Monthly Archives: November 2011

On the non-violence/violence dialectic:

“To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”-George Orwell

Strictly speaking, as a Nationalist, he was an enemy, but since in every crisis he would exert himself to prevent violence — which, from the British point of view, meant preventing any effective action whatever — he could be regarded as “our man.” In private this was sometimes cynically admitted. The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, “in the end deceivers deceive only themselves”; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful.” – Orwell on Gandhi

“I believe it’s a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself.”- Malcolm X

I personally deplore violence:  I have mild post-traumatic issue from watching a girlfriend die when I was young. I won’t go into detail, but I have seen more people die from drug addiction, car wrecks, and violence that someone from my relatively privileged background should be able to say, but such is the luck of life. Yet I find absolute statements of non-violence to be irresponsible if others are condemned for being willing to engage in defensive violence. Furthermore, I find that this tactic often is used in ways that defend and legitimatize power when non-violence is moved from a preferred tactic to a strategy.

The problem with the way we talk about non-violent social justice movements is we speak as if violence wasn’t a necessity in them in two ways. In almost dialectical ways, actually.  Let us look at the Satyagraha movement of Gandhi and the actually existing struggle for Indian Independence, not the stories we in America and Europe like to tell ourselves about it.  First of all, the struggle for Indian independence had Satyagraha at its face, but as Orwell noted this was actually used by the British as a means to an end.  It is important to remember that Gandhi was not the only face of the Indian independence movement: first there was the revolutionary Jugantar, then All India Forward Bloc, Communist Party of India, the Radical Democratic Party, and the various radical wings of INA.   There was several conspiracies, two mutinies, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose appealing to the Axis powers, as well as the non-violent actions and self-sufficiency. Gandhi worked because there were Indian nationalists, socialists, and communist forces ready to rip throats out if he didn’t. Furthermore, the success of his non-violence was predicated on violent acts by the other side. Subtle violent actions and non-lethal means are also not likely to draw sympathy from non-violent protestors.

This, for all we like to deny it, was also true of the rather moderate successes of Martin Luther King Jr.

Kasama republished an article from Common Dreams , but the Kasama debates were telling in the extreme:

All of the arguments that Black Bloc instigations have been stupid and counter-productive are valid. But that is largely there hasn’t really begun a true battle that one can speak of winning. The Black Bloc tries to create battles artificially, and that’s either dumb or deliberate police infiltration. But the Occupy Movement has at most been shaping a terrain for future battles. We’re still a long way from there though. As long as it’s understood that the battle hasn’t really yet begun, then it is valid to counsel tactics of peaceful protest. That does not mean that peaceful protest will actually win a battle when the time comes. – PatrickSMcNally

I think their model fit the real conditions of mass consciousness and military capacity at the time. The Panthers took up their example, but gave it a politico-military party of combat, and then degenerated into adventurist ultra-leftism – including offensive operations against the State before mass consciousness and military capacity was present. This led them into a focoist mind-set, which like Che learned in Bolivia, doesn’t work.

A problem I see in all communists, anarchist, and socialist writing is the quiet acceptance of the false dichotomy between violence and non-violence pursued by liberals and reactionaries.

These a tactical questions, and for those who pursue non-violence as a strategy, we should tell them they are wrong not in the non-violent part, but the strategy part: it is a political error to take any tactic off the table.-SKS

No one is arguing for turning the Occupy movement into an armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie state. No one is arguing that all protests must include a suicidal direct assault on the forces of repression. It is true that wanna be street fighters are committed to breaking windows, throwing bottles, and setting fire to trash cans as a strategy, and that is a problem.

A bigger problem is to advocate absolute pacifism as the only acceptable means of resistance. A bigger problem is to distort the history of every popular uprising in the last hundred years in support of moralistic liberalism. This is what Gene Sharp does in his work and for his admirers here I suggest you try his cool tactic of dis-robbing in front of riot cops. It is supposed to confuse the forces of the state and for anyone stupid enough to take his advice, you will quickly find out what concentrated pepper spray does to all that exposed skin (in particular to those sensitive areas of the genitalia.)

