Friday, October 29, 2010

Rally to restore conformity

Tomorrow sanity will be restored for those of us who are too busy to participate in our own lives. Political moderates of every stripe, having achieved temperance through a life at work, will come together for an afternoon of entertainment, and "not being crazy." Finally: an affirmation of what is normal!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Karl Marx, Capital Volume 2:

The development of civilization and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison.

One of the fun things about Marx is that his method doesn't translate very well for people desirous of simple conclusions about what he says. What conclusion do we draw from this passage? That civilization is bad? That conserving forests is good? That civilization is necessary -- and so forests must be destroyed as the ends justify the means?

To the extent that Marx draws conclusions about history, he appears to restrict the criteria for doing so to the requirements of people's material needs, and how these requirements exert themselves within different relationships. A civilization which can't help but destroy its forests presents us with certain implications, not others; just as a civilization which can't help but destroy any other means of life, or which transforms its essential character, does the same.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tricks and treats

Lenore Skenazy, Wall Street Journal:

Even when I was a kid, back in the "Bewitched" and "Brady Bunch" costume era, parents were already worried about neighbors poisoning candy. Sure, the folks down the street might smile and wave the rest of the year, but apparently they were just biding their time before stuffing us silly with strychnine-laced Smarties.

That was a wacky idea, but we bought it. We still buy it, even though Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has researched the topic and spends every October telling the press that there has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger's Halloween candy.

Joel Best has his argument; the National Confectioners Association has theirs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When the rulers are more "progressive" than the ruled

I was watching an old Champsky bit and came across two sentences that I found very helpful.  Champsky remarked that Democrats were aligned with big business, whereas Republicans represent the business community generally.

To my mind, this explains whatever cultural differences exist between them, with corporate America assuming the "liberal" internationalist position, and domestically-oriented industries and small business free to take up more conservative and "nationalist" causes.

At one time, the Democratic Party reflected a collusion between big business and big labor.  But as labor was gradually broken by business, the Democrats fell more completely under the sway of corporate prerogatives.

As we analyze the conflicts between the corporate mainstream and the smaller, domestic business factions of the ruling class, we want to look at what each actor needs to accomplish economically, and then understand how this is expressed ideologically for public consumption.

For example, the long-standing American openness to foreign labor, just like the long-standing American hostility to foreign immigrants, has always reflected the needs of an industrial ruling class, and bitter competition amongst the working class, respectively.  Ideologically, the ruling class has always portrayed this as a benevolent feature of US society, without emphasizing that it coincides with ruling class aims.

Today, "openness" is articulated as the "civilized" position to take on Mexican immigration within mainstream corporate culture and among the liberal professionals who champion its perspective.  Conversely, lower tier workers whose industries are negatively impacted by the corporate deployment of an "industrial reserve army" from Mexico, to use Marx's phrase, exhibit their resentment toward immigrants in all the usual ways.  Their bigotry may be real, but it stems from an economic source.

Comparatively, the mainstream of ruling class opinion may be viewed as "more progressive" than its smaller, weaker rivals.  It is power that is progressive, because power can afford to be.

This is important to think about.  Should we align ourselves with what is "more progressive" about somebody else's rules, or engage the bigotry of our class in order to devise our own?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A tiger by the tail

Financial Times:

“Let’s face it. [Big business] is not a group that hates government,” says [Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute]. “Government at its best, as far as they are concerned, is a partner. Because this is a populist movement, anti-government means also being sceptical of government investments in education, which business needs.”

Here again the ruling class is ensnared in its own popular rhetoric, which is anti-government.  Decades of anti-government sentiment have convinced many in the lower tier of the working class that government is their problem, so let's vote Republican for less government.  If that amounts to nothing, let's vote libertarian for less government!  Now the business community is beside itself that electoral success has come at the price of class consciousness: the rulers want more government for themselves, and less for everyone else.  But the Tea Party-types are still sincere; they have yet to discover the betrayal embedded in their world view.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A path between houses

Mikhail Goldman, via Feminisnt:

The adoption of activism as a lifestyle rather than a medium for bringing about social change serves to alienate those who do not identify with its idiosyncratic culture. The unspoken rules of what hairstyles, clothing, diet and lifestyle choices are and aren’t acceptable in the activist ghetto are major barriers to those who are interested in the same revolutionary aims but don’t share the lifestyle.

