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Capital, commodity production and collapse (IV): Collapse or Collapsed?

Part 4: Back to the future?

If you ask the typical Marxist to name the most important prediction made by Marx’s labor theory of value, they will likely point to his prediction of a proletarian social revolution. Few, if any, Marxists will argue Marx’s most important prediction was that commodity production would break down, capitalist private property would be expropriated and the bourgeois state would be forced to undertake management of production.

Which is odd, since, in the intervening 160 years, no successful proletarian revolution has occurred, yet we have witnessed the collapse of production based on exchange value, the expropriation of capitalist private property and we have seen the state undertake management of production — a ubiquitous and routine function in all countries today. By the measure of an alleged prediction of a proletarian social revolution, it can be said Marx’s theory, at best, remains unproven. Yet, by the measure of a break down of production based on exchange value, Marx’s theory has been remarkably accurate.

It’s almost as if Marx knew what he was talking about. “Almost”, reply many of our most influential Marxist theorists.

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Capital, commodity production and collapse (III): Collapse of what?

Part 3: Breakdown in Marx’s Theory

So, I have been mulling Marx’s prediction of the ultimate result of capitalist development with increasing confusion — confusion because Marx is extremely precise, yet he never exactly predicts the breakdown or collapse of capitalism itself.

Marx makes three important predictions about capitalism.

First, in the Grundrisse, he predicts,

“As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis.”

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What #blacklivesmatter can learn from killing cops

Last night I had a conversation with @BarnesEPowell that touched on a number of issues I have raised this weekend about #BLM. I want to address them in a more comprehensive way for two reasons:

micah-xavier-johnsonFirst, #BLM is facing a lot of external pressure and my criticism may be seen in some circles as adding to it. For this reason, criticism of #BLM is a sensitive topic and requires more than a hit or miss approach to avoid any misunderstandings.

Second, #BLM is going to come under a lot more pressure and the police are going to escalate against it and the black community as a whole. This is how they do: they beat you; you protest; they beat you harder.

However, I don’t think I am wrong to criticize #BLM at this point; in fact, I am on solid ground. It was precisely in the middle of the civil rights movement, when black people were coming under incredible pressure, that Malcolm X raised his sharpest criticism of the leaders of the civil rights movement. He highlighted their failures and their betrayals to the entire community and refused to be silent.

The times calls for this sort of criticism again.

The facts

First, let’s look at the facts. This year so far, almost 600 citizens have been murdered by the police, an increase over the pace of cop murders from last year. The rate has been increasing as police have been aggressive and the state has militarized them with equipment left over from the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The politicians have been vocal in their support for police and completely indifferent to protest.

Second, despite protests to the contrary, police murdering citizens is NOT a race issue and should not be addressed as if it is a race issue. About half of all citizens murdered last year were white. It can be said police violence affects the black community more intensely than it does other communities, but this is just a matter of degree. Even if we ignored all the black people murdered by cops last year, the number of whites murdered is astonishing. How then has the murder of citizens been transformed into a race issue? We allowed this. We have allowed the police and politicians to frame this issue as a race issue.

Framing police brutality as a race issue is flawed

The problem with this is that this is a deeply racist society. If you want any issue to be ignored by white people — the majority of the electorate — all you have to say is that it is a black problem. By calling it a black issue, you allow white people to act as if it is not their problem. Above all black people do NOT want white people to think this is a black problem. You already know they don’t care about you, so why would they care about this issue if it only affects black people?

By calling the issue of police brutality a black issue, you allow white people to act as if it is not their problem. And let me be clear: I am not speaking of the KKK, I am talking about your white co-workers, who eat lunch with you every day. Your co-workers like you a lot and like to out drinking after work with you. They might even sleep with you on and off. But they have put you in a box: good nigger. When it comes to anything else, they process information just like everyone else does; namely, “If it is a black issue, it doesn’t affect me.” Are you really stupid enough to think you can change the way white people process social information? How do we win by framing police murders as a black issue?

Never have the leaders of the #BLM given a single second of thought to this.

Third, this is not a ‘radical’ issue and should not be addressed as if it were a radical issue. The UK, Germany and France are every bit as fascistic and imperialistic as the United States. But citizens of the UK, Germany and France do not move through their daily activities in fear they will be peremptorily murdered by their own government at a traffic stop. We live in a society where almost all citizens move about in fear of their lives from arbitrary and trigger-happy police. No society should accept this.

This is why “All lives matter” is so effective; it is the way the minds of your co-workers and white people in general naturally work. Well, if all lives matter, what about the more than 500 whites who were murdered by cops last year? Don’t their lives matter too? Out of some ungodly stubbornness, people refuse to let #BlackLivesMatter go and create a broader, more inclusive message. And this is a characteristic flaw of radicals. Radicals don’t want to question any of their assumptions and seem incapable of recognizing a failed idea when it stares them in the face.

The fascists innovate

Let me tell you from personal experience that this is not how the fascists work. I joined the army in 1981 and my unit trained for an invasion of Iraq and Iran for four years. It was no surprise to me that the US invaded Iraq, since they were training for this invasion for the previous 20 years. The Left hasn’t changed its approach in 60 years, while the fascists devote millions of man-hours every year to their strategy and tactics. In a conflict, who do you think wins?

I say this to emphasize the police have studied you the way my unit studied the terrain and military forces of Iraq. They know how you frame the world, your strategy, your tactics, your strengths and weaknesses. You know almost nothing about them and you have not changed anything in your worldview since “Ozzie and Harriet” was on TV.

What is worse, in every confrontation with the state you do the same damn things over and over: find a line of cops and yell at them. Frankly, the cops are fine with this. You stay on your side of the line and they stay on their side. You scream until you are hoarse and then go home. It is an almost laughable choreographed, stage managed scene, whose only productive purpose is to let Al Sharpton parachute in just in time to make the six o’clock news. After you go home and get something to eat, the cops go back to killing citizens.

Honestly, is this seriously what you hope to accomplish?

What we end up with is an issue only black people (and a handful of radical or progressive whites) care about standing in front of cops who are happy to be collecting overtime. This isn’t changing shit. Meanwhile America is about to elect a woman no one trusts or like, who calls us super-predators. Not only is #BLM not changing anything, things are getting worse.

A cold-blooded technical assessment of Micah’s impact

Micah Johnson changed all of this. While the Dallas police, politicians and their political and undercover agents were stage managing yet another ineffectual protest, Johnson was becoming their worst nightmare. He brought the same tactics the US used destroying Iraq, to the problem of destroying the Dallas police force. If the police chief can be trusted on this, his motivation in taking up the gun was disgust with Al Sharpton and #BLM.

Now there are a lot of objections that can be made to the application of US military tactics to the problem of police brutality. But all sides can admit Johnson caught the Dallas Police Department flatfooted and came at them in a way they were not prepared for. This innovation in tactics was nothing like what the DPD was trained, equipped and mentally prepared for in their choreographed engagement with protestors. My point here is not that we should be killing cops, but that we need to come at them in ways they are not trained to respond. The police are trained for crowd control relying on massive superiority of communication, officers and equipment against a mostly amateurish and minimally organized collection of marginally influential radicals, that is internally compromised by political and police agents.

I want you to notice the cold-blooded technical way I discuss the murder of five Dallas cops, because this is exactly how the police are reviewing the events. They are not being emotional or angry today; they are being deliberate and chillingly calm in their discussions. For them it is a technical problem of how to respond to a new situation.

In other words, the fascists will learn from this event, while the radical Left will not.

In reality, the police are vulnerable only if we adopt methods (framing, strategy and tactics) they are not trained for. Everything is on our side:

  1. Not being killed is a fundamental civic right.
  2. Even more whites are dying than blacks.
  3. Stopping police killings is not a radical (or revolutionary) demand but a minimal bourgeois right.
  4. There is no possible argument citizens should live in fear of dying at a traffic stop.
  5. Politicians have ducked this issue and must be made accountable.
  6. Police have no rights. The state is not protected from its citizens. If they don’t like this, they can go flip hamburgers at McDonald’s.
  7. This is NOT a black issue, but a basic civic expectation to not live in fear of authorities.
  8. The neglect of this basic civic issue by elected officials makes our independent organization and supervision of police necessary.

Capital, commodity production and collapse (II)

Part Two: The ambiguous case of the Soviet Union

To explain profit, Marx proposed the existence of a new type of commodity peculiar to the capitalist mode of production. This new commodity, labor power, had the characteristics of a typical commodity; it had a value equal to its socially necessary labor time and it had a specific social use value: it could be used as capital to produced surplus value. The specific social use value of this commodity, argued Marx, explained how capital created profit apparently out of nothing.

It also explained how capital violates the premises of commodity exchange generally.

In commodity production, of which capital is a specific historical form, the value of a commodity is equal to the socially necessary labor time required for its production. The time spent on production of the commodity in excess of what is necessary on average for its production creates no value.

To illustrate his point, Marx pointed to the case of a producer who, by lack of skill or laziness, spent more time producing her commodity than the social average. This additional labor time, argued Marx, produced a commodity with no more value than that embodied in a commodity produced by a skillful efficient producer. In the market, each would fetch the same price, with no more paid for the commodities of lazy unskillful producers than for the commodities of efficient ones.

The reproduction of labor power as a commodity, however, operates according to decidedly different laws than those of simple commodities. It is the source of surplus value and the quantity of surplus value created by its productive consumption is directly proportional to its duration. In contrast to ordinary commodities, therefore, the duration of labor expended by labor power in production must always exceed the duration of socially necessary labor time required for the reproduction of the labor power itself.

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Capital, commodity production and collapse (I)

Part One: Capital and commodity production

The anti-communist, Karl Popper has argued a good scientific theory is one that can be falsified by evidence. By this measure Popper claimed Marxism was not scientific.

Another, broader, view of what constitutes a scientifically valid theory is offered in Lee Smolin’s book, The Trouble With Physics, which makes this point about good theory: It brings together things once thought separate and thereby broadens our understanding of the world around us. A good theory, even when it cannot be immediately verified by experiment, revolutionizes our understanding of the world around us:

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After California, what?

I usually don’t waste my time blogging about American politics, but this is an interesting year. Tonight is the vote in California — if the superannuated social-fascist Sanders wins, Clinton is the political equivalent of the walking dead. So, I thought I would set down a few notes about where things might go next.

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Money as superposition of value and self-expanding value

This is from Moseley:

“Marx’s theory of the circulation of capital also begins in the sphere of circulation (in Part 2 of Volume 1), with the advance of definite quantities of money constant capital and money variable capital to purchase means of production and labor-power (with the famous passage at the end of Part 2 about moving from the “noisy sphere of circulation” to the “hidden abode of production” marking the transition from the sphere of circulation to the sphere of production). Thus, when the second phase of the production of value and surplus-value begins, as analyzed in Part 3 and beyond, the quantities of constant capital and variable capital are assumed to have already been advanced in the sphere of circulation to purchase means of production and labor-power. These already existing quantities of constant capital and variable capital are taken as given as an empirical fact in Marx’s theory of how this previously existing given quantity of money capital becomes more money in subsequent phases of the circulation and the valorization of capital. In this way, the presuppositions of Marx’s theory of surplus-value in the sphere of production come from already existing quantities of money capital previously advanced in the sphere of circulation.”

So, here is my question: Where did the money come from? Where did the commodities come from?

What Marx shows in part 1 of Capital is that capital is logically premised on the prior existence of commodity production and exchange. The production of surplus value is premised on the production of value. Capital assumes not the prior existence of money capital, but of money-becoming-capital. The preexisting money doesn’t actually become money capital until it is exchange for labor power.

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Shorter Postone …

Wage Labor reconstitutes itself as necessary no matter the level of its own productivity. The dual imperatives of Capital are ongoing increases in productivity of social labor and structural reconstitution of the necessity of Wage Labor despite the increase in productivity. The use value of Labor Power is not the production of material wealth, but the self-expansion of Capital. Only when the abolition of Capital is related to the abolition of Labor can we begin to approach Communism. Theory must be capable of providing a social account of the paradoxical character of Wage Labor reconstituting its own necessity.

My takeaway from Postone’s theses is that the complete abolition of labor is not the ultimate goal of communists. It is their only goal.

Everything else is just so much bullshit.

Money and socially necessary labor time: A (Pre-)Review of Moseley’s new book

You are not supposed to review a book without having read it. This often poses a problem for me, since I never buy books, but sometime want to say something about them before I can steal them off the internet.

Such is the case with Fred Moseley’s new book, ‘Money and totality’. Fortunately, in the case of Moseley’s new book, there is a paper trail going back at least to the 1990s on which I can draw to raise questions about his argument. These pre-publication texts (here, here, and here, along with a recent review of the book by Michael Roberts, raise enough questions about Moseley’s so-called ‘macromonetary’ approach to capital that allow me the opportunity to outline a number of troubling problems with methods.

I will detail them in the following post. The reader is forewarned, however, that what I say here may have already been addressed by Moseley in the book.

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Mandel’s strange argument on value, exchange value and prices

As I showed in the first part of this series, Marx’s argument is that the rate of profit falls because, over time, generally less labor is employed in the production of commodities. The falling rate of profit triggers a crisis during which capital attempts to restore the normal operation of the mode of production.

Among Marx’s findings: Even if an increased quantity of labor is generally employed throughout the ‘economy’, this increase in the total sum of labor is accompanied by a decrease in the labor embodied in each of the individual commodities produced. The result is that, over time, even if more value is created, it is embodied in even more use values, each of which requires less labor to be produced.

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