By: Jad Davis | Mar 26, 2011 Featured
“Reasoning in midstream*” is a common phenomenon in public discourse that typically starts right around the time that bombs start dropping or legislation starts being penned in response to a “crisis”. It is the monotonous focus on the present state of a problem–a pending genocide, a health or financial emergency, or a security threat–disregarding the history or context in which the event takes place. In addition to discouraging discussion of root causes, reasoning in midstream also allows for attention to be drawn away from parallel dangers that are still in earlier stages.
By way of an analogy, imagine a society whose diet consists of only Snickers and Coke (a-cola, that is). After forty or fifty years, the toothless, diabetic and morbidly obese nature of the elder generation forces the society to examine the ailments of the worst off and explore possible solutions. Radical dentistry, amputation of gangrenous limbs and liposuction are proposed and touted as the only way to address these epidemics which, apparently, arose from nowhere. Perhaps an underemployed nutritionist suggests a change of diet, but the idea is dismissed as ineffective against the immediate problems faced by the older population.
Of course, without a change in diet, however insufficient against some of the immediate dangers facing some of the population, the problem can’t be checked in any meaningful or sustainable way. There’s most likely not much that can be done to help those that have been eating the lethal foodstuffs for 50 years. In this example, it’s plain (for us) to see that efforts would be most profitably invested in changing the diet to avoid the same problems in those that are currently 5, 15, 25, and 35 years old.
If this society limits itself to reasoning in midstream, however, solutions that aren’t directed at the immediate and spotlighted most critical cases are disregarded entirely. No ultimate causes of the current problem are sought and no thought to preventing future problems of a similar nature is given.
Leaping out of my flimsy analogy and into harsh reality, the most recent example of reasoning in midstream (let’s call it RIM from now on) that I’ve experienced has been around the topic of Libya.
Here, for the first time since Clinton and NATO decimated and subsequently occupied the Balkans, we have a progressive war for progressive goals lead by a progressive administration. This has caused tremendous cognitive dissonance on the left and lead to somber and thoughtful defenses of the necessity of aerial butchery. Where there is hesitation, progressives are plagued by the programmed question: “What possible alternative exists?”
What alternatives indeed? There are no good answers in the moment, because it’s the last 60+ years of malignant foreign policy in the region that have brought us to this terrible, yet easily predicted, outcome. Yet no discussion exists of the historical context of western intervention in North Africa. And so the policy is more of the same–remove the leader and arm some new “legitimate government” that will guarantee the continuity of the status quo.
Whatever happens, say proponents of RIM, don’t let’s think about the other dictators and puppet states, in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Jordan, Colombia, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Geogria, El Salvador, Djibouti, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, etc.–I left out the countries that don’t seem to be in immediate peril of revolution–who continue to receive the very same western military aid that has allowed Gadaffi to commit this most recent democide.
The goal of the imperial state and it’s licensed, regulated, and wholly corporately owned mass media is to push aside such radical questions and return us to the case at hand–to RIM. Surely we can’t let this moment pass, this horrible thing happen, surely something must be done . . .
When “something must be done,” we immediately know that we are being asked to support a heaping helping of more of the same upon a people that have had their enemies propped up by western imperialism and their countries and wealth sold out from underneath them to western interests.
Nothing should be done. The violence must end which necessitates not adding to it. The dictators past and future should not be armed by money expropriated from the western working classes. As I discuss in The Winding Up of Violence, places like Libya, and much of the rest of the western controlled world, are like pots of water (two metaphors in one blog post! Noooo!). As long as they are exposed to heat, armaments and violence, from outside the system, they will remain in a turbulent state.
Foreign perturbance must cease, and the region will settle in to a stable state governed by the will of the people living there. This will happen at some point. The amount of harm, destruction and dislocation that will have to be endured is a function of how long it takes for the west to withdraw and cease interference, which is an economic inevitability at this point.
The sooner we cease to reason in midstream, and to see the calls for increased intervention for what they are, the sooner the people of Libya, the Middle East, and the entire world will have an opportunity to craft a peaceful existence for themselves.
* Wes Bertrand describes the process more abstractly in the first chapter of his book Complete Liberty
- In case you’re still plagued by the pseduo-practical question of the merits of intervening, Justin Raimondo’s going to explain why it’s a bad idea.
- Same gist, a little more in depth at The American Interest.
- On the immergence of a “new western militarism” (welcome back France!)
- Humanitarians of the Year: Pithy, funny, truthful and to the point–or is that just pithy again . . .
- Unreported Facts about Libya from Freedomain Radio (video)
- The Daily Show explains America’s various “Freedom Packages” (video)
In Capital , Volume 3, Chapter 15, Section III, Marx asks, “When would over-production of capital be absolute?” He is speaking here not merely of commodity overproduction, but of the over-accumulation of all the elements of Capital.
There would be absolute over-production of capital as soon as additional capital for purposes of capitalist production = 0. The purpose of capitalist production, however, is self-expansion of capital, i.e., appropriation of surplus-labour, production of surplus-value, of profit. As soon as capital would, therefore, have grown in such a ratio to the labouring population that neither the absolute working-time supplied by this population, nor the relative surplus working-time, could be expanded any further (this last would not be feasible at any rate in the case when the demand for labour were so strong that there were a tendency for wages to rise); at a point, therefore, when the increased capital produced just as much, or even less, surplus-value than it did before its increase, there would be absolute over-production of capital; i.e., the increased capital C + ΔC would produce no more, or even less, profit than capital C before its expansion by ΔC. In both cases there would be a steep and sudden fall in the general rate of profit, but this time due to a change in the composition of capital not caused by the development of the productive forces, but rather by a rise in the money-value of the variable capital (because of increased wages) and the corresponding reduction in the proportion of surplus-labour to necessary labour.
In other words, the capitalist succeeds in wresting additional surplus from the worker, but this surplus produces a contraction of profit. In theory, the mass of profit is equal to the mass of surplus value. But this surplus value has to be realized as profit; it has to be sold. If this is not accomplished, or is accomplished only in part or at a loss, Marx argues, surplus has been created, but it is not realized.
The result is the formation of a mass of forcibly idled capital and a mass of forcibly idled workers — a classical depression. Now, he explains, it is entirely possible to put these two masses together and produce more goods, but that would only further hurt profits. And, since the motive of capitalist production is profit, production halts at the point where the mass of profit cannot be increased.
It is important to state that this result is NOT a defect of Capital — absolutely NOT a defect. Yes, production halts before want is satisfied, but that isn’t the point: Capital is concerned only with maximizing profit — not human need. If you want to run a charity Gandhi, go run one! If, however, you want to maximize profits, you stop at the point where profit is maximized.
The mode of production develops the productive capacity of labor with an eye toward the production of surplus value (profit). This production of surplus value, however, is also the expenditure of labor beyond the time necessary to produce wages and capitalist consumption. Any additional capitalist investment beyond this point would, by definition, result in superfluous output that cannot increase profits.
In a closed system, where export of this excess capital is not possible, production would halt leaving both excess labor powers and idled capital. As a result, both the value of the sum of wages and of the excess capital would fall as competitive pressures increased within each class. This would lead to a further fall in the actual quantity of the labor powers and the mass of capital employed. Unable to expand into new markets, Capital would, instead, begin to implode in on itself.
The problem is simple: One worker can produce enough for two, three, or ten, but this can only be done profitably if those others have the wages to purchase what has been produced. The surplus produced must now be sold before the capital can be reinvested, and this further investment can only take place if it is profitable to do so. If, it is not profitable to expand production with the additional surplus, the production of surplus itself must contract.
With the absolute over-accumulation of capital, the conditions under which surplus is produced stands in absolute contradiction with the conditions under which this surplus is realized. Capital undertakes production only to make a profit, but the surplus necessary for this profit wipes out profit. The capitalist class as a whole is empirically confronted with the need to progressively reduce productive activity.
Want increases, but this want only compels further contraction of productive activity. The very increase in want itself presupposes the further contraction of productive activity — the inability of the mass of society to buy what has been produced. At the same time, absolute over-accumulation presupposes the accelerated concentration and centralization of capitals as smaller capitals are idled altogether. To operate profitably the scale of production must increase, but this is only possible for the very biggest capitals. Finally, even the biggest capitals are no longer profitable, and all productive activity grinds to a halt.
This process takes place in any case in a closed system and does not in any way depend on processes outside capital itself. And I don’t think any process outside Capital can reverse, slow or otherwise counter this process. Assuming a closed system it is inevitable. In an open system, where the export of capital is still possible, it takes longer — but even an open system is located in a closed one. (For this reason, protectionism only accelerates the decline of a capitalist economy.)
According to Marx’s theory, the mass of surplus value is a direct function of the rate of surplus value times the mass of the working population. If the rate should increase, and the population is held constant, the mass of surplus value increases; and, vice versa. The working population, however, labors for so many hours at a time and, this length of individual working time has bearing on the rate of surplus value. All else being held constant, if the hours are longer, the rate of surplus value increases. If the hours are shorter, the rate decreases.
The absolute contradiction between the conditions of production, and the conditions of realization, of surplus value resolve into this: X hours of surplus labor time is expended, but Y hours of surplus labor time can be realized in the form of profit. Where X is greater than Y. The difference between X and Y is labor time that cannot be realized as profit.
I think, in Marx’s model of absolute over-accumulation Y = 0. Which is to say, none of the expended surplus labor time can be realized as profit. (I am assuming I understand him correctly and that I am not just blowing smoke.) While the rate of surplus value continues to increase, the rate of profit has dropped to zero – thus capitalist production grinds to a halt.
But this point only represents two different quantities of labor time, X and Y, which, divided by the number of workers employed productively, gives us the normal working day. Over-accumulation of capital leads to the formation of a mass of unemployed workers, but this formation is just a proportional reduction of the sum of hours of work. It is the reduction of social hours of work, while individual hours of work continues as before – the reduction of work is shared unequally.
Some workers are idled altogether, another group can only find limited work, and still another can find work only at reduced wages. Yesterday, everyone was employed and at good wages — life was good. Today, everyone suffers from too little work and falling wages.
When work is plentiful, competition between workers is muted and unions grow. Some even imagine the political conquest of power. When work becomes scarce, the competitive divisions within the class grow more pronounced — each worker becomes a petty commodity seller. The consciousness of the class as a class dissolves to reveal a mass of squabbling wage slaves fighting over the table scraps of Capital. Each is compelled, under penalty of starvation, to employ every advantage — race, nationality, language, religion, gender — for survival.
These circumstances lead not as Marxists like Wolff imagine to new opportunities for the workers’ cause, but their further degradation. As a class they only have the “opportunity” for misery and the reproduction of their miserable existence as wage slaves — for the employment of their bodies and capacities as mere means of survival, a foul, detestable act which fills the air with the stench of the slave markets.
