it wasn’t faire
If it were merely a historical question of the material role the State played in the emergence of Capital, and the role it continues to play in Capital’s own development even now, Kevin Carson and Karl Marx would be in complete agreement on the facts. Even if we extended Carson’s argument to include the idea that every step in the development of Capital has required State coercion and violence, Carson would get no argument from Marx. Finally, Marx would entirely agree with Carson’s argument that the present system is exploitative; and that its exploitation depends solely on the state.
The disagreement between Marx and Carson is not with these historical and material facts, but with the question raised by them of, which, the State or Capital, is the driving force in this development. While Carson believes the State is the autonomous actor in the development of capitalist exploitation, Marx believed the State’s absolutely essential role in the development of Capital results from inherent internal barriers created by the capitalist mode of production itself. In support of my assertion on these points, I offer no other evidence than Marx’s own words as written in Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 15:
“If, as shown, a falling rate of profit is bound up with an increase in the mass of profit, a larger portion of the annual product of labour is appropriated by the capitalist under the category of capital (as a replacement for consumed capital) and a relatively smaller portion under the category of profit… Furthermore, the mass of profit increases in spite of its slower rate with the growth of the invested capital. However, this requires a simultaneous concentration of capital, since the conditions of production then demand employment of capital on a larger scale. It also requires its centralisation, i.e. , the swallowing up of the small capitalists by the big and their deprivation of capital… It is this same severance of the conditions of production, on the one hand, from the producers, on the other, that forms the conception of capital. It begins with primitive accumulation…, appears as a permanent process in the accumulation and concentration of capital, and expresses itself finally as centralisation of existing capitals in a few hands and a deprivation of many of their capital (to which expropriation is now changed). This process would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production if it were not for counteracting tendencies, which have a continuous decentralising effect alongside the centripetal one.”
In this sketch of the contradictions inherent in Wage Slavery, Marx demonstrates why continuous state intervention is necessary not merely at the earliest periods of the emergence of the social relation, during the period of primitive accumulation, and in its latest period of development, a period of absolute over-accumulation of capital, but why state intervention in the social process of production is required during the whole of the capitalist epoch. On its own, the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production itself would drive it to rapid extinction.
As with Carson’s Mutualist analysis, there is in Marx’s theory no period of laissez-faire political relations in which “the… character of the system was largely… a “neutral” legal framework…” This much should already be obvious, since, in 1848 — six years before Benjamin Tucker was born, more than two decades before he became an Anarchist, and nearly three decades before his first published work — Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
Precisely when the mainstream historian, the Anarcho-Capitalist and the Marxist propose the State operated as a neutral legal framework, and not to enforce the system of Wage Slavery — and, precisely when each proposes Capital was in its alleged “competitive”, as opposed to its alleged “monopoly”, phase — Marx was describing the State in exactly these terms. Historical materialism has never proposed any other relation between the State and the total social capital than the one cited above — that the State, insofar as it can be considered a distinct entity in capitalist society, acts as the general social manager of the mode of production.
However, even if we go beyond the merely formal distinction between Capital as a form of private property and the State as the general manager of the interests of these private capitals — i.e., as the general manager of the system of Wage Slavery — and assume the State has acted throughout history directly on its own behalf as the social capitalist, it is still obvious that the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production impose on the State-Capital entity precisely the same laws as are imposed on the total social capital when it is formally operating independent of the State. The entirely formal distinction between the State, on the one hand, and the total social capital, on the other, has absolutely no impact on the influence of the relations of production on political relations generally, but only on the ways this influence is expressed in actual political events.
This is because, in historical materialism, the State, whatever its relation to the existing mode of production prevailing in society, is nevertheless only a body composed of members of society carrying out the particular public functions of the State. It is a part of the general division of labor prevailing in society, and not, as mainstream political-economy would have us believe, an entity standing outside this division of labor. It does not matter in the least whether politics forms a sphere separate from the direct exploitation of labor power in the capitalist mode of production — as, for instance, is said to prevail in the United States — or is entirely fused with this direct exploitation of labor power — as might be argued in the case of the People’s Republic of China at present — the contradiction arising from the process of production of surplus value itself gives rise to the same necessities.
Moreover, in every historical epoch known to us, the State is not, and has never been, anything but a given quantity of surplus product of the existing mode of exploitation of labor organized in the form of the State. Since, in all epochs for which historical records are available, it is composed of men and women who are, by definition, unproductive drones within society, wasting the productive capacity of society on efforts, which, under any and all previous epochs, are entirely superfluous to human needs, it follows that its entire constitution depends on the productive labor of the remaining portion of society, and on the actual mode of production of surplus product prevailing in the society, however historically determined. For the State to be otherwise, it would no longer be the State, but a particular element of the productive capacity of society itself.
Finally, it is an obvious conclusion that whatever the social relations under which the surplus product of society is produced in an epoch, these social relations are of paramount importance to the State, precisely because it has bearing not only on private interests bound up with the mode of production, but with the interests of the State itself. If this relation between the State and the prevailing mode of extraction of surplus product had not been already explicitly argued for by centuries of observers, it could be easily deduced from historical experience. Thus, for example, Wikipedia tells us, in the literature of Ancient Greece, the only basis on which utopian society is organized without a slave population is that where labor itself has been abolished:
The Greeks could not comprehend an absence of slaves. Slaves exist even in the “Cloudcuckooland” of Aristophanes’ The Birds as well as in the ideal cities of Plato’s Laws or Republic. The utopian cities of Phaleas of Chalcedon and Hippodamus of Miletus are based on the equal distribution of property, but public slaves are used respectively as craftsmen and land workers. The “reversed cities” placed women in power or even saw the end of private property, as in Lysistrata or Assemblywomen, but could not picture slaves in charge of masters. The only societies without slaves were those of the Golden Age, where all needs were met. In this type of society, as explained by Plato, one reaped generously without sowing. In Telekleides’ Amphictyons barley loaves fight with wheat loaves for the honour of being eaten by men. Moreover, objects move themselves—dough kneads itself, and the jug pours itself. Society without slaves is thus relegated to a different time and space. In a “normal” society, one needs slaves.
