For the Left a society without labor is the only real catastrophe

At first I didn’t know what to make of this alien ecologies post “The New Prometheans: Technology and the Dreams of Reason”. On twitter, the author, S. C. Hickman subtitles the post, “Reconstructing Communism in an Age of Despair”; the post draws on Brassier’s argument that “we can try to reexamine the philosophical foundations of a Promethean project that is implicit in Marx – the project of re-engineering ourselves and our world on a more rational basis”

An argument like this gets my spider sense tingling, but I didn’t exactly know why at first. What sets it tingling, I finally decided, is the notion Hickman points to of the two paths that society’s future might take.

“One aspect [Brassier] did not go into in depth was the two paths of bifurcations upon which such a future might take. He mentions the capitalist view of those such as Ray Kurzweil and others who invest in a future that would reengineer society based on a transhumanist project in which AI, Cloning, More-than-human biotechnologically enhanced humans might transcend current humanity allowing for a new class division of those who would become superior in intellect and physical capacities, while others would be disposed into ‘zones of exclusion’ much like our slum-worlds that Mike Davis and others have already documented so well.”

adbusters_blog_clive-hamilton-rio-20_sThis is, of course, the information age take on Luxemburg’s “Socialism or Barbarism”, updated to include the potential negative effects of the most recent frontiers of science and technology. In Luxemburg’s time, the prospect of industrial scale wars and atrocities loomed over mankind as the so-called Great Powers sought to redivide the world among themselves. Today, this choice between socialism and barbarism has been extended to include biotechnologically enhanced humans who would become superior in intellect and physical capacities to all the rest of us poor working class slobs.

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How Keynes’ smuggled Marx’s concept of labor power into his General Theory

In chapter 4 of his General Theory, Keynes is looking for a quantitative unit of measure that reflects his subject of inquiry: what determines the level of employment? He was looking for a unit of measure that was, in his words, “appropriate to the problems of the economic system as a whole”.

When I first read this statement, I was confused, since it seemed obvious to me that the currency was the unit of measure in bourgeois economics. In this sense, I thought, bourgeois economics differed from labor theory, because the latter’s unit of measure is some definite weight of a commodity money. Since bourgeois political-economy rejects the notion of value, I assumed it was left with only the currency.

It turns out that I was wrong. Keynesian economics does not use the national currency as its unit of measure at all. The reality is much more interesting.

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Michael Roberts’ dishonest criticism of Paul Mason

One of the big problems of post-war Marxism has been its inability to incorporate changes in capitalism since Marx and Engels died. This defect of Marxism has recently been highlighted by Michael Roberts’ critique of Paul Mason’s article on what he calls post-capitalism. Paul Mason’s article, “The end of capitalism has begun” can be found here. While Michael Roberts’ reply, “Paul Mason and postcapitalism: utopian or scientific?”, can be found here.

The question raised by Mason’s article and Roberts’ reply is whether there has been a fundamental change in the character of wage labor  following the Great Depression and what, if any, impact this change has on a historical materialist analysis of present society.

The idea that there has been a fundamental change in the character of wage labor after the 1930s will at first seem absurd. Any radical worth her salt will ask: Are workers no longer exploited? Is labor not the only source of value and surplus value? Is capital not the production of surplus value? Indeed, the answers to these questions has not changed since Marx wrote Capital. The worker is exploited, labor is the only source of value and capital is only concerned with the production of surplus value, of profit.

I1191Nevertheless, there has been a change in the character of labor since the Great Depression that post-war Marxism has mostly ignored. That change comes in the form of a growing mass of expended labor that produces no value or surplus value. This change, I would argue, is a new and unprecedented development in society that post-war Marxism neither acknowledges nor understands.

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The Left is trying to distance itself from the SYRIZA debacle

This statement passed my twitter TL the other day:

“I’ve fallen into the opinion that Tsipras and Syriza were fake plants all along. “

The epithet, “fake Left” is all the rage among many of the folks I follow on twitter and for good reason: no one wants to be associated with the disaster in Greece right now.

In my thinking, however, it is very convenient for the Left to disown its failures by claiming “X wasn’t really Left after all.” Convenient, but a terrible mistake. The way you explain a defeat is important, because it is evidence that you have learned from experience. If the only thing the Left has to learn from SYRIZA is that it was a ‘fake plant’, I think this is nothing more than the Left dissembling.

Essentially, the Left is saying the fault lies not with SYRIZA’s strategy but with its personalities.

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State Harder! Jacobin’s despicable, dishonest take on the “European project”

In an laughably dishonest and unprincipled article by Cédric Durand, “The End of Europe”, Jacobin demands the Left double down on its impotence.

“Uneven and combined developmental dynamics in the European periphery highlights the need for the Left to move from a defensive fight against austerity toward a positive agenda of systemic alternatives. The Greek experiment demonstrates that, on this path, there is no other choice than breaking with neoliberal European institutions and regaining democratic sovereignty on domestic currencies.”

fc8205e257e092365e142da72c149b47Jacobin has thrown all in with those who argue the European Union, the largest free trade zone in history, is a failure. Fascist management of national economies, which emerged after the Great Depression is dying and Jacobin is not amused. Jacobin calls what is happening in Europe, the “disintegration of the European project”, when obviously we are witnessing fascism’s demise.

