The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

Part 2: How the Khoikhoi taught the labor theory of value to European merchant capital

Subjectivity and early fixed exchange systems

Under the conditions Graeber posits — simple commodity exchange among potentially hostile neighboring groups that are themselves internally bound by moral relations —  the determinants of the fixed exchange ratio schedules anthropologists find are not likely to be subjective. And this is for the same reason that the exchange ratios between differing products of labor are fixed in the first place: to avoid conflicts that could spill over into war between communities.

khoe-jjIf, in the middle of a gathering for purposes of exchange between hostile groups of hardened combatants, individuals had to sort out their subjective arguments for why, say, eighteen, and not fourteen, arrow heads should exchange for one canoe, and if these subjective arguments differed among individuals on both sides of the dispute, what is the likely outcome of this process? How long could any given fixed exchange ratio be relied upon to remain fixed should a dispute break out?

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Part 1: Some thoughts on David Graeber, barter and the invention of money

I have been reading Engels “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” — and it is fascinating. To accompany it, I looked for recent works that more or less critique it, employing scientific information available after the book was written.

ancient-mesopotamian-inventions-3My first stop was this very good David Graeber response to the bourgeois economist, Robert F. Murphy, On the Invention of Money.. It is pretty good to have a communist who can call bullshit on everyone in the room on the basis of scientific expertise. Graeber, for instance, make this observation of the explanation for money offered by mainstream economics:

“Just in way of emphasis: economists thus predicted that all (100%) non-monetary economies would be barter economies. Empirical observation has revealed that the actual number of observable cases—out of thousands studied—is 0%”

Ha! I wish I had wrote that line.

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“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there”

If you ever want to make a good case against communism to a worker, tell her that communists want the following things:

  • Everyone is unemployed
  • No one has any income
  • Democracy no longer exists
  • No one can own anything

The paradox of communism is that it appears to involve conditions that are absolutely unacceptable to any rational person. Who in their right mind wants to give up having a job that pays a decent wage, the right to vote and control over means of production? And why would anyone who claims to fight for social emancipation stand for these sorts of things.

NEW_EARTH_9Yes, you can try to clean this shit up by saying, “Oh, I don’t mean everyone is unemployed; what I meant is no more wage labor”, but people are not dumb. They know that when you write  “No more wage labor”, what you really mean is  “100% unemployment.” They know that communist want to put everyone out of a job — which, if you communists ever succeed, will kill the economy and, in most scenarios they can imagine, plunge us all into poverty.

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Labor Theory and Accelerationism by the numbers

In my last post I showed why an accelerationist interpretation of historical materialism was understood by Marx to be embedded in his theory. However, the criticism leveled by Ben Noys might still be considered valid by some Marxists who refused to acknowledge my references.

Nick Land accelerationism as seen through the writing of Ben Noys

First, those criticisms include the charge that Marx’s own writings might lend themselves to “a religious, even apocalyptic, interpretation of historical materialism.” This is a difficult charge to counter simply by referencing the texts alleged to be prone to apocalyptic interpretations. Almost anyone dumb enough to take Noys argument seriously on this point is not likely to dissuaded of it by any references to the actual texts written by Marx.

Second, Noys charges that Marx was engaging in speculation about the tendencies inherent in capitalism. This is a common enough argument that has been employed by many Marxists to argue against the very idea capitalism will collapse of its own inherent contradictions. Almost nothing can be said that will convince those who believe capitalism can only be overthrown by a political revolution — and this includes the vast majority of Marxists — will ever accept that capitalism will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

Third, he accuses some writers of implying “that by a kind of radical or quasi-Marxist ‘cunning of reason’ the very worst will produce the ‘good’”. And this is a charge often made against Nick Land by any number of writers who are familiar with his writings. Judging by what I have read, almost all Marxist writers who have commented on Land’s brand of accelerationism seems to accept accelerationism necessarily implies deep suffering for the working class.

Despite the above difficulties, in this post I want to show why accelerationism is not only consistent with the labor theory of value, I will go further to show that it is actually impossible to hold to the labor theory of value and not acknowledge the possibility inherent in the mode of production to accelerate capitalism to its demise. While the advocates of accelerationism like Nick Land often have a vulgar interpretation of what accelerationism means in the context of labor theory, folks like Ben Noys who oppose accelerationism do this on the basis of complete opposition to labor theory itself.

Simply stated: You cannot oppose the idea of accelerating the demise of capitalism unless you also oppose labor theory of value. The opponents of accelerationism are just opponents of the labor theory of value within Marxism and should be exposed for who they are.

So, let us begin:

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In labor theory value is the product of living labor, its measure is the duration of expenditure of this living labor, “so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary”.