What is particularly offensive in this regard, is the implication made by Kevin Carson, that somehow, Marx held to the same conclusion as the ancient Greeks, namely, that the system of Wage Slavery could only be abolished given the abolition of labor itself. Carson argues:
A second failing of Marxism (or at least the vulgar variety) was to treat the evolution of particular social and political forms as natural outgrowths of a given technical mode of production.
No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. (169)
For the Marxists, a “higher” or more progressive form of society could only come about when productive forces under the existing form of society had reached their fullest possible development under that society. To attempt to create a free and non-exploitative society before its technical and productive prerequisites had been achieved would be folly. The proper anarchist position, in contrast, is that exploitation and class rule are not inevitable at any time; they depend upon intervention by the state, which is not at all necessary. Just social and economic relations are compatible with any level of technology; technical progress can be achieved and new technology integrated into production in any society, thorough free work and voluntary cooperation. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, all the technical prerequisites for steam engines had been achieved by the skilled craftsmen of the High Middle Ages. Had not the expropriation of the peasantry and the crushing of the free cities taken place, a steam powered industrial revolution would still have taken place–but the main source of capital for industrializing would have been in the hands of the democratic craft guilds. The market system would have developed on the basis of producer ownership of the means of production. Had not Mesopotamian and Egyptian elites figured out six thousand years ago that the peasantry produced a surplus and could be milked like cattle, free people would still have exchanged their labor and devised ways, through voluntary cooperation, to make their work easier and more productive. Parasitism is not necessary for progress.
Is this right? Is Marx making the absurd statement that Wage Slavery could not be abolished until the productive forces founded on Wage Slavery “had reached their fullest possible development under that society.” Carson offers not one bit of evidence to support this outrageous claim, and is demonstrably wrong on it.
I will examine this absolutely incomprehensible charge in my next post.
/edited for terminology — JRE
Tags: Anarcho-capitalism, capital, cartelization, colonization, compulsory labor, Conservatism, Fascist State, Jim Crow, Kevin Carson, labor, labor power, Liberalism, Marxism, monopoly, Murray Rothbard, Mutualism, poor laws, primitive accumulation, Racism, soviet union, Stromberg, surplus value, The Constitution, The State, vagabondage, vagrancy laws, wage slavery
Our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky…
I apologize to readers for the mind-numbingly extensive quotes in the previous post, but I wanted it to be absolutely clear that the historical record demonstrates Carson is entirely on firm footing when he asserts Capital — that is, Wage Slavery — would be impossible without the State — not just presently, but in the earliest moments of its emergence as well. I now want to be equally clear that Marx himself acknowledges this to be a fact, when he writes:
For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.
The question why this free labourer confronts him in the market, has no interest for the owner of money, who regards the labour-market as a branch of the general market for commodities. And for the present it interests us just as little. We cling to the fact theoretically, as he does practically. One thing, however, is clear — Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.
So, too, the economic categories, already discussed by us, bear the stamp of history. Definite historical conditions are necessary that a product may become a commodity. It must not be produced as the immediate means of subsistence of the producer himself. Had we gone further, and inquired under what circumstances all, or even the majority of products take the form of commodities, we should have found that this can only happen with production of a very specific kind, capitalist production. Such an inquiry, however, would have been foreign to the analysis of commodities. Production and circulation of commodities can take place, although the great mass of the objects produced are intended for the immediate requirements of their producers, are not turned into commodities, and consequently social production is not yet by a long way dominated in its length and breadth by exchange-value. The appearance of products as commodities pre-supposes such a development of the social division of labour, that the separation of use-value from exchange-value, a separation which first begins with barter, must already have been completed. But such a degree of development is common to many forms of society, which in other respects present the most varying historical features. On the other hand, if we consider money, its existence implies a definite stage in the exchange of commodities. The particular functions of money which it performs, either as the mere equivalent of commodities, or as means of circulation, or means of payment, as hoard or as universal money, point, according to the extent and relative preponderance of the one function or the other, to very different stages in the process of social production. Yet we know by experience that a circulation of commodities relatively primitive, suffices for the production of all these forms. Otherwise with capital. The historical conditions of its existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It can spring into life, only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour-power. And this one historical condition comprises a world’s history. Capital, therefore, announces from its first appearance a new epoch in the process of social production.
From this passage we can see that Capital, that is, Wage Slavery was, in Marx’s opinion, not a result of nature, nor was it the mere product of preexisting social development. Rather, it was a rupture — a world historical occurrence — in pre-capitalist social relations. Even with the appearance of commodities, trade, money, etc. the emergence of capitalist social relations is not a necessary outcome. It occurs in history only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence enters into a specific relationship with another who has the “freedom” to sell her capacity to labor and is, moreover, compelled by circumstances, on pain of starvation, to sell this capacity. However, as was shown in the previous post, even facing starvation, it still took relentless state violence over many decades — centuries — for this mass of pitiful sub-humans to be broken to a life of wage slavery.
Wage slavery is no natural state for any human being. Despite the violence of the State and the efforts to starve them into submission, domesticating human beings to the routine of modern wage slavery was nowhere near as clean and elegant as is implied by the supply/demand curve of the simple-minded economist. It was — and remains today — an arena of constant violent aggression within society against the worker, in which every means available — political, military and economic — are brought to bear to compel her submission. The neglect of this fact is all the more to be denounced, since, in the Fascist State, the wage slave is routinely portrayed as the willing partner in an otherwise unremarkable market transaction — the Fascist State is all too ready to deny the paternity of its bastard offspring, and swear them all to be the product of Virgin Birth.
Kevin Carson may be polite, and keep this discussion on an intellectual plane, but I am not so polite; I am willing to thrust the face of the Anarcho-Capitalist in the shit that is the history of Capital. As the Anarcho-Capitalist drones on and on about the “Rights of Englishmen”, and “Taxation as a form of Involuntary Servitude”, this nonsense can be brought to a sudden halt merely by asking him to consider how long the wealth of one would be safe, if the State could not be called upon to protect his property rights from the anger of the remaining 9,999 living on the edge of existence. Nothing converts a Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist into a model Fascist Citizen so quickly as the possibility of Voluntary Association of the laborers and the eradication of Wage Slavery.