I understand why people become pacifists, especially those with a strong religious background. I believe it is a luxury that we can not afford and this has nothing to do with a desire for violence.-Stiofan

As a tactic, I prefer non-violence and people advocating for armed insurrections of a small minority like the Weathermen are likely to find themselves dead or in imprison without doing a damn thing for the people they are trying to help.  As a strategy, this is foolish as it gives the opponents a clear line they can cross.  As a moral imperative, it’s incoherent because of the dialectical relationship I described between the success of non-violent reform/autonomy movements and the violence employed.   What pascifism asks of people can be somewhat inhuman. Again, look at Gandhi:

If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy [...] the calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the God-fearing, death has no terror.


Even Karl Kautsky would not ask that of anyone. While Orwell has his flaws and is indeed no real dialectical thinker, he was dead on in encapsulating the unresolved dialectics:

If one harbours anywhere in one’s mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:

BRITISH TORY. Britian will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.

COMMUNIST. If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.

IRISH NATIONALIST. Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.

TROTSKYIST. The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.

PACIFIST. Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

On public/private “partnerships”

Have you ever noticed that in public/private transactions, generally “the private sector” ends up moving power outside of the community hands and into regions that are “untouched” by “populism” or democracy. I have.  Take this recent example in education.  Washington State wants the corporations to pay more of the cost of higher ed, but not through taxes, through an investment partnership under the ruse of a scholarship fund, and what do the corporations get for this:

Fittingly, observers said one of the best descriptions of the new program is a news release from Microsoft. Students from families with incomes of up to 125 percent of the state median income will be eligible for the scholarship, according to the release. (The median income for a family of four in Washington is $80,404, which would mean families earning up to about $100,000 would be eligible.)

The bill that authorized the program’s creation calls for a seven-member governing board. Three are to be selected by the governor, and the others will come from a list of nominations by donors to the fund.

Those four board members should hail from foundations or businesses from “among the state’s most productive industries such as aerospace, manufacturing, health sciences, information technology and others,” according to the legislation.

Donors can also designate whether their gifts go to immediate scholarships or the longer-term pool of endowment money. The state will match donations to both accounts, with a cap of $50 million for annual state contributions.

Notice that the board, though it will be matched by public funds, will give almost total administration rights  to executive appointees and even more to private businesses to set the tone for all the funding.  Now, businesses are notorious for having a low-time preference scale so this means that this will subject education to the whims of market organizations.  Funny, then, how these people who supposedly believe in free markets don’t want a market of education choice and they almost want more influence proportional to their funds. Of course, Washington state law-makers will hoop and holler about how this “helps” the poor and middle class ignoring, of course, that this might weaken education for all involved.

But the object lesson here is how willing so many state and federal governments are to move power OUT of the hands of elected officials with democratic oversight.  The funny thing about neo-liberal democracy, you get less and less democracy over time regardless.

Why I am not a Marxist-Antihumanist as well, and why I respect Althusser despite his failure, part 1

So structural Marxism, or Marxist-anti-humanism, has been far more influencial than Marixst humanism outside of the sectarian Marixst mileau being an influence on Badiou, Foucault, and most of the current Western Maoist groups which are not explicitly Maoist third-worldists. I deeply respect Althusser, but I have a fundamental problem with him that is different from the unified field theory reading of Marx I see in a lot of Marxist-Humanists. For Althusser posits a nearly more radical rupture in Marx than I think is there pulling Marx away from both Hegelian dialectics and from materialism. Indeed, his use of Freud and Lacan while illuminating move one away from a Dialectical process and unto something completely different. I would venture to say the circularity and lack of transition between epochs on finds in some of the vulgarized work of early Foucault are consistent with Althusser beginning in Ideological State Apparatus. When in Reading Capital Althusser asserts that the dialectical materialism is a vision between the theory of knowledge as vision with a theory of knowledge as production, Althusser was profoundly insightful, but his step to see this as a opposition in which one side is favored as real–as in the Ideological State Apparatus–was because Althusser forgot the the dialectical result is a synthesis of the dialectic, not merely an opposition.

