Yeah, that fucking happened.

Yesterday oil futures closed negative for the first time in history. You probably are still trying to wrap your head around what this means. So I thought I would help you.

Here is a thought experiment.

Suppose you have an economy that is divided this way:

  • One of every 200 people is sufficient to feed the entire country.
  • Four of every one hundred people is sufficient to produce everything else needed by the country.
  • Together, about four point five (4.5) people out of one hundred are needed to produce everything needed by the country to live on.
  • The other 95.5 people are essentially superfluous to necessary labor.

Over time this 95.5 out of 100 people come to be engaged in all manner of pursuits that are economically superfluous, but absorb the output of the 4.5 of productively employed persons.

In other words, they create demand for the output of the productively employed persons.

This works fine, mostly. Growth is tepid, because real growth is only occurring in the sector of the economy that is productively employed. Growth occurs among the 4.5%. But it is measured in terms of the 100%. Say growth in the 4.5% is 40% — roughly an increase from 4.5 out of 100 people to 6.5 out of 100.

But no new investment is possible here in the productive sector owing to absolute over-accumulation of productive capital. So, there must be an increase in the superfluous sector. It must increase from roughly 95.5 out of 100 people to roughly 97.5 out of 100 people.

Although there has been a huge increase in the productive sector, this is expressed as a very small increase in the overall economy — secular stagnation.

You get the idea: additional investment in the productive sector is not possible, so there must be an increase in superfluous labor time. If there is no increase, there will be a crisis. New demand for this increased output must come into being. That is the state’s role — to foster new demand.

So, now we see how this works and how the two sectors relate to one another.

(Pardon me if this is a bit unclear. I’m working this out as I go along.)

Enter this virus; it emerges and sweeps the world market. The state shuts down “non-essential” businesses, which just happen to mostly reside in the superfluous labor sector. They reside, in other words, in the 95.5% of the economy that mostly create demand for the output of the 4.5% of productively employed capital. Let’s say the hit on the superfluous sector amounts to 20 people. So now, instead of being 95.5 units of demand, the superfluous sector has suddenly shrunk to 75.5 units of demand.

This is what the economists see.

But labor theory see something more.

Now 20 units of the sector that once were realized of the surplus value produced by productively employed capitals suddenly has gone away. A massive devaluation has taken place almost instantaneously. This is expressed in a mass of idle capital and an equally large population of excess workers. And it takes the form of both currencies and commodities as well.

Currencies have no value and when they fall out of circulation, they simply become worthless scrip. Commodities, when they fall out of circulation, have no prices and, we must assume, no values as well. They are not even social use values, i.e., use values for someone other than their producers. (But this term may be nuanced: what do I mean by the term, “their producers”?)

The damage to the forces of production does not end here.

The productively employed capital is not shut down; it continues to function as capital, to self-expand and to produce surplus value. The state, which does not hesitate to shut down restaurants, never steps in to shut down oil drills, farms and meat processing plants. These operations are self-evidently “essential” to any modern society, right?

Who in their right mind would tell an oil refinery to stop refining oil into gasoline, since commuters need the gasoline to get to work? Only, the roads are empty now. There are no commuters. And with the empty roads the air is clearing as pollution settles. Less gasoline is used to get superfluous workers to their superfluous jobs that no longer exist.

Soon, the pumps are silent. The gasoline trucks move less often. The refineries begins to shut down. The storage facilities begin the fill up. And still oil is being pumped. Because pumping oil is the production of surplus value and entire nations are dependent on the production of surplus value.

Finally, when oil futures go negative, speculators get the memo:

Capitalism is dead.

The Dutch writer’s response to our Open Letter

The writer of the Dutch critique makes the following points:

1. Jehu predicts, if working time is not drastically reduced, this will lead to barbaric competition between workers for jobs. By this, Jehu does not mean the loss of control of the owners over the means of production and communism. Jehu argues instead that the outcome will be “Unnecessary suffering of the working class of every country”. This is utopian socialism in its entirety, criticism of what is seen as the excesses of capitalism, preservation of the capitalist relations of production by humane actions of intellectuals who want to do something for the workers.

2. The author refers to Jehu’s call for an immediate reduction of hours of labor, a “Trotskyist transition requirement”.

3. The author says, Jehu’s call for immediate formation of mutual aid committees between employed and unemployed shows that “Jehu’s understanding of the history of the workers’ movement has stalled” in the 19th century.

4. Jehu says capitalism is dead, but capitalism is a production relationship that exists in both in times of full employment and times of massive unemployment. Capitalism can only be broken by the worker’s struggle that overthrows the state. Only after the state is overthrown does the transformation of capitalist relations of production begin with the elimination of wage labor.

5. Jehu accepts the notion of “essential production”. He thus accepts the idea “that weapon production is ‘essential,’ luxury production for the wealthy is ‘essential,’ and police, security, and military perform all ‘essential services’.

6. According to Jehu, capital flight is beneficial to weaker national capitals. Perhaps this is so, but in making this argument Jehu clearly believes that his solutions presuppose the survival of capital.

7. Jehu claims that higher labor costs will give automation a powerful boost that will undoubtedly spur the development of productive forces. This is the sort of technocratic and productivist approach to the problem of the elimination of scarcity that we find in more Communists.

8. Unlike Jehu, Marx never had an approach to historical crisis that expected communism from further capitalist development.

I think these are an accurate restatement of the Dutch writer’s concerns. I will try to address them briefly later today.

