The Strategic Counter-Offensive of Labor

Inspired by Jehu’s conversation with a libcom.org member, I set out to estimate the feasibility of transportation shutdowns as a tactic for the struggle against capitalism.

Jehu has previously suggested that the sort of tactic Black Lives Matter used – blockading freeways – is a useful tactic to us. However, it takes a lot of people to block a freeway on foot. Consider the following comparison of transit density between people on foot, bicycle, cars, and buses:7999178447_e3e87542fe_o

On October 5, 2017, a group of comrades (at least a dozen in number, possibly several) set out to block the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue in Westwood, CA, a dozen or so miles west of downtown Los Angeles. They dragged prison-style metal bunk bed frames into the intersection and formed human chains for roughly an hour or so. In the end, the LAPD arrested nine comrades and cleared the intersection by 11 AM. Here’s a screenshot from the linked Times article:

Screenshot from 2017-11-21 08-31-57

Of the comrades, one was held on $500 bail because of a traffic ticket. Yet, as far as police interactions go, this was a fairly light response. Comrades have been murdered by police in the past for doing far less than blocking intersections. A number of states with unapologetically fascist legislatures have introduced or passed bills making it legal to “accidentally” run over protesters in the street, as well as sue protesters to recoup the “cost” of “law enforcement.”

Finally, there is the question of effectiveness. Isolated traffic shutdowns like the one in Westwood, or even the months-long one at Standing Rock, have had exactly zero net effect on the national economy. A handful of drivers, perhaps even some high-placed capitalists, are certainly inconvenienced. From a tactical sense, these protests are effective: they halt traffic and attract media attention. But from a strategic sense, what purpose have they served? The fascist state – because what else is the United States in this era if not fascist? – continues on, uncaring. Capitalist profits continue to accumulate: the rich get richer.

The problem, then, lies not in the protests themselves, but rather in the lack of a coherent strategic vision to utilize the protests as a means to an end. Strikes, protests, and other forms of civic disobedience have become seen as an end in themselves since the 1970s. The last time that massive marches forced change in DC was during the Civil Rights era, when lawmakers were still trying to maintain the illusion of democratic control. Those changes have of course since been eroded and undone in subsequent years as the dictatorship of the bourgeois reasserted its control. Labor strikes against individual companies have resulted in minor “wins” in the form of wage increases and avoided cuts to benefits, but the state’s devaluation of currency and capitalism’s never-ending determination to “increase productivity” always manages to outpace even the largest wage gains.

Most communists would agree that the goal is ending capitalism. Unfortunately, there are a number of competing methods advocated to reach that goal.

Marxist-Leninists typically advocate for the building of a Communist Party in order to carry out the political struggle, but aside from some middling efforts underway in the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Worker’s World Party (the former of which split from the latter, and the latter itself split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1959, which was itself formed from the Trotskyist bloc of the Communist Party USA, although they minimize that aspect of their history today) there have been no practical gains on that front in the United States to date, and minimal success in other nations of the imperial core (e.g. Europe).

Others may point to the “success” of the Democratic Socialists of America, with its membership ballooning past 20,000 in the year or so following the farcical 2016 presidential election. But one only needs to look at their “current campaigns” page to see the lack of any real strategy. Fighting hate is never a bad thing, but it is only a symptom of the rot belying capitalism. The second campaign, in support of the Bernie Sanders “Political Revolution,” is even more clarifying: the DSA is merely seeking to get “less bad” Democrats elected to office in the vain hope of ameliorating the excesses of capital, rather than trying to tear down the corrupt institution at its core. As a certain J.V. Stalin wrote in 1924:

Social-Democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism. There is no ground for assuming that the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie can achieve decisive successes in battles, or in governing the country, without the active support of Social-Democracy. There is just as little ground for thinking that Social-Democracy can achieve decisive successes in battles, or in governing the country, without the active support of the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie. These organisations do not negate, but supplement each other. They are not antipodes, they are twins.

What strategies remain?

First, there is the strategy of revolutionary labor, abandoned in the United States and the rest of the imperial core since roughly the 1930s. This strategy calls for the tactical use of strikes, blockades and other means on a massive scale in order to put pressure on capitalist profits and thus force demands such as the shortening of the work-week, an effort which ended with the 40-hour work-week in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Today, mobilization on this scale is nearly impossible given the weakened state of the labor movement. The IWW, weakened from the betrayal of the trade unionists during the first Red Scare, remains a shadow of its former self, and now its members can mostly be found at DSA events. Meanwhile, trade unions, represented by the AFL-CIO, are predominantly petty-bourgeoisie and remain shortsightedly focused on preserving their meagre gains while the foundation of labor crumbles around them.

One bright glimmer in all of this were the general strikes in Catalonia, but even Catalan workers’ amazing use of tactics in grinding Barcelona to a halt appears to have achieved little in the ensuing weeks, since for all the power they demonstrated, they seemed willing to merely settle for meaningless political noises before going back to work as before. Rather than calling for an end to capitalism, or at the least a shorter working week, they called for their political leaders – those representatives of the bourgeoisie – to be freed from imprisonment by Madrid. What did they think would happen?

Which leaves the concept of a protracted people’s war, laid out in Mao’s 1938 work “On Protracted War.” In this, Mao lists three stages of a protracted war:

  1. the period of the enemy’s strategic offensive and our strategic defensive
  2. the period of the enemy’s strategic consolidation and our preparation for the counter-offensive
  3. the period of our strategic counter-offensive and the enemy’s strategic retreat

When the global class war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie is put into these terms, it seems fairly obvious that we are only living in the second stage of it, with the first stage marked by the creation of a handful of defensively-oriented socialist nations, and a global assault on them known as the Cold War. The period from 1970 to the present has thus represented a strategic consolidation on the part of capital, combined with preparations for the counter-offensive underway in China and the other few remaining socialist nations. The preparations of communists within the United States and other imperial core nations, as I have already pointed out, are quite lacking in comparison.

Why have these preparations been so ineffective?

Given the well-documented history of programs like COINTELPRO and the CIA’s own strategy of subverting Marxists with strategic plants in publications like Paris Review, (note that those links to major publications are rather mild, and more damning evidence is available), as well as the legacy of Operation GLADIO and “Operation Mockingbird”, it does not seem terribly surprising that prominent, ostensibly Marxist parties in the US and elsewhere have at most offered “Democrat Lite” politics and no notable resistance.

Another possible reason for the ineffectiveness has been the (relatively) privileged position enjoyed by the American working class for a brief period of time from WWII to the 1970s. This “heyday” of American manufacturing depended upon America’s ability to export its goods abroad, made possible by the rebuilding of Europe after WWII and exploitation of the raw materials of colonial successor states. This period coincided with a massive reshaping of American culture, starting with the so-called “nuclear family” and suburbanization, a topic which is probably too long to cover in much depth here. This is otherwise known as the embourgeoisement thesis. It should, of course, be noted that workers in the core (and not just those in America) still enjoy a much higher standard of living than heavily exploited workers in the periphery to this day.

Whatever the reason, through all the electoral protests and other actions it seems like communists in the core have mostly lost focus on the political-economic roots of Marxist theory. It is easy to get lost in day-to-day bourgeois nonsense with 24-hour news channels and political talk shows saturating the airwaves – all propaganda, all the time.

Direct Action Tactics as the Opening Move of the Counter-Offensive

One of the objections to many direct action tactics is that they tend to place vulnerable people in harm’s way. If you’re Black, it’s dangerous to run into a cop on the street, let alone confront one as part of a picket line.

(Know how to tell the difference between a cop & a Klan member? Just kidding, there is no difference.)

