Monday, January 07, 2019

Thoughts on the BC Referendum

Many of who are radical or anarchistic regret the failure of the latest attempt to extend democracy in BC. We do so, not out of any naive faith in the parliamentary system. Rather, we wish that the alleviation of the deadly serious social, environmental and economic problems occur with the minimum of disruption and violence. While some of us wish for peaceful solutions for moral reasons – and these must be respected – I do so for pragmatic reasons – the more peaceful social change, the less likely the lasting bitterness that poisons the social body and the less harm that will occur to my friends and myself.

The kleptocrat, dominator minority plainly do not want peaceful change, and thus have struggled successfully to prevent the installation of a system that would make such change more likely. As our socio-economic-environmental problems mount, so too will the pressure for change. The parliamentary road, while perhaps not totally blocked, will continue to face serious obstructions. What must we do? 

We must acknowledge the problems with the parliamentary route without taking the dogmatic stance of throwing the baby out with the bath. The semi-democracy which is the parliamentary system evolved out of a system of oligarchic rule 200 years ago. It is essentially the Dominator System's adaptation to the growing desire for democracy that arose in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The focus of this evolution was to allow for a certain amount of change without uprooting the dominator class. The ideology of neoliberalism imposed post-1980s seeks to make change impossible and thus helps create and maintain an essentially klepocratic dominator system.

The parliamentary struggle is therefore essentially on the dominator system's terrain.
Centuries of domination can only have an important psychological impact upon the populace. This results in a combination of servility and a mixture of ignorance and acceptance. The former will believe whatever their masters tell them, the latter will be oblivious, with few if any political ideas, motivated more by a fear of change or an attitude of "yeah, there are problems, just don't bother me about them." Taken together, these groups can be a majority, or a minority large enough, given our FPTP system, to allow the formation of right-wing governments.

This is the social base from which the klepotcrats draw support and prevent change. There is a difficulty for the dominator system, in that its supporters are largely passive – voting for them and not much else. (there are the fascists, but they remain a tiny ineffective minority) Let's just say that direct action is not their terrain. 

Direct action, is OUR terrain, whether that action takes the form of building cooperative alternatives, strikes, civil disobedience, blockades etc. (And it goes without saying, given our cultural-historical background that such direct action must be non-violent) Some 1,017,00 people voted for the Greens, and the NDP. If only 10% of those people were to engage in direct action, we could bring the system to its knees should the kleptocrats regain power.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Unmask Ideology

You should no more take an ideology at face value than you would an individual person. What applies to the individual, does, in this instance, apply to the group. A person lacking self-awareness constructs a character structure, persona or mask, and presents this as the real person. Underlying this construction lies someone altogther different, and they are they not conscious of this fact. The ideology of a political party or tendency, is much the same and is probably just as much lacking in awareness , though conscious manipulation can also be a factor. Thus, we have self-styled conservatives who have few aspects in common with conservatism, self-styled classical liberals who would give Adam Smith apoplexy, self- styled liberrtarians who are the rankest authoritarians, self-styled social democrats who are really neoliberals, self-styled marxists who are really mechanical materialists and so forth.

The left often fails miserably, fighting the masks rather than the persons underneath them. One sad example dates all the way back to the beginning of neoliberalism in the 1980s. Everyone nattered on and on about how the right was forcing us into "free markets" and was "anti-government". Other than Noam Chomsky, who saw behind the mask, few pointed out that the corporation was the greatest enemy of any "free market" and that the "free market" requires the iron fist of the state. And as we know so well today, the right's "anti-statism" consisted of shifting social wealth away from helping people and towards war and corporate welfare. For the left, it should have been like shooting fish in a barrel, but they continued to attack the mask instead. Any talk of "free markets" and "getting the state of our backs", should have been greeted with hoots of derision and raucous laughter at the hypocrisy of it all, not cries of horror. Even today, people still talk about the "free market" right and their supposed "anti-statism."

We need more materialism and less moralism, more dialectics and less dogma. Contradiction is the fire in the boiler of change. Everything has its limitations, its contradictions. Our job as "social changers" is to discover those contradictions and exacerbate them to the enth degree. (I am referring to dealing with our opponents, of course. Contradictions "among the people" are not to be exacerbated, but resolved to build a greater unity.)

By taking ideologies at face value, we are actually aiding what we seek to criticize. Critics must get beneath the surface and see what is really going on. We must endlessly and ruthlessly torment our opponents with their hypocrisies, ignorance of their own alleged positions, their irrationality, their denial, their foolishness. Rather than positional warfare, guerrilla warfare! Nor should it always be done with a long face. We need to revive some of the Yippie and Situationist spirit. Endless ridicule and scandal! And hit them where they are weakest. On the ideological front, one of their greatest weaknesses is their lack of understanding of the very beliefs they claim to uphold.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Demise of Authentic Conservatism

The true conservative is among the damned, not just for what we find objectionable in their beliefs, but perhaps more so, those aspects that ring true. No progressive person wants to read or hear paeans to inequality and authoritarianism, but even less so, do present day self-styled conservatives wish to hear criticism of their tin god capitalism. So the authentic conservative is double-damned – by the left who sees only the vicious aspects and by their self-styled adherents.

Conservatism, let me remind you, grew out of a reaction against many of the ideas and practices of the 18th Century Enlightenment and the subsequent development of liberal capitalism. Some of these views were reactionary; a fear of democracy and the masses, of 'too much freedom'. But their critique could not be reduced to just reaction. The conservatives could see the destructiveness of capitalism and the ideological dogmatism and coarse inhumanity of its proponents. They railed against a society that was only concerned with money and was destructive of community and traditions. George Grant, a Canadian conservative philosopher, laid out the conservatives dilemma and a possible solution;

The truth of conservatism is the truth of order and limit, both in social and personal life. But conservatism by itself will not do. For it can say nothing about the overcoming of evil... Yet to express conservatism in Canada means de facto to justify the... right of the greedy... Their economic policy has been the denial of order and form... they stand condemned for their denial of the law. Thus it is almost impossible to express the truth of conservatism in our society without seeming to justify capitalism. To avoid this, a careful theory is needed in which the idea of limit includes within itself a doctrine of history as the sphere for the overcoming of evil” pps, 108,109, George Grant, Philosophy in A Mass Age, Copp Clark, 1959

Critique of Rationalism

A central element of the conservative outlook is the skeptical denial that a political philosophy of that universal and rationalist sort can be anything other than an illusion. p. 47, John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993 The Rationalist is obsessed with technique because of a desire for certainty. p. 111, Rationalism effects politics more than any area. Its politics seeks uniformity and is highly ideological (the politics of the book) p. 112. But its incompetence increases as it destroys the only knowledge which could save it – practical knowledge. p. 113, Paul Franco, The Political Philosophy of Micheal Oakshott, Yale, 1990