This results in a limbo situation for such people who cannot fit in. Most end up giving up on a scene that they feel they can never be fully part of.
Aside from the obvious cultural bias in activist circles towards whiteness, the disproportionate dominance of student politics (as well as those who have come through the university system) means that those from working class backgrounds often feel a similar alienation from activism. The intellectuals of the movement love to communicate in lengthy theses on this or that particular issue, often lacking direct connections to those on the front line.

Walking into a subculture is kind of like walking into somebody's home. It tells us something about who someone is at a particular point in their life. It might represent who they are or who they are trying to be. You're not going to know much about it unless you spend some time there, because it's not your home. When you are in someone else's home you try to be respectful.

A home is fundamentally an enclosure from what is happening outside. Some people have wonderful homes that you never want to leave. But if we want to engage with the world outside, eventually we are going to have to leave the house.

It is revealing to me how often I can be critical of other people's homes while very rarely leaving my own. I really like my home. And have you seen what is going on outside lately? F that!

We can't expect that other people are going to rearrange their furniture on the basis of our preferences. However, it is important to try to make other people comfortable in our home, particularly if we want them to stay; and to visit others from time to time, if we want to know who they are.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Direct action gets the goods

Guy Sorman, Wall Street Journal:

The French have a long tradition of taking to the streets as an irrational answer to economic reforms.

Marx makes a point in Vol. 1 about "capitalists" that is very considerate. He says they aren't good or bad people, but "capital personified" -- agents of capital. Capital, value in motion, has its own internal logic that plays itself out regardless of whether you are Montgomery Burns or Mark Zuckerberg. Whether noble or sinister, the intentions we bring to private enterprise will always be disciplined by capital. We often see this expressed as the stress and frustration brought on by those who think that they, not capital, is in charge.

The international economy reflects the trajectory of capital's logic. This is why when you listen to mainstream economists, they never shut up about very boring things like growth and demand. They never mention whether everyone can eat -- for example, kids. Whether kids have enough food to eat seems like an interesting topic for human beings, broadly within the scope of "economics." But that doesn't really enter into mainstream economics as a primary concern; and the reason it's not a primary concern is because the functionality of kids being fed is kind of variable from the perspective of capital. If kids are dying left and right, that can create social disruption which capital doesn't like. On the other hand, if kids are vulnerable, that can create an incentive for parents to work harder and make fewer demands, which in turn accelerates the capital process. An economist who works as an agent of capital would merely call this "increased productivity," and see it as a good thing.

Most of what's happening today on a global level comes down to communities being disciplined by capital. This is what the author means at the end of the article, when he says: "The best and the brightest now want to become entrepreneurs, not top bureaucrats. Such an evolution was not desired by political leaders but instead has been forced on French society through the liberating influence of globalization and the European Union." It used to be that people were interested in democratic governance, but now they want to become capitalists; not because this was their first preference but because capital is imposing an ultimatum by force -- a "liberating influence" in his words.

Different communities are reacting in different ways. As we know, the French have a long tradition of taking to the streets as an answer to economic reforms. What happens when you take to the streets -- when you strike and shut things down -- is you stop the necessary movement of capital. Capital always has to be moving in an expansionary way, and if you stop that motion, it can't produce value. The ruling class, acting as an agent of capital, then loses its base of economic power. This is the most direct way to undermine ruling class power, even to eliminate it, theoretically. It's an effective tool. And that's why the French working class can retire at 60, take over a month of vacation, and have all kinds of other things that working class people who do nothing, or who only vote, can't have.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Love thy neighbor

There are two classes within society: a ruling class and a working class.