Hitler was carried to power on the shoulders of the unemployed, and Auschwitz was a smooth operation modeled on the factory floor.
The result of depression is not the opportunity for liberation of the working class, but emergence of a fascist State of the Hitler type. This Fascist State absorbs the mass of unemployed labor power and idle capital to produce an unprecedented outburst of global violence. With the Fascist State we see not simply war between nations, but the deliberate targeting of civilians and productive infrastructure. Entire cities are targeted not to undermine the enemies capacity to fight, but the capacity to produce. Civilian populations are targeted for extermination; industrial infrastructure, roads, communications far from the battle are leveled.
The absolute hostility of the Fascist State to productive activity is seen in the determination with which it destroys the productive capacity of its foes. Its nature is revealed: that it is parasitic; that it is inimical to the productive employment of human capacity; that it thrives on scarcity; that it is only the expression of hunger, scarcity and want organized as a definite body of parasites on society; that its sole activity is the manufacture of scarcity, hunger and want; and its sole purpose is to expand the scale of this activity.
In area after area, wherever the State extends is vile tentacles, it does so not to increase the productive capacity of society, but to destroy it. Education, health-care, agriculture, industry — this mass of vile pestilence knows nothing of these things save turning them into a means to waste labor, or worse, instruments for its own expansion. In their stead, it posits the empty activity of the bureaucrat, the financier, those whose work does not touch on any of these activities. Those who exist only to interfere with productive activity and to reduce it to just another mode of the State’s own existence.
It doesn’t matter what children learn, only that massive quantities of resources are consumed in this activity. It matters not whether the sick are treated, only that an ever increasing volume of superfluous activity can be expended on “health-care”. The best of all possible worlds: those areas where nothing is produced, yet vast resources are idled (ex. strategic petroleum reserves) or destroyed (ex. wars of aggression).
While Capital is production run amok — production for the sake of production — the State is consumption for the sake of Capital. What matters is not that children be housed, fed, educated, but that surplus value produced by Capital be consumed in its entirety. The expansion of the State is not determined by any need to satisfy wants, but to satisfy the conditions for the self-expansion of capital, but, the condition for the self-expansion of Capital is the extension of the hours of social labor beyond its necessary limit.
Hence, the tendency toward constant expansion of the Fascist State is a law.
(Shown in the above chart is the historical correlation between the change in debt and the rate of unemployment. Courtesy of economist Steve Keen and chrismartenson.com)
Libertarians, anarchists and communists who sincerely favor a stateless society must realize that the present crisis is not merely, nor even primarily, an economic crisis — it is a crisis of the State itself. There is no exit for the State from this crisis, and it must result in the collapse of the State.
How we approach this crisis can spell the difference between a long drawn out process of collapse, or a much shorter one.
The two great issues facing Washington in this crisis are the rising public debt and the rising population of persons who cannot find work. Since World War II, Washington has been able to enjoy a trade off between these two symptoms of capitalist breakdown by encouraging the accumulation of private and public debt to offset the tendency toward a fall in productive employment of labor power.
The growth in public and private debt has allowed Washington to perform its essential role in a period of capitalist relative breakdown: to maintain generally stable conditions for the purchase and sale of labor power. This role corresponds to the needs of both the working and capitalist classes insofar as we only consider them as poles within capitalist relations of production.
In the face of falling demand for the productive employment of labor power, Washington has encouraged and facilitated the expansion of unproductive employment based on various forms of consumer debt in particular — mortgage, credit cards, auto loans, etc. — but also public debt, including ever increasing levels of federal debt. This debt, since it can never be repaid and sits on the books of financial institutions as fictitious assets, must be succeeded by increasing levels of new debt. It is a classic Ponzi scheme that had to unravel eventually and finally did in the Great Financial Crisis of 2008.
Since 2008, Washington has attempted to stabilize the economy by accumulating massive amounts of debt in its own right, hoping for its stimulative interventions in the economy to trigger a new round of debt accumulation by consumers. Consumers, who have been hit hard by the loss of millions of jobs in 2008 and 2009 have not responded to Washington’s stimulative interventions, and appear to be having an increasingly hard time even servicing existing debt.
The central problem facing Washington is that massive amounts of new debt must be created each year to absorb those who lost their jobs in 2008-2009. Moreover, this new debt must be sufficient not only to absorb those who lost their jobs, but also more than a million new workers who enter the labor force each year looking for work, and those who continue to be displaced from productive employment because of improving productivity. If consumers (who are, overwhelmingly, those workers who still are employed) are not able to carry a sufficient new debt burden to absorb this huge mass of new and existing unemployed, plus offset the falling demand for employment of labor power resulting from improvements in productivity, Washington will face an ever increasing mass of unemployed persons who are living on the edge of starvation.
At the same time, since Washington has been trying to compensate for inadequate consumer debt accumulation by running massive deficits in 2009, 2010, and 2011, a broad section of the population has been growing uneasy with the seemingly endless river of red ink in the federal budget. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to figure out that the massive accumulation of new federal debt must in time be offset by equally massive increases in the tax burden on the population and severe austerity of the type already evident in many European countries.
The result must be the steady conversion of public taxes into debt service to line the pockets of the big holders of federal debt, even as Washington tries to maintain its completely superfluous expenditures on military adventures, while the social safety net is ruthlessly eviscerated; leaving large segments of the population to starve. In its extremity, the fascist State consists solely of an ever increasing mass of new debt undertaken to maintain itself as an aggressive military machine.
Washington is thus trapped in an intractable crisis of rising public debt coupled with rising unemployment and an increasingly naked militaristic posture, even as it fails to address its most basic function: maximizing the purchase and sale of labor power. To an extent not seen in the post-World War II period, we are seeing the formation of permanent unemployable mass on the scale previously experienced only during the Great Depression. Despite two massive stimulus injections of nearly $1 trillion each, unprecedented zero interest rates for more than two years, and Federal Reserve money printing on a scale never seen before in history, unemployment has not fallen to anything approaching pre-crisis levels.
Washington is vulnerable to attack by those who favor a stateless society on both fronts. I would suggest libertarians, anarchists and communists pursue these points of agitation in their work:
- Debt and deficit spending: Oppose any attempt by Congress to increase the debt ceiling. It is clear that the Obama administration is working with both the GOP controlled House and the Democratic controlled Senate to slip through another increase in the debt ceiling this Spring. Libertarians, anarchists and communists should not stand aloof from this fight. They must combine efforts to ensure a NO vote on raising the debt ceiling, and to identify those Republican and Democratic Party representatives and senators who are conspiring with the Obama administration to saddle the nation with more debt.
- Unemployment and hours of labor: To the charge by apologists for Washington that deficit spending is necessary to combat rising unemployment, we should answer that it is not necessary. The unemployment crisis is solely the result of the refusal by Washington to reduce hours of labor. Those who stand for a stateless society should point out that increasing productivity of labor has made the reduction of hours of labor the pressing issue of our time. Any attempt to substitute State intervention in the economy for this reduction can only lead to further accumulation of debt without solving the problem of unemployment.
Washington is caught in a cul-de-sac from which there is no exit. Now is the time to strike a deathblow to it, and pave the way for a stateless society. If we fail to take advantage of this opportunity, we will have only ourselves to blame.
Tags: Barack Obama, budget, budget deficit, Depression, economic collapse, economic policy, financial crisis, great depression, international financial system, political-economy, recession, shorter work week, stupid Washington tricks, The Economy, unemployment, Wall Street Crisis, war
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
We can now restate Marx’s theory in a way which will make it easily digestible by those who stand full square for a completely stateless society, as well as the various and sundry people who seem intent on getting him completely wrong in every possible variation — including the imbeciles who count themselves among his followers:
Marx came to the conclusion that capital was abolishing the need for labor and this abolition had profound, far-reaching, implications for the whole of society, and the social relations within which individuals carried on their activity.
Moishe Postone writes:
Until this historical stage of capitalism, according to Marx’s analysis, socially necessary labor time in its two determinations [necessary labor time and surplus labor time] defined and filled the time of the laboring masses, allowing nonlabor time for the few. With advanced industrial capitalist production, the productive potential developed becomes so enormous that a new historical category of “extra” time for the many emerges, allowing for a drastic reduction in both aspects of socially necessary labor time, and a transformation of the structure of labor and the relation of work to other aspects of social life. But this extra time emerges only as potential: as structured by the dialectic of transformation and reconstitution, it exists in the form of “superfluous” labor time. The term reflects the contradiction: as determined by the old relations of production it remains labor time; as judged in terms of the potential of the new forces of production it is, in its old determination, superfluous.
By concentrating property into fewer and fewer hands; ripping the mass of society out of its long historical practice of carrying on its activities in relative isolation employing crude instruments of production for a meager material standard of living that just barely ensured their survival; and, converting the mass of society into directly social laborers, capital was making it possible to apply the latest technological breakthroughs, advancing scientific knowledge, and economies of scale to the task of producing a basic minimal standard of living with as little labor as possible given the level of development of the productive capacities of the laborers themselves and the tools they employed.
No aspect of this process was being consciously undertaken by any member of society, any group of its members, nor even by the members of society as a whole. No one consciously declared their intention to abolish labor. Each person in society was only engaged in self-interested activity in pursuit of private ends: the proletarian, for whom the sale of her labor power was a matter of simple survival — a matter of life and death, the capitalist, for whom continuation as owner of property required the ever increasing surplus producing capacity of the capital under his control. No where in society was the abolition of labor the expressed aim of anyone engaged in this mean, brutal process.
Indeed, as mankind actually crosses the threshold, the event horizon, where it is no longer possible for the demand for productive labor to increase, despite the increasing social demand for new, previously unimaginable, forms of material consumption, the members of society actually experience this incredible historical event as a loss — a terrifying regression to an earlier period of starvation and want — against which the whole of society blindly struggles, employing for this purpose all the instruments at its disposal, including the State, for the purpose of increasing the demand for labor where no productive employment of this additional labor exists, or can exist.
The human and material capacities of entire continents are laid to waste in an unceasing series of ever more barbaric wars; entire industries spring up overnight not for the creation of new means of production and consumption, but solely to destroy existing means; ever more terrible engines of self-extinction appear, and with them, a mass of proletarians whose sole purpose is to devise and create ever newer versions of these insane commodities. Alongside these industries, and essential to their existence, rises an entire industry of financial engineers, a class of public and private debtors, and the cancerous growth of fictitious capital and financial instruments.
