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On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – VI

In the last post I argued that, eventually, the state would have to find a way to pay working society for labor time that was not socially necessary on pain of its dissolution.

Well, “eventually” turned out to be somewhere around 1933, in the middle of the great Depression.

And, to be fair, the state did not set out to actually pay people for labor that was not socially necessary; it just kind of ended up that way.

What they set out to do was, among other things, save the social equivalent of our poor, doomed hand-loom weavers, poor doomed depression-era farmers.

Prices in 1933 were crashing in a deflationary death-spiral not unlike that faced by our poor doomed hand-loom weavers. The state was finally forced to intervene to take control of capitalist production, beginning with agriculture.

One source put it this way:

Within days of his inauguration in 1933, President Roosevelt called Congress into special session and introduced a record 15 major pieces of legislation. One of the first to be introduced and enacted was the AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Act. For the first time, Congress declared that [it] was “the policy of Congress” to balance supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers. This concept, outlined in the AAA, was known as “parity.” AAA controlled the supply of seven “basic crops” – corn, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, tobacco and milk – by offering payments to farmers in return for taking some of their land out of farming, not planting a crop.

As you can see from the above quote, the early Roosevelt fascist programs were based on a flawed idea: the state was “offering payments to farmers in return for taking some of their land out of farming, not planting a crop.”

Owing to the improvements in application of science and on the progress of technology in agriculture the need for human labor in the sector was plummeting. Consequently, the value of agricultural products and their prices plunged. Very quickly farmers found themselves in the same situation as our poor doomed hand-loom weavers: working long hours for very little return. Roosevelt promised he could fix this by, essentially, paying them to not grow stuff — an early example of what is now known as basic income.

It took a genius like Keynes to see the flaw in this dumb idea:

To judge from some utterances of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has been attracted to the idea of raising the prices of commodities by restricting their supply. Now, it may well benefit the producers of a particular article to combine to restrict its output. Equally it may benefit a particular country, though at the expense of the rest of the world, to restrict the supply of a commodity which it is in a position to control. It may even, very occasionally, benefit the world as a whole to organise the restriction of output of a particular commodity, the supply of which is seriously out of balance with the supply of other things. But as an all-round remedy restriction is worse than useless. For the community as a whole it reduces demand, by destroying the income of the retrenched producers, just as much as it reduces supply. So far from being a means to diminish unemployment, it is, rather, a method of distributing more evenly what unemployment there is, at the cost of somewhat increasing it

The only thing to be gained by paying farmers not to grow crops, said Keynes, is to make everyone in the farming community poorer!

As an alternative, Keynes proposed a rather startling axiom:

For commodities as a whole there can be no possible means of raising their prices except by increasing expenditure upon them more rapidly than their supply comes upon the market.

In other words, to stop the collapse of prices in the Great Depression, the state had to pay more for commodities despite their diminishing value.

Price would no longer express the socially necessary labor time required to produce a commodity, its value.

On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – Interlude

To be honest, it might have been a simple matter to save the hand-loom weavers. All it would have taken was to pay them for the actual labor time they had expended on the production of their commodities, rather than the socially necessary labor time required for the production of their commodities. A small price to pay to keep a community of artisans alive, right?

Some robber baron could have adopted them and paid them to reproduce their life in a Potemkin Village for 19th century tourists to gawk at.


But, here it is necessary to point out that the problem faced by our hand-loom weavers is of no consequence to society at large. The hand-loom weavers were doomed by the very development of industry and, therefore, of the forces of social production, itself. As doomed as the individual farmer or any other small-holder. The fate of the hand-loom weavers were simply part of historical moment Marx refers to a primitive accumulation of capital:

It comprises a series of forcible methods, of which we have passed in review only those that have been epoch-making as methods of the primitive accumulation of capital. The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless Vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent labouring individual with the conditions of his labour, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labour of others, i.e., on wage labour.