Whether it is in the workplace, the financial exchanges, Congress or the executive, we know the ruling class by the fact that it rules. It makes the central decisions which affect society.

We can identify the working class -- those who do the necessary work of society -- as everyone else. Strictly speaking, this class does not "rule"; it works. And the work it does comes in the form of assignments from a boss of one variety or another.

In order to perpetuate the inequity between ruler and ruled, the ruling class must solicit support from the working class. Part of the way the ruling class does this is to legitimate its own position vis-a-vis what is deemed undesirable about the working class. Racism, for example, aims to make people of color an "undesirable" component of the working class, which is then bemoaned by the rest of society: the basic division within society is obscured by one manufactured by its rulers.

One way or another, the ruling class exploits a prejudice against the working class, thus drawing key parts of the working class to its side. If you watch the local news, or read your daily paper, you will be well informed on what is wrong with working class people like you. However, what you will soon learn are the many ways in which you might free yourself of people like yourself, by choosing to identify with people who are unlike yourself! This is accomplished by taking part in "national politics" -- by aligning yourself with one part of the ruling class versus another. Now you don't have to be like you; you can be like them!

"Left" and "right" are parliamentary positions; they are horizontal locations on a vertical axis. At the upper pole of this axis we find the ruling class; at the lower, the working class. Both poles occupy terrain encompassing "left" and "right," whether ruling or working class.

What happens at the upper pole between "left" and "right" is significant because it happens internal to the class which rules -- and this affects everybody. What happens at the lower pole between "left" and "right" is immaterial because it happens internal to the class which works: working class people may bicker with one another, but continue working (or not working) as assigned. A faction of the working class becomes material only in concert with a faction of the ruling class; otherwise it is has as much force as an opinion.

Struggle always occurs between classes, thanks to the fact that one rules while the other is ruled. But the shape that class struggle takes depends on the relative cohesion of the working class. A working class that is fragmented into alliances with the ruling class will pursue class conflict down a dead-end street: it is the ruling class, at the end of the day, which rules. It doesn't matter who is elected to office when it comes to class problems.

We can observe class struggle anywhere we like, whether it assumes a shape from the "left" or from the "right." But as long as division prevails at the lower pole of social power, the ruling class will continue to rule.

How the ruling class behaves can be influenced by cohesion within the working class, i.e. when it disobeys the rules. An identification with power can be replaced with an identification with oneself and with people like oneself, even in the face of immaterial differences, as when your neighbor believes in Martians while you don't. Ruling class-sponsored paranoia that the Martianists will win elections and impose their Martian ways can be allayed by observing the material conflict between a ruling class and a working class in which Martians, one way or the other, really have no purchase. You don't have to freak out about it.

The surest way to disobey every rule, and the ruling class which creates them, is to love our neighbors as ourselves, without regard for very much else. People who can sympathize with one another on the basis that they are ruled, rather than condemn each other for their mistakes or differences, are the people best suited to challenge those rules not of their own making.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Company towns


[M]any other [company] towns were monuments to the Utopian spirit. Benevolent bosses such as Milton Hershey, a chocolate king, and Henry Kaiser, a shipping magnate, went out of their way to provide their workers not just with decent houses but with schools, libraries and hospitals. This Utopian impulse inevitably went hand-in-hand with benevolent bossiness. Hershey served as his town’s mayor, constable and fire chief and employed a squad of “moral police” to spy on the workers.

"Those who write so effusively about the 'Beauties of Factory Life' tell us that we are indeed happy creatures, and how truly grateful and humbly submissive we should be. Can it be that any of us are so stupified as not to realize the exalted station and truly delightful influences which we enjoy? ... Pianos, teachers of music, evening schools, lectures, libraries and all these sorts of advantages are ... enjoyed by the operatives. (Query -- when do they find time for all or any of these? When exhausted nature demands repose?) Very pretty picture that to write about; but we who work in the factory know the sober reality to be quite another thing altogether."

