Can your general strike or political revolution do this… ?

Some guy going by the Twitter handle, “Emerican Johnson”, called our attention to the unfortunate chaos caused to global shipping for the past two weeks when a freighter ran aground in the Suez Canal and disrupted an estimated 12% of seaborne traffic.

The cost estimates of the snafu were all over the place, but was nailed down by one plucky source to run about $416 million per hour for the six days the ship was grounded.

Emerican was so impressed by the damaged done to capital by this grounding, which amounted to a global version of gridlock during the rush hour commute, he declared it demonstrated the potential power possessed by the working class in its struggle against capital.

“We don’t need 100% of workplaces to participate” in a general strike to have a major impact on capital! We could probably get away with just 12%!

Which kind of got me wondering: Didn’t we just go through a far greater demonstration of the staying power of the capitalist mode of production last year when perhaps as much as half of the economic activity of OECD countries was abruptly shut down in a sudden stop as an emergency measure to slow the spread of the pandemic for as long as a year.

If I were the type of person who had any illusion that either a Marxist political revolution or Anarcho-Syndicalist general strike strategy had any hope of success in bringing down this mode of production, I would be seriously reconsidering either of those strategies in light of the experiences of the past year.

I mean, what we have here is a clear case of the bourgeois state in one country after another partially shutting down accumulation on a scale hitherto unimagined by most radicals. Yet, by most accounts of these same radicals, the mode of production is not in any danger of collapse as a result of this frontal assault by its own capitalist.

The argument might be made that this effort was not intended to replace capital with another mode of production, but then you would have to demonstrate that a replacement was required. Communism has no property, no wage labor and no state. All that is required of it is that these three — property, wage labor and the state — no longer exist. That isn’t a replacement; it’s nothing.

But I digress.

The real point here is that for the last year the mode of production has suffered more damage at the hands of its own bourgeois state than radicals have ever realistically imagined they could impose on it for generations.

If that damage was not fatal to it, I would like to know what possible damage can be imposed on capital by any possible political revolution or general strike — or combination of the two — that has any hope of exceeding it?

On Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society – XXV

So, here is my contention regarding Postone’s concept of the hollowing out of working society.

Assume working society, as Postone uses this term, means a society of capitalist commodity production, as opposed to simple commodity production. (And here the distinction is very important, despite the value-form school.) This capitalist commodity production, however, continues to rest on value-producing labor as the term is employed by Marx in Capital, Volume one, Chapter 1, but is put to use for purpose of extracting surplus value, not just exchange value. The phrase “hollowing out of working society” means that value-producing labor is progressively being robbed of its value-producing capacity by the development of the forces of social production created by capitalist accumulation itself.

As explained by Marx in the Grundrisse, the mechanism for this is that value-producing labor is progressively displaced by machines in the production of material use-values:

“[The] creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production.)

According to Marx this development should eventually lead to a breakdown of production based on exchange value and the emergence of a communist society where:

“The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.”

Not so quick, says Postone. Communism doesn’t necessarily emerge. It is a contingent outcome. The other outcome is that labor is progressively hollowed out, rendered superfluous to the production of material wealth, but communism never emerges:

“With advanced industrial capitalist production, the productive potential developed becomes so enormous that a new historical category of “extra” time for the many emerges, allowing for a drastic reduction in both aspects of socially necessary labor time, and a transformation of the structure of labor and the relation of work to other aspects of social life. But this extra time emerges only as potential: as structured by the dialectic of transformation and reconstitution, it exists in the form of “superfluous” labor time.”

Postone bases this assessment on the opinion that historical necessity Marx relies on cannot, in and of itself create the freedom he predicts. Interesting enough, he refers to Marx as the authority for this position:

“My analysis of the dialectic of transformation and reconstitution has shown that, according to Marx, historical necessity cannot, in and of itself, give rise to freedom. The nature of capitalist development, however, is such that it can and does give rise to its immediate opposite — historical non-necessity — which, in turn, allows for the determinate historical negation of capitalism. This possibility can only be realized, according to Marx, if people appropriate what had been constituted historically as capital.”

This now leaves us with the worst possible outcome of all: If the fundamental underpinning of capitalist accumulation, production based exchange value, is now a historical non-necessity, but people (what people?) are either unwilling or unable to appropriate what has been constituted historically as capital, Postone argues this must result in an ever growing mass of superfluous labor time, labor that produces nothing, empty labor for the sake of fictitious accumulation.

This is the nightmare scenario that Rosa Luxemburg called Barbarism.