On the other hand, we have the Marxist, who, despite his self-identification, could not pick Karl Marx out of a crowd of well shaven Keynesian economists. Unlike the Anarcho-Capitalist — who, reflecting his social base, decries the imposts of the Fascist State on the meager wealth of the petty capitalists, marginalized from productive employment of their capital by the progress of Capital itself, and forced to scurry about in various speculative enterprises to protect it from inflation — the Marxist is a poseur, who advocates on behalf of the wage slave — but only so far as she remains a slave of the State. Reduction of hours of labor to end unemployment forever? The Marxist has never heard of such nonsense, despite having read Capital, where Marx explicitly referred to it as the “modest Magna Carta” of the working class. In any case, the Marxist explains, we need the Fascist State to “invest” in “infrastructure” and “green jobs”, so the active laboring population must be worked to its absolute limit and the unemployed left to starve, so that the Fascist State may have the resources it needs to accomplish this. (Taking a page from the talking points memo of Fascist economists like Paul Krugman, the Marxist has taken to referring to wasteful Fascist State expenditures as “investments”.) If, by some fantastic chance, working people should overthrow this Fascist State, the Marxist explains, even then compulsory labor cannot be done away with. The workers is not prepared intellectually to manage her own affairs without the despotism of the party-state, which alone has the foresight and vision to manage society on her behalf until such time as she is deemed capable. When might this be? The party-state will know it, when the time arrives, of course.
Carson is not only right to take both Anarcho-Capitalists and Marxists to task on this point, he has the entirety of the bloody history of Wage Slavery on his side — a history both the Anarcho-Capitalist and the Marxist wish to ignore; which they wish to prettify by blaming its results either on the State, as the Anarcho-Capitalist does, or on Capital, as the Marxist does. The true facts are these: the Wage Slave was bludgeoned by decades of State violence, even as she was starved out by the monopoly owners of Capital, in an efforts to make her submit to the very conditions of life we now take as the natural state of society. If, Kevin Carson is to be criticized for anything in this regard, it is that he did not treat these critical communist trends with the contempt they deserve — that he did not call them out on their nonsense, and expose their muddle-headed arguments as such. I think there is a reason for this; and, I believe that reason lies in the flaws of Carson’s own argument regarding both Capital and the State — a flaw he shares with both communist trends.
I will turn to this in my next post.
Tags: Anarcho-capitalism, capital, cartelization, colonization, compulsory labor, Conservatism, Fascist State, Jim Crow, Kevin Carson, labor, labor power, Liberalism, Marxism, monopoly, Murray Rothbard, Mutualism, poor laws, primitive accumulation, Racism, soviet union, Stromberg, surplus value, The Constitution, The State, vagabondage, vagrancy laws, wage slavery
Capital, or, Slavery by Another Name
Kevin Carson’s “Austrian & Marxist Theories of Monopoly Capital: A Mutualist Synthesis” states his Mutualist position in opposition to both the anarcho-capitalist Libertarian and Marxist theories of monopoly capitalism. The theories of the Anarcho-Capitalist camp and the Marxist camp are, in turn, set in opposition to mainstream liberal and conservative arguments.
According to Carson, mainstream liberals and conservatives argue the Fascist State acts as a constraint on Capital. Though differing on whether this constraint operates in favor of society or against, both wings of the dominant consensus hold to this view:
Both mainline “conservatives” and “liberals” share the same mirror-imaged view of the world (but with “good guys” and “bad guys” reversed), in which the growth of the welfare and regulatory state reflected a desire to restrain the power of big business. According to this commonly accepted version of history, the Progressive and New Deal programs were forced on corporate interests from outside, and against their will. In this picture of the world, big government is a populist “countervailing power” against the “economic royalists.” This picture of the world is shared by Randroids and Chicago boys on the right, who fulminate against “looting” by “anti-capitalist” collectivists; and by NPR liberals who confuse the New Deal with the Second Advent. It is the official ideology of the publick skool establishment, whose history texts recount heroic legends of “trust buster” TR combating the “malefactors of great wealth,” and Upton Sinclair’s crusade against the meat packers. It is expressed in almost identical terms in right-wing home school texts by Clarence Carson and the like, who bemoan the defeat of business at the hands of the collectivist state.
The conventional understanding of government regulation was succinctly stated by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the foremost spokesman for corporate liberalism: “Liberalism in America has ordinarily been the movement on the part of the other sections of society to restrain the power of the business community.” Mainstream liberals and conservatives may disagree on who the “bad guy” is in this scenario, but they are largely in agreement on the anti-business motivation. For example, Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business Review lamented in 1968: “Business has not really won or had its way in connection with even a single piece of proposed regulatory or social legislation in the last three-quarters of a century.”
Carson has this to say of the critical communist theories of Anarcho-Capitalism and Marxism:
Stromberg’s argument is based on Murray Rothbard’s Austrian theory of regulatory cartelization. Economists of the Austrian school, especially Ludwig von Mises and his disciple Rothbard, have taken a view of state capitalism in many respects resembling that of the New Left. That is, both groups portray it as a movement of large-scale, organized capital to obtain its profits through state intervention into the economy, although the regulations entailed in this project are usually sold to the public as “progressive” restraints on big business. This parallelism between the analyses of the New Left and the libertarian Right was capitalized upon by Rothbard in his own overtures to the Left. In such projects as his journal Left and Right, and in the anthology A New History of Leviathan (coedited with New Leftist Ronald Radosh), he sought an alliance of the libertarian Left and Right against the corporate state.
Rothbard treated the “war collectivism” of World War I as a prototype for twentieth century state capitalism. He described it as
a new order marked by strong government, and extensive and pervasive government intervention and planning, for the purpose of providing a network of subsidies and monopolistic privileges to business, and especially to large business, interests. In particular, the economy could be cartelized under the aegis of government, with prices raised and production fixed and restricted, in the classic pattern of monopoly; and military and other government contracts could be channeled into the hands of favored corporate producers. Labor, which had been becoming increasingly rambunctious, could be tamed and bridled into the service of this new, state monopoly-capitalist order, through the device of promoting a suitably cooperative trade unionism, and by bringing the willing union leaders into the planning system as junior partners.