The hand-loom weavers could never be saved. And were this simply a matter of the poor, historically doomed hand-loom weavers, we would not be having this discussion.

However, the genius of Postone was that he correctly read Marx’s categories of Capital as forms of social domination:

I think that they are categories of social forms of domination. And those forms of domination go beyond the domination of the bourgeoisie over other class[es], because they dominate the bourgeoisie as well, though of course the bourgeoisie benefit enormously from it.

Which is to say, the problem faced by the poor, historically doomed hand-loom weavers — namely, the progressive hollowing out of their labor time by the advance of social production — had to eventually become a problem for the whole of bourgeois society in due time, i.e., the hollowing out of working society.

In this way, the hollowing out of working society became of matter of state policy:

Eventually, the state would have to find a way to pay working society for labor time that was not socially necessary on pain of its dissolution.


On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – V

In my previous post we saw that, through the progress of the development of the forces of social labor, an increasing portion of the working day of our poor hand-loom weavers no longer appeared to be socially necessary and thus no longer appeared to create value.

So have you ever wondered what happens to all the labor time that our hand-loom weavers spend producing their product that was not socially necessary?

Me neither.

To be honest, no one cares, actually; which is why almost no one produce anything by hand these days.

But, according to Postone, superfluous labor is still out there.

Masses of it — really, a whole lot more than you can imagine.

And not just in the U.S. Defense Department.

Scads, actually. Just a huge amount. The sheer amount would fry your brain trying to conceptualize.

All that labor time is still being expended by our poor latter-day hand-loom weavers without so much as a single second of real compensation by the market. It is just so much wasted labor time that creates no value and that consequently has no exchange value. And I think it accounts for what Postone calls the hollowing out of working society.

So we should try to quantify it, since a thing that can’t be measured probably doesn’t exist — even when a genius like Postone says it does.


According to Marx, the hand-loom weavers of the mid-19th century continued to require the same time as before to produce their products. What changed after the introduction of machine-power looms was the portion of their labor time that counted as socially necessary.

If we could chart the labor time expended by our hand-loom weavers that, from the point of view of the mode of production, was not socially necessary, over time, the percentage of the total labor time expended by our hand-loom weavers that was just wasted effort in terms of creating value might look some thing like this:

To be clear, this was not just labor time that created no value. Empirically, in Marx’s labor theory of value this labor time didn’t exist at all! It was stripped off by commodity exchange. Only labor time that creates value remains in Marx’s theory and socially necessary labor time remains as a residual because it alone is expressed as exchange value:

To quote Marx on this point:

Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value. The progress of our investigation will show that exchange value is the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest itself or be expressed.

A corollary of Marx’s argument is that labor time that is not socially necessary will not manifest itself or be expressed as exchange value. And this would be true even if the producer, owing to lack of work ethic, skills or appropriate implements, actually required this additional labor time to produce the physical use value — the last being the case for our hand-loom weavers.

Thus, despite their diligence and work ethic, our hand-loom weavers find that over time an hour of actual labor provides ever declining return in the market:

Now, of course, our hand-loom weavers cannot see the declining value of their product that follows the introduction of machine-powered looms into England. No one can see value in Marx’s labor theory of value. What they see is the declining amount of cash they are handed in return for their product and, because they are not stupid, they quickly associate the falling prices they are paid for their product with the tightness of the supply of money in circulation.*

The hand-loom weavers can make connections as well as any economist: they put two plus two together and come to the conclusion that money is the culprit!

Their industry can be saved if the money supply is loosened!

But how do we loosen the money supply to save the hand-loom weavers industry?


*This story never actually happened, of course. It is a pure invention of my imagination for purposes of illustration.

On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – IV

Now, let’s take liberties with Marx’s example from the first chapter of Capital.

To remind the reader, Marx makes this statement in its entirety:

Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, 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 labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

To summarize Marx complete statement, then, the value of a commodity is not determined by the quantity of labor actually expended on its production, but only that portion of the total labor power of society required to produce it under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labor prevalent at the time.