Organizing, expanding and directing this obscenity, the State: that wholly superfluous organ of society, whose long bloody history of aggression, repression, and conquest, stands alone as the single greatest, longest running, continuing conspiracy against the rest of mankind, as well as its chief tormentor, torturer, and parasite in every age and in every epoch — a vile, filthy, parasitic collection of drones whose sole purpose in life has, always and everywhere, been to suck the life from society for its own enlargement — becomes, in the Orwellian world of Hobbesian chaos, the very instrument by which the members of society seek to stave off the results of their own activity.
In tandem with the ever diminishing material demand for productive labor, the social demand for labor in any and every form emerges as the rallying cry from every part of the society. In tandem as the State increases its invasive penetration into, and totalitarian control over, hitherto private and common activities, the Hobbesian chaos reigning within society intensifies, gains a more pervasive character, and further reduces each member of society more completely to an anonymous set of abstract data-points which can be identified, sifted and measured by the high priests of economic policy — converted into the raw material of policy recommendations for potential State action over a shorter or longer period of time. The parameters of this potential State policy action itself becomes the focus of the mass of the members of society and subjected to the Hobbesian chaos of society as interests line up on each side of the debate and seek to gain control of the lever of State power. In turn, as this body of parasitic drones master the control of society and gains knowledge of how it can maximize the expansion of purely superfluous labor, its policy parameters narrow — not employment, but the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment”; not free trade, but “free trade agreements”; not economic growth, but “low-inflation economic growth”. In this way, State economic policy is gradually converted into those policies which maximize not the expansion of superfluous labor in general, but the expansion of the State itself as a completely superfluous, cancerous growth on society.
It is precisely this State which, Marx argues, cannot on any account serve as the foundation of the new society. It cannot be salvaged, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be utilized to emancipate society in any fashion. It must be broken: discarded by society; and, with it, Labor itself, and all the remnants of the existing order. The abolition of Labor, and the age-old division of labor that has for so long chained humanity to a set of alien, inhuman relations, increasingly becomes bound up with the question of the abolition of the State, and the abolition of the State is increasingly dependent on the abolition of superfluous labor in every form.
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This article first appeared in the Libertarian Forum, Vol. XVII, Nos. 7–8, July–August, 1983. by Murray Rothbard.
The world is in very dangerous waters. The “true” or rhetorical Ronald Reagan, the second Reagan of the conservative “Let Reagan Be Reagan” slogan, has functioned only in the world of rhetoric since the beginning of his misbegotten Administration, or arguably since he embraced the Rockefeller Republicans at the convention of 1980. The rhetorical Reagan, the “Get Big Government Off Our Backs,” free market, war-with-Russia stance, has been particularly eclipsed since the end of the first year of his Administration. In economics, quasi-libertarians, monetarists, and supply-siders have been elbowed aside since 1982, and replaced by the same kind of quasi-conservative Keynesians who brought us the Nixon and Ford Administrations. In foreign policy, however, while the war fanatics like Richard Allen and Richard Pipes were booted out after a year, there has recently been a recrudescence of war-hawk domination by a troika of old Reagan buddy Judge William P. Clark, national security adviser whose admitted total ignorance of foreign affairs seems especially to qualify him for a top foreign policy post; Cap Weinberger of Bechtel Corporation and the Defense Department; and neo-conservative hatchet-lady and political scientist Jeane Kirkpatrick, whose contribution to political theory was to distinguish between “good” authoritarian and “bad” totalitarian torture.
The war-hawk troika signaled its accession to power by booting out Thomas Enders (one of the people most responsible for the Vietnam War) and Deane Hinton from their key State Department posts in Central American policy, for the sin of being too dovish and soft-nosed. This was a shock to those knowledgeable in foreign affairs, since it was roughly equivalent to Hitler’s firing Goebbels for being soft on the Jewish Question. Clearly, we were in for a lot of trouble. Since the rise of the troika, and the relative eclipse of the “dovish” George Shultz in foreign policy, the following events have occurred as the Reagan Administration heats up the Cold War and marches, step by step, toward World War III.
I. Reagan Breaks the Law
If there is one thing that conservatives are firm about, it is that one must never, ever break the law. No matter how unjust the law, they prate, one must never disobey it; one must only try one’s best to get the law changed. But as long as a law is on the books, it must be enforced. And yet Ronnie Reagan has broken at least two laws openly, flagrantly, and defiantly. Even so, no one, least of all conservatives, has called for his Impeachment.
What are these laws? One is the Boland Amendment, in which Congress made illegal any U.S. government attempt to give covert aid to Nicaraguan rebels in order to overthrow, or, as they say these days, “destabilize,” the Nicaraguan government. Yet the CIA has been giving massive aid to the Nicaraguan contras, and has even established bases for the contras in neighboring Honduras, setting up the conditions for an escalating war between the two nations. This has been perhaps the most open “covert” operation in history. For many months, the U.S. government has been using the patently lame excuse that the “covert” aid was certainly not designed to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. No, it is only to put some pressure on Nicaragua to stop sending aid to the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador. While this aid might well be there, it has been so elusive, that the best efforts of the U.S. and its satraps to prove Nicaraguan aid have so far been abject failures. Most guerrilla weapons, in the time-honored tradition, have come from the United States, either via capture of government arms or sale by corrupt government officials.
Recently, however, the Reagan Administration has felt so emboldened on the march toward war that it has allowed ultra-hawk Under Secretary of Defense Fred (“the Ick”) Ikle to proclaim frankly and boldly that yes indeed the “covert” aid is designed to overthrow the Nicaraguan regime. So why isn’t Reagan impeached and Ikle booted out?
The second flagrant defiance of the law was Reagan’s refusal to obey the War Powers Act, by which Congress ordered the President to subject the maintenance of U.S. troops abroad to its wishes as soon as these troops become subject to actual hostilities. U.S. Marines have been killed in Beirut, and yet the President stubbornly refused to obey the War Powers Act, and only grudgingly agreed to a compromise when Congress knuckled under and ratified the Marines staying in Lebanon for at least another 18 months. Yet, amidst Congressional appeals and whines for Reagan to please, sir, obey the law, no one, of either party mentioned Impeachment. Since the brief and glorious flurry in 1974, has impeachment once again become unthinkable?
II. Deeper Into Lebanon
U.S. policy in Lebanon is a classic case of sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire, almost deliberately escalating step-by-step into another Vietnam. We begin, seemingly innocent enough, contributing 1,300 Marines to an international “peacekeeping” force. Amidst all the right-wing jibes at the United Nations, we forget that the major problem with the UN is not its “anti-Americanism” but its being designed as an instrument for “collective security against aggression,” i.e. bringing us a state of potentially permanent war in seeking the chimera of permanent peace. The trouble with the UN is that it gets us into situations like a seemingly harmless “peacekeeping” operation.
But how, after all, do soldiers “keep the peace” except through fighting and killing? And so here we are in the midst of a civil war that has raged among literally dozens of groups in Lebanon for decades. What in hell does the United States know or care about the ancient Druse people, for example, and how dare it set itself up as an arbiter of their fortunes? Originally, in Step 1 of the operation, U.S. Marines were only supposed to fire if fired upon. But then a U.S. naval force with 2,000 more men came, and began shelling Druse positions in the Shouf mountains above and south of Beirut. The excuse was that these positions were shelling Marine positions. But soon hostilities escalated further, and it turns out that the U.S. Navy began to shell the Druse not for endangering our Marines but for battling against the Christian Lebanese Army, to which the U.S. is increasingly committed to winning the civil war. I suppose that, in that logic, the Lebanese Christians become surrogate U.S. Marines, worthy of the same protection. And so it goes.
But not only is the United States presuming to intervene ever further in the Lebanese civil war, it is also coming down unerringly on the (long-run) losing side. For a steady fact amidst the confusion of forces is that “Lebanon” is not a true country but an abortion. It was carved out of Syria by French imperialism after World War I, to serve as a French client state. Furthermore, the religious proportional representation imposed since the 1930’s used as a basis the census of 1932. In that year pro-French Maronite Christians along with their Christian allies, had a majority of the Lebanese population. But if current demographics, a half-century later, were ever used as a basis for quotas of power in the government, the Muslims would be dominant, since they now form about two-thirds of the population. The essence of the Lebanese struggle is an attempt by a minority of “pro-Western” Maronite Christians to dominate and bully a Muslim majority. In the long run, this system cannot work and will be overthrown, and it is in this cauldron that the United States has decided to make itself the major enemy of Islam in Lebanon. The Lebanese army, much vaunted in the U.S. media, is a Maronite Christian army, and the President of Lebanon, Amin Gemayel, is the leader of the very same Phalangist forces that massacred helpless Palestinian women and children at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
American officials are engaging in a great deal of hand-wringing about their terrible dilemma in Lebanon. If we stay, we might get embroiled deeper and deeper in another Vietnam; but if we leave, the Gemayel government will fall. Tough. It is not a proper function of the United States to prop up dictators all over the world. And to those who think we have “national security” interests in Lebanon (assuming that word can be defined intelligently) it would be nice to hear exactly what they may be.
As for the cease-fire, it is nice to have it, but there have been many cease-fires in Lebanon, and how long does anyone think this one will last? Any more permanent solution is being held up by the insistence of Gemayel, a man whose power depends almost totally on U.S. military might, on conducting negotiations in his own presidential palace.
Americans must ask themselves and their government: Why die for Gemayel? Why die to impose Maronite Christian rule over Muslims? What kind of foreign policy is that? Is such a policy really necessary to protect Maine or Seattle from foreign aggression? If we don’t fight the Druse in their ancestral home in the Shouf mountains, will we really have to fight them in the streets of Boston?
III. Deeper into Central America
The Central American morass is not as boldly in the headlines right now as Lebanon, but is fully as dangerous for escalating military conflict. The United States is backing an unpopular and despotic regime in El Salvador, and is building bases in Honduras in order to aid and abet the “contra” invasion of Nicaragua. All of these are inexorably losing propositions, and therefore to keep its wildly interventionist commitments, the U.S. must continue to escalate its forces and its war in Central America.
In El Salvador the much-touted “free elections” are now forgotten, as the guerrillas slowly but surely increase their power in one province after another. In this country ridden by dictatorship and by right-wing paramilitary squads murdering dissenters, government army officers refuse to go out on patrol in guerrilla country (in the words of the old joke, “you can get killed out there!”) and stay confined to their base, punctuated occasionally by grand but pointless sweeps throughout the countryside. Weekends they take off to cavort amidst the fleshpots of the capital city. In Nicaragua, in contrast, the army is doing very well and the well-supplied contras are getting nowhere. For one reason, in contrast to the Salvadoran army, the Nicaraguan forces go out habitually in small patrols to encounter the enemy.
