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.

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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.

fully automated amazon.communism

One of the recurring critiques against socialism and communism is the reliance on centrally planned economies, as if a socialized monopoly is somehow far worse than privately-owned, exploitative capitalist monopolies. The same bourgeois economists who gush over how capitalist mergers create economies of scale through vertical integration also talk about how central planning will never work, ignoring that central planning is simply the vertical integration of an entire economy with the economies of scale that result. Either these economists are simpletons, or there is a far more sinister motive at play.

Of course, early attempts at central planning tended to include spectacular failures. Some of these were due to sheer hubris on the part of the planners, who have on occasion been criticized for trying to bend reality to their will, but more often it was mundane: miscommunication, delays, war, etc. Over-reporting yields and under-estimating demand tends to be shrugged off under capitalism as a market failure, but those same capitalists shriek in delight when they hear that the Soviets were not, in fact, infallible.

Looking forward to a future in which capitalism has collapsed, we may then wonder what to do next. Do we go back to backbreaking, labor-intensive organic farming and dissolve the cities, as it seems some on the environmentalist left wish to do? Or will we expropriate the tools of automation that led to the downfall of the capitalists, and put them to use for the common good? Let us assume for a moment that we do the latter, in which case we should ask what those tools might look like.

As it turns out, in Amazon.com’s relentless drive to expand to all sectors of the economy, they have in fact produced one possible roadmap to fully automated luxury communism. Setting aside the fact that most of the goods they supply are made with barely sufficient wage labor in the global south today, over the last twenty or so years they have put together a remarkable supply chain with automation, as seen in this video:

Even though they rely on robots to shuffle pallets around the warehouse, they still employ thousands of people to pick goods. Of course, those jobs are far from safe from automation – stock picking is a mundane, repetitive task that is an ideal target for robots like Baxter:

But even this is rather boring compared to some of Amazon’s newer forays into automation, such as delivery by drone and floating distribution centers.

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Of course, in true capitalist fashion, Amazon’s patent suggests absurdly luxurious uses for this technology, as described in the previously linked CNN piece:

The patent cites sporting events as a place where the aerial warehouse would be especially useful. The drones could deliver items such as team paraphernalia or food to large crowds in a small area.

A more critical look at this delivery technology might suggest its usefulness in, for instance, disaster relief: imagine being able to move a fleet of fully automated delivery centers loaded with supplies into a region devastated by an earthquake.

However, all of this pales next to their latest concept: an automated grocery store.

Setting aside the obvious problems of wastefulness and packaging – which could perhaps be partly solved with ubiquitous automated recycling, but I digress – this concept store more than anything I have ever seen reflects the potential future of fully automated communism, and it wouldn’t even require the smartphone app! If goods are freely available at no cost to all, then the “store” would be more like a virtual quartermaster. As people pick up what they need, when they need it, the store’s computer system merely needs to request restocking through the automated supply chain. It neatly sidesteps the common grocery store problem of 2-5 different competing brands for each category, minimizing wasted space, and the compact size of the stores means that they can be sited within urban communities rather than in the suburban hinterlands.

This is not to say that these stores should carry everything: trying to package fresh produce tends to be excessive, like these individually-wrapped bell peppers or plastic trays of pre-sliced apple bags. Community gardens, farmer’s markets (which, without money, would probably look more like tiny fairs than markets) and automated urban hydroponic vertical gardens could all be ways to supply cities with fresh, local produce on demand.

Even so, if the need for precise payment is eliminated, then it becomes possible for the automated grocery store to simply bring in boxes of produce, which people pick through, and cycle the boxes as they empty out. Large-scale automated farming, of course adapted for better ecological sustainability, will still be a necessary and important part of a post-capitalist food distribution system. And without the capitalist drive for ever-greater profits, care can be taken to ensure that the global system will continue to function for generations to come.

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/

 

Accelerating Toward Communism

Introduction

The core of Marx’s critique of capitalism lies in class relations, which can be traced back to the dawn of recorded history – and coincides with the dawn of agriculture. There is evidence that prior to agricultural societies, hunter-gatherers formed smaller communal societies, and this continues into the present day in many indigenous communities. That living history alone should be sufficient evidence to disprove any notion of competition as being fundamental to human nature, which is key to many arguments in support of capitalism.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels call for the building of a revolutionary class consciousness amongst the oppressed (the working class of capitalism, or the proletariat) with which the entire system of class relations, and the state which enforces it, may be abolished. Communism, after all, is nothing more than the return of society to its pre-agricultural state of communal relations and sharing, without discarding the advances made possible by agriculture and technology.

