“Capitalism Harder!”: Accelerationism as Marxism’s mirror

Left accelerationists have to show why they are not simply repackaging a discredited Marxist political strategy — a charge Nick Land makes forcefully here. The reason I say this is simple: a vulgar interpretation of Marx’s theory would suggest that as the conditions of the working class screen-shot-2012-12-30-at-9-48-52-pm-01-14-57deteriorated, they would be goaded into a socialist revolution. Some variant on this idea regularly becomes very popular among Marxists in the middle of economic downturns.

Of course, this idea is not as blunt as I put it. For instance many  simply assume deteriorating conditions push people into struggle with capital and requires the additional intervention of some sort of advanced or vanguard element to raise the political consciousness of the class. This seems to be the thinking behind the more polished argument made by Michael A. Lebowitz in this passage that crises produces conditions for socialist education:

“But, they are merely open to this understanding. All those actions, demonstrations and struggles in themselves cannot go beyond capitalism. Given that exploitation inherently appears simply as unfairness and that the nature of capital is mystified, these struggles lead only to the demand for fairness, for justice within capitalist relations but not justice beyond capitalism. They generate at best a trade union or social-democratic consciousness—a perspective which is bounded by a continuing sense of dependence upon capital, i.e., bounded by capitalist relations. Given that the spontaneous response of people in motion does not in itself go beyond capital, communication of the essential nature of capitalism is critical to its nonreproduction.”

But it was (and still is) generally held that when conditions deteriorate the working class is pushed in a heightened level of at least defensive conflict with the capitalists and thus become more open to “socialist education”.

Accelerationism simply asks a perfectly reasonable question: If deteriorating conditions allows the working class to become more open to going beyond capitalism, why try to prevent conditions from deteriorating? Why fight for piecemeal reforms that only prop up existing society by maintaining the illusion it can be fixed? If the capitalists are only concerned to push their brutal exploitation of the class to ever more extreme limits, why not welcome this?

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Response to the critics of the term “fascist state”

I have received a large amount of criticism from Marxists regarding my insistence that the present state is fully fascist in every sense of the term. The most recent comes in the form of criticism that I am somehow being dishonest in my employment of the term fascist state and designation of Keynesian economic policies as essentially fascist:

People need to stop villainising Keynes. There’s an entire branch of economics that merges Keynes with Marx. The workers were hardly the most screwed by Keynesian policy: the petite bourgeoisie, with their vast savings, were far worse off (relative to what they had been before). Post-war Europe was one of the better times to be a worker in capitalism, far better than modern neoclassical neoliberalism.

Also, stop calling modern governments “fascist”. It’s just intellectually dishonest.

presidents1The resistance of the Left to the term fascism is understandable for reason I will show. However, I insist my use of the term fully conforms with historical materialism, no matter how grating it may be for “progressives” and other Leftists. I base my assessment of the present state wholly on the argument made by Marx and Engels throughout their entire careers. In particular, I base it on the explicit argument made by Engels in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. I offer my take in hope it will spark a discussion on the subject of the nature of the present state and the impossibility the state can in any way serve as a path to communism.

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Yaffe and Bullock on the ‘Contradictory’ Role of the State

Yaffe and Bullock’s paper sought to explain why 1970s stagflation could only be explained by the conditions of capitalist production:

“The crisis has to be located at the level of capitalist production. To show how the central tendency of the rate of profit to fall can express itself as inflation and eventually stagflation (stagnation and inflation), we need to examine how the capitalist experiences this tendency and attempts to maintain profitability by increasing prices. We then have to consider how these prices set by the individual capitalist can be realised – that is how commodities can be sold – exchanged for money – at these prices.”

2qixqxfHowever, in an attempt to refute the theory that inflation was caused by rising wages, they ignored the implications of their argument for the general state of the capitalist mode of production itself. When Yaffe and Bullock wrote the paper, they wanted to show how inflation was caused by the mode of production and attempts to maintain profitability in the face of chronic overproduction. Unfortunately their aim in the paper never actually directly addressed the implications of stagflation for the mode of production itself.

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The Falling Rate of Profit, Class Struggle and the State

inflationAfter coming across David Yaffe while reading Simon Clarke’s book, The State Debate, I figured I would give a paper he wrote with Paul Bullock, “Inflation, the Crisis and the Post-War Boom”, a once over. This paper, written in 1975, attempts to understand the depression of the 1970s through the lens of labor theory. I find it interesting because the authors make this rather bold, and in retrospect, horribly mistaken pronouncement:

“No nation’s currency can displace money of the world, gold, as the final means of international payments.”