-- Juliana, Voice of Industry, June 12, 1846

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hearts and minds of the working class


[The Tea Party platform] may sound like a corporate dream come true -- as long as the corporation in question doesn't have international operations, rely on immigrant labor, see the value of national monetary policy, or find itself in need of a subsidy to boost exports or an emergency loan from the Fed to survive the worst recession in seven decades.
"The business community writ large is the essence of the inside-the-Beltway type," says lobbyist Rich Gold, who represents Dow Chemical, NextEra Energy, and other energy companies. "And these [Tea Party] people are the essence of the outside-the-Beltway type."

Leave it to our friend, Rich Gold, to remind us of the two classes which exist in society, irrespective of their "values": one that "petitions government for redress of grievances"; and the other, which doesn't have to!

Coping with anti-anxiety

CLR James, You Don't Play with Revolution:

It is wonderful to read what he says about the "they," what he says about idle talk, and what he says about everydayness. And he says he is not attacking anyone, abusing them, or using these words in an opprobrious sense. That is how "they" are, that is exactly how they live.

With the moment of vision you begin to see exactly what you are, you begin to know what it is you are in and what decisions you have to make. And I must say, I have been applying this, not only to ordinary existence ... I am also in the habit of applying the moment of vision -- the drifting along with everybody else and then the moment of vision and discovery of the authentic "there" -- to a national unit.

I find that I can apply it as a historical method. I am not going to attempt to prove it. The only thing that proves a theoretical method is what you get from it. And if, ultimately, I use this method and get a certain amount of clarification of national units, etc., I use it. That's all I can say.

"The evasion of death which covers over, dominates everydayness so stubbornly that, in being-with-one-another, the "neighbors" often try to convince the "dying person" that he will escape death and soon return again to the tranquillized everydayness of his world taken care of. This "concern" has the intention of thus "comforting" the "dying person." It wants to bring him back to Da-sein by helping him to veil completely his ownmost nonrelational possibility. Thus the they makes sure of a constant tranquillization about death. But, basically, this tranquillization is not only for the "dying person," but just as much for "those who are comforting him." And even in the case of a demise, publicness is still not to be disturbed and made uneasy by the event in the carefreeness it has made sure of. Indeed, the dying of others is seen often as a social inconvenience, if not a downright tactlessness, from which publicness should be spared."

-- Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

* * *

Heidegger tells us that we need courage to live our anxiety about death. I say "live" because to feel anxious about death prompts this flight response into unfeeling. Culturally, we are numb to death; this tells us something about ourselves. Death is an elementary truth, but we can't face it.

Orienting ourselves toward death is one way to orient ourselves toward truth. But the problem in sustaining a relationship with truth is that we are thrown into an everydayness whose terms are expressed as the "they." Consequently, we have to choose our own "being-in-the-world" -- by possessing the courage to know ourselves authentically, or knowing ourselves only in the "they." For Heidegger, authenticity -- what James calls "setting a pattern toward something peculiar to oneself" -- is achieved by maintaining a tension, a lived anxiety, about the truth of one's existence.

Many of us can relate to the "they" as consumerism. And one of the interesting things, if you've ever tried to "set a pattern toward something peculiar to oneself," is how isolating it can be. Not only do you have to try to sustain this tension, but you're orienting yourself toward something that has no external reference for anyone else. People ask "what's new?" and -- well, I don't know what. What do you tell them?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Good news

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love:

Unlike happiness, joy is a lasting state that can be sustained even when everything is not the way we want it to be.

If we look at the world long enough, we may find that everything is not the way we want it to be. As a result, many of us don't look.

If we look in a comprehensive way, what can be seen is deeply troubling. Many of us arrive at the point of seeing particular problems with clarity, only to be left with the task of communicating their relevance to others.

