Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Objective Forces of Capitalist Accumulation and the Subjective Experience of the Process, Part 1

Today I made what I intended to be a joke in defense of feminism to a nearby male and female. Perhaps the timing or the context had not been established as much as it needed to be, but the female translated it as a chauvinist attack on women. I fumbled a bit to explain the irony of the remark, but she seemed to doubt that I was doing anything but trying to recover from a social gaffe. Of course, I am not disposed toward embarrassment enough to try to get out of offending someone if I meant to, but she doesn't know this, and rightly perceives me according to the male archetype that patriarchy perpetuates.

Eventually, to clear my name, I pointed out I was an anarcho-socialist. Both reacted with mild shock, inquiring whether or not I thought this was extreme. I told them no, because I don't believe a social organization based on advancing the material, intellectual, and productive potentials of human beings is extreme, if the word is taken to mean the opposite of 'sound' or 'rational.'

The male threw out a few of the most widely used, glib blows against the idea of collective workers' self-management: it can't exist, without a government there is anarchy, the former socialist republics' collapse prove its impossibility (many progressive developments fail over and over before they don't, and new socialist formations have arisen), etc. I pointed out that capitalism has failed as well, but he did not agree. It exists, he said, as if this were proof of success (HIV has existed for decades, but none would say it is successful in improving human life). I asked him what the backwards economies of the global market meant for capitalism's success, most of all because their backwardness is the product of the combined and uneven development of capitalism between and within global territories. The extension of capitalist production and property globally had developed an extended global division of labor, separated into increasingly complex and spontaneous branches of production, and each assigned changing and widely varying values in the totality of the production process they organize. I'm not sure what his pithy answer meant, but it amounted to, 'well that's the third world.' I certainly agree. Globalized capitalism is a system of private production that must do what any form of economic organization must try to do: preserve, improve, and provide for human needs (not the needs of a small class of commodity owners indifferent to whether their commodities satisfy anything but their next cycle of surplus value production). The 'Third World' - an outdated term since post-colonialism, but good enough for this discussion - is still a place in the world. If a whole hemisphere of the world is living at or below subsistence poverty, then global capitalism has failed as a system. It exists, yes, but not as the imaginary conceptual model in the minds of those who accept and embrace it. The same was true of Stalinism - a bureaucratic capitalist totalitarian regime - and there were countless internal and external pressures on the first Bolshevik revolutionaries to overthrow the Tsar first, then the landed Duma afterward, prepare for civil war against the moderate parties and resist invasion by a coalition of a dozen Western capitalist powers across Europe allied against the fear of its spread, attesting to the fact that even its bourgeois opponents anticipated it would without violent acts of suppression. Stalin took power after the destruction of war and the dispersion of the rurual peasantry across vast swathes of space had separated the working class from the party representing it (the guy today actually insisted there should be no political parties, or many more, which is typical of the naivete of the U.S. middle class 'independent.' So eager to be free from any required political choices, they confuse political goals with policies, and do not see that human history is the history of facing contradictions and achieving the goal of surpassing them; parties, in radical democratic assemblies, are spontaneously thrown up by members of a shared class interest, as all people are though they may not be conscious of it or what it is. Without delegates to represent their class in a council to which rank-and-file members of that class are appointed democratically, what does one propose in lieu of a Party? In the United States and other bicameral legislatures, the number of parties is irrelevant as long as the class composition of the global social hierarchy is the same. Why have ten parties representing the different sections of the capitalist class when one or two do that already, or when one is anti-capitalist? Imagine that the institutional economic schizophrenia of U.S. global imperial capital would finally be struck down if only there were no republicans and democrats, and only independents who think like both or one or the other depending on the immediate practical convenience of their choices. In fact, Republics and Democrats do the very same thing (Obama's market healthcare system is modelled on Republican Mitt Romney's proposed and authorized health care system in Massachussets when he was governor there). Perhaps they are independents who choose nothing but a label.

These arguments of course are easily knocked down, and don't compare to the were ruthless critiques by socialists themselves. If it did exist (the autonomous zones of Spain in 1932, early Bolshevik power in the Soviet Union's system of democratic workers' councils, worker delegations within the factories and in the political apparatus of the new regime, Venenzuela's steady development - without their democratically elected figurehead - toward a workers' regime based on self-management and common ownership of the means of production within and between industries as its capitalist property relations vanish in proportion and poverty rates continue to drop, and even the flashes of socialist ambitions in the U.S. during Reconstruction which flourished in Congress's growing socialist representatives and efforts to collectivize former slave plantation farmland under the 14th amendment, and the list of course goes on.) That they fell is not proof of anything but that they could exist, since to fall a regime must arise. The Vietnamese Communists brought on the fall of the two major colonial imperialist powers in Inddochina at the time - France and the U.S. - one after the other, and accomplished this resistance to their occupation through a size and efficiency in the level of their military technology's mechanization and troop levels that made the imperial might of both capitalist powers seem monstrous and invincible in comparison. Essentially, capitalism failed, if we judge its success by its logic: self-expansion and global domination. Having been forcibly deposed as rulers of a key colonial territory's economic resources and productive power, its expansion was not only halted, but forced to retreat.
Why are these historical realities not convincing enough to the typical young white american male wishy-washy 'moderate?' ell to begin with, centrist political ideas are the ideological core of U.S. imperialist power globally. It refuses to resist anything, or to embrace anything. It plays the role of that middle class subject whose ideology is to invent the popular slogans of progressive political agendas, but failing inevitably to see them through to their concrete end once the poorer layers of workers are roused by their ideas. Once these workers fill the ranks of the middle class movement, these 'moderates' and 'independents' - who conflate their mood swings with 'free-thinking' - development more hostility to theiir poor working class counterparts than the imperial state they had set out to attack.

And this is why capitalism is a failure: it exists for sure, but in a form opposite to that which its early stages assumed under the self-conscious reorganization of Europe and the Americas by the young capitalist classes of the world. The limits of its middle class bourgeoisminan leaders' consciousness were the product and producer of the limitations on its own ideals. Its apparent principles of universal 'freedom' and 'equality' in civil society represented the mystical veil of the political State and the ruling ideology of the bourgeoisie, which concealed the reality of freedom and equality as a concrete social relation between real, living individuals. The reality of this freedom was that it had only freed the class who authored the slogans for freedom, as all classes do as they assume economic dominance and struggle for the political power to consolidate their prevailing mode of production. This is ideology, defined: the representation of particular political and economic interests as the universal interests of society as a whole.

As I attempted to explain how capital and the drive to accumulate more of it in the form of surplus value is bound in contradictions threatening to destroy it, I was told that my political orientation sounded like an 'ideology.' I was uncertain how to answer that, because I was uncertain whether he even realized that all political theory - reformism, radical leftism, social democracy, conservativism, liberalism, etc. - are the product of a dominant ideology, each expressing an aspect of the totality of contradictions and tensions its definite historical stages are all inextricably united in. Each class has its ideas about society by experiencing the social relations they enter into as members of their class. The male actually suggested ideologies are not based on economic processes, admitting without a trace of irony the ideology of the modern white privileged male in the U.S.: ideas, desires, beliefs, aspirations, morality, religion and law are the product of mental labor, by a social consciousness freed from social production under the specific form of a definite social labor process of economic production, both of renewed human-labor power, and the value embodied in its objects. The sacrifice of these objects by their producers to the owner of the economic instruments and machines they are first violently wrested from, then employed under for the sake of the productive aims of an Other, is not only unnatural, but needs a pre-capitalist period of violent displacement, state expropriation of common agricultural lands inhabited for centuries by small independent peasants, eviction of these free hirelings, and the parliamentary coup against their connection to the land of the feudal family's estate their serf and free farm laboring ancestors had shed blood to defend for centuries. This process gradually changes the material conditions into those from which the capitalist system of commodity production (production for production's sake) can grow and expand beyond all territorial frontiers. This is an evolutionary transition running over centuries, from the 14th century acts making begging and pauperism illegal and subject to violent punishment, up to Elizabeth's own amendments to the Poor Laws in 18th century England, fixing a maximum wage for silk-weaving, leather-tanning, cotton-spinning, etc., while setting harsher penalties for any worker found accepting a a wage greater than the legal maximum than for the employer paying it. In France, a beggar could by law be sentenced to slavery by whomever accused him of beggary, owning the children and wife of the convicted in accordance with the treatment of cattle or chattel livestock.

It is impossible to define the form and change of anything without tracing it back to its origins. These primitive methods of accumulating capital and capital commodities define the basis of the globalized capitalist economy of the 21st century's "Information Age." Without this period, the necessary conditions to exploit a class of laborers by a class of private owners of the global economic means of production would have been impossible. The displacements and enforced subsistence wages 'freed' the former independent farmer, or master craftsman, or the individual hand-loom linen weaver forced them to become modern workers, a class separated from the instruments of production by the class of capitalists united in newly formed political state through which the interests of capital are imposed by its administrative authority, which is in the final analysis an armed body of police and military departments paid to violently suppress the aspirations of working class interests.

The contradictions capital finds itself in are becoming clear now: in the contradictory interests of the growing population of workers receiving a falling share of the social value of labor on the one hand, and the interests of the few owners of private property, whose private ownership in reality is the labor-power of workers owning nothing but their ability to work, and ownership of labor-power's value-commodity. y forceing indepenet laborers from access to their independent work, they were 'freed' by being turned into a commodity among commodities circulated on the market, and compelled to sell themselves to whomever would purchase them at a price fixed as low as necessary to maximize labor's productivity and keep the worker alive for future exploitation, a mere object of 'consumption.' Here the commodity appears as a web of irreconcilable contradictions. Because labor is the only economic instrument that can produce 'new' value in the process of transferring the value of past labor embodied in the materials, tools, and expended instruments into the final commodity. It must be remembered that the productive elements transferred by this material process are also commodities bought by capitalists on the market. A commodity can satisfy a need or want, but capitalism extends the collection of commodities not consumed for personal pleasure (the basis of the old bourgeois ethic of frugality, today practiced behind hypocritical excess), becoming used in the production of a commodity that does, into which the value of the labor by which the productive commodity was imparted to it, and the value of the productive commodity's labor were both resolved and united.

When it is said that the 'value' of labor is transferred, we must take a moment to consider how labor's value is measured. Value is not identical to price. The price of a thing is the elementary form of expressing a specific fraction of the whole magnitude of social value produced in toto. Values of different kinds of commodities are the result of the time necessary for labor on average to produce the given commodity under avereage conditions of production (this varies between nations but for now we will set that aside). Capitalists are only interested in the value for which commodities can be realized in exchange on the market, while the buyer, say a worker using a part of his wage to acquire it, is interested in it from its opposite side, as an object that is useful for survival or pleasure. It is the commodification of labor which is the secret of capitalist exploitation: it is not the system of free exchange between free individual owners of property it presents itself as in the sphere of circulation. In the sphere of production this fraudulent contract reveals its dependence on exploitation of living human beings it must force into absolute dependence, into commodification and objectification. The exchange is between individual members of different class positions in the economic balance of power; one 'individual property owner' has for property the labor and productive tools of others , while the other property owner in the exchange owns only his or her body, brain, muscles, and energy, which early industrial capitalism sank into more degrading, crippling and deteriorating states, recruiting children and women into the most inhumane work of all, orchestrating this under the 'necessity' of capitalist laws of value. So the commodity is both an abstract embodiment of of value and concrete material object with unique properties and conditions of living production. How can it be both? The ideology of the bourgeoisie proclaiming the triumph of free labor and competition is the subjective idealized abstraction is accepted by a society so far along in the evolution of capitalist production, and so distant from the early accumulation period which laid down the foundation for the capitalist mode of existence by sweeping away the pre-capitalist relations of the landed feudal estate system - church tithes, hereditary political powers of the landlord aristocracy , feudal retainers, economic privileges and the acquisition of special posts as sinecures on retainer through bribery and simony s - that the commodity's contradiction is reproduced subjectively by the objective forces of production. The class that sets these forces in motion for its profit and self-interest is divided into different capitalist groupings according to the stage of capitalist development each has attained in relation to its present impassable limits.

--end of part 1--

Part two should be up within the next two days. The interaction I had with these two people inspired me to deal with this problem of possibility and reality in the Being of a thing or idea. Comments I encounter in interactions like these also heighten my observance of just how much a quotidian, impulsive statement can reveal about the present state of human attitudes especially in the developed post-industrial world of wealth and decadence. Other things that were said to me will be addressed tomorrow, and their political ramifications will be mapped out as they were here. By the time both parts are completed, the attitudes of the apathetic 20-somethings of white America should be critically examined in relation to the failure of the Left to advance a concrete, permanent socialist program, and what role these attitudes play in its suppression, and how this trend may be resolved - sometimes using harsh measures.

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