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Month: December, 2018

The Human Strike Revisited

As I said, I distrust all anonymous manifestos like Human Strike Has Already Begun & Other writings by Claire Fontaine. My skepticism, however, doesn’t stop me from reading them like some manifesto-junkie looking for a quick fix. So, despite my misgivings, I spent some time absorbing the unnecessarily dense nonsense of this sect.

Claire Fontaine — a group, not a person, who nevertheless prefers to go by the pronoun, ‘she’ — appears to align with Tiqqun in the communization milieu. As a member of that school of thought, it is necessary that they bury their argument in an unintelligible language as is on full display in the essay, “Existential metonymy and imperceptible abstractions”.

As near as I can tell, “existential metonymy” is a nonsense phrase invented to make the rest of us think Claire has something profound to say.

This is their opening statement:

‘Human strike’ designates the most generic movement of revolt. The adjective ‘human’ in this case doesn’t have any moral connotation, it is just more inclusive than ‘general’, because every human strike is an amoral gesture and it is never merely political or social. It attacks the economic, affective, sexual and emotional conditions that oppress people.

The interest and the difficulty of this concept lies in the fact that it is a concept that thinks against itself. And thinking against ourselves will be the necessity of the revolts to come, as desubjectivisation (taking distance from what we are, becoming something else) will be the only way to fight our exploitation. In fact our new working conditions see us being exploited as much in the workplace as outside of it, as the workplace has both exploded and liquefied and so gained our whole lives.

Thinking against ourselves will mean thinking against our identity and our effort to preserve it, it will mean stopping believing in the necessity of identifying ourselves with the place we occupy.

Basically, the human strike is the idea of thinking against ourselves, because the ability to conceptually separate from ourselves will be the only way to fight our exploitation.

Fair enough, but we could restate this idea in far less metaphysical terms:

The human strike are actions directed against our position as wage slaves within the present mode of production and against our own activity, which reproduces that position. We strike against ourselves because this is the only way to fight our exploitation. The human strike means we must no longer act within the roles we play in the present mode of production.

It follows from the above that we cannot judge the results of the human strike by the standards of present society, because the human strike aims to sweeps away present society including the position from which we presently perceive it — that of wage slaves. The result cannot be measured in terms of employment, wage increases or increased consumption. To the casual observer of present society, the result of the human strike necessarily resembles nothing less than a catastrophe.

 

What if Washington never re-opens?

Based on the Trump’s pattern of behavior in several previous engagements, including:

  • NATO
  • COP24
  • TPP
  • Steel and Aluminum Tarrifs
  • NAFTA
  • China Tariffs

I think folks may be underestimating how this border wall skirmish with Pelosi unfolds. We might be looking at a 60 to 90 day partial shutdown in Washington before Pelosi realize Trump is serious and capitulates, perhaps longer.

Of course, I could be wrong. But months with a partial government shutdown is becoming commonplace in the advanced countries. Northern Ireland, for instance, at one point went 14 months without a government; while Belgium went 541 days deadlocked.

It is not beyond imagining that a significant portion of Washington will go unfunded for a rather long period of time.

Brendan Cooney, you’re gonna need a re-write on that book

I received this reply from Brendan Cooney, who appears to be very miffed because I criticize him for spreading confusion on the question of abstract labor:

I don’t discuss labor power or surplus value in this chapter because this is a chapter about abstract labor. Similarly, Marx develops the concept of abstract labor in chapter 1 of Capital, but waits until later chapters to develop Surplus Value and Labor Power. However, my chapter does discuss the fact that in a capitalist society workers are developed for their general capacity to do any labor, rather than for specific labors, which is related to the concept of labor power.

However, I really can’t respond to any of your criticism as it is a constantly moving target. First you say that I neglect to say that labor-power and abstract labor are the same concept. Then, when pressed for a citation of this, you provide a citation which does not prove your claim. When I point out the logical fallacy of your claim, you now change your argument to be that I should have “mentioned labor power”, without explaining why this is necessary in order to explain the concept of abstract labor. You have never responded to my criticism of the idea that labor power cannot be the same thing as abstract labor. Then you leap to the claim that I have argued that surplus value can be produced with out producing value… I don’t see the connection. Then onto something about Christopher Arthur, which is completely irrelevant and has nothing to do with my original post.

Oddly, Brendan asserts he does not discuss labor power in his post because he is discussing abstract labor.

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The Tyranny of Time: Moishe Postone’s Immanent Critique

Avery Minnelli offers some thoughts on Postone

The Left Wind

by Avery Minnelli

I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as a “neutral” or “objective” reading of a given political text or thinker.1 If a reading presents itself as such, there is likely a hidden agenda veiled behind an appeal to authority (e.g. “Well, Lenin clearly agrees with me here, and Lenin was right, so, ipso facto, I am right”). With the understanding that interpretations are by necessity selective and purposeful, I approached Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (1993), henceforth TLSD, with an open mind. Of primary interest to me would be the usefulness and insight of Postone’s interpretation as such rather than how closely it reflects Marx’s own views.

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I distrust all anonymous manifestos like this one…

A snippet of an exchange with Brendan Cooney on Kapitalism101 on abstract labor

Beginning Here

Jehu: “This post is weak. Labor power is abstract labor, i.e., labor in the abstract. The potential for labor in all of its concrete forms. You don’t mention labor power even once in the entire post. I am not sure how you managed that.”

Brendan Cooney: “Where in Kapital does Marx equate labor power and abstract labor as the same concept? Please provide citation.”
Jehu:Sorry for the delay. I did not realize you had responded. Marx equates labour power with abstract labour directly in chapter one of Capital:

“Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.

“Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are – Values.”

