Friday, November 07, 2014

This is the Modern World

1.  It is the "universalizing tendency" of capitalism that allows Marx to recognize, categorize, and critique its historical specificity-- or rather the historical specificity of the condition of labor that is capital's determinant.  That condition is that the laborers have no use for their own labor, that the labor has no value to them,  save its use in exchange, as value to be exchanged for the equivalent of the value of the means of subsistence.  So labor-time is compelled to present itself as exchange value, compensated for the time necessary for its reproduction, while the working time exceeds that of compensated time.

It's nice work if you can get it, and believe me, the bourgeoisie get it.  And they let us know how-- dispossessing the direct producers; destruction of the "natural economies," through any and all means, and any and all means include war, famine, plague, slavery, -- all of which are not ends in themselves but means to the beginning-- "free," detached, destitute, untethered labor power.  

These same means accompany capitalism throughout its development and in its dotage, when accumulation requires devaluation and devaluation requires driving, somehow, someway, the compensation of labor-power below its cost of reproduction.  Sometimes this occurs in a form unaltered from its antecedents;   sometimes in an altered form.   War is made manifest as civil war, or as terrorism practiced against indigenous populations; famine practiced as austerity, reducing the caloric intake of agricultural and urban producers; plague practiced in the breakdown, neglect, absence of infrastructure-- safe water, sanitation, public health services-- so essential to the reproduction of the working class.

The reproduction of the working class is less critical than expropriation of  labor-time. Dispossession  doesn't always, doesn't ever,  mean capital is able to access  all the "free labor" thus detachedIt does mean capital can aggrandize some of that labor power as wage-labor, and that some is powerful enough to drag other production into the process of exchange where value can obscure the origins of commodities.  Enter not the world, but the world market, of plantations, haciendas, prison labor, and slums:

When an industrial people producing on the foundation of capital, such as the English, e.g., exchange with the Chinese, and absorb value in the form of money and commodity from out of their production process, or rather absorb value by drawing the latter within the sphere of the circulation of their capital, then one sees right away that the Chinese do not therefore need to produce as capitalists.  (Grundrisse Notebook 7)

Value consumes "unfree" labor; wage-labor transfers unfree labor through the production of expanded value. 

2.   Capital is the condition of labor.  This is the material basis of production--  the means of subsistence aggrandized as private property, an equivalent for a proportion of which is exchanged with destitute, detached, dispossessed wage labor.    From this social condition of labor we get a mode of producing commodities, unlike, but capable of simultaneously absorbing and eroding, previous modes of producing commodities.

It's not, or more precisely, not only that the logic of Marx's analysis is "as a whole," hangs all together; it is that it hangs all together because Marx the logic is the apprehension of history and history is the telling, and retelling, of the social condition of labor. 

So..capitalism is not  just the amassing of wealth; the extensive and intensive networks of exploitation and commerce.  After all, wealth, commerce, markets, extensive trade networks have existed throughout history without yielding capitalism. And it is not the case that capitalism resides incipient within all other modes of production.  History is not destiny, and the domination of capital is not the necessary result of all modes of production  It is the form, the expression, the social relation by which the wealth is amassed.

The quantitatively greater, and faster, amassing of wealth; the extensive and intensive networks of exploitation and commerce are derived from the qualitative "nature" of value, and the laws of value production.  We move from the accruing of the surplus product of, by, and for exchange to the accruing of the means of production so that all production is surplus.  In this way the very category of surplus product disappears.  All product is now of by and for exchange; and appears as value

3. Marx takes a position in the "Brenner debate:"
 The existence of domestic handicrafts and manufacture as an ancillary pursuit to agriculture, which forms the basis, is the condition for the mode of production on which this natural economy is based n European antiquity and the Middle Ages, as still today in the Indian village communities where the traditional organization has not yet been destroyed. The capitalist mode of production completely abolishes this connection; a process can can be studied on a large scale particularly during the last third of the 18th century in England. People who had grown up in more or less semi-feudal societies, such as Herrenschwand, for example still consider this separation of agriculture and manufacture as a foolhardy social venture, an incomprehensibly risky mode of existence at the end of the 18th century. And even in those agricultural economies of ancient times which show most analogy with the capitalist rural economy, Carthage and Rome, the similarity is more with a plantation economy that with the form truly corresponding to the capitalist mode of production. [underscore added] A formal analogy, though one which proves to be completely deceptive in all essential points as soon as the capitalist mode of production is understood– even if not for Herr Mommsen, who discovers the capitalist mode of production in every monetary economy– such a formal analogy is to be found nowhere in mainland Italy in ancient time, but only perhaps in Sicily, since this served as an agricultural tributary for Rome, its agriculture being essentially designed for export. Here one can find farmers in the modern sense. (Capital, Volume 3)
The careful reader will note that while Marx refers to the "natural economy," nowhere does he refer to "simple commodity production" or a "simple commodity producing economy."  No such animal ever existed.   