Another critical element of Marx’s theory of capital is the cyclical nature of its crises, and how these crises drive greater exploitation and alienation of the working class. In my earlier piece, The Implications of Abolishing Wage Labor and Capitalism, I briefly touched on the current crisis cycle of wage labor and automation within capitalism and offered three possible outcomes. After further reflection, I have revised my possible outcomes:

  1. The crisis ends with a basic income guarantee saving capitalism.
  2. The crisis ends with a full employment guarantee saving capitalism.
  3. The crisis accelerates, resulting in full alienation of the working class.

The third possible outcome is the most interesting, as it opens up several new possibilities from a communist perspective.

Basic Income

Capitalist futurists like Scott Santens are obsessed with the concept of a Universal Basic Income as a solution to the crisis of wage labor and automation that is currently underway. The usual argument is that basic income will redistribute a portion of the profits accumulated by the top 1% equally among citizens, which will in turn boost spending and stimulate the economy according to the predictions of Keynesian economics. An alternative form of basic income utilizes a form of “qualitative easing,” otherwise known as state expansion of the money supply, to provide a universal subsidy for the same Keynesian effect.

While capitalist futurists may be tempted to argue that any future in which basic needs are met and work is voluntary is a sufficient advance from the current capitalist welfare state, basic income fails both conditions upon closer examination. While a guarantee of money is indeed an improvement over the current system, it only guarantees demand for basic needs and does nothing to ensure that the market is optimally producing enough supply (and enough of the right kind of supply!) to meet demand. Like all other bourgeoisie economics, it remains irrationally reliant on the invisible hand.

Second, saying that work will be voluntary because everyone gets an average subsidy somewhere around the poverty line is patently absurd. This is little better than the voluntary work argument of anarcho-capitalists, who suggest that the starvation of the destitute is merely due to choices on their part. Because of the previous lack of guaranteed supply of necessary goods such as housing, it is impossible to guarantee that the monthly budget of necessities for everyone receiving basic income will remain below the level of the subsidy. It’s important to note that many tenant lease agreements expressly prohibit subletting, artificially constraining the supply of multiple occupant housing and thus keeping prices elevated. Work will, therefore, remain involuntary for the vast majority of basic income recipients living in major metropolises: if the price of available housing exceeds the basic income budget, what other choice exists besides getting a job?

Finally, the parasitic nature of capitalism should never be ignored, and that is exactly what basic income does. As Silicon Valley tech companies have drifted toward offering “software as a service,” which is basically a form of high-profit indefinite-term lease agreements, the same thing has happened in impoverished communities across America. Payday lenders sprung up to offer “short term” cash loans, bail bonds, and automobile-backed collateral loans at ludicrous interest rates, while companies like Rent-A-Center and Aaron’s appeared everywhere to offer moderately expensive consumer goods like flatscreen TVs and furniture sets at “low” rental prices, hoping that the cash-strapped poor would find a perpetual $19.99 monthly bill for a sofa preferable to a $500 one-time purchase. Once the poor victim is hooked on the service, the fleecing begins with upselling and ends with late fees, penalty rates, collections, and repossession. It is absolutely naive to assume that these practices would not multiply under a basic income guarantee.

Therefore, the major problems with basic income from a Marxist perspective have nothing to do with its viability in terms of bourgeoisie economics such as concerns of hyperinflation. It seems rather clear that basic income will work as advertised. However, since universal basic income advances the dissolution of neither class relations nor the state, and disguises the continued alienation of the working classes with pleasant-sounding liberal propaganda terminology like “opportunity” and “freedom,” it will only ensure the survival of capitalism and thus the continued oppression of the proletariat.

I also remain skeptical that a universal basic income will be universally adopted by capitalists because of prevailing views about the “laziness” of workers. Years of tireless repetition of anti-communist and anti-socialist propaganda lines have practically embedded them in the conservative dogma. Most conservatives will fail to see UBI for anything other than what it is – a welfare reform program – which runs against their desire to abolish welfare entirely. With any luck and robust bipartisan opposition, UBI will continue to remain nothing more than a liberal pipe dream.

Full Employment

At this point it is worth considering the second alternative to UBI: fascist full employment. Since this is a policy with a long and successful history of implementation, unlike UBI, it should therefore be considered an even greater threat to the advancement of full communism. The first nation to advance a policy of full employment was Nazi Germany, in response to the Great Depression, through a program of civil works (including the construction of the Autobahn) and more importantly, defense spending. This massive surplus of productivity was what allowed the Nazis to initially surprise their complacent neighbors through overwhelming force at the opening of World War II, although they quickly ran into resource limits as the war dragged on and the Soviets mobilized their war economy in return.