In this article, which is a review of the literature, Kevin Carson attempts to synthesize the view of the two critical communism theories. Carson takes on both the opportunism of Anarcho-Capitalism and Marxism, with regards to capitalist property and the State, respectively. He attempts to demonstrate what these critical communist theories have in common, but also how their differences leads them into errors.
He argues, rather persuasively, that capitalist social relations are impossible without the State. His argument refers not just to present day Capital — during this period of over-accumulation — but also to the very beginning. So, he is making the argument that Capital itself arose on the basis of violence and state-sponsored primitive accumulation. He is, therefore, not making a hypothetical argument, but a historical one – which argument can be actually confirmed by historical records.
While we can make hypothetical arguments against his position, the real question is: “Does his argument hold water as history?” The answer to this can only be, “Yes.” So, that being the case, my own review begins with acknowledging this historical fact. So far as I can see, Marx and Carson agree on this point. Even though Carson asserts Marx disagrees with him in the German Ideology. Marx does not. He writes of the bloody violence unleashed on the floating population of England under Henry VIII, and, moreover, the history of plunder and colonization, and intensified inter-state conflict that accompanied the rise of Capital:
With guild-free manufacture, property relations also quickly changed. The first advance beyond naturally derived estate capital was provided by the rise of merchants whose capital was from the beginning movable, capital in the modern sense as far as one can speak of it, given the circumstances of those times. The second advance came with manufacture, which again made mobile a mass of natural capital, and altogether increased the mass of movable capital as against that of natural capital.
At the same time, manufacture became a refuge of the peasants from the guilds which excluded them or paid them badly, just as earlier the guild-towns had [served] as a refuge for the peasants from [the oppressive landed nobility].
Simultaneously with the beginning of manufactures there was a period of vagabondage caused by the abolition of the feudal bodies of retainers, the disbanding of the swollen armies which had flocked to serve the kings against their vassals, the improvement of agriculture, and the transformation of great strips of tillage into pasture land. From this alone it is clear how this vagabondage is strictly connected with the disintegration of the feudal system. As early as the thirteenth century we find isolated epochs of this kind, but only at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth does this vagabondage make a general and permanent appearance. These vagabonds, who were so numerous that, for instance, Henry VIII of England had 72,000 of them hanged, were only prevailed upon to work with the greatest difficulty and through the most extreme necessity, and then only after long resistance. The rapid rise of manufactures, particularly in England, absorbed them gradually.
With the advent of manufactures, the various nations entered into a competitive relationship, the struggle for trade, which was fought out in wars, protective duties and prohibitions, whereas earlier the nations, insofar as they were connected at all, had carried on an inoffensive exchange with each other. Trade had from now on a political significance.
With the advent of manufacture the relationship between worker and employer changed. In the guilds the patriarchal relationship between journeyman and master continued to exist; in manufacture its place was taken by the monetary relation between worker and capitalist — a relationship which in the countryside and in small towns retained a patriarchal tinge, but in the larger, the real manufacturing towns, quite early lost almost all patriarchal complexion.
Manufacture and the movement of production in general received an enormous impetus through the extension of commerce which came with the discovery of America and the sea-route to the East Indies. The new products imported thence, particularly the masses of gold and silver which came into circulation and totally changed the position of the classes towards one another, dealing a hard blow to feudal landed property and to the workers; the expeditions of adventurers, colonisation; and above all the extension of markets into a world market, which had now become possible and was daily becoming more and more a fact, called forth a new phase of historical development, into which in general we cannot here enter further. Through the colonisation of the newly discovered countries the commercial struggle of the nations amongst one another was given new fuel and accordingly greater extension and animosity.
Beyond Marx himself, further support for Carson’s position is found on the website, Spartacus Educational, regarding the bloody history of the emergence of wage slavery:
Poverty in Tudor Times
In Tudor England about a third of the population lived in poverty. Their suffering always increased after bad harvests. A shortage of food resulted in higher prices. This meant that poorer families could not afford to buy enough food for their needs.
Wealthy people were expected to give help (alms) to local people suffering from poverty because they were old, blind, crippled or sick. Some wealthy people were generous while others were mean. This meant that poor people in some villages were fairly well cared for while others died of starvation.
Unemployment was a major cause of poverty. When large landowners changed from arable to sheep farming, unemployment increased rapidly. The closing down of the monasteries in the 1530s created even more unemployment. As monasteries had also helped provide food for the poor, this created further problems.
Unemployed people were sometimes tempted to leave their villages to look for work. This was illegal and people who did this were classified as vagabonds.
A law passed in 1536 stated that people caught outside their parish without work were to be punished by being whipped through the streets. For a second offence the vagabond was to lose part of an ear. If a vagabond was caught a third time he or she was executed.
In 1550 Parliament passed a law stating that every parish had to build a workhouse for the poor. Edward VI set an example by giving permission for Bridewell Palace in London to be used as a workhouse. In exchange for food and shelter, the people who lived in the workhouse worked without wages. If people without work refused to go to the workhouse they were to be treated as vagabonds.
To pay for these workhouses, vicars were given permission to ask everyone in the parish to give money. If people refused, the vicar had to report them to his bishop. Workhouses did not solve the problem. It has been estimated that in 1570 about 10% of the population were still wandering around the country looking for work.
In 1576 a new Poor Law was introduced. Each parish had to keep a store of “wool, hemp, flax, iron or other stuff that was to be handed out to the unemployed. In exchange for the goods that they produced, the parish gave them money. In this way, the poor could continue living in their own homes. This new law also introduced fines for those who refused to pay money to help the poor.
This was followed in 1601 by another Poor Law. Workhouses now had to be provided for people who were too old or ill to work. People who refused to contribute money to help the poor could now be sent to prison.
The website offers the following documentation of its assertions:
Thomas More, Utopia (1516): “The landowners enclose all land into pastures (for sheep)… the peasants must depart away…. And when they have wandered… what else can they do but steal or go about begging.”
In 1566 Thomas Harman wrote a book about vagabonds: “They are punished by whippings. Yet they like this life so much that their punishment is soon forgotten. They never think of changing until they climb the gallows.”
In 1594 William Lambarde made a speech about poverty in England: “There were always poor lepers, aged poor, sick poor, poor widows, poor orphans, and such like, but poor soldiers were either rarely or never heard of till now… They lead their lives in begging and end them by hanging… They fight our wars… enduring cold and hunger when we live at ease, lying in the open field when we are in our beds.”