At this point most of us experience real frustration. This can play itself out as anger, at the world and at each other; but because anger is a difficult emotion to sustain, it often leads to apathy: it becomes too painful to try, and we withdraw from our attempts to do so.

Anger is often justified, but because it can't be sustained, it can't form the basis for moving past frustration into fulfillment -- a fulfillment that is honest about what is wrong in the world, and the work that must be undertaken in response.

bell hooks points to something that must be cultivated in spite of what we very well know to be true about the world. This is what we must be prepared to offer others, if we ever want them to fall in love with our work despite its inherent difficulty.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The modern idea

We must remember that capitalism imposes its authority and establishes a value system at the same time. Controversy erupts over "values" anytime the imposition of authority is assumed; this is why we have "culture wars": we want our values to prevail in an environment that cannot tolerate others.

But in every instance we are encouraged to formulate our ideas in ways that do not betray our economic requirements. Liberals can rail against the private sector on election day while dutifully comprising its professional tier; conservatives can endorse a populist rebellion in "defense" of capitalism only to be mocked by its ruling class. In either case, it is the practice of independence combined with the deviation from prescribed values that is absent.

It is important to understand, as Marx often emphasized, that capitalism is an authoritarian system of progressive values. It contains within it the modern idea.

The story of our world today is one in which people are responding to the authority of global capital. They are responding to the authority, and they are responding to the values that this authority imposes. Moreover, they are responding to those values in a particular way because they are being imposed.

We have to be able to look at our relationship to authority, especially dominant authority, before we can congratulate or condemn ourselves for holding particular values. A free society would let people maintain whatever values they want, so long as they are not imposed on others. Consequently we are enjoined to oppose that imposition, not "values" in and of themselves.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sprinkling away the warehouse fire

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal:

In an open economy, you will never know what is out there on the leading developmental edge of this or that industry. But the reality behind the miracles is the same: Someone innovates something useful, makes money from it, and re-innovates, or someone else trumps their innovation. Most of the time, no one notices. All it does is create jobs, wealth and well-being. But without this system running in the background, without the year-over-year progress embedded in these capitalist innovations, those trapped miners would be dead.

If only everyone who was mortally confined to their place of work had the benefit of more capitalism!

Normal, Inc.

Wall Street Journal:

Rivals for a Delaware Senate seat sparred Wednesday night in a nationally televised debate that included accusations that one candidate was an extremist and the other a Marxist.

What's the difference?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The problems of ordinary people

Gideon Rachman, Financial Times:

[T]he Republican party and the Tea Party are not synonymous. It is rightwing populists, associated with the Tea Party, such as Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Joe Miller in Alaska, who are making all the headlines. But the Republicans are also fielding traditional pro-business candidates, some of whom are very impressive.
The fact is America is now too complicated a place to accommodate the simple verities peddled by the Tea Partiers. You could see it, even at the Angle rally. The candidate drew cheers by railing against illegal immigration and the federal government -- and then cheerfully admitted that she has half-Mexican grandchildren and that her husband had worked for the federal government for many years.

The popular elements of any political movement often prove unpopular with the ruling class. "Many traditional, pro-business Republicans are horrified by the populism of Sarah Palin," Rachman writes: Palin is closer to her constituency in outlook than she is to the business mainstream.

The challenge for the Republican Party is to pacify that portion of its base which takes its anti-government rhetoric seriously. The Republican National Committee certainly doesn't! But the cultural apparatus funded by business is producing people who are sincere about smaller government; now some of them are winning elections.

No corporation wants smaller government; what it wants is more government for its own purposes. After all, a corporation can't go it alone! So the Tea Partiers take a hit in the press, continually, until they get on board. On vacation I watched a Jon Stewart piece where Christine O'Donnell discussed her views on masturbation; now I hear she may have "dabbled in witchcraft." This is big news! -- but only because O'Donnell is out of step with the prevailing institutions, and consequently draws their wrath. Watch closely and you will see!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The commitments

Financial Times:

The financial demands of unfunded pension promises come as state and local governments grapple with years of falling tax revenue related to the recession.

