Marxism and legal theory

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About two months ago, when news broke that Chief Justice Antonin Scalia had died, Donald Parkinson of the Communist League of Tampa wrote: “
Scalia isn’t enough; lets see the whole rule of law die.”

Within minutes the thread was flooded with responses, many of them hostile. Incredulous that someone would propose to abolish the rule of law altogether — not just of bourgeois  law, but of law as such — one person objected: “You’re saying socialism won’t be enforced by law? No stop signs?” Donald deftly replied that, during the transition to “a higher phase of communist society,” there will only be the decrees of the proletariat. Perhaps some of these would be temporarily formalized as laws, but with the disappearance of class conflict so too would laws of any sort disappear.

The person angrily commenting was not satisfied with this answer. Insisting that law needn’t be “political” in the sense meant by Marx, as if the function of law could be somehow separated from the repressive role of the state, he continued: “Okay so if a drunk fuck husband beats his wife and the police intervene, what bourgeois interests are being fulfilled?” My initial reaction was a bit captious: “Husbands and wives under communism? Not my communism.” But as to the more fundamental matter the state, I responded that legislation would still fall to some sort of governing authority that would be charged with determining what the laws should be. For Marx, law or right [Recht] would wither away with the shift to communism.

Even among avowed Marxists, this sort of reification of the law is increasingly common. Domenico Losurdo, a Stalinist political philosopher, has abandoned the Marxist doctrine of the progressive dissolution of the state. If scholars like Losurdo feel Lenin was too “leftist” for upholding this principle, others find Lenin’s commentary on the character of the state too conservative or bound to Second International conceptions. My friend Pavel Minorski wondered how “the figure who most clearly exposed Social Democratic opportunism and provided the clearest statement of the need to smash the bourgeois state could then go on to write about how the dictatorship of the proletariat would be ‘the bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie’.”

Nevertheless, I think that Lenin’s line of reasoning was correct regarding “the bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie.” Marx talked about the persistence of bourgeois law or right [Recht] up to the advent of a higher form of communist society. From this conclusion it follows that the state administering legislation would be the Rechtstaat, i.e. the modern class state that emerged gradually out of the wreckage of the ancien régime (the Standestaat, which was based on unique privileges of special estates). Here is Lenin’s gloss on the passage by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Program, which in turn appears in State and Revolution:

In its first phase, or first stage, communism cannot as yet be fully mature economically and entirely free from traditions or vestiges of capitalism. Hence the interesting phenomenon that communism in its first phase retains “the narrow horizon of bourgeois law”. Of course, bourgeois law in regard to the distribution of consumer goods inevitably presupposes the existence of the bourgeois state, for law is nothing without an apparatus capable of enforcing the observance of the rules of law. It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois law, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!

This may sound like a paradox or simply a dialectical conundrum of which Marxism is often accused by people who have not taken the slightest trouble to study its extraordinarily profound content. But in fact, remnants of the old, surviving in the new, confront us in life at every step, both in nature and in society. And Marx did not arbitrarily insert a scrap of “bourgeois” law into communism, but indicated what is economically and politically inevitable in a society emerging out of the womb of capitalism.

Strictly speaking, there is a certain redundancy in the term “bourgeois right,” though it’s helpful to reiterate at times. “Right” itself is bourgeois, something universally possessed by free and equal citizens who have reached a certain age (some positive rights are reserved for adults, like voting or drinking or whatever). Classically, right would be opposed to privilege, explicitly tied to title or rank within a noble or priestly order. This is why those who reduce Marxism to “fighting for equal rights,” or for “human rights,” are so profoundly mistaken. Marxism aims at the transcendence of right altogether.

Marxist legal theorists debated many of these same issues in the first decade following the October Revolution. You can read a few exemplary pieces illustrating this below. What is perhaps most striking about these texts is the incredibly high level of debate, both the theoretical subtlety and practical urgency that saturate them. They are taken from an old book released by Johns Hopkins on Soviet Political Thought. Download the rest of them this link: Michael Jaworskyj, Soviet Political Thought: An Anthology (1967). Not only are they of merely historical interest, either. They have a very contemporary relevance as well, insofar as many seem to believe that Marxism is preoccupied chiefly with social justice, economic inequalities, and redistribution of wealth. Goikhbarg’s piece destroys these misconceptions.

Also see Evgenii Bronislavovich Pashukanis, The General Theory of Law and Marxism and Franz Neumann and Otto Kirchheimer, The Rule of Law under Siege: Selected Essays for more on Marxist theories of law.

the constitution

“Law and right are inherited like an eternal disease”

Pëtr Ivanovich Stuchka
October Upheaval and Proletarian
Dictatorship
(Moscow, 1919)
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If, in considering the law, we have in mind only its bourgeois meaning, then we cannot speak of a proletarian law, for the goal of the socialist revolution is to abolish law and to replace it with a new socialist order. To a bourgeois legal theorist, the term “law” is indissolubly tied in with the idea of the state as an organ of protection and as an instrument of coercion in the hands of the ruling class. With the fall or rather the dying away of the state, law in the bourgeois meaning of the term also dies away. When we speak of a proletarian law, we have in mind law of the transition period, law in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, or law of a socialist society, law in a completely new meaning of the term. For, with the abolition of the state as an organ of oppression in the hands of one class or another, the relationships between men, the social order, will be regulated not by means of coercion but by means of the conscious good will of the workers, that is, the will of the entire new society.