Letter sent by the citizens of London to Edward VI (1553): “It was obvious to all men that beggars and thieves were everywhere. And we found the cause was that they were idle; and the cure must be to make them work… by providing work ourselves, so that the strong and sturdy vagabond may be made to earn his living. For this we need a house of work… And so, we ask for the king’s house of Bridewell.”
Law passed by Parliament in 1576: “So that youth may be accustomed and brought up in labour and work, and so they do not grow to be idle rogues… it is ordered… that in every city and town within this realm a large stock of wool, hemp, flax, iron… shall be provided.”
Report on a survey carried out in Norwich in 1571: “Many of the citizens were annoyed that the city was so full with poor people, both men women and children, to the number of 2,300 persons, who went from door to door begging, pretending they wanted work, but did very little.”
Law passed by Parliament in 1597: “Every vagabond or beggar… shall be stripped naked from the middle upwards and publicly whipped until his or her body be bloody, and forth with sent to the parish where he was born… If any vagabond or beggar return again, he shall suffer death by hanging.”
Wage slavery was born of violence, and violence has accompanied it during its entire reign. Capital is the mother, the State is its father. The wage slave is the bastard offspring of both. And, this antihuman union has been quite fertile. The connection between the state and compulsory labor is so seamless that even the Workers’ Paradise had laws against “flitters, loafers, absentees, and grabbers”:
In the Soviet Union, the workers work not for capitalists, but for themselves, for their socialist state, for the good of all humanity. The overwhelming majority of laborers and office workers honorably and conscientiously work in enterprises, transport, and establishments, take a professional attitude toward work, offering models of Stakhanovite valor, strengthening the might and defense capabilities of the motherland..
But side-by-side with honest and conscientious workers, there are still scattered unmotivated, backward, or dishonorable people — flitters, loafers, absentees, and grabbers.
With their second-rate work, absenteeism, lateness to work, aimless wandering about the factory during work-time, and other violations of the rules of internal work organization, and likewise with individual capricious migrations from one establishment to another, these people disrupt labor discipline, and bring great losses to industry, transport, and all of the national economy.
They try to give as little work as possible to the state, and grab as much money as possible for themselves. They abuse Soviet labor laws and reles, using them for their selfish interests. They do not work fully even druing the established hours of the working day; often they work only 4 or 5 hours in all, wasting the remaining 2-3 hours of working time. With this, the people and the state lose every year millions of work days and billions of rubles.
When flitters and loafers are fired, they start filing lawsuits, and, not working, win payments for supposedly involuntary unemployment. Dismissal from an establishment for violating labor discipline, as a rule, is no sort of punishment at all for truants, since in the majority of cases they quickly find work in other establishments.
Using current regulations about granting vacations, according to which the right to vacation is granted after 5 1/2 months of work in a factory or institution, flitters and loafers, running from one establishment to another, contrive to get two vacations in one year, ending up in a preferred position over conscientious laborers and office-workers.
In housing projects, built by factories for their laborers and office workers, apartments are often occupied by persons who either voluntarily quit work in these establishments or were fired for violating labor discipline; because of this laborers and office workers, who have worked long and honorably in one establishment, are entirely deprived of necessary living-space.
In distribution of trips to rest homes and sanatoriums, flitters and truants enjoy the same rights as honestly working laborers and office-workers. In the same way, both in payment of insurance awards for temporary infirmity, and in the awarding of pensions, the necessary sharp distinction is not made between conscientious workers with long uninterrupted terms of service in a given factory or institution, and violators of labor discipline — flitters, running from some factories and institutions to others.
Some trade-union, managerial, and even judicial organs show an inadmissible, antisocial, complaisance toward violators of labor discipline and even connive with them — against the interests of the people and the state, — often deciding questions about reinstatement at work, about payment of insurance for temporary inability to work, about eviction from factory apartments, etc. in favor of flitters and truants.
All this leads to a situation, where dishonorable workers, laboring little, can live at the expense of the state, at the expense of the people. This evokes just protests from the majority of laborers and office workers. It demands the introduction of various changes in current rules of internal labor administration and in the norms of social insurance, so that in the future there will no longer be the same treatment for conscientious workers as for loafers and flitters; so that encouragement will be offered only to honestly working laborers and office workers, and not to those who subvert labor discipline and skip easily from one establishment to another.
Major abuses are found also in the practice of using leave for pregnancy and birth. It often happens that some women, seeking by deceitful means to live at the expense of the state, go to work in factories or institutions soon before giving birth only in order to receive the 4-month paid leave, and never return to work. The interests of the state demand an immediate end to this abuse..
Moreover, laws against vagabonds are still on the books in the United States today. According to one writer, it was not unusual for these laws to be used against Black men even into the 1950s in Birmingham. Police would sweep up all men who appeared to be without jobs. Once convicted, they would be hired out the mining companies. Carl V. Harris writes of this practice in his 1972 book, “Reforms in Government Control of Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama, 1890-1990″
“When the newspapers announce that the ever alert Sheriff and his trusted deputies rounded up some twenty or thirty negroes in the woods, wounded two or three and landed the balance in the county jail for crap shooting, does anybody believe that the peace of the county is being conserved, or does every man know that the syndicate is trying to reimburse itself for its campaign expenditures?” Thus did Walker Perry, chief attorney for the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, denounce in 1912 the oppressive fee system, under which the Sheriff’s “syndicate” in Birmingham and Jefferson County, Alabama, allegedly earned $50,000 per year in fees by energetically arresting Negroes on petty gambling charges. Perry, as chairman of a reform crusade to abolish the fee system in Jefferson County, was one of many reform movement leaders who between 1890 and 1920 sought to remedy defects in the local government’s methods of controlling Negroes.
Most Birmingham whites believed that their local government should exercise vigilant control over the Negroes who composed approximately 40 percent of the population of their city. In 1889 the editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald declared: ‘The negro is a good laborer when his labor can be controlled and directed, but he is a very undesirable citizen.” In 1906 the editor of the Birmingham News said: ‘Anyone visiting a Southern city or town must be impressed at witnessing the large number of loafing negroes… They can all get work, but they don’t want to work. The result is that they sooner or later get into mischief or commit crimes.” The editor believed that such Negroes were “not only a menace to the public safety” but also “to some extent a financial burden upon the taxpayers.”