One of the advantages to being a socialist is that you can look at a statement like this and say: "When wealth is generated first for private-profit, all other considerations become secondary!" You don't have to ask Paul Krugman about it; the diagnosis is always sound.

When the wealth-generating portion of the economy is privately controlled, the need for profit comes first. Profit is the sole basis by which anything else can even be discussed.

In politics, the language of profit does not announce itself as such, but instead appears in its ancillary forms; e.g. as "jobs," "taxes," and "entitlements." Because all of these things are derived from profits, they are commonly set against each other: if you propose taxes, you kill jobs, etc. Everything depends on the rich getting richer, because everyone is dependent on the good fortunes of our private administrators of the collective wealth.

There is a metaphor I like to use for capitalism: When the rich are doing very well, others have a chance to tread water; when the rich are treading water, all bets are off!

Monday, October 11, 2010

What are anarchist politics?

CLR James, Every Cook Can Govern:

In strict politics the great strength of the [Greek] system was that the masses of the people were paid for the political work that they did. Politics, therefore, was not the activity of your spare time, nor the activity of experts paid specially to do it. And there is no question that in the socialist society the politics, for example, of the workers’ organizations and the politics of the state will be looked upon as the Greeks looked upon it, a necessary and important part of work, a part of the working day. A simple change like that would revolutionize contemporary politics overnight.

The next time someone asks about your political views, feel free to tell them that you don't believe in politicians. Politicians, after all, are people paid to run our affairs so that we don't have to. Do you want someone else to make the rules you live by, or do you want to make those rules yourself?

Most people will prove sympathetic to this view: nobody, or very few people, think of themselves as "believing" or "having faith" in politicians to do the right thing; we think of politicians in a negative light, at least in principle.

This is a very easy way to explain anarchism, without getting into a complicated conversation about government. Government can mean "the state," a hierarchy of rule-making, rule-enforcing administrators; but for many people government simply means some form of necessary social organization -- in which case anarchism endorses a non-hierarchical form.

Getting rid of politicians, and doing the necessary work of society ourselves, as opposed to the unnecessary work of making wealthy interests more wealthy, is a straightforward way of explaining what "anarchist governance" would look like.

To paraphrase the syndicalist Rudolf Rocker, anarchism is the popular administration of things, not the unpopular rule over people.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

30 Rock

I watch 30 Rock and note that Tina Fey is liberal while her boss, Alec Baldwin, is conservative; yet they work in the same occupation and spend most of their lives contributing to the same thing. Whatever their ideals, they conform to those values which secure their livelihood.

And this is very much to comedic effect, with both characters frustrated in their attempts to assert themselves within a corporate bureaucracy. Tina Fey's humor is based around the idea that being a successful woman invites repeated failure, especially when you try to do the right thing. Alec Baldwin's character, who fashions himself at the vanguard of capitalism, can prove equally out of step with its objective requirements.

The significance attached to political identity is interesting. As colleagues, they cooperate toward a shared goal that is not their own; in exchange, they earn an income. Yet much is made of the fact that one is Republican -- this is bad -- while the other is not.

This suggests that how one votes is of particular importance while at the same time acknowledging that most of us spend our lives comically failing at what we choose. Why should it matter how we vote if our daily choices amount to failure, as when we most strive to be ourselves?

More about dictatorships

Was Marx a totalitarian?

Friday, October 08, 2010

More on the white working class

Financial Times:

Members of the Tea Party, the burgeoning conservative movement whose membership is overwhelmingly white, feel they are losing ground to African-Americans and other minority groups, according to analysts who conducted a wide-ranging survey of the attitudes of its members.

Why would white Americans feel they are losing ground to African-Americans and other minority groups?

One answer is that African-Americans and other minority groups are enjoying improved circumstances while those of white communities remain the same.

Another answer might be that the circumstances of white communities have declined while those of African-Americans and other minorities remain the same.

Finally, it may be that the circumstances of white communities are declining while those of African-Americans and other minorities improve.

We can probably agree that the circumstances of African-Americans and other minorities are not improving, if at all, at a rate that white Americans would notice.

My own view, oft repeated, is that the circumstances of the blue collar white working class have declined at a faster rate than other groups, under corporate pressure to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator. White workers historically occupied a privileged position; globalization is eroding that privilege.

Subsequently, you get some very animated reactions, with 99% of the media focus on the reactions -- whether it takes the form of militia groups, vigilante groups, anti-tax constitutionalists, etc., at different points in time -- and almost nothing which relates what these communities are reacting to: global capital.

So we should be talking about that.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Financial Times:

A Treasury plan to encourage investors to buy banks’ toxic assets favoured applications from the large asset managers that helped design it, a government watchdog found.

This is the kind of thing about government where you really need a dictatorship of the proletariat! You see, the state is going to "dictate" one way or the other; it does it all the time.

Marx means "government by the people," but that's something industrial capitalism won't permit, so he is assuming a power struggle, with the state dictating one way or the other. You can't just arrive at "government by the people" and expect it to be sustained in equilibrium; certainly not as long as one fragment of the community owns all productive wealth as private property.

What we see repeatedly in our so-called democracy is an uninterrupted dictatorship of wealthy interests and concerns. Policy barely budges from one administration to the next, while the average American's burden grows heavier over time.

The term "dictatorship of the proletariat" acknowledges that the state dictates, and, insofar as we have a state, what it dictates should be "designed" by the working population. But Marx did not believe in statecraft; he simply acknowledged its role within society, and anticipated the need to deal with it in a revolutionary context.

So: this is not an ongoing thing, this "worker's state," but a moment within a conflict when the "expropriators are expropriated." Revolution, in turn, is necessary to reset the natural equilibrium of society; this time with productive wealth the shared property of communities.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The poverty of partisans

Among the unitary objectives of the US ruling class, the American citizen is free to choose between "more regulation" or "less government" while furthering these ends. In either case, the outcome remains the same -- whether in foreign policy or financial reform -- with "more government" going toward elite purposes, and "less government" under popular control.

Accordingly, participation in electoral politics assumes a cultural dimension as one identifies through the state as either "left" or "right," and in doing so announces one's underlying principles: that the private sector is too powerful, or the government too centralized, respectively.

The predominant culture within the United States is a corporate culture, a reflection of the country's dominant institutions. Corporate culture is liberal to the degree that it embodies capital's progressive, expansionary character: it is a technocratic culture, disciplined by the ready expectation for change.

Liberals and "the left" form the intellectual material of this culture; by and large, they don't see it because it is "normal." Geographically, they are concentrated within the urban centers where capital is amassed; "fly-over country" is how they understand life where capital is scarce, and where expository narratives are absent: there is "nothing" there.

The culture wars are so-called because, having no purchase over anything that matters, Americans pose as partisans over the representations attached to partisanship! We vote for more regulation; we vote for less government; and we condemn in the harshest terms anyone who does the opposite! The outcome remains the same, yet we insist on our identities as partisans rather than our interests, combined, as a class.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Rank and file rebellion

By the mid-20th century, when the repose of an industrial aristocracy was being broken by the progressive mission of global capital and the welfare state, US conservatism began to find a home amongst "the people," laying the groundwork for the right-wing populism we enjoy today.

Liberalism, in its turn, without the working class, has come to mean corporate; to be "liberal" is to be culturally corporate. This is described by the left as "sanity": it is normal, and prevailing; as Jon Stewart says, we are too busy working to go to rallies! In any event, it is what we know.

Rank and file conservatives see in themselves, correctly, an underdog in the face of global capital. There is no small government that will ever come from the Republican Party, only less government for the working class. To their credit, they look with skepticism on "crony capitalism" in a way that Obama supporters, patiently awaiting the next FDR, would do well to study.