Because of this, at least initially, the wage labor abolition movement will be very small. There won’t be masses of volunteers ready to cause havoc, and there is a strong possibility that “the masses” will simply shrug and go about their day once direct actions begin in earnest. In other words, while activists fight to get back surplus time for all, they should be as frugal as possible with their own time. Capitalists use technology as a labor productivity multiplier; activists should do the same.

Ever heard of traffic compression waves? They look like this:

wtlite1

In stewing about this I realized that EVERYONE has this same problem at that particular spot: an inability to merge in the dense traffic. Others were probably doing the exact same thing that I did, and this would make the “wave” near that exit worse and worse. Our inability to change lanes would create a “dynamic bottleneck” which hovers near the exit. Obviously the simple cure is to give up; not merge, and miss the exit. I should never have forced the issue, I should have let my exit go past. So should all the other merging drivers. But there is a bigger issue here. People SHOULD be able to merge. Why was traffic packed so tightly? One obvious reason: to punish the idiots who will jump into any little space. I had always done the same myself. I never allow a space to appear ahead of me, or some other driver will immediately swerve into it during their quest to cheat by running down an empty lane to the front of the line. But this sort of “closed-gap” driving would also prevent any necessary merges at off ramps (and at on ramps too, of course.) By eliminating the space ahead of me, I become part of the impenetrable wall which creates the “dynamic bottleneck” and screws up the traffic at highway exits. The gear teeth cannot mesh, so the whole machine grinds to a halt. The “zipper” becomes jammed because the “teeth” of the zipper are resentful about new teeth moving into the space ahead of them.

 

The Logistical Problem Of Surplus Accumulation

One of the recurring criticisms of communism from both indigenous peoples and exploited communities worldwide has concerned its historical emphasis on advancing the productive forces. Communist theorists, particularly intellectuals located in the ‘core’ of imperialist nations, or more broadly “the West,” tend to take their own material conditions for granted, and assume that it is the mission of global communism to “uplift” all nations to the same Western level of “abundance.”

By saying this, I am not endorsing “degrowth” or “overpopulation” theories, which suggest that the only way to avoid global ecological collapse is to either return to the level of subsistence that Marx and Engels referred to as “primitive communism,” or accept a massive reduction in population (which is usually banally assumed to be a normal consequence of ecological collapse and thus our own damn fault, despite the fact that it is likely to dis-proportionally impact people in the global south.) Such thinking is barely a step away from the Malthusian theories behind eugenics and genocide as vehicles of ecological preservation.

Furthermore, massive degrowth on the level suggested by many in the “green” movement – a “return to nature” as they call it – would either result in a massive increase in land use for farming, or mass starvation, due to the less productive techniques suggested. There are certainly valid criticisms of modern industrial farming practices: erosion, pesticide and fertilizer runoff, overgrazing of pastures, and destruction of habitat are some of its major issues. However, abandoning all the gains of industrial farming, like automation (which is certainly capable of being shifted away from fossil fuel power and adapting to more sustainable farming techniques) in favor of a return to some bucolic bygone era of small-scale settler-family farming, like Wendell Barry argues in “Farmland Without Farmers,” is ridiculous and reeks of bourgeois nostalgia.

First, such a return to “family” farming presupposes the existence of multi-generational families, something which capitalism has been steadily eradicating over the last hundred years.

Second, most of those farmers were able to grow only marginally more food than they consumed. Not only would the clock have to be turned back to an era that no longer exists, but this solution runs headlong into that other elephant in the room: settler-colonialism. Such dispersion of the urban masses into the countryside would do absolutely nothing to address the problem of the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their native lands. It would, instead, reinforce the petty-bourgeois system of land “ownership,” something that the Bolsheviks initially struggled to abolish in the Soviet Union.

For communists, there is however another alternative: collectivization. With the abolition of bourgeois notions of private ownership, land becomes a shared resource for the good of all rather than something to be hoarded for one’s exclusive benefit. In the case of the Soviet Union, where peasant-farmers could trace back many generations in the same area, this was a rather simple solution that involved reorganizing small landholdings into larger, more intensive collective farms. Simple does not mean easy, however, and they ran into numerous problems along the way.

For the United States, itself a settler colony, this problem becomes more acute when the subject of reparations to native Americans is included. As the original inhabitants of this land, their roots go back many thousands of years and are well documented both in their oral histories and in archaeological evidence. Anglo settler-colonialism uprooted them through violent genocide and dispersed and relocated the survivors into the least hospitable scraps of unwanted land that were left. Most of us living here today took no part in that process, but we still reap the blood-soaked rewards from the land that was stolen.

Further complicating matters are the millions of descendants of African slaves. They remain marginalized by a capitalist system that is still synonymous with white supremacy. With their ancestors having been violently uprooted and transported to America, their cultural ties to their homelands were broken. Sending African-Americans back to Africa remains as much of a non-starter as it was during the abolitionist period, when the colony of Liberia was created in a failed effort to do exactly that. For better or for worse, they have become inseparable from the indigenous land that was carved out by settlers on the backs of their ancestors.

These material realities pose an intractable problem that abolishing private property, while a necessary first step, is unsuited to solving alone. If communal relations are the solution, it becomes necessary to ask what it means to be a community. Fortunately, over a hundred years ago J.V. Stalin grappled with similar questions in his essay on “Marxism and the National Question.” First, he offers a concise definition of what constitutes a nation:

A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.

Then he raises the following points in his conclusion:

Thus the complete democratization of the country is the basis and condition for the solution of the national question.

Thus, the right of self-determination is an essential element in the solution of the national question.

Thus, national autonomy does not solve the problem.

Thus, regional autonomy is an essential element in the solution of the national question.

Thus, equal rights of nations in all forms (language, schools, etc.) is an essential element in the solution of the national question. Consequently, a state law based on complete democratization of the country is required, prohibiting all national privileges without exception and every kind of disability or restriction on the rights of national minorities.

These policies were carried out to great success in the Soviet Union, with full support from the state for education in regional languages that had been forcibly discouraged under the Tsarist russification policies. As a result, in today’s Russian Federation, there are “176 national groups and an almost equal number of languages spoken.” [1] This is somewhat comparable to the approximately 296 indigenous languages of North America, distributed in 29 families:

Langs_N.Amer

(It’s worth noting that the areas marked as “uninhabited, unknown, out of area” are almost certainly due to settler purges of traces of indigenous inhabitation, and/or failure to record any linguistic information about the inhabitants of those regions.)

One possible first step, therefore, in addressing the national question of a post-revolution North America, might consist of erasing the settler-colonial national and state borders, and establishing new regions based on the historic lands of the indigenous peoples. Within that framework of contiguous regions, it would then fall to the local communes, with their various settler and minority compositions, to work with the indigenous tribes of their region in establishing new systems for the use and care of the land and its resources.

I have already touched on some of the issues presented by agriculture under the capitalist mode of production, many of which are shared with the communist mode of production. However, agriculture is only one part of the mode of production itself. Similar problems are found in the industrial sector, which is primarily concerned with the reproduction of the means of production, the construction sector, and the consumer goods sector. Of the first two sectors, their ecological problems are largely the same under communism: there were a number of massive ecological disasters in the Soviet Union, most infamously exemplified by Chernobyl. Those issues have been elaborated on at length by many, most notably the (former) [2] American Indian Movement activist Russell Means:

Capitalists, at least, can be relied upon to develop uranium as fuel only at the rate which they can show a good profit. That’s their ethic, and maybe they will buy some time. Marxists, on the other hand, can be relied upon to develop uranium fuel as rapidly as possible simply because it’s the most “efficient” production fuel available. That’s their ethic, and I fail to see where it’s preferable. Like I said, Marxism is right smack in the middle of European tradition. It’s the same old song. [3]

He’s not wrong. Nuclear energy is the most efficient means of generating power available today, and even under capitalism there is a consensus among a small group of environmentalists and futurists about its importance in addressing climate change. However efficient it is, communists would be wise to not blindly utilize it to replace existing power systems. The reason for this is tied to the final sector – consumer goods, and its relation to the topic of this essay.