In this respect the tasks of bourgeois revolutions were considerably easier than the task of a socialist revolution. Voltaire’s revolutionary statement is well known: “If you intend to have good laws, then burn the old and create new ones.” We know that this requirement was not fulfilled by any bourgeois upheaval, not even by the great French Revolution. The latter mercilessly burned feudal castles and the titles to these castles, liquidated privileges and the holders of these privileges, and replaced the feudal system with a bourgeois one. Notwithstanding, the oppression of man by man survived, and some old laws remained unburned and binding. The legal monument of the French Revolution — Napoleon’s Civil Code — came into being only ten years after the Revolution (1804), and only after the victory of the counterrevolution.

In one of his earlier writings (1843), Marx vividly outlined the basic difference between bourgeois and socialist revolutions: “A bourgeois revolution dissolves old feudal forms of organization through the political emancipation of independent persons, without tying and subordinating them to a new economic form… It divides the person into man and citizen, whereby all the socioeconomic relationships of citizens belong to the sphere of their private affairs which are of no interest to the state… Man appears to be leading a double life, a heavenly and an earthly life, in the political community, where he is a citizen, and in a bourgeois society, where he acts as a private person and either looks upon other men as means, or lowers himself to a means or a toy in the hands of others.” Private interests are indifferent, for, regardless of whether a man in bourgeois society is satisfied or hungry, whether he is physically fit or incapacitated, whether he has time to satisfy his spiritual needs, this is his private affair, the egoistic interest of each separate person, with which the state does not interfere. “The state can be turned into a free state without turning man into a free man.”

What the bourgeois revolutions did was merely to put into power a new class in place of the old one, or along with the old, and to change the form of the organization of state power. The mode of oppression was freely changed without changing the text of old laws. The continuity of law seems to be the essence of the stability of human society, which is based on the principle of exploitation of man by man. Thus, the laws of slaveholding Rome survived not only the feudal system but even all phases in the development of capitalism, imperialism included:

Es erben sich, Gesetz und Recht
Wie eine ewige Krankheit fort
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Bourgeois revolution did not always adhere to Voltaire’s words; it did not burn old laws as resolutely as it should, and when it burned them it failed to eradicate them from the minds of the people. As pointed out by Renner, “The human mind is a reliable storehouse in which Moses’ stone tables with his commandments are as real as any recent decree issued by the government; in it the ancient historical elements are interwoven with contemporary elements into a single reality.” This is the source of all theories of the divine origin of such institutions as sacred property, the “inborn” character of class privileges, the “natural right” of the master to the services of the worker, etc.

Continue reading

The Jews and Europe

Max Horkheimer
Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung
December 1939

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Whoever wants to explain anti-Semitism must speak of National Socialism. Without a conception of what has happened in Germany, speaking about anti-Semitism in Siam or Africa remains senseless. The new anti-Semitism is the emissary of the totalitarian order, which has developed from the liberal one. One must thus go back to consider the tendencies within capitalism. But it is as if the refugee intellectuals have been robbed not only of their citizenship, but also of their minds. Thinking, the only mode of behavior that would be appropriate for them, has fallen into discredit. The “Jewish-Hegelian jargon,” which once carried all the way from London to the German Left and even then had to be translated into the ringing tones of the union functionaries, now seems completely eccentric. With a sigh of relief they throw away the troublesome weapon and turn to neohumanism, to Goethe’s personality, to the true Germany and other cultural assets. International solidarity is said to have failed. Because the worldwide revolution did not come to pass, the theoretical conceptions in which it appeared as the salvation from barbarism are now considered worthless. At present, we have really reached the point where the harmony of capitalist society along with the opportunities to reform it have been exposed as the very illusions always denounced by the critique of the free market economy; now, as predicted, the contradictions of technical progress have created a permanent economic crisis, and the descendants of the free entrepreneurs can maintain their positions only by the abolition of bourgeois freedoms; now the literary opponents of totalitarian society praise the very conditions to which they owe their present existence, and deny the theory which, when there was still time, revealed its secrets.

No one can demand that, in the very countries that have granted them asylum, the émigrés put a mirror to the world that has created fascism. But whoever is not willing to talk about capitalism should also keep quiet about fascism. The English hosts today fare better than Frederick the Great did with the acid-tongued Voltaire. No matter if the hymn the intellectuals intone to liberalism often comes too late, because the countries turn totalitarian faster than the books can find publishers; the intellectuals have not abandoned hope that somewhere the reformation of Western capitalism will proceed more mildly than in Germany and that well-recommended foreigners will have a future after all. But the totalitarian order differs from its bourgeois predecessor only in that it has lost its inhibitions. Just as old people sometimes become as evil as they basically always were, at the end of the epoch class rule has taken the form of the “folk community” [Volksgemeinschaft]. The theory has destroyed the myth of the harmony of interests [between capital and labor]; it has presented the liberal economic process as the reproduction of power relations by means of free contracts, which are compelled by the inequality of the property. Mediation has now been abolished. Fascism is that truth of modern society which has been realized by the theory from the beginning. Fascism solidifies the extreme class differences which the law of surplus value ultimately produced.

volksgemeinschaft

No revision of economic theory is required to understand fascism. Equal and just exchange has driven itself to the point of absurdity, and the totalitarian order is this absurdity. The transition from liberalism has occurred logically enough, and less brutally than from the mercantile system into that of the nineteenth century. The same economic tendencies that create an ever higher productivity of labor through the mechanism of competition have suddenly turned into forces of social disorganization. The pride of liberalism, industry developed technically to the utmost, ruins its own principle because great parts of the population can no longer sell their labor. The reproduction of what exists by the labor market becomes inefficient. Previously the bourgeoisie was decentralized, a many-headed ruler; the expansion of the plant was the condition for every entrepreneur to increase his portion of the social surplus. He needed workers in order to prevail in the competition of the market. In the age of monopolies, the investment of more and more new capital no longer promises any great increase in profits. The mass of workers, from whom surplus value flows, diminishes in comparison to the apparatus which it serves. In recent times, industrial production has existed only as a condition for profit, for the expansion of the power of groups and individuals over human labor. Hunger itself provides no reason for the production of consumer goods. To produce for the insolvent demand, for the unemployed masses, would run counter to the laws of economy and religion that hold the order together; no bread without work.