Capital and communism…

Jasper Bernes has written an essay that I have reblogged here. Much of it I find of great interest. However, this passage, in particular, I take great issue with for obvious reasons:

There is also in Marx a tendential theory alongside the heuristic theory. The light of communism revealed for Marx a directionality to capitalist production, one that pointed toward its ruin but also its overcoming by communism. The tendencies identified are numerous and complexly entangled: mass proletarianization, immiseration, and increase in superfluous populations, concentration and centralization of capital, globalization of trade, rising organic composition of capital, falling rate of profit, depletion of the soil, colonization, and imperialism. Chief among all these tendencies, however, was the tendency for capitalism to produce its own gravediggers in the rising, militant proletariat. The tendencies are also, it should now seem needless to say, illuminated by a future communism. This is because, first, the rising proletariat is already practically oriented toward communism, and second, tendencies within capitalism lead inexorably toward communism. Tendencies are directional, and directions are not neutral, but stained with the dye of class struggle, progressive and reactive.

Much of the tendential theory has not held up, at least if read strictly, and in some instances, it must be admitted, Marx was badly wrong. But the fact that any of it has held up, despite the fact that the communist revolution has not occurred, and capitalism soldiers on long after Marx could have thought such a thing imaginable, counts as no small feat. None of his contemporaries fare better. The tendential theory must, in any case, always return to the facts of the world, of class struggle, for confirmation. But it also must know what it’s looking for, where it hopes history will lead. Here again Marx can appear most grandiose when he is in fact being most modest. He need not proselytize and inveigh, draw up battle plans and programs, for the tendencies of capitalism are already doing the work of forming a resistance adequate to it. The tendential analysis is not prescriptive, but diagnostic, highlighting limits and opportunities. But these are opportunities that, for Marx, the working class must come to understand one way or another. It is class struggle itself which brings these opportunities to mind for Marx—his work is to clarify and refine political tendencies, the communist movement principally, already in the process of formation.

While I would agree that Marx saw in capital a directionality (is this a word?) of sorts that points to its own ruin (I prefer the term “self-negation”), I am not so sure I agree with Bernes’ phrasing of capital’s relation with communism. In particular, I don’t think I like the phrase, “its overcoming by communism.” Rather, I would stick to Marx’s characterization that capital unconsciously creates the material requirements of communism.

The material requirements of communism have absolutely nothing to do with classes or class struggle, nor do they seek class struggle for confirmation. They are material requirements. The class struggle is merely political. Even if there were no class struggle or, as at present, the class struggle were severely attenuated, capital would remain no more than a historically limited mode of production, creating the material requirements of communism. The class struggle has nothing at all to do with this. It has absolutely no impact on the nature of capital.

To say this another way: The proletarians do not and cannot put an end to capital. Capital negates itself. The proletarians can speed up or retard this process of self-negation only. If capital does not negate itself, there is nothing the class struggle can do to put an end to capital since both classes constitute the relation.

The Test of Communism (Bernes, 2021)

Jasper Bernes issues a a rather bold call for the immediate abolition of the state, property and labor…

communists in situ


by Jasper Bernes (2021) PDF

Communism is an old idea in the world. Let’s call it ancient, for it may as well be our antiquity. We need not track down its origins in the alleyways of insurrection, only know that millions have struggled and died in its name. In this sense, it is not just an idea but a real force in history, product of and factor in a proletarian movement that has for at least two centuries now posed the overcoming of capitalism by classless, stateless, moneyless society. In fact, what’s remarkable about the history of the workers’ movement of the last two centuries is that this real ideal has until recently not only seemed inevitable but obvious. Even where they disagreed, violently, about how to achieve such a state of affairs, anarchists, communists, socialists, Marxists, syndicalists, and even some liberals, all stood joined by a common vision of…

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Wikipedia on Henryk Grossman’s reconstruction…

Wikipedia has this discussion of the formula Grossman introduces in his reconstruction of Marx’s labor theory of value concerning the number of years down to what is referred to in the entry as the absolute crisis of capitalism:

Discussion of the formula

The number of years n down to the absolute crisis thus depends on four conditions:

  1. The level of organic composition Ω. The higher this is the smaller the number of years. The crisis is accelerated.
  2. The rate of accumulation of the constant capital ac, which works in the same direction as the level of the organic composition of capital.
  3. The rate of accumulation of the variable capital av, which can work in either direction, sharpening the crisis or defusing it, and whose impact is therefore ambivalent.
  4. The level of the rate of surplus value s, which has a defusing impact; that is, the greater is s, the greater is the number of years n, so that the breakdown tendency is postponed.