*****

Additionally, the writer, Fredocorvo, has thoughtfully forward us a copy of an English translation of his critique, which I print in full below:

Hi, I’m ‘the Dutch writer’. I understand you made up your idea about my critique on the basis of a machine translation. Here follows my translation of the complete critique into English. However this translation will neither be perfect:

Fortunately, there is no lack of manuals on what to do in the current pandemic. One of the worst examples of this is this Open Letter, which I will use as an opportunity to outline how a real alternative to capitalism can come about and how it can be promoted. I do not pretend to be able to summarise the contents of the Open Letter. In the absence of scholarly lectures in Das Kapital, the Grundrisse and Marx’s Notebooks, I confine myself to a number of solutions that Jehu puts forward.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

First of all, the pompous appeal to unspecified ‘communists’ all over the world, i.e. from precursors that English called utopian socialists, via the libertarian anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, via Trotskyists, Titoists and various Communist Lefts, to the Stalinists who may or may not have defended or still defend various terrorist regimes in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba, etc. as ‘real existing socialism’. Jehu clearly does not wish to place himself within the history of the workers’ movement and its bourgeois afterbirths, but for those who do like labels, I put the stamp ‘Communisator’ on it. In doing so, I do injustice to the innumerable variants within this movement, namely equal to the number of individuals who call themselves Communisators, many of whom will not be happy with the Call.

At first reading, however, I felt so addressed in my vanity by the addition of ‘prominent’ and the noun ‘thinkers’ that Jehu sticks as a tail on the rather vulgar sounding ‘communist’, that I diligently read his flaming appeal further. And what do I see? A call for a drastic reduction in working hours. Finally, someone who wants to bring back the ‘labour’ under which I suffer when I cut my coupons, and maybe even wants to abolish wage labour, of which I have been an opponent all my life. And Jehu predicts, if working hours are not drastically reduced to the current number of hours for “essential production”, a barbaric competition between workers for jobs threatens a total class or class war. Jehu is extremely vague about its content. But every right-thinking citizen is clear about the horrors of the class war, i.e., eh now, of course, not talking about the loss of control by the owners over the means of production and thus the wealth produced, but: “unnecessary suffering of the working class of each country”.

See, that is utopian socialism, criticizing what is seen as excesses of capitalism, maintaining capitalist relations of production by humane actions of ‘intellectuals’ who want to do something for the workers.

I also recognize only too well the Trotskyist transition demand of the reduction of working hours with which social democracy and the trade union movement organized “struggles” in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the reduction of wages. Jehu expresses some distrust of the trade unions, but the ‘mutual aid funds’ he mentions as the only means of struggle are in fact nothing more than a re-establishment of trade unions from the time when Marx was writing Das Kapital, and where Jehu’s understanding of the history of the workers’ movement has got stuck. Jehu probably never heard of the insight of the German and Dutch Communist Left, among others, that in the 19th century these strike and support funds only worked for the wage-earners as long as the entrepreneurs were in competition with each other and only an outside leadership was effective. Around the change from the 19th to the 20th century, this ‘leadership policy’ out of self-preservation of parliamentary parties and trade union movement turned against the workers and against what became known as the ‘mass struggle’ and finally the appearance of the workers’ councils as the organs of that mass struggle.

Jehu assumes that the old production relations with today’s suddenly exploding mass unemployment have been broken and that those in power are striving to restore them. But capitalism, wage labour, is a production relationship that exists both with (an imaginary) full employment and with mass unemployment. Capitalism can only be broken by massive and independently organized workers’ struggles that paralyse, overwhelm and shatter the bourgeois state. Only then does the transformation of capitalist production relations begin by abolishing wage labour, i.e. by establishing a direct relationship between worker and product through the hour of work, rather than, as hitherto, through the market and/or the state. (See First Edition of ‘Fundamental Principles’ GIC 1935).

Jehu also makes important concessions to the lie of ‘essential production’, with which capital suggests that those who have to continue working at the risk of their own lives do so in the interests of the elderly and the weak. But apparently, arms production is also ‘essential’, production of luxury for the rich is ‘essential’, and the police, security services and army provide all ‘essential services’, we hear from the state, and Jehu … is silent about this.

There is more nonsense to be found in the proposed solutions. For example, capital flight is presented as beneficial for the weaker national capitals. Maybe so, but Jehu is clearly saying that his solutions presuppose the survival of capital. In the same vein, Jehu claims that higher labour costs will give robotization a powerful boost that will undoubtedly bring about a leap in the development of productive forces. This is a technocratic and productivist approach to the problem of the elimination of scarcity that we find in more Communisators. All this beauty appears on a blog that calls itself “the real movement” with reference to a quote from Marx’ and Engels’ writing The German Ideology.

“For us, communism is not a situation to be brought about, not an ideal to which reality should be directed. Communism we call the real movement that abolishes the present conditions.”

For what I have understood from historical materialism, the real movement is that of capitalist society, especially at times of economic crisis, such as today, and the movement of the workers for independent class goals as its consequence. Marx understood very well that the moments of an economic crisis in his time were extremely limited by further possibilities of development of capitalism on a global scale. But he seized every opportunity that arose, and which set workers in motion, to drive this movement further by revealing its true meaning: particularly during the European Revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune in response to the Franco-German war. Never has Marx used this kind of historical crisis, in which we now find ourselves, to call for the prevention of class war … , and never at those historical moments, he expected communism to result from further capitalist development. On the contrary, Marx called for what could then still be seen as “historically necessary” (to use a word from Hegel) suffering of the working class, to shorten it with the revolution and to take the path towards socialism.

Jehu, Open Letter to Communists of The Whole World: Total Class War Is Coming, (The Real Movement)

Open Letter to Communists of The Whole World: Total Class War Is Coming

In italiano: Lettera aperta ai comunisti di tutto il mondo: la Guerra di Classe Totale sta per arrivare

We are urgently calling for a shift in the strategy of all communists that takes into account the new reality created by the emergency measures imposed by the state on the capitalist accumulation process. Because of this pandemic, the state has been forced to shut down the capitalist accumulation process. Workers are off the job not because of a general strike, but because the state has closed all non-essential businesses.

There are millions of workers who are now set free from productive employment; they are unemployed. We need to fight to convert this huge mass of unemployment into free time for every member of society. The alternative will be total class war, the likes of which has never been seen in the whole of the history of capitalism. It will unfold against the backdrop of extreme deprivation and barbarous competition for jobs among the working class as the state tries desperately to reestablish the old relations of production.

