The Real Movement

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Greece: Graveyard of the radical Left critique

Vasnetsov_Grave_diggerThis item appeared on Yves Smith’s blog, Naked Capitalism: Greece Talks With Eurogroup Hit “Complete Breakdown”. According to Smith, things look very dark for SYRIZA to avoid exiting the euro:

“It is hard to see how Greece squeaks through and makes its two early May debt payments to the IMF. A default may be imminent. … Greece has engaged in a game of brinksmanship for months, but it looks as if the wheels are about to come off. It’s too easy to second-guess outcomes, but cooler heads had suggested that if a Grexit looked to be inevitable, the Eurozone could take measures to ameliorate the pain. The relations between the two sides are so sour that this sort of conscience-assuaging sop seems inconceivable, unless Merkel insists on it as a statesman-like gesture.

Very pessimistic of SYRIZA’s and Greece’s future, Smith adds these sympathetic words:

“Greece was almost certain to continue to face harsh times, but the likely outcome looks to be particularly difficult. I wish the long-suffering Greek people the best of luck. They need it.”

Isn’t it great when, on April 25, a respected blog informs us of something we already knew on January 25.

According to Smith, “it looks as if the wheels are about to come off.” An odd comment indeed, since SYRIZA winning the election meant, if nothing else, that the wheels had already come off.

In Smith’s case, “the wheels coming off”, means SYRIZA will now be forced to leave the euro and begin issuing drachmas. Not coincidentally, the folks around Smith’s blog have long advocated Greece exit the euro, because the IMF austerity program has always lacked one critical policy tool: currency devaluation to more effectively crush the wages of the working class through a forcible devaluation of the drachma. To be clear: The folks around the modern money school and Smith’s blog are not against austerity, they think it can only be effective if wages are devalued.

Which raises an harsh question for the radical Left: Since, clearly, SYRIZA doesn’t get it about hours of labor reduction — as almost no Leftist does — what is its best course from here? Given the choice between completely conceding to all of the troika’s demands and Grexit, which should SYRIZA do? Almost every radical opponent of SYRIZA from the first predicted SYRIZA would concede to all of the troika’s demands and back flip on austerity.


Because they assumed SYRIZA would not move to take Greece out of the euro. From the Left, this was attributed to SYRIZA’s reformist political bent. The ‘radical’ position, said the Left, was for SYRIZA to defend ‘national sovereignty’ and pull Greece out of the euro. This laughably fascistic argument is being advanced by many people who claim to be radicals, even revolutionaries.

Basically, the Left argues, SYRIZA is too reformist to reach across the aisle and join hands with Marine LePen in France and Nigel Farage in Britain, to defend national sovereignty against the ‘European project’. The radical program of the Left is best summed up by Lapavitsas, who promises us that Greece wages only need to fall another 20%. Once currency devaluation has forcibly reduced wages by this much more, says Lapavitsas, small businesses will again step in and hire labor power.

Let me be completely frank: Against this regressive vision for Greece, it would be better if SYRIZA did just completely bow to all of the troika’s demands. No matter the defects of the troika program, the poignant death-wish on the part of the Left to return to the 20th century will never succeed. Whether you like it or not, you will be forced to make your place in a world market where national borders are meaningless and the state power is revealed to be impotent.

If you cannot create a world where the fascist state has been abolished, the finance capitalists of the EU will create it for you. You fucking Leftists need to grow up; you cannot go back to the past. Capitalism has already wiped out the primitive national autarky that is the premise of national sovereignty.

Now you can spend another 30 years telling yourselves there is an alternative to be found in an earlier stage of capitalist development or you can figure out how to live in a world where the state you thought was omnipotent can be isolated and crushed simply by strangling its banking system.

SYRIZA came to power with a very common Leftist delusion: Having gained political power it could now reconfigure capitalism to make the working class comfortable with wage slavery. It is the same delusion that infects the entire Left, but how realistic is this when the state power itself can be made to bow to the demands of finance capital? It turns out that, in the end, Holloway was more right than he imagined: There is no real state power for the Left to take.

Neoliberalism didn’t just set out to dismantle the social welfare state, it is a crisis of the social welfare state itself. The development of the productive forces bound up with the world market are digging a grave for the capitalist state. If the Left will not help in this “project”, it should just get the fuck out of the way and let capital finish the job it has already begun.

