Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the One Hand; On the Other Hand

1. Wasn't it just yesterday that bankers, finance ministers, international monetary funders, bric-ers, emerging and established marketeers were complaining about the weak dollar; about the irresponsibility of quantitative easing; about all that "hot" money sloshing and flushing through the world markets threatening all of those bankers, ministers, funders, bric-ers, marketeers with the specter of.... not communism, certainly not anything quite so quaint and obsolete as that...but that walking nightmare for capitalists called inflation?

Actually, no it wasn't just yesterday.  It was a couple of years ago, but what's a couple of years in the past to somebody just now approaching the peak of his or her theoretical, analytic, literary, sexual and, I hasten to add, comic powers?

Putting aside my existing and anticipated personal triumphs for just a moment, now the complaint is about the strengthening dollar and its adverse impact on the emerging and established marketeers, on the funders and finders, the bankers and wankers; about the veritable tax the appreciated dollar levies on those forced to settle their international positions, their trade, in the currency underpinning trade.

Putting aside my personal triumphs for just another moment, now the complaint is about deflation;  declining commodity prices; devaluation, depreciation, de-just-about-everything, which in truth has gripped the markets, consistently but more or less thoroughly since 2008, but now made so visibly acute in the collapse of oil prices brought about by the dramatic increase in US production from "tight oil" sources.

The "strong dollar" has reversed the cash flows that buoyed the emerging market countries; the flood of oil from US (and Canadian) sources has glutted the markets, eroding the earning base of commodity exporters.  Where and when once upon a time the mainest of main enemies, the greatest and most satanical of Great Satans exported inflation thereby buttressing its privileged position atop the capitalist heap through unequal exchange, now and here the mainest enemy greatest  Satan maintains its unfair ranking by exporting deflation.  On the one hand...

At the same time,   there's no shortage of analysts, advisers, political economists, political economist columnists, etc. etc. eager to  point out the "windfall," the "benefits," the uptick the decline in oil prices will mean... will mean for almost everybody... for you, for me, for airlines, bus companies, city governments, auto and their parts manufacturers.  Why, it's a veritable wage increase.  It increases disposable income.  It increases consumer spending.  It's good for you and good for me and good for....

Almost everyone.  Sure it is.

2.  It's not really the case that the strengthening dollar has dictated the course of deflation to the world economy.  Deflation in Japan has been around for 20 years more or less; and deflation in Europe is entering a seventh year, during most of which the dollar has been relatively "weak" in relation to the euro.

And it's not just  that US daily production of crude has just about doubled in six years.  It is the case that US production has doubled while the rate of growth for both global oil production and consumption has slowed dramatically.  For the period 2000-2007, global production increased by 10 percent while consumption grew by 12 percent.  For 2007-2014, world production expanded by 6.5 percent, while global consumption grew 4.2 percent.

This marked deceleration in consumption has been driven by the collapse, pretty much, in rates of consumption in North America, which flipped, on the one hand, from a 5.8 percent increase for 2000-2007 to a decrease of 7 percent in the 2007-2014.  This configuration of increased, but slowing, production with declining consumption is overproduction.  More precisely, it is the overproduction of capital that determines the declining real consumption.

Now the development of social production is, in a very real sense, the development of overproduction.  After all, the critical category for such development is surplus, socially accessible surplus.  Surplus is the "movement from necessity to freedom," which is to say, surplus is the material representation of the productivity of social labor.

As capital, the means of production exist  as commodities, as  value-extracting;  realizing, and only realizing, their accumulated value in the expansion of new values.  Capital is always a mode of persistent overproduction, and overproduction is established as an expression of the determinant negation-- value production producing devaluation--  of capitalist reproduction.  Overproduction of capital, of value, is the sweet spot and the hard place, the hammer and the anvil of the rate of profit.

So much for theory.  In the concrete, overproduction of capital, and overproduction of commodities are not immediately the same.  In the concrete, overproduction of capital and overproduction of commodities converge.

In practice, the collapse in the oil prices is the moment when the value of oil, the socially necessary time for reproduction, has eaten away at the price of production, the price through which the total profit is apportioned among the sectors of capital according to mass and efficiency.   This is the moment when the insufficient profit has been generated in capital as a whole to support the mechanisms for distributing that profit. This is the moment when the production of value undermines the property relation underpinning value production.

If the accumulation of capital, the profit of capital, were exclusively dependent upon cost,  then the decline in the price of the inputs into any one or all sectors would always and forever amplify that profit and that accumulation.   Of course, profit and accumulation are not exclusively dependent upon cost, but upon the proportions, the relations, the social ratio of the living and "dead" or "congealed" components of production.  So the reduction in input costs will be overwhelmed in all sectors of capitalist production by the general devaluation, the general decline of profits; by the inability to generate the profit in production required for both the preservation of current values, and the realization of expanded values.

Overproduction is driven by the tendency of the rate of profit to decline.  Consequently, the "increase in real wages" predicted as a consequence of oil price declines will be more than offset by reductions in the total wage as a proportion of production through unemployment, austerity, low-wage jobs, temporary work; the "boost" to consumer spending will be more than offset by the curtailment of capital spending; the "stimulus" to  production will disappear in the contraction in business activity;  the prospect of recovery will be smothered by sharp declines in the circulation of commodities manifesting first in continued slow down in the rate of growth of world trade, and then in the absolute volumes and values in world trade.

Anybody arguing that declining oil prices, abstracted from the general conditions determining those price movements, foreshadow a general upturn for capitalism doesn't know up from down, ass from elbow, one hand from the other.

S.Artesian
December 17, 2014


 





Saturday, December 13, 2014

Totally Unexpected, Completely Shocking, Unbelievably Surprising....

...news:  Heavily redacted executive summary of US Senate Select Intelligence Committee  report on CIA interrogation methods reveals CIA tortured; CIA lied; CIA deceived; CIA didn't actually obtain "intelligence."

From the Financial Times editorial of 11 December 2014: 
The most overlooked part of the US Senate's report on the Central Intelligence Agency's  use of torture is its remedies.  It offers none.  Many of the report's details are new and shocking.  There is no doubt that after 9/11 CIA routinely practiced brutal forms of torture, misled Congress about what it was up to and made false claims about the benefits of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
Technically not.  The most overlooked part of this entire charade is the assertion that the CIA method of operation was initiated after 9/11, as if all throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the CIA had not practiced brutal forms of interrogation and assassination; as if before 9/11 the CIA hadn't engaged in the protection of drug dealers; as if before 9/11 the CIA hadn't employed Mafioso, Nazis, murderers, torturers in its "everyday"activities; as if prior to 9/11 didn't mislead Congress; as if before and after  9/11 the Congress wasn't/isn't  only too happy to be misled; as if the CIA hasn't always been in the business of making false claims about everything and anything.

 Let's be clear, the CIA is no abscess on the body of US "democracy."  US "democracy" is the abscess on the body of the human species.    


S. Artesian
December 13, 2014

Friday, December 05, 2014

A Modest Proposal

Some worry has been expressed that the demonstrations against police murders of black people lack "demands" or "program."  Me?  I'm not worried.  I think that the demonstrations' organizing principle-- "Stop Police Murder"-- through taking to the streets is both necessary and sufficient. It, taking direct action, is the appropriate and only viable means to the end.

So the questions, so to speak, are not  "What are your goals?  What is your plan?  What's the strategy?"  The issue that needs addressing is "How do we sustain this?  How do we expand this struggle, make the struggle both more extensive and intensive?"   

It's tough for me to admit it, and probably impossible for others to believe it, by I don't have all the answers, emphasis on all.  But I do have a modest proposal.  I propose we start the expansion process by agitating for the separation and expulsion of all police unions, organizations, "brotherhoods," including those of  prison and security guards, etc. from membership in or confederations with labor unions.

Isolation of the police unions from those of labor means opposition and nothing is more important to the development of a workers' movement in the US today than rejection of and opposition to the police as part of that movement.

Demonstrations against union confederations that include police associations; unions that include police officers as members; labor organizations that maintain "fraternal" ties to police organizations; district labor councils that include or allow police representations-- seem like a good, and logical, place to start.

Leave your prescription pill vials at home, lest some cop mistake it for a gun.

December 5, 2014


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Welcome to Ferguson, New York

So we have a video recording, an audio recording; we have the medical examiner's report-- "homicide;"  we have a cause, application of the choke hold, a "banned" maneuver, and we have a grand jury that "refuses" to indict.    The obvious conclusion is what it  always has been,  that the police are doing their jobs, and their job is  what it always has been, choking the life out of black people.  Next case.

Look, even the state of Mississippi was able to get Byron de la Beckwith to the actual trial stage three times. 

You have to understand the way the system works: black youth with his hands up? Mortal threat.  Black man selling loose cigarets? Capital crime.  White youth shooting dozens in a school?  Troubled boy.  White men fleecing thousands, earning millions?  Role models.

December 3, 2014



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