And the egregious Fred Ikle proudly proclaims that in Central America “we seek victory for the forces of democracy.” These are the same “forces” that expelled the bureau chief of the Associated Press from El Salvador for telling the truth, and that are daily torturing and murdering dissenters from the right-wing dictatorial government.
IV. 007 Hysteria
Fueling all of these war escapades, softening any resistance to them in Congress and the country, adding to pressure for any and all military expenditures, is the hysteria whipped up by Reagan, the right-wing, and the Establishment media over the tragic shooting down of Korean Airliner 007 over Sakhalin island. After milking the maximum amount of propaganda from the failure of the Russians to admit shooting down the plane, or to explain the incident, for eight days, it turned out that the U.S. authorities were also engaged in telling untruths on a massive scale. For one thing, the U.S. finally and grudgingly admitted that the Soviet jet interceptors had indeed fired several warning shots at 007 before shooting it down. This after many days of hopped-up denunciations that the Soviets had neglected to fire any warning shots. Also, it took several days for the U.S. to admit that a U.S. RC-135 spy plane flew near the 007 route and that for some time the paths of the two actually coincided.
There are many unanswered questions and fuzzy areas about 007 – enough, surely, to defuse the hysteria and try to get back – or forward – to a sane approach toward the airliner and toward the Soviets generally.
1. What in hell was KAL 007 doing flying 300 miles off-course for several hours over Soviet airspace? KAL 747’s are equipped with three separate, cross-checking, internal navigation systems. The pilot and crew of 007 should have known instantly that they were off course. And why were there no radio communications from 007 until fifteen minutes before it was shot down? The idea of radio failure makes no sense. Not only because they did make contact at long last, but also because 747’s are equipped with five separate radios, two of which can reach anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the route flown by 007 is well-travelled; there are planes up there all the time, including another 747 twenty minutes behind that was carrying Senator Jesse Helms. Why didn’t 007 contact any of these other planes and check where they were?
Moreover, all Pacific pilots are well aware, and it is marked clearly on their navigational maps, that one does not fly over Soviet airspace without advance clearance, because the planes are likely to be shot down. Why then the insouciance of the 007 pilot? Especially since a civilian KAL airliner was shot down over the Soviet Arctic in 1978? There is one crucial difference, however, between the 1978 incident and that of 1983: the 1978 airliner was a 707, with little of the sophisticated navigational systems of the 747. Its pilot could well have gotten lost; the 007 pilot could not.
Another point: 007 was supposed to report every hour to air controllers on the ground. Why didn’t any of the U.S. or Japanese air controllers, also well aware of the dangers of flying over Soviet territory – especially the sensitive military installations in the Kamchatka-Sakhalin area – why didn’t they ever notify 007 that it was way off course and to get back pronto?
Specifically, we know that the RC-135, our spy plane, was flying on the course that day to monitor Soviet tests. But our most capable monitor for the Soviet tests is the U.S. Cobra Dane radar at Shemya, at the tip of the Aleutians and only 450 miles from Kamchatka. The Shemya radar would have seen quickly that 007 was off course, and would have tracked it from then on. Why, then, didn’t an American official at Shemya immediately pick up a phone, call 007, or call the Japanese controllers at Narita? It is no wonder that the London Sunday Times concluded from its investigation of the 007 incident that “there is now a growing conviction in military, political and aviation circles that Captain Byung was not in Soviet airspace by accident.”
2. Was the 007 incursion planned, and, if so why? If KAL pilot Chung Byung was “witting,” and the U.S. and Japanese air controllers were perhaps aiding and abetting, what was the point? The suggestion in the media that Chung Byung might have taken this dangerous route deliberately to save money on fuel seems idiotic; surely a hell of a risk to take for saving some gasoline. It is more plausible to look at Korean Air Lines, nearly all of whose pilots are former officers in the South Korean Air Force, and who retain high security clearance. Chung Byung himself was considered one of KAL’s best pilots, as witness the fact that he was chosen to be the pilot for several 747 flights of the South Korean president to the U.S. and to various countries in Southeast Asia during 1981 and 1982. The present form of Korean Air Lines originated in 1969; before then, the Korean government was running the company. In that year, the government decided to put KAL into the hands of a private transportation company, the Hanjin Group, headed by two brothers, Cho Chong (“Harry”) Hoon and Cho Chong (‘Charlie Cho”) Kun. Most KAL business is manufacturing aircraft for the Korean Air Force, which of course cements the closeness of its ties with the Korean military.
Furthermore, Fred Kaplan reports in the Boston Globe that the two brothers have close ties with the Korean CIA. A former director of Korean affairs at the U.S. State Department told Kaplan that throughout the 1970’s Charlie Cho ran money back and forth between the KCIA and Japanese bigwigs. Kaplan was also told that KAL used to run money and spies in and out of Korea and assisted the KCIA in its lucrative drug smuggling.
And where the KCIA is, can the US CIA be far behind?
The Soviet Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda claimed, on Sept. 16, that Chung Byung had boasted to intimates that he was carrying out special tasks for U.S. intelligence, that he had placed equipment on 747’s to spy on Soviet installations, and that he intended to leave KAL soon because of the high risks entailed in flying for the CIA. This could well be hokum, but it is surely suggestive in light of the evidence.
If the 007 incursion was planned by the KCIA, with or without US connivance, why did they do it? There would appear to be three possible reasons, or some combination of the three: First, the 747 could have been functioning as a spy plane. A former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer remembers being told in 1967, according to Fred Kaplan, that KAL habitually attached side-view cameras to commercial airliners capable of long-distance photography. Newt Royce of the Hearst press reported on September 4 that U.S. intelligence officials admit that civilian airliners are routinely used for spying: Aeroflot for the Russians, and Finnair and others for the U.S. The common counter-argument that the U.S. needs no such photos because of its satellites, runs against the fact that satellites fly at regular times and so can be evaded if necessary, and that photos taken at 30,000 feet can often tell more than, or at least confirm, photos from satellites.
A second, more plausible, reason was to test the quality and speed of Soviet air defenses. What they found should have gladdened their hearts, since they discovered that the Russian military are a bunch of stumblebums. There is a peculiar tendency of right-wingers, from conservatives to conservative libertarians, to look upon the Soviet Union as a mighty, super-efficient, Satanic monolith, omniscient if not omnipotent, and always ready to strike. Yet what is the Soviet Union but a giant, rigidified bureaucracy, and what is bureaucracy but a bunch of confused, ineffective stumblebums? Free market advocates should, after all, be particularly alive to this fact.
And so what we saw in the 007 incident was a Soviet air defense that didn’t seem to know what was going on or what to do, that allowed a large, slow, passenger airliner to fly for two-and-a-half hours over sensitive Soviet airspace without interception, that took all of thirty minutes to get the interceptor jets off the ground. Not only that: three days after 007, several test-fired Russian ICBMs blew up over the same area! With this record, it is very possible that it took Marshal Ogarkov all of eight days to find out what in hell happened over Pacific Siberia that night.
So crummy have Soviet air defenses shown themselves to be that various press reports have U.S. intelligence authorities believing that up till the very end the Soviets were convinced that they were tracking and shooting down not a civilian 747 but an RC-135 spy plane. For one thing, Soviet interceptors may have misidentified the plane because they were always at least 2,000 feet below 007 and therefore could not make out its distinctive silhouette. Furthermore, the Soviets could have been misled by their obsolete radar equipment, and by the fact that Soviet commanders don’t trust their pilots with access to radio frequencies with which they could have contacted the Korean airliner. In fact, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Charles A. Gabriel happily concluded from the 007 incident that the Soviet air defense performance “gives us a little more confidence” in the ability of the U.S. Air Force to penetrate Soviet air space “if necessary.” (New York Times, Sept. 18.) Could finding this out have been the point of the whole exercise?
One thing that the U.S. authorities acknowledge they discovered is the tense, nervous state of the Soviet air defenders. The Americans confirmed the Soviet account of nine U.S. military spy plane incursions into Soviet airspace over the Kurile Islands this year. Take frayed nerves, the deep fear that the next U.S. military air incursion might be a nuclear attack, and the Soviet penchant to punish severely any commanders who allow intruding aircraft to escape, and the stage was set for the tragedy of 007.
A third possible reason for the incursion, less plausible than the others but which should not be dismissed out of hand, is that 007 was a right-wing US/South Korean intrigue designed to provoke the Soviets into doing precisely what they did – thus heating up the Cold War and ending any possibility of détente for a long time to come. There are various other conspiracy theories about 007 that can be dismissed tout court. One is the Bircher theory that the Soviets shot down 007 because they knew that Rep. Larry McDonald (D., Ga.), head of the John Birch Society, was on the plane. It seems to me that in the improbable event that McDonald was No. 1 on a Soviet hit list, they could have assassinated him far more easily in Washington without causing an international airplane incident in which they lose an enormous number of propaganda points. (If I were in the Kremlin and had an Americanski hit list, McDonald would scarcely be high up on it.) Even less plausible is the kooky antipodal conspiracy theory, voiced by Larry Flynt of Hustler fame, that McDonald himself was in on the disaster, along with the CIA, in order to make himself an anti-Communist martyr and heat up the Cold War. Another kooky sub-variant is that 007 was a coordinated plot by the Reagan Administration and the Russians to get rid of McDonald, since the Administration is run by Trilateralists. A hilarious “sub-sub-variant,” as noted by the Menckenesque Marxist journalist Alexander Cockburn, “is that the Russians’ true target was Scoop Jackson, knowing full well that news of the incident would give him a fatal heart attack.” (Village Voice, September 20).
3. What are the Lessons of 007? The alleged lesson pushed by the war hawks, the right-wing, and the Reagan Administration (at least in rhetoric), and following them the bulk of the media, is that the shooting down of 007 was mass murder or even a “massacre,” that this “proves” that the Soviet system is evil, and that the Soviets are barbarians and mass murderers who should be treated as such. What being treated as such really means is never fully spelled out. Oddly enough, the policy conclusions never match up to the bitter and sweeping analyses. Thus, a group of orthodox, unreconstructed Randians, centered around Peter Schwartz and his magazine The Intellectual Activist, took the trouble and the enormous expense to take out a full page ad in the New York Sunday Times (Sept. 11). The thrust of the ad was that the Soviet Union should be treated as a “well-armed” neighborhood police force would deal with murderers in their midst. The Randians proceed to spell out what they claim to be the implications of their analogy: specifically the breaking of all diplomatic relations, since one does not engage in “détente” with local murderers. Other right-wingers, pursuing the same logic, have added a call for prohibition of all East-West trade. But these logicians are acting haltingly and bizarrely on the basis of their own logic. For of course this sort of thing – ostracism, refusal to trade or negotiate – is not what neighborhood police do to a murderer. What they do is to apprehend and execute him. Following Randian and other right-wing logic, then, what the United States is supposed to do, right now, is nuke the Soviet Union.
