Can Antistatist Communists work with Statist Communists?
In one of my earlier posts, I accused some Marxists of being fascists. Needless to say this did not go over well with those Marxists who might fall into the category of people who, although claiming to be communists, nevertheless believe any attempt to actually dismantle the present state amounts to a neoliberal assault on the so-called ‘social safety net’ allegedly provided by some fascist state spending.
One person on reddit who might fit the description of a statist communist responded to my argument this way:
1. That’s a lie; 2. Even if that were true, that analysis is bollocks.
Congratulations, you have posted something which does not actually raise any questions but instead goes on about Communists being fascists without any material analysis of what either is.
And aside from all that, all the article really does is state a fact, a fact that we are well aware of and spend our time actually analysising in a Marxist framework. The article does not analyse it in any framework, it just states it and rubbishes Communism at the same time. Absolutely useless.
Here’s a criticism: you are full of shit. Fuck you, fuck off.
Okay fine. I guess this writer and I aren’t going to find any common ground soon.
Bridging the gap between antistatist and statist communism
Still, I think antistatist communists can work with communists who are infected with Keynesian fascist ideology and who employ this fascist ideology in place of labor theory. But we need some serious ground rules.
To illustrate these ground rules, I want to cite the writings of the autonomist Marxist, Franco Berardi, who, in 2009, made an attempt to analyze the present crisis in an article, “Communism is back but we should call it the therapy of singularisation”
In section 1 of his article, Berardi argues this time is different — capitalism is headed toward collapse:
Economists and politicians are worried: they call it crisis and they hope it is going to unfold like the numerous previous crisis that stormed the Economy in the past century and then passed away, leaving Capitalism stronger. I think this time it is different. This is not a crisis, but the symptom of the incompatibility of the potency of productive forces (cognitive labour in the global network) and the paradigm of growth. This is not a crisis but the final collapse of a system that has lasted for five hundred years.
Look at the landscape: the world’s great powers are trying to rescue financial institutions. But the financial collapse has affected the industrial system, the demand is falling, jobs are lost by the millions. In order to rescue the banks the State is taking money from the taxpayers of tomorrow, and this means that the demand is going to fall further in the next years. Family spending is plummeting, and consequently much industrial production is going to be dismissed. It’s not going to last just one or two years, this time is forever.
This is a pretty bold statement, written during the darkest days of the financial collapse when it looked like capitalism would just wink out over night. But is it labor theory or Keynesian fascist state economic theory? Berardi argues the financial crisis has affected the industrial system, demand is falling, and millions of jobs are disappearing.
I want to call attention to the Keynesian/monetarist sequence of events here. According to Berardi, financial collapse leads to industrial crisis, not the other way around. Is this labor theory? No. It is the argument of the monetarists, like Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve, who believes all crises of this sort begin with a contraction of the supply of money due to a financial crisis.
Of course not one bourgeois economist has ever been able to establish depressions are caused by financial crises. In fact when Bernanke tried himself to establish this sequence of crisis he was unable to show any demonstration of it in the historical empirical data covering the Great Depression. According to labor theory, financial crises are produced by industrial overproduction, not the reverse.
What does the term ‘demand’ mean? This term has no place in a Marxist analysis — it is a fascist term, not Marxism. Further Berardi argues, “In order to rescue the banks the State is taking money from the taxpayers of tomorrow” How can you take money from people who do not exist? This is some sort of autonomist poetry, right? Berardi actually means the fascist state is borrowing money from the banks to bailout the banks.
Next Berardi tells us family spending is plummeting”. He is, of course only talking about working class families here. So his argument is directed at the working class. This, he tells us will results in further fall in economic activity. Thus he is making the argument that falling family spending is causing industrial overproduction. In fact, it is industrial overproduction that produces both a mass of idled capital and unemployed workers.
Why is this important to understand?
Because many Marxists infected with Keynesian ideology believe this crisis can be fixed by taxing capital and paying the workers more. The opposite is the case: wages, no matter high or low is the problem. The working class does not need any wages at all. Wages serve only to keep them in slavery. The working class can do just fine without any wages, but capitalism would disappear.