Althusser’s critique of the base economic determinism of many classical Marxists which people at the Marxist Humanist Initiative are perhaps the most obvious example of stands, but he assertion that there is no economicism in later Marx because of a radical epistemological break. Now unsubtle readings of Althusser argue that Althusser inverted the base/superstructure argument, favoring the superstructure as the base, deviating from Engel’s assertion of reciprocation until the last instance, but I think that is not Althusser’s mistake. Indeed, I think I agree with Leszek Kolakowski, when he was still more or less a Marxist, critique of Althusser in Althusser’s Marx,


his theory, expressed in Althusser’s works in extremely pretentious language, is nothing else but the repetition of Engels’ principle of the “relative autonomy” of the superstructure in respect to economic conditions and is just as unclear as that principle. “The great law of uneven development “, if it means anything, means that comparable units (e.g. individuals or industrial societies or tribal societies or trees or galaxies) do not change exactly in the same way since their environment is never exactly the same. It is of course a common sense platitude that may perhaps have a certain philosophical meaning, e.g. in Herbert Spencer. To present it as a dazzling achievement of Marxist thought and to call it”the great law” proves nothing. The same is true of”overdetermination”. That important historical events,such as revolutions, result from the coincidence of many circumstances is a commonplace and one could hardly find anybody foolish enough to maintain that any detail of the historical process may be deduced from the general principle of “contradiction” between productive forces and relations of production. Neither is this commonplace specifically Marxist in any sense. What is specifically Marxist is Engels’ famous phrase about the determinant forces of economic conditions “in the last instance”. This is vague and is not made less vague by Althusser’s repetition of it without any further explanation. It is certainly true that Marx never tried to replace historical inquiry by general statements about “contradictions” nor did he hope that the course of history might be described by deductions from this statement. But this is precisely what makes the whole meaning of historical materialism unclear unless it is reduced again to the commonplace idea that many factors are at work in any historical event and that economic conditions are one of them. This is why some Marxists of the Second International were reluctant to admit Engels’ well known explanations in his letters to Schmidt, Bloch or Mehring. They believed, perhaps not without reason, that the idea of “many factors” enjoying “relative autonomy”deprives Marxism of its specificity, and makes of historical materialism a banal common place, since the additional vague statement about the “determination in the last resort” has no meaning whatsoever in historical explanation as long as we are not able to define what are the limits of this “ultimate determination” and, similarly, the limits of the “relative autonomy” granted to other domains of social life, especially to various spheres of the so-called superstructure. Again, the whole theory of “over-determination” is nothing but a repetition of traditional banalities which remain exactly on the same level of vagueness as before. If we say, e.g. that the state of science, or of philosophy, or of legal institutions, does not depend only, in a given moment, on the actual economic conditions, but also on the past history of science, of philosophy or of legal institutions, we will certainly have difficulty in finding anybody to contradict us and Althusser’s expenditure of indignation in attacking his nonexistent enemies on this point seems rather exaggerated. Moreover, he contradicts himself directly, as far as ideology is concerned. After quoting with approval Marx’s statement from The German Ideology, that philosophy and religion, in a number of ideological forms, have no history of their own but that their apparent history is only the “real” history of the relations of production (FM, p. 83) he goes on to explain in the second book (RC, pp. ggff) that, on the contrary, every domain of the “superstructure”, including philosophy and art, har its own specific history, which does not mean, as Althusser explains, that they are independent of the social “totality”, but that their degree of independence is determined by their degree of dependence. This last remark is either a tautology or a vague statement that the state of philosophy, or of art, is partially dependent on the actual economic “totality”-a statement which belongs to common sense but is uselessso long as we are unable to define the limits of this partial dependence.

In other words, in failing to deal with the dialectic, well, dialectically, Althusser moves us into a situation where ideologies compete to form the subject/object relations, and these ideologies look to cause the problem. This is the ultimate, but opposite, form of hypostatization I see Marxist-Humanism. The inversion of an error does not undo the error.

Althusser’s attempt to rid Marx of the “idealist” dialectics from Hegel actually ends up removing the dialectical process from Marx itself creating a reification in which the descriptor of the relation of the means of production actually end up determining the means of production.  Or, to be put it simply, in taking the idealism out of the dialectics, Althusser also took the dialectic itself out.  Furthermore,  his typologies are themselves idealistic because it places ideas and not relationships as the primary determinate of human relationship as I stated above.

Althusser’s ideological critiques for all their flaws did leave to critically engaging with the idea of historical problems of class. Indeed, class remnants and systems set up by a prior existing class can transfer and survive the relations. Therefore, for example, since most of the population in neo-liberal capitalism are wage-earners, one does not need capitalists classes as existing people to function.  Furthermore, there is a point to one of Althusser’s critiques of many Marxist prior substutation of materialism for idealism:

To simplify matters, let us say, for now, a materialism of the encounter, and therefore of the aleatory and of contingency. This materialism is opposed, as a wholly different mode of thought, to the various materialisms on record, including that widely ascribed to Marx, Engels and Lenin, which, like every other materialism in the rationalist tradition, is a materialism of necessity and teleology, that is to say, a transformed, disguised form of idealism. 