The interesting point is: Why don’t the Randians and other right-wingers see that this is their real thrust? Is their grasp on the logic of their own position that weak? In short, are they that dumb? Failing that conclusion, the Randian conservatives can have only two things in mind: either (a) they favor the immediate nuking of the Soviet Union and haven’t got the guts to say so, i.e. this is precisely the hidden agenda behind their beating of the war drums; (b) something is holding them back from going all the way in whooping it up for a nuclear holocaust. If so, it would behoove them to examine what that something is, and, if they focused fully on that for a while, they might begin to reconsider their entire war-hawk perspective. Perhaps then the Intellectual Activist, which proudly proclaims its subtitle, “In Defense of Individual Rights,” might begin to see that a nuclear holocaust would, to put it mildly, be a massive assault on the individual rights to life of countless millions of innocent Russians and Americans. Perhaps then they will also see that their own irresponsible rhetoric is tantamount to threatening and bringing closer a nuclear confrontation that would slaughter far more innocents than even Communist regimes have managed in ruling their own subjects. In the good old Randian phrase: Randians, “Check your premises!”
The real lessons of 007 are very different, and have gotten very little attention in the media. They can be summed up as follows:
a. Americans Are Very Selective in Their Moral Indignation.
In February 1973, the State of Israel shot down a Libyan commercial airliner over the Sinai Desert, killing 109 persons. Yet no President of the United States got on the air to denounce the “massacre,” no media people claimed that this incident demonstrated the “evil nature” of the “barbaric” Israeli system, no one demanded that all trade and diplomatic relations with Israel be cut off, and no Randians took out full-page ads declaiming that Israel should be treated as local police treat mass murderers. Why not?
b. No Superpower Is To Be Trusted With High-Tech Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The major lesson of this incident is that both superpowers are paranoid and trigger-happy, and each has its finger close to the nuclear button expecting momentary assault from the other side. Both sides can unleash enormous destruction within moments. Instead of trying to keep the 007 tragedy from ballooning into a full-blown war crisis, the Reagan administration seized the opportunity to heat up the Cold War, kill all attempts at détente, and intensify arguments for any and all accumulations of nuclear weaponry. For a while, the atmosphere looked very close to the blundering into World War that marked the Guns of August, 1914. The major lesson of the 007 crisis is the desperate need for joint nuclear disarmament of the superpowers, for the permanent elimination of the nuclear button by which the super-States hold the entire human race at risk.
We might as well consider here the agitation for unilateral U.S. nuclear disarmament that has been pushed for the last couple of years by people within the left wing of the Libertarian Party. (The argument over unilateral disarmament transcends Crane Machine–anti Crane Machine boundaries. It is, as it were, trans-Machine. Thus the main advocates have been Sheldon Richman and Leslie Graves Key of the left wing of the Machine, and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, in the anti-Machine camp. Hummel, in particular, has been an eloquent and knowledgeable spokesman for unilateral disarmament.) My own position is that while I would prefer unilateral disarmament to the monstrous status quo, these are not our only choices. For I vastly prefer mutual nuclear disarmament to unilateral; clearly the people of the world, their rights and liberties, would be far more secure under the former. The unilateralists like to think of their position as more radical than that of us mutualists; but isn’t it more radical to have every superState disarm their weapons of mass destruction than only one? In fact, the shoe should be on the other foot: why wouldn’t any libertarian strongly prefer mutual to unilateral disarmament? Why are our unilateralists hanging back rather than going all the way?
I remember back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the antinuclear movement was gaining strength in the United States. The all-out pacifists took the peculiar position that they would rather see the U.S. government disarm unilaterally than negotiate an agreement with Russia for joint disarmament, The reason for this odd position was not, of course, that these pacifists were secret Commies, trying to open us up for a Soviet takeover. The reason was that their idea of politics was making a moral statement rather than accomplishing results. A government that disarms unilaterally can be said to be making a purer, more heroic, moral statement than one that persuades other governments to disarm together. By extension, the pacifists themselves were making a purer, more-heroic moral statement than those in the anti-nuke movement who advocated joint nuclear disarmament. I am afraid that something like this is driving our unilateralists, who, in their desire to make purer and more heroic moral statements than anyone else, are losing sight of the fact that mutual disarmament would be a far more libertarian event, a far greater cause of rejoicing by us and by the entire human race, than unilateral disarmament. So why not go for it?
V. Conclusion: Reagan: Rhetoric and Reality
Ronald Reagan was swept into office by the conservative movement, whose leader and spokesman he had become. He made a raft of campaign promises to that movement, each and every one of which he has broken egregiously. He raised income taxes rather than lowered them, he brought us $200 billion deficits rather than balancing the budget, he entrenched fiat money rather than bringing back the gold standard, his budget is the highest absolutely and as percentage of GNP in American history, he has deregulated nothing, he has not abolished the Departments of Education and Energy, etc. The conservative movement has long been animated by three broad concerns: (a) Freeing the economy and Getting Big Government Off Our Back; (b) using government to enforce Judaeo-Christian morality (so-called “social” issues), and (c) engaging in nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Simply listing these concerns reveals that (b) and (c), the theocratic and the war-mongering, contradict the libertarian (a), to put it very mildly. The conservative movement is so constituted that in a tussle between these three, (b) and (c) always win out in their hearts and minds over the free market.
The quintessence of Ronald Reagan is that he is a master in supplying the conservative movement with the rhetoric they want to hear. In all politicians there is a gulf between rhetoric and reality, but in Ronald Reagan that gulf has become a veritable and mighty ocean. There seems to be no contact whatever between Ronnie the rhetorician and Ronnie the maker of policy. In that situation it is hard to know which one is “the real” Reagan. The conservatives, feeling betrayed but lacking any guts for a break with the Administration, persist in asserting (publicly, at any rate) that the rhetorical Reagan is the real one, and that if only his evil pragmatist advisers would “let him,” this real Reagan would finally emerge. Hence, the famous right-wing slogan, “Let Reagan Be Reagan.” But the problem with that slogan is the “let.” What do you mean, “let”? Who picked these evil advisers, and who persists in maintaining them in power? None other than Reagan himself. So in what sense is this visible person not the “real” Reagan?
There are only two solutions to his dilemma, neither one a happy situation for conservatives. Either Reagan is a total cretin, a puppet who gets wheeled out for ceremonial speeches, and who really believes that he is putting conservative policies into effect. Or Reagan is a cynical master politician, keeping the conservatives happy by dishing out their rhetoric and his phony 3×5 card anecdotes, while keeping corporate centrists happy by pursuing the New Deal-Fair Deal-Great Society-Nixon-Ford policies that we have all come to know so well. Either way: Reagan the imbecile or Reagan the cynical manipulator, the situation is hopeless for conservatives, who yet persist in willfully not perceiving this stark reality.
Of the three conservative concerns mentioned above, Reagan has clearly and flatly sold out the free market, and also pretty much for the theocratic social issues. Unfortunately, the anti-Soviet part of the rhetoric is something that Reagan seems to believe in more firmly than the rest of the stuff, so that he has more difficulty abandoning his conservative mass base on this issue than on the others. “Unfortunately,” because the more Reagan betrays conservatism on the war front (and on theocracy), the better. The drift toward war, and the ascendancy of the war-hawk troika, are ominous signposts for the future. The only silver lining in the cloud is that, despite the whipped-up hysteria, the Reagan Administration hasn’t really done anything to crack down directly on the Russians. (He couldn’t retaliate by banning Aeroflot in U.S., since Carter had already locked that into place when the Russians marched into Afghanistan.) His not doing anything concrete has, of course, sent conservatives up the wall, for this is by far their most emotional and most deeply felt of the three broad issues. It is a helluva note when we have to rely, for saving us from nuclear annihilation, on the likes of the Rockefellers, the Trilateralists, the Shultzes, the Kissingers, and all the rest. But that is unfortunately the way things are.
Hopefully, as rhetoric and reality clash and as we weave back and forth in the direction of the Final World War, Ronnie will be booted out in 1984, and we will all be able to leave the question of who or what is the “real” Reagan to shrinks and historians. Ronald Reagan will, then at long last, become supremely irrelevant for our time.
Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995), the founder of modern libertarianism and the dean of the Austrian School of economics, was the author of The Ethics of Liberty and For a New Liberty and many other books and articles. He was also academic vice president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Center for Libertarian Studies, and the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report.
Copyright © 2004 Ludwig von Mises Institute
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This article is re-posted from Lew Rockwell
I think I have found a law I can get behind. This in fact is one I would lobby for and fully support. We must pass a law stating each senator, politician, state employee and voter is mandated to attend every funeral for every victim of our military and police. Each one of us should stand and see the lives taken and those mourning our violence.
Furthermore each one should be mandated to stand at the bedside and nurse the casualties of our wars back to health. They should stand there and wipe the sweat off of the brow of each human being scorched and mutilated by the weapons we bought and paid others to use against them. Each person should see just what they stand for. Each and every one should see the reality they avoid in their sheltered fantasy world where the murder they stand behind is white washed by a flag and some ignorant concept of patriotism.
Each one should hold the hand of the migrant as they sit in their cell and as they embark on their journey to a country we have forced them into. Each individual should see the whole person they have condemned with their hatred and bigotry.
No more hiding behind the convenient veil of media and state rhetoric that masques the deeds they promote and commit. No more looking the other way pretending that their slaughter and abuse of human beings is somehow virtuous. We need a law that not only shows reality through that facade of bullshit we swim in. We need that law that brings us to see the truth once and for all.
It is easy to ignore the truth when it is so conveniently hidden from us. It is easy to embrace murder hidden and shrouded in lies and deception. Just how easy will it be to continue on with the empire when we each must see the truth of what it is?
We do not count our victims. Maybe if we did keep record of the death we brought to the world someone may listen. Maybe if we not only kept record but saw first hand what atrocities we commit around the world some of you might not be so comfortably hiding in your safe secure suburban lives able to ignore the truth as you currently are. May God have mercy on your souls.
One of the first battles of 2011 will come in the spring as the Washington establishment seeks to gain approval to raise the debt ceiling. Anarchists, libertarians and Marxists will be tested on whether they are satisfied to be appendages and compliant tools of the two parties, or are prepared to strike out on their own in preparation for the 2012 election season.