The Constitution actually allows this practice in the very amendment that outlawed slavery:
Thirteenth Amendment – Slavery And Involuntary Servitude
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
For decades this amendment was used to justify state action that in essence, reproduced all the vilest practices of slavery. How soon will it be before these laws are applied to the 99er population?
Tags: Anarcho-capitalism, capital, cartelization, colonization, compulsory labor, Conservatism, Fascist State, Jim Crow, Kevin Carson, labor, labor power, Liberalism, Marxism, monopoly, Murray Rothbard, Mutualism, poor laws, primitive accumulation, Racism, soviet union, Stromberg, surplus value, The Constitution, The State, vagabondage, vagrancy laws, wage slavery
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 argument i have tried to make in the previous parts of this series ( one, two, three and four) is simple: What is taking place in the battle in Wisconsin, and the battle against austerity generally has nothing to do with Capital directly, but instead is concerned with the massive population of working people rendered completely redundant by the progress of Capital’s development, and a huge mass of capital that must stand idle as a result of this progress. The specific problem at hand is that under existing social conditions this idle capital and redundant population can only be employed if the capital is wasted, consumed unproductively and absorbed by a population of working people whose daily labor creates nothing, satisfies no human need — not even their own.
This catastrophe expresses itself, first, in the monstrously bloated body of the State that grows to such proportion that it chokes off the employment of the productive capacity of society; and, second, that the State, however bizarrely swollen — as can be seen in the US accounting for 48% of global defense expenditures — is still not bloated enough; that it has not, despite the glaring obscenity of such wasteful spending in the face of growing poverty, grown to the proportion necessary to ensure the continuing purchase and sale of labor power, i.e., to ensure employment of capital for the extraction of surplus value.
The first aspect of this crisis, however, can only be resolved by the further expansion of the State — on pain of a growing class conflict and to suppress this conflict — and not through austerity. So it is not surprising that politicians, acting under the slogan “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”, blindly offer every manner of silly and contradictory policies to effect this expansion: tax increases and tax reductions; new public debt issues and urgent calls to balance the budget; committees formed composed of senior politicians and academics, corporate CEOs, and wealthy contributors to discuss “investment” in public education, infrastructure and new technologies said to offer society the opportunity to “win the future”, and, at the same time, efforts to dismantle existing State public services, and protections for workers and the environment. In short, a relentless effort by the capitalists to dump the entire burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of working women and men; and, an equally vigorous struggle by working people to avoid this burden.
The second aspect of this crisis places a material demand on the State to increase its burden on society. For all the bleating of politicians about how the country must increase its competitiveness the State grows, but it grows in a way that does not add to the productive capacity of society in any fashion. The nation must become poorer not richer as a result of this growth, less productive, less competitive, more dependent on imports from nations where the continuing employment of oxen in agriculture is not uncommon, and where — owing to the low productivity of labor — daily wages are a fraction of the American average hourly wage.
The method employed by the State to increase its size and overcome the rising antagonism between production and consumption, no matter whether the method adopted is the issuance of new public debt — as advocated by Keynesians like Paul Krugman — or the wholesale creation of new money directly through State expenditures — as advocated by Modern Monetary Theorists like Billy Mitchell — is depreciation of money; a depreciation that is only possible because the State previously debased money from the gold standard.
No other object in society touches on commodities more intimately than the ratio by which these commodities exchange for money itself. Absent crises, Capital presents itself in the form of the ceaseless, uninterrupted, and expanding dense network of interrelated transactions whereby money and commodities are exchanged — and within which any particular commodity may pass through many such transactions before falling out of circulation and being consumed.
However, what concerns every member of society is that she receives some definite amount of money in return for her commodity. If she is a worker, she seeks only an agreed upon wage; if she is a capitalist, she seeks only a return of her capital plus an average rate of profit in the form of some definite quantity of money. With its authority to determine what serves as money, the State can “purchase” the labor power of a worker, or the commodity of the capitalist by exchanging these commodities for money created out of thin air.
Thus, the ratio between the sum of money in circulation and the sum of commodities in circulation is upset in proportion to the injection of the new ex nihilo pecuniam; while, on the other hand, a portion of the existing capital and labor power in circulation is consumed without being replaced. The total sum of commodities in circulation are reduced, and the prices of the remaining commodities increase. In this way, both the existing capital and labor power are devalued simultaneously and together in proportion as the expenditures of the State increase.
Yet, despite this devaluation of the existing capital and labor power by the State, it should not be forgotten that devaluation must take place on any account. It is not the State that forces this devaluation on Capital, but Capital which forces it on itself. The antagonism between the conditions of production and those of consumption are such that without this devaluation Capital would altogether collapse in on itself.
The fact stands as follows: the problem posed by the antagonism between the conditions under which society produces and consumes cannot be resolved in any way other than a general reduction of hours of work. Absent this general reduction of hours of work it becomes necessary for the State to increase its expenditures of wholly superfluous employment of both capital and labor power — to devalue both through inflation in order to overcome the contradictions inherent in the capitalist mode of production itself.
We who favor a stateless society should be absolutely clear on these points and never back down from them:
First, the State does not grow to care for the sick, feed the hungry, or add to and repair the roads, bridges and communications of society. It grows DESPITE these pressing social needs. Only by wasting productive resources on an ever increasing scale can any economic activity take place on the existing basis — the State indeed grows, but so do all of these nagging social ills.
Second, thirty million are unemployed not because there is no work to be done, but because it is not profitable to do those things that need to be done given the overly long hours work mandated by law. Factories are shuttered not because there is no need for their products, but because satisfying those needs intensifies the problem of recovering the capital laid out in their production plus an average rate of profit. The further expansion of the State addresses these problems only by intensifying them — by bringing into still greater antagonism the contradiction between production and consumption.
Should the thirty million unemployed find jobs it is only on the basis that their addition to the labor force comes directly or indirectly at the expense of the wages of the already employed 130 million, such that this larger labor force of 160 million now enjoy no more wages (or even less wages) than the 130 million did before — that the total wages formerly shared by the 130 million is now shared by 160 million, so that each suffers a proportional drop in their material standard of living.
