Costas Lapavitsas and the growing desperation of the underconsumptionist school

In an interview with Jacobin, “Greece: Phase Two”, Costas Lapavitsas defends Yanis Varoufakis and, in the course of this defense, highlights the forces behind the increasing desperation of the Marxist underconsumptionist school:

“Let me come clean on this. Keynes and Keynesianism, unfortunately, remain the most powerful tools we’ve got, even as Marxists, for dealing with issues of policy in the here and now. The Marxist tradition is very powerful in dealing with the medium-term and longer-term questions and understanding the class dimensions and social dimensions of economics and society in general, of course. There’s no comparison in these realms.

But, for dealing with policy in the here and now, unfortunately, Keynes and Keynesianism remain a very important set of ideas, concepts, and tools even for Marxists. That’s the reality. Whether some people like to use the ideas and not acknowledge them as Keynesian is something I don’t want to comment upon, but it happens.

So I cannot blame Varoufakis for that, for associating himself with Keynesians, because I’ve also associated myself with Keynesians, openly and explicitly so. If you showed me another way of doing things, I’d be delighted. But I can assure you, after many decades of working on Marxist economic theory, that there isn’t at the moment. So yes, Varoufakis has worked with Keynesians. But that isn’t really, in and of itself, a damning thing.”

maxresdefaultI guess I am not so much speechless that Lapavitsas said this as I am speechless that it is completely true. After 150 years, Marxists still have no other policy tools in their book bags except Keynesian ones; Marxist economists have yet to give birth to their own policy tools derived organically from the premises of labor theory of value.

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Land, Accelerationism and the “impending human extinction”

If you want to make the case against Nick Land, you could not do it more completely than the case made against him by Alex Williams. According to Williams, Land seeks to dissolve humanity “in a technological apotheosis”. The terminology is just completely over the top: Land has ‘hijacked’ Deleuze and Guattari, “bringing out an implicit inhuman pro-capitalism.”

16l0i3aNote Williams admit this so-called “inhuman pro-capitalism” is already implicit in  Deleuze and Guattari. He cannot possibly accuse Land of having invented it as I have so often accused Marxists of inventing ideas said to originate with Marx. If Land has done anything, it is only to tease out of Deluze and Guattari an inhuman pro-capitalism that was already present.

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Left Accelerationism as product re-branding

Indian_call_centerWhat makes Land’s Accelerationism the purest and only valid existing expression of Accelerationism today?

Well, at least in part, it is because Land’s self-styled critics, such as, for instance, Alex Williams, write shit like this:

Where Deleuze and Guattari ultimately counseled caution, to accelerate with care to avoid total destruction, Land favored an absolute process of acceleration and deterritorialization, identifying capitalism as the ultimate agent of history. As Land puts it, “Capitalism has no external limit, it has consumed life and biological intelligence, [and it is] vast beyond human anticipation.” Here, the deregulation, privatization, and commodification of neoliberal capitalism will serve to destroy all stratification within society, generating in the process unheard of novelties. Politics and all morality, particularly of the leftist variety, are a blockage to this fundamental historical process. Land had a hypnotizing belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, even the human itself can eventually be discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilizations. As Land has it, through the acceleration of global capitalism the human will be dissolved in a technological apotheosis, effectively experiencing a species-wide suicide as the ultimate stimulant head rush.

Marxists look at Land and they are scandalized by his writing; writings that violate their petty bourgeois sensibilities.

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“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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Some (not so) final thoughts on privilege theory and Marxism

6: Communism and the complete indifference of the most privileged workers to the rest of the class

If “orthodox” Marxists were being the least bit honest in the debate over privilege, they would have to admit that the overthrow of the capitalists does not of itself and cannot eradicate inequality within the working class. police-beating-kids-2Why they make such a fuss on this point and cannot accept this admission as the starting point of an honest debate is beyond me. They continue to insist that getting rid of the capitalists of itself is sufficient to end all inequality, when this argument is clearly untenable.

No less than Marx himself explained that the overthrow of the capitalists does not do away with inequality, but only the inequality that rests on private ownership of the means of production. This form of inequality is done away with — no longer is a parasitic stratum of society able to live off the labor of others. However it must be admitted openly, as Marx himself did, that getting rid of the parasites will still leave us confronting what is likely to be historically unprecedented levels of inequality within the working class.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (5)

Continued from here

5. Marx as the first privilege theorist?: Competition and privilege in labor theory

At the beginning of this series on privilege theory, I suggested that the debate between privilege theory advocates and “orthodox” Marxists could be simplified to two conflicting propositions:

Proposition 1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.


Proposition 2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

744px-Omaha_courthouse_lynchingI called the first the “orthodox” Marxist position, but my employment of the phrase was never meant to suggest the “orthodox” view was the position of either Marx or Engels. In fact, contrary to what is now known as the “orthodox” Marxist position, Marx himself agreed with much of what might be called the privilege theory position.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (4)

Continued from here

4. Privilege theory, racism and competition within the working class

The argument that the victory of the Nazis resulted as much from the divisions within the working class as from the rule of the capitalist class and its state is difficult for most Marxists to accept.

For Marxists, the divisions within the proletariat are one thing, while the rule of capital is another, separate, thing. The relation between the two is rarely discussed and, if at affirmative-action-in-america-is-a-total-failureall, only in relation to the effort the capitalist class makes to employ the divisions of the proletariat against it. In this very limited, naive, context, the divisions within the class are ascribed to the domination of the bourgeois class and its ideology. If finally the Marxist must accept that there are divisions within the proletariat like racism, nevertheless he does this only to insist these divisions are part of a strategy of divide and conquer pursued by the other class. The idea that the divisions within the class have material causes apart from the efforts by the capitalists to exploit them, is seen as some sort of anti-working class hysteria.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (3)

Continued from here

3. Privilege theory, fragmentation and the rise of Hitler

One of the problems with the debate between the privilege theory advocates and opponents is the lack of perspective. In particular, the legacy of slavery in the Adolf Hitler with Hess and Goebbels, c 1939-1945."United States has few counterparts in the rest of the world. This appears to put both advocates and opponents of privilege theory in the position of trying to analyze what at first seems like a one off event. Making sense of the issues in the debate is harder because there are few other examples of a working class as riven by the sort of unrelenting racism the US working class suffers (South Africa, Rhodesia and Israel come to mind).

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (2)

Continued from here

2. The special duty of white communists …

When Noel Ignatin put his pen to paper to raise questions about the strategy of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) in 1966, he probably had no idea it would give birth to what we now call the privilege theory critique of ignatievMarxism. Many of his ideas are drawn from works and writings that predate his own argument and from a historical schism within American communism itself over the “Negro Question”.

However, in his polemic Ignatin was concerned to make a single and over-riding the point: White revolutionaries had a specific responsibility in their revolutionary work to carry out education among the white working class in the US of the situation of the black workers and to convince white workers to put aside their racist attitudes and support the cause of black liberation.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (1)

I have been spending time trying to wrap my head around privilege theory. What follows is the result of that investigation. Since it runs more than 6000 words, I have decided to break it up into a series of smaller posts, which I will publish over the next week. –Jehu

1.    Privilege theory as a critique of Marxism from within Marxism

sadwhiteguyPrivilege theory was custom made for post-war Marxism because, basically, with the just dawning realization that the class struggle appears to have all but disappeared in society in the post-war period, they don’t have much of anything else to discuss when it comes to politics.

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