No one should be confused about this issue: It is a life or death moment for the bloated Washington machinery of repression and imperial expansion and the increasingly heavy debt servitude of the public treasury to global banking interests. Here is how one writer put it:
The tax-cut war is over for now. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been signed into law. The New START treaty has been ratified. But another big battle between Democrats and Republican is looming. The subject is something most Americans have likely never heard of—the debt ceiling. And, unlike the lame-duck battles that somehow found their way to happy conclusions, this one could very easily end in disaster.
The debt ceiling does exactly what it sounds like it does: It caps the total amount of money the government is allowed to owe. Because the government keeps running deficits, it keeps bumping up against it, and Congress then has to increase the limit to keep the government going. Right now, the national debt stands only $400 billion short of the $14.3 trillion ceiling, which means that some time in the next few months Congress will need to vote to raise it.
It’s a safe bet that most politicians would be extremely reluctant to cast such a vote. Deficit reduction was a major component of the Republicans’ battle cry this past electoral season, and Democrats are no more likely to embrace a measure that explicitly allows for more debt. But it’s a necessary evil: Failure to raise the ceiling could lead to full-fledged U.S. default—that is, the inability to make scheduled interest payments on existing Treasury bonds and other government debts.
It gets better: according to Zero Hedge, Washington may need not one but two debt ceiling increases in 2011, and as many as 8 by 2015:
As Zero Hedge has long been predicting, we anticipate roughly $2 trillion in incremental debt per year. Surprisingly we are not far too off from where the “debt clock” sees US leverage in 5 years. At an estimated $24.5 trillion in federal debt, our $2 trillion per year run rate is spot on. Another thing that is spot on: our prediction that the US will need not one but two debt ceiling increases in 2011. And probably 6-8 over the next 5 years.
Already wild stories of impending disaster are being ginned up in an attempt to shape public opinion on the issue through fear:
Recent history provides a sense of just how scary this would be. “The reason the markets calmed down [during the financial crisis] is that we took [the banks’] toxic assets and handed the financial institutions Treasurys,” says Kevin Hassett, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “If we’re in a default situation, the Treasurys themselves are the toxic assets, and it’s not clear what we can hand anybody to calm them down.” Banks and countries like China would view American debt as a severe liability, and markets would be thrown into chaos. Admittedly, this scenario is unlikely, since the Treasury Department can ward off default for months by taking extreme steps, such as raiding Social Security or civil-service pensions. But even if we don’t default, a protracted failure to raise the debt ceiling risks other dire economic consequences by making it look like the United States is ungovernable and a bad place to invest.
Folks, Washington NEEDS this vote, and they are going to win it by playing every wedge issue, and divisive card in the deck. The debate over the debt ceiling is going to be staged as a fight between “austerity” and “fiscal sanity”; with Democrats playing the “Republicans hate the poor” card, while Republicans scream about “Obama’s socialist agenda”.
Those on the Left can expect to be hit with image after image of “the suffering masses”, as the Democrats accuse the Republicans of being willing to sacrifice working families, the poor and “the middle class” with an outrageous austerity the likes of which, they will swear, has never been seen in modern history — they will go on in this vein until Obama announces he has secretly cut a deal with the GOP leadership in the House behind closed doors.
Those on the Right can expect Republicans to spend a lot of time on Fox NEWS complaining vociferously about the rising deficits and imminent collapse of the national economy and even morality itself under the dead weight of Washington’s profligacy, even as they meet secretly with their Democrat counterparts to work out a “deal” to trade more debt now for another worthless promise of a balanced budget tomorrow.
Without raising the debt ceiling, Washington will have great difficulty funding its ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bailout of the too big to fail banks, and its massive machinery of domestic repression. No matter the contours of this partisan bickering, it will be a fight staged for public consumption that ends in a conclusion on which both wings of the Washington establishment have already agreed.
Anarchists, libertarians and Marxists need to help folks both on the left and the right to understand that the debt ceiling itself is the issue — and, if Zero Hedge is correct, we will have 6-8 opportunities to ram this lesson home over the next five years. If, however, anti-statists get caught up in the public circus that the debate over the debt ceiling promises to become, we will forfeit a good chance to put a nail in the coffin of the State.
I recently came across this excerpt from a short paper by the Marxist writer, Raya Dunayevskaya. The argument is a very dense consideration of a fundamental point of Marx’s theory. If it appears obscure and incomprehensible, that is okay; I offer it only as a reference for those familiar with the more arcane points of Marx’s theory. For everyone else, you can skip below, where I will address it directly in a way that makes its import both obvious and rather astounding:
Let me state right here that we have greatly underestimated Volume III of CAPITAL, which deals with these transformations. It is true that we caught its ESSENCE when from the start we put our finger on the spot and said the DECLINE in the rate of profit is crucial; the average rate of profit is completely secondary. Look at the mess we would have been in if we had not seen THAT and suddenly found ourselves, as did the Fourth [International], tailending the Stalinists’ sudden “discovery” (which had been precisely the PERVERSION with which the Second International PLANNERS had long ago tried to corrupt Marxism) that it was the AVERAGE rate of profit which was the “law of capitalism.”
Good, we saw the essence, but that is insufficient, and because that is completely insufficient, we were incapable of being sharp enough even here. For it is insufficient merely to state that the decline [in the] rate of profit, not the average, is crucial for understanding VOLUME III. The full truth is: JUST AS MARX’S THEORY OF VALUE IS HIS THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE, SO HIS THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE IS IN REALITY THE THEORY OF THE DECLINING RATE OF PROFIT.
Why couldn’t we state it this simply before? It is because we have been too busy showing that profit is only a disguise which surplus value wears and must be removed, again to see “the real essence”: exploitation of labor. Because the opponents we were facing were Workers Party underconsumptionists, we had to overemphasize this EVIDENT truth. But to overemphasize the obvious means to stand on the ground the opponents have chosen. Freed from these opponents and faced with PLANNERS WHO ARE NOT UNDERCONSUMPTIONISTS the greater truth of what Marx was saying suddenly hits us in the eyes with such force that now we can say: How could we have not seen what Marx was saying? It is all so clear: Since the realization of surplus value IS the decline in the rate of profit, the poor capitalist MUST search for profits.
The argument Dunayevskaya is making here is simple: Marx proposed that capitalism would be increasingly hamstrung by a decline in the rate of profit. This decline was not an accident or aberration, since it rested on a fundamental feature of the economy: On the one hand, the capitalist was always seeking to maximize his profits by reducing labor costs. This drive leads businesses to produce more output with fewer workers. On the other hand, the source of profits were the unpaid labor time of the employed workers. Thus, even as the capitalist tried to maximize profit by reducing its work force, its success at reducing its work force reduced the pool of unpaid labor time that was the source of its profits.
So far, not much of interest, right? Just another cat fight among the followers of Marx over interpretation of his theory; and Marxists are, if anything, more prone to cat fights than a bag of wet cats. But, then Raya does something jarring: she throws in that sentence at the end and changes the entire nature of the argument:
Since the realization of surplus value IS the decline in the rate of profit, the poor capitalist MUST search for profits.
Let me perform an intellectual shortcut here: Although it may not be obvious what she has just done, Raya has just stated that Marx is setting the reader up, not for an explanation why prices of goods reflect the values of those goods, but why they can never reflect the values of those goods. On a micro-level, Marx is explaining why that $600 iPad you got for Christmas probably cost no more than $3 to manufacture in China.
To put this another way: Marx was describing why the actual labor time expended in a capitalist economy must always and increasingly be greater than what is socially necessary. The tendency built into a capitalist economy toward a secular decline in the rate of profit produces its opposite: a mad scramble on the part of each capital, and all of them together, to find every avenue to maintain profitability in the face of this tendency; and this tendency can only be countered by effort to extend the social work day beyond what is actually required by society. As we have argued elsewhere, if Marx is correct in his analysis, there is a vast pool of superfluous labor within existing society that can be abolished without touching on the material living standard of society.
To put it bluntly, Marx’s law of the tendency toward a fall in the rate of profit predicts that if total debt, total consumption and total hours of labor don’t constantly increase capitalism will collapse. The social relation is not only incapable of achieving equilibrium, but it becomes increasingly self-disequilibrating as the productivity of labor increases. Assuming Raya was saying what I understand her to be saying, I think this self-induced, self-reinforcing, disequilibrium results in, at least, the following 5 symptoms:
- The Market for output must constantly expand.
- Total employment must always rise more quickly than productive employment. And, total hours of labor must always increase more quickly than productive hours of labor.
- Because of the above, total consumption must always increase more rapidly than necessary consumption (i.e., production). Which is to say, waste and unnecessary consumption becomes a matter of life or death for the economy.
- Since waste becomes a permanent feature of the economy and the rising cost of wasted effort must be borne by society, total prices must always increase more rapidly than total value.
- Since, wasted effort itself produces no new value, exchange itself is increasingly founded on debt; hence, the financial sector must always increase more rapidly than the industrial sector, and debt more rapidly than equity — leverage, which is, at root, only the relation between the sum total of social labor to the sum total of productively employed labor, must always increase.
Assuming I am correct about Raya’s comments about Marx’s third volume of Capital, and, that she is correct in her reading of the volume — two very big ifs, I admit — in his third volume of Capital, Marx is setting us up to understand how the State becomes an absolutely critical and absolutely necessary feature of capitalist society — a matter of life and death for capital. Each of the five symptoms of modern society I cited above are no more than functions taken on by the State to manage capitalist society through its increasingly devastating cycles of booms and busts.
Marx’s law of the tendency toward a decline in the rate of profit is, in reality, a theory of the State. To extend Raya’s statement: Marx’s theory of value is the foundation for his theory of surplus value; his theory of surplus value is the foundation for his theory of the decline in the rate of profit; and, finally, his theory of a decline in the rate of profit is the foundation for his theory of the modern State.
Powerful support for my interpretation of Raya’s argument can be found simply by looking at the title of the paper from which the above quote was drawn: “The despotic plan of capital vs. freely associated labor”. In this paper, Raya counterposes the modern State to the free association of individuals, explicitly arguing that planning arrived at by free association is completely incompatible with the various forms of State management of the economy with which we are familiar: everything from the centralized planning of the Soviet type to the fiscal and monetary levers of neoliberal political-economy. In 1950, with the ink still drying on National Security Council Report 68, Raya was making the argument that, in her words, “If the order of the factory were also in the market, you’d have complete totalitarianism.”
Effort by the State to manage the economy, as envisioned by the Truman administration, had to lead to an increasingly totalitarian reorganization of society. This, apart even from consideration of the aim of that management — which, for Truman, was a means of accruing the resources for a long-term conflict with the Soviet Union — implies the subjugation of the whole of social relationships to the despotism of capital.