Even the façade betrays the obsolescence of the market economy. The advertising signs in all countries are its monuments. Their expression is ridiculous. They speak to the passers-by as shallow adults do to children or animals, in a falsely familiar slang. The masses, like children, are deluded: they believe that as independent subjects they have the freedom to choose the goods for themselves. But the choice has already largely been dictated. For decades there have been entire spheres of consumption in which only the labels change. The panoply of different qualities in which consumers revel exists only on paper. If advertising was always characteristic of the faux frais of the bourgeois commodity economy, still, it formerly performed a positive function as a means of increasing demand. Today the buyer is still paid an ideological reverence which he is not even supposed to believe entirely. He already knows enough to interpret the advertising for the great brand-name products as national slogans that one is not allowed to contradict. The discipline to which advertising appeals comes into its own in the fascist countries. In the posters the people find out what they really are: soldiers. Advertising becomes correct. The strict governmental command which threatens from every wall during totalitarian elections corresponds more exactly to the modern organization of the economy than the monotonously colorful lighting effects in the shopping centers and amusement quarters of the world.

The economic programs of the good European statesmen are illusory. In the final phase of liberalism they want to compensate with government orders for the disintegrating market economy’s inability to support the populace. Along with the economically powerful they seek to stimulate the economy so that it will provide everyone with a living, but they forget that the aversion to new investments is no whim. The industrialists have no desire to get their factories going via the indirect means of taxes they must pay to an all-too-impartial government simply to help the bankrupt farmers and other draft animals out of a jam. For their class such a procedure does not pay. No matter how much progovernmental economists may lecture the entrepreneurs that it is for their own benefit, the powerful have a better sense of their interests and have greater goals than a makeshift boom led with strikes and whatever else belongs to the proletarian class struggle. The statesmen who, after all this, still wish to run liberalism humanely, misunderstand its character. They may represent education and be surrounded by experts, but their efforts are nonetheless absurd: they wish to subordinate to the general populace that class whose particular interests by nature run contrary to the general ones. A government that would make the objects of welfare into subjects of free contracts by garnering the taxes of employers, must fail in the end: otherwise it would involuntarily degenerate from the proxy of the employers into the executive agency of the unemployed, indeed, of the dependent classes in general. Nearly confiscatory taxes, such as the inheritance tax, which are forced not only by the layoffs in industry, but also by the insoluble agriculture crisis, already threaten to make the weak into the “exploiters” of the capitalists. Such a reversal of circumstances will not be permitted in the long run by the employers in any empire. In the parliaments and all of public life, the employers sabotage neoliberal welfare policies. Even if these would help the economy, the employers would remain unreconciled: economic cycles are no longer enough for them. The relations of production prevail against the humanitarian governments. The pioneers from the employers’ associations create a new apparatus and their advocates take the social order into their hands; in place of fragmented command over particular factories, there arises the totalitarian rule of particular interests over the entire people. Individuals are subjected to a new discipline which threatens the foundations of the social order. The transformation of the downtrodden jobseeker from the nineteenth century into the solicitous member of a fascist organization recalls in its historical significance the transformation of the medieval master craftsman into the protestant burgher of the Reformation, or of the English village pauper into the modern industrial worker. Considering the fundamental nature of this change, the statesmen pursuing moderate progress appear reactionary.

b_250241 Berlin, Ged‰chtnisfeier f¸r Rathenau

The labor market is replaced by coerced labor. If over the past decades people went from exchange partners to beggars, objects of welfare, now they become direct objects of domination. In the prefascist stage the unemployed threatened the order. The transition to an economy which would unite the separated elements, which would give the people ownership of the idle machines and the useless grain, seemed unavoidable in Germany, and the world-wide danger of socialism seemed serious. With socialism’s enemies stood everyone who had anything to say in the Republic. Governing was carried out by welfare payments, by former imperial civil servants, and by reactionary officers. The trade unions wished to transform themselves from organs of class struggle into state institutions which distribute governmental largesse, inculcate a loyal attitude in the recipients, and participate in social control. Such help, however, was suspect to the powerful. Once German capital had resumed imperialist policies, it dropped the labor bureaucrats, political and trade unions, who had helped it into power. Despite their most honest intentions, the bureaucrats could not measure up to the new conditions. The masses were not activated for the improvement of their own lives, not to eat, but to obey — such is the task of the fascist apparatus. Governing has acquired a new meaning there. Instead of practiced functionaries, imaginative organizers and overseers are needed; they must be well removed from the influence of ideologies of freedom and human dignity. In late capitalism, peoples metamorphose first into welfare recipients and then into followers [Gefolgschaften].

