Tuesday, February 04, 2014

What is to be done?

This post may be taken as a follow-up to its direct predecessor.

The hippest reading material you could possibly thrust before your eyeballs right now is this piece by Dakinikat of Skydancing, on the modern economy's macabre insistence on fulfilling the predictions of Marx. Simultaneously, the Tea Partiers and many conservative writers insist that Marxism is on the rise (a laughable proposition) and that all liberals, such as yours truly, are not-so-secret Marxists (another laughable proposition). According to the current crop of right-wingers, if you ain't enamored with Ayn, you must be crazy for Karl; there simply ain't no Mr. In-Between.

In short and in sum: Marxism is on the table again, and the far right is placing it there. They place it there whenever the one percenters get up to appalling antics that make Marx look like a prophet. And they place it there whenever their libertarian apologists insist on making Marx the new bogeyman.

The problem with bogeymen is that a myth can become real if you treat it as real.

I know that any teapartiers stumbling onto this blog will presume that I myself must be a secret bolshie in liberal sheepskin. But honest-ta-gawd, I think Marx offers no solutions to our present problems. Too much has changed since the 19th century. I don't recommend Marx for the same reason I would not recommend reading a chemistry textbook published in 1860.

Beyond that, I don't want to see his works become the hot new topic of debate because they're just plain hard to read and I'd rather eat glue than crack open those books again. Perhaps it is wrong to focus on matters of literary style, but let's admit an important truth: Marx exemplifies everything wrong with German academic writing. All of those unending sentences that go on for page after page with nary an active verb in sight! All of those endless otiose debates with other writers of his time who are now (deservedly) forgotten!

The only bits of Marx that everyone knows are the opening and closing of The Communist Manifesto. Why? Because on those occasions, he actually managed to compose direct, comprehensible statements. "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite!" You may hate the sentiment, but in terms of style, that's how to write.

Here's Dakinikat on the modern misuse of the Marxist bogeyman:
We have many anti intellectual red-baiters these days. There’s “Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting “pure Marxism” to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an “unrepentant Marxist”.” The problem is that very few people really understand the Marxist critiques and study of capitalism let alone those of Lenin and the early Bolsheviks. I was also surprised to see this headline as obit in The Economist :Bolshie with a banjo. For some, the paranoia never ends when the rich feel threatened.
So, this is my my hypothesis. We’ve suddenly seen an increase in discussions about income inequality and how billionaires and huge corporations have gotten huge subsidies, tax breaks, and political power. Is what we’re seeing basically a red scare made so that we’ll back off their over the top rent seeking and greed?
Yep. When 85 people own half of everything, the only way to keep the pillage going is to convince the populace that the only conceivable alternative involves gulags.

And so we're back to where we were a hundred years ago, with Marx providing a more-or-less accurate diagnosis of what ails us, but failing utterly to come up with an effective cure.

As indicated above, I read me some Marx and Engels, back inna day. As a 20-something, I must have had some sort of natural Adderall coursing through my veins.

Both M and E were at their best when discussing the exploitation of the working class. If ever you want to tackle Capital, take the author's advice and start with Chapter 10, "The Working Day." Better still, head on over to Casa Engels and grab The Condition of the Working Class in England, which now looks less like a history text and more like a vision of our potential future. Such works give you insight into what went wrong then, what is wrong now, and even why things always tend to go wrong.

But when it comes to the all-important question of (you should pardon the expression) "What is to be done?", the works of Marx and Engels are the biggest failures in history -- idealistic, ill-considered, and so vague as to leave room for much mischief.

Keynes provided a workable answer. Some say that he did no more than to provide a patch which allowed the engine of capitalism to keep running. Fair enough -- but sometimes a good patch is all you need.

Nowadays, alas, Keynesianism is considered an even dirtier word than Marxism. Obama's primary historical function has been to convince that public that Keynesian solutions have been tried and have failed. In fact, he never made the attempt.

And so...what now?

It's time, once again, for some truly original thinking. And by original, I mean original. We need a thought so new, it hits the back of your skull like a whiff of pure ammonia. What is to be done?


seymourblogger said...

You want solutions then listen to Russell Brand.youtube

seymourblogger said...

Marx has no solution because in his Grundrisse, published before Capital,he correctly saw that Capital was irreversible. Meaning it would eat up the planet under our feet. Then in Capital he went for the Happy Ending of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Ayn Rand went with him on the destruction of the system in Atlas and then she too opted for the Happy Ending, the secret snug little Valley, Galt's Gulch. The reason there is no prescription is that Capital is in the Order of Production defined as irreversible, something Marx and Rand (Nietzsche) both knew and din't want to gaze at. So here we are and we don't want to do it either. Zizek is doing it and saying we must not blame democracy for what Capitalism is doing. We must have better words to voice our freedom.We must think differently. The first step is acknowledging the end of capital as we know it.

Alessandro Machi said...

It's all about creating consumer debt that grows over time, even when the consumer desires to reduce their debt, but finds it impossible to do so.

I think I have identified, exposed and offered many tremendous solutions on my various blogs.
Debt Suspension Rights and there is Debt Neutrality Petition

Now go ask skydancing why she's kept me banned for the past couple of years even as she benefits from DailyPUMA traffic to her site.

Alessandro Machi said...

Please use my comment just before this one, delete the one before that (miswrote the link URL) and delete this comment as well, thanks.

Joseph Cannon said...

Sorry, A-M. When I receive what looks like a duplicate comment, I pick one at random and then delete the other. You could try again.

Stephen Morgan said...

The 85 don't own half of everything, only as much as the bottom half of the global population. Assuming the top half, excluding the 85, own at least as much as the bottom half that reduces the 85 to a third of everything, and given that the top half must by definition own more each than the bottom half it will actually be rather less than that.