The weirdest thing about this Yaffe and Bullock paper, however, is that it already has the explanation for the 40 years persistence of the dollar as “world money” and why, consequently, the writers were wrong:

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Open Marxism’s Unspoken Prescription for the Current Crisis: Vote Harder

Continuing with the discussion of Holloway and Picciotto’s paper, “Capital, Crisis and the State”, which makes up chapter 3 of Simon Clarke’s book, The State Debate.

hatebushIn my last post, I showed how Holloway and Picciotto arrived at the conclusion that the definition of capital as the production of value and surplus value was insufficient basis to explain “the political”. I think the critical part of this story was the struggle to place the post-war full employment policies of the fascist state and implementation of “progressive” legislation of the 1960s and 1970s in some consistent theoretical context. “Open Marxism” was trying to explain policies that appeared to contradict Marx’s infamous base-superstructure analogy of “the political”.

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Open Marxism and the “Benefit” of Longer Hours of Labor for the Working Class

In a paper that forms chapter 3 of Simon Clarke’s book, The State Debate, Holloway and Picciotto, having decided “the political” is relatively separate from “the economic” must explain why this is so. But they have to do this while avoiding being associated with “orthodox Marxist determinism” prevalent in the Third International variant of Marxism.

As I argued, to do this, they redefine capital as a historically “specific form of class domination” and set this definition against Marx’s definition of capital as the production of value and surplus value. Within this historically specific form of class domination, “the political” and “the economic” are two separate moments of the totality. This, they argue, avoids the “iron economic determinism” by providing “an understanding of the determinants and limits of state action”. base-superstructureThe state sphere is separate from the sphere of direct exploitation, but it is not separate from capital as a specific form of class domination.

The solution, however, is made more difficult because Holloway and Picciotto cannot employ Engels as their convenient whipping boy: Engels’s “positivism” did not lead to the formulation of the foundation-superstructure analogy; Marx’s “dialectical method” did.

Ignoring for the moment that their definition of capital as an historically specific form of class domination flies completely in the face of Marx’s definition of capital as the production of value and surplus value and his elaboration of the whole base-superstructure thingy, what is gained by this redefinition of capital? While this redefinition might be useful in critiquing the reformism of Second International Marxism, it still doesn’t explain how “the political” is actually determined by “class domination”, since there is no obvious mechanism outside Marx’s own base-superstructure analogy. Holloway and Picciotto admit:

“If we insist on starting with the category of capital because it is the contradictions of the capital relation (as the basic form taken by class antagonism in capitalist society) which provide the basis for understanding the dynamic of social and political development in capitalism, the problem of the nature of the relation between the actions of the state and the accumulation of capital remains.”

This, I really need to emphasize, IS NOT a mere theoretical question: “Open Marxism” is trying to grapple with the fascist state, in order to explain so-called “progressive” legislation. In the United States, for instance, since the end of WWII, we saw, among other things, the collapse of segregation, the Civil Rights Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, the establishment of a woman’s right to choose, and a host of other reforms. Any argument on the relation between the mode of production and the state had to explain how this “progressive” legislation came about. At the same time: we have Vietnam and Chile, which horrors requires little or no elaboration, not to mention Thatcher/Reagan neoliberalism. The state appeared to accommodate a very wide spectrum of activity that could not be directly traced to exploitation in the factory.

“Open Marxism” argued the whole base-superstructure analogy did not seem to captures the true nuance of the relation between state and the mode of production. Holloway and Picciotto ask:

“[Should] this problem simply be dismissed as being no problem, the autonomy of the political denied, the correspondence between the actions (and structure) of the state and the requirements of capital accumulation taken for granted?”

The key phrase in the question is “Should this problem simply be dismissed as no problem”. The writers are reacting to the tendency among Marxists to simply dismiss the range or spectrum of fascist state action. If, in the end, all fascist state action boils down to the requirement of capital, even profound developments like the end of segregation can be ignored.

But ignored by whom? Certainly black workers did not ignore the end of a century of segregation; women workers did not ignore the end of the prohibition on abortions in the United States; and anyone concerned with the environment did not ignore the establishment of the EPA by the Nixon administration. Finally, no Marxist could ignore the collapse of Bretton Woods, which signaled either the death of capitalism or the death of labor theory.

Placing these real historical events in a consistent theoretical context seemed necessary, but neither 2nd International Marxism nor 3rd International Marxism seemed up to the task. In this regard, the example Holloway and Picciotto refers to in this section is telling because it deals with a cornerstone policy of the fascist state. Some writer named David Yaffe pointed out that the fascist state policy of full employment runs into the problem, “that there are limits to the extent and effect of state expenditure which result from its unproductive nature and hence the requirements of accumulation.” The constant extension of total social hours of labor came at the cost of an increasing mass of unproductive fascist state expenditures. There is, in Yaffe’s view, a limit to the policy of full employment. The argument is compelling and relevant to our situation today — unfortunately Holloway and Picciotto tells us little else about the paper. However another of Yaffe’s papers along these line can be found here.