Continue reading

Marx, Lenin, Hegel, and Goethe on genius and freedom of the press

Mikhail Lifshitz
The Philosophy of Art
of Karl Marx
(1931)
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It is interesting to compare Marx’s “Debates on the Freedom of the Press” (1843)[1] with Lenin’s “Party Organization and Party Literature” (1905),[2] in which he speaks of creating a free press, “free not only in the police sense of the word, but free from capital as well — free from careerism; free, above all, from anarchic bourgeois individualism.” As opposed to the “mercenary commercial bourgeois press,” and the “deluded (or hypocritically delusive) dependence” of the bourgeois writer “upon the money bags, upon bribery, upon patronage,” Lenin set up the principle of party literature. While Marx’s articles in the Rheinische Zeitung were on an incomparably lower level of political understanding, there can be no doubt that even in 1842 Marx directed his criticism against not only police censorship but also against freedom of the press in the bourgeois sense.[3] And he also showed, even at this early stage, some signs of the doctrine of party literature.

From the point of view of Marx’s political beliefs in 1842, the struggle for party literature coincided with criticism of feudal-bureaucratic censorship. And herein lies the great difference between Lenin’s conception of “party” and that of the young Marx. Lenin held that the destruction of feudal censorship was a problem of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, whereas party literature is a weapon of the proletariat in its struggle against anarchic bourgeois literary relations. No doubt the two problems are not separated by a Chinese wall; one grows out of the other. Nevertheless, they are different and within certain limits even opposed. To confuse the democratic ideal of a free press with the problem of saving it from the freedom of a “literary trade” was characteristic of young Marx as a revolutionary democrat.

48055a Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels en la imprenta de la Rheinische Zeitung, Colonia - Museo Marx & Engels, Moscú ✆ E. Chapiro © Ñángara Marx1

The censor was his principal opponent. Obeying the dictates of the government, the censor attempted to eradicate every trace of party struggle in literature, prohibiting even the use of party slogans. Already in his first article on freedom of the press, “Comments on the latest Prussian Censorship Instruction” (1842), Marx unmasked the duplicity of the Prussian government which, while suppressing all party struggle, actually came out as “one party against another.” The censor’s instructions contained some “aesthetic criticism.” The writer was expected to use a “serious and modest” style. As a matter of fact, however, any crudeness of style could be forgiven provided the content was acceptable to the government. “Thus the censor must sometimes judge the content by the form, sometimes the form by the content. First content ceased to serve as a criterion for censorship; and then in turn form vanished.”[4] Continue reading

The concept of the Left and the Right

A moderated panel
Platypus Review 68
July 4th, 2014
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Chris Cutrone|Nikos Malliaris|Samir Gandesha
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We are the 99%!

— Occupy Wall Street
(September 2011)
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The Left must define itself on the level of ideas, conceding that in many instances it will find itself in the minority.

— Leszek Kolakowski
“The concept of the Left”
(November 1958)
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The distinction of the Left and the Right was never clear. But following the failure of the Old Left, the relevance of these categories has increasingly ceased to be self-evident. In its place there has been a recurring declaration of the “end of ideology”; by 1960s intellectuals like Daniel Bell, 1980s postmodernists, and 1990s post-Left anarchism.

Yet in spite of the recurring death of ideology, the terms “Left” and “Right” seem to persist, albeit in a spectral manner. With the politics that attended the uprisings of 2011 — from the Arab Spring to Occupy — there seemed a sense that the left ideology has simultaneously become irrelevant and inescapable. While the call for democracy by the “99%” has its roots in the historical demands of the Left, these movements were notable to the extent that they were not led by left organizations. To many who participated in these movements, left politics seemed “purely ideological” and not a viable avenue to advance discontents. Now that this moment has passed there is a sense that the Right has prevailed, and even a sense of resignation, a sense that the Left was not really expected to be competitive.

This ambiance seems in contrast to the past. At the height of the New Left’s struggle to overcome the Old Left, the Polish Marxist Leszek Kolakowski declared that the concept of the Left “remained unclear.” In contrast to the ambivalence of the present, the act of clarifying the ambiguity of the Left seemed to have political stakes. The Left, he declared, could not be asserted by sociological divisions in society, but only by defining itself ever more precisely at the level of ideas. He was aware that the ideas generated by the Left, such as “freedom” and “equality,” could readily be appropriated by the Right, but they would only do so if they failed to be ruthlessly clarified. For Kolakowski the Old Communist Left had ceased to be Left and had become the Right precisely on the basis of its ideological inertia.

What does it mean today when the challenges to the status quo are no longer clearly identifiable as originating from the Left? While it seems implausible that Left ideology has been transcended because people still explain social currents in terms of Left and Right, there is a sense in the present that to end exploitation will demand a measure of realpolitik — a better tactical response — rather than ideological clarification. One has the uneasy feeling that existence of the Left and the right only persist by virtue of the fact the concept of the Left has somehow become settled, static, and trapped in history. But wouldn’t this be antithetical to any concept of the Left?

Estatesgeneral

Preliminary remarks

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Chris Cutrone:
 “The Concept of the Left” was published in English translation in 1968. Actually, the essay dates from the late fifties, and it was a response to the crackdown that came with the Khrushchev revelations. Most famously, there was an uprising in Hungary in 1956 after Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalin, but in fact there were attempts at liberalization in other parts of Eastern Europe, including Poland. Kolakowski participated in that, but also suffered the consequences of the reaction against it, and that’s what prompted him to write the essay. Much later, Kolakowski became a very virulent anti-Marxist. But in the late fifties, he’s still writing within the tradition of Marxism and drawing from the history of its controversies, specifically the revisionist dispute and the split with the Second International into the Third International.

