Looking for a few New Year’s resolutions? Here are some suggestions for 2014

resolutionDo you make New Year’s resolutions? In the past, have you taken a solemn oath to stop smoking, lose ten pounds, quit doing crack in your mother’s basement? If you are like me, you probably failed despite the most earnest efforts. Although New Year’s resolutions are mostly a crock, if you do by chance indulge in such behavior, here are a few of my last minute suggestions for anarchists, Marxists and libertarians.

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The abolition of labor and the conceit of labor theorists

In 2012, Platypus held another of its silly “discussions” with the Left on the nature of the present crisis. One of those discussions featured Loren Goldner, David Harvey, Andrew Kliman, and Paul Mattick. Kliman, of course, was all about flogging his tedious book, The Failure of Capitalist Production, which insists the present crisis results jobdadfrom a fall in the rate of profit. Of course, since every crisis results from a fall in the rate of profits, Kliman’s book only tells us that this crisis is like every other crisis that has ever happened in the history of capitalism — a fact Kliman seems content to argue. Harvey also spent his time flogging his equally useless book, which tells us crises are never resolved fundamentally, but only move. Loren Goldner had some interesting things to say about what he calls “a general process of non-reproduction” — but I had to read it several times to figure out what his point was. I think, but I am not sure based on his short talk, that he is referring to the expansion of superfluous labor time as a significant feature of the present crisis — of which more later.

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The oddest political expression of the crisis this year

Do you notice any pattern here:

Brazil protest against austerity
Spain protest against austerity
Portugal protest against austerity
Greece protest against austerity
Mideast Egypt
Egypt protest against Morsi
Italy protest against austerity

Perhaps this will clarify what I am getting at:

Terri Shreiner
American protestors turn out to oppose Obama administration

Chris Wright and Wertkritik: Giving away the farm?

Here is a very good take by Chris Wright on Elmar Flaschart’s talk to the Platypus conference. In his essay, “Value Critique and Politics… or Not”, Chris Wright notes that, in Flatschart’s opinion,

“There is thus a gap between the conditions of emancipation and actually producing new relations, emancipated human relations”

Wright agrees with Flatschart that,

“It is not the task of abstract critique of society to give you immediate steps to social revolution.”

precipice_737235However Wright’s agreement with Flatschart is nuanced. It is premised on the assumption that critique of value is not tied to an equally elaborated notion of revolution, understood as a preconceived blueprint for the revolution, to a utopian vision of how society must be organized. If this utopian vision is what is meant by “an equally elaborated notion of revolution”, Wright agrees with this as well.

Frankly, I think Wright is actually giving away the farm on these points.

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A Question for the Wertkritik School: Does the commodity even still exist?

Here are some thoughts on “The metaphysical subtleties of the commodity” by Anselm Jappe. Part of the dead end wertkritik has encountered in its critique seems to be contained in several of the formulations Jappe employs in this talk.

In his talk, given in 2011 or so, Jappe argued:

“The commodity possesses a peculiar structure, and if we thoroughly analyze the most diverse phenomena, contemporary wars or the   collapse of financial markets, the hydro-geological disasters of our time or the crisis of the nation-state, world hunger or  changing gender relations, we will always find the structure of the commodity at the bottom of it all.”

I find Jappe’s argument hard to accept, since the commodity has likely not existed at least since 1971, and perhaps as long as 1929, when advanced countries moved away from the gold standard and the use of commodity money as the standard of prices. I make this apparently outrageous statement in order to raise a fundamental question about the wertkritik approach. That approach, as I understand it, rests on the definition of the commodity as given by Karl Marx in Capital, Volume 1.

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What if there is no such thing as a socialist “economy”?

chaplin-charlie-modern-times_01According to a post on the NorthStar blog by Gavin Mendel-Gleason and James O’Brien, at least part of the problem socialism has gaining purchase among the working class is that socialists have difficulty describing what it will look like:

“Nothing springs from the naked void fully formed. We need to examine the best avenues open to us for changing our current social direction into a society we would like to bring into existence.”

This is creating a problem for socialists, because, as the writers explain, socialists have so far been unable to coherently describe the society they propose to replace the present mode of production:

“Socialists are often loathe to get into the exact details of what a socialist economy would look like. This is caused, perhaps in equal measure, by complete ignorance and an extensive knowledge of just how large the space of possibilities is. Indeed many proposals have been given about how a socialist economy might best be run.”

And here, of course, the problem only gets worse.

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Wertkritik and The State: “It’s complicated”

“The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.” –Elmar Flatschart, “Marx and Wertkritik”

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie” –Karl Marx “Communist Manifesto”

Okay, so which of those views is right and which is bullshit?

If the abolition of labor doesn’t inform and determine political activity, what remains to inform it? The Left balks at advancing the demand for abolition of labor because it is “unrealistic”. How will the worker pay her miserable 30 year mortgage and service her credit cards if she does not work long hours? Doesn’t this imply that, absent the aim of the abolition of labor to inform politics, politics will be “informed” by poverty and debt?

I think wertkritik has so far failed in its project precisely because it seeks only “to understand society, via a negative critique”, not to change it. We can, in this view, know what we are against, but can never really know what we are for. The failure here is that wertkritik, following the tradition of post-war Marxism, has thus far failed to bring the state in its new role as manager of the national capital into the analysis of the mode of production.

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Jaime Semprun rejects the Manifesto — hilarity ensues

semprun5In an essay written sometime around 2007, “Notes on the manifesto against labor”, the late Jaime Semprun critiqued wertkritik and discovered it was not up to the task because it embraces the most obsolete thesis of the Communist Manifesto: the reappropriation of the productive forces.

What I find interesting in Semprun’s argument is his opening:

“It would seem to be granting too much credit to technological modernization to say that it has made labor “superfluous”. Without even considering the qualitative dimension of labor saving technology (what does “liberation” by machines cause us to lose?), it is quite doubtful that, in the quantitative sense, modernization makes labor obsolete and can only preserve it by increasingly artificial means (the central thesis of the Manifesto).”

This statement was formulated in a style that is typical of the approach taken by intellectuals to the problem of social emancipation. When did Marx say modernization makes labor superfluous? The term modernization is a signifier for a social process that implies a lot more than the mere introduction of machines into the labor process. Capital — a social relation between individuals — not technology or modernization, makes labor superfluous.

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Platypus Question No. 10: The utopian character of “the politics of work”

In their final question, Platypus asks what effect the decline of the workers’ movement over past century has had on attempts to come to grips with the politics of work, overwork and unemployment.

“10. A century ago, these questions were consciously taken up by a politically constituted workers movement in which socialists and Marxists participated. Today, discussions of this topic risk becoming utopian in the a-political sense. How, if at all, has the decline of workers movements and the death of the Left circumscribed our ability to engage the politics of work in the present?”

The problem with this question is that it assumes what has to be demonstrated: that a politically constituted workers movement taking up discussions of the politics of work was not itself utopian.

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Platypus Question No. 9: The paradox of Left politics

In question 9, the Platypus group asks about the role of political organization in relation to labor issues.

“9. What role, if any, do you assign to political organization, such as an actual or potential political party, in working to progressively transform contemporary relations of work and unemployment? What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?”.

I think it is important to state, following the premises of historical materialism, as outlined by Marx and Engels, that there is no social organization that can give the working class control over work and unemployment. As many writers note, labor itself is premised on the fragmentation of the conditions of labor. This fragmentation cannot be overcome through any political organization nor by the establishment of a working class political party. One of the most important defects of the Left’s approach to labor and to overwork and unemployment is the idea these can be addressed by political measures and political organization.

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