Marxists and progressives who see in the increasing entanglement of the State in the economy — as borrower, lender, consumer and employer of last resort — some realization of the possibility for a humane society are not only wrong, but dangerously misguided in their approach to every social issue from the present intractable unemployment, to poverty, to every form of inequality, the environment and global relations. They are trying to use as a solution the very instrument of society which maintains those evils and makes their continuation possible.
Tags: Depression, economic policy, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, fiscal policy, inflation, international financial system, Karl Marx, Marxism, monetary policy, National Security Council Memorandum, NSC-68, planned economy, political-economy, Raya Dunayevskaya, recession, soviet union, The Economy, underconsumption, unemployment, voluntary associaton, war
Why is Washington so implacably hostile to a reduction of hours of work as the solution to unemployment? And, why has it abandoned the 99ers to their fate?
The answer to these questions is simple: Washington depends on the unpaid hours of labor wrung from the working population as much as capital itself. Washington is not a neutral party when it comes to hours of labor; it is, without exception, the largest single consumer of surplus labor time in society. The entirety of its revenues amount to the unpaid labor of society either directly, in the form of taxes, or indirectly, in the resources it controls through debt or money printing.
This fact is never admitted by progressives, nor even by vulgar proponents of Marx’s theory. The argument made by the Marxists against the current State amounts not to a recognition that the machinery of state shares with capital the total pot of surplus labor time, and, as a result, must be interested in the longest possible duration of unpaid labor, but only that this machinery is under the control of capital and should instead be controlled by the working class. The progressive critique of the State amounts to a demand that this unpaid labor time be devoted to the “improvement of society”; the typical vulgar proponent of Marx differs from this only in that he proposes this be under the direction of a working class party. Neither raises the demand for the abolition of all unnecessary labor, and with it, the state in its entirety.
When the Great Depression erupted Washington suddenly had access to billions of hours of unpaid social labor which it, along with the other great powers, immediately set about throwing into preparation for World War II. Government, already the largest single consumer of unpaid labor time in society, expanded monstrously – consuming perhaps as much as 40 percent of national output. But, in the aftermath of that horrible conflict, we really see its voracious hunger, and insatiable lust for surplus as the Truman administration conceived of and implemented a policy of a permanent war footing: The Cold War.
In his annual message to the Congress, delivered January 12, 1951, Truman opened with these words announcing the birth of the national security state:
We face enormously greater economic problems, as I transmit this fifth annual Economic Report, than at any time since the end of World War II. Although our economic strength is now greater than ever before, very large new burdens of long duration are now being imposed upon it.
The United States is pledged and determined, along with other free peoples, to cheek [sic] aggression and to advance freedom. Arrayed against the free world are large and menacing forces. The great manpower under the control of Soviet communism is being driven with fanatic zeal to build up military and industrial strength. We invite disaster if we underestimate the forces working against us.
The economic strength of the free peoples of the world is, however, superior to that of their enemies. If the free nations mobilize and direct their strength properly, they can support whatever military effort may be necessary to avert a general war or to win such a war if it comes. The resources are on our side. The only question is whether they will be used with speed and determination. The answer will depend upon unity of purpose and of action–unity among the free nations, unity here in the United States.
Unity is imperative on the economic front. On this front, under the American system, everybody is involved–every businessman, worker and farmer; every banker and scientist and housewife; every man and woman. We can win our way through to ultimate triumph if we all pull together. Decisive action, essential to our safety, should not be halted by controversy now.
Truman, in his report, explains the implications of a conflict with the Soviet Union of a very long duration:
These manpower needs will call both for increasing our labor force by reducing unemployment and drawing in women and older workers, and for lengthening hours of work in essential industries. These manpower requirements can be met. There will be manpower shortages, but they can be solved.
For those readers whose critical facilities have been dulled by countless hours of exposure to American Idol, what we have here are the words of a craven hustler — a two-bit con artist trying to sell you something you don’t need. Washington is in the business of selling security and its sales methodology is the practice of sowing fear of chaos, terror, and the unspeakable strange unknown. This sales strategy required the creation of an adversary to the “American system”, as well as its domestic avatar buried deep within the populace, to create a pervasive sense of vulnerability and distress among the population. It doesn’t matter that this adversary is Soviet communism or “Islamofascism”, nor that its domestic avatar appear in the form of a devout Muslim citizen or communist trade union activist; what matters is that the threat be, at the same time, pervasive and discrete, universal and particular, potentially life-threatening and merely strange.
This impeccably crafted direct appeal to the collective lizard brain of society, which paralyzes critical thought as our painfully slow brain tries to calculate the odds that the Sikh gentleman sitting in front of us on the bus might be strapped with explosives — renders critical thinking useless, and, therefore, a mere impediment to the apprehension of our empirical circumstances, reduces each of us to a suggestible sheeple, and set us up for acquiescence to the burden of providing Washington with ever greater hours of unpaid labor.
On the one hand, this “service” provided by Washington is very profitable to capital in its own right, since it requires enormous amounts of otherwise unprofitable output in the form of every imaginable thing from paperclips to the most advanced spy satellites, and launchers to put them in orbit. On the other hand, the demand for these products are the very kinds of superfluous expenditures that become increasingly necessary for the continuation of this social form of production.
Once the identity of interest between capital and the State in the longest possible extension of hours of labor is established, it is possible to understand not only Washington’s hostility to work time reduction as the means to end unemployment, but also its imposition of the regime of global competition on the American economy, its facilitation of companies moving industrial facilities and service jobs off-shore, and its hypocritical promotion of amnesty for undocumented immigrants: the capitalist state is a state that must operate according the laws of capital because it is founded entirely on the consumption of the surplus labor created by capital.
It also helps us explain the abandonment of the 99ers to their fate, the impending evisceration of the social safety net and the brutality of the austerity regime now being prepared by Washington. Far from merely falling under the control of Wall Street, Washington itself wants and needs this brutal assault on the living standards of Americans because all other methods of increasing the extraction of surplus value have failed.
Tags: 99ers, Bailout, Barack Obama, cold war, communism, economic policy, fascism, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, free trade, Harry Truman, Immigration, Islamofascism, Karl Marx, New Deal, NSC-68, off-shoring, political-economy, recession, shorter work week, soviet union, stupid Washington tricks, superfluous labor, surplus labor time, surplus value, Tax Cuts, Tax Policy, Trickle Down Economics, unemployment, Wall Street, war
In my rant yesterday, What help for the 99ers?, I made an argument why folks who support the 99ers should nevertheless oppose extension of unemployment compensation beyond 99 weeks. That argument made what might be considered an obscure connection between the unemployed and the large body of “public servants” who compose the state machinery of repression, totalitarian control and imperial expansion.
Let me add a few remarks to clarify how I see this connection.
To do this, we have to look at Karl Marx — not the infamous icon of Marxism, but the real guy, the writer and, to some extent, anthropologist of capitalist society — Often the two get conflated, so that, for instance, the utterances of any knucklehead running around with a copy of the Communist Manifesto sometimes is mistaken for the actual words written down on paper by the original person.
In Marx’s model of capitalist society, the unemployed worker is not an accidental occurrence and should not be treated apart from the labor force itself. The unemployed worker is a reserve force available to capital for those periods where new profitable opportunities or requirements for additional labor suddenly open up. The idled worker makes it possible for these new areas to be exploited by providing the additional labor capacity necessary to take advantage of them. This reserve also serves a function of depressing wages during times of depressions, when capital rationalizes its operation to resume profitable expansion by pressing wages below their cyclical average.
Thus, unlike economists, who treat unemployment as an aberration, a defect, or failure of the market, Marx believed a relative surplus population of workers was essential to the functioning of the capitalist system of production itself. The constant expansion and contraction of the labor reserve is consistent with his comprehensive model of capital in which, for example, the price of a good had to fluctuate according to the laws of supply and demand, and only reflected the value of the good through the moving average of these fluctuations. Capitalism is a social system of production carried on by millions of individuals acting privately — unless the system itself had flexibility to adjust to billions of differing and even contradictory decisions each day it would soon break apart.
In times of unusually vigorous expansion, and even for war, the great mass of this population of unemployed would be “called up” (both metaphorically and actually in the case of the military draft) to fill needed positions in industry or on the battlefield. Thus, the “liquidity” of the reserve source of labor power is not simply a matter of business concern, but also a matter of state. So, for example, it is not a surprise to see a statement by White House in the debate over the DREAM Act explaining why the act would be useful for its ongoing military operations:
Secretary of Defense Gates has written to DREAM Act sponsors citing the rich precedent of non-citizens serving in the U.S. military and stating that “the DREAM Act represents an opportunity to expand [the recruiting] pool, to the advantage of military recruiting and readiness.
The size of the reserve labor force is not determined by the means available to expand the scale of productive activity, but to expand activity that creates profit and for purposes of State. But, this purely cyclical movement in unemployment is not of the least concern to us, because it merely masks a longer term trend identified by Marx: the conversion of this reserve labor force from a relative oversupply of labor into an absolute oversupply of labor.
Over time the improvement in the productive capacity of labor — by augmentation with new types of machinery, new methods of organizing work, application of new scientific knowledge, and technology — is increased to such an extent that the relative proportion of workers who can be employed productively shrinks and a permanently unemployable reserve of labor emerges. (Today, this unemployable reserve consists not only of the 99ers, but also a massive hidden population of young people who have never entered the labor force and who, in addition, compose the largest part of the swollen prison population.) This permanently unemployable reserve — a growing stratum of the labor force rendered entirely superfluous by the advance of industry — loses its opportunity to engage in productive labor and is reduced to serving only as a market for the output of the productively employed labor force.
Along with the emergence of a permanently displaced population of workers we find the emergence of the fascist state — a peculiar type of state organism combining both a permanent war footing with an extensive social safety network of state provided services. Although this state is typically identified with German Nazism and Italian Fascism it is not limited to them, but emerges in all the industrialized nations during the Great Depression, and is the essential feature of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The social basis of these fascistic entities is the general clamor among all classes in capitalist society for state action to preserve the conditions of existence of the society; namely, the purchase and sale of labor power. It is for this reason the fascist state appears on the scene as the embodiment of the national interest and asserts the populist idea of a national rebirth through a pan-class coalition.
The charge of this state, as imposed by general social demand on it, is to employ the unemployable, and hence, to provide the demand for the output of industry. From this point, political-economy becomes concerned with the problem of consumption of the massive and ever growing output of industry. The fact that the emergence of an absolute oversupply of labor implies the possibility of a drastic reduction in hours of labor for all in society, and, therefore, the awareness of the possibility that society might be entirely freed from labor and the system of domination inherent in the division of labor is, from this point, not only ignored, but actively suppressed. Thus, we see, from the end of World War II, that discussion of the idea improving productivity would lead to the abolition of labor disappears from economic textbooks — to be replaced by the phrase, “the lump of labor fallacy”.