Kolakowski wrote that the Left needs to be defined at the level of ideas rather than at the level of sociological groups. In other words, Left and Right don’t correspond to “workers” and “capitalists.” Rather, the Left is defined by its vision of the future, its utopianism, whereas the Right is defined by the absence of that, by opportunism. Very succinctly, Kolakowski said, “The Right doesn’t need ideas, it only needs tactics.” So what is the status of the ideas that would define the Left?

He says that the Left is characterized by an obscure and mysterious consciousness of history. The Left is concerned with the opening and furthering of possibilities, whereas the Right is about the foreclosure of those possibilities. The consciousness of those possibilities would be the ideology of the Left. Kolakowski’s use of the term “utopia,” when he says the Left is defined by utopia, is a rather peculiar and eccentric use of the term. It’s not a definite image of the future; it’s rather a sense of possibility — a consciousness of change. This might involve certain images of the future, but it’s not defined, for Kolakowski, by those images of the future. Left and Right are relative; there’s a spectrum that goes from a sense of possibility for change and ranges off to the Right with a foreclosure of those possibilities, which is what justifies opportunism and politics of pure tactics.

Another useful category that Kolakowski introduced is “crime.” He says politics cannot be fully extricated from crime, but the Left should be willing to call crime “crime,” whereas the Right needs to pretend that crimes are exigent necessities. In other words, the Left is concerned with distinguishing between true necessities and failures to meet those necessities, which is what political crime amounts to. So Kolakowski says that the Left cannot avoid committing crimes, but it can avoid failure to recognize them as crimes. In this respect, crimes would be compromises that foreclose possibilities — political failure is a crime. This is important, again, because the context in which he was writing was Stalinism, and Khrushchev’s revelation of Stalin’s crimes. In other words, Khrushchev’s concern was, “Okay, Stalin is dead and there’s been a struggle for power in his wake. How are we going to make sense of the past twenty or thirty years of history. What were the crimes that were committed?” The crimes that were committed in this respect were crimes against the revolution — crimes against freedom, crimes against the possibility of opening further possibilities for change. In this respect, the Left is concerned with freedom, and the Right is concerned with the disenchantment of freedom — the foreclosing of possibilities for freedom. Whereas the Left must believe in freedom, the Right does not. Hannah Arendt in the 1960s in On Revolution points out how remarkable it was that the language of freedom had dropped out of the Left already at that point.

Today, one of the reasons why Platypus says, “The Left is dead! Long live the Left!” is that the concept of freedom, and therefore the concept of the Left itself, has given way rather to concerns with social justice. Social justice can’t be about freedom because justice is about restoring the status quo ante, not advancing further possibilities. While we might say there can be no freedom without justice, we can say that there can be justice without freedom. When the avowed Left concerns itself not with freedom but with justice, it ceases to be a Left. That’s because pursuing a politics of justice would stand on different justifications than pursuing a politics of freedom — in the name of justice, crimes against freedom can be committed. Continue reading

Augustine Kofie's "Triangulation of the golden northeast" (2009)

Dossier on the debate between the International Bolshevik Tendency, Communist Party of Great Britain, and Platypus Affiliated Society

by Reid Kane Kotlas

Untitled.
Image: Augustine Kofie’s Triangulation
of the Golden Northeast
(2009)

untitled2.

This is reposted from the tumblr page of a contact of the Platypus Affiliated Society, Reid Kane Kotlas. Though I was considering using this space to briefly relate Reid’s intellectual trajectory and how he arrived at the Marxist tradition, as well as our encounter several years back, it’s become clear to me that this would take up too much space. Perhaps this could be the subject of another post. Suffice it to say, at least for now, that our subsequent correspondence was largely the outcome of a debate we had over Lenin’s (in)compatibility with Luxemburg. At the time, he was quite skeptical of the Platypus Affiliated Society and what he then believed was its excessive pessimism with respect to the present. I’d assumed what was probably a haughty and overly dismissive stance toward the actually-existing Left, to which he responded:

I find your defamatory comments about the existing Left (and those of Platypus more generally) to be extremely discouraging. These people are our allies, and while I may disagree with a lot of what they say and do, the way to make that evident is not through condescension, but by expressing critical solidarity, by joining them and trying to steer them in other directions where appropriate, and where there is too great a divide or too much stubbornness, to demonstrate in practice what is wrong with their approach. I agree that its a shame that we are no longer witness to the sort of working class mobilization of the earlier part of the last century, but I don’t count this fact as either a cause or effect of “regression in Leftist consciousness.” The left hasn’t regressed, we’ve been brutally beaten down, silenced, defamed and overwhelmed for a century, and the disorganized and splintered remnants that persist today, however “backward” their thinking may be at times, are not symptoms of the Left’s decadence and degeneration but the first flares of its rekindling.