Anonymous said...

I read Kat's post. Think she makes an important observation on how anything and anyone criticizing the current crop of vulture capitalists or pushing back against the exploitive nature of the transnational corporate world-view is labeled a Marxist.

POTUS, of course, has been fingered from the start--all that Hopie-Changie thing is a clear sign of socialist/Marxist/post-colonial revenge thinking. Whatever that might mean. D'Blasio is a Marxist. Elizabeth Warren is a Marxist--odd that, she started out as a Republican. A great howl rose up with Pete Seeger's passing.

The Red Wave is upon us.

I found it curious that at the Davos conclave, income inequality and climate change were at the top of the list of global concerns and risks. Guess they're all Marxists, too.

The problem is coming up with the right boogeyman to scare everyone into distraction and/or sleepy passivity. We're reaching the point where the parasitic class is killing the host. And via social media everyone can see and hear it. The dark corners are shrinking. And the propaganda whine of a Tom Perkins and his ilk are positively laughable.

Screaming Marxism and socialism is what the Rushbots and Tea Party contingent love, love, love; accusations without thought. Though I think they went too far with the Pope Francis accusations. Even Sister Palin had to backtrack when she pointed fingers.

Roubini [Dr. Doom economist but not a Marxist] wrote a couple of years ago that the Marx critique of capitalism was basically accurate and can be used as a tool to understand the current economic wall we've hit. The redistribution of income from labor to capital, from wages to profit has produced the Great Slump and Stall in aggregate demand. And since the economy is 70% consumer-spending based, this is a . . . problem. Charles Pierce has a far more profane way of saying this but when people are out of work and have no money or are working at a poverty wage, they ain't going to spend much. All the trickle down, Laffer Curve, Free Market, non-regulation people have been proven wrong, wrong, wrong.

Guess I must be a Marxist. Then again, with all the people in the Marist camp recently, I'm in very good company.


b said...

How do you know we need an original thought and that that might do the trick?

Where Keynes comes from, the wind's been blowing in the other direction for decades. It's eco population control now, not effective demand. The bourgeoisie hasn't got a theory of political economy any more. There won't be any more Keyneses.

You're coming across all Chernyshevskian. Lenin didn't only take What is to be Done? from Chernyshevsky, but also the idea encapsulated in Iskra (Spark) - a term which meant the same as Kolokol (Bell): namely, that someone from the middle classes should turn on the light.

But people are going to get Google fucking Glass. The contradiction between the forces and relations of production is so monstrously glaring almost everywhere in the 'advanced' world, and getting worse. That perceptive formulation, intrinsic to Marx's outlook and just as true as it ever was, can't properly be filed under K for 'Kraut'. But I take your point!

Ever read any autonomist Marxist stuff BTW? Just wondered. Not that any of them have had any clue since about 1975.

b said...

@Stephen Morgan - Yes. According to the footnotes to the summary of the Oxfam report - information cited to Credit Suisse! - the world's wealth amounts to $241T, of which the bottom half own 0.71% and the top 1% own 46%. So the top 85 are supposed to own around 0.71%.

In any country, most of the population doesn't own any productive asset at all, except their own labour-power which they need to sell to exploiters to survive.

In the absence of a proper left, what Oxfam say in that report is pretty good: they call for a progressive income tax, a crackdown down on financial secrecy, and laying bare how much wealth in each country goes to the 1%. TAX THE RICH UNTIL THE PIPS SQUEAK, now there's a slogan. Thanks Denis 'Bilderberg' Healey.

joseph said...

It seems to me the problem is that we don't need 100% labor participation to produce all the goods and services needed in the economy. Robert Theobald said that the goal of the economy should be complete unemployment, let the machines do the work. His concern was how to fill the leisure time. The real problem is how to distribute goods and services in such an economy.

Trojan Joe said...

I paraphrase Chris Hedges: Burn your toys. Get off the grid. Start or join an autonomous collective based on barter. If you've got the land and skills to grow your own food, do it. Cover your ass for the unavoidable shit-storm that's a-coming.

No, I don't want to hang out with gun-toting, Yosemite Sam survivalists. But I don't see a future for humanity based on the Western model of consumption.

Joseph Cannon said...

TJ: Burn the toys and toymakers (i.e., us) lose work. Rent gets unpaid; people lose housing and live in cars. Solution: Burn MORE toys?

Where does it stop?

No, small-j joseph is, I suspect, heading into a more productive area of thought.

b said...

@Joe - I haven't read Chris Hedges, and saying 'burn the toys' and 'do barter' isn't my cup of tea. But Trojan Joe is absolutely right when he says "Cover your ass for the unavoidable shit-storm that's a-coming."

Consumerism has lasted only a short period of historical time, and that period will soon be over. Keynesianism has never been part of the plan in China for the vast majority of people, and consumerism will soon be finished in the west. You can't have consumerism and famine. They don't mix.

(Religion, however, will be on the up, for obvious reasons. Take a look at this: 'Foodbanks' in Britain.)

Looked at historically, consumerism is very heavily bound up with DEBT. Spend, spend, fucking spend. If anyone is around in 2100 who wants to write the history of say 1950-2015, they'll realise that point very clearly.

The 'western' economy nowadays isn't based on 'toys' or on the heavy equipment for making 'toys' - it's based on financial services. From the rulers' point of view - which is a pretty damned important point of view to take account of - there's massive over-employment and over-population.

Left-wing prepperism is the way to go.

If you want a 'positive' 'political' idea, I think there's only one on the table: FORCIBLY EXPROPRIATE THE RICH. Fuck their 'right' to keep their private property.

Stephen Morgan said...

Famine and consumerism have always coexisted. Often in the same city.