Is there a material limit on the lifespan of capitalism?

I have been reading this article by Alan Nasser: “The Alternative To Long-Term Austerity: Less Work, Higher Wages, No Mere Utopian Dream”. Nasser appears to be an advocate of labor hours reduction; which he calls “the only practical alternative to […] secular stagnation”. To make his argument, Nasser enlists the writings of both Marx and Keynes to arrive at his own synthesis — a sort of Keynesian-Marxism.

Now, a lot of people have their own pet reading of Marx’s Capital and there are controversies about how it should be properly interpreted. For instance, some writers. like Cleaver, approach Capital spam-bad-2politically, rather than as an economic work. Others approach Capital as if it is an economics textbook: “This is how capital works.” Still others approach Capital as a critique of political-economy, a radical criticism of the premises of bourgeois economic science.

There is some truth in all of these approaches in my opinion, but hardly enough to sustain any long-term genuine interest in the book. In my opinion, to really understand Capital, you have to realize that capital, the social relation, is a transitional mode of production.

In my opinion, nothing about Capital, the book, makes sense unless you understand capital, the social relation, is a transitional, historically limited, mode of production.

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Mass hysteria in Greece: Compliments of the European Central Bank

At what point will SYRIZA tell the Eurogroup and ECB to go fuck themselves?

This was the thought that occurred to me after reading Yves Smith’s latest post, “Greece: Default or Grexit?. Smith explains there is an impasse between Greece and its creditors where the options facing SYRIZA are default or Grexit.

Impasse? What sort of impasse?

Everybody knows Greece is broke. Everybody knows Greece cannot squeeze more out of its population to pay the debt. If this were not true, SYRIZA would not be in power. The impasse on vampire-desktop-hd-wallppers-fulldisplay is that Greece is broke and has already defaulted, but no one wants to admit to it. There is no real impasse here; only people who don’t want to recognize losses that are already on the books.

Smith argues, “the best of Greece’s bad options is a default while staying within the Eurozone”. She states this option depends on what the European Central Bank (ECB) decides to do; only, it turns out, the ECB can pretty much do whatever it wants. This is not unlike the case in Michigan, where Washington arbitrarily decided to bail out GM and let Detroit go bankrupt.

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What happens ‘when something has to give”, but nothing likely will?

There is an interesting and much retweeted article today from Paul Mason, “Greece: why something has to give”. According to Mason, pressure is growing for a split in SYRIZA:

“So there is pressure growing, from within and without, to force a split in Syriza, with the Left Platform leaving the parliamentary group, and Tsipras now forced to rely on centre-left and Karamanlis-wing conservative votes to get any deal through the Hellenic parliament.”

Singularity-Brain-2Mind you, this is all over a debt that everyone knows cannot be repaid, no matter who is in power. It is not just that the EU is using the debt to beat SYRIZA down, SYRIZA seems intent on using the debt against itself.

Of course, a split in SYRIZA cannot fix Greece’s debt problem, as bondholders and anyone with an ounce of common sense knows:

“Let’s start by considering the raw numbers. Greece can’t borrow big money on the global markets, because its €320bn debt is – rightly, I think – seen as unpayable. No level of austerity bearable by Greek society could pay down the debt.”

The previous government lied about the state’s finances, capital is fleeing, the ECB is waging economic warfare against SYRIZA; and the ECB and Eurogroup have no desire to come to an agreement with SYRIZA. As the EU adds pressure from the outside, Mason argues, the Left Platform is organizing for a split from the inside.

This can’t go on, explains Mason. At some point, something somewhere has to give.

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Why reduction of labor hours cannot work as a ‘policy tool’

I have been rereading the paper by Kallis, Kalush, O’Flynn, Rossiter and Ashford, “Friday off”: Reducing Working Hours in Europe. I first learned of the paper when it was tweeted by Alex Tsipras on the night SYRIZA was elected to lead No_Known_Restrictions_A_little_spinner_in_Globe_Cotton_Mill._Augusta,_Ga.,_by_Lewis_W._Hine,_1909_(LOC)the government of Greece. I found it remarkable that this paper, which calls for a reduction of labor time, was being distributed by the head of that radical party on the eve of its victory. Did it signal his intention to pursue a new, radical, approach to the crisis in the European Union?

After that initial reaction, I’m now beginning to understand how the argument of Kallis, et al. was limited by a flawed approach to labor hours reduction in which labor hours reduction is essentially treated as just another tool of fascist state management of the economy. Many of the flaws relate to their poor (perhaps, non-existent) grasp of the basics of labor theory and reliance on neoclassical theory to make their argument. Those flaws can be broken down into three questions:

  1. Is labor hours reduction a policy tool?
  2. Can reducing hours of labor fix social ills created by capitalism?
  3. Is a reduction of hours of labor compatible with capitalism?

The following is my take on their approach.

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A dagger aimed at the heart of capitalism

The beauty of reducing hours of labor is that it appears to be an insignificant reform, when, in fact, it has the potential both to lay the foundation for communism and destroy capitalism. The significance of the conflict over hours of labor is as deeply obscured by capitalist relations of production as the role labor plays in the production of surplus value. However, anyone familiar with Marx’s reasoning, would understand why he called the struggle for reduction of hours of labor, “the modest Magna Carta of a legally limited working day.”

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Kliman versus Harvey: Seven years later, another phony debate among Marxists

were-not-leaving-finance-and-the-ifsc-may-day-fest-2014-8-638One of the biggest influences on my study of labor theory in recent years was this short 2008 article: “The market no longer has all the answers” in, of all places, the Financial Times. In the article, Michael Skapinker announced, with just a hint of schadenfreude, that neoliberalism had finally fallen and couldn’t get up:

“One of the most arresting comments of the past week came from Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank. ‘I no longer believe in the market’s self-healing power,’ he said in a speech in Frankfurt.

You may dismiss this as namby-pamby Euro-speak from the Swiss-born head of a German bank, except that no one, anywhere, appears to believe in the market’s self-healing power any more.”

That was the good news.

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“There is no alternative” (for Marxists): Costas Lapavitsas Edition

“There is no alternative”, is the famous aphorism coined by Margaret Thatcher in reply to her critics. According to the Wikipedia, TINA means, “economic liberalism is the only valid remaining ideology.” Economic liberalism is generally taken to mean dismantling of the social welfare state that emerged after World War II and collapsed into disarray beginning with the 1970s depression. However, in a recent interview, Costas Lapavitsas essentially argued that, for Marxists another sort of TINA TINAreigns: Because of a lack of policy tools drawn on labor theory, Marxists had on alternative but to make use of the very same Keynesian policy tools that produced the rampant stagflation of the 1970s depression. In this post, I take exception with Lapavitsas’ argument.

My argument is not only that Marxists have no need to rely on Keynesian policy tools for their short-run program, Keynesian policy tools have the same aim of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policy tools and run counter to the aim of communism. Instead, Marxist should drawn directly on labor theory to produce a set of immediate demands. Labor theory, according to my reading, argues Marxists should not seek to “exit” the crisis of capitalism, but should take as their starting point the limits imposed by production for profit on the production of material wealth. Our immediate program should be to push the production of material wealth beyond the limits imposed on it by production for profit.

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Will someone please tell Lapavitsas to shut the fuck up!

Costas Lapavitsas latest interview reminds me of that scene from 007, where the bad guy has an elaborate plan to kill off Bond that you know is going to fail. Bond is tied down, helpless, handcuffed to an atomic bomb or sharks with lasers on their heads or some shit.

i2NncpcCDoctor Evil parodies the scene in one of the Austin Powers movies:

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy’s nemesis, Austin Powers
Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don’t you just kill him?
Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

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Gold after the death of Marxism: A reply to George Caffentzis

This post is in response to a question posed to me on regarding George Caffentzis’s essay, Marxism after the Death of Gold:

“You’ve probably read this, and may have already addressed it on your blog, but in case you haven’t, I’d appreciate your thoughts.”

I am familiar with the essay in question and have written about it before. But I will return to it to provide an answer that takes into account my personal theoretical development since that time.


9547247-making-money-with-your-computerGeorge Caffentzis does something in his essay that Marxists occasionally (all too often?) do: Completely and baldly lie about Marx’s theory. This essay is founded on a lie that Caffentzis knows or should know is a lie. And the case does not look good here: Either Caffentzis does not know the premise of his essay is a lie and is therefore unqualified. Or he know it is a lie and is not to be trusted because his knowing distortion of Marx’s argument clearly has an agenda.

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