The Real Movement

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Month: July, 2016

How Marxist economists are failing our movement

One thing working for communists at the state and local level in the United States is that state and local governments don’t have access to conventional Keynesian economic policy tools: State and local governments can’t print currency and therefore can’t issue bonds based on a currency they control. If they issue bonds, sooner or later they have to raise taxes or cut spending to pay the debt off. This means state and local governments can’t spend their way out of the contradictions inherent in capitalism.

What does this mean practically?

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Can communists fix “the poorest big city” in the US?

According to this article, Philadelphia, the site of the Democratic National Convention and long managed by the Democratic Party, has another unmentioned and less savory reputation. It is “the poorest big city” in the US.

“The nation is focused on Philadelphia as a smiling, spruced up city hosting hordes of delegates, visitors, protesters and journalists. But away from the TV cameras, thousands who live in the poorest neighborhoods know it’s unlikely that outsiders will see their Philadelphia, one defined by poverty, hardship and hopelessness.”

While I was reading it, I found myself asking, “When was the last time I read anything by a Marxist on how to fix poverty?”

Now, obviously, poverty is natural to the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism has an inherent tendency to impoverish wage workers as it concentrates wealth into fewer and fewer hands. Marxists thus have argued that if we want to fix poverty we have to get rid of capitalism. There is nothing wrong with this statement in and of itself, but it does beg the question: How do we get from point A to point B? Is there nothing short of communism that can fix this?

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Capital, commodity production and collapse (V): After collapse, what?

Part 5: Is Marxism today out of sync with history?

“Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.” –Albert Einstein

In first place, the failure to recognize production based on exchange value has already collapsed implies Marxists are (or may be) looking for an event to occur in the future that has already happened in the past. In second place, it is effectively the same thing as stating Marx was wrong about the ultimate trajectory of capitalist production. At best, we have to explain why Marx’s predicted breakdown has not happened already; at worst, we might conclude Marx’s theory has been falsified by history.

This problem is further complicated when Marx’s theory is misread to predict something he clearly never predicted, “a collapse of capitalism”. If capitalism did not collapse as Marx said it would — and, obviously, it has not — it must follow his theory has been falsified by history. The problem with this conclusion, of course, is that Marx never actually predicted capitalism would collapse, he predicted production based on exchange value would collapse. In Marx’s theory, the collapse of production based on exchange value might very well lead to the end of capitalism as well, but it could just as easily lead to the state becoming the national capitalist, the direct exploiter of the working class.

If you think Marx predicted the collapse of capitalism, Marx is obviously wrong. This is bad for Marx, but no worse than hundreds of would-be prophets throughout history who have turned out to be wrong, including a considerable population waiting for Jesus to return. But if you think Marx predicted the breakdown of production based on exchange value, as I do, the implications are much worse for the working class today.

If Marx was right, Marxists today are completely out of sync with history.

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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.