It is essential that prominent communist thinkers today take the lead in urging communists worldwide to shift their focus to the urgent need for a radical reduction of hours of labor. This will be necessary if we are to prevent savage competition among the proletarians over jobs when nation states attempt to restart the capitalist accumulation process with billions still unemployed.

The failure of communists to take urgent action right now will result in unnecessary suffering by the working class of every country.

1.

The pandemic public health emergency is NOT a crisis. According to Marx, “crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions” within the mode of production. They arise from the working out of the contradictions within the mode of production itself. This emergency is obviously external to the mode of production. Based on reports, it began with the emergence of a viral infection of unknown origin in the People’s Republic of China, which rapidly spread to engulf most of the world market. The pandemic soon forced most nation states to take aggressive public health measures to contain it. Among these measures were so-called social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. These measures led states to close down many so-called non-essential business operations and confine citizens to their homes.

The public health measures thus interrupted both the sale of labor power and the circulation of capital. To implement a necessary public health measure to contain the spread of a deadly disease, nation states were compelled to interrupt the global capitalist accumulation process itself; they were forced to shut it down.

Now, some may think the mode of production can be restarted. We question this assumption. It is not as simple as they think to restart the capitalist accumulation process. For one thing, no one knows the value of anything. Capital is value in motion, self-expanding value. What is the value of capital that is no longer self-expanding? What is the value of labor power that cannot be sold at any wage? These questions are not settled on a spreadsheet, but in a competitive struggle between and among classes. When people are told to go back to work, that competitive struggle will begin. It likely will not end with the restoration of the normal operation of the capitalist mode of production.

2.

The emergency measures necessary to slow the spread of the contagion has led to the interruption of the process of capitalist accumulation as millions of workers were directed to stay at home and non-essential capitalist firms were forced to close. This has produced an economic contraction that is likely larger than any previous contraction in history. As a result, the various nation states have been compelled to step in and implement assorted relief measures to replace the wages of the working class — lost because of social distancing measures — and to bail out idle and failing capitalist firms that are teetering on the edge of collapse.

These interventions nation states have made to contain the pandemic have given communists the world over the opportunity to approach the coming crisis with a degree of coordination that is far greater than anything seen in recent years. The working classes of every country now face almost the exact same set of difficulties — massive unemployment and lost wages. This calls for the same response: a dramatic reduction of hours of labor in all countries.

The alternative–massive stimulus and relief measures–just will not work for most countries. The capacity of nation states to implement relief measures designed to replace the wages of the working class — lost because of social distancing measures — is not uniform among nation states. The United States, of course, can operate rather freely, since it controls the world reserve currency. Similarly, nations states, like Germany and China, who have accumulated large reserves of foreign exchange, can, if they choose, expend some of these reserves to maintain their national capitals on life support for some time.

Aside from these few countries however, the ability of most countries to run the massive deficits necessary to finance these interventions are questionable. Some countries have standing to borrow in a pinch, but the capacity to maintain their national capitals on life support for long periods of time is circumscribed by foreign and domestic creditors. And at the bottom of the pyramid are the vast majority of nations that have few resources and are utterly dependent on foreign assistance. Communists have to offer an approach that works not just for the rich countries, but for all countries — even, and especially, the poorest.

3.

To paraphrase that American officer in Vietnam, the fascists found it necessary to destroy capitalism in order to save it. At a minimum, it is obvious that capitalist accumulation has largely come to a standstill. But here is the thing: capital, as we all know, is value in motion, self-expanding value. How does value in motion come to a standstill? What happens to capital, when value itself no longer circulates as self-expanding value? Can one simply turn capital off, like a light switch, for weeks, or even months, and turn it back on again, once the “All clear” has been given by the public health authorities?

Communists should not be so quick to answer, “Yes.” We have never been here before. And, largely, our immediate actions will be determined by the answer we give. If we assume capital is dead, we will act one way. If we assume capital is alive and just waiting to spring back into action, we will act another way. The unusually swift action that led to the adoption of a relief package in Washington suggests the fascists do not think capital is as resilient as communists seem to think it is.

The Federal Reserve has predicted that as much as 30 percent of workers will be displaced from their jobs as a result of this emergency. It is difficult to tell how much of this has already been realized, since the archaic unemployment reporting system completely broke down in this emergency, according to one media outlet. Basically, the March monthly non-farm payroll report, which tells us how bad unemployment has become, shows that overall unemployment in the United States fell only 701,000 persons (although millions already have lost their jobs over the last two weeks). The reasons for this is the way the data is collected and published by Washington. (The Economic Policy Institute has an article on the problem.)

The horrendous damage actually done to the productive forces by this emergency may be hidden from official unemployment statistics for a month. This is a problem. Often, reality is only real for communists if the government reports it and the media echoes it. But the way the U.S. government collects data is deliberately designed to blunt public perception of things like rising unemployment and inflation (for obvious reasons).

However, we do have access to slightly more reliable proxies. There is the BLS weekly initial jobless claims report which shows unimaginably huge jumps in jobless claims over the last two weeks of nearly 10 million persons. This is more jobless claims than the whole of the 2008 financial crisis.

We can also look at other countries. Israel, facing the same state public health lockdown, has seen its unemployment rate jump from historic lows to 24% in a single month. While Spain has also seen a massive jump in jobless claims that has almost wiped out all employment gains back to its historic financial crisis highs in 2013.

We have other indicators that suggest massive damage as well: the auto industry remains completely shut in, subway ridership is down 75%, airline travel is down 93%, and retail foot traffic is down 97%.

Beyond this, the European services purchasing managers index (PMI), a forward looking survey of purchasing managers in the services sector, is near apocalyptic levels. Italy has fallen from 52.1 to a deeply contractionary reading of 17.4; Spain has fallen from 52.1 to 23; France collapsed from 52.5 to 27.4 and Germany plunged from 52.5 to 31.7.

Taken together, these assorted proxies suggest the public health measures to contain the pandemic are inflicting savage and ongoing damage to the capitalist accumulation process.