Love, Revolution, and an Excellent Point

Douglas Lain and I often have spirited disagreements, but he and I both have been thinking on love lately, and I want quote Doug’s recent post at Thought Catalog:

The site of production is currently a struggle, a daily fight where one class seeks to exploit the other, and while maybe both classes have their own moments of enjoyment this process has nothing to do with love. Love isn’t the elimination of exploitation, but perhaps the working out of this exploitation under the banner of love. Both partners are subordinated to love in some kind of revolution.

In that Doug couldn’t be more right.

Why I am not a Marxist-Humanist, and my objections to implicit ideologies

Recently, I have been having a very heated debate with a internet friend that has gotten nasty on what I see is the flawed implications of Kliman’s minimization of income inequality. The recent numbers make it clear that the claim that income inequality has been stable for 40 years is untrue, and here the numbers confirm that. Yet Kliman’s assertion and brilliant analysis does seem to prove that declining rate of profits for companies overall. So the interesting thing is that most I am sympathetic to Kliman’s economic analysis, but his political analysis I find severely lacking. Like I said in another post today, Kliman seems to miss or minimize that there really has been a transfer of wealth upwards at the same time that profits are going down. When I point out that this is a political problem, my friends who like Kliman and carry some of his variants of Marxist-Humanism implicitly with them accuse me of just re-stating the Immiseration thesis that Marx carried over from Ricardo, I try to point out that I am actually arguing the opposite. That there is nothing automatic about any of this and that state (and non-state) politics matter just as much as economicism.

So for context, I object to Marxist-Humanism, and it’s implicit in some of the arguments in Andrew Kliman, is that Raya Dunayevskaya’s project was to say that Marx had a complete vision which had no need for politics and that it was consistent through the writings. The Marxist Humanist Initiative have essentially done to Marx what apologists do inconsistencies in the bible, read parts of one into the other regardless oIf where it was clear that it applied: alienation was never dropped from the discourse even though Marxist doesn’t mention it in his later writings. The conception of ideology doesn’t change from its early critique to commodity fetishism, etc. Why did they do this? Because they did not like the political implications in Leninism, and Leninism critique of the Immiseration thesis or that there could be class development unforeseen in Marx because it. In fact, in Imperialism Lenin set aboutexplaining why the immiseration thesis didn’t hold like either some of the left communism or the Kautsky-ian Social Democrats had believed was inevitable. This projectHAS led to interesting work on Kliman’s part teasing out numbers on the declining right of profit, and to interesting work by people like Moishe Postone against Althusser’s hyper-reliance on ideology as an over-riding mechanism. But it has also led to ignoring that all “class” struggles are not explicitly economic, oddly putting the argument back into something like Althusserian position. The Immiseration thesis held by the Social Democrats, the automatists, and by many classical Marxists has been called into question by both Frankfurt school thinkers and by Lenin because it argues that there is NOTHING automatic about any of this, and that the base/superstructure hyper-reductionism to economics making anything a necessary hasn’t historically held.

The belief that somehow coming value theory will dialectically lead to an end of capitalist relations is actually a form of hypostatization that confuses that capitalism is a totality in historical perception of social relations, it cannot determine social relations without also being determined by them. The is the dialectical view and going back to Hegel leads us to see this problem. To quote Ross Wolfe on this:

Marx once, in a magnificent line, said that “‘the pre-bourgeois forms of the social organization of production are treated by [bourgeois] political economy in much the same way as the Fathers of the Church treated pre-Christian religions.”

With stunning historical irony, this has become almost inverted by the Marxist-Humanists (as well as others Marxists who are otherwise good, who simply want to return to Marx while ignoring the politics that came later — i.e., Principia Dialectica, even Postone). Such Marxists regard the subsequent political history of Marxism following the death of Marx (or perhaps Engels) as one vast betrayal or heresy that must be done away with entirely, in much the same way as early Protestant theologians regarded the post-Apostolic succession of the Church in its Romanized, Catholic form as one long betrayal of Christ’s teachings. As such, Protestants retreat into the Lutheran dictum of “sola scriptura,” reading only the books in the Athanasian Bible (minus a few books). Likewise, most post-political Marxists read only the work of Marx or Engels, and perhaps other Marxist thinkers stripped of their political content (Lukács, Wilhelm Reich, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Adorno).