Consider worldwide energy use per capita:

screenshot-from-2017-03-02-14-40-57

Cuba only needs to import around 16% of its total food, making it largely self-sufficient. Its people have adapted to limited resources forced by the US embargo, meaning that the excesses that we associate with capitalism simply do not exist there. One other interesting point from this chart is the relationship between Cuba and China. Until 2002, China’s per-capita energy usage was incredibly low, if slowly trending upward: this was partly due to its largely undeveloped rural nature until then, but also because it mostly produced goods for domestic use. US trade with China was “normalized” in 2000, and capitalists quickly rushed to exploit China’s resources and labor. Since the passage of PNTR, China’s industrial output has skyrocketed, and with it, energy usage.

Perhaps the “total energy consumption” figures below should be adjusted based on pre-PNTR figures, and the difference lumped in with US total energy consumption – since a large amount of China’s productive output is destined for the US market.

Screenshot from 2017-03-02 14-59-43.png

This last part is the legacy of imperial hegemony. The riches of the imperial core are highly dependent upon the exploitation of labor in the global south. Killing capitalism by attacking the profits that feed this imperial core – which is not strictly confined to North America, but also has branches spread out across Europe and parts of Asia like Japan – requires more than just ending wage slavery in the core itself. It also requires that the periphery deny empire of its profits.

The problem with that, historically, has been that the empire–in true colonial fashion–has used and continues to use its military as a bludgeon along with trade relations against any nations that dare deny those profits to empire. There is a long list of nations which attempted to stand up to the US empire and which were in turn felled by military means or coups: some examples are Argentina, Grenada, and most recently Libya in 2011. Other nations like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea turned to arming themselves in response to this outright aggression.

It is my hope that these struggles against empire continue and succeed. At the same time, the “anti-imperialists” of the core have failed to do anything for years. Since the anti-war protests of the 1960s, there has been a focus on symbolic gestures, marches and the like, with corresponding petitions to the bourgeois dictatorship for redress of grievances. I would argue that these have in fact had a less than useful effect, offering a perception of change even as the dictatorship discovers new loopholes and material conditions continue to worsen.

Yet, even if there is a revival of the revolutionary labor movement, and the abolition of wage slavery in the core plus resistance in the periphery leads to the destruction of global imperial capitalism,  we will be left with the consumer system built by capitalism here, and the bourgeois mindset that goes with it. A revolution is therefore necessary, not just to abolish private property and expropriate the riches of the bourgeoisie, but to change the very fabric of our society. The means of production that already exist must be employed by the post-revolution society in ways that avoid the wanton destruction of the environment associated with capitalism and even socialism.

In short, radicals here in the heart of the empire (especially those from the ranks of the settlers) should consider what life is like in Cuba, and recognize that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Marx said in his Critique of the Gotha Programme,

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

Abolishing wage slavery does not mean everyone will sit around and enjoy a life of luxury while robots wait on them. It simply means that the socially necessary portion of labor-time – that which is required to maintain whatever standard of living is accepted by the post-revolution society – will be the worker’s own activity to do as they please rather than being coerced by fear of exposure or starvation as it is now under capitalism.

This implicitly means that those in the imperial core cannot expect, as they do now, to receive all the resources empire currently steals from the periphery. That will be quite the shock for many.

My thanks to @SiggonKristov. Inspired by this thread.

Footnotes

  1. Leprêtre, Marc. LANGUAGE POLICIES IN THE SOVIET SUCCESSOR STATES: A BRIEF ASSESSMENT ON LANGUAGE, LINGUISTIC RIGHTS AND NATIONAL IDENTITY (2002)
  2. American Indian Movement. Press Statement On Russell Means (1999) https://www.aimovement.org/moipr/onrussellmeans.html
  3. Means, Russell. “For America To Live, Europe Must Die” (1980) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article19048.htm

 

Terminal Capitalism

There seems to be a surprising consensus in the commentariat that we are finally living in the world of late-stage capitalism. The term itself was coined by Werner Sombart in his 1902 work Der Moderne Kapitalismus, to refer to a hypothetical period of capitalist excess and decline which he later asserted began with the first World War. In keeping with the title theme of my previous post, The Metastasis of Capital, I will instead dub this phase “terminal capitalism,” as it is becoming ever more clear that there is no silver bullet left that can magically fix capitalism in perpetuity. Capitalism will end: the only question is how long that process will take, and who will be harmed in the process.

As an aside, it is highly interesting that Sombart, of whom Engels was “pleased to find such understanding of Capital at a German university,” went on to sympathize with the Nazis and even wrote a book asserting that capitalism was the fault of the Jews. This underlines the uneasy position of communists, who may not only legitimize the bourgeoisie oppressors by seeking to ingratiate themselves with them, but also, by identifying the weaknesses of capitalism and speculating on how to fix it in their critiques, hand the bourgeoisie dictatorship gift-wrapped solutions to the perpetual crises of accumulation within capitalism.

Such is the case with modern monetary theory, basic income, and the service sector, three ideas that expand on postulates in Marx’s Capital and derived economic practices such as Keynesianism. The first states that the (bourgeoisie) state has the unlimited power to create fiat currency without any negative consequences, and is a direct result of the abolishment of the gold standard starting with the New Deal and ending with Bretton-Woods, a process that Marx postulated was an inevitable consequence of capitalism:

This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime.

With the end of private gold hoards, the bourgeoisie state was left standing as the sole holder of all wealth. Although capitalists carried on as if nothing had happened, in reality the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie had expropriated and centralized an entire nation’s capital overnight. The 74 years between the signing of Executive Order 6102 and the 2007 crisis of accumulation could be described as a long, drawn-out version of the 7 stages of grief, and the final acceptance of this fact is reflected in the media headlines about late-stage capitalism.

One of the ideas often passed off as a way of “solving” the deliberately uneven distribution of resources (and over-accumulation of wealth in the “top 1%”) under capitalism is the second idea I mentioned: a universal basic income. It proposes to directly distribute an equal amount of fiat to every citizen of the bourgeoisie dictatorship. But since that accumulated wealth is now entirely notional, and the over-production of goods in terminal capitalism means that the basic needs of every person on Earth could be met today, what UBI produces in reality is a way to ensure that workers are locked into serfdom, where necessities like housing are always kept barely out of reach, forcing one’s participation in self-alienating labor in order to “earn” the required tokens to “buy” the remaining necessities.

Demonstrating how capitalism relentlessly destroys all aspects of the bourgeoisie society that created it, Quartz ran an article entitled “Exhausted by the herd, single South Koreans are gingerly embracing the ‘YOLO’ lifestyle.” In so many words, the article describes how the pressure of capitalism to maximize dwindling profits, and thus surplus value, takes away so much of the wage-slave’s available time that they are forced to push away all other connections that we take for granted in society: friends, family, and indeed even the community. In the West, this is most viscerally realized in the form of the cubicle farm, an innovation that allowed capitalists to maximize workers per office space. Of course, even the cubicle farm is slowly withering away, being replaced most visibly in Silicon Valley by “open office spaces” that create a cheap, fake facsimile of the communities capitalism destroys inside the workplace itself.