The social labor day is no more than the sum of the individual labors expended in production of value during a typical labor day of 8 hours. Assuming all labor expended is “no more than is socially necessary” for production of commodities, the social labor day of society is simply this 8 hours times the total population of social producers.

If there are 1,000 social producers, the social labor day will be 8,000 hours; if there are 1 million social producers, the social labor day will be 8,000,000 hours. In either case, the duration of the social labor day is not a mystery being a simple function of the total population of social producers and the normal labor day.

If the normal labor day should change from 8 hours to 10 hours or from 8 hours to 6 hours, the social labor day will be proportionally altered. For a population of 1,000 social producers it will, in the first example. rise from 8,000 hours to 10,000 hours; and, in the second instance, fall from 8,000 hours to 6,000 hours. Thus, in labor theory, the actual length of the social labor day is determined both by the total population of social producers and the individual hours contributed by each.

There is no distinction to be made between 1,000 social producers working 8 hours each and 1,200 social producers, each working 6.67 hours. Each of these examples produces exactly the same quantity of value — 8,000 hours. If the sum total of the material requirements of the community of social producers requires 8,000 hours of labor, each will provide this. On the other hand, 1,000 social producer working 6.67 hours a day can never produce as much value as 1,000 working 8 hours a day.

This is how the situation appears in a community of social producers; however in the capitalist mode of production things are different. To go back to our first example: 1,000 social producers working 8 hours a day will produce 8,000 hours of value.

But here we make a distinction: each of the social producers are paid wages of four hours of value and four hours are the profit of capital. Although there are 8,000 hours of value produced during the social labor day, this value is divided between 4000 hours of wages and 4,000 hours of profit.

In the previous example we assumed 1,000 workers, working 8 hours per day would produce as much as 1,200 workers working 6.67 hours per day — a total of 8,000 hours of value. There is no change in the total value produced in either circumstances; however, the wages of each worker is equal to four hours of labor and this does change.

In the first instance 1,000 workers would have wages of 4,000; in the second instance 1,200 workers would have wages of 4,800 hours. By the same token, the profits of capital would shrink from 4,000 hours in the first example to 3,200 hours in the second. Reducing hours of labor, even when it results in an increase in the total population of workers employed, must result in a fall in the rate of profit. In our very simple example, the rate of profit falls from 4000/8000 = 50%, to 3200/8000 = 40%.

What impact does a fall in the rate of profit have on the capitalist mode of production? In asking this question, I am not concerned about why the rate of profit fell, but only what impact such a fall has on capitalism? In the example I am using, the fall in the rate of profit is induced by a reduction of hours of labor not from the overproduction of capital. But in both cases the rate of profit has fallen and will have the same impact on capital. The fall in the rate of profit has the same impact on a mode of production where the goad of production is profit, no matter what the source of the fall.

This impact was detailed by Marx in chapter 15 of volume three; but it was also explained more concisely in chapter 15 of volume 1. In volume 1, Marx explained the resulting fall in the rate of profit would compel the capitalists to introduce improved machinery of production in an attempt to restore the rate of profit. At the same time, the fall would reduce the number of firms that could operate profitably, leading to the concentration and centralization of capital in fewer hands.

Through these two mechanisms, the fall in the rate of profit would mature, “the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of production, and thereby provides, along with the elements for the formation of a new society, the forces for exploding the old one.”

Now, the question posed is this: Does Marx call on “a religious, even apocalyptic, interpretation of historical materialism” to arrive at his conclusion? Is Marx engaging in ‘unclear speculation’ about the tendencies inherent in the mode of production? Is Marx implying “that by a kind of radical or quasi-Marxist ‘cunning of reason’ the very worst will produce the ‘good’”?

Obviously not. Marx is simply employing his own explanation for “how capitalism works” to briefly explain the implications of his model.

The only honest objection to Marx’s own explanation of how the reduction of hours of labor could be used to accelerate capitalism into its demise that is possible is that capitalism doesn’t work the way Marx thought it did. Marx isn’t stating “I have faith the immanent tendencies of the present will bring down capitalism.” Instead, he spends 15 chapters showing in excruciating detail how he thinks capitalism works and then briefly discusses the implications of his model. And the implications were that the movement for the eight hours day could accelerate capitalism’s own drive to its demise. Marx was, in other words, showing the inherent revolutionary implications of the movement to limit hours of labor.

Marx’s argument is painstakingly built up from the first sentence in Capital to reach the conclusions he comes to in chapter 15 that it is possible to accelerate the demise of capitalism by a movement to reduce hours of labor. All of this is summarily dismissed by any one of dozens of “Marxist” academics who have never really even read him and who base their own conclusions on what some other fucking hopeless asshole academic wrote.

There is a method to my madness on labor theory: Any time some fucking academic writes anything stating a disagreement with Marx, I assume he or she is full of shit until proven otherwise. I may not at first know why he or she is full of shit, but I go back and read Marx in order to figure it out.

I.

Have.

Never.

Been.

Wrong.

In.

This.

Assumption.

So when people like Ben Noys accuses Marx of a religious apocalyptic conception of history, I go read Marx to see his evidence. I compare what Ben Noys writes with the actual text to judge for myself why a “Marxist” is calling Marx a ‘Moonie’. Because I really want to know why a “Marxist” is appropriating the arguments of well-known anti-communists to refute accelerationism. If accelerationism can be refuted, there is no reason why labor theory cannot do this without the arguments of anti-communists like Karl Popper.

Marx’s big error

post-work2I came across this comment by JD Taylor on accelerationism, in a post that seems to adopt Ben Noys’ argument in toto:

“Secondly, a tactic like Accelerationism acts either as a ludicrous and fatalistic defence of Capital, or a strategy that is just too vague to implement and which, in whatever small cases it is worked, will mainly serve to alienate others and get that person sacked, making the Left look even more obscure and confusing.”

There is, says the writer, some big problems with accelerationism:

“There’s some clear flaws with Accelerationism. The Marxist logic itself, for one. Ok, we defeat Capitalism (hurrah hurrah implied, but why would we want to do this though?) by pushing its inherent contradictions – it’s gonna blow anyway, with a religious redemptive revolution at the end of it, let’s push it faster, exacerbate the conditions for revolution! So does that mean, as local govt employees, we actually strive to make living conditions worse?”

And this conceals an even bigger set of problems:

“Secondly, why do we assume history is on our side? This is something Alex Williams is particularly guilt of in his dual-analysis of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ accelerationism, in another post on his blog, Splintering Bone Ashes. Weak Accelerationism drives capitalism towards point of communist revolution by foregrounding its internal contradictions, which in real terms means making things worse, which presupposes that the proletariat might not just rise up against their middle-class and marginal left-wing overlords who are acting to manipulate the markets and criticise trade unionism. Strong Accelerationism in contrast poses whether accelerated processes of Capital itself might fundamentally alter them, and in doing so alter subjectivity towards the inhuman, beyond any revolution.”

The problems posed by the writer points to a huge error Marx probably had not anticipated in his theory:

Marxists would be too dumb to figure anything out on their own.

They would, instead, simply circle around the same old arguments over and over again until capitalism just finally collapsed on its own without their help.

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Apocalypse, accelerationism and the unscrupulous argument of Ben Noys

I.

aggIn his essay, “Apocalypse, tendency, crisis”, Ben Noys begin innocently enough by appropriating the anti-communist charge that several well known Marxists have a religious, even apocalyptic, interpretation of historical materialism. However, he explains, he isn’t going to hold it against them:

“I’m not concerned with the old Cold War trope that Marxism is really a form of religion with its own eschatology.”

After which, bizarrely enough, Noys goes on to accuse these Marxists of being just that:

“I am, however, critiquing the remnants of a religious model of providence, in which we suppose history is necessarily on our side.”

I like how, in the opening paragraph of this essay, Noys employs the words of the anti-communist author, Norman Cohn, to accuse Marxists of having “apocalyptic desires”. It really is a nice touch to see a Marxist editor of the journal, Historical Materialism, basically accuse Marxists of being moonies while slyly distancing himself from the charge.

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Srnicek’s horrifying glimpse into the Left Accelerationist future

If I am reading his essay Navigating Neoliberalism: Political Aesthetics in an Age of Crisis correctly, it seems that Nick Srnicek thinks increased application of technology and art can help the Left to visualize global productive activity as a Nasa-Control-e1376606139231totality and thus render the Left’s politics more coherent and viable.

If I understand his argument correctly, (and I want to emphasize this caveat, because he has told me he doesn’t recognize his argument in my first comments on twitter), he appears to believe that it may have been once possible for the Left “to make our own world intelligible to ourselves through a situational understanding of our own position”, but this is no longer the case:

“Jameson argues that at one time the nature of capitalism was such that one could potentially establish a correspondence between our local phenomenological experiences and the economic structure that determined it.”

However, with a globalized economy:

“We can no longer simply extrapolate from our local experience and develop a map of the global economic system. There is a deficiency of cognitive mapping, that is to say, there is an essential gap between our local phenomenology and the structural conditions which determine it.”

Why would this be a problem for the Left? Again, following this guy Jameson, Srnicek argues it becomes increasingly difficult to develop a socialist politics without the ability to conceptualize the social totality.

“With globalised capitalism having become unbound from any phenomenological coordinates, this possibility for a socialist politics has become increasingly difficult.”

Srnicek thinks it helps explain why, although neoliberalism is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, the Left has not been able to exploit this collapse to realize an alternative vision of society. There is an “abyssal void at the heart of alternative political thinking”, expressed in the “woefully inadequate” Occupy movement and a regressive longing to return to fascism’s Golden Age of the 1960s.

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“All Slaves Should Get Sundays Off”: Richard Wolff on the four day work week

Richard Wolff, clueless economist that he is, has even managed to fuck up a discussion of hours of labor reduction. He has written a very interesting piece in Truthout proposing a reduction of the workweek with no cut in pay. The idea is very attractive, and Wolff is a ‘celebrity’ Marxist who can give the issue wide circulation.

richard_wolff_photoIn principle I have no opposition to Wolff’s proposal, which at least raises the possibility that the present 40 hours work week was not handed down from Mt. Sinai on two tablets of stone. Wolff shows why we can set any number of hours of labor as the social norm that we want.

Unfortunately, almost from the first, Wolff mangles the discussion of hours of labor reduction in two important ways: First, by conflating his own reduction of hours of labor with several capitalist proposals to  ‘compress’ the work week into fewer days. Wolff never clearly distinguishes his proposal for a reduction of labor hours from the capitalists’ own proposal for a compression of the present 40 hours of labor into fewer days per week.

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To move forward, the Left must admit it has been a failure for forty years

A tweep tweeted this gem the other day and I honestly didn’t know how to respond to it:

“Inequality grew faster under Obama”

It would be no surprise to learn that the guy who wrote the tweet self-identifies as a “Breitbart conservative”. For some on the Left, his opinion can be safely ignored, because, as we all know, the ‘real cause’ of growing inequality in society is Boehner or the Koch Brothers, or the Tea Party. When you think about it, his argument is no more politically opportunistic than someone describing herself as an Obama Democrat blaming Boehner for the low wages of the working class.

The HemmingsWhile, by every measure, the headline is correct, what does it even mean to say inequality has grown faster under Obama? Is the tweep suggesting growing inequality is Obama’s fault? Is Obama personally responsible for it? Is the tweep implying the crisis would have turned out differently if, say, McCain or Romney had been elected?

I mean, as a communist, I have answers to headlines like this; but my answer operates on a whole different level from mainstream party politics. There are so many people who blame basic shit about capitalism on one or another party, administration or politician. And — yes — this would be intolerable for a communist or some advanced thinker, but, on another level, it is how the rest of the world actually thinks about capitalism. Most of the working class thinks the problems associated with capitalism can be blamed on Obama or Bush or some party.

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MMT and the United States as the international monetary sovereign

NOTE FOR THE READER: I want to reiterate that fascism, in the sense I use the term, only describes a state managed economy. I need to clarify again that my argument is not that modern money theory (MMT) is wrong, but that it correctly describes how fascism works. Nor do I wish to suggest that fascism means MMT is Nazism — many people who could never be described as Nazis embrace MMT insights. A fascist state, as I use the term, must be contrasted with a commune of the social producers, not with ‘democracy’ or a bourgeois republic. In fascism the bourgeois state manages the economic activity of the whole society, while a commune of social producers is self-managed. If the reader fails to keep these critical ideas in mind when reading this post, nothing much of my argument will make sense to you.

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A ‘sufficient’, but not ‘necessary’ cause?

At this point, I want to discuss a critical weakness in Tymoigne and Wray’s “Modern Money Theory 101: A Reply to Critics”, that is exposed when a third, external trade, sector is introduced to the simple two-sector MMT model of an reservecurrencieseconomy. In the simple two-sector model, the means of exchange used by society in its exchange relations is assumed to be supplied by the state. According to MMT, the preference for state issued inconvertible fiat currency — over commodity money or bank notes — is that the state imposes taxes for which it only accepts its currency as payment. This, the writers argue, is sufficient to explain what “drives” state fiat as currency:

“The simple fact is that almost all monies of account are ‘state monies’ and almost all government currencies do have taxes or other obligations standing behind them. Further, even if one can find a money of account and a currency that has no fee, fine, tax, tribute, or tithe backing it, that would not invalidate MMT. Perhaps Palley does not understand the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’ conditions: a tax (or other involuntary obligation) is sufficient to drive a currency; it might not be necessary. MMT theory relies on the sufficient condition, not the necessary condition.”

For the moment, I will overlook the questionable assertion that “almost all monies of account are ‘state monies'”. For July alone, in the US, consumer credit outstanding — a money form that is not in any way a ‘state money’ amounted to $3.2 trillion. This private money is, of course, denominated in US dollars, but it is a privately issued money form that seldom takes the form of state currency.

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