Later on, I tried to clarify what I’d meant by my remarks and remove some of their needless cynicism, which were unhelpful and probably off-putting. This brought Reid and I into closer accord in our understandings of the present political moment. In an e-mail a little over a year ago, he related to me that “[w]hile before I had reservations about Platypus due to its assessment of the Left, I now basically agree with that assessment.” Recently, it came to my attention that Reid has been quietly and independently dedicating himself to a closer study of some of Platypus’ past engagements. Because of the remarkable lucidity and critical acuity of his observations here, I thought I’d make available his dossier on the debate between the International Bolshevik Tendency, Communist Party of Great Britain, and Platypus. The post also includes a number of helpful links to background readings on the debate. Thanks again to Reid for granting me permission to repost this.
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Ivan Kudriashev's Construction of a rectilinear motion (1925)

Kudriashev’s Construction of a rectilinear motion (1925)

Dossier

The following is a series of documents and recordings relating to an ongoing debate between members of the Platypus Affiliated Society (PAS), the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT). 

I believe these deserve to be grouped together because, in the discursive space sustained between these three distinctive organizations, the central problems of the contemporary left are saliently circumscribed. Any pair of the three organizations, as well as the trio, share interesting points of convergence and divergence. The differences between their respective ideologies, programs, historical perspectives, and practical approaches elucidate that absent locus of revolutionary politics. Continue reading

Notes to “The Truth of Liberalism”