Now we can have critiques of Leninism without trying to render Marx some kind of hyper-consistent thinker who never once changed his mind or methods. Furthermore we must not ignore that if the Immiseration thesis is correct, but the crisis regenerates capitalism thesis is also correct, the the “contradictions” that capitalism produces to undo it actually end up merely reinforcing it. Thus Fukayama and Hegel have an Endstaat against Marx entirely through Marxist thinking. The odd thing is that when I debate this with (generally new) Marxists who hold these ideas, they seem unaware that this has been debated for a century and a half. If you reconcile the numbers of the recent data on income with the numbers Kliman is generating on declining rates of profit, you see clearly that there is something political at hand beyond merely Immiseration. Indeed, the immiseration thesis renders Marxism eschatological. Instead of a political/economic struggle, we are forced to wait until something finally causes the crisis to generate the right kind of historical consciousness to undo capitalism without any political struggle. Yet this has never happened?

For all the flaws in Lenin’s politics that I see anarchists point out, it is the anarcho-communism who have a better answer here than the Marxist-Humanists for why Leninism went wrong. Yet Lenin seems to have been right about one key thing: class struggles change to generate new politics even if within the context of a capitalistic totality. Merely seeing the contradictions does not render it obvious because there is more at stake than just economics and a binary class opposition. Theologically trying to make Marx into a prophet instead of a theorists may produce insightful economic readings of capital, but it also leads to pretty flaccid politics and automatism.

On coming crisis of the factory model of South Korean higher education and how it mirrors US future problems

One of the strange ironies I have working here in South Korea is listening to Americans talk about how amazing South Korean education is (and education in Asia in general) while South Koreans are studying the American models of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s for ways to expand the creativity in the system. Yet, there is one way in which South Korea is just like the US: it has turned to a neo-liberal model of education. A college education in South Korea runs a close second or third to US and the UK (the UK is current below either but that is changing). The testing and student evaluation system is much more explicit here. There is less tenure, particularly for non-ethnic Koreans. While I love my students here, and I love my research: there are many universities in Korea that require a publication a year in a Fordist style points system which, ironically, has led to much more sub-par publications in questionable journals as the incentive system generally does not recognize anything not in print within a one-year contract even if it has been formally accepted. This is no universal, but the factory model of education is dominant in Korea. Furthermore, 80% of Korea’s universities are private and rant with low endowments making them for profit affairs more akin to University of Phoenix than Harvard. Quite a few these universities are still decent: devoted students and good faculty. I don’t want to criticize it too strongly, but there are systemic issues there. Systemic issues that are about the come to massive head.

Why? Well, The Chronicle of Higher Education actually has written an excellent article on it:

It has become something of a joke here. At the same time President Obama is lavishly praising South Korea’s education system, South Koreans are heaping criticism on it.

In speeches about America’s relative decline, Mr. Obama has repeatedly singled out South Korea’s relentless educational drive, its high university enrollment, and its steady production of science and engineering graduates as worthy of emulation.

His South Korean counterpart, meanwhile, warns of a glut of university graduates and a work force hard-wired to outdated 20th-century manufacturing skills. “Reckless entrance into college is bringing huge losses to families and the country alike,” said President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea recently.

I am glad I am not the only one who finds this highly, highly ironic. Yet this is the more substantive point:

But with a demographic crisis looming, the government now admits that the expansion has gone too far. “We allowed too many universities to open,” says Sung Geun Bae, director general of South Korea’s education ministry. Mr. Sung points out that his country simultaneously has one of the world’s highest university enrollment rates—and one of the world’s lowest birthrates. “Fifteen years ago we needed all those universities, but times have changed.”

What that means for the nation’s 40 public universities and 400 private colleges is still being debated across the nation, but the writing is on the wall. Education Minister Lee Ju-Ho warns that student enrollment at Korean colleges will plummet by 40 percent in the next 12 years. By 2016 there will already be more university places than high-school graduates, and many institutions will be forced to shut their gates or merge in what is likely to be a very painful downsizing for a nation that reveres education.