We have to make a distinction, as we did in the case of our hand-loom weavers in the previous post, between the actual time spent producing their commodity and the time spent producing it that counts as socially necessary labor time, i.e., value.

How might we make this distinction when, according to Marx, no one can see value? You already know this, of course. The value of one commodity can only be expressed in an exchange with another commodity. Which is why the system is called commodity production and exchange.

To paraphrase a famous physicist: “It’s commodities all the way down.”

When we applied Marx’s argument to our hand-loom weaver commodity, we produced this chart in the last post:

The chart makes a distinction between the actual labor time the hand-loom weavers spent producing their commodities and the portion of that labor time that was socially necessary labor time, i.e., the labor time that created value according to Marx.

Now, let’s take our liberty with Marx’s example from chapter 1 of Capital and assume several cycles during which improved machines are introduced into England, so that each successively reduce the socially necessary labor time required to produce the hand-loom weavers’ product by half again.

The chart for that might look like this:

Again, the red bars (to the rear) show the actual labor time expended by the hand-loom weavers, while the blue bars (to the front) show the value of the product produced by them. The value of the product is expressed in the prices paid to the weavers in the market when they go to sell their product.

The chart tells the ugly story: hand-loom weavers are being forced to work long hours to squeeze an ever diminishing quantity of value from their own labor time. Their working day is being progressively hollowed out by the simple progress of the application of improving machines.


Here we have just had a peek at the other side of the process that Postone famously describes in his paper, The Current Crisis and the Anachronism of Value: A Marxian Reading. This is a side of the process that is normally hidden from us.

Keep this side in mind because we will need it to understand what Postone means when he talks about the hollowing out of working society.

On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – III

In opposition to Postone, Martin Thomas argued this:

MT: There is a passage in [Marx’s] Theories of Surplus Value on the expansion of the middle class. But part of the picture is that much of what used to be thought of as the white-collar middle class is now working-class. And it is a fact that the industrial working class, and the working class more broadly defined, has been growing.

If before Martin Thomas confused the hollowing out of working society with mass unemployment, in the above passage he confuses the process Postone describes with the disappearance of the industrial working class and their replacement by a white-collar middle class. What is strange about Thomas’s statement is that the hollowing out of working society is actually one of the very first examples we have of the stylized presentation of the impact of machines on the value creating capacity of labor in Capital, volume 1.


In a passage discussing the introduction of power looms in England, Marx says this:

The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

Were we to present Marx’s argument graphically, it might look something like this:

As can be seen from the above chart, once machine-powered looms were introduced, the value created by one hour of hand-loom weaving fell by fifty percent — from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. (This is a stylized presentation of Marx’s argument, of course. I am relying solely on the text.) It goes without saying that the weavers did not see the fall in the value produced by their labor directly, of course. What they actually experienced was a fall in the price paid for their final product.

(Which is to say, it goes without saying, but I said it anyways.)


But how does this demonstrate a hollowing out of working society?

Good question.

Our hand-loom weavers now produce 30 minutes of value, but do they work only 30 minutes? No, to produce 30 minutes of value they must still work one hour of sixty minutes. We can graphically represent that requirement this way:

In the above chart, the red columns, positioned to the rear, represent the one hour each hand-loom weaver works. The blue column, positioned to the front, represents the value each hand-loom weaver produces. As you can see, after the introduction of machine-powered looms in England the mass of value produced by hand-loom weavers dropped rather dramatically in this stylized presentation.

Following Postone, we could say that the labor of the hand-loom weavers were hollowed out by the introduction of machine-powered looms into England; which is to say, the labor became less value creating per hours of expenditure.

Again, since the hand-loom weavers have no way to see the value they create, they would only notice this fall in the value of their product during an exchange — the price of their good would fall as machine-produced goods entered the market. Nevertheless their working day remained unaltered. In effect, they continued to work long hours for less than they had before. Likewise, there is nothing about the concept of the hollowing out of working society that suggests the working class disappears or works less than it did previously.