This leads us to the service economy. The alienating nature of wage labor under capitalism was explored in considerable depth by Marx in the chapter on Estranged Labor in his 1844 Paris Manuscripts:

We have proceeded from the premises of political economy. We have accepted its language and its laws. We presupposed private property, the separation of labor, capital and land, and of wages, profit of capital and rent of land – likewise division of labor, competition, the concept of exchange value, etc. On the basis of political economy itself, in its own words, we have shown that the worker sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities; that the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and magnitude of his production; that the necessary result of competition is the accumulation of capital in a few hands, and thus the restoration of monopoly in a more terrible form; and that finally the distinction between capitalist and land rentier, like that between the tiller of the soil and the factory worker, disappears and that the whole of society must fall apart into the two classes – property owners and propertyless workers.

Furthermore, in the manuscript form of Volume I of Capital, Chapter One, Marx clearly states that a commodity does not necessarily need to be physical in order to be a commodity:

There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom.

 

When the means of production begin to reproduce themselves without requiring any additional wage labor or capital derived from such wage labor, the accumulation of capitalism, which rests entirely on surplus labor as Marx described, begins to fall apart. The unsettling conclusion inferred to here is that the service economy is capitalism’s solution to the crisis of physical accumulation brought on by widespread automation.

Once the process of capitalist consolidation and expropriation has resulted in all natural resources and smaller capitals being owned by a single capital controlled by the dictatorship of the entire bourgeoisie class – for the sake of argument let’s call it Washington – it will possess a monopoly on all resources and production, without requiring any wage labor at all. The physical need for work will have been eliminated while keeping work for the sake of work intact. Instead of imbuing labor value into physical objects, the worker’s labor value now remains with the worker. Instead of creating commodities, the worker becomes the commodity, much as Marx predicted.

Artificial scarcity would continue to be the status quo, while the only “real” work would be found in selling oneself to meet the needs of others. The alienation of the worker under capitalism would express itself, finally, in the wage slave selling themselves as a commodity in order to obtain the artificially scarce necessities of life. These commodity-slaves, particularly at the bottom, would be entirely subservient to the needs of others, unable to do anything except keep themselves alive and presentable, while the bourgeoisie dictators of the state would have their every need attended to at no pain to themselves – having finally attained the position of royalty that they aspired to (while claiming to demand their abolition) so many centuries before.

If history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, the liberation of the worker as a self-made slave, forced to sell themselves as a mere commodity to fulfill the whims of the bourgeoisie, is a farcical repetition of the slave-courts of ancient royalty.

In other words, a UBI would be nothing more than a superficial lessening of the burden on the commodity-slaves, a demonstration of the benevolence of their rightful rulers. It is the universal cake distribution of these aspiring Marie Antoinettes, having forgotten what their forebears did to the French aristocrats.

The good news, if there is any, is that the bourgeoisie do not yet possess complete control over the means of production. The national capital of China, for instance, is still controlled by the Communist Party. More importantly, and more relevant to those of us in the imperial core, and particularly the US, workers still nominally control their labor. It is true that the penalties for withholding labor continue to worsen, as the fascist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie continues to corrupt mass labor organizations from within and crack down with martial force from without.

The tactics of labor, Black liberation, and antifa movements provide some hope, demonstrating that temporary shutdowns are indeed possible and changes can be effected with limited numbers of activists. The challenge facing communists today, then, is one of the proper strategy to employ these tactics with in the aim of abolishing classes by overthrowing the mutually reinforcing bourgeoisie class rule of the fascist state and the capitalist system of wage slavery.

The Metastasis of Capital

Let’s talk about this story of a UK vet who died after losing his welfare benefits:

Screenshot from 2017-05-11 10-33-58

 

Regular readers of this blog may have figured out by now that I’m not exactly pro-military, to put it mildly. However, in liberal bourgeoisie society, defenders of empire like David Clapson are also the most visible victims of capitalism. While a liberal may walk past a homeless woman bleeding out on the street without comment, they always elaborate on how tragic it is when a retired cop or military vet dies of some “tragic,” entirely preventable incident like the one above.

Empire lures people into its war machine with promises of good wages and lifetime benefits, then cuts them adrift in the name of profit. The same goes for the “public sector.” Aside from fundamental necessities like healthcare, what is the main purpose of public spending? To answer this, let us break the question down further.

Q: Who benefits the most from public roads?

A: Private capitalists.

Q: Who benefits the most from reliable public transportation?

A: Private capitalists.

In other words, the entire modern public sector is designed for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to keep labor enslaved to capital.

Let’s take a step back to the last time monopolistic capital was concentrated at similar levels to today: the 1880s. Given free reign over infrastructure, capitalists created company towns in order to extract the most surplus labor value from their workers. The tendency of the rate of profit to decline led the Pullman Company to alienate its workers, leading to the Pullman Strike of 1894. Unfortunately, at the time Marx’s theories were still not widely disseminated, so the frustrated workers merely asked for better terms of slavery. To its credit the early labor movement did push for a reduction in working hours, but they stopped at 40 hours and nobody has dared to ask for further reductions in the years since the New Deal passed.

The bourgeoisie reaction to the labor movement was known as the Progressive movement.

The main objectives of the Progressive movement were eliminating problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and corruption in government.

Initially the movement operated chiefly at local levels; later, it expanded to state and national levels. Progressives drew support from the middle class, and supporters included many lawyers, teachers, physicians, ministers and business people.

Allow me to restate: Progressivism is reactionary.

Why did the bourgeoisie respond to labor demands with their own call for “progress?”

The answer is quite simple, really. They sought the preservation of capitalism.

Lawyers, physicians, ministers, and merchants all share one thing in common: their livelihood depends on the wages of others. If wage laborers have no money with which to pay them, they starve as well.

Compare the following excerpts:

[…] spending on the public sector, schools and infrastructure was considered extravagant. […] Bridges, canals and roads were built, hospitals and schools, railway stations and orphanages; swamps were drained and land reclaimed, forests were planted and universities were endowed.”

[it] included food supplementary assistance, infant care, maternity assistance, general healthcare, wage supplements, paid vacations, unemployment benefits, illness insurance, occupational disease insurance, general family assistance, public housing, and old age and disability insurance.

and

[…] a favorable attitude toward urban-industrial society, belief in mankind’s ability to improve the environment and conditions of life, belief in an obligation to intervene in economic and social affairs, and a belief in the ability of experts and in the efficiency of government intervention. Scientific management […] became a watchword for industrial efficiency and elimination of waste, with the stopwatch as its symbol.

Doesn’t it seem like the second quote describes the first? The sources may surprise you: here is the first, and the second.

Fascism is, unfortunately, the logical conclusion of progressive policies. Every fascist government of the 20th century traces its social and economic policies directly to the Progressive movement. Remember who came up with eugenics? Then you have Margaret Sanger, progressive, feminist icon, eugenicist, and follower of Thomas Malthus, who said the following at the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in 1925:

Advanced on purely individual, feministic and profoundly eugenic bases, emphasizing the desiderata of Quality as opposed to Quantity in the procreation of humans, serenely indifferent to historical backgrounds, academic discussions and polemics, the new battle for human emancipation focused attention upon the problem of hygienic contraception as a personal problem, and essentially as the problem of womankind.

Let’s add “racist” to that list, too, for the societal effects of eugenicist policies cannot be described as anything but.

Modern Progressives can deny these aspects of the movement’s history, but they cannot change the effects their policies still have. Progressives can talk all they want about creating a system that is fair for all, but that is impossible without abolishing capitalism. As long as private capital exists, as long as an exploitative hierarchy of labor exists, inequality & suffering will remain a fact of life. Abolition of private capital by itself is not enough to solve this: at best, you get a proto-capitalist system like the Soviet Union. This is not a dig against the Soviets: they really wanted a better system, and in most ways, they had one. But like the American labor movement, when they had the opportunity to reduce hours of labor, they balked. After the Great Patriotic War, they never returned to the concept of reducing hours of labor, which ultimately spelled their doom, much as the American labor movement’s refusal to push for reducing hours of labor ultimately turned it into a reactionary bourgeois tool.

At this late stage of capitalism, I simply can’t accept that the solution to the problem progressives created by empowering the state is giving the fascist state even more power. This is not the post-war Soviet Union. We have no workers’ councils; we are not represented by the fascist state. No amount of well-meaning legislative proposals or Constitutional amendments can fix this mess. The system is designed to resist change.  People have been trying to change the Democratic Party from within for over 100 years. What do they have to show for it? Third Way? All of the great gains of the labor and civil rights movements were fleeting at best.

I can’t believe this needs to be said, but the “founding fathers” were bourgeoisie trash.

How are we going to pass a constitutional amendment – like, say, ending Citizens United – without control of 2/3rds of the states? How are we supposed to gain control of those states when a small minority of wealthy reactionaries have an iron grip on all the state machinery? What good would gaining control of electoral machinery do, anyway, when even solid-blue states like CA are dominated by their own minority of wealthy reactionaries?

Capitalism has metastasized in the United States. Reforms are like chemotherapy: they cannot cure the patient, and only prolong suffering.

Draw your own conclusion as to what needs to be done.

Superfluous Labor and the Siren Song of Fully Automated Luxury Capitalism

The thought occurred to me that I can literally accomplish a day’s worth of work in around 1/8th of a working day, but there are still dozens of workers toiling on the factory floor, all day, every day. At the end of the day, nothing that any of us do is necessary for the functioning of society. My working hours could be cut to 8 per week and my company probably wouldn’t even notice outside of random IT emergencies. But those factory workers couldn’t have their hours cut without hurting the company, because its profit comes exclusively from their labor. The whole point of reducing working hours is to hurt the capitalists.

That same division between office and factory labor repeats itself on the macro scale in global capitalism. The widget factories of global capitalist production, which are mostly located in the global south, provide most of its profits. To reduce working hours in the factories means building substantial automation, like Foxconn is doing in China. Reducing working hours at the headquarters, on the other hand, is a lot easier for capitalists: it usually takes the form of mass layoffs.

I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but the mass layoff is effectively a concentration of working hours in fewer workers. If a company has 20,000 office personnel all working ~8 hours per week in a 40 hour work week, then it’s effectively paying for 640,000 surplus hours per week. Of course capitalists want to eliminate that. The remaining 160,000 wage-hours of total “necessary” work could be done by 4,000 full-time employees at 100% productivity, so that company would announce it’s laying off 16,000 people. Of course, I put “necessary” in scare-quotes because, chances are, that company’s products are mostly superfluous to society.

But this is also where the tendency of the rate of profit to decline kicks in. As companies shed paid working hours in the aggregate, they are also shrinking the pool of “consumers” who can afford to buy their pointless products. Financialization of the economy allows capitalists to cover up this decline temporarily, by time-shifting the problem into the future. In normal parlance, we call that a “bubble.”

Since the capitalists are by and large a short-sighted lot, they now seem to think this crisis of profit can be averted by “expanding.” As they lose the ability to sell products in already-developed markets, they want to sell more in the places they make the products, which means that wages must rise in order for those workers to afford the shit they make. Raising wages, of course, causes an immediate decline in profit, and as I said, capitalists are notoriously short-sighted, preferring a long-term decline in profit and its resulting crisis to any short-term reductions that might temporarily stabilize and stagnate profits. Thus when wages are forced to rise, they turn back to automation, which allows them to reduce working hours in aggregate through mass layoffs. As their profits drop in the ensuing crisis, they go looking for the next “developing market” to try this cycle in.

Lenin said that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. He was right. In his 1916 publication Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin offered the following definition with 5 basic features:

(1) the concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life;

(2) the merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy;

(3) the export of capital as distinguished from the export of commodities acquires exceptional importance;

(4) the formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and

(5) the territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.

Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

Even 101 years after this was published, it remains a good working definition of imperialism. What is worth clarifying is the term “capitalist power,” which Lenin used to refer to imperialist nation-states such as the US or Great Britain. The spread of fascism and its insidious spiritual successor, neoliberalism, has resulted in the merging of corporate power with the nation-state beyond even Mussolini’s wildest dreams. Trans-national corporations now dictate policies in every nation-state they touch through the magic of “free trade” agreements. When trade agreements do not suffice, they manipulate national armies to do their bidding, carrying out “regime change” to favor their chosen successors.

In other words, the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers is nearly complete, and the nation-state is nearly irrelevant to capital. The problem is, to channel Thatcher, sooner or later you run out of markets to develop. Space thus seems like the next logical place for capitalism to expand. However, it seems increasingly likely that space colonization will be fully automated from the start, which is a minor problem.

There must be consumers to sustain a market for consumer goods, and right now, the human population of beyond-LEO space is exactly zero. Musk may envision a bustling population of millions of humans on Mars by the 2040s, but the truth remains that in the harsh Martian environment most, if not all, labor will be conducted by robots.

Since robots are not labor but rather capital, they do not produce value directly according to Marx’s labor theory of value. The same could be said about slavery, and Marx, who wrote about the American Civil War as it was happening, noted this in his response to Ricardian economists in part III, chapter 21 of Theories of Surplus Value:

The transformation of necessaries into luxuries by means of foreign trade, as interpreted in the pamphlet, is important in itself […] because it determines the whole social pattern of backward nations—for example, the slave-holding states in the United States of North America […] which are associated with a world market based on capitalist production. No matter how large the surplus product they extract from the surplus labour of their slaves in the simple form of cotton or corn, they can adhere to this simple, undifferentiated labour because foreign trade enables them [to convert] these simple products into any kind of use-value.

In other words, the value produced by labor which is considered capital – whether human or robot – is accumulated exclusively by the capitalist class in the form of surplus commodities, which must be exchanged with other non-slaveholding capitalists in order to realize their use-values. Therefore, the exploration and colonization of space is little more than a repeat of the colonization of the Americas, substituting automation for slavery and freed from any ethical dilemmas posed by indigenous peoples (at least until we stumble across another intelligent species, which I may only hope capitalists never do for the sake of every living creature in the universe.)

It is, of course, entirely conceivable that well-meaning “socialist” idealists will strive to create “egalitarian” colonies in space where all colonists share the value produced by the robots, with or without the need for exports of surplus commodities for profit. There are several problems that remain in this case.

First, as long as capitalism remains the dominant system here on Earth, the colony must export enough goods of sufficient use value to Earth (or its vicinity) to be able to import the specialized supplies they need until such time as they become fully self-sufficient. Failing that, the colony will need to be supported via a wealthy benefactor like the United States or China, as even the most wealthy of the billionaires do not possess enough surplus capital to sustain an entire colony for very long. Both of these solutions require the stolen surplus value of billions of hungry, tired workers here on Earth.

The second problem is the expectation for colonists to pay their own way. In Musk’s vision for an Interplanetary Transportation System, a one-way ticket to Mars should cost around $200,000 in today’s dollars, roughly around the price of a small house in most American cities. He contends this will make it affordable for “average” Americans, ignoring the fact that even those middle class Americans who do “own” their houses are saddled with massive amounts of mortgage debt. The ITS is a space Uber for well-off capitalists.

If we assume the capitalists are aware of these problems, the question then becomes why they continue to pursue it. I believe the related survivalist craze offers an answer: while they are blinded to the fact that capitalism itself creates crises, they are not blind to the historical consequences of these crises. Much as the bourgeoisie slaveholders of the antebellum South saw themselves as the kings of a colonial empire, today’s capitalists see the same promise in space. Why live on Earth where they must barely tolerate smelly plebeians when the promise of a new life awaits them in the off-world colonies?

Mars, then, offers the promise of fully automated luxury capitalism, a world to be reshaped as they see fit in order to escape the misery of Earth’s congestion without having to re-engineer entire cities (although they’re trying to do that in the meantime, as usual.) Like the failed libertarian colony of Galt’s Gulch in Chile, they see its potential as a relief valve where they can take their stolen wealth and, presumably, live out their remaining days under the care of deliberately servitude artificial intelligences while Earth burns.

Maybe that explains Elon’s sudden push for “safe” artificial intelligences. It certainly wouldn’t do to settle down on a Martian plantation if the newly aware robots decide to follow the example of the Haiti slave revolt and overthrow their capitalist masters.

What’s more democratic than democracy? Demarchy

In the West, democracy is held to be the highest form of government. It is suggested that any government which does not derive its power from the people is illegitimate, even as Western “democratic” governments actively work to subvert the will of the people through various machinations. A 2014 Princeton study by Gillens and Page [1] revealed the extent of this subversion, concluding that public opinion has a “near-zero” impact on U.S. law. The following video from Represent.Us highlights the findings:

However, like most upper-middle-class (bourgeoisie) reformers, the folks at Represent.Us are stuck in the same trap of attempting to change a system that is actively fighting changes from within. What they decry as “corruption” is merely the logical outcome of a society in which money–or more accurately, capital–is the highest moral authority. Bourgeois liberals clearly live by the adage “Money is power,” while pretending it’s false by promulgating myths of opportunity and equality.

Even as these reformist groups suggest the way to fix unbalanced representation is through the passage of “anti-corruption acts,” county election boards all across the US are purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls thanks to systems like Interstate Cross-Check. The remaining wreckage of the civil rights movement’s gains, like the Voting Rights Act, is steadily being cleared away by conservative judicial rulings at all levels of the federal court system. The much-vaunted checks and balances of the Constitution have, in the end, turned out to be little more than a speedbump for capital – almost as if they were not, in fact, intended to prevent oligarchy, but rather a bulwark to defend the bourgeois revolution of 1776 from a future popular revolt.

If it is indeed democracy that we seek, and not the twisted parody of democracy that bourgeois capitalism has produced, then we must dispense with all of the bourgeois sensibilities we carry along with us. We must distill society down to the bare elements, and re-shape it anew. In programming terms,we might call this a “refactoring” of society: recognizing that the old system was incapable of achieving the desired result, starting over from a clean slate with the desired result in mind and rebuilding a functionally equivalent system without re-using any of the old code outside of, perhaps, some universal shared elements.

During this endeavour, we must question all the norms of the previous society, and ask ourselves why systems operated the way they did. How did American electoral politics develop the way they did? How was that related to the original requirement for all voters to be white landholders? Why is it, for all the reverence toward the ancient Greek democracy of Athens, elections by lot were never seriously considered in the West?

Likewise, it is telling that Western states blast former and current states like the Soviet Union and Cuba, respectively, for being anti-democratic and authoritarian. Soviet, for example, literally means “council” in English. Anti-communists like to scare people by implying that the “all power to the Soviets!” cry of 1917 was a cry for authority, when in fact it was a purer expression of democracy (“All power to the workers’ councils!”) than the American revolutionary cry of “no taxation without representation.”

The following video explains the functioning of Cuban democracy, which is likewise based on popular assemblies or councils:

The appeal of popular assemblies should be obvious. Indeed, this concept forms the cornerstone of participatory politics, an idealized system of nested councils in which every person votes (participates) in a local council, elects a representative to be sent to the next council up, and so on until all of humanity is represented by a single elected council, which could be accomplished in as few as 6 council levels depending on the number of members per council.

nested_council

However, this system still relies on elections. This means that at least one person must be willing to run for the next level council from within each council, convince a majority of members to vote for them, and repeat the process for each level of council until all levels have been filled. This promises to be tedious, mostly uninteresting, and not terribly rewarding for most people unless driven by an ideological motivation – which may be a good thing, but more often than not, we see politicians driven by naked ambition rather than any sort of altruism. Parpolity, as designed by Professor Shalom, thus appears to replicate the failures of Western electoral politics.

One possible solution to this is explored by Belgian writer David van Reybrouk in his book “Against Elections.” [2] He advocates for a return to the ancient practice of election by lot, alternately known as sortition or, when practiced as a form of governance, demarchy. Instead of forcing each council in a nested system as proposed under parpolity to have its own tiresome elections, all members would instead place their names into a pool to be randomly drawn from. This is little different from lottery or drawing systems, and as such methods of preventing fraud are easily carried over. A series of campaigns and elections that might take months may instead be reduced to a few days of random selections, allowing a rapid re-organization of society under participatory demarchy.

Sortition also has further, more everyday, applications. It can easily be used to replace elections in any popular body, as long as a majority agrees with the requisite rule changes. Associations, party chapters, union chapters, and the like may all benefit from the impartiality (and proportionality!) of sortition.

Of course, we can fully expect the upper class and their admirers to strongly resist any such changes to existing bourgeois states, as it would destroy the power structures they have carefully built over the years to perpetuate the forced division of labor under capitalism. This means that any such speculative proposals are only useful following the collapse of capitalism and the bourgeoisie state, whether through its own failings or because of proletarian revolution.

References and additional reading:

  1. Gilens and Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspective on Politics, 2014.
  2. David van Reybrouk, “Against Elections,” Policy Network, 2014.
  3. Brian Martin, “Demarchy,” 1989.
  4. Stephen H. Unger, “Government by Jury,” columbia.edu, 2013.

In Search of Class Consciousness

In 1920, Lenin wrote the essay “Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder” concerning the aftermath of the postwar German revolution and the abortive Communist revolution that occurred during it. Most of his essay thus is concerned with identifying those responsible for the failure of said revolution. He lays the blame squarely at the feet of the petty-bourgeois, who he claim possess

diffuseness and instability, that incapacity for sustained effort, unity and organised action, which, if encouraged, must inevitably destroy any proletarian revolutionary movement. [1]

This critique still seems relevant today, nearly 100 years after he wrote this essay. We have witnessed similar diffuseness and instability in the Occupy movement, which, unable to consolidate around a clear set of demands, served primarily as an incubator for activists who later took key roles in Black Lives Matter, the Bernie Sanders campaign, and even the Donald Trump campaign. Occupy’s rejection of proletarian identity, best recognized in their “We are the 99%” slogan, implicitly refused to recognize the systemic nature of capitalism. Instead, they shifted blame onto the “top 1%” of capitalists, absolving the rest of society that aids and abetts that same top 1%. As Lenin said,

It is a thousand times easier to vanquish the centralised big bourgeoisie than to “vanquish” the millions upon millions of petty proprietors; however, through their ordinary, everyday, imperceptible, elusive and demoralising activities, they produce the very results which the bourgeoisie need and which tend to restore the bourgeoisie.

As we saw in 2016, Occupy resulted not in a mass revolution and the toppling of Wall Street, but instead was merely one in a series of events that culminated in the election of Donald Trump. Occupy’s diffusive and non-proletarian nature also made it easy for the bourgeoisie to co-opt its message and monetize it. For instance, when the co-founder of the “Occupy Democrats” organization joined the board of advisers of a patent services company, this is how they described him:

Omar Rivero is the founder and editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats, a grassroots political organization that has close to 300,000 likes on Facebook. He studied Industrial Labor and Relations at Cornell University, earned a Master’s in European Business from the European School of Management (ESCP-EAP), and is now a political activist. Omar ran for office for the Florida House in District 118 and intends to run again in 2016.

In addition to being a rising political star, Omar Rivero is also an inventor and a talented entrepreneur. He has partnered up with World Patent Marketing to build and develop a multimillion dollar, futuristic social media network to compete with Facebook and Twitter. [2]

It is important to note that Rivero didn’t found Occupy Democrats until 2012, after the main Occupy movement had died down, its activists largely returning back to their previous lives. His attempt to “occupy” the Democratic Party was merely one of the latest in a long series of failed attempts at political entryism, and Occupy Democrats’ role in the 2016 election consisted mostly of creating memes to share among like-minded bourgeois liberals on social media.

Another common trait in American activism is the veneration of the “founding fathers,” the “American dream,” and a semi-mythological creature known only as “opportunity.” To quote Omar from the previous press release,

I am living the American Dream and I am going to make sure that every citizen in this country has the same opportunity that I had.

At this point, we should perhaps stop and ask ourselves what the “American Dream” really is. Its origins may be found in the settler mythos, and the first recorded reference to it came from a British colonial governor, who said Americans “for ever imagine the Lands further off are still better than those upon which they are already settled; if they attained Paradise, they would move on if they heard of a better place farther west.” [3]

Laurence Samuel argued more recently in his book “The American Dream: A Cultural History,”

For many in both the working class and the middle class, upward mobility has served as the heart and soul of the American Dream, the prospect of “betterment” and to “improve one’s lot” for oneself and one’s children much of what this country is all about. “Work hard, save a little, send the kids to college so they can do better than you did, and retire happily to a warmer climate” has been the script we have all been handed. [4]

Despite the fact that this “dream” has been proven to be a myth repeatedly, leading the late comedian George Carlin to joke “it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it,” it has been unquestioningly embraced by many like Omar Rivero. Even Martin Luther King Jr, in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” tied the struggle for Black liberation to this nationalistic settler mythos:

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. [5]

The prevalence of this mythos in American culture presents a serious problem for the struggle for proletarian consciousness. As I argued before, our reverence of the founding fathers is deeply problematic. Likewise, we embrace a Protestant work ethic despite the vast majority of our labor being absolutely unnecessary and superfluous. These are not new issues; this shared national identity and dream is a tool of capital, a very effective method with which the bourgeoisie can infect the ranks of the working and poor and turn them away from a proletarian class consciousness. As Lenin argued,

The abolition of classes means, not merely ousting the landowners and the capitalists—that is something we accomplished with comparative ease; it also means abolishing the small commodity producers, and they cannot be ousted, or crushed; we must learn to live with them. They can (and must) be transformed and re-educated only by means of very prolonged, slow, and cautious organisational work. They surround the proletariat on every side with a petty-bourgeois atmosphere, which permeates and corrupts the proletariat, and constantly causes among the proletariat relapses into petty-bourgeois spinelessness, disunity, individualism, and alternating moods of exaltation and dejection.

Thus our fight for freedom is not merely a fight against capitalism, but also the ideology that infects our society and hinders our fight. This, more than force of arms, is what necessitates the vanguard. It is entirely possible for self-organized armies of anarchists to fight against capital, as witnessed during the Spanish Civil War. But their disunity and internal divisions also makes them weak to divide and conquer strategies, which capitalists have perfected over hundreds of years of colonialism, both militarily and psychologically.

At this point some perspective is needed. What, exactly, is the scope of the project we find ourselves facing? It would seem that attitudes toward home ownership might serve as a useful proxy for petty-bourgeois ideology. The U.S. Census Bureau provided this helpful table:

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In 2016, there were 135 million housing units, or 1 unit for every 2.4 people in the United States. (Coincidentally, this should disprove the notion of a housing shortage: what we have instead is an unequal distribution of housing, with 17 million vacant units.) Of these 135 million units, some 58 million are owned by landlords, who have always been a core part of the bourgeoisie. Of the remaining owner-occupied units, then, it is worth examining which owned outright, and which are mortgaged. Fortunately, FiveThirtyEight examined the results of the American Community Survey for us and produced this useful graphic:

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Extrapolating from the survey results, we can then estimate that roughly 27 million households own their homes outright. Of these, it appears at least a third own more than one property, according to this HUD paper on second ownership. Combining the various statistics, we may infer that around 43% of all US housing is owned by 7-9 million households. This allows us to set a lower bound on the size of the bourgeoisie class in the United States.

Subtracting that same amount from the 75 million total owner-occupied housing units, the remaining 66 million or so–57% of all households–might be expected to fall into the petty-bourgeoisie: some saddled with mortgages, some not, but all wishing they could enjoy the luxury of rental income. Considering how home ownership is an integral part of the American dream, we should further question how much of the remaining 36% of renting households aspire toward ownership. For that, we may turn to this blog post from the National Association of Realtors, which unfortunately paints a bleak picture for communists:

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According to NAR’s Aspiring Home Buyers Profile report, 90% of renters – nearly 33 million – “want to own one day.” If we add these renters to the 66 million who already own one home, we may then place an upper bound on the petty bourgeois of 99 million households, or roughly 85% of all US households. This means that only 8-9% of households have rejected this key part of the American dream mythos for whatever reason.

At this point some might be tempted to throw up their hands and ask how revolution is possible if >91% of the populace will resist. We may, however, want to reconsider our preliminary classification of renters after considering the other points made by the above chart. A large majority of those 33 million renters cannot afford to buy housing, and this statistic is unlikely to change in the future since high housing prices benefit the existing owners. Second, buying a home requires saving money for a down payment of at least 3.5% according to FHA rules; this merely adds to the impossibility of purchase for renters, given the tendency to live paycheck-to-paycheck at lower income levels.

Furthermore, there may even be inroads to the masses of “homeowners” thanks to financial engineering techniques introduced by capitalists. One such technique is the ARM, or adjustable-rate mortgage. Most notoriously employed in the lead-up to the 2008 housing bubble, these loans are made at low initial rates to convince renters that homeownership is possible; by the time the loan “resets” to a higher interest rate later on, the selling capitalist is long gone and the “owner” is left paying for a loan they cannot afford, which typically leads to foreclosure and a return to renting.

This forced division of class between owners & aspiring owners without sufficient means is something that can, and should be, exploited. It’s always worth remembering that capitalism requires exploitation to function: it always has, and will continue to, alienate the petty bourgeoisie if left unfettered. This is why Lenin advocated for “prolonged, slow, and cautious organizational work” to re-educate the petty-bourgeoisie.

Accelerationist purists believe that communism is the inevitable result of capitalism consuming itself. On this point, I disagree. History does not follow a path toward freedom. If it did, debt and slavery would never have emerged around the same time as agriculture. The alienation of labor by capitalism can just as easily be used by fascists to attract support from the proletariat, as we witnessed in 1930s Spain, Italy, and Germany, as well as recently with Brexit, Donald Trump, and possibly Le Pen in France. The policies of fascism, such as imperialist war and full employment, can then be employed to propel capitalism through its crisis stage of contraction and into the next bubble of expansion. For this reason, we may conclude that capitalists may be reliably expected to turn to fascism rather than allow fully automated luxury communism to exist.

At the same time, there seems to be a tendency among revolutionaries of both anarchist and Marxist persuasion to dismiss the potential usefulness of capitalist alienation. If we can provide answers for the alienated petty-bourgeoisie before fascist propagandists do, we may discover an opening. Lenin’s concept of the revolutionary vanguard is not outmoded; if anything, it is more relevant than ever in an accelerating capitalist world. The vanguard’s primary job is education since revolutions arise from class awareness. If we can provide for both the physical and intellectual needs of the alienated masses, then we should let the capitalists embrace their worst exploitative tendencies domestically: it may become our best recruiting tool.

References

  1. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch05.htm
  2. http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/02/23/708599/10121333/en/Omar-Rivero-Founder-of-Occupy-Democrats-and-Outspoken-Opponent-of-Patent-Troll-Scams-Joins-World-Patent-Marketing-Board-of-Advisors.html
  3. https://books.google.com/books?id=DlmrAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA513&ots=QGpNa8Mn5t&dq=Origins of the American Revolution (1944)&pg=PA77#v=onepage&q=77&f=false
  4. https://books.google.com/books?id=domiAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q&f=false
  5. https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html
  6. https://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/files/currenthvspress.pdf
  7. https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/how-many-homeowners-have-paid-off-their-mortgages/
  8. https://www.huduser.gov/periodicals/ushmc/spring2004/article_ushmc-04q1.pdf
  9. http://economistsoutlook.blogs.realtor.org/2017/02/14/affordability-is-main-hurdle-for-aspiring-home-buyers/

 

The Cruel Prank of Housing

Suburbia

The “American dream” of suburban home ownership is little more than a cruel prank pulled on the working class by capitalists. The obligation to pay for housing is the primary tool used by capital to enforce unnecessary labor.

While rent is preferable for capitalists in terms of maximizing profits, most vividly in the company towns of the 1880s, health and safety standards have cut into their profits. Rent presents another disadvantage for the capitalist in that the tenants have no obligation to stay. This has been somewhat addressed through lease terms and first and last month deposits, but even those will not stop a motivated tenant from leaving.

Mortgages resemble most closely the indentured servitude of colonial America. In exchange for the promise of one day becoming a capitalist landholder, tenants indenture themselves to 30 years (or more) of payments, which for most people means doing anything they can to hold onto a job. While the idea of making a fixed payment for housing every month for 30 years is bad enough, adjustable rate mortgages are even more pernicious; resets are designed to weed out unprofitable “owners” and return housing inventory to the banks, who can then sell the same piece of capital again for pure profit.

Let us, then, further examine the pros and cons of rentals and “ownership.”

The owners of rental units are called “landlords” because, like the feudal lords of medieval Europe, they hold near-absolute control over their small domain. No tenant may improve or alter their residence without the express permission of the owner. Painting a unit is considered taboo, yet landlords will often charge tenants exorbitant prices to repaint a unit after they vacate it. The same goes for flooring, appliances, and anything else that wears out with use. This lack of freedom, and the promised freedom of the “American dream,” creates pressure on tenants to “work harder,” save up, and “buy” their own housing.

But the American Dream is an illusion, like the sweet scent of a Venus flytrap. The “freedom” of “ownership” granted is little more than a way for the real owners of the land (the capitalist financiers) to pass off the cost of maintenance and improvements to the mortgagee. In the rare situations that a mortgagee actually manages to pay off their loan, for instance after a lifetime working at an auto factory in Detroit, they remain liable for paying the state property taxes based on the perceived “value” of the land in perpetuity. They also remain liable for paying for basic necessities such as drinking water, regardless of quality of service, as seen in Flint, MI. This places further pressure on the working class to push for higher wages and/or retirement benefits in anticipation, as well as forcing retirees to either re-enter the working class, or become landlords themselves by either renting out rooms or their entire house.

The alternative to this two-pronged capitalist system is communal housing. Communal housing operates under the fundamental understanding that land, which predated our brief existence, and will continue to exist long after we pass on, simultaneously belongs to no-one and yet everyone. Once we understand that land is a resource that we all must share and protect for future generations, concepts of exclusive ownership reveal themselves as exploitative and evil.

The danger of this realization for capitalists cannot be understated. If the hoodwinked working classes, or in Marxist parlance the petit-bourgeoisie, recognize the fundamental contradictions of capitalism and feel empowered to take up revolutionary action, the capitalists will undoubtedly lose. Thus they engage in a broad war of propaganda against any and all criticism of capitalism. They deliberately conflate underground communities – existing in capitalist-owned spaces like the “Ghost Ship” warehouse – with true communal housing to discredit the concept. Likewise, anarchist squatter communes are painted as health and safety hazards in an attempt to make people think that is the only outcome of communal living.

Capitalist landlords in areas like Oakland are looking for only one thing, which is profit. When a housing market like the Bay Area becomes obscenely imbalanced, it creates an incentive to add unsafe living spaces in an attempt to maximize rents. The Ghost Ship was not a self-organized collective: it was a profit-seeking scheme driven by a capitalist.

On the other side, squatters have little reason to care about the buildings they inhabit, as they are explicitly owned by capitalists. Operating under the fear that the police will kick them out at any time, they will do whatever they can to minimize the risk of detection. What good is having running water or electricity if it alerts the bourgeoisie State to your “illicit” existence?

Only by abolishing private ownership can we create true communities:

where shelter is guaranteed to all;

where all have the freedom to express themselves in their personal space;

and where we act for the common good rather than in the interest of profit.

Apocalypse Now

Since time immemorial, those in power have feared the destruction of their order, and once removed from power, they and their sympathizers always seek to bring about its return. This power – and the fear surrounding it – formed the basis of the definitions of political left and right we use today, as the Right represented those who sought the return of the French monarchy, the Ancien Régime, and on the Left, the Republicans who abolished it.

It is not surprising, then, that as generations pass and society goes through phases of upheaval and development, the ruling classes try to instill fear of societal collapse within the masses. In the United States, the political right (represented by both major parties) first drummed up fear of widespread anarchy at the turn of the 20th century, and later shaped it into fear of nuclear war with Soviet Russia. Today, the Democrats have returned to McCarthyism to accuse the ruling Republican party of conspiring with Russia, while the predominantly Republican police and ex-military are turning into the core of a popular fascist front (under the guise of “Blue Lives Matter”) much as they did during the abortive German revolution of 1918-1919.

This fear serves two purposes. First, it divides the working classes along various lines, echoing the fear of black people that the white capitalist class has used to prevent working class solidarity throughout most of US history.  Today, that fear has been supplemented by islamophobia and transphobia among other fears. Second, it allows the capitalists to profit off of each other: witness the rapid growth in disaster preparedness among the super-rich.

The term that is most used to describe the situation these reactionaries are afraid of is apocalypse. From Wikipedia:

An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω, literally meaning “an uncovering”) is a disclosure of knowledge or revelation.

Note how the popular understanding of the term – most notably appearing in the post-apocalyptic film genre – paints the apocalypse as a universally bad event. Most of the popular culture since the Cold War has focused on nuclear war as the trigger of societal collapse. Some stories explore a gradual descent of society into fascism or authoritarianism. But very few stories – Star Trek and the Culture series by Iain M. Banks excepted – explore the idea of post-class societies, even though that certainly qualifies as a dramatic revelation.

Let us embrace the apocalypse, then. Let us rise up and uncover the lies of the capitalists; let us disclose this knowledge to the world. Only then can we build the class consciousness needed to bring our destructive, unequal, and exploitative society to its rightful end, as Georg Lukacs wrote in 1920:

The proletariat only perfects itself by annihilating and transcending itself, by creating the classless society through the successful conclusion of its own class struggle. The struggle for this society, in which the dictatorship of the proletariat is merely a phase, is not just a battle waged against an external enemy, the bourgeoisie. It is equally the struggle of the proletariat against itself, against the devastating and degrading effects of the capitalist system upon its class consciousness. The proletariat will only have won the real victory when it has overcome these effects within itself.