Liberals see in themselves an advocate for working people, but this suffers from their integration into corporate structures by which they benefit more than most. Their advocacy extends as far as what the Democratic National Committee will allow. They fight for a base of power within the state, from which they will do good for all -- or at least for themselves and their favored minorities, while they use the state to enforce corporate culture in rural schools and local communities that appear intransigent. They compete as voters against financial institutions in setting policy, and predictably lose every time!

"The left" would do well to acknowledge its economic position in relation to capital, and understand that most of the electoral "right" exists subordinated to it. An identification with "progressive issues" does not bear on where one stands, or what one contributes to, every day we participate in an unexamined career.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The liberal elite

Wall Street Journal:

Even Americans most likely to be winners from trade -- upper-income, well-educated professionals, whose jobs are less likely to go overseas and whose industries are often buoyed by demand from international markets -- are increasingly skeptical.

"The important change is that very well-educated and upper-income people compared to five to 10 years ago have shifted their opinion and are now expressing significant concern about the notion of ... free trade," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who helps conduct the Journal survey. Among those earning $75,000 or more, 50% now say free-trade pacts have hurt the U.S., up from 24% who said the same in 1999.

After four decades of trade agreements that put blue collar, high school educated workers out of their livelihoods, the "well-educated and upper-income" have begun to feel uneasy!

Perhaps they feel the deflation at work in the value of their degrees; a BA is the new HS diploma -- is that right? I understand a PhD hardly assures you a job, and you are treated like a serf until you obtain tenure.

As we have observed here before, absent jobs, it won't matter how much education the average American receives: degrees don't produce jobs.

Capitalism is taking away jobs. On the one hand, this is due to technology in the form of automation; on the other, "good jobs" are only however many innovations away from becoming reconstituted in a low-wage form.

One of the points I try to make to the "well-educated and upper-income" is that having four decades of something like this on your back feels different than if you're only having second thoughts about it now.

You could even make the argument that people experiencing vastly different things have very different ways of expressing themselves politically, with more distressed communities less inclined to "take it down a notch for America."

Friday, October 01, 2010

Capital Vol. 2

Karl Marx; Capital, Vol. 2:

Capital, as self-valorizing value, does not just comprise class relations, a definite social character that depends on the existence of labor as wage-labor. It is a movement, a circulatory process through different stages, which itself in turn includes three different forms of the circulatory process. Hence it can only be grasped as a movement, and not as a static thing.

Volume 1 of Capital is really about understanding what capital is from the perspective of production. As we learned, capital is not a thing, but a social relation that is mediated by things: You have somebody with money on one side, somebody with no way to live on the other, and in the end wealth is generated out of this combination. A lot of what Marx does in Vol 1. is to show how this happens.

In Volume 2 we are looking at capital as a complete cycle, in which "productive capital" -- means of production combined with human labor power -- is but one component. So we are trying to look at the whole thing, from the perspective of capital and its requirements.

And from that perspective, capital "does not just comprise class relations" -- where most of the emphasis was in Vol. 1 -- but is "a circulatory process through different stages," these being three basic forms that capital must take in order to function as capital: money capital, productive capital, and commodity capital.

For example, money capital is used to purchase productive capital, ie. money capital is money that goes toward purchasing machinery and raw materials, as well as laborers to perform the work; these elements of productive capital then create commodity capital, which is the commodity which contains within it a surplus value derived from the fact that "free laborers" are dependent on a wage to live, and so accept one less than the value of what they produce. The "value-added" commodity then goes to the market to be realized as a profit when it is exchanged for money.

So we have capital going from a money form, to a productive form, to a commodity form, and then returning to a money form as the cycle begins anew.

Though I am not far along, I suspect the purpose behind Vol. 2 is to show in later volumes that any point in this cycle can be disrupted; that meeting all of the conditions for the circulation of capital is something that requires constant vigilance on the part of the capitalist class, which in practice means heavy government intervention in the economy on their behalf.