“The idea that abstract homogenous human labour is somehow mysterious in Marx’s labor theory of value is one of the greatest frauds in post-war history foisted on undergraduates by the value-form school professors. It is hilarious. You guys and gals tickle the hell out of me.”

*****

The deliberate mystification of the category abstract labor is one of the hallmarks of the value-form school. Creating ambiguity about this term is important because without injecting this ambiguity into the category the value-form school is unable to claim value arises from exchange rather than production as Marx insisted.

 

The Federal Reserve and monetary policy

It is almost certain the Federal Reserve Bank will raise its policy interest rate next week. The question is why? According to most mainstream simpletons there is no appreciable inflation, real wages are only beginning to rise, growth is robust and unemployment has dropped to levels unseen since the sixties. It is what the simpletons call a “Goldilocks economy” — not running too hot or too cold, a sustainable moderate economic expansion.

Oddly, the Fed seems intent on killing it.

Why increase interest rates, especially when this increase will likely not be felt for — perhaps — eighteen months or so? Is the Fed dead-set on committing suicide? Perhaps eighteen months is the clue: the impact of an interest rate increase in December, 2018 would only just be felt in June, 2020; smack dab in the middle of the presidential election season. It is just possible that the devious bastards at Federal Reserve are trying to trigger a recession just in time for Trump’s re-election.

Trump would be the first president to run for reelection in the middle of a recession since Jimmy Carter — and we all know what happened to that poor fool.

Of course, I have no way of knowing if this reasoning is accurate, but it makes complete sense to me.

Where are the communizers in France?

The headline says it all: “Thousands of French ‘yellow vests’ protest for fifth Saturday”:

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of nationwide demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s government, despite calls to hold off after a gun attack in Strasbourg earlier this week.

In Paris, police were out in force to contain possible outbursts of violence. But several major stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette, were open to welcome Christmas shoppers.

Numbers were down compared to Saturday last week.

The critical hint in this news fragment regarding the likely trajectory of the yellow vest protests is not that the number of protesters are declining, nor that Macron’s government has managed to get a handle on containing them. Rather, the hint is prefigured in “Saturday”, the day of the week that has become a recurring moment in the protest.

Saturday is free time away from labor for the protesters. On this day they are free to shop for Christmas, work in their gardens, hang out with friends and family. Some choose to spend this free time protesting Macron’s policies.

Yet, by spending their free time protesting Macron’s policies,, yellow vest protesters concede their protest will not interfere with their wage labor. This seems to be an unconscious recognition of the limitations of their protests. The protesters don’t want to challenge the mode of production as a whole but only insofar as it impinges upon their position as wage slaves.

Can it become more?

With all the gibberish about communization coming from the continent recently, you would think so. The yellow vest protests are a direct challenge to that school.

Except for this brief exchange, however, as far as I can tell the communizers have been remarkably silent:

“…[The] disorder must be pushed further. The moment of the urban riot is itself the limit point of what is now happening: historically it corresponds with two modalities, either the seizure of state power or pushing the state into a crisis to then push for concessions. But this is not 1917, no seizure of state power to then realize a socialist program is conceivable, and we are not in 1968, there were will be no agreements made at Grenelle5. To stick with the urban riot is to remain at a level where the movement still has politics. But if what manifested on Saturday in Paris and everywhere in France returns to the blockades, creates new ones and begins to truly “block the country,” that is to say, to seize itself and to decide from there on its future, one can imagine going from riot to uprising to revolution. But no one can say in which direction this is going, this thing running faster than the whole world: there is no better mark of revolutionary content than this. This movement, because it is a class struggle, bears all that can be today a communist revolution, including its limits, its dangers and its unpredictability: but to reach that point, it will probably be necessary to burn a great deal of things that stand between us, whether it’s cars or social relations.”

The pronouncement does not explain how the protest can be pushed further, but it sets this as the task.

 

There is useful theory — and then there is Kliman’s theory

In September of this year, Andrew Kliman took a stab at the most important question of our time: “What’s Standing In The Way Of Socialism?”

I thought his answer was interesting:

I think there are both external and internal obstacles. The foremost external one is that a substantial segment of the capitalist class — in the US, Russia, and elsewhere — has decided to turn against liberal democracy and whip up pro-fascist sentiment, in order to protect its wealth and privileges. As David Frum, a conservative political pundit, has argued, Donald Trump came to power because wealthy interests, afraid that “the poor might pillage the rich,” helped to energize the racist, authoritarian, and misogynistic “Trump base.”

The foremost internal obstacle is the naïve belief that leftists can turn capitalism into something it’s not. So instead of struggling against capitalism, many leftists struggle for power within capitalism. They think that, by imposing radical redistribution of income and wealth, they can both improve working people’s lives and make capitalism function better. This ignores the obvious, overriding fact that capitalism is a profit-driven system. What’s good for the system — as distinct from the majority of people living under it — is high profits, not low profits. They also naïvely believe that government regulation will do wonders, even though the failure of Keynesian theory and policy during the massive economic crisis of the 1970s showed that passing laws does not overcome the economic laws that actually govern capitalism.

Ignore the silly, naive political Monday morning quarterbacking of the first paragraph. Every election outcome can be explained more or less as the result of infallible intervention by “wealthy interests” — whatever this sophomoric term means — until it cannot and we are forced to introduce some other silly, naive explanation.

I mean, to be perfectly honest, we cannot prove or disprove Kliman’s silly thesis that wealthy interests, fearful of the poor, promoted Trump’s election. The statement is so vague, and the terms involved are so ill-defined, as to constitute a staggering case of theoretical malpractice on the part of a Marxist writer.

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Walmart’s response to the $15 minimum wage campaign

Yes, Walmart bowed to pressure and raised the wages of some of its employees, but it had a Plan B.

I think we need a Plan B as well.