There is no route out of this crisis through State economic policy: not through senseless battles to defend the coddled unions in the public sector, nor by stupid progressive slogans to tax the rich. The struggle against austerity cannot be won by defending the public unions, nor by silly attempts hold the line on public budget cuts or increase State expenditures. Only by reducing hours of work can we extricate ourselves from the deepening crisis of Capital and the relentless expansion of the repressive, aggressive and parasitic State.
Tags: austerity, capital, company unions, economic policy, falling rate of profit, fascism, inflation, Karl Marx, labor, labor power, make the rich pay, money creation ex nihilo, Stupid Left Tricks, stupid Marxist tricks, Stupid progressive tricks, superfluous labor, the politcal-economy of fascism, The State, work time reduction
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
Can the events in Tunisia and Egypt reshape the way libertarians, anarchists and communists think both about a stateless society and how this stateless society can emerge?
I think it should.
The popular uprising, somewhat discredited as a means of achieving a stateless society until recently, appears to be in vogue again. What makes it of particular interest to me is that the uprising is itself a voluntary cooperative act by members of society against an intolerable state machine. It doesn’t take much curiosity to wonder if this voluntary association can do more than simply challenge the existing order.
Can it replace the existing order as was attempted with the Paris Commune?
I have been reading the French philosopher Alain Badiou’s recent talk “Alain Badiou on Tunisia, riots & revolution”. As usual, this monumental thinker clarifies a lot of things in my opinion. Just reading his talk aided my own understanding of the Egyptian uprising going on now.
Here is how Badiou analyzes the Tunisian uprising:
The particular problem of the riot, in as much as it calls state power into question, is that it exposes the state to political change (the possibility of its collapse), but it doesn’t embody this change: what is going to change in the state is not prefigured in the riot. This is the major difference with a revolution, which in itself proposes an alternative. That is the reason why, invariably, rioters have complained that a new regime is identical to an old one…
The power of the uprising, Badiou argues, “is essentially negative (make it go away)” All uprisings are acts of despair and desperation and this desperate act is a striking out against, and throwing off of, the intolerable burden of the existing State.
The problem with this act is that it does not, of itself, address the question: “What now?”
The riot is a desperate rage against an intolerable State, which, even when successful, has no affirmative design beyond getting rid of the existing order. Absent a positive conception of a new order to replace the old one it offers no obvious solution to the problem of the intolerable power whose overthrow it has just effected. The danger posed by the absence of a positive aim after the overthrow of the old order is that the old order merely reconstitutes itself in a new form. In a remarkable passage in which he identifies Egypt as a potential target, Badiou explains this reconstitution of the old order:
The Western press has already responded by saying that what was expressed there was a Western desire. What we can affirm is that a desire for liberty is involved and that such a desire is without debate a legitimate desire under a regime both despotic and corrupt as was that of Ben Ali. How this desire as such suggests a Western desire is very uncertain.
It must be remembered that the West as a power has so far given no proof that it cares in any way whatsoever about organising liberty in the places where it intervenes. The account of the West is: “are you walking with me or not?”, giving the expression “walk with me” a signification internal to the market economy,* if necessary in collaboration with counter-revolutionary police. “Friendly countries” like Egypt or Pakistan are just as despotic and corrupt as was Tunisia under Ben Ali, but we’ve heard little expressed about it from those who have appeared, on the occasion of the Tunisian events, as ardent defenders of liberty.
Without a positive conception of its aspirations the uprising will fall prey to the reconstitution of the old order that is not merely the Mubarak regime, but the empire headquartered in Washington, for which the Egyptian state is only the local outpost. The hallmarks of this reconstitution are constitutional reform, replacement of the most odious personalities, a reshuffling of the cabinet, and a promise of “free and fair elections” — what Badiou calls the “Western inclusion”. Beneath all of this reshuffling, however, the existing State continues undisturbed.
Badiou asks: “Is there another possibility?” He answers: “Yes.”
If it is true that, as Marx predicted, the space where emancipatory ideas are realised is a global space (which, incidentally, wasn’t the case with the revolutions of the Twentieth Century), then the phenomena of Western inclusion cannot be part of genuine change. What would genuine change be? It would be a break with the west, a “dewesternisation”, and would take the form of an exclusion.
If there were a different evolution than the evolution toward Western inclusion, what could that attest to? No formal response can be given here. We can simply say there is nothing expected from the analysis of the state’s process which, through long and torturous necessity, will eventually result in elections.
What is interesting about Badiou is he never feels the need to tack on some finishing touch to his analysis. He goes only so far as his analysis takes him and leaves it there. This gives his analysis the appearance of being unfinished, but it is actually his most powerful argument. Badiou simply tells us that, so far as he can see, there is no reason why an uprising has to end up with “free and fair elections” and the perfunctory reforms orchestrated by Washington. In the case of the Tunisian riots, he concludes only by stating that what the riot lacks in terms of an affirmative statement can only be discovered by studying the events themselves:
What is required is an patient and careful inquiry among the people, in search of that which, after an inevitable process of division … will be carried by a fraction of the movement, namely: statements. What is stated can by no means be resolved within Western inclusion. If they are there, these statements, they will be easily recognisable. It is under the condition of these new statements that the development of the organisation of figures of collective action can be conceived.
So, what can we learn from Egypt about the possibilities for a stateless society in light of Badiou’s analysis of Tunisia? In my opinion, the following:
In his inquiry Badiou poses the alternative affirmation as an essentially negative act: “an exclusion” or break with the West. It is expressed in the form of a declaration of intention by the uprising that is fundamentally incompatible with the existing order — with globalization and empire itself.
However, so far as I can tell, the uprising in Egypt is this negative act of exclusion already. By challenging the legitimacy of the Mubarak regime the uprising called into question the entirety of relations of which Mubarak and his henchmen are only the local expression. Confirmation of my conclusion can be seen simply by reviewing Washington’s response to the uprising — the Obama administration certainly believes that its fundamental interest are at risk.