[1] “[T]he crisis of bourgeois society in capital after the Industrial Revolution and the failure of the ‘social republic’ in 1848, was the crisis of bourgeois society as liberal…a feature of the growing authoritarianism of bourgeois society, or, the failure of liberalism. As such, socialism needed to take up the problems of bourgeois society in capital that liberalism had failed to anticipate or adequately meet, or, to take up the cause of liberalism that bourgeois politics had dropped in the post-1848 world.” Cutrone, Chris. “Lenin’s Liberalism.” Platypus Review. (№ 36. July, 2011). Pg. 2.
[2] Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Translated by Clemens Dutt, Rodney Livingstone, and Christopher Upward. Collected Works, Volume 11: August 1851-March 1853. (Lawrence & Wishart Publishing. London, England: 1979). Pg. 103.
[3] Marx, Karl. The Class Struggles in France: 1848-1850. Translated by Hugh Rodwell. Collected Works, Volume 10: September 1849-June 1851. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1978). Pg. 67.
[4] “In sum, the project of modernity has not yet been fulfilled.” Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity — An Incomplete Project.” Translated by Seyla Benhabib. The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster. (Bay Press. Seattle, WA: 1983). Pg. 13.
[5] Tocqueville, Alexis de. The Ancien Régime and the French Revolution. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2011). Pg. 2. Quoted in full by Losurdo, Domenico. Liberalism: A Counter-History. Translated by Gregory Elliott. (Verso Books. Brooklyn, NY: 2011). Pg. vii. Indeed, Losurdo’s choice to pattern his own study after that of de Tocqueville is no accident, as the great French liberal is one of the figures most harshly indicted in his study.
[6] The famous Tolstoian technique of ostranenie [остранение]. Shklovskii, Viktor. “Iskusstvo kak priem.” From Gamburgskii schet: Stat’i, vospominaniia, esse (1914-1933). (Sovetskii pisatel’. Moscow, Soviet Union: 1990). Pgs. 64-66.
[7] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 1-7, 27, 106, 241-246.
[8] On Calhoun: ibid., pgs. 1-7, 57, 163, 222; on Locke: ibid., pgs. 3, 42, 163; on Mill: ibid., pgs. 7, 202, 225.
[9] Ibid., pg. 301.
[10] Ibid., pg. 25. On liberalism’s “exclusion clauses,” see also pgs. 124, 163, 173, 181, 248, 341-343. On the “pathos of liberty,” see also pgs. 23, 40, 45, 49, 56.
[11] “The catastrophic crisis that struck Europe and the whole planet with the outbreak of the First World War was already maturing within the liberal world.” Ibid., pg. 323. And further: “[I]t is banally ideological to characterize the catastrophe of the twentieth century as a kind of new barbarian invasion that unexpectedly attacked and overwhelmed a healthy, happy society. The horror of the twentieth century casts a shadow over the liberal world even if we ignore the fate reserved for peoples of colonial origin.” Ibid., pg. 340.
[12] On enclosure: Ibid., pgs. 77-78, 121, 303, 308, 319.
[13] “[A]bsent from ancient Greece was the racial chattel slavery which, in the American case, was conjoined not with direct democracy but representative democracy.” Ibid., pg. 106.
[14] Ibid., pgs. 30-33.
[15] Grotius and Holland: Ibid., pg. 21; Locke and England: Ibid., pg. 24; the Founding Fathers and the United States: Ibid., pgs. 25-26.
[16] Ibid., pg. 77.
[17] While their account of capitalism is often uneven, this formulation does not altogether miss the mark: “At the heart of Capital, Marx points to the encounter of two ‘principal’ elements: on one side, the deterritorialized worker who has become free and naked, having to sell his labor capacity; and on the other, decoded money that has become capital and is capable of buying it…For the free worker: the deterritorialization of the soil through privatization; the decoding of the instruments of production through appropriation.” Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume 1: Anti-Œdipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. (University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis, MN: 1983). Pg. 225.
[18] Besides Marx’s characterization of this process as such, this is how it was referred to by one of Losurdo’s principal sources on the subject. Harris, R.W. England in the Eighteenth Century, 1689-1793: A Balanced Constitution and New Horizons. (Blandford Press. London, England: 1963). Pgs. 14-18.
[19] Marx, for example: “The immediate producer, the worker, could dispose of his own person only after he had ceased to be bound to the soil, and ceased to be the slave or serf of another person. To become a free seller of labor-power, who carries his commodity wherever he can find a market for it, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and their restrictive labour regulations. Hence the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-laborers appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and it is this aspect of the movement which alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these newly freed men became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And this history, the history of their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1982). Pg. 875.
[20] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 90-92.
[21] For a more comprehensive gloss on British and French materialist thought, see Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. The Holy Family, Or Critique of Critical Criticism: Against Bruno Bauer and Company. Translated by Richard Dixon and Clemens Dutt. Collected Works, Volume 4: 1844-1845. Pgs. 127-134.
[22] “[In England, t]he heaviest, worst-paid work was entrusted to a stratum that tended to be reproduced from one generation to the next, and hence to a kind of hereditary servile caste.” Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 113. And further: “[O]ften excluded from the enjoyment of civil rights and negative liberty in England itself, the popular classes, by de Tocqueville’s [own] admission, continued to be separated from the upper class or caste by a gulf that calls to mind the one obtaining in a racial state.” Ibid., pg. 124.
[23] “While in London the zone of civilization was distinguished from the zone of barbarism, the sacred space from the profane, primarily by opposing the metropolis to the colonies, the American colonists were led to identify the boundary line principally in ethnic identity and skin color.” Ibid., pg. 50.
[24] “[Liberalism] excluded the non-European peoples from the sacred space of civilization, relegating much of the West to its margins.” Ibid., pg. 246.
[25] Losurdo, Domenico. Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Community, Death, and the West. Translated by Marella Morris and Jon Morris. (Humanity Books. Amherst, NY: 2001). Pgs. 14, 18, 24-27, 30, 37, 45, 47-48, 55, 57-59, 74, 76, 89-90, 119, 123-125, 141, 208, 214, 223-224.
[26] Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Translated by Robert B. Louden. Anthropology, History, and Education. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2007). Pg. 427.
[27] Ibid., pg. 299.
[28] “Unfounded on a historiographical level, the habitual hagiography [of liberalism] is also an insult to the memory of the victims..” Ibid., pg. 344.
[29] Ibid., pg. 311.
[30] Losurdo extends quite liberally upon the argument advanced by Léon Poliakov, asserting that Britain and American colonists understood themselves as the “chosen people” of the Old Testament. Ibid., pgs. 17, 19, 43-44, 63, 150, 229-230, 294, 306, 309-311. Elsewhere he traces this exclusivist mentality to another Jewish source: Martin Buber’s and Franz Rosenzweig’s idea of a “blood-community” [Blutgemeinschaft]. Losurdo, Heidegger and the Ideology of War. Pgs. 123-125, 214.
[31] Losurdo, Domenico. “Flight from History? The Communist Movement between Self-Criticism and Self-Contempt.” Translated by Charles Reitz. Nature, Society, and Thought. (Vol. 13, № 4. December 2000). Pgs. 478-479.
[32] Losurdo, Domenico. “What is Fundamentalism?” Translated by Hanne Gidora. Nature, Society, and Thought. (Vol. 17, № 1. March 2004). Pgs. 34, 40-41.
[33] Leonard, Spencer. “The Decline of the Left in the Twentieth Century: 2001.” The Platypus Review. (№ 17. November 18th, 2009). Pg. 2.
[34] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pgs. 54, 106, 220.
[35] Ibid., pgs. 19-20, 171, 229, 309, 311.
[36] Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. (Routledge. New York, NY: 1991). Pg. 98.
[37] “The degree of continuity between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has not escaped a whole series of scholars who cannot be suspected of preconceived hostility to the liberal world. While she generously overlooked the North American republic (which had had the merit of offering her refuge), Hannah Arendt explained the genesis of twentieth-century totalitarianism commencing with the colonies of the British Empire. It was here that ‘a new form of government,’ ‘a more dangerous form of governing than despotism and arbitrariness’ saw the light of day, and where the temptation of ‘administrative massacres’ as an instrument for maintaining domination began to emerge. But especially interesting in this context is the fact that not a few US scholars, in order to explain the history of their country, have turned to the category of ‘master-race democracy’ or ‘Herrenvolk democracy,’ in an eloquent linguistic admixture of English and German, and a German that in several respects refers to the history of the Third Reich.” Losurdo, Liberalism. Pgs. 336-337.
[38] “[F]or his plan to build a German continental empire, Hitler had in mind the United States model, which he praised for its ‘extraordinary inner strength.’” Losurdo, Domenico. “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Translated by Jon Morris and Marella Morris. Historical Materialism. (Volume 12, № 2. 2004). Pg. 47.
[39] “Rather than being one single book, The Origins of Totalitarianism consists in reality of two overlapping books which…fail to achieve any substantial unity…[Many have] noticed the disproportion between Arendt’s actual and thorough knowledge of the Third Reich, and her inaccurate understanding of the Soviet Union. In particular, they emphasized the difficulties in Arendt’s attempt to adapt the analysis of the Soviet Union (associated with the outbreak of the Cold War) to the analysis of the Third Reich (rooted in the years of the great coalition against fascism and Nazism).” Ibid., pg. 33.
[40] “Nazism and Bolshevism owe more to Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism (respectively) than to any other ideology or political movement.” Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Pg. 222. See also pg. 415.
[41] Losurdo repeats the theme of “master-race democracy” throughout: Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 102-107, 108, 122-125, 136-138, 150-151, 180, 219, 222, 225, 227, 229, 233, 240, 308, 317, 321.
[42] On Losurdo’s theme of the United States as a “Herrenvolk democracy,” see also Losurdo, “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Pg. 50. See also Losurdo, Domenico. “Preemptive War, Americanism, and Anti-Americanism.” Translated by Jon Morris and Marella Morris. Metaphilosophy. Pgs. 369, 374-375, 380-381.
[43] “It is very difficult to find a critique of this ‘master-race democracy’ in liberal thinking, which is rather often the theoretical expression of this regime. Herrenvolk democracy is instead the privileged target of Lenin’s struggle. The revolutionary Russian leader stubbornly placed in evidence the macroscopic clauses of exclusion in liberal liberty at the expense of ‘red and black skins,’ as well as immigrants from ‘backward countries.’” Losurdo, Domenico. “Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy.” Translated by Graeme Thomson. Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth. (Duke University Press. Durham, NC: 2007). Pg. 242.
[44] “[T]he young Marx declares the United States to be the ‘country of complete political emancipation’ and ‘the most perfect example of the modern state,’ one that ensures the dominion of the bourgeoisie without excluding a priori any social class from the benefits of political rights…Engels’s position is even more drastically pro-American.…As for the history of the Communist movement as such, the influence of Taylorism and Fordism upon Lenin and Gramsci is well known. In 1923, Nikolai Bukharin goes even further: ‘We need Marxism plus Americanism.’” Ibid., pgs. 366-367.
[45] “The international press is full of articles or attitudes committed to celebrating, or at least justifying, Israel: after all — they say — it is the only country in the Middle East in which the freedom of expression and association exist, in which there is a democratic regime operating. In this way a macroscopic detail is suppressed: government by law and democratic guarantees are valid only for the master race, while the Palestinians can have their lands expropriated, be arrested and imprisoned without process, tortured, killed, and, in any case under a regime of military occupation, have their human dignity humiliated and downtrodden daily.” Losurdo, “Lenin and HerrenvolkDemocracy.” Pg. 245. See also Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History. Pg. 180.
[46] Losurdo, “Preemptive War, Americanism, and Anti-Americanism.” Pg. 368.
[47] Losurdo, Liberalism. Pg. 338.
[48] Fitzpatrick, Matthew. “The Pre-History of the Holocaust? The Sonderweg and Historikerstreit Debates and the Abject Colonial Past.” Central European History. (№ 41. 2008). Pgs. 500-501.
[49] Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter History. Pgs. 339-340.
[50] “Losurdo, “Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism.” Pg. 26. Continue reading