“We estimate that by 2040 around 100 universities will have to close,” says Yu Hyunsook, director general of the Korean Educational Development Institute. Ms. Yu points out that the wheels of change have already started to turn; in January, a leading institution, the Seoul National University, will in effect be turned into a business—the first step in a government attempt to give public universities more autonomy and introduce market forces into higher education to make it more competitive.

That move faces resistance from the university’s faculty members, who are concerned that the quality of education will suffer and about their job security, since the change means they will no longer be civil servants employed by the government but employees of the university.

But ultimately it is the huge private sector, which caters to about 80 percent of Korean students, where the pain is likely to be felt most—and the private providers are already under scrutiny. Some are exaggerating their number of students, covering up financial problems, and hiking student fees to unacceptable levels, says Ms. Yu. “Some are paying professors lower salaries than for primary schoolteachers.”

To examine such claims, the South Korean government investigated a randomly chosen selection of 35 private and public universities. It found “habitual” accounting errors over the past five years worth a total of $580-million. Two private institutions, Myungshin University and Sunghwa College in South Korea’s deep south, were ordered shut last month. That is very likely the tip of the iceberg.

My friends who are hiding in the long march through the universities and trying to hide from the economy in the University system: this is beginning to fall apart. South Korea’s problems are quite similar to those coming to the US which has similar demographic problems looming but a bit more ahead in the future. Louis Menand has wrote on this and the distortions of the cold war in the system. Those days are over, my academic comrades. Those days are over.

Looking at Economics, again

So I have written on the Declining Rate of Profits debates before, which has to be up there with base/superstructure analysis, the meaning of “dictatorship of the proletariat,” and what is meant by the labor theory of value is on the list of things that Marxist/Left economists never can seem to come to conclusions about in a consensus way. If anything these indicate the problems of reconciling Marx’s unfinished project, but I am digressing. So here are some issues to consider that complicate my view of Kliman. In the US, the rich ARE getting richer,

IN the eight decades before the recent recession, there was never a period when as much as 9 percent of American gross domestic product went to companies in the form of after-tax profits. Now the figure is over 10 percent.

During the same period, there never was a quarter when wage and salary income amounted to less than 45 percent of the economy. Now the figure is below 44 percent.

For companies, these are boom times. For workers, the opposite is true.

The government’s first estimate of corporate profits in the third quarter was released two days before Thanksgiving, at the same time it revised the rate of G.D.P. growth in the quarter down to an annual rate of 2.0 percent.

The report showed that effective tax rates, both corporate and personal, are well below where they were during most of the post-World War II era.

This is hard to reconcile with Kliman’s observations, or is it. As Michael Robert’s points out:

Suffice it to say, that I think Kliman is right about using historic costs, but that contrary to Kliman, it don’t think it makes much difference empirically. See this graphic for the US rate of profit (using the whole economy measure that I prefer) based on both current (replacement) and historic cost measures for fixed assets. The cyclical movements and underlying trends operate for both.

That is Husson’s argument too, but I don’t agree at all with Husson’s interpretation of the data that concludes that because the US rate of profit rose from 1982 onwards, this means that Marx’s law of profitability was irrelevant to the Great Recession. Husson reckons that as profitability rose, investment growth slowed because capitalists made profits not from the productive investment sectors, but from switching into unproductive sectors like property and credit – what Marx called fictitious capital. The crisis in neo-liberalism that culminated in the Great Recession was due to the collapse of this credit-based growth – what he calls ‘chaotic regulation’.

I argue in my papers that Marx’s law operates as the ultimate and underlying cause that breeds the proximate causes of the housing boom and slump, the credit bubble and the leveraging of debt that eventually led to the financial collapse. I note that Kliman in his new book, The failure of capitalist production ( makes these same points (I’ll be reviewing Kliman’s book in a future post). But I back up this conclusion with empirical data that shows the US rate of profit peaked in 1997 at a level that has not been surpassed since, suggesting that Marx’s law started to operate inexorably on capitalist production and the countervailing factors to the falling rate of profit had weakened. Indeed, from early 2006, the mass of profit in the US began to decline, well before the financial collapse, again suggesting that this is a good forward indicator (and cause) of capitalist crisis.

As Kliman said in the session, if you think the causes of the Great Recession are to be found in the financial sector and in ‘uncontrolled credit’ (this seems to be the position of Dumenil and Levy – see my post, The crisis of neo-liberalism and Gerard Dumenil, 3 March 2011), then there is a solution based on regulation of the financial system and credit creation, which is short of a transformation of the capitalist mode of production. If you reckon the cause lies in the mode of production itself (i.e. the production of surplus value) and not in its distribution (credit, rent, interest), then you are saying that credit control and tight regulation of the banking sector will not be enough to stop boom and slump in capitalism.

In other words, the profits and the income increases may seen only tangentially related. Individual incomes are increasing because of politics, and changes in the political matter. So that’s a strike against hyper-economism of a narrow view in the base/superstructure argument, but the declining rate of profits may still hold even despite that. But as Robert’s also points out: this is not a world analysis. If capitalism is a non-ontologic historical totality, then the social relationships it describes are in the entirety of the world not just the US. So much more work needs to be done.

The Death on an Indian Maoist…

The comments on the youtube page seem to indicate the tide in India, which is the say: it’s going to hot. It’s important to remember that this is Maoist insurgency because the Maoists have large support from the indigenous populations in the provincial areas. The Indian Naxalites are not a bblameless movement as Arundati Roy admits, but people’s wars are almost never blameless. That is not to condone or condemn them; however, if Varvara Rao is right then things are going to much worse before they get better. Losing Kenshenji is a blow for the Naxalities and blow for the indigenous people of idea. In a way, it’s a blow for all of us who believe that extraordinary oppression requires extraordinary resistance.

The Left: The History Which Has Not One, or All Your Base/Superstructure are belongs to us.

‎”It is dogmatism to approach Marxism from a metaphysical point of view and to regard it as something rigid.” -Mao Zedong

“Preceding forms of discontent with capitalism histori­cally found their expression (however uncertainly) on the Left, and these were transformed along with capitalism itself. The history of the Left is thus closely bound up with changes in the problem it has sought to overcome since the mid-19th century. The exhaustion and underly­ing despair of the “Left” today can be traced to its be­coming lost in a tangle of seemingly insoluble problems that have accumulated since Marx’s time. None of the problems raised in the history of preceding generations of the Left have been successfully worked through. All continue to haunt us.”-Chris Cutrone, Symptomology

‎”Marxism, the workers’ movement, mass democracy, Leninism, the party of the proletariat, the socialist state—all the inventions of the 20th century—are not really useful to us any more. At the theoretical level they certainly deserve further study and consideration; but at the level of practical politics they have become unworkable. The second sequence is over and it is pointless to try to restore it.”–Alain Badiou, the Communist Hypothesis

Arguments about history repeat themselves. First as tragedy. Then as farce. Then as sterilization, and then as caricature of the previous three.  One finds a regression in my debating circles on the left, one were we rehash the same ground from the 1920s or the 1870s.  Trying constantly re-articulate and re-battle these debates has been something that seems to have frustrated the left to point that many are essentially abandoning the last century. We have a move from Badiou to say that Marx is currently politically irrelevant, and Zizek saying that we need to go beyond Marx back to Hegel. There is a sense that we have recognized that the historical conditions in which capitalism has found itself has left the history of the left as a history which has not one.

The transitional theories of socialism as a means to the classless and stateless phase of communism has never been reconciled with the tendency for socialist transition periods to view state control as a necessary means or an administrative state. This failure was obvious to Rosa Luxemburg: “For us there is no minimal and no maximal program; socialism is one and the same thing: this is the minimum we have to realize today.” Socialism, here, is total socialization, and an economic state without money or the state, which is to say, for Luxemburg, socialism here meant communism or it least a complete rupture towards such a state. Yet we never got it. Indeed, if we look to Luxemburg’s last recorded words, what we get is hope:

“The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this ‘defeat’ into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this ‘defeat’. ‘Order reigns in Berlin!’ You stupid henchmen! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already ‘raise itself with a rattle’ and announce with fanfare, to your terror:
I was, I am, I shall be!”

This is a revolution we have yet to see. Yet we have seen the universalization and the hollowing out of the notion of the proletariat class: there is no clear proletariat class in the differentiated sense. There is just various strata of labor aristocracies with a few capitalists providing means for the movement of capital like, say, Warren Buffet. This has led to Burnham’s managerial society critique, Ricci’s bureaucratic collectivism critique, post-modernism, and Maoist third-worldism. The definition of proletariat becomes fluid. For even in the 1% that #Occupy organizes against is indeed both a capitalist class and a proletariat as it is both owners of the means of the production and wage-earners in separate businesses. Furthermore, the definition of the lower forms of the proletariat have been expanded to include non-wage earners like peasants and slum-dwellers/the excluded.

