The Real Movement

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Month: April, 2015

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.

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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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