And, again, following Postone, this process I have just described has to be true not just for hand-loom weavers but for all classes in bourgeois society, including the capitalist class.

On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – II

First we need to talk about what is meant by the phrase, the hollowing out of working society: It is important to understand that the hollowing out of working society does not mean labor goes away any more than the hollowing out of a tree trunk means the tree goes away. In fact, working society may increase even as it becomes increasingly hollowed out, just as a tree can continue to grow for decades, even centuries, as its trunk becomes increasingly hollowed out.

The confusion over Postone’s employment of the term hollowing out may explain why Martin Thomas objected to Postone’s argument with this rather silly statement:

MT: But this isn’t a secular long-term increase in unemployment, for example. The long-term average level of unemployment rose over the 1970s, but since then unemployment has gone up and down with no clear rising trend. In the USA, for example, unemployment is actually lower now than in the 1970s.

Thomas clearly confuses the hollowing out of labor with mass unemployment. He further demonstrates this confusion in the following extended statement:

MT: In the UK, too, though. And the level of workforce participation is higher than it was. I don’t see a secular long-time rise in unemployment, or decline in workforce participation, but I do see a long-term trend of displacements of labour, in a way that, I think, obliges us to look again at how Marx has conceived of modern industry and the changes that have happened since.

You have a lot of people in jobs which are very poor quality jobs: not even making things, but watching things, or cleaning things, or looking after things. They are paid a lot lower. The work itself may be less physically exhausting, but it pushes you down in society in a way that the more arduous work that it replaced maybe didn’t.

Marx did not foresee this transformation. He saw machine-minders as the growing sector of the working class. But people in these expanding job areas are not machine-minders. They are cleaners, security guards, low-paid service workers. This is a shift, but it’s not just a shift towards more and more people becoming unemployed. Also, Marx was explicit that there is a component of the working class involved in design, repair, people who are technicians within the production process. At the time he is writing, it was numerically insignificant. It is not numerically insignificant now.

So we see three processes going on. The classic process of de-skilling, which goes on all the time, across the board. The process of the displacement of labour into jobs which are about not operating machines, but minding the conditions of the production process. And a continuously-rising mass of jobs which are to do with designing and maintaining the production process, which are generally more-skilled jobs and there is a process of trying to de-skill them.

The mass of teachers in schools and universities has increased enormously, for example. And at the same time there is a continuous process of trying to standardise, homogenise, de-skill. If there is a crisis there, there are three distinct processes going on; and none is quite a question of labour becoming superfluous. Certainly in Europe, the general trend is a rise in the participation rate.

Postone use the phrase hollowing out to describe what he thinks is taking place as a result of the rising ratio of constant capital to variable in production. According to Postone, there is a logical tendency for an ever larger population of workers to be permanently displaced from productive employment. But for all this employment does not go away, which is to say, the whole edifice of working society does not come crashing down; rather, working society — labor itself — is hollowed out.

Which should force us to ask an important question:

If the hollowing out of working society does not mean labor goes away, what does it mean?

On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – I

Presented here are both the genius of Moishe Postone’s analysis and it’s most important defect:

MP: I think the operaisti and I have very different understandings of what Marx’s categories mean. I don’t think that they are only categories of exploitation. I think that they are categories of social forms of domination. And those forms of domination go beyond the domination of the bourgeoisie over other classes, because they dominate the bourgeoisie as well, though of course the bourgeoisie benefit enormously from them.


So for [the operaisti] the crisis of the seventies, from which we still have not recovered, was a crisis that was brought on by the working class. I disagree with that because I think that they have no notion of valorisation difficulties other than wage struggle. Also, the enormous transformations of labour have occurred, and I think the operaisti hold the working class to be constant.