Another, less direct reason to expect unprecedented carnage to the productive forces is that we suspect the terrain of the world market has been prepared for this event in the same way years of drought prepares a region for uncontrollable wildfires. The literature has long marked the accumulation of a very large mass of superfluous capital and a very large population of surplus workers, resulting from the transformation of agriculture and the improvement in productivity of social labor in industry, combined with state efforts to engineer continuous expansion of empty labor in the tertiary sector, through massive deficit spending.

The measures taken in the present emergency appear to have punctured a bubble that has been at least nine decades in the making — back to the Great Depression. We cannot overemphasize how significant this situation is. We already have accumulated a huge surplus population from previous economic contractions that have not been absorbed back into productive employment from both the 2001 and 2008 crisis, respectively. The emergency measures taken in response to this pandemic will easily increase those numbers by a magnitude at least. And it is likely that profound changes in the economy predicted to take place over the next decade, (e.g. widespread automation), may now be realized in a matter of months or even weeks.

You do not have to be a catastrophist to understand what has happened here. In two short weeks, capital values have been destroyed and workers have been set free from production on an unimaginable scale seldom seen in a full-blown economic contraction lasting years, perhaps decades. And this has occurred not just in one or two countries, but in almost every nation on the planet and all together. We hardly think anyone contemplating this situation can operate from the baseline assumption that capitalism has survived.

This suggests our options as a class going forward will be to accept an attempted restoration of the capitalist accumulation process by the state or press ahead with fundamental alterations of all existing relations.

 

4.

The state is determined to restore capitalist accumulation. They will not let anything prevent the return to the pre-Covid-19 status quo. They will throw the kitchen sink at the problem, but we don’t expect much original thinking here.

On track one, we think the state will follow the standard Keynesian recession/depression playbook. That means a huge fiscal/monetary stimulus bolus and massive tax cuts targeted to businesses and the very wealthy. The Democrats and the Republicans will argue as usual over who gets how much of what — as if it makes a difference under wage slavery which slave master gets the actual subsidy. Following the United States, Japan has announced a relief package said to amount to 25 percent of GDP. Italy has proposed a stimulus plan that amounts to an astonishing fifty percent of its GDP. Spain has floated the idea of a universal basic income — but they have been saying the same thing for at least four years.

Anyone expecting any creativity here is likely to be disappointed. We haven’t seen anyone thinking outside the box so far, when it comes to “getting the economy back on its feet.” If creative thinking is going to happen, it will happen only when this uninspired stuff fails. The Obama administration, for instance, never attempted to recover any of the jobs and output lost in the 2008 crisis over its eight years. It just let all of that lost output and those lost jobs go. We expect the Trump administration will do the same.

Meanwhile, on track two, the state will roll out the notorious class warfare wishlist. This starts with elimination of things like the minimum wage, OSHA, and various labor protection laws, as well as some federal version of a right to work law, etc. NLRB, as useless as it is, will likely be abolished or just gutted. (In this vein, Trump’s NLRB is making it almost impossible to unionize in the United States.)

This will be total class war, the likes of which has never been seen in the whole of the history of capitalism. It will unfold against the backdrop of extreme deprivation and barbarous competition for jobs among the working class. Even as we speak, the plans are being laid for this total class war in the White House.

5.

The only way to prevent capitalist accumulation from restarting is to immediately reduce hours of labor. We need to replace the present emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses with a strict reduction on hours of labor of a similar magnitude. By radically reducing hours of labor and imposing compensation through a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, we can at least impose severe restrictions on the scale of any future attempt to reestablish capitalist accumulation.

How this works:

It is estimated that this emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses will eventually lead to roughly 47 million workers being unemployed, furloughed or otherwise idled. This translates into an estimated reduction of GDP by about 30-35% and actual employment by about 30%. The approach we advocate is simple: since we are already looking at a large drop in GDP and employment, we should convert this drop into a dramatic reduction of the 40hour workweek  to 24 hours per week. This would impose a reduction of hours of labor on a scale that is similar in scale to the 30% unemployment already made necessary by the public health emergency.

There are five advantages to this approach.

First, the absolute accumulation of excess capital and a surplus population of workers has been stopped for the most part, globally. By locking in a deep reduction of hours of labor at this point, we prevent the capitalists from restarting it. We could go further and reduce hours of labor still more to 15 hours or even 10 hours — imposing draconian limits on accumulation and forcing introduction of automation to compensate for a rapidly shrinking labor pool.

Second, as satellite data is showing, the present level of employment hours is having a dramatic impact on global climate change. Reduction of hours of labor has an immediate impact on this problem that can be visualized noticeably. We would be doubling down on this positive development.

Third, we produce a labor shock effect: as the labor hours supplied to the market fall, wages rise. Writers also are beginning to note that reduction of hours of labor has a positive impact on the cohesiveness of the working class and their ability to organize. This is, by far, the most important factor for communists to think about. Reduction of working hours undercuts competition and fragmentation within the working class by reducing the aggregate amount of labor supplied to capital.

Fourth, reducing hours of labor, especially in the rich countries, will, naturally, cause capital flight. As bizarre as this sounds, this is actually a good thing. Africa, Asia and Latin America need investment. They will not get it unless capital currently locked up in the rich countries is forced to flee to the less developed regions of the world market. A dramatic reduction of hours of labor here will accelerate this process.

Fifth, reducing hours of labor will accelerate automation. There is no better way to force capitalists to introduce improved methods of production than to dramatically drive up labor costs. Reducing hours of labor can do this by increasing the cohesiveness and bargaining power of the working class — just as leaving 47 million workers unemployed can weaken the working class, by leaving it balkanized and fragmented.

Finally, we want to warn those who are complacent about an attempt by the state to restart the capitalist accumulation process that the damage done to labor markets in this period is unimaginably extensive. Once this pandemic emergency is declared over, people will be told to go back to work. Millions will already have lost their jobs by then. To give an example: retail brick and mortar is likely never coming back. That’s one out of every four workers in the United States. Where will those workers go for jobs? Forty-seven million workers frantically looking for work at the same time is not something we should ever want to see happening in the United States. But this is exactly what is likely to happen if the emergency passes and restoration of the status quo ante is attempted.

6.

People should be clear that the emergency measures taken to control the pandemic are not the actual crisis. They are only the trigger to the actual crisis. The crisis, i.e., the sudden and forcible adjustment of the global labor market, will begin once the emergency measures to contain the pandemic are relaxed and workers are told to go back to work.

Forty-seven million have been unemployed in the United States — billions worldwide. This implies competition on a scale that is unimaginable to us today. All this has been prepared by the impact of the emergency measures taken to contain the pandemic on capitalist relations of production.

When people are told to get back to work, millions of workers in the United States and billions more around the world will no longer have jobs and no prospect of finding a job. Capitalist relations of production will experience a sudden, sharp and forcible adjustment to this new reality (again, the likes of which we have probably have never witnessed in the history of the mode of production.)

As those who are familiar with Marx’s theory are aware, a crisis is not some sort of magic carpet ride to communism. It is a violent eruption that cannot, of itself, go beyond the limits of the mode of production. We believe this will be the granddaddy of all crises.

7.

There is one idea communists must work on now to prepare. It is extremely important to forge solidarity between workers who are still at work and the millions who have lost their jobs. This effort must be given the highest priority by communists now, before the emergency is declared over and workers are forced to return to the labor market looking for jobs.

We suggest communists everywhere at least form mutual aid funds of workers helping workers to provide mutual aid between the employed and unemployed — no state, church, NGO or charity involvement! (We would even discourage labor union involvement, since they are often controlled by the fascists.) Efforts should be made to take up collections of money, food and clothing at your workplaces to aid the unemployed.

This campaign should be a pure worker to worker mutual aid effort. Committees should be formed covering both workplace and community. People need to facilitate it by doing research in their communities to find out who has already lost their jobs in their community, collect names etc. We want to build ties of solidarity within the class outside the state, church and charities. If these ties are not forged between the employed and unemployed, workers will be set against one another when the crisis hits.

We are urgently calling for a shift in the strategy of all communists that takes into account the new reality created by the emergency measures imposed by the state on the capitalist accumulation process. Because of this pandemic, the state has been forced to do what communists have been aiming to do since the time of the Communist Manifesto: shut down the capitalist accumulation process.

Admittedly, it has happened in a way we did not expect. The impact of the public health measures taken to respond to the pandemic on capitalist relations of production turned out to be a black swan. And it takes a second to wrap our heads around the fact that it happened. Workers are off the job not because of a general strike, but because the state has closed all non-essential businesses. This did not happen the way we expected it to happen. But it happened! The accumulation process has been shut down. This is actually where we are now!

The state has been forced, very much against its will, to shut down all non-essential businesses; to shut down the accumulation process itself. What can we do this very instant to keep it shut down? There are millions of workers who are now set free from productive employment; they are unemployed. We need to fight to convert this huge mass of unemployment into free time for every member of society. The alternative is one relief bill after another as the state tries desperately to reestablish the old relations of production.

We cannot let another opportunity pass us as happened during the Great Depression when capital ground to a halt and workers fought for a shorter work week, but were given the New Deal, Auschwitz and World War II instead.

*Please feel free to translate this text into any language and distribute it as widely as possible.

 

CoViD-19 and Capitalist Collapse: Answers to some questions about the present emergency

SUMMARY

According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, as many as 47 million workers may lose their jobs as a result of the emergency public health measures taken to control the coronavirus pandemic. Once the pandemic is contained, those unemployed workers will return to the labor market en masse seeking work.

47 million. If we do not take steps now to reduce hours of labor, the consequences of that level of unemployment are unthinkable.

Looking for comments on this discussion paper from everyone.

*****

So, let’s answer some questions.

QUESTION: What is unique about this crisis?

ANSWER: First, it should be clear that, from the point of view of Marx’s labor theory of value, this is NOT a crisis.

According to Marx, “crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions.” Crises are internal to the mode of production; they arise from the working out of the contradictions within the mode of production itself. This event is obviously external to the mode of production. Based on reports, it began with the emergence of a viral infection of unknown origin in the People’s Republic of China, which rapidly spread to engulf most of the world market. The pandemic soon forced most nation state to take aggressive public health measures to contain it. Among these measures were so-called social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. These measures led states to close down many so-called non-essential business operations and confine citizens to their homes.

These drastic emergency public health measures had their own economic consequences: in first place, many capitals were forced to stand idle as a result of the public health measures; millions of workers have been set free from their jobs. In second place, the dependence of millions on this slender thread of survival was graphically highlighted by the emergency.

The public health measures thus interrupted both the sale of labor power and the circulation of capital.

To implement a necessary public health measure to contain the spread of a deadly disease, nation states were compelled to interrupt the global capitalist accumulation process itself; they were forced to shut it down. This makes the present emergency very different than — say — the Great Depression, the collapse of Bretton Woods, and the 2008 financial crisis, which produced the three greatest economic crises in history. Those economic contractions arose from contradictions internal to the mode of production and as forcible solutions of those contradictions.

This event may indeed be far larger in scale and more extensive than any of those crises, but the solution to this emergency is external to the process of accumulation.

***

QUESTION: Can you point to the central contradiction in this emergency on which communist should focus?

ANSWER: This is an important question. We have noticed that a lot of communists are focusing on the pandemic itself and the strategy for combating it. We think this emphasis is misplaced. The pandemic is a big problem that must be addressed, but, to be absolutely frank, it’s not our problem. It is a public health problem. Personally, we follow the advice of public health officials so we don’t get sick. We don’t take medical advice from communists, unless they have medical degrees.

However, as communists, we cannot help but consider the intersection between the necessary public health measures taken to suppress the pandemic and existing social relations. We think everyone would agree these measures have social implications. From that point of view, the central contradiction in this emergency is between capitalist relations of production and the technical requirements of the public health emergency.