The erasure from economic textbooks of the idea that a reduction and ultimate abolition of labor was the probable outcome of improving productivity foreshadowed last night’s news that the House of Representatives had abandoned the 99ers to their fate. As we showed in the case of the Obama administration, Washington is not merely unaware that unemployment can be wiped out by drastically reducing hours of work, it is hostile to the idea.
Why is Washington ignoring the 99ers, and why is it hostile to the great question of work time reduction? We will answer this in the next post.
Tags: 99ers, Bailout, Barack Obama, economic policy, fascism, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Karl Marx, New Deal, NSC-68, political-economy, recession, shorter work week, stupid Washington tricks, Tax Cuts, Tax Policy, Trickle Down Economics, unemployment, Wall Street, war
I am having a “marxist moment” today. The Obama tax deal, in addition to its other flaws, has completely excluded mention of those who first lost their jobs in 2008 and early 2009, when the worst of the layoffs hit the economy. Millions have already exhausted their benefits, and perhaps 4 million more will join them in the next few months.
So what is to be done for them?
Think about a situation where an unemployment check is fifty, seventy or even ninety percent of the income in your household. And, now, that income is approaching imminent termination. You have probably run through your savings, stopped paying credit card debt and the mortgage; you may even be parking the car away from home to avoid repossession. The crisis was not your fault. You never made sub-prime loans, nor was your own home purchase financed by the deliberate fraud of a liar’s loan. You weren’t the one who bundled those loans and sold them to Iceland and pension funds. You probably never missed a payment on your mortgage, auto or credit card loans until that day the company announced it was shutting down your entire division and began handing out severance checks.
At the risk of personalizing this discussion, I know people like this — one is a neighbor, another is a friend and former co-worker at a debt mill run by a large financial company. The debt manufacturer has a seat on the Federal Reserve Bank, and when its debt creating operation ran into the difficulty, it ran to Uncle Sam to bail it out — just another welfare queen in an Armani suit.
I DVR’d the CEO of Motorola talking on PBS Newshour yesterday, because I couldn’t believe what I had heard — I had to record it, so I could look at it today and confirm that, yes, he is that much a self-absorbed bastard. The CEO had just exited a gathering with President Obama of corporate bosses discussing what it would take for the nation’s largest companies to start hiring again. He opined that the administration was moving in the right direction and that President Obama had made a good deal with the Republicans in congress for across the board extension of President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, which are heavily weighted toward the income of the top one percent of the population. The CEO praised the agreement for its effect in ending much of the uncertainty surrounding the administration’s tax policy.
Now, he said, we had to get serious about the deficit and deal with entitlements.
This morning I am trying really hard to avoid playing the class war card. Playing the class war card in these circumstances doesn’t require any creativity or thoughtful response. It is the political equivalent of yanking back your hand from a hot stove. Yes, corporate CEOs are ruthless narcissistic bastards, who have stripped the nation of its productive assets, moved them offshore, and left us with a hollowed out economy devoted to imperial adventures. And, the situation of the 99ers is pitiable. In conversation with my friend and with my neighbor, I have survivor’s guilt — and this, when I just might be the next dead hostage.
Yes, President Obama is a shameless whore who sold out his sacred pact with his supporters at the first opportunity!
Yes, the 99ers are at the point of extreme financial duress and tilting dangerously on the edge of physical existence!
Yet, for all of this the move by the Congressional Black Caucus to introduce an amendment to President Obama’s and the GOP’s tax cut deal by extending unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks must be opposed. That, this deal is an ugly filthy thing from the progressive perspective is obvious. But, no amount of sweetner will make horse urine taste like champagne. No more than will allowing gays to serve openly change the fact that they are now allowed to be openly gay while carrying out the military policy of an empire.
But, my opposition goes beyond simply “rejecting the good for the perfect” — a child-like refusal to accept compromise: The CBC’s proposal is itself to be condemned because it extends the dependence of the 99ers on state handouts and does not call on both those who are working and those who are unemployed to put an end to this dependence, and the larger dependence on selling themselves into slavery to survive. I think we should be sickened by the recent AFL-CIO internet commercial which portrays the 99ers as helpless, vulnerable victims of economic forces over which they have no control. A depression is not a natural disaster; we are not helpless victims of some financial force of nature beyond our control.
It is a matter of demonstrable fact that the Obama administration knows that all it takes to eliminate unemployment in this society forever is a large reduction in hours of work. His former economic adviser, Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, and former Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, stated this directly:
“I think we got the Recovery Act right,” Larry Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, said in an interview. “The primary objective of our policy is having more work done, more product produced and more people earning more income. It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that’s not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work.”
Preferable for whom? For the state, of course, which now has ample excess resources it can put to work expanding the empire. Resources that, having no possible productive employment opportunity, can be employed for whatever unproductive purpose Washington demands. Beyond simply holding down the wages of those who work, the unemployed are the cannon fodder of empire, the TSA gropers, the bureaucrats ceaselessly promulgating new directives that other bureaucrats enforce. They are the drug enforcement agents, the cultivators of every new would-be “muslim terrorist”, the operators of a vast systematic destruction of young minds in the guise of public education. They are the operator of the largest prison population on the planet — a filthy, vile, unspeakable chamber of horrors that excels only in spreading disease and moral breakdown.
The CBC’s proposal not only does not address these concerns, it reinforces them and promises only to extend them indefinitely. A consistent anti-statist position has to call for the end of all unemployment compensation and its replacement by a large reduction in hours of labor.
Tags: Bailout, Barack Obama, economic policy, Federal Reserve, financial crisis, NSC-68, political-economy, recession, shorter work week, stupid Washington tricks, Tax Cuts, Tax Policy, Trickle Down Economics, unemployment, Wall Street, war
In an interview with Michael Moore Bill O’Reilly stated ‘it’s not a lie if you believe it to be true’ as a defense for the lies and wars of President Bush. This statement ‘it’s not a lie if you believe it to be true’ is telling if you have seen much of O’Reilly. He has the habbit of inviting guests on and not actually letting them present an opposing argument. He is able to maintain his stance without opposition because he does not hear an opposing view.
O’Reilly often makes demands of his guests to bow to his tyrannical views without allowing truth to be spoken. If they begin to speak against his narrow view he will shut them down with insults and by simply speaking louder. If you speak a lie enough times people will believe it. O’Reilly uses this to his advantage by reciting the same uncritical responses we were given initially with no intent on ever questioning anything the warfare party has dictated.
His arguments are often those that defend the violent actions of the state by claiming something is immoral or may lead to a negative condition. He by default assumes this justifies the authority of the state to initiate force on human beings. For by not questioning or hearing facts O’Reilly is able to tell untruths based on his idea that ‘it’s not a lie if you believe it to be true’. His thought process is dangerously pathological. It spreads his psychotic stance for violence and his unquestioned biases by repeating the lie enough times that his viewers believe it to be true.
This article was originally posted here.
Warfare is the central hubris of the state. I recently wrote an article that invoked much anger and appreciation: Fear and Loathing in the U.S.M.C. For God & Country. As I watched the reactions to the article and discussions around the internet I noticed something. Those who were most angry with the article defended the brainwashing techniques of the U.S.M.C. as necessary to carry out the warfare they saw as necessary. Some questioned if the goal could be reached by different means. Few actually asked the questions I often ask and challenge others to ask. Do we need this military and these wars to begin with?
Alan Moore once stated: “00001% of the worlds’ population that causes 99.99999% of the worlds problems… It is leaders.” The statist would teach us that these wars are for our good and for our protection. The statist would say that by this act of mass murder we find freedom. When I write of how elements like the military are the might of this government power I oppose, people become angered. The statist will tell me that some evil gang will come in use violence against us and take control. Many will say that some evil power will abuse the freedom that exists under Anarchy. I completely agree that is exactly what has happened.
We live in anarchy naturally. Anarchy is the natural state of humankind. We just so happen to live in that badly conceived anarchy that people fear where the most aggressive powerful gangs have gained control and asserted their tyranny on every corner of the globe.
In order for these criminal gangs to maintain control they must use the force of their military and police. It is a simple concept, kill or cage those who will not agree with us. There is nothing new in all of this. As I pointed out in: The natural history of the state, government is a barbaric criminal model used for personal gain. The government apologists use utilitarian arguments to justify their crimes against humanity. Truly what use is a military? Well self defense of course, except when it’s not. Often the state justifies it’s invasions with utilitarian apologetics to paint it as defense. The case if Iran comes to mind. Operation Ajax was used in the 1953 to gain power over another state leading to a long history of attack and retaliation.
We need defense not invasion forces. The statist truly realizes this which is why they will justify the invasions of the state by claiming the offense is defense. The initiation of force is not defense. The initiation of aggression is invasion. The idea of ‘get them before they get us’ is the classic conservative battle cry. Without this criminal power the state ceases to exist, and all the systems that remain become voluntary. It is this society we are striving for. Not the savage rape and pillage model that the state is as seen in the natural history of government, but a truly civilized society.
I pointed out in my article: Anarchy for Conservatives, if the pro-state conservative claims to cling to the idea that products and services improve under a free market why would defense not be improved by ending the government monopoly? I make this point because the conservative tends to be the biggest pro-militant voice. Maybe the system of defense will not immediately see improved models, but with time we can make those advancements. The exact advancements are unpredictable and irrelevant. What is relevant is that defense is removed from the state monopoly so such advancements can begin.
I found this video posted at AnonOps and felt I should share it.
Tell us who is the terrorist?
Youtube has removed the video. This alternative copy is available.
We first posted this on December 20th 2010.
The video was removed for graphic content. I am certain I have seen more graphic content on the site, but with one major difference. The other graphic content is mostly to laugh at or to have fun watching. The depiction of the real violence we are guilty of is apparently too much for some. This is some serious bullshit if you ask me. The truth must be seen and shown.
A man walked into a diner wearing a red jacket adorned with the logo and emblem of a certain sports team, the team of an out of town school. The conversation between the waitress and patrons began to evolve into a competition between what school team they supported, and how the school they attended was superior. This odd competition seems to be common place in society. Human history is speckled with this mindset. This concept is seen in the micro with local towns and school competition to the macro as seen with Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich and the desire to put one race above all others. Somewhere within culture man has developed a concept of “Us vs. Them”. Karl Marx saw the problem arise in the bourgeoisie, a group of capitalists seen as evil and exploitative (Marx, 02). This is also seen in the nomadic tribes throughout ancient Mesopotamia, and support for their gods, or at a level of a local inner city gang who defends their colors and traditions.