The chapter on accumulation [ch. 25] in Marx’s Capital volume 1 — which I didn’t write about, though I should have — arguably, is about the growing superfluity of a great deal of labour. A lot of people read the chapter on accumulation with an idea of the industrial reserve army of labour, and see that as simply a cyclical affair that allows capital to keep wages down by having a reserve which varies over the course of the business cycle. That isn’t false, but I think it is only one dimension of a longer term problem.

With the rise of constant capital, variable capital becomes less and less important, so the logical tendency is for the industrial reserve army to grow, rather than being just cyclical, and for that process to produce a crisis of labour. I don’t mean a crisis that causes the whole edifice to come crashing down. I think we are experiencing a crisis of labour right now. We are getting the hollowing out of working society. (My emphasis)

Postone makes several point that I think are significant here: first, Marx’s categories describe abstract social domination over both classes, not simply the domination of the proletarians by the bourgeoisie. Second, this process is determined by the long-term problem of the growing superfluity of labor and a growing crisis of labor. Third, the crisis does not immediately lead the “whole edifice to come crashing down”; rather, it leads to the hollowing out of working society.

The most important defect of Postone’s analysis is that he never was able to clarify what he meant by his argument that working society was being hollowed out. It is obvious that he intended there to be a distinction between the “hollowing out” of working society and the “whole edifice” of working society crashing down, but of what this distinction consists and how it might be represented in a way we can capture was never attempted by Postone.

So, let’s spend a few short blog posts trying to fix this. In the end, we should be able to graph Postone’s argument using actual historical data.

Are we headed to another Great Depression … or something else

I have been reading this argument for why the CoViD-19 emergency will not lead to collapse of capitalist accumulation: “No, we’re not heading toward the next Great Depression.” I am constantly on the lookout for articles like this, because they offer a counter-argument to my own and thus challenge my own argument with a skeptical fresh opinion.

In this case, the writer, Cullen Roche, appears to think that the question of the outcome of this emergency hinges “on the outcomes of an exogenous virus” epidemic. I think he is making an error in this view, a typical error made by most bourgeois simpletons, but one that is all too often shared by many communists as well. Whether the capitalist mode of production collapses at this point has nothing at all to do with the pandemic.

The pandemic, as we stated from the outset, is only the trigger for the crisis.


But let’s read his argument.

Following his view that the course of the pandemic will determine the course of the crisis, Roche sees two likely scenarios for how this crisis will play out: “short and sharp” and “shorter and sharper”.

Scenario Number One, which Roche thinks could last about 24 months, is the “shorter and sharper” of the two. It assumes that social distancing works, herd immunity builds, treatments improve, warm weather helps and we stave off the virus long enough for a vaccine to be developed before the next flu season.

Scenario Number Two, which Roche thinks may last as long as 36 months, is the “short and sharp” version of the crisis. This scenario assumes the virus mutates and lingers through the summer, decimating the population much like the Spanish Flu did in 1918.

While scenario number two lasts perhaps as long as three years, in neither case, should it take the so-called economy as much time to recover from the effects of the pandemic as it took to recover from the 2008-09 financial crisis. In Roche’s opinion, there is no possibility that we will suffer through an interminable recovery like the one society experienced during the Great Depression.

Which is probably great news for speculators like Roche, since, in truth, there was no actual recovery from the Great Depression. Instead, the United States and its allies just destroyed most of their competitors within the world market at the cost of some 80 million dead. The last imperialist power standing, the United States, picked up all of the marbles because everyone else was devastated by war.

Read the rest of this entry »

How the DSA is responding to the pandemic emergency – III

Continued from here

At one point, I said the DSA author’s People’s Recovery program was “a description of the United States (six months to a year from now) with unmitigated pandemic emergency measures?”

What do I mean by the term unmitigated pandemic emergency measures?

The short answer is that I am using an analogy with the response taken to the outbreak of the pandemic itself. To contain the pandemic itself the authorities have issued a number of stay-at-home orders. These orders confine citizens to their homes when not engaged in activities the state has deemed to be essential. The orders are meant to mitigate or slow the spread of the virus.