British economist John Maynard Keynes maintained silence on the success of Nazi Germany’s economic program on account of the brutality of the Nazis, according to biographer Robert Skidelsky. I can only imagine his horror at seeing the most successful implementation of his policies coming from the worst fascist state ever to exist outside of America. Perhaps that explains this interesting passage in the preface to the German edition of his 1936 work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money:

Nevertheless the theory of output as a whole, which is what the following book purports to provide, is much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state, than is the theory of the production and distribution of a given output produced under conditions of free competition and a large measure of laissez-faire.

After the second World War, Britain achieved full employment between 1950 and 1973, and while America never stated a policy of full employment to the extent Britain did, they have attempted to keep the official unemployment rate around 5% for many years. Most recently, Western legislators have once again picked up the baton of full employment.

The question that remains with full employment (in the British sense, not the American one) is how it will interact with increasing levels of automation. In Capital, Marx provided mathematical proof that capitalists will not invest in new means of production (i.e. machinery or automation) if they cannot make a greater profit with it than with the present means of production. Since full employment policies use the state to both subsidize unproductive work and absorb surplus productivity in the form of expanded infrastructure and stockpiles of military hardware, we may infer that full employment may in fact serve as both a check on the rate of automation (since there is no profit to be found in automating a job that the state is subsidizing) and an accelerator (due to demand for military hardware and autonomous systems).

One country that pursued a stated goal of full employment that I failed to mention earlier was the Soviet Union. While it was quite literally the furthest thing from a fascist state, meeting almost none of Umberto Eco’s criterion, it called for full employment as part of its “war economy” policies, most of which were maintained up to its dissolution aside from a brief period of attempted reform under Lenin’s “New Economy.” Just like the fascist states and western imperialist powers, the Soviet Union absorbed the resulting surplus of production by building national infrastructure and expanding and upgrading the Red Army.

Communism and the Left Acceleration of Capitalism

The end case of either universal basic income or full employment policies (and, quite honestly, it seems that we are headed for a horrific merging of the worst parts of both ideas) would seem to be found in an accelerating system of global warfare, which I’m sure would please the capitalists of the military-industrial complex immensely. It would be a dystopic system in which armies of low-wage, completely superfluous service workers “support” a consumer economy-as-a-service while the automated factories of the military-industrial complex churn out weapons for both sides of imperialist wars in the global south. In other words, the final result looks exactly like the capitalism we live in, only worse.

It is my suspicion that, given the amount of superfluous labor that currently exists in the economy, it should be possible to sustain a near-Western lifestyle with zero socially necessary human labor if we eliminate all non-essential “necessary” work, which should free up enough resources to finish the process of automating all the remaining essential work (as well as bringing the root cause of anthropogenic global warming to its well-deserved end.) Subsequently, human labor would only exist on a strictly voluntary, self-directed level, much like hobbies today – with the difference that free time would be universal rather than a scarcity as it is today.

Since it has become clear to me that the continued evolution of capitalism with either a basic income or full employment will present further challenges to abolishing labor and creating such a society, I am therefore opposed to both policies. The question, then, is what policy should communists support to advance the destruction of capitalism?

We may find the answer in what has been termed “accelerationism,” a difficult to grasp concept that Karl Marx was developing before his death, evidenced by his increasingly gloomy tone throughout the third volume of Capital. It may have even hastened the death of Marx’s close friend Friedrich Engels when he attempted to piece together volume 3, as described in this unsettling post by Vincent Garton that also points an accusing finger at the fourth volume of Capital for the collapse of the Second International. Unfortunately, the contradictory nature of acceleration also has a tendency to drive ideology far into the realm of nihilism and reaction, as seen in the case of Nick Land. It is good to ask uncomfortable questions, but we must take care when interpreting the answers lest we fall into the same trap.

The first question we must ask is: what will come after the latest crisis of capitalism, if we do not resolve it through some form of fascist state intervention? As Marx postulated, the crisis cycles of capitalism drive workers toward greater levels of alienation, i.e. continued loss of the value of their labor. The steady rate of profit demanded by capitalists, according to the traditional understanding of Marx’s labor theory of value, necessarily must be obtained by extracting an ever-greater share of value from the worker’s productivity. In other words, as profits rise, workers get paid less while being forced to work longer for the same wage.

However, this traditional understanding runs into a major hiccup around 1932, when the United States and most other nations partly decoupled their currencies from gold, and again in 1970, when the remaining ties to gold were blown away. Since fiat currency as a representation of gold (or another highly valued commodity) is the cornerstone of Marx’s labor theory of value, removing it makes most of volume 1 of Capital nothing more than a historical curiosity for analyzing capitalist relations prior to the Bretton Woods system. It does not, however, invalidate Marxism itself – which interestingly enough predicts its own demise, or more accurately evolution, as a fundamental function of dialectic materialism.