As we explained above, the requirements of the public health emergency call for so-called “social distancing” to slow the spread of the contagion. But this measure has led to the interruption of the process of capitalist accumulation as millions of workers were directed to stay at home and non-essential capitalist firms were forced to close. This has produced an economic contraction that is likely larger than any previous contraction in history. As a result, the various nation states have been compelled to step in and implement assorted relief measures designed to replace the wages of the working class and to bail out idle and failing capitalist firms that are teetering on the edge of collapse.

This capacity to intervene is not uniform among nation states. In first place, the United States can operate rather freely, since it controls the world reserve currency. Next up, are those nations states, like Germany and China, who have accumulated large reserves of foreign exchange. They can, if they choose, expend some of these reserves to maintain capitalist accumulation on life support for sometime. Following these surplus nation are those countries that have standing to borrow in a pinch. They have some limited capacity to maintain their national capitals on life support, but this is circumscribed by foreign and domestic creditors. At the bottom of the pyramid are the vast majority of nations that have few resources and are utterly dependent on foreign assistance.

The recent US package amounted to about $2.2 trillion. This is roughly ten percent of its gross domestic product for 2019. It is the third and largest package passed into law. No one thinks this is the last package that will be required for this emergency; already work is continuing on a fourth package. These packages are designed to maintain existing relations of production until such time as the emergency is passed and the normal operation of the mode of production can be restored. We don’t think anyone imagines there is another nation that has the capacity to do what the United States is doing.

There is certainly no nation state in the fourth group that has this capacity. We have our doubts that there are any nation states in group three who have it without international support. In large part, all of this depends on how long this emergency lasts. Few nation states have the resources to sustain programs to replace the wages of their respective working classes and profits of capitals though these spending packages for long. Just to give an example, it would cost roughly $200 billion a month to replace the wages of 30% of the United States working class should they be unable to work because of social distancing measures — using the BLS 2019 median wage of $48,672 as our wage base.

In Europe, many people have lost their job, but this being disguised in one way or another by state programs. According to the NYT, the increase in jobless claims this past two weeks is “an American peculiarity.” Jobs are not being destroyed so fast elsewhere. Apparently, governments elsewhere are protecting employment and making it possible for workers to keep their jobs even in industries that are shut down. The state pays their wages through direct payments to employers.

The United States is late signing onto this social-fascist strategy. But it is still trying to encourage employers to maintain workers on payroll through the so-called Paycheck Protection Program. This may disguise the extent of the damage done to the productive forces in this crisis, but it does little to mitigate the actual damage. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count workers as unemployed if they are still on payroll, even if they work zero hours.)

The most despicable thing about the program is that it forces workers to remain dependent on their employer to receive state aid.

***

QUESTION: How extensive is the damage to the mode of production in this emergency?

ANSWER: We have asserted that capitalism is dead and some take exception to this declaration. Okay, fine. At a minimum, capitalist accumulation has largely come to a standstill.

But here is the thing: capital, as we all know, is value in motion, self-expanding value. How does value in motion come to a standstill? What happens to capital, when value itself no longer circulates as self-expanding value? Can one simply turn capital off, like a light switch, for weeks, or even months, and turn it back on again, once the “All clear” has been given by the public health authorities?

Don’t be so fucking quick to answer, “Yes.”

We have never been here before. And, largely, our immediate actions will be determined by the answer we give. If we assume capital is dead, we will act one way. If we assume capital is alive and just waiting to spring back into action, like Donald Trump, we will act another way. The swift action that led to the adoption of relief measures in Washington suggest the fascist do not think capital is as resilient as communists seem to think it is.

To paraphrase that American officer in Vietnam, the fascists found it necessary to destroy capitalism in order to save it.

How bad has it gotten already?

This is unclear, but it is already unprecedented:

The Federal Reserve has predicted at as much as 30 percent of workers will be displaced from their jobs as a result of this emergency.

First, the archaic unemployment reporting system completely broke down in this emergency according to one media outlet. Basically, the monthly non-farm payroll report, which tells us how bad unemployment has become, shows that overall unemployment in the United States fell only 701,000 persons, although millions already have lost their jobs over the last two weeks. The reasons for this is the way the data is collected and published by Washington. The Economic Policy Institute has an article on the problem.

The horrendous damage actually done to the productive forces by this emergency may be hidden from official statistics for a month. This is a problem. Often, reality is only real for commies if the government reports it and the media echoes it. But the way the U.S. government collect data is deliberately designed to blunt public perception of things like rising unemployment and inflation for obvious reasons.

However, we do have access to slightly more reliable proxies.

There is the BLS weekly initial jobless claims report which shows unimaginably huge jumps in jobless claims over the last two weeks of nearly 10 million persons. This is more jobless claims than the whole of the 2008 financial crisis.

We can also look at other countries. Israel, facing the same state public health lockdown, has seen its unemployment rate jump from historic lows to 24% in a single month. While Spain has also seen a massive jump in jobless claims that has almost wiped out all employment gains back to 2013.

We have other indicators that suggest massive damage as well: the auto industry remains completely shut in; subway ridership is down 75%; airline travel is down 93%; and retail foot traffic is down 97%.

Beyond this, European purchasing managers index, a survey of purchasing managers in the services sector, is near apocalyptic levels. Italy has fallen from 52.1 to 17.4; Spain has fallen from 52.1 to 23; France collapsed from 52.5 to 27.4 and Germany plunged from 52.5 to 31.7.

Taken together, these assorted proxies suggest the public health measures to contain the pandemic are inflicting massive and ongoing damage to capitalist accumulation.

Another, less direct reason to expect unprecedented carnage to the productive forces is that we suspect the terrain of the world market has been prepared for this event in the same way years of drought prepares a region for uncontrollable wildfires. The literature has long marked the accumulation of a very large mass of superfluous capital and a very large population of surplus workers, resulting from the transformation of agriculture and the improvement in productivity of social labor in industry, combined with state efforts to engineer continuous expansion of empty labor in the tertiary sector, through massive deficit spending.