But the measures implemented by state and national governments to slow the spread of the virus themselves have an economic cost in that they displace millions of workers from their jobs and paralyze the process of capitalist accumulation world wide. The fascists hope (essentially) that this economic cost is transitory. They hope the accumulation process can be temporarily shut down and restarted much the same way a factory machine can be shut down at close of business one day and restarted when the business reopens the next.

But the economic cost is massive. As of today, in the United States, 33 million workers are known to have been separated from their jobs by these stay-at-home measures. (The actual number is probably closer to 50 million.) If these workers do not get rehired quickly, or if only a part of these workers get rehired, this will lead to a sudden violent alteration in the material conditions of the working class. The collapse of prices that have been so entertaining in the oil market will finally reach the market in labor power.

When I refer to unmitigated pandemic emergency measures, I am referring to what will happen if the state takes no steps to address the situation where 20 or 30 million workers remain unemployed once the stay-at-home measures are lifted and the so-called “economy is reopened”. Historical experience suggest, nation states will make little or no effort to help this massive population of unemployed workers, just as it made almost no effort in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the various countries in the so-called socialist bloc. Which means, tens of millions of workers in the United States, and billions worldwide, will be left without work or income and without any possibility of finding work or income.

The problem is not just the difficulty the virus itself poses for most types of social production — like working in offices, on production lines and in retail settings — nor is it the hesitation customers might have venturing out to restaurants, casinos and ball games again once the stay-at-home orders are lifted. These problems are real, of course, and they do complicate things. These are very real complications, but people are clever and we’ll figure out a way to work around them.

The real problem is that capitalists hate paying wages and if they could figure out how to generate profits without paying a dime to workers they would do it in a heartbeat. And as Benanev and Clegg somewhat clumsily explain, this tendency, built into capitalism, toward eliminating living labor in production, now has become so pronounced that recent recoveries tend to be jobless:

“Today many speak of a ‘jobless recovery’, but if the ‘general law of capital accumulation’ applies then all capitalist recoveries are tendentially jobless. The tendency of “mature” industries to throw off labour, whilst facilitating expanded reproduction, also tends to consolidate a surplus population not fully absorbed by the subsequent expansion. This is due to the adaptability of labour-saving technology across lines, which mean that the manufacture of new products tends to make use of the most innovative production processes. Yet process innovations last forever, and they generalize across new and old capitals, while product innovations are inherently limited in their ability to generate a net expansion of output and employment. Here the problem is not merely that product innovations have to emerge at an accelerated rate to absorb the surplus thrown off by process innovations, it is that an acceleration of product innovation itself gives rise to an acceleration of process innovation.”

Benanev and Clegg actually downplay the extent of the problem of jobless recoveries. In reality, there have been no expansion of wage employment in the last 90 years since the Great Depression without a significant stimulus on the part of the state to generate growth.

Which is a pity, because a jobless recovery under normal condition of the last forty years is bad enough when unemployment is marginal, but a jobless recovery with 20-50 million already unemployed implies a staggering superabundance of workers as far as the eye can see, plunging wages, and scant social space for the sort of militancy most radicals assume would be necessary for a successful revolutionary strategy in the 21st century.


Which means the greatest single victim of the coronavirus pandemic may be the failed communist strategy of the 20th century. Most communists are willing to concede that we are not living in what they call “a revolutionary period”. But this pandemic means there will never be a so-called revolutionary period again. Folks need to get this through their thick skulls. It ain’t happening; an approach that relies in any way on an assumption that there will be a revolutionary period in the future is as obsolete as retail malls.

I don’t think this is difficult to understand. The past forty years of history prove that it was never realistic to think the working class would be radicalized as its economic conditions deteriorated. That’s why we had to be organize and prepared to assume power before conditions deteriorated. The whole point of the preparation period prior to the breakdown (or collapse) of production based on exchange value was to prepare for that event.