Unique to capital is its amassing of  labor-time as/in values through the continuous diminution of the labor power necessary for the reproduction of the values themselves.  Capital reproduces itself, reproduces its classes through the relative expulsion of living labor-time from the production process.  Unique to capital is this compulsion to reduce the necessary labor-time required from the reproduction of commodities, including the labor commodity.  This is what accounts and amounts for/to capital's need for the productivity of labor. 

Again Marx "takes" his position on the "Brenner debate:"
A definite stage in the  development of agriculture, whether in the country concerned or in other countries, forms the basis for the development of capital.  (Economic Manuscripts, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 2)

Now, by this time we should know that when when Marx is writing about "productivity"-- hell, when Marx is writing about anything, he is not simply referring to a a "quantity"-- a technical relation, but a social relation, or more precisely and particularly in periods of transition, emergence, revolution, the interpenetration of the technical means and the social ends.  

The productivity to which Marx refers is precisely an economic compulsion to expand  production as the production of values through a disproportional reduction in the necessary labor so employed.  As is the case with all social compulsions, "extra-economic" forces, bodies of armed men enabled by "laws," actualize the economics.

It is just that simple.  And complex. While capitalism can absorb and find fuel in the production of non-capitalist modes; while capitalism can, to a high degree support and integrate such modes, it does so as a moment in its own reproduction, thus undermining these modes. 

5.  Uneven and combined development is the vital extension of and contribution to Marx's  critique of capitalism.  As a theory, it too takes its starting point as the material basis of production.  As a practice, we get permanent revolution-- a telescoping, compression of the "tasks" of revolution such that social development of/and from any particular economic organization is inseparable from the general emancipation of social labor.    The material basis cuts both ways: "development" cannot be abstracted from the emancipation of labor; no general emancipation of labor is possible within the boundaries, the limits of any "single" economy.

The material basis for the theory of uneven and combined development is that capitalist relations do not arise from the non-capitalist relations, particularly the agricultural relations of a "backward" country.  Capitalism does not "evolve" from the "feudal" or "semi-feudal" or "quasi-feudal" relations of the  "backward" areas.  Capitalism is introduced, modestly or massively, and confronts not "incipient native capitalism" as its obstacle, but those non-capitalist forms of appropriation as well as the persistence of the "natural economy," subsistence production and the consequent lower productivity of agriculture.   That capital in its "advanced" condition adapts, and adapts to, these limits to its own "complete" expression; to its expansion of "free"-- that is labor power as  value-producing value-- wage-labor is an index to the limit of capital itself.  The determinant of value production, the organization of wage-labor, the organization of the class of wage-laborers is transformed first into the limitation of capitalist production before it emerges as capital's negation.

It is evident in uneven and combined development, whether it be that of the US slave south to the civil war,  or the sharecropper-plantation system after the defeat of Radical Reconstruction; or the land tenure relationships in Mehmet Ali's Egypt; or the haciendas of Mexico in the 19th and  20th centuries, that these specific forms do not reproduce themselves as capitalist; do not reproduce the social condition of labor under capitalism; do not, on their own, "evolve" "naturally" into that "modern" "developed" capitalism; and thus cannot produce the negation of capital-- then, or now.  That capitalism has developed as it indeed has developed, unevenly and in "combination," is the proof that capitalism did  develop as it did.  The circuit of capital is never uniform but always deformed...until it is abolished.

November 7, 2014

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Coalition of RWM

It's already started, the so-called, post mortem on the pus filled cadaver of US electoral politics.  The usual dead dog answers, complete with flies, are out there-- about the "no vote"  the "non-voters" "the plaguers on both your housers."  The story is the no story.

Well here's the no story.  That "no vote" has nothing to do with wishing "a plague on both your houses."  The strategy of the RWM (rich white men) is to prevent poor people, single-parents (women), unionized employees, students, black people (especially black people) from being able to vote.  The only voter fraud in the US is anti-voter fraud. 

Voter ID laws are the new poll tax; the breath from the lungs of the new old Jim Crow.

Next up for the US bourgeoisie?  Repealing the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments and paying reparations, not to the descendents of the slaves, but to those of the slaveholders for the loss of their property during the war of Northern aggression.   

GSA is already seeking proposals for the design and construction of the Jeff Davis-Lester Maddox Mall, recycling pieces from the soon to be demolished Lincoln Memorial.

The first act of the new Congress will be to proclaim the White Camelia  the national flower.

November 6, 2014

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

No comment comment

RKKR (John Roberts, Brothers Koch, Karl Rove) coalition rolls to victory.  Vows to redeem America from the disgrace of permitting African-American presidency.  "Our long national nightmare is soon to be over," proclaims RKKR.

November 5, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

And There Ain't No Santy Clause Neither

Read it and weep:

How could this be?  Brazil's a charter member, the B in BRIC, perhaps the Bric-iest of the BRICs and everyone knows BRICs are the last best hope of humanity.  You mean to say that Lula and Dilma and all the rest are just.......capitalists?  Without any sense of love for mother earth like that aspiring Bric-ette Evo Morales?

I'm shocked.  I'm appalled.  I'm heartbroken.

I may never attend another Left Forum. Nor the World Social Forum. 

Wait 'til Al Gore finds out.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Truth Be Told

Once upon a time, back in the day, long ago-- when everybody was getting in touch with himself, or herself, while I was, of course, eager as always to touch someone other than myself,  I thought to myself, and out loud:  "What happens if, after making all that effort, spending all that time and money, you get in touch with yourself and you don't particularly like the way it, or you, feel(s)?"

Is it possible that you can revert, so to speak, to not being in touch with yourself? Probably.  But look at all the time wasted.  So why risk it?  What's the point?

Suppose, just suppose I happened to be some self-aggrandizing ego-centric high-powered highly performing sociopath and I go to one of these retreats in California where sunshine and the St. Andreas fault wage a never-ending battle for possession of daily life?  And there among the surf and sand and temblors I "get in touch"? Exactly what is it I think I'm going to be touching?  And more importantly, how can I get it off me?

Fortunately, I don't have that problem.  I don't really overvalue myself enough to be self-aggrandizing; as for high-performance? Do us a favor.....

At core I'm a sluggard; a person who wants nothing so much as to spend day after day near the sea under one or more of those umbrellas with the beautiful navy-blue crests, logos of the restaurants that populate the beaches of Nice.

If I had, or had had the money, I would be, would have been the laziest man in history-- perfectly happy to regard rolling over twice in a single ten hour period as an aerobic workout.  And rolling over three times?  "Feel the burn"?  I wouldn't make that mistake again, believe me.

I could be perfectly happy turning my skin  slightly more brown and less supple than the belt holding my white linen trousers, which of course, I only wear to and from my perfectly appointed chaise lounge.

I would be happy, actually disbelieving of my good fortune, to only need to raise a hand, and not even the whole hand-- maybe just two fingers-- and obtain a towel, another glass of wine, another kilogram of mussels (with frites).

In fact, provided somebody gave me a blanket, I wouldn't budge from the spot (except for the necessary reasons). 

When it rained?  I'd get wet.

All in all, it's my good fortune that I have never had the money to get in touch with the real idle rich me, which me has always been too lazy to make an extended appearance.

October 11, 2014

Monday, October 06, 2014

Object Lessons of Overproduction

1.  Most of the bourgeoisie's political economists are perplexed about one thing or the other most of the time.  They're perplexed when the capitalist economy moves from expansion and into expansion; when it move through expansion to contraction.  Most of the bourgeoisie's political economists are so perplexed most of the time that they, more or less, assign the responsibility for this movement to the irrational acts of irrational players, or mistaken programs by mistaken programmers; or prejudices, ignorance, bias by the ignorant, prejudiced, biased; who, of course, were just as prejudiced, biased, ignorant 6, 10, 24 months ago before the economy moved from expansion to contraction.  So most of the time, most of the political economists qualify their confusion  with "these things take time," and/or "we told you so. We warned you of the long-term consequences of....(government spending, deregulation, easy credit, tight money.........etc.etc. etc.)."

They're perplexed when the downturn is stronger than expected.  They're perplexed when the downturn is longer than expected.  They're perplexed when the recovery is "L shaped" instead of "V shaped;" or when it's "W shaped;" or when it's "U shaped."   This leads anyone not schooled in the mystifying process of political economy to wonder "What exactly did they expect from a bunch of ignorant, prejudiced, biased, irrational, error-prone (regulators/deregulators, bankers/bureaucrats) acting ignorantly and irrationally?"

Most of them are perplexed.  Most of the time.  And those political economists that aren't confused? They're just not paying attention.

2. What the bourgeoisie's political economists lack, of course, is...well they lack many things. Here are a couple.    They lack (1) a sense of their own role, their own function as shills for the huckster's pitch that capitalism, warts and all, is the best human beings can do.  They lack (2) recognition that the forces intrinsic to capitalist accumulation impair and disrupt that accumulation; that accumulation becomes devaluation.

In truth, the political economists don't  They cannot comprehend that in the billions of individual exchanges in the markets, the "trend," is established only because the commodities are not simply products, but also represent the conditions of capital.

While the processes of capitalism capitalism are always that of dynamic disequilibrium; are always erratic, uneven; the disequilibrium nevertheless expresses a secular, structural, historical development.  That development is given its acute form in the cycles of capital.  It is the convergence of the historical development with (and through) the cyclical movement, the aligning, the superimposition of the historical development upon the upon the capitalist cycle that brings us to the conjunction, which at one at the same time is and is more than the impairment of accumulation.

3.  When our confused political economists ask why the current recovery is so weak, the question becomes a means for them to avoid the structural trend that is super-imposed upon, and concentrated in,  the acute moment-- why has the rate of increase for the output of goods and service per capita during years 1987-2013 slowed to half the rate of that increase for the period 1961-1987?

In spite of all the technology thrown into the production process; despite all the deregulation; despite all the incense burned at the Fed-- output per capita has declined.

The rate of growth of output  per capita declined over the long term for the reasons that the rate declines in the short-term cycle-- that is to say profitability and the need to offset declining profitability.  Asset-liquidation, reduced industrial employment is essential to the expansion of technology.  While the population continues to increase, the value-producing population decreases.  The proportion of new value introduced into the economy just as, just so, and just because the new value is the living labor which now animates, mobilizes, carries the already, and continuing, accumulated capital which can add nothing new, and worse (for the bourgeoisie) can only give up its "sunk costs"-- its value-- over longer cycles of turnover.

4.  Perplexed,  the pundits, political economists, branch managers, security floggers search for a method of radical simplification for the task of understanding what they themselves mystify-- value-- in "markers" that act as index to the health of the capitalist economy.  So there's copper, known to the traders as Dr. Copper.  There are the order books for maritime shipping.  There's oil, once upon a time known and no longer thought of as "black gold."  There's gold itself, the "store" of value.  There was/is/has been/will be cotton, coal, steel and of course automobiles-- especially automobiles.

The rise and fall of the prices of all these commodities are the measures by which the bourgeoisie make it perfectly clear to everyone but themselves that each commodity-- from container ships to powdered milk-- is a husk, a shell, a mule for the transit of the only measure that counts-- profitability.

5. We can "look" at any thing, or any measure we want.  What we see however will always be a moment of capitalism.  The accumulation of moments becomes the trend.  The totality of the moments is the truth of capitalism, and that truth is overproduction.  Overproduction is the overproduction of the means of production as capital,  any portion of which capital can lay claim to a portion of the value in the markets only through the more intense exploitation of labor power...which is to say only through the general devaluation of all other capital.

We can look at steel.  We will see overproduction.  We see it in China's increased output and capacity.  China now accounts for nearly half the global output of steel, utilizing only 2/3 of its production capacity.

We see that profits in China's steel sector have declined to historically low levels (although that's not really much of a history).

We see that half of China's steel mills operate  at a loss. 

We see at the same time that 2014 is the 6th consecutive year of declines in steel production in the European Union, with the decline in output between 2007 and 2013 measuring 21 percent.

We can look at iron ore.  We see another moment of overproduction-- actually another moment in the overproduction of steel as prices for ore have declined some 50 percent off their peaks.

We will hear the market analysts moaning that although ore prices are near 5 year lows the major producers continue to ramp up production.  Why?  Because over the past five years the major producers-- Rio Tinto, BHP-Billiton, Vale-- have invested heavily in more efficient machinery and methods for the extraction of iron ore, so much so that they have reduced their costs of production to $30 per ton.

So the prices have fallen to $80 per ton?  So what?  There's still profit to be made by the majors through overproduction and driving the smaller producers out of the markets-- by devaluing capital.

We are seeing  that overproduction rearranges profit even at the expense of profitability- at the expense of the rate of profit.

We are seeing that overproduction is the condition of capital where prices and values converge; where prices finally catch up, in their descent, to the reduced increments of value added in production.

We can look at the production of petroleum liquids and gas.  We will see a tripling of output over last seven years in the United States.  We see a production increase of such magnitude that US imports have declined by more than half.  We see overproduction of such magnitude that it has offset, nullified, the "usual" "beneficial" impact armed conflict has on oil prices.   Not even wars in the Mideast, proxy wars in the the Ukraine can get the price of oil back to $100 per barrel.  We see overproduction of such magnitude that the "contango" is back in play-- where crude oil tankers are used to warehouse oil in hopes that future prices will rise.

We see all that while we hear the CEO of Chevron complain:  "One hundred dollars a barrel is the new twenty dollars a barrel in our business."

We see, we hear, and we can read the oil companies' rate of return on capital employed:  2000-18%;  2005-19%; 2007-15%; 2009-9%; 2014-8%.

We can see the impact of US shale production in the deepwater rig utilization rate which declined from 100 percent to 65 percent in six years.  Only yesterday seems so long ago.

We can look at world trade, where slowing growth is the twin, and the offspring, of overproduction.

6.  We can see all of this.  We can read Marx who, as noted in earlier posts, writes:
 The violent destruction of capital not by relations external to it, but rather as a condition of its self-preservation, is the most striking form in which advice is given it to be gone….Since this decline of prof signifies the same as the decrease of immediate labour relative to the size of the objectified labour which it reproduces and newly posits, capital will attempt every means of checking the smallness of the relation of living labour to the size of the capital generally, hence also of the surplus value, if expressed as profit, relative to the presupposed capital by reducing the allotment made to necessary labour and by still more expanding the quantity of surplus labour with regard to the whole labour employed
and maybe we realize or maybe we don't that this violent destruction is inherent to and resolves the issue of "underconsumption" and "effective demand."  Maybe we recognize in that paragraph the answer to Marx's own musing about why, with the increase in social productivity, it is profitable to produce six knives for the same value contained in a single knife when there is no requirement for an individual or "individuals" to purchase six knives.  Maybe we recognize that the producer of the six knives absorbs, garners the profit that the producer of one knife previously obtained, just as Rio Tinto obtains a profit from ramping up overproduction despite the decline in prices.

Maybe we recognize that this-- this producing 6 in the place of 1-- this overproduction is the way capital develops; that devaluation is inherent in capitalist reproduction.

Maybe we see, or we don't, that the upheavals triggered by overproduction/devaluation as confused as they may be in the Ukraine ("We want to live like Europeans."  And now they have their IMF austerity program to prove it.); or Hong Kong; or Egypt; or Syria are in fact upheavals produced by the impairment in capitalist accumulation.

Maybe we see that the expressions, "slogans,"  these initial upheavals have adopted ("democracy," "freedom") are the initial  opposition to the poverty that capital deploys as it reduces "the allotment made to necessary labour... by still more expanding the quantity of surplus labour with regard to the whole labour employed."

Maybe we see that these upheavals in and through their very confusion will recede, and be replaced by workers revolution against capital, against value production. 

If we don't see that, all of that, then we're the ones not paying attention.

October 6 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Favorite Mart(x)ian

Proyect on Putin and the "left":  

Russia is in the throes of a nationalistic/Orthodox church deep freeze and it is regrettable that so many on the left cheer Putin on as if he is Che Guevara. 

--almost as regrettable as those that cheer Che Guevara as if he were Lenin, which is
--almost as regrettable as those that cheer Lenin as if he were Marx

Proyect on Michael Moore:

And this idiot had the nerve to beg Ralph Nader not to run. He is finally eating his words. 

--as opposed to those who begged Nader  to run (see below).  

Proyect on his favorite next word-eater:

It would help if the left could get its act together and organize an independent campaign around a charismatic leftist candidate. Nader is out of the question with his stupid right-left convergence politics but someone like Cornel West could be huge (although I doubt that he would run.) 

--because why?  West isn't eating his words re Obama?  Or because we're suddenly hungry and need words to eat?

Personal favorite:

Proyect list member on cynical self-centered technologies

The Gates initiative in education was always cynical and self-interested, centered as it is upon heavy investments in new technologies.

Sent from my  Windows Phone   (emphasis added)

Coming soon:  Object Lessons of Overproduction