What Badiou demonstrates, therefore, is that the uprising must become aware of itself as an active challenge to “the West” — to globalization and empire. To become more than a mere riot, the uprising must recognize that it is the first act of a voluntary association — the first act by which this voluntary association establishes itself as a new basis for society. Badiou demonstrates that it is not a question of organization, but a question of consciousness on a mass scale that is wanting.
The question we all have to ask ourselves at this point is simple: What separates the uprising of January 25 from the Paris Commune?
In the case of the Paris Commune, the uprising recognized itself as the solution to the intolerable burden of the State. It did not merely sweep away the existing order, but set about to manage society itself in voluntary association. It invited the rest of France to join with it.
Every local uprising like January 25 should aspire to become a non-local event – to declare itself as the new basis of social organization and to appeal to the oppressed of the world to join with it. The call for a transitional government, constitutional reform, new elections, etc., should be rejected. The January 25 uprising must avoid being defined as something of significance only to Egypt; it cannot win if it is confined to Egypt — it must strip off its national form. In response to the secret negotiations directed by Washington, the January 25 uprising will have to aggressively declare its intentions to go global.
If the January 25 movement does not acquire a consciousness of its own global significance it will be isolated and suppressed. It has to aspire to more than changing local personalities and declare that the empire, headed by Washington, is the enemy.
What is truly revolutionary in the uprising in Egypt is that it can become a universal event, spreading beyond Egypt – a general rising of the oppressed. To do this, the uprising will have to reject every attempt both to confine it to Egypt and pacify it with minor changes in the existing State.
The target is Washington and its empire; the aim is to replace this empire with the voluntary association of individuals.
Is it possible to get rid of government, either by abolishing it outright or gradually reducing it, without, at the same time, ridding society of Labor? This is a question posed by libertarians and marxists who declare their opposition to abolishing one or the other.
First, let’s define what I mean by Labor. As I am using the word, Labor is not work; I define work as any form of productive activity during which we create some useful object by mixing our human effort with natural objects. It is the metabolism of life: the exchange between nature and humans which is essential to life itself. Labor, on the other hand, does the above as well, but the aim of the activity is to create value — a commodity with a price.
Among Marxists, one would think this question had already been settled by the experience of the Soviet Union. There, despite Marxist expectations that the State would whither away once wage slavery was thought to be abolished, the State never even shrank. It continued to expand up until the point it collapsed entirely. Even if we accept the idea that the Soviet Union was confronted by an implacable enemy, it is hard to accept this as an explanation for the Soviet occupation in Eastern Europe, its massive accumulation of troop and military power, and the willingness of Moscow to sacrifice basic material standards of living of the country, when the United States is presently bogged down and slowly being defeated by isolated bands of mostly illiterate guerrillas in the mountains of Afghanistan — much as the USSR was previously. How, under any reasonable scenario, was the US supposed to occupy and pacify a population of freely associated, well-educated, highly skilled persons, spread over one sixth of the planet’s surface and eleven time zones?
But, marxists seem unable to absorb this lesson of history. Among libertarians, I am often in conversation with, and reading the posts of, those who are quite seriously opposed to the State, but fierce opponents of any limitation on hours of Labor.
In all honesty, folks, how is this supposed to work?
Total federal, state, and local government employment (not including the military) in 2008 stood at 22.46 million persons according to the Census Bureau (pdf). At the same time, total employment in the US stood at 145.36 million persons (pdf). Government provided approximately 15 percent of all direct employment — and this does not even begin to take into account those persons who owed their jobs directly or indirectly to government expenditures: those employed as a result of contracts with various agencies of federal, state, and local bodies — Blackwater, GE, Raytheon, and the entire Fortune 500 come to mind — and those whose jobs are at least in part the result of demand generated by various transfer programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunch programs, etc.
If we could remove all of these expenditures overnight by means of a magic wand, what would happen to the economy and the tens of millions of other jobs only indirectly affected by this? Where would all of the goods produced for this massive body of entirely superfluous laborers be sold? Even if we did not remove it entirely, but only limited it by refusing to raise the debt ceiling and preventing the expenditure of some 3 trillion additional dollars by Washington over the next two years, what now fills that void?
If libertarians and others who are seriously determined to get rid of the State have no answer to these questions, what answer will your congressperson have when Obama and Boehner grab them by the lapel and show them, in very graphic terms, exactly what their vote against raising the debt ceiling will do to employment?
The argument can be made that any limitation on hours of labor requires State coercion and limitations on the individual’s right to enjoy her property — every wage contract is a voluntary agreement between two property-owners, even if one of the parties has no choice but to make the agreement. However, thirty, forty, or fifty percent unemployment is also the coercive application of market competition. If some make the argument that capitalist coercion is somehow more “natural” than State coercion, I need only remind them that the State, having been around for thousands of years longer than Capital, is clearly far more “natural” than the latter.
I am not for coercion in any form — political or economic. I am not trying to abolish State coercion in order to allow the mechanisms of economic coercion room to expand, further intensifying the already Hobbesian environment of Civil Society. The vast majority of the population of the United States is dependent on selling their Labor Power — even those who are self-employed. The idea that they will come to see Washington as a greater threat to their well-being than the Koch brothers, WalMart, or BP is laughably naive. Start abolishing regulations, reducing the minimum wage, breaking pension plans, and slashing Social Security, and you will see how little love folks have for a stateless society that leaves them at the mercies of the owners of capital.
This really doesn’t require a doctorate in economics: those who are really serious about a stateless society, and not simply using it as a screen to advance their own agenda, will understand that State coercion cannot be abolished without also abolishing the coercion of the market in Labor Power.
Update: Courtesy of Zero Hedge, a list of Russell Index companies that generate 50 to 100 percent of their revenue from the federal government.
Update 2: Someone asked me a good question: Am I suggesting there should be no reduction in the size of government until hours of work can be reduced? Absolutely not. It would be a mistake not to do the two together, but the biggest mistake would be to do nothing until both can be done together. If the debt ceiling increase can be voted down today, it should be voted down; in time it will be obvious that hours of work must also be reduced.
Tags: afghanistan, budget deficit, capital, debt ceiling, deficit spending, Employment, hours of labor, labor, labor power, Marxism, shorter work week, soviet union, Stateless Society, stupid Marxist tricks, The State, unemployment, war