Keynesian economic logic and communism
Nevertheless, despite the terrible flaws in argument like this one, I must be frank: the Keynesian argument is very difficult to combat among communists. It invades so much of Marxist and anarchist analysis because it appears to make perfect sense at some superficial level. It seems logical that capitalist crises can be addressed simply by taking profits from the capitalists class and handing it out to the working class as wages. And, on some level, this fascist idea is absolutely correct, although it does not reflect the way capitalism works.
But really who the fuck cares if taxing the rich to feed the working class works for this disgusting mode of production? What works for the capitalist class is hardly a standard we should use to evaluate what we fight and die for? If your aim is to keep capitalism working, Keynesian redistribution won’t work. If, however, your aim is to end poverty, the capitalist class have all the wealth in society and if we are going to end poverty we need to go get it from them.
So, what are you going to do? Stand there saying “We can’t end poverty, because capitalism doesn’t work that way?” Who really cares that ‘capitalism doesn’t work that way’? Poverty has to be ended somehow.
I think this is without a doubt the most powerful argument in favor of Keynesian inspired redistribution of profits — we don’t care what works for capitalism, we just want to end the poverty of the working class.
That impulse has to be captured somehow by communist who favor of abolition of both labor and the state.
You can explain to communists infected by Keynesian ideas — like Richard Wolff or Noam Chomsky — why redistribution doesn’t work, but they will not hear you. When you say the state has to be abolished, they will treat you as if you are part of some neoliberal globalist anarcho-capitalist political movement. If you say we should not be fighting for euro-zone nation states, but instead let them die? They will ask, “But who will build the roads and hand out unemployment checks and food stamps?”
What’s more important, the problem is not so much the Wolffs and Chomskys as it is everyday folks who are no less under this illusion than those two imbeciles. Keynesian state redistribution makes sense not because people are literate in the political-economy of capital, but because they are ignorant of how capitalism works. They think it works just like it appears to work on the surface — and this false appearance even confounds people who should know better.
The essence of the Keynesian argument that infects communism is that the profits of capital must be redistributed in the form of wages. This obviously violates the logic of capitalism itself, which folks like Wolff and Chomsky ignore. So when capital responds negatively to such measures, they don’t understand why this happens.
However the fact that capitalism doesn’t work the way these folks thinks it does is not my beef with them — I am all for violating the way capitalism works. Here is my concern: If you are going to violate the way capitalism works, shouldn’t you do it in a way capital can’t fight back?
The defect of the Keynesian argument
So far as I can tell, Keynesian inspired redistribution of profits suffers from three defects:
- Capital can pass along wage increases into prices;
- The capitalist class can move its capital anywhere in the world market; and,
- The lobbyists for the capitalist class can subvert state efforts to regulate it.
Any alternative offered by antistatist communists to the Keynesian infection of communism has to be able to show we can indeed violate the laws of capitalism in a way those three things can’t happen. This is the Holy Grail of antistatist communism — a way to violate the laws of capital in a way capital can’t fight back.
I think this begins with the realization that the profits the underconsumptionists want to redistribute to the working class is nothing more than the surplus value produced the working class. Moreover the state has its own interests in in the production of surplus value, since the largest portion of the surplus value produced by the working class ends up as state spending. This is a deficit in Keynesian thinking: Since they treat the state as outside society, they don’t even realize the state is by far the largest consumer of surplus value.
The state is not, by any means, a neutral arbiter between classes — it is a consumer of a mass surplus value amounting to fifty percent of the total economy of the United States.
The danger is that the profits the state takes from the capitalist class just gets ‘redistributed’ to the state itself in the form of even more spending. Our goal is not to redistribute surplus value from the capitalist class to the state but from capital to the working class.
And here is another problem: as a consumer of surplus value, the state wastes far more capital unproductively than even the capitalist class — think national security expenditures.
So if we wanted to go after the largest pot of surplus value in the economy, the state is the most important target with control of a mass of surplus value equal to fifty percent of the total economy. Of this mass of surplus value, at least a trillion dollars of spending could be lopped off from just national security spending alone.
Let’s ignore all of the ways the state wastes capital and focus just on the Defense Department. Spending on the national security apparatus of the United States amounts to about $150 per week for every worker in this country. Since national defense makes absolutely no contribution to the consumption of society but only robs it of productive resources, many people do not realize this spending is a pure profit subsidy handed to the capitalist class via defense spending. Workers spend all their time engaged in work that can never be compensated by any of the output they produce.