The measures taken in the present emergency appear to have punctured a bubble that has been at least nine decades in the making — back to the Great Depression. We cannot overemphasize how significant this situation is. We already have accumulated a huge surplus population from previous economic contractions that have not been absorbed back into productive employment. The emergency measures taken in response to this pandemic will easily increase those numbers by a magnitude at least. And it is likely that profound changes in the economy predicted to take place over the next decade, (e.g. widespread automation), may now be realized in a matter of months or even weeks.

Let us be clear: you do not have to be a catastrophist to understand what has happened here. In two short weeks, capital values have been destroyed and workers have been set free from production on an unimaginable scale seldom seen in a full-blown economic contraction lasting years, perhaps decades. And this has occurred not just in one or two countries, but in almost every nation on the planet and all together.

We hardly think anyone contemplating this situation can operate from the baseline assumption that capitalism has survived.

***

QUESTION: There’s probably little we can do to stop direct deposit of these ‘wages’. Or unemployment checks, etc. How do we prevent global accumulation from re-starting? Can we in any way control the restoration of capitals and restoration of wages?

ANSWER: The only way to prevent capitalist accumulation from restarting is to immediately reduce hours of labor. We need to replace the present emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses with a strict reduction on hours of labor of a similar magnitude. By radically reducing hours of labor and imposing compensation through a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, we can at least impose severe restriction on the scale of any future attempt to reestablish capitalist accumulation.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how this works:

It is estimated that this emergency shutdown of non-essential businesses will eventually lead to roughly 47 million workers being unemployed, furloughed or otherwise idled. This translates into an estimated reduction of GDP by about 30-35% and actual employment by about 30%.

The present approach taken by the fascists is predicated on the shutdown being ended before another relief bill is necessary. The amount of the recently passed relief measure is $2.2 trillion, but it is a mere stopgap designed to fill in temporarily until the capitalist accumulation process can be restarted. As we said above, it takes about $200 billion a month to replace the wages of those who have been laid off, furloughed or otherwise separated from their jobs. (This is assuming 30% of the working class is displaced and that they receive an average stipend of approximately $50 thousand in place of wages. The fascists won’t pay out $50k, of course, but what they don’t pay out will be lost in sales on the other end.) It does not include various other programs designed to keep capitalist firms — particularly small businesses — afloat until such time as normal operation of the mode of production can be restored. Finally, it does not include aid to the states, whose revenues have collapsed, pension funds, various independent agencies and the medical system, which is being stressed beyond belief.

Now, try funding this (or something like) this month after month after month — in Nigeria or Venezuela, where oil prices have now collapsed because demand has collapsed in this emergency. This approach obviously cannot work anywhere but the United States and a handful of very rich countries.

Communists, especially those in the rich countries, who advocate this approach need to check their privilege, as the saying goes.

The approach we advocate is simple: since we are already looking at a 30-35% collapse in GDP and employment, and since capitalist accumulation has already been halted by this public health emergency, why not just lock things in right here? This would mean a dramatic reduction of the forty hours working week to 28 or 24 hours per week  — let’s say, three 8 hour days. Instead of trying to deficit spend our way to a restoration of capitalist relations of production, we could impose a reduction of hours of labor on a scale that is similar to 30% unemployment already made necessary by the public health emergency.

What are the advantages?

First, the absolute accumulation of excess capital and a surplus population of workers has been stopped for the most part, globally. By locking in a deep reduction of hours of labor at this point, we prevent the capitalists from restarting it. We could go further and reduce hours of labor still more to 15 hours or even ten hours — imposing draconian limits on accumulation and forcing introduction of automation to compensate for a rapidly shrinking labor pool.

Second, as satellite data is showing, the present level of employment hours is having a dramatic impact on global climate change. Reduction of hours of labor has an immediate impact on this problem that can be visualized noticeably. We would be doubling down on this positive development.

Third, as more writers are beginning to note, reduction of hours of labor has a positive impact on the cohesiveness and wages of the working class. This is, by far, the most important factor for communists to think about. On the other hand, we want to warn those who are complacent about the restoration of capitalist accumulation that the damage done to labor markets in this period is unimaginably extensive and will take a long time to heal. Forty-seven million workers frantically looking for work is not something we should ever want to see happening in the United States. (Just picture that in your mind.) But this is exactly what is likely to happen if the emergency passes and the status quo ante is restored.

To give an example: retail brick and mortar is likely never coming back. That’s one out of every four workers in the United States. Where will those workers go for jobs?

Fourth, reducing hours of labor, especially in the rich countries, will, naturally, cause capital flight. As bizarre as this sounds, this is actually a good thing. Africa, Asia and Latin America need investment. They will not get it unless capital currently locked up in the rich countries is forced to flee to the less developed regions of the world markets. A dramatic reduction of hours of labor here will accelerate this process.

Fifth, reducing hours of labor will accelerate automation. There is no better way to force capitalists to introduce improved methods of production than to drive up labor costs. Reducing hours of labor can do this by increasing the cohesiveness and bargaining power of the working class — just as leaving 47 million workers unemployed can weaken the working class, by leaving it balkanized and fragmented.

***

We are calling for a shift in the strategy of communist that takes into account the new reality created by the emergency measures imposed by the state on the capitalist accumulation process. Because of this pandemic, the state has been forced to do what communists have been aiming to do since the time of the Communist Manifesto: shut down the capitalist accumulation process.

Admittedly, it has happened in a way we did not expect. The pandemic is a black swan. And it takes a second to wrap our heads around the fact that it happened. Workers are off the job not because of a general strike, but because the state has closed all non-essential businesses. This did not happen the way we expected it to happen. But it happened! The accumulation process has been shut down. This is actually where we are now!

The state has been forced, very much against its will, to shut down all non-essential businesses; to shut down the accumulation process itself. What can we do this very instant to keep it shut down? There are millions of workers who are now set free from productive employment; they are unemployed. We need to fight to convert this huge mass of unemployment into free time for every member of society. The alternative is one relief bill after another as the state tries desperately to maintain the old relations of production.