In their response, Holloway and Picciotto criticize Yaffe for not expanding on his analysis of the state in this discussion:

“What results is a rather monolithic view of the state in which the growth of the state apparatus is attributed simply to the state’s post-war commitment to full employment, and in which the effect of state expenditure is seen as being adequately grasped by its classification into the categories of ‘productive’ or ‘unproductive’

However no matter their criticism of Yaffe for neglecting the state, Holloway and Picciotto are forced to concede his analysis “may” be crudely valid:

“But then how are we to understand the role of bourgeois democracy, and how are we to see individual state actions which apparently do not correspond to the interests of capital?”

Yaffe’s argument, they explain, focuses on one aspect of the limitation of fascist state action: that its expenditures represent a deduction from the total surplus value! In this assertion, Holloway and Picciotto are not only wrong, but horribly off-base in their criticism of Yaffe, which appears to make three questionable assumptions: First, they assume that the full employment policies of the fascist state were undertaken for the benefit of the working class. Second, they assume this alleged benefit is paid for by a deduction from the total surplus produced by capital. Third, they assume this deduction is “limited by the competing claims of private capitals on that surplus value which must be met if accumulation is to continue.”

All three of these assumptions were terribly wrong.

The constant extension of hours of labor (so-called full employment) was itself the “class domination” imposed on the working class for the purpose of expanding (not deducting from) the production of surplus value by unproductively consuming the resultant product of labor. Holloway and Picciotto (and perhaps also Yaffe, it is not clear) all begin their analysis of full employment with the totally outlandish assumption that longer hours of wage slavery is a benefit for the working class!!!!

From their point of view, if there is anything to be explained regarding this “benefit”, it is the limit on the state’s ability to grant it. Apparently it never occurred to these bumbling fools that the interest of capital is always to extend hours of labor even if this can only happen in the form of increasingly unproductive activity on behalf of the fascist state. Having assumed (apparently along with Yaffe) that ever longer hours of labor is a “benefit” for the wage slave, Holloway and Picciotto then have the gall to chastise the writer for not recognizing,

“the other limitations arising from the nature of the state’s structural relation to, and separation from the immediate process of exploitation — limitations which greatly restrict or render impossible state action in the rational interests of capital, irrespective of the limits of state expenditure.”

Which is to say, since longer hours of labor benefit wage labor, not capital, there must be a separate political limit on the state providing this benefit that arises from the nature of the state itself.


“Open Marxism” and the Myth of the Class Struggle

capitalistThere is a truism of sorts stated in Sol Picciotto’s paper: “the crisis of international capital is also a crisis of the international state system.” Given this, the aim of labor theory has to be to uncover this crisis and its material reality beneath fetishized forms of appearance.

For “open Marxism” to say the crisis of international capital is also a crisis of the international state system is, however, ambiguous at best and in practice completely misleading. No one will take exception to the idea the crisis of capitalism is also a crisis of the state, however I think Picciotto defines it this way in order to assert we are facing two different crises, not one and the same crisis.

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Simon Clarke’s “The State Debate” and the puzzling case of the Boeing strike

Boeing machinists march from company's Renton, Washington factory to their union hall to vote on the company's final contract offerIn his paper (published as chapter 8 of Simon Clarke’s book, “The State Debate”), Sol Picciotto states:

“The principle of territoriality of jurisdiction is the corner-stone of the international system based on the nation-state. The transition from the personal sovereign to an abstract sovereignty of public authorities over a defined territory was a key element in the development of the capitalist international system, since it provided a multifarious framework which permitted and facilitated the global circulation of commodities and capital. The independent and equal sovereign nation-state is therefore a fetishised form of appearance, for the world system is not made up of an aggregation of compartmentalised units, but is rather a single system in which state power is allocated between territorial entities.”

Frankly, this statement is ambiguous — it is not really clear to me exactly what of the “independent and equal sovereign nation-state”, is a fetishized appearance of the world market for Picciotto.

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Chris Cutrone’s masterful take down of post-war Marxism

Chris Cutrone and James Turley engaged in a debate over Lukacs in which only Cutrone ever laid a glove on his opponent.WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR II/PERSONALITIES If you have not read it, you can find the entire series of exchanges here.

Of course, Cutrone’s point is so deeply buried in his argument, you will need a backhoe to excavate it. It is a complex, (almost unintelligible for me), argument about the applicability of classical Marxists ideas to our own present situation. Cutrone basically asks: Do the ideas, strategy, tactics of the post-Engels Marxists regarding social emancipation apply directly to the era of fascist state political-economy.

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“The real fruit of their battles …”

This is part three of a three part series. Part one can be found here; part two can be found here

3. “What Marxists once meant by ‘class consciousness’ is no more.”

wotwuIn the previous section of this essay, I argued, properly understood, Marx and Engels assumed the proletarian social emancipation does not take the form of a conflict with the ruling class. To say this has implications for the present crisis is an understatement. I think it goes a long way toward explaining why the most remarkable feature of the present crisis is the lack of a class struggle — which absence has been puzzled over by both bourgeois ideologues and by Marxists.

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