The accumulation process could be continued if the earlier assumptions were modified:

  1. The rate of accumulation of the constant capital ac is reduced and the tempo of accumulation slowed down.
  2. The constant capital is devalued which again reduces the rate of accumulation ac.
  3. Labour power is devalued, hence wages cut, so that the rate of accumulation of variable capital av is reduced and the rate of surplus value s is enhanced.
  4. Finally, capital is exported, so that again the rate of accumulation ac is reduced.

These four major cases allow us to deduce all the variations that are actually to be found in reality and which impart to the capitalist mode of production a certain elasticity …

Much of the remainder of Grossman’s book is devoted to exploring these “elasticities” or counter-crisis tendencies, tracking both their logical and their actual, historical development. Examples of each would include:

  1. Depressed interest rates, investment capital transferred to unproductive speculation, e.g. housing stock, art objects.
  2. Enlarged state sector bleeds value from the accumulation process via taxes. Wars destroy capital values.
  3. The reserve army of labour (unemployed) created to discipline wage claims.
  4. Imperialism

The second section refers to four condition under which the accumulation process could continue if assumptions made by Marx were modified. The most important of these is 3., the devaluation of labor power. If wages were cuts, say the authors of this entry, the rate of accumulation of variable capital would slow and the rate of surplus value would increase.

Grossman had in mind a continuous reduction of wages below the value of labor power, with wages being cut continuously.

“I have shown that even if all conditions of proportionality are maintained and accumulation occurs within the limits imposed by population, the further preservation of these limits is objectively impossible. The system of production described in Bauer’s own scheme has to breakdown or the conditions specified for the system have to be violated. Beyond a definite point of time the system cannot survive at the postulated rate of surplus value of 100 per cent. There is a growing shortage of surplus value and, under the given conditions, a continuous overaccumulation. the only alternative is to violate the conditions postulated. Wages have to be cut in order to push the rate of surplus value even higher. This cut in wages would not be a purely temporary phenomenon that vanishes once equilibrium is re-established; it will have to be continuous. After year 36 either wages have to be cut continually and periodically or a reserve army must come into being.”

But Grossman thought this was not possible politically, because the working class would rise up in rebellion in the face of such wage reductions:

“A continuous deterioration of wages is only possible theoretically; it is a purely abstract possibility. In reality the constant devaluation of labour power accomplished by continual cuts in wages runs up against insuperable barriers. Every major cut in its conditions of life would inevitably drive the working class to rebellion.”

Unfortunately, what Grossman missed (and this is not his fault because no one could have foreseen it) is that the very same crisis that forced money wages to be reduced below the value of labor power would also force the state to debase its currency from gold (commodity money), effectively severing the currency from exchange value. In fact, what happened is that labor power was devalued, as Grossman argued, when wages were effectively reduced to zero in exchange value terms by one and the same act.

As Keynes later explained, after that debasement it was a simple matter of letting inflation eat away at the subsistence wages of the working class one or two percent a year. The Federal Reserve continues that same policy even today with its two percent inflation target.

This is the real implications of debasing the currency from gold in 1933 — the part missed by the authors of the entry.

Two days of debate, but value-form moron STILL can’t explain why commodity money disappeared after 4,200 years…

From Wikipedia:

Shekel or sheqel is an ancient Near Eastern coin, usually of silver. A shekel was first a unit of weight—very roughly 11 grams (0.39 oz)—and became currency in ancient Tyre and ancient Carthage and then in ancient Israel under the Maccabees. The word shekel is based on the Semitic verbal root for “weighing” (Š-Q-L), cognate to the Akkadian šiqlu or siqlu, a unit of weight equivalent to the Sumerian gin2. Use of the word was first attested in c. 2150 BC during the Akkadian Empire under the reign of Naram-Sin, and later in c. 1700 BC in the Code of Hammurabi. The Š-Q-L root is found in the Hebrew words for “to weigh”, “weight” and “consideration”.

The picture above shows an ancient shekel, a minted commodity money coin composed of silver said to circulate in circulate in Carthage between 310 BC and 290 BC, almost 2000 years before the rise of capitalism. As a circulating medium, it suggests there was already an established simple commodity production system well in advance of the capitalist mode of production as Engels stated in his supplement to Capital, volume 3.

For some reason this sort of commodity coin, and commodity money in general, disappeared from circulation throughout the entire world market in a blink of an eye between 1929 and 1971, after having a stable presence since at least 2150 BC — nearly 4200 years. No scholar in the value-form school seems to be able to explain why this happened, although Marx predicted the event about 100 years before it occurred.

I spent two days debating the issue with Marshall Solomon, trying to get him to offer some explanation of this event that is consistent with the value-form theory of money.

The results are below.

Continue reading “Two days of debate, but value-form moron STILL can’t explain why commodity money disappeared after 4,200 years…”