We cannot let another opportunity pass us as happened during the Great Depression when capital ground to a halt and workers fought for a shorter work week, but were given the New Deal stimulus program and World War II instead.

(This document is being updated and is available for comment here)

F*ck Communists! Long Live Communism!

Zer0H0urs000

I will try to keep this brief.

Do you want to get rid of wage-labor? Do you want to get rid of the state? Yes? Good! Do no more! All those other prerequisites you think are necessary to “be” a communist are as superfluous as the labor bound up in the world economy. All of the debates surrounding “what is to be done?” were made superfluous, as well, when the state flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED on non-essential workers and businesses, doing what no other communist movement has ever achieved: grinding capitalist accumulation to a halt.

Communists had absolutely nothing to do with this economic fallout, but anyone wanting to exit capitalist social relations and bury wage-labor and the state can help realize their aims immensely by continuing to prolong and make painful the drought of surplus-value capital — nor the state — can exist without.

Presently, communists crudely think their ruthlessness lies in their outspokenness about killing or eating individual capitalists — or their fierce apologetics of mustachioed 20th century revolutionaries. However, I think our true ruthlessness lies in how well we’re able to mirror and go beyond capital’s own ruthlessness.

Simply put:

  • If capital needs something — we deny it vehemently and without conscious.
  • If capital has a weakness — we exploit it.
  • If capital has tendencies — we exacerbate them.
  • If capital is wounded — we finish the job.

The last point is very relevant here because communists, by and large, do not view the pandemic as a unique opportunity to actually keep capitalism dead. Rather, they see people’s disenchantment in the system, and the inadequate systemic response to the virus, as merely conditions to a gateway for recruiting souls to their cause.

Despite effete communist posturing and obsession over partyism and workerism, capitalism is actually mortally wounded right now and dragging its bleeding-out carcass to safety until it can make a Lazarus-like return. I’m just not confident that communists are up to the challenge of stalking it and “finishing the job.” Their assessment of the pandemic and its effect to the survival of capitalism and the state; their apparent lack of awareness that the state has setup a penultimate showdown between itself and the working-class; and their failure to optimize a strategy which is as precise as it is merciless has left me without much confidence in a Left to be viscerally fearful of.

Yes, it’s pretty tough talk. But what might a merciless attack to capitalism and the state look like?

First, it would be characterized by the mindless (but not illogical), unrelenting, and non-negotiability of capital’s own drive for the unnecessary.

From the Grundrisse:

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition — question of life or death — for the necessary.”[my emphasis]

LIFE OR DEATH. Read it again. Capital is not fucking around. And neither should we. We know this callous process’s personification in the figure of landlords, CEOs, corporations, and in our politicians themselves. We have to be more callous. We have to be outright hostile and threatening to the “living conditions” of capital.

Capital is a limitation to itself as much as it is a limitation to the working-class, as even the largest capitals or institutions cannot evade the law of value. Once the superfluity of labor in the economy — an existential must for capital — was purposely withdrawn by the state, and all at once, it left capitalism searching for oxygen. A concerted effort to continue to withdraw labor, prevent shuttered industries from reopening, and converting superfluous labor into free, disposable time for the recently unemployed is the same thing as asphyxiating capitalism until it chokes on the gluttony of its own premises.

Second, this kind of activity would be leaderless and anonymous. In fact, it doesn’t work any other way. We can’t consciously enact abolition of labor in the form of more labor. People have to want to convert their superfluous labor into free-time. Logically, we cannot control what each individual does with their free time and any plan or organization around this premise would fail. All we can do — since we still exist under the law of value — is prevent, or re-direct, capital from crafting an end-around to its current predicament, and deny any re-connection to the production of surplus-value— which it either will or will not be successful at in the coming year.

In doing so, no one would be particularly special in that regard (least of all, the whole underwhelming academy of leftist theorists). No one is saying creativity wouldn’t be essential to communist strategy — this is not an extinguishing of personality and individuality. But because the decrease in socially necessary labor time in the production of labor-power has not resulted in its realization as “freed” time for human consumption, human emancipation, we are still forced to throw abled bodies at the problem — all those teens and college-aged students supposedly less susceptible to the virus, for example, who could be causing utter chaos right now for the state. (Who knows? Maybe they’ll even have a future after all this is said and done!)

Lastly — and not without pause for reflection of the stakes — people are going to die during this transformation. Whether there was a pandemic or not, casualties would be unavoidable. Communists can’t offer an alternative on how to manage, nor actually manage, the pandemic and kill capitalism at the same time. Just as capital can’t save itself and all the people who will die from this pandemic, and pandemic-related issues, at the same time. Management of the pandemic is an unnecessary step and one that capital would never undertake — and certainly not for the appearance of better ethics.

We are not trying to win a PR campaign. Instead, the working-class — whether it wanted it or not — is forced to make a conscious choice: drastically reduce their own hours of labor or wait for the state to mediate this dissolution, stimulus package by stimulus package; down to the average milligram of food it takes to keep a person alive (just as they’ve been doing under neoliberalism for 40 years). Optimist that I am, though, I happen to believe less would die if we moved swiftly, broke our shelter in places (safely), kept everything shutdown indefinitely, and watched the capitalists shed blood racing to automate themselves into oblivion.

The litany of preconditions, initiations, beliefs, and acts communists think need to be internalized — even performatively— is now a burden to our ability to act at all — and worse, it’s left us without any of the concentrated blunt viciousness required to surpass a threshold that capital can never cross: the complete and total abolition of wage-labor. No vanguard, no critical consciousness, no better understanding of theory, and no better opportunity may present itself than this pandemic to do the last job I hope there will ever be: ruthlessly, unapologetically, killing capitalism.

If you’d like to join our conversation:

https://s.reddit.com/channel/1519700_2a1683369a11771ea06602bdb947ecd48c2ac17a

or

https://www.reddit.com/r/abolishwagelabornow/