What is their evidence for ‘disintegration’ of the European project? Well, actually, Jacobin offers no evidence at all, but the the victory for No in the July 5 Greek referendum. We are, in other words, suppose to interpret the outcome of the referendum as a rejection of the so-called “European project”.

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After capitalism, what? (Random thoughts on Paul Mason’s article)

I am reading an article by Paul Mason, “The end of capitalism has begun”. This article can be placed in the context of several videos exploring the same theme by radical thinkers. There is, for instance, a video by Peter Hudis, “Alternatives to Capital”; and David Harvey gave a rambling lecture from 2013 along the same lines,  “The End of Capitalism”.

The three pieces are all of a type: speculation regarding the end of capitalism and of what might replace capitalism if it is at its end.

According to Mason, the end of capitalism is driven by three forces: First, capitalism has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly because, while markets depend on scarcity, information is abundant. Third, Mason notes the spontaneous rise of collaborative production that is no longer determined by markets and managerial hierarchies.

To be sure, the end of capitalism has been predicted so often that any sane person would conclude the subject hardly bears serious examination. The end of capitalism is the “Who shot JFK?” of social commentary, periodically surfacing in society during crises. None of the above mentioned individuals are insane, however, yet they are willing to stand before audiences and speculate on what many may judge to be crackpot theories.

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First we get the power, then we get … Oops!

Okay, now what?

scarface_17Citizen CoKane always has relevant comments to my blog that put me on the spot:

His question this time is what are workers in Greece supposed to do when their counterparts in Germany appear to be complacent, even indifferent to their plight? The workers of Greece clearly can’t overthrow capitalism worldwide all by themselves and the rest of Europe seems paralyzed at best. I reproduce his comment in its entirety:

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Debt Colony? Why communists must stop playing the nationalism card in Greece

I received this comment to my last post:

Jehu you only go halfway with your workers’ solution and end up with a peaceful parliamentary transition to socialism. German imperialism is recolonising and virtually occupying Greece to extract more surplus labour to raise its profits. It is using the Greek state to impose austerity backed by the police, the fascists, army and if necessary NATO. Workers cannot defend their power to control their labour time without taking state power and expropriating capital. To do this they must organise, occupy and arm themselves to defeat the fascists, the state forces and NATO. They need to be supported by the workers in the other PIIGS and in France, Britain and Germany. Greece can either capitulate to German colonisation or launch the workers revolution in Europe. There is no half-way house.

Several good points were raised by Dave Brown that require a full response:

First, I want to say I strenuously object to the “colonization” framing of this issue. This argument resonates both in Greece and elsewhere on the Left, but it is a fundamentally and openly fascistic framing of the problem. Greece was not forced to enter the euro common currency. It literally lied to get in the door. It voluntarily entered the European Union and the euro common currency on its own volition and with no credible evidence of force.

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SYRIZA’s capitulation and the art of class war

According to Panitch and Gindin, it turns out that Syriza’s room for maneuver was less than we hoped:

“Of course, the room for manoeuvre was much narrower than the leadership hoped, not least because of the incapacity of the left in Northern and Central Europe to shift the balance of forces in their own countries in even a minimal way. On the other hand, Syriza would never have been elected on the basis of a call for leaving the eurozone, nor would it have won the recent referendum. Those in and out of the party who have always called for an immediate Grexit never were persuasive on the necessary political conditions for this. Given the limits imposed by the unfavourable international balance of forces, those of us who argued that the room for manoeuvre inside the EU was a lot narrower than the Syriza leadership hoped, and therefore favoured connecting a socialist strategy to Grexit – and always made this view clear to our Syriza comrades – could not, however, help but be sympathetic to the dilemmas they faced. Not to have been would have been churlish beyond measure, especially given the socialist left’s own political weakness in our own countries.”

Which begs the question: Who is we? Most Leftists I follow were highly skeptical of SYRIZA’s prospects, and even its commitment to radical change, from the first.

suntzuUnlike Panitch and Gindin, most of us knew already from the very first that SYRIZA’s space for maneuver was critically compromised and it did not take five months of frustrating negotiations to arrive at this conclusion. In the United States, all you had to do is look at the history of recent labor negotiations at Boeing and GM, where labor was forced to concede terrible losses simply so workers could keep their jobs. Was this not enough to conclude labor’s bargaining position had been critically undermined by four decades of neoliberalism? If not, could we not extend this to the abandonment of the working class by the labor and social democratic parties of the world market? Finally, when even the Soviet Union and China together went all in for capitalism wasn’t this clue enough?

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What do you call it when history does a three-peat?

A brief post-mortem for post-Keynesianism and the Left

Is it too early for a post-mortem on the radical Keynesian model of politics? After all the patient is still breathing on the operating table, albeit with great difficulty. With its last dying breath, the Greece nation state, the sacred idol of all Left politics, begged for a few more months of life support.

Is this a too brutal and rude retelling of outcome of months of negotiations? After all, the patient is not dead yet, right? Well, pardon me, but I felt it best to state clearly, while SYRIZA still breathes, that this catastrophe is not all its fault alone. I would hate to see SYRIZA carried to its grave, while the charlatans who first gave life to it, place all the blame for its failure on Tsipras and the SYRIZA majority.

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