This understanding allows us to see how capital managed to evolve past the crisis of the Great Depression. At the time, demands for unionization, 8-hour days, and fair labor standards were forcing capitalists to cut into their profit margins. President Roosevelt responded to these demands with the labor reforms of the New Deal, giving the labor movement the appearance of victory, while simultaneously destroying the value of the dollar by making it illegal to hoard gold. While the unions celebrated their victory, he effectively pulled the rug out from under them by creating the conditions under which the currency could be devalued. While some of the other reforms were rolled back almost immediately under his successor, it was not until the 1970s that the full extent of this damage to the labor movement started to become clear.

In so many words, we can see that all of the “gains” lauded by bourgeois politicians, those scale-covered lying sacks of filth who entrance voters with sweet-sounding propaganda in order to extract donations of their hard-earned yet utterly worthless currency, are themselves utterly worthless. More than anything, the betrayal of the labor movement (and later, the civil rights movement!) serves as concrete proof that the incremental reform advocated by bourgeois socialists and so-called progressives is nothing more than breathing room for capitalists to regroup in before beginning their next assault on the proletariat. There is nothing the bourgeoisie fear more than the revolution of the proletariat, and they will stop at nothing to prevent it from happening.

It is this stubborn, deeply ingrained drive to save capitalism that will be the greatest source of resistance for left acceleration. We are already witnessing how left-leaning reformists are busily splitting themselves into two camps: one for the defense of wage slavery, in the form of full employment, and other advocating for the creation of a basic income subsidy for capitalism. For that is what basic income really is: a means of preserving the profit margins of capitalists by ensuring that “consumers” will always have money to spend.

We should, instead, firmly reject any attempt at reforming capital. The old byline of Democrats and their supporters (like the always useful DSA) has been “change the system from within.” But history has proven that such attempts always result in a weaker, watered-down, milquetoast version of the same system. This is because hierarchical systems like bureaucracy and capitalism are self-perpetuating: they will automatically resist any changes that could weaken the power structure, because such a change may threaten the system’s existence. We may therefore infer the corollary of this generalization is that hierarchical systems will always accept changes that will strengthen the existing power structure.

Deng: capitalist sympathizer, or visionary accelerationist?

The Communist Party of China is an intriguing bundle of contradictions in this sense. They still claim adherence to Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, while openly contradicting many of the orthodox views of both ideologies. One interpretation of this is that the bourgeoisie effectively took over over the Communist Party of China thanks to Deng Xiaoping and the failure of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. However, if we accept the accelerationist premise that capitalism will suffer a sudden implosion and transition to fully automated luxury communism at some indeterminate point in the future, we must ask if Deng was therefore a committed communist who was merely ahead of his time, in the same vein as Marx and the two final volumes of Capital.

In this regard, the CPC’s debate over the nature of the primary stage of socialism is enlightening. They describe their current economic system as part of the primary stage of socialism, which began in 1950 and thus is expected to conclude by 2050 – less than 35 years away. The next stage that will follow it is not elaborated upon, but fully automated luxury communism might be a good guess.

A look at recent headlines will reveal how China has dramatically shaped the narrative of capital globally. The Chinese today are at the center of major technological developments including industrial robotics: Foxconn plans to eliminate nearly all human jobs in its suicide-prone iPhone factories. Chinese investment currently props up the US dollar as well as the Eurozone. The Chinese state is likewise playing a crucial role in the industrialization of the states of the “global south.” Their efforts are not completely compatible with orthodox views of capitalism, but viewed from the perspective of a deeply communist nation trying to accelerate the global collapse of capitalism, China’s policies may start to make a certain amount of sense. The only question that remains for me is whether this was intentional or merely accidental.

Conclusion

I am aware that this piece is likely to raise far more questions than it answers, which is good. I personally have severe doubts about the likelihood of sudden capitalist collapse and instant communization thereof. At the same time, the progression of capitalism and imperialism has created a pervasive surveillance state that casts into doubt the success of previously successful revolutionary models.

The answer that comes to me, then, is local organization of communal assemblies (similar to the Soviets, or the people’s assemblies under Mao’s teachings) and continued education of the populace in preparation not so much for armed revolution, but rather in the event of sudden collapse. Unlike the rich white survivalists, as communists we recognize that strength lies not in the quantity of munitions and supplies an individual may stockpile, but rather the shared class consciousness and mutual support of a true community.