You couldn’t wait for a collapse to happen and then begin preparing. Once breakdown occurred, it was too late for communists to begin organizing. The conditions themselves made it highly unlikely that we would succeed. Breakdown meant massive unemployment. This implies sharp competition within the working class and sharply falling wages. It is pretty hard to maintain solidarity under those conditions. After breakdown occurred, all bets were off.

Essentially, that is where we are now with this pandemic: we have been thrown back to the middle of the Great Depression, but with no labor organizations, no communist parties and no hope for a revolutionary strategy based on the 20th century model!

How the DSA is responding to the pandemic emergency – II

Continued from here

Now, here’s a question: if you agree with the DSA on this basic analysis, why would you have anything to do with this group of losers?

Basically the DSA is saying that in six months to a year things will settle down and life will pretty much be the way it was before the pandemic. That means, in six months to a year the folks who run this shit will still be running this shit and people like the DSA will still be carrying their water. Why would you want to be a water carrier when you can be a player?

I’m just trying to figure out how these folks brains work.

The answer must hinge on the idea that as the economic position of the working class deteriorates, it will become radicalized. However, with the exception of Andrew Kliman, who has his own peculiar method of calculating such things, I know of no economist who argues that the economic position of the working class has been improving for the last forty years. Every other economist seems to agree the economic position of the working class has been declining the entire time.

Yet there is no evidence that the working class has been politically radicalized by this decline. Even if we leave aside electoral politics, historical evidence of labor militancy have almost vanished in the last 40 years. Strikes are almost non-existent today, labor union membership and organization has collapsed; and not just in the United States but across the world market.

It is possible that declining economic position of the working class has not led to their increasing militancy, because their declining economic position is itself a product of their declining militancy and organization. We are then forced to explain the common source of both the declining militancy and the declining economic position of the working class.

The most likely explanation regularly cited in the literature is a persistent superabundance of workers relative to the demand for labor power in the market. This superabundance would tend to undercut both the wages of the working class and the class solidarity necessary to support labor organization and unity of the working class.


But what does this mean about the present pandemic emergency?

Nothing fucking good, I can tell you that.

Even if we assume, for sake of argument, that the authors of the DSA People’s Recovery program are absolutely correct and the system overall survives, so that, in six months or so, wage slavery will basically be intact and functioning as before, the economic position of the working class will have deteriorated violently and traumatically.

The superabundance of the working class relative to the demand for labor power may have increased as much as ten-fold or twenty-fold, shattering all possibility of labor militancy. Two, perhaps three times as many workers will be unemployed as belong to the unions associated with the AFL-CIO. While the system overall may survive as the authors argue, the economic position of the working class will be fundamentally impaired permanently.

And, to be clear, this is not a situation that is likely to be reversed by a new expansion of capitalist accumulation any more than the Great Depression was, because, like the Great Depression, what passes for a recovery will come on top of an already existing crisis of absolute overaccumulation of capital that is already clearly shown in the growing gluts in food production, the oil industry, auto production, etc..

It helps to remember that the absolute overproduction of capital in the 1930s was resolved only by the wholesale destruction of the productive forces during World War II.

Moreover, it is highly unlikely that most nation states are going to attempt to stimulate their way out of this economic catastrophe. They have neither the inclination nor the means. And, as the OPEC dispute shows, it is unlikely they will achieve some sort of negotiated shut down of excess productive capacity.

This means, after a severe collapse of global economic activity of 30% to 40% or more in this emergency, we may see a modest bounce back of 5-15% in the first year, before things settle down in the 2% to 5% growth range for as far as the eye can see.

We are, therefore, looking at decades of 10-20% unemployment, if we are lucky. Such chronic superabundance of workers beyond any conceivable need for human labor power is hardly the suggestive of a new upsurge in working class militancy.

Continued here