These are superficial observations and yet the return to Marx has been largely in a sectarian mode, and in the contexts of a working class movement or in base/superstructure argument or about social democracy or left-liberalism. It is easy to point out how much this is a history not of an coming Endstaat in the Hegelian sense, but a real danger that perhaps we do not understand what is actually at stake in the current. While I would disagree with Badiou in the sense that I do not think we can say that Marx has nothing to say to the current, but the insistence to read Marx as a prophet or a final arbitrator is to render unto Marx what Marx has rendered unto Feuerbach. The Marxian critique is a methodology of understanding that is rooted in classical economics mixed with Hegelian dialectics. We can take Adorno and approach dialectics negatively, but this means that Marxism is our critique: it is not our answer. Furthermore, we must becareful when speaking about totalities to realize that totalities are not real or ontological entities, they are ideas in colored by a historical movement of time in space. They are total not in that encompass, create, or define all beings and relationships, but that they can be understood in the context of all relationships. Yet the relationships can also reproduce the same values. Therefore, the base/super-structure is not a epiphenomenal or emergent condition, but a relationship of types that reinforce each other. To fail to realize that this is a dialectic process and not one of simple predicate logic is misleading translate the thesis into a structural context that it didn’t belong.

Gramsci made something like this point in “The October Revolution against Das Kapital” in which the over-determined idea that contradictions generate all over-coming, yet the contradictions in capitalism, which is merely a set of relationships doesn’t seem to work this way, it seems to produce crisis which cause the logic of capital to mutate, not be supplemented. Furthermore, the state does not wither under transitional epoch theories, it actually strengthens until it cracks and uses its cracking as justification for another strengthening. There can be not rupture into a synthesis in predicate logic treatment of time, only negative. Negation is necessary but not enough. Yet we seem to speak as if all this hadn’t happened and we can pick of the Manifesto and quote it chapter and verse and have an answer.

One may be a Marxist in critique, but that isn’t a politics in and of itself.

Musing on Sam Mende’s American Beauty

Today I taught to Korean students Sam Mende’s American Beauty, one of those films whose popularity was only really rivaled by the backlash against it a few years later. In many ways, I think the films beauty was in the way it undermines the bourgeois romantic trappings it gives itself. Obviously, the movie for all its gloss and hyper-exact sensibilities has a sloppy middle class family message with Lester’s monologue on at the end trying to wring the sentimental  family gloss to an otherwise nihilistic tail with some only thinly veiled cliches.  This film cries out for the a Lacanian (phallic mother, oedipal sublimation) and vulgar Marxist (Lester and Caroline as alienated from each other through tedious production of capital as well as alienated from human relationships themselves) readings. Those rubrics won’t be particularly illuminating because a college junior with either an introduction to philosophy or an introduction to critical theory course could write them.   Hell, a blogger for the Village Voice could probably write a hip less jargon-laden version of exactly that.

No, what I want to focus on is the film’s own almost dialectical undercutting of its own romanticism, because in lesser’s supposed enlightenment after his brains are splattered against the white wall, he still sees himself as fundamentally concerned with his relationships fulfillment to him. His last vision is one of narcissistic and self-indulgent interiority leaving his family in the ruins that they did not entirely make. It is the picture whose romanticism also shows romanticism nihilism because it literally offers no way out. The moment Lester realizes his dream–his roses–was in his house the entire time, he is shot in the head. This absolves him of the responsibility of cleaning up the mess.  Furthermore, his alienation and the implicit violence in his family remained unresolved.

In many ways, American Beauty is an excellent movie despite its impulses–it is hard to say where Mende’s intended this dialectical undercutting–this negative dialectic–into his film deliberately. If the sentimental films he made after it are any indication–with the notable exception of Jarhead–Mende’s aesthetic is problematically middle brow.  Yet, perhaps like Balzac and Dickens (or the science fiction writer Gene Wolfe) it is often a conservative or middle-brow disposition that allows enough of the contradictions of its own position into it to truly illuminate the social and cultural problems of a given moment.   In this way American Beauty succeeds precisely because of its failure.


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