Which means, if all defense labor was ended tomorrow, there would be absolutely no change in the consumption power or material standard of living of the working class. Further, the resources now consumed unproductively in defense related labor, which produces nothing, could be redirected to productive employment. This would result in a double bump to consumption — no more waste of resources, and additional capital freed up for productive employment.
Let’s compare this spending to all other industrial and agricultural production in the economy: With 2.13 million active duty service personnel and civilian support work force, the Defense Department labor force is three time the total labor force in agriculture. The defense department is by itself the single largest employer of labor power on the planet.
And every single person employed by this department produces nothing. All the personnel of this department have to be fed, clothed, housed, their children educated, their medical care provided for, and their retirement seen to — and they contribute absolutely nothing to this labor.
This does not include those directly and indirectly employed in the production for the department and contractors and service providers. It is estimated that in 2011, 4 million people were employed in defense related industries beyond those directly employed by the defense department itself. And these figures just include skilled labor — it does not include janitors and secretaries and various ancillary personnel employed by those enterprises.
This gives us an total employment by the defense department of more than 7 million workers — none of whom produce anything of value. So it is reasonable to ask how this pot of surplus value is not included as the first and most important mass of surplus to be redistributed. Why would communists even talk about taxing the one percent before you talked about this massive pot of waste?
The pot of surplus value is far larger than corporate profits
The first criticism to be made against the argument of communists infected by Keynesianism is that their scope of the surplus value to be redistributed is far too narrow. Since we are talking about surplus value — and not simply the much smaller pot of corporate profits — there is far more than people think.
This redistribution of surplus value in the form of defense spending would directly encroach exclusively on profits, since none of the capital deployed in this area produces any wages goods. The only thing that could be affected are the profits of defense related industries. No wage goods in the rest of the economy would be affected and, therefore, there would be no affect on the living standards of workers.
And guess what? The capitalists cannot evade this redistribution of their wealth. Where are these defense industries going to relocate? To where can they export their now useless capital? How can they raise their prices to offset the shift in wage goods? They can’t pass along this redistribution by raising their prices, because there is no one to buy their useless death machines. They can’t relocate their industries to any other country and export back into the US because the defense department is now gone. And they can’t subvert the state to evade regulation, because they have nothing left to be regulated.
However, there is a huge downside to this attempt to turn the profits of the capitalist class into wages for the working class: at least 7 million workers, many highly skilled, would now be unemployed because the Defense Department and its reinue of dependent industries have been shut down.
This, I admit, is a huge problem that will not simply go away and it only adds to the problem we now face of to another 20 million workers already jobless. That is 27 million workers without jobs, almost 20 percent of the labor force. In the middle of what some call the worst crisis since the Great Depression. So what do you do?
Simple: You reduce hours of labor by one day to a four day work week. Problem solved. The profits of the defense-industrial complex is converted directly into free time for the mass of society. And there is no way capital can evade this redistribution by any means at its disposal. Moreover, you have now released millions of highly skilled workers to engage in productive employment of their skills, which ends the brain drain on the economy produced by unproductive dead end defense employment.
Our Keynesian infected communists get their redistribution, while antistatist communists get to deliver a blow against the fascist state. And that is a real win-win for both sides.
Would this work as a political platform? Who knows. It is a very complicated argument to make in the form of a soundbite that seems to be necessary in politics today. But communists could approach this another way that might appeal to the working class and would still accomplish all that both camps want.
If, instead of focusing on why defense spending is completely unproductive and needs to go, we just focused on cutting the work week to four or even three days, our argument might receive a better reception.
And when the capitalist class raise objections to reducing hours of labor or why such a reduction is a utopian dream, our response to their whining could be, “Cut the fucking defense department.” If the capitalist are so fucking concerned about the effect reduced hours of labor will have on their capital, they can sacrifice the defense sector, since it does not produce anything of value to anyone, nor add to the consumption power of the working class.
So if our underconsumptionist communist brethren and sistren are so fucking concerned about Keynesian inspired redistribution, why not just start with reducing hours of labor. Once we cut hours of labor, the social product of labor will redistribute itself.