For Oakshott, there are two types of knowledge. One is technical knowledge gleaned from books, the other is practical or traditional knowledge which exists only in use and is not formulated in rules. This knowledge is similar to Polyani's 'tacit knowledge'. Oakshott says that Rationalism denies the validity of practical knowledge. p. 110, Paul Franco, The Political Philosophy of Micheal Oakshott, Yale, 1990

The remaking of the world by a simplistic doctrine derived from political economy and an ethics based upon utilitarian and nationalist principles is the outcome of capitalist rationalism. This doctrine sweeps away the wisdom of the past and with it “ a sense of man's limitations... is the necessary correlative against megalomaniac efforts to remake the world by force.” The late 19th Century “ethical revolution replaced both individual and universal ethics with national ethics.” The misuse of Darwin gave this ruthlessness a scientific gloss. p. 80, 82, Peter Viereck, Shame and Glory of The Intellectuals, Beacon Press, 1953

The liberal rationalist concept of society is an aggregate of individuals, or as an infamous anti-conservative female British Prime Minster once snorted, “There is no such thing as society!” The essential conservative view is that society is a kind of organism in which everyone plays a role. Let's see what Edmund Burke said; “A nation is not... a momentary aggregation, but it is an idea of continuity... a deliberate election of the ages and generations... made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil and social habits of the people...” Edmund Burke, p. 30, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 As Raymond Williams points out on the same page, Burke “established the idea of what has been called an 'organic society' , where the emphasis is on the interrelation and continuity of human activities rather than on separation...” Enlightenment critic, and otherwise thorough-going reactionary, Joseph DeMaistre rejected its individualism. For him society was not a collection of individuals united by a social contract, but part of an organic unity. Pps 3, 4, Copelston, History of Philosophy, Vol IX

Modern conservative Roger Scruton, “A society or a nation is a kind of organism [my italics, LG] (and also very much more than an organism.)” p. 21, The individual exists and acts not in isolation, but “only because he can first identify himself as something greater, as a member of society...” p. 34, “Conservatism arises directly from the sense that one belongs to some continuing, and pre-existing social order, and that this fact is all important in determining what to do. The 'order' may be a club, class, community, society, community, church... In so far as people love life, they will love what has given them life...” p. 21, Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, MacMillan, 1984

Another modern conservative, John Gray; “Among conservatives... market exchange and rational argument are... necessary conditions of their way of life. They are not the whole of that way of life that they inherit, and they cannot hope to flourish or survive, if the common culture of liberty and responsibility is eroded... p. 53, “Liberal individualism... with society as a contract among strangers is a one generation philosophy... we are au fond social and historical creatures...” p. 136 John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993
The morality of Rationalists is one of “moral ideals.” But these ideals are not independent and self-contained, but rooted in a religious or social tradition. By destroying these, the Rationalists have “destroyed the only living root of moral behaviour.” p. 114, Paul Franco, The Political Philosophy of Micheal Oakshott, Yale, 1990 A good point is made here, ethics do grow from, and are maintained by, society and when you try to impose a different ethic from outside, you have conflict. (think of Prohibition) The destruction of community by Rationalist capitalism has certainly undermined ethics, as people have no higher calling than to shop. The problem is Oakshott's use of the singular. There is not 'tradition' but traditions.

Capitalist rationalism has had a very detrimental effect upon education. As opposed to the Utilitarian concept of education which involved training to carry out a task, S. T. Coleridge and Matthew Arnold saw; “the harmonious development of those qualities and faculties that characterize our humanity.” p. 121, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 Coleridge's critique - “Against mechanism, the amassing of fortunes and... utility as the source of value, it offered a different and superior social ideal... the harmonious development of those qualities and faculties that characterize our humanity.” p. 77, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 By rejecting the broad humanistic culture proposed by these critics we have, in the 21st Century ended up with a host of technically well trained barbarians. (No wonder Trump!)

Suspicion of Ideology

Conservatives in their distrust of capitalist rationalism, very naturally looked askance at ideology. What agitated them was doctrinalism, abstraction (one size fits all) and again the complete rejection of methods and ideas rooted in history and communities. “Violent indignation with the past, abstract systems of renovation applied wholesale, a new doctrine drawn up in black and white for elaborating down to the smallest details a rational society of the future – these are the ways of Jacobinism.” Matthew Arnold, p. 128, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

But ideology was not to be rejected in total. It is useful in “giving sharpness of outline.” but not enough for conducting activities, for this you need tradition. With ideology, society and its aspects appear like bits of machinery to be moved around at will. p. 131, Paul Franco, The Political Philosophy of Micheal Oakshott, Yale, 1990 “Conservatism does not normally exhibit itself as a 'position' or system of ideas, but remains implicit, unarticulated, relying on various understandings and intuitions upon which an actual civilization is based...” p. 26, Jeffery Hart, The American Dissent, Doubleday, 1966.

Taken to its logical extreme ideology, leads to terrorist regimes. “From the idea of possessing the ultimate truth there follows eventually not only the idea of justification, but the necessity of self-deceit and of persecution and terror in order to make the idea finally prevail” Karl Dietrich Brachter, in Bruce Lawrence, Defenders of God, p. 72

Natural Law

The conservative sees ethics and practices rooted in Natural Law. Depending on whether the given conservative is a theist or not, this law will come either from God or Nature. We have seen in the earlier chapter dealing with ethics, that the ethical grows out of existence. Ethics do not come from outside existence, nor do we create them in some Utilitarian or Social Contract fashion. Hence we can give credence to the concept of Natural Law.

The assumption [behind natural law] is that the universe is a cosmos and not a chaos.” p. 29, “In natural law theory, it is clear that man is not finally responsible for what happens in the world.” p. 39, George Grant, Philosophy in A Mass Age, Copp Clark, 1959“The theory of natural law is the assertion that there is an order in the universe and that right action... consists in attuning ourselves to that order. It is the most influential theory of morality in the history of the human race... only in the last two hundred years has it ceased to be the generally assumed theory from which moral judgment proceeds. It is popular to speak of a crisis in our standards and values. This... arises above all from the fact that the doctrine of natural law no longer hold the minds of modern men, and no alternative theory has its universal power. George Grant, Philosophy in A Mass Age, Copp Clark, 1959 “A law is only a law when it is a just law, mirroring the divine law of justice.” 34, George Grant, Philosophy in A Mass Age, Copp Clark, 1959

What Grant says is very true. In the 20th century Natural Law was replaced by the Law of Power or statute law. Any group could cobble together a majority in Parliament and force its prejudices or misguided ideas of reform upon the populace. Practices deemed innocuous, or at worst minor sins, such as the consumption of alcohol or smoking cannabis, got the full force of the Law of Power. Political groups like the socialists, left alone in the 19th Century, were persecuted using statute law in the 20th. And just try building a house on your own and ignoring the plethora of bylaws, none of which existed 100 years ago. The flaw in the conservative view of Natural Law, is of course, deciding what is 'natural.” The argument from nature (“unnatural practices) was long used to oppress women and gay people.

Critique of Capitalism

Conservatives see a need for a market economy, but the economy is there to serve a function. The economy should serve society and society is not there to serve the economy. Hence, conservatives have been among the harshest critics of the effects of capitalism.

Robert Southey, poet and conservative; “The immediate effect of the manufacturing to produce physical and moral evil, in proportion to the wealth it creates.... the poverty of one part of the people seems to increase in the same ratio as the riches of another.” p. 41, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 Southey supported Robert Owen's idea of cooperative communities as a way of overcoming the destructive nature of capitalism. p. 43, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Has the national welfare... advanced with circumstantial prosperity? Is the increasing number of wealthy individuals that which ought to be understood by the wealth of nations.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, p. 72, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 “It is not uncommon for 100,000 operatives (mark this word, for words in this sense are things.) to be out of employment at once in the cotton districts, and thrown on parochial relief, to be dependent upon hard hearted taskmasters for food. If when you say to a man... [according to Malthus] 'You must starve. You came into the world when it could not sustain you'. What would be this man's answer? 'You may disclaim all connection with me... I can then have no duties to you, and this pistol shall put me in possession of your wealth... what man who saw assured starvation before him, ever feared hanging?' Samuel Taylor Coleridge, p. 73, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

Crotchety old Thomas Carlyle; “It is an Age of Machinery, in every outward and inner sense...Nothing is now done directly or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance...Mechanism has now struck its roots into man's most intimate, primary sources of conviction... Religion is now... grounded on mere calculation... whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment. Thus religion too is Profit, a working for wages... Our... 'superior morality' is properly rather an 'inferior criminality' , produced not by a great love of virtue, but by the greater perfection of the Police, and of that far subtler and stronger Police, Public Opinion. In all senses we worship and follow after Power... no man now loves Truth...” Thomas Carlyle, pps. 86, 87, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 “...with the cash payment as the sole nexus... and there are so many things that cash will not buy.” Thomas Carlyle, p. 89, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 On the suffering of the working population - “ That self-cancelling Donothingism and Laissez-faire should have got so ingrained into our practice, is the source of all these miseries.” Thomas Carlyle, p. 91, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

Carlyle approves of the popular discontent over the rule of money and the machine; “Its very unrest, its ceaseless activity, its discontent contains matter of promise. Knowledge, education are opening the eyes of the humblest... only in resolute struggling forward does our life consist...” Thomas Carlyle, p. 88, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

Benjamin Disraeli, one of the founders of the Conservative Party, “... since the passing of the Reform Act the Altar of Mammon has blazed with triple worship. To acquire, to accumulate, to plunder each other by virtue of philosophic phrases... this has been the breathless business of enfranchised England... until we are startled from our voracious strife by the wail of intolerable serfage.” Benjamin Disraeli, from his popular novel, Sybil, or The Two Nations, p. 108, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

There is no community in England only aggregation... In great cities men are brought together by the desire for gain. They are not in a state of cooperation, but of isolation, as to the making of fortunes, and for the rest they are careless of neighbors. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves; modern society acknowledges no neighbors.” Benjamin Disraeli, p. 109, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

Matthew Arnold on laissez faire capitalist ideology, “... one of the falsest maxims which ever pandered to human selfishness under the name of political wisdom... We stand by and let this most unequal race take its own course, forgetting that the very name of society implies that it shall not be a mere race, but that its object is to provide for the common good.” p. 124, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

T. S. Eliot weighs in; “Was our society... assembled around anything more permanent than congeries of banks, insurance companies, and industries, and had it any beliefs more essential than a belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends?” T.S. Elliot, p. 225, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976 “We are being made aware that the organization of society on the principle of private profit, as well as public destruction, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism and the exhaustion of natural resources, and that a good deal of our material progress is a progress for which succeeding generations may have to pay dearly.” T. S. Elliot writing in 1939, p. 226, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, Penguin, 1976

For Micheal Oakshott, capitalism and the state's concentration of power was a danger to society. “The politics of the diffusion of power are the only guarantee of the most valuable and substantial freedom known to human beings.” Concentration of power anywhere is a threat. p. 144, So too the economy – the widest possible diffusion of economic power, with property widely distributed and an opposition to any monopolies. p. 147, Paul Franco, The Political Philosophy of Micheal Oakshott, Yale, 1990

Roger Scruton, The features of Modernity which negate satisfaction - “... mechanization... the division of labour... commodity fetishism.” p. 129, “The world of commodities is a world of ephemera, whereas man's rational need is to [be] ...part of something lasting...” p. 130. “Alienation is not a condition of society, but the absence of society.” p. 132, Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, MacMillan, 1984

Scruton goes beyond critique to a demand for the regulation of the economy in the public interest. The rights of property must be limited by law. While property ownership is “central to conservatism” there is “no logical identity between conservatism and capitalism.” p. 94, “The unbridled law of the market breeds monopoly.” p. 111, “... social and political unity take precedence over the free accumulation of property...” Scruton points out that the Factory Acts, the legalization of trade unions and much social welfare were conservative innovations. p. 116, Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, MacMillan, 1984 [ For Scruton order is paramount, ultimately this order is through the state.]

John Gray fears contemporary capitalism with its fetish of cut-backs and privatization. “We do not want to walk the path of privatization if Detroit is at the end of it.” p. 60 The market is only one dimension of society, families, voluntary associations, governments etc are the others. p. 63, “The good life... necessarily presupposes embededness in communities.” p. 137, John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993

Capitalism in its contemporary and highly brutal form, which has manifested in Gray's warning about Detroit, is called neoliberalism. The godfather of this ideology was Von Hayek. Oakshott sneered at his hypocrisy. [A plan to end all planning] “is of the same style of politics as that which it seeks to resist.” p. ix, John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993

Decades before it became popular to speak of the environmental crisis and global warming, George Grant, writing in 1959,“Surely the twentieth century has presented us with one question above all: are there limits to history making? … whether man's domination of nature can lead to the end of human life on the planet... [or] perhaps by the slow perversion of the processes of life.” p.78, George Grant, Philosophy in A Mass Age, Copp Clark, 1959

Policies and Ultimate Goals

Conservatism is not reaction according to John Gray, - “A conservative policy... is not one which seeks to renew old traditions by deliberate contrivance... it is one which nurtures the common traditions that are currently shared.” p. 59.John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993

For Gray as well, “Where change is incessant … human beings will not flourish.” p. 125, John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993 This is certainly true in a system that is like a giant food processor, grinding up humans, the environment, traditions and customs, cultures into a profitable puree. Mental illness in at epidemic proportions and it is no wonder when nothing is permanent, and nothing is valued by corporate power. .

There can be no purity, no utopias. “For a conservative, political life is a perpetual choice among necessary evils.”, p. 63, John Gray, Beyond the New Right, Routledge, 1993

George Grant was sympathetic to socialism – he was after all, a mentor to the Canadian New Left – but looked beyond its humanistic ends. While it would be a good thing if socialism's goals of ending exploitation and freeing the workers was attained, once that was done, “... [one] could still ask what is the point of it all, what is the purpose of my existence...It is this truth that is not satisfied in Marxism.” p. 71, George Grant, Philosophy in A Mass Age, Copp Clark, 1959

Where liberal rationalism sees only individuals and their rights, and thus sometimes ends up enabling the enemies of society in such cases as “free speech for Nazis,” the conservative thinks about the need to protect society. “There cannot be freedom of speech... if by freedom is meant the untrammeled right to say what one wishes... Freedom should be qualified only by the possibility that someone might suffer though its exercise.” p. 17, Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, MacMillan, 1984 Scruton is opposed to hate speech, Holocaust-denial and supports the Race Relations Act.

Other than a few individuals, there is no conservatism as an organized tendency today. Conservatives are worse off than anarchists and syndicalists were in the late 1950s. The tendency is extinct and the term conservative has been taken over by people whose world view is the direct opposite of those authors quoted here. Conservatism today means rabid ideologues for whom the so-called free market and the corporation are the Alpha and Omega of existence. A sociopathic cult that has completely rejected the old conservative concept of the common good. Then there are the “social conservatives.” For these extremists, the only thing conservative about them is their desire to impose their religious intolerance, environment plundering, militarism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia upon the rest of us. These “conservatives” are essentially fascists in jogging suits not jack boots. There is far more real conservatism in the Communist Party than either of these pseudo-conservative tendencies. (You will soon see why below.)

But the dialectic grinds on and has produced its own miracle baby. The socialist movement was born in large measure out Enlightenment Rationalism, and for a long time maintained some of the more odious practices and beliefs of its parent.
One of these was the myth of Progress. Everything from the past was worth chucking out. Pre-capitalist and Aboriginal peoples had nothing to teach us. Imperialism, though regrettable, was needed to industrialize the “backward” areas. Micro-businesses, artisans and small farmers ought to disappear, to be replaced by mechanized latifundia and socialist department stores. (And if need be, like Stalin we will MAKE them disappear) Then there was the cult of centralization and the mega project. Oh, yes, and everything could be planned from the top down.

Anarchists, guild socialists and most syndicalists NEVER bought into this, as did some important socialists like William Morris, Edward Carpenter, Jose Carlos Mariategui and George Orwell. Nor mostly, did Marx. It has to be stressed that the anarchists and socialists who rejected this 'liberal socialism' did not get their ideas from the conservatives, but came to this position independently, by simply observing what was occurring in the society around them. In the English speaking countries, Disraeli and Carlyle were popular writers who had a considerable working class readership. (Marx took the phrase 'cash nexus' from Carlyle) Figures such as John Ruskin and William Cobbett, who in some ways, had a foot in both camps, the conservative and the socialist, were also widely read. There was some influence, but it must not be overstated. Better to regard this as a parallel development of some similar critiques of capitalism and rationalism without forming any strong linkage between conservatism and what was essentially libertarian socialism.

The worst perpetrators of this liberal or rationalist socialism were the Fabians and the Stalinists. The Fabians were a major influence upon social democracy, but even then their hold was never total – The Danish Social Democrats invented both the housing coop and cohousing. The French Socialists encouraged the growth of mutual aid societies. There was always a minority tendency within social democracy that did not glorify centralization and the mega project.

This liberal socialism certainly raised living standards for the poorest levels of the population and introduced a number of important social reforms like public health care. But beyond that, it was not inspiring, an ever growing list of questions began to be asked, and the many people once ignored, such as Aboriginal people, environmentalists and feminists began to be listened to by radicalized youth. The New Left and the resulting counter-culture was the negation of the older socialism.

Youth supported the struggles of the so-called Third World peoples against imperialism and began to see their ways of being – rooted in peasant traditions combined with Marxism - as valuable, as struggles to learn from. The forms of socialism suppressed by the dominant tendencies like anarchism and syndicalism which never accepted the ideas of Progress and centralization found new adherents. The degradation of the environment by both corporate and state capitalism gave rise to the environmental movement with its appreciation of the small and the local. Fifteen thousand year old cultures were now being learned from rather than scorned as 'primitive'. Women discovered that patriarchy had not been the only way, that other cultures were more egalitarian both in the past and Aboriginal cultures. The critique of 'instrumental reason' put forth by the Frankfurt school, the exploration of the subconscious and repression, by Reich, Fromm and Marcuse undermined the faith in liberal Rationalism. Young socialists eagerly reading Kropotkin, Morris, Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson discovered the long traditions of opposition to domination, the ancient striving for mutual aid and cooperation. Tradition was no longer a dirty word. Neither was the past.

And thus, the negation of the negation. But once again, note that this was a parallel development. Other than George Grant in Canada, conservative thinkers had no input into the new movement. Essentially, the synthesis had been made generations previously with the anarchists and the libertarian socialist minority. It was just now that 'their time had come.'

Contemporary leftists – with the exception of Blairite social democrats – who are really neoliberal corporatists anyway – have all been influenced to one degree or another by this development. For the left today, “small is beautiful”, we strive for the local, we love our farmers markets, push for millennia -old “horizontalism” and consensus democracy. We work hard to restore community though our associations, our housing coops, cohousing projects and eco-villages. We protect the old buildings, the forests and the waters against the depredations of capitalism. We are suspicious of fanaticism and dogmatism. (Though sectarians are still with us, unfortunately) We work for 'better' in the here and now and refuse to sacrifice generations for some distant utopia that never arrives. We ally with the Aboriginal peoples struggling to maintain their languages, cultures and traditions. We fight to to maintain the memory of the working class struggles and the traditions of the class. We maintain or revive the ancient traditions of mutual aid and solidarity. To go forward, we must also go back. We are the conservers. We are the ones with the long view.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


The changes in our understanding of pre-history during the last two decades are really quite astounding. We are undergoing a virtual revolution in thought, greater than anything since the founding of the social sciences 150 years ago.

Denisovians, Hobbits, such complexity of human development, not a single line as once thought. Hominids "out of Africa" 2 million years ago have been discovered on the Caucasus. People may have inhabited Australia as far back as 70,000 years ago, which means homo sapiens migrated from Africa earlier than once thought.

Just recently, Neanderthal cave paintings were discovered, which means symbolic thought preceded homo sapiens. The fact that homo erectus had to have constructed some sort of water craft to have colonized some of the outer islands of Indonesia also points to symbolic thinking occurring in the distant past among other non-sapien hominids. We also know that the people of 30-40,000 BCE had musical instruments, star maps, calendars, tailored leather clothing and hair styling. (So much for the popular image of the cave dwellers as shuffling, unkempt ape men.)

We also now realize that some people were sedentary as far back as 30,000 BCE. It seems there were summer villages and winter was spent in the caves. The gathering, parching and grinding of grain goes back more that 20,000 years. It is quite likely that humans always modified their environment to guarantee a plentiful, local food supply. This involved selective burning, pruning and weeding, a kind of pre-historic permaculture.

I suspect the idea that early humans wandered around looking for food like cattle was a spin-off from the racist assumptions used to dispossess Aboriginal people. ( The imperial rationalization was that since they supposedly wandered around all over the place, they did not actually have title to the land, hence the Europeans could take it and this wasn't stealing) The division of civilized people vs. uncivilized is also fake and another racist rationalization. Without exception, all so-calleed primitive human soceties are ordered, have common customs, rituals, an acknowledged territory, and a vast knowledge of the natural world. What people lack in technology, they make up for in complex customs, rituals and beliefs.

With the discovery of the megalithic architecture of Geza Tepi in Turkey, dated 11,000 BCE we find that, not only did sedentary life preceed agriculture but so did the building of monumental structures.

The "ice free corridor" that supposedly allowed people from Asia to settle in the Americas is now seen an archeological folk tale, not a fact. People were living in ice free areas on the British Columbia coast by at least 13,000 BCE and they must have gotten there by boat. The homeland of these immigrants was recently discovered. They were not Asians as was once thought, but Eurasians, living in an areas straddling the two continents about 40,000 years ago. Some of the early inhabitants of North America seem to be related to the Australian peoples. These people, once thought to have inhabited Australia for "only" 40,000 years now seem to have been there at least 60,000 years, if not longer.

The whole question of when people arrived in the Americas keeps getting pushed back. In the 1920s it was thought to be 4000 years, then the 10,000 BCE dogma with the ice free corridor was the rule for several generations (and worth your academic career to challenge it) The discoveries in Chile and British Columbia finally put the boots to that dogma. But Brazilian archeologists claim to have discovered human remains dating back more than 40,000 years. And, speaking of Brazil, the 'experts' had long denied the existence of anything other than small populations of foragers and slash and burn farmers. It turns out that Amazonia was thickly populated ( at least two million people) with villages using intensive agriculture based upon the use of charcoal. (European diseases killed them off in the mid 16th century, leaving only remnant populations.

Agriculture and urbanism does not necessarily lead to state formation and the resulting tyranny. Examples of non-statist civilizations include, Catal Huyuk, Old (neolithic) Europe, Tiahaunaco, Amazonia. Nor were all proto states highly inegalitarian dominator societies, Early Sumer, Indus Valley, Teotihuacan. The world is far, far, more complex than once thought.

Climate change has been a driving factor. The Anasazi, Maya, Tiahuanacan and Greenland Viking cultures were all destroyed, at least in part, by climate change, the first three due to persistant dought, the latter by cooling. The violence of Iron Age Europe was largely due to the coming of a cold, wet climate about 1000 BCE. Drying occured 4000-2000 BCE forcing herders into the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia and Old Europe, giving rise to class rule and state formation.

Early writing. Roots may go back to the Mesolithic. Definite writing in Vinca Culture (Old Europe) circa 5000 BCE. But these early forms were elated to spiritual aspects of the culture. (How like the bourgeois to think that writing arose from bookkeeping!)


You comment on the gross level of inequality existing today. Someone responds by claiming you want an "equality of outcomes." But nowhere are you saying that, only that inequality should be reduced. Homeless people should have a roof over their head, you are not saying they should be given a 4000sq. ft. McMansion on a quarter acre in the burbs. Same goes for wages. These should be enough to cover one's needs, this is not saying everyone should get $50 an hour.

You have just endured the Straw Man Argument, the classic and most used tool of the fakers. Essentially with the Straw Man, the faker is lying about what you really believe, and trying to make out that this lie is YOUR position. Some of these fraudsters when challenged, will claim "Well, this is what you REALLY believe." For this, sleazy little trick, go down to the part called Innuendo.

You point out that most crime is drug related and that if drug addiction was treated as a medical, social problem the amount of crime would go way down. A phony responds with, "OK, let's do away with all laws, then for sure you would have no crime." Of course, doing away with one law is not the same as doing away with all of them anymore than cutting down one tree is denuding a forest. Nor does the faker distinguish between laws against committing harm to others – like murder, theft etc., and laws that have been enacted to promote someone's personal morality or prejudices. The former everyone agrees with, for the latter there is no consensus, since it is based upon some one's personal belief. Over time, we have eliminated these laws, examples being those against homosexuality, divorce, common law living arrangements, "loitering" and "vagrancy."

A faker is complaining about the supposed lack of respect for hierarchy and authority in society and how we need to have this so people can look up to someone and push themselves forward in their endeavors. They carefully ignore the fact that there are two different types of hierarchy and authority in society. One form is based upon ability and knowledge. This is the authority of the physician,the goalie, the carpenter, the musician, the scholar, the poet, the dancer etc. I see little if any evidence that people are dismissive of those who excel in these fields, or any other fields. Indeed, many of these people are idolized and youth want nothing more than to have a highly qualified person as their mentor. The other form of hierarchy is power based. You are forced to obey these people, and keep up some pretense of respect in their presence. The former is based on ability, the latter on violence. And of course many people have contempt, and deservedly so, for the latter. I suspect the faker deliberately confuses the two forms in an attempt to defend power hierarchies.

The slippery definition is a favorite bit of fakery. Right-wingers trot out the line that any bit of social reform – say public schools or old age pensions are "socialist." And of course, anything socialist is evil in their eyes. This would be news to all the rock-ribbed Tories who enacted social reforms beginning back in Dicken's day. If someone consistently thought that a five dollar bill was actually five thousand dollars, they would be judged insane, and I think this judgement well applies to the reactionaries who equate universally approved minor reforms with red-flag socialism. A variation on this fakery is to reduce all forms of socialism to state socialism, in spite of the fact that a few minutes with Wikipedia shows there are many kinds of socialism, most of which reject state ownership. Examples, syndicalism, guild socialism, self-management, mutualism, cooperative socialism and communalism. Furthermore, all the founders of socialism, including Marx and Engels were deeply opposed to equating socialism with statism.

Then there are the types who simply HATE the environmental movement. If you make a statement like "We ought to phase out oil" or "I am opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline", out comes the fakery. "Oh, you want to shut down the oil industry! You fool! We can't live without oil." Trouble is, that is not what you are saying (STRAW MAN!) – phasing-out is not turning off the taps, but a gradual process – as the new energy system comes on line, the old one fades away. It might take 30 years, just like oil did-in coal. Kinder Morgan is only one line, not all of them. Furthermore, most environmentalists think the bitumen should be refined in Alberta, not shipped abroad in this risky fashion.

A typical douche bag fraudster argument is pretending your poignant is a hypocrite because they don't live up to some high standard THEY have created for you, a standard, of course, they would never live up to themselves. Here's a classic; "David Suzuki is opposed to pollution, yet flies to a conference in Australia, what a hypocrite!" Since there are no passenger liners anymore, what is he going to do, row? Put on his Jesus boots? If you are going to do something about climate change it won't be from a handful of enviros not taking planes, but will come about through organization. Part of that process consists of conferences, rallies, and nothing helps these more than a "big name."

A variant of this fakery is to condemn an enviro if they go somewhere by car, or attack a socialist because they are using capitalist consumer goods or institutions. As though someone could stand outside the system we live in, and once again, change comes through mass movements, not a handful of people acting in some Puritan manner.

Now we get to the really dirty stuff, a quartet of below the belt, Josef Goebbels type slime-ball tactics. These are; Innuendo, the Fake Quote, the Amalgam and Chain Quoting.

Innuendo is the favorite of McArthyites, the secret police, right-extremists and left-sectarians. "Joseph Kay was seen attending a meeting at which Communists, er pardon me, Commonists, were present. Hence, Joseph Kay hangs around with Commonists and therefore must be a Comsymp." That a hundred or more people were at the meeting, maybe six of whom were Communists, and the fact that Joseph Kay does not adhere to the Communist Party, is of course, beside the point. A variation involves someone with a hate-on for some writer or activist. They claim that Prof. X is in favor of tyranny. You point out that you have read all his works and not only does he never endorse authoritarian regimes, but expressly opposes them. Their priceless response, "Oh, he's just saying that. That's not how he really feels. He favours tyranny." You cannot win against such irrationality.

The fake quote seems to involve someone of extreme views projecting their anxieties on to some group or individual. In part it may be related to innuendo, as in "This is what they really think." Some political fanatic or secret police agent concocts a quotation that makes the target look unsavoury. The quotation is then passed around from extremist group to extremist group and attains a life of its own, sort of like the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" fakery. The classic fake quote is of Lenin supposedly saying that the best way to revolutionize a country is to undermine its morals. This quote cannot be traced to any source in his writings and is laughable considering what a Victorian prude Lenin actually was.

The Amalgam involves the use of a fraudulent syllogism. At some level, all people will have some interest, affection or idea in common.The faker then takes that commonality and uses it to "prove" that his target has the same worldview as someone really evil. Here is a classic example, "Hitler was a vegetarian. Hitler was a Nazi. Joseph Kay is a vegetarian. Therefore Joseph Kay is a Nazi." The Amalgam is a favorite, not only of the far-right, but of 1930s Stalinist sectarians who concocted the "Trotskyite Social Fascist" around the common theme of both the right and Trotsky criticizing Stalin.

Chain quoting involves taking bits of two different quotes from an author's works, adding three dots and claiming it as the authors genuine viewpoint. Thus, on page 94 of Prof X' treatise, he states, "It is to be deeply regretted that the democracies did not take the threat of fascism more seriously in the early 1930s." Then on page 95, "Fortunately, the democracies decided not to side with Hitler." The faker now takes "It is to be deeply regretted that the democracies..." and adds that to "... decided not to side with Hitler." Thus the complete opposite of the authors viewpoint now magically appears, "It is to be deeply regretted that the democracies... decided not to side with Hitler."

This bit of intellectual corruption DOES happen. Renowned Hegel scholar, Walter Kaufman, found that Karl Popper, of all people, was chain quoting Hegel to make him look like the godfather of totalitarianism. Of course, this was during the height of the Cold War and the ideologues were looking for scapegoats, and who better a victim than a difficult to read philosopher who had been dead for a hundred and twenty years!

Virtually all arguments from the right are composed of these dishonest tricks. Same goes with left-sectarians. The reason for this is sometimes complex, having to do with an authoritarian personality – one that always has to be right, manias, cultism and such. But in the main, fakery is used for the simple reason that it is difficult to counter the ideas they oppose. How do you come up with rational arguments that vast inequality, misogyny, racism, environmental destruction and oppression are nothing to worry about, indeed are good things? How can you make a rational argument against someone who thinks that all progressives should work together on a series of common goals? You can't. So rather than coming at least half way with your opponent – or the person you WANT to be your opponent, you fake it. Makes you feel superior, rationalizes your prejudices away. Peace in the valley again! Trouble is, it is all self-delusion and you actually look like a total goddam fool to everyone around you.

The Dunedin Study.

This study is being carried out on 1000 people from Dunedin New Zealand. Researchers have followed these people since birth, right up to the present. What they have found is that the child's ability to engage in self-control or not is key to the future of that child. In terms of length on social assistance, substance abuse, criminality and relationship instability, a direct correlation has been shown. This means most social problems are the actions of a minority of the population. Some 10% of criminals are responsible for 50% of crime, and 5% of men do 60% of all violent crimes.

The Dunedin Study has examined the old nature-nurture debate and found that both are involved. The combination of a low amount of the MAOA gene with an abusive childhood gives rise to highly impulsive and or violent behaviour. Since some 30% of the population have the MAOA gene, yet only a minority of these are violent, abuse is the key factor. On the other hand this explains why so many victims of abuse do not become criminal or addicts. They have a high amount of MAOA.

Self-control can be taught to at risk children if intervention happens early enough.

Another gene-abuse combination involves the low amount of 5-HTT. Those with the low form combined with abuse will come apart emotionally under stress. Other people, with the low amount and no abuse or a high amount plus abuse will ride through a serious crisis. This explains why some people are destroyed by a personal tragedy, such as a death, breakup of marriage etc., while others are sad but deal with it.

As a check similar tests were done on rhesus monkeys, and the results were the same as with humans.

Another finding is that socially isolated children, abused children or those from poverty will be much more likely to have physical health problems later in life. This is true even if the person becomes wealthy and successful as an adult. The physical situation for such children as adults is as though they smoked 15 cigarettes a day and abused alcohol. They are 10X more likely to be hospitalized than others. The stresses of growing up poor and/or abused leads to inflammation, undermining the immune system, eventually causing cardiovascular disease.

What conclusions can be drawn from this study? In practical terms, dealing with poverty and child abuse must be a major priority. From a simple monetary aspect, billions can be saved by addressing these issues. (Violent criminals cost New Zealand about $3 billion a year. Clinical depression costs the USA $19 billion a year.) As well, children at risk must be taught the skills that allow them the level of emotional control that will prevent them from involvement in harmful lifestyles. There are certain persons who are inherently dangerous and that they should not be free to wander among us – not as a punishment, but as protection. In terms of ethics, we must abandon such notions as "Well, I was abused by I didn't become a..." or "they chose to be that way" and replace it with Phil Ochs, "There but for fortune, go you or I" .

Friday, September 08, 2017

Understanding the Crisis of Capitalism


Civilization is undergoing a crisis of massive proportions. A crisis that is simultaneously social, political, ecological and economic. All these aspects, are of course, interrelated, but in the last instance are rooted in the system of economy which predominates. It is this crisis, often called the crisis of capitalism, that I chose to explore.

Before going any further, what is capitalism?

Defining the system is of the utmost importance, for without a clear understanding of what the system is, we can never get to the root of the problem. There is an assumption among naïve sectors of the left business itself, buying and selling, is capitalism. But this is not true. While market exchange and private property are necessary preconditions for the existence of capitalism, they are still not capitalism. Private ownership and exchange existed for at least 2000 years before capitalism. There are two aspects which make a system specifically capitalist. The first is the goal of production. In pre-capitalist systems the reason for an economic endeavor was consumption. Under capitalism, consumption is secondary, the primary goal is accumulation of capital. The second key aspect is the separation of the producers from the means of production, ie, wage-workers, not independent artisans or peasants. Thus a society of peasants and artisans exchanging goods is not capitalist but Simple Commodity Production (SCP) .

The difference between Simple Commodity Production and Capitalism can be rendered in two formulas; The formula for SCP is C-M-C. C is the commodity produced and sold, M is the money from the transaction, and C is the commodity bought with it. Thus the peasant sells his carrots, takes the money and buys cheese with it. The goal is consumption. For capitalism the formula is M-C-M1, M is the money capital advanced to create the commodity, C, which is then sold and a greater amount of money capital M1 is the result.

The perpetual augmentation of capital is the raison d'etre of capitalism. And when that augmentation slows down or stops, the system goes into crisis.

The capitalist economic system has undergone periodic crises, which vary in intensity and duration, approximately every ten years since the 1830s. Why this happens has been a point of contention, virtually since the first breakdown. There are several explanations. One is the “under-consumption theory” and the second is the theory of the decline in the rate of profit. Less known are the Kondratiev cycles

Under-consumptionism is based on the obvious reality that wage workers cannot buy all of the product they produce. In order for the employer to amass profit, the workers must be paid a good deal less than the wealth they actually create. This was largely offset in the past by the fact that wage earners were only a minority of the economically active. Farmers and small business people could buy up the products produced by wage labour. Much of the production was also for developing the means of production, i.e. machine tools, locomotives, ships, infrastructure and not simple consumer goods. Once the overwhelming majority of the population became wage earners and expenditure on means of production has become less important thru cybernation, underconsumption becomes a gnawing problem.

This is the fact lying behind all the talk of stagnation due to the “decline of the middle class” (high-wage workers) who are no longer in a financial position to purchase the great masses of consumer goods that they used to. Keeping consumption up thru deficit spending during a down-turn was also the basic idea of Keynsian economics. For Keynes, underconsumption was the key problem of capitalism.

The problem with underconsumption theories is they do not explain the periodicity of the crises. Lack of purchasing power is an on-going problem - like a running sore – but it cannot adequately explain why ever so often the system goes into near collapse mode.

The theory of the decline in the rate of profit is also rooted in something obvious. Capitalist production depends upon a regular rate of profit. If an industry becomes less profitable, capital will shift away from it. Should the entire economy become less profitable, investment rates will decline and the economy will stagnate. Less obvious however is the underlying cause for the decline in that rate of profit.

Production involves two basic things, 1. machinery, 2. labour power to operate/maintain those machines. In a competitive economy, the value of the machine will simply be passed on to the product as a fraction of the cost of that machine. The only “thing” that can produce more value than its own value is labour power. This, as we have seen above, is obvious – workers produce more value than they are paid, and if they did not they would not be employed. Wage labour is thus ultimately the profit producer, not the machine the labourer operates. Competition among firms leads to cost cutting. One of the most important of these, is eliminating labour power. Mechanization (and eventually robotics and cybernation) eliminates workers. This gives an edge for the first company doing this, but eventually all adopt these changes and profit rates will soon be the same for all companies. Thus, a “race” exists to replace labour with machine. In shrinking the productive work force, the rate of profit will thus have a tendency to decline, since labour power and not machine is the root of profitability.

The decline in the rate of profit is not absolute or linear. It can be offset by cheapening the means of production, shifting factories to low-wage countries, or violently beating down wage rates at home. There are problems with the decline in rate of profit theory. It is sometimes difficult to prove, indeed some political economists deny that it really happens. But this is not the key problem for this discussion. As with underconsumption theories, the decline in the rate of profit cannot adequately explain the periodicity of crises.

Kondratiev cycles (1) or “K-waves” are long waves, 40-60 years of alternating high growth and stagnation. The economy comes out of stagnation thru technological innovation, which raises growth and profitability. For example, the 1950s economy was based largely on petrochemicals, automobiles and aircraft. This began to go into the tank in the 1970s. A long period of stagnation has followed, to be supposedly replaced by info tech and green tech in the near future. Problems – while it explains long-term periodicity, what about in the short term? What does it say about the crisis of the 1980s? Or 2008? Which is cause and which is effect? Is it the rate of profit that determines the technology or the technology that determines the rate of profit?

How then can we look at the crisis if there are such limitations to the presumed explanations? Fortunately for us there is a school of political economists who have gone beyond the underconsumptionist-rate of profit dichotomy and created a new synthesis. This is the “Japanese School” of Kozo Uno, Makoro Itoh and Thomas Sikine.(2)

Uno sees the reoccurring crises as a matter of “overproduction of capital.” Capital expands during prosperous times, and old fixed capital is rarely eliminated. Expansion creates a rise in wages. Wage rises eventually cause a reduction of profits and an increase in prices of goods produced, not to mention a rise in demand for these goods bought by higher wages. This can bring about speculative stockpiling. Lower profits create a demand for money capital, raising interest rates. Lower profits in industry can also bring a shift of investment to speculative investments in bonds and real estate. The increase in interest rates is fatal to speculators, bringing an end to expansion and the beginning of crisis.

Collapse of speculation leads to a decline in prices of goods and credit situation deteriorates further. A chain reaction of business failures results. Lay-offs of workers lowers worker income and general wages, which it turn cuts consumption, further aggravating the crisis. Capital – in the form of plants, commodities and credit documents - are effectively destroyed. Loanable capital is plentiful, yet few can borrow. Eventually, some business owners will adopt new methods and processes in light of the destruction of fixed capital. The renewal of equipment helps restore the rate of profit and a new phase of prosperity begins.

The life cycle of fixed capital... furnishes a material basis of the periodic crises, in particular it is a decisive determinant of the circuit of business cycles, for the simultaneous renewal of fixed capital … is the starting point for every new prosperity phase.” Itoh 117

Thus the cyclic nature of crises are explained. And under-consumption, decline in rate of profit and to a large extent the K-waves, can be seen as aspects of the major contradiction, which is the over-production of capital.

Pretty clear, right? But if you think about it, this was not how the Depression of the 1930s ended. There was no “natural” restoration of production and prosperity, rather it took massive state investment and war. So too, the crisis of 2008 – which we are still in – has resulted in an astronomical amount of dollars pumped into the system – the state once more. But the Japanese political economists have an answer for that too. What I just laid out above is a pure theory of capital , or, if you like, a theory of pure capital – a capitalism which no longer exists. It is necessary for us to examine the historical stages of capitalism to comprehend the crisis.

Most of the 19th century, and mainly in Britain, there was a situation near to the ideal of a “pure” capitalism. While capitalism was always dependent upon the state (enclosing peasant property, stealing continents, destroying competitors, building infrastructure, shooting striking workers) during this period it was largely autonomous. Businesses were small by today's standards, fixed capital was relatively cheap, making it easier to set up a factory. Competition and the market were unencumbered. Workers were powerless and the employers could adjust their wages and hours more or less as they wished. Crises performed a function of eliminating the weak, were of short duration, and gave rise to new forms of production.

The growth of textile mills meant the need for transportation, giving rise to railways and steam ships. But this meant the increasing development of heavy, rather than light industry. Heavy industry, such as steel mills, locomotive factories, rolling mills and foundries, required massive investment, so joint stock companies came to the fore and individual capital could not compete. The demand for investment capital gave rise to investment banking and securities markets. Competition began to eliminate the smaller firms. The new monopolies could always limit output to raise prices or thru trusts “rig the market.” Hence market forces were now restricted. Crises – such as the Depression of the 1870s – were much more serious than before, due to lack of flexibility rooted in the much greater costs. A demand for the state to step in arose and “free trade” gave away to tariffs. State-sponsored war production and infrastructure grew in importance. States conquered other countries to control the supply of raw materials and markets. This period was known as the Age of Imperialism and terminated in the disastrous World War.

The logic of capital – competition, markets, minimum state intervention – no longer fully operated from the late 19th Century-on. And “If bourgeois economic policy cannot successfully 'internalize the externalities' present so the logic of capital may operate autonomously, then such an economy is no longer viably capitalist, no matter how desperately chremastistic [wealth-gaining, LG] activities are engaged in...the law of value [cannot] operate when political considerations so greatly effect outputs, prices, investment, trade flows and the mobility of labor.” Bell 205

When capitalism transformed itself away from the pure model, this meant the system could not ever develop autonomously. From now on, it needed something external to it. Hence capitalism could not last indefinitely. Decay and eventual collapse were inevitable.

Post-World War1 capitalism could not get itself out of crisis by itself. This required ever-more government involvement. Government R and D, macro-management of the economy, a managed currency, preserved but restricted capitalism. The “welfare state” and full employment policies of post WW2 Fordism were incompatible with labor power as a commodity. “War Keynsianism” - most especially in the USA, in which the government financed industry and R and D thru “defense” expenditure from the end of WW2 to the present, has had a major impact.

By the end of the 1960s market saturation and high labor costs cut into profitability and made manufacturing, especially in the US and Britain, uncompetitive. In both countries manufacturing went into decline. US manufacturing 1970, 24.3% GDP, 2015, 12% GDP In 1985 the USA produced 28% world's goods, 2016, 18.2% (3) Loss of profitability led to a drive to undermine the welfare state and off-shoring of production. The advent of neoliberalism in the late 1970s with its slashing of social services has to be seen in this light. Financial services were deregulated, leading to offshore banking, giving rise to an economy based on speculation in finance and real estate. This sector is now larger than manufacturing. Rather than productive capital we have non-productive speculation to which can be added rent-seeking thru the new forms of enclosure – intellectual property rights, GMOs, privatization of water and other natural monopolies, etc. There is the massive US debt, by which the US attempted to pull out of the 2008 crash by printing dollars and securities. By making the rest of the world accept what is actually worthless paper, the US is engaging in a form of tribute economy.

At the same time there has been a sharp decline in productive labor. A vast number of people are employed in a non-productive capacity, eg – most costs for a printed circuit come from non-productive labor. Innovation has to be continuous in a system where computers, phones etc change from year to year. Thus huge R and D costs and changing and retiring fixed capital. Bell 213

So what we have is a system that is largely non-productive, tribute-based, controlled by monopolies where the market does not really function and propped up thru the state by military expenditure and the money printing press. This is hardly the capitalism of the era of pure capitalism. All that remains of capitalism is the overwhelming predominance of wage labor and the incessant drive for accumulation. Other than that, capitalism is dead, and in spite of “libertarian” fantasies, never to be revived as a system.

We have been living – unknown to most of us – in a great transition out of capitalism for the last 100 years. Quite early on Marx and Engels saw how capitalism was transforming itself in a non-capitalist direction thru the joint stock company, state involvement and market-suppression. They felt this evolution would grease the track toward socialism. They were too optimistic, way too optimistic. Yes, the desire for a democratic economy does exist and always has. But the proponents of such change are a minority and divided by foolish dogmas and secular superstitions. Without positive change we can only get further breakdown or out and out collapse.

I have long been dissatisfied by the orthodox Marxist notion of feudalism as a natural mode of production transitioned out of slave society. Examining classical Egyptian, Chinese and Japanese societies, I see not a specific mode of production, but a reoccurring response to the breakdown of an empire or centralized state. Breakdown results in power fragmented among warlords, gangsters, local petty chieftains. Perhaps, in the absence of socialism, we are transitioning toward a contemporary form of feudalism with the corporation as a virtual principality and the CEOs as our lords and masters.

But all is not entirely lost. The major externalities that I have avoided mentioning before now, are of course, environmental. Capitalism in its decadence has brought us to the brink of destruction with global warming. For every self-styled socialist, there are probably ten people concerned about this massive problem. The only rational response is green energy and a steady state economy. Green energy can come about – is coming about – thru the democratic action of the population. That it is being developed and installed by mostly green capitalists is beside the point. It is happening because of external, (ie non-capitalist) forces. Ironically, there will be a great deal of growth to implement the green economy. (Retrofitting houses, building new enviro-friendly ones, electrifying rail, green energy etc) In building the infrastructure for the steady state economy, capitalism – or what is left of it – will have one last kick at the can. For steady-state means the last aspect of capitalism will vanish – endless accumulation for its own sake – and thus the capitalist system will become a museum piece along with the steam engine and the buggy whip.(4)

1. Nikolai Kondratiev, 1892-1938 Marxist political economist, a former Socialist Revolutionary, was an important member of the People's Commissariat of Agriculture where he developed a 5 year Plan for agriculture that did not entail forced collectivization. In 1925 he published “The Major Economic Cycles” where he laid out his ideas. After Lenin's death, Kondratiev was seen as an enemy by Stalin who eventually had him arrested. He was shot in 1938, about the time of the purge of the Old Bolsheviks. He was later rehabilitated by the USSR and his works published and translated.
2. One very positive move is their separation of political economy from party politics, in an attempt to understand what is really happening and not what your tendency wishes was happening. (neoliberal economists are apologists for the corporate status quo, social democrats are underconsumptionists, as are many “orthodox Marxists”. Left-communists favour the decline in the rate of profit.)

4. Does this mean capitalism will be replaced by socialism? I think if you have read this article, you will have realized that the world is a good deal more complex than 19th C thinkers thought possible. Other than the fact the system replacing capitalism will not be capitalist, who knows for sure? However, the mass desire for democracy at all levels of society would seem raise the possibility for a cooperative, self-managed socialism.

For further reading:

Paul Mattick, “Marx and Keynes”, “Economics, Politics and the Age of Inflation”

John Bell, “Capitalism and the Dialectic”

Makoro Itoh, “Value and Crisis.”

John Bellamy Foster, Fred Magdoff, “The Great Financial Crisis”

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