Sunday, April 12, 2015

In No Particular Order...

1.  There was this from Michael Heinrich, arguing that real Marxists are those who declare they aren't Marxists, or at the very least, don't claim to be capital M Marxist.  Marx describes himself as 1. not a Marxist and 2. a "man of science." That, for Heinrich, not only sums it up, but is itself the it.  

Reading Heinrich, and not Marx, one would never guess that there was a specific content to Marx's "science,"  and that "science" was, in a word, history.  Nope, no sirree Bob, no way José, sorry Charlie, es tut mir lied Karl, désolé, Karl.  For Heinrich, the veracity, accuracy of Marx's analysis is not the point.

There is no point.  There are only targets.  And the first target is "the philosophical simplifications that are presented as 'Marxism,' those mixtures of simple materialism, bourgeois ideas of progress, and vulgar Hegelianism which are presented as 'dialectical materialism' and 'historical materialism.' "

I  think Heinrich means "vulgar materialism" not "simple" materialism, but your guess is probably better than mine.  Well, first off, Heinrich is a little bit late to the sing-along, isn't he?  I mean weren't the critical theorists, the Frankfurt School, the grad students and professors of Telos, the New Left Review, the CLR Jamesists, the Debrayists, the Althusserians,  etc. etc. ad nauseum slaying the stuffed dragons of simple materialism and vulgar Hegelianism forty or fifty years before Heinrich issued this epistle?   I could swear I remember something along those lines, right before or right after James, the Frankfurt School, the critical theorists,  Debray ad nauseum  found a home in this or that institution of capital-- you know, like a "nationalist government" here; a "socialist government" there; a tenured position somewhere?  

Heinrich takes on that cream-puff Lukacs, which is not unlike putting a dead fish on your line and then reeling the line in to show your prowess as a fishermen, arguing that whatever the "reasonable concepts of materialism and dialectic" may be, he doubts "one can put together the foundations of an ontology or all-encompassing method from them."

Right on, brother and all power to the people-- all encompassing ontology and all encompassing method are not Marx's pursuits. The specific historical determinants and limitations of capitalism are his pursuits.  

Heinrich states  that "it's not easy for Marxists to determine what 'Marxism' is."  And this difficulty is "Marx's fault," because only a small number of texts were published in his lifetime, all of the fundamental projects remain unfinished."  Yes, indeed.  But...and there's always a but...

Reading this epistle from Heinrich one would never know that Marx's "science" is the science of the critique of capitalism; of the determinations of capitalism that drive it forward, and put it into reverse.  One would never guess that indeed Marx's critique is the critique of that specific, historical condition of labor,  labor power as a commodity, as a value exchanged for values equivalent to, adequate for its reproduction. 

Actually, reading  Heinrich one would never know that Marx was not first and foremost a "man of science," but a revolutionist; that the critique he provides of capital is a critique that establishes the historical necessity, the practicality, for the proletarian socialist revolution.  Marx establishes that necessity, the practicality of that revolution in that his critique is the immanent critique of capital.  It is based on that condition of labor that is the source of value and its accumulation.  It is the granular logic of accumulation embodied in the existence of the commodity and of commodity production that dictates the barriers to accumulation.  It is the determinant of capital that is its negation.  

A target for Heinrich is those who refrain from an "engagement" with Marx's work.  Engagement for Heinrich apparently means reappraising the core of Marx's work, his critique of capital, his establishment of the material necessity for proletarian revolution, on the basis of "doubts" and "revisions" and the unfinished nature of Marx's work itself.

Except.....except in this regard Heinrich has sighted the cross-hairs on his own head, for the engagement with Marx's work is not, cannot be, solely the engagement with Marx's manuscripts.  It must be the engagement with Marx's own pursuit-- the critique of capitalism and the practical necessity of its overthrow.  Is capitalism as Marx described it?  Value production seeking expanded value?  Is that the necessity of capitalism?  Is that necessity predicated upon, and dependent on the reproduction of the means of production constituted as property and embodied by the class of capitalists in opposition to living labor, compelled as wage-labor, and embodied in the class of wage-laborers?  Does that opposition, the reproduction of that opposition propel the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism?

I know my answers to those questions.  I don't know Heinrich's, and I suspect he doesn't know either.  

Short version: there is no "Marxism," no "engagement with Marx" that does not confront capitalism, and the prospects for its overthrow. 

2.  Then there was this from Michael A. Liebowitz,  professor, author, pretty good writer and former adviser to the late Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela.  Liebowitz gets right to the point, quoting Engels: "Marx was before all else a revolutionary. His real mission in life was to contribute in one way or another to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the forms of government which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the present-day proletariat." Good point.  

And not just parenthetically, Chavez's government, and "Chavez-type" governments, are forms of government which capitalism has brought into being; forms of government which do not, cannot, amount to the "liberation of the present-day proletariat."

Leibowitz  asks what can be said about Marxists economists?  Are they "revolutionaries whose real mission is to contribute to the overthrow of capitalism?"  The answer to that is "yes," but only if you happen to religiously watch, and believe, Fox News, subscribe to the Cato Institute's newsletter, regularly attend the workshops of the American Enterprise Institute, or associate with the brothers spelled Koch. 

Otherwise, not so much.  I would say, of course, that's because there is no "Marxist economics," economics being to wage-labor, to the commodity of wage-labor, what money is to exchange value-- that is to say, alienation to its dis-embodied max.  

There are other and worthwhile explanations of course, not the least of which is that you can't be a "revolutionary Marxist economist" in a vacuum.  You need a revolutionary working class, or at least sustained and increasing class struggle to make you or me a "revolutionary Marxist."  Without that, we are what we are-- academics, critics of capitalism, railroad operations experts, novelists, painters, translators, day-laborers, farm-workers etc. etc.

Leibowitz proposes, more or less, that a revolutionary Marxist economics must focus upon what Marx "misses" or omits from his critique of capital. Liebowitz claims that Marx's Capital does not really consider capitalism as whole: 
"It does not because it does not develop the side of the workers as subject, subjects who struggle for their own goals. At its core, that goal is what Marx referred to in Capital as 'the worker's own need for development.'  Indeed, the one-sidedness of Capital is most obvious when we recognize that it does not examine the wage struggles (precluded by the assumption of a constant standard of necessity) or the essential requirement of capital (once we relax that assumption) that it divide and separate workers in order to capture relative surplus value.
When we focus upon the side of workers, we recognize that they are more than merely the products and results of capital.  Their specific relation to capital within capitalist relations of production does not exhaust their nature.  They exist within many relations--families, communities and nations--and they interact with other workers.  Through all their activities within these relations, through all their struggles to satisfy their need for development they produce themselves."
Well, yeah.  And yeah, so what?  First, let's be clear, Capital is the critique of political economy; political economy being the ideal and ideological presentation of capitalism.  The three published volumes are subtitled The Process of Capitalist Production, The Process of Capitalist Circulation, The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole.  The "appendix" fourth volume is the  Theories of Surplus Value.  The emphasis is on the material determinants of capital-- the antagonism in the organization of social production as private property.  That's one.

Secondly, there is a limit to Marx's critique of capital, to his exposition of the immanent critique to capital, and that is that the critique, like capital itself, sets out the basis, the necessity, for the overthrow of capital, but is not in itself that overthrow. We're talking classes, aren't we?  The point being that the exposition has to terminate and give way to the concrete social struggle against capitalism.  The proletariat creates itself as the "subject" of the struggle in the struggle, not before, and not in the texts of economists, political or otherwise.

So Capital at a critical point has to be supplemented and supplanted by organization of the "present-day proletariat" to confront capitalism.  Marx did indeed initiate this "transcendence," taking the logical, logical as meaning historically necessary, step, namely his work in the International Workingmen's Association, which he undertakes at the same time as he is drafting and redrafting and finally proofing Capital.

And not just parenthetically, Chavez's government, and "Chavez-type" governments, are not the supplementing and supplanting of Capital/capital by the combat organization of the proletariat. 

Thirdly, the present-day proletariat as a social force, as a class, as an "agent" is what it is because of its relation to and its existence as the reproduction of capital. The emancipation of labor, the "free association of producers" requires the abolition of class.  What Leibowitz thinks Marx omits, the proletariat in its family, national, community interactions,  is in fact that old "class in itself" existence.  The redefinition of the present-day proletariat as a revolutionary force, that old "class for itself" condition, is a condition of transition where the "proletariat as subject" is doing away with itself.  It is becoming no longer "the present-day proletariat. "

Essentially Leibowitz's appeal is for and to "Marxist economists" to make themselves relevant; to make "significant contributions by focusing upon Marxism's lost core, human development;" by "challenging the assumptions and fallacies of mainstream economics;" to "focus upon the health of the working class rather than exclusively the health of capital by developing the theory and measures of human development, including explicit considerations of the crippling effects of producing under capitalist relations."  Except....what does that mean?  How do we measure the "health" of the "present-day proletariat" under capitalism with a method distinct from the quantitative measures of health already in use?  Is the "health" of the proletariat, is wage-labor any less or more alienated at this point in capitalism in relation to that point in capitalism?

Leibowitz asks "Why, in short, aren't we doing what Marx did in relation to the mainstream economics of his time?" Because that is not the "next step."  What Marx did in relation to capitalism, developing the IMWA, an international organization of the "present-day proletariat" is.

3.  Then there's this, I mean this, without a link:  I read and still read Marx's passages on overproduction with a sense of wanting, wishing, almost willing him to make the connection between overproduction and the tendency of the rate of profit to decline as capital accumulates.  Most of the time I was, and still am, disappointed.  But there's always Chapter 15  Capital, volume 3, "Development of the Law's Internal Contradictions."  Refuting the notion that there can be "overproduction of capital" but not "overproduction of commodities," or that overproduction of capital is distinct from the overproduction of commodities, Marx writes:
It [overproduction of capital] is an overproduction of the means of production only in so far as these function as capital, and hence have to produce an additional value in proportion to their value in proportion to their value that has expanded with their mass; i.e have to valorize their values. 
It is still overproduction, for all that, since the capital is unable to exploit labour at the level exploitation that is a level of exploitation that least increases the mass of profit along with the growing mass of capital applied; that therefore excludes a situation in which the rate of profit falls to the same degree as capital grows, or even falls more quickly than this.
Overproduction of capital never means anything other than overproduction of means of production--means of labour and means of subsistence--that can function as capital, i.e. can be applied to exploiting labour at a given level of exploitation; a given level, because a fall in the level of exploitation below a certain point produces disruption and stagnation in the capitalist production process, crisis, and the destruction of capital...The same causes that have raised the productivity of labour, extended markets, accelerated the accumulation of capital, in terms of both mass and value, increased the mass of commodity products, and lowered the rate of profit, these same causes have produced, and continue to produce a relative surplus population, a surplus population of workers who are not employed by this excess capital on account of the low level of exploitation of labour at which they would have to be employed, or at least on account of the low rate of profit they would yield at the given rate of exploitation.
Not bad, although it is not the low level of exploitation of the living labor at which the additional labor will be employed, but the high level of exploitation which however high is not high enough to offset the decline in the rate of profit due to the expulsion of living labor from the production process.

For labor to be expressed as value it must be compelled to present itself as a commodity for exchange with an equivalent to its cost of reproduction, i.e. as the time necessary for that reproduction.  The labor theory of value is the theory of labor-time as value-creating.  Additional value can only be the result of "new time" absorbed in production.

Now as capital expels living labor from the production process, replacing it with machinery,  the necessary time for reproduction of the wage drops; the surplus time increases.  The increased mass of surplus value must itself be valorized, and again the proportion of living labor is reduced, the overall time for reproduction of the wage equivalent declines.

No "new time" is contributed by surplus value once it is accumulated and embodied in new means of production.  The machinery reproduces its cost by transferring that value incrementally into the production process.

Every capitalist dreams of paying zero wages.  However, paying zero wages means that the working class cannot be reproduced or that there is no necessary labor time-- no, or no longer a need for wage-labor.  In both cases, for capital "new time"expressed as new value ceases to exist.  No additional value is absorbed by the means of production and acts as the conduit for transfer of the accumulated value.  There is no longer valorization.  Maximizing the rate of surplus value in order to offset a decline in the rate of profit must always, sooner and later, lead to destroying the basis for the reproduction of capital.  Devaluation is a "benign" expression of this process, a moment that says that the worst is yet to come.

Marx continues:
Moreover, capital consists of commodities, and hence overproduction of capital involves overproduction of commodities...If it is said that there is no general overproduction, but simply a disproportion between the various branches of production, this again means nothing more than that, within capitalist production, the proportionality of the particular branches of production presents itself as a  process of passing constantly out of and into disproportionality, since the interconnection of production as a whole here forces itself on the agents of production as a blind law, and not a law which...brings the productive process under their common control...If it is said that overproduction is only relative, this is completely correct; but the whole capitalist mode of production is precisely such a relative mode of production, whose barriers are not absolute, but only absolute for it, on its basis... It is because it is only in this specific, capitalist context that the surplus product receives a form in which its proprietor can make it available for consumption as soon as it has been transformed backed into capital for himself. If it is said, finally, that the capitalists have only to exchange their commodities among themselves and consume them, then the whole character of capitalist production is forgotten, and it is forgotten that what is involved is the valorization of capital, not its consumption. 
Even better than good.  What is involved is valorization, not consumption.  Value expanding value at a sufficient rate that can offset the very decline predicated upon its continued accumulation.
But the contradiction in this capitalist mode of production consists precisely in its tendency towards the absolute development of productive forces that come into continuous conflict with the specific conditions of production in which capital moves, and can alone move. 
4. And finally.... this, Greece.  The Syriza government has attempted to make its goal for debt modification a national, patriotic struggle... as if the debt, and debt requirements, impact all Greeks equally; as if debt modification will provide significant relief to those who are impacted disproportionately by the austerity programs.  The debt, bailout, restructuring have not impacted, do not impact all Greeks equally.  These programs impact the working class and agricultural producers disproportionately.  That's their purpose-- see above remarks about driving the working class into a condition where it cannot reproduce itself.

Historically, the struggle for a "Greek nation" has been the cat's paw of the "Great Powers"- the "Protective Powers"--  different combinations at different times of Britain, France, Russia and Germany-- in their attempts to block,  contain, dismember, and profit from the Ottoman Empire and its collapse.

Nationalism really is miserabilism, and the "left" that supports Syriza in this endeavor is not "progressive" enough to even be considered a "left-wing" of capitalism. 

Syriza's cynical play on the national card, demanding reparations from Germany almost exactly equal to the amount of Greece's debt to the troika,  is but another cat's paw, designed to protect capitalism as somehow separate from the accumulated debt; designed to deflect from the condition of labor in Greece which cannot be ameliorated without the emancipation of labor in Europe.

The next, immediate step, in essence the first step,  in Greece remains what it was: immediate repudiation of the sovereign debt.

S. Artesian
April 12, 2015


  1. Simon Provertier1:01 PM

    Marx made the point in Volume 1 of capital that in order to change existing conditions of society people had to perceive things differently. Marx didn't really go onto any detail about how this would or could happen, other than imply certain things.

    I would say capitalism produces capitalist subjects, people who think along capitalist lines, the divine nature of private property etc. The media play a big part in this of course.

    The big problem is how do you change this mindset, i.e. how to you create the communist citizen in a capitalist society without falling into Utopian schema?

  2. A little bit more on the little bit less of Syriza:

  3. Still on a bit of a roll I see. Points:

    - paragraph 4 says it all: Left intellectual petty bureaucrat seeks secure sinecure. Third International reformism a la Poulantzas, who was obsessed with the "relative autonomy" of the state apparatus and its functionaries, no doubt to serve as the social base of his politics, and saved his most savage comments against Trotsky precisely on the score of his (incomplete) theories of bureaucracy.

    - Leibowitz was a disappointing confusion of the object of value analysis with that of the objectives of the proletarian revolution. The latter requires not only action, but a theory of the capitalist social formation (a term Marx used, despite Althusserian kidnapping) to guide that action. This involves methodologically a consistent "transform mapping", to borrow a mathematical metaphor, from (capitalist) mode of production to social formation. I had expected Lebowitz's "other side of Capital" to deal with the reproduction of labor power, a non-capitalist process that is nevertheless a real material production process. As a non-capitalist social process it is now a key site of the "so-called primitive" accumulation ("so-called" by Marx to repudiate classical poli-econ's assumption that such barbarities, however "necessary", were a "stage" safely in the past, and not a concurrent necessity, as history has definitively proved) , particularly in the "advanced" "undeveloping" countries. The capitalist social relations specific to the reproduction of labor power itself are not found in the circuit of productive ("industrial") capital, but in relation to the circuits of commodity ("commercial") capital (consumerism and commercial arbitrage) and money ("financial") capital (debt interest , insurance), as well as landed property (house rent). These are the basic regions for grasping the real social physiognomy of the proletariat and working class in general- without understanding this there can be no proletarian revolution.

    - Latest on Syriza and Greece appears to involve miners:

    Answer is the same: Tell the Canuk Co. to take a hike, place the mine under control of the miners. That's the only way to rationally address the (real) environmental issues inherent in gold mining. And they are digging fucking GOLD fercristsakes!

  4. "The capitalist social relations specific to the reproduction of labor power itself are not found in the circuit of productive ("industrial") capital, but in relation to the circuits of commodity ("commercial") capital (consumerism and commercial arbitrage) and money ("financial") capital (debt interest , insurance), as well as landed property (house rent). These are the basic regions for grasping the real social physiognomy of the proletariat and working class in general- without understanding this there can be no proletarian revolution."

    Now that's very interesting and important, as it means that struggles at the "point of production" that do not "telescope" or transition into these struggles against commercial and financial relations are, more or less, doomed. Guess that would be another moment of the class becoming "for itself" in becoming also for all others.

    Well, comrade, I think you should really develop that analysis-- that is to say develop into part of a program. .