“The Four Cs”: Commodity, Currency (Money), Capital, Corporation — A popular lexicon regarding some commonly confused terms, along with some further scholarly notes

The Parisian Arcades

The “Four Cs”: Commodities, Currency (Money), Capital, and Corporations

POSITIVE DEFINITIONS

First we can state briefly what these objects concretely are, so that we can then spell out exactly what they are not.

Commodity A commodity is any product that is produced for sale on the market, i.e. for the sake of exchange.  Like any other product (non-commodities included), it has a certain utility, or “use-value.”  Products, regardless of their salability, tend to be useful in some way or another, to satisfy a certain need.  Use-values are of a qualitative nature.  That is to say, they are useful because they possess certain utile qualities.

Unlike other products, however, commodities also possess a certain value, or “exchange-value.”  As soon as a product becomes available for exchange on the market, it is thereby converted into a commodity.  Exchange-values are of a quantitative nature.  That is to say, they are valuable because they possess a certain quantity of value.

(It must be noted, however, that if a commodity loses its use-value, i.e. becomes broken or useless, it simultaneously loses any exchange-value it might have had).

How is this quantity of exchange-value determined? What is the basis for the following equation: 20 yards of linen = 1 coat? In terms of their material qualities, the two are totally incommensurable.  A coat may be made of linen, but a single coat does not require 20 yards of linen to produce.  Nevertheless, their quantitative equality presupposes an underlying qualitative identity of substance.  The question thus becomes: What exactly is this substance?

The substantial basis for the equality of two dissimilar items or use-values is the amount of labor-power expended upon them, measured in homogeneous units of time (days, hours, minutes, etc.).  This alone determines the magnitude of value that a commodity possesses.

Commodities are not unique to capitalism.  They preexist the crystallization of the capitalist social formation.  However, in precapitalist societies, the majority of goods that are produced are not commodities.  In other words, most products are intended for immediate use or consumption, either by their producer himself or his next-of-kin.  Society’s general mode of production is only properly called “capitalist” when the majority of its products are commodities.

One final point about the commodity-form should be made before passing on to money.  This concerns the extent to which one’s labor (or more specifically, one’s labor-time) can itself be sold as a commodity on the market.  An employer purchases a certain duration of a person’s labor-time in exchange for the services rendered or products produced.  In return, the employee is typically compensated by hourly wages or an annual salary.

Though wage-labor existed in the margins of precapitalist society, the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production requires that there exists a large displaced population of persons whose only commodity available for sale is their labor.  Thus, under capitalism, wage-labor or salaries becomes generalized as the societal norm.

Currency/Money Money is a certain commodity that is set aside to serve as a universal measurement of value.  It is the universal equivalent of qualitatively dissimilar commodities.  Money therefore serves as a quantitative medium of exchange.

In another sense, money (as such) is the circulation of commodities.  That is to say, it provides the means by which the exact quantity of one commodity is traded for an exact equivalent quantity of money, which is then used to purchase a given quantity of another.  Money acts as an intermediary in place of direct barter.

This operation can be illustrated by a simple formula, using these symbols:

C = Commodity.

M = Money.

C → M → C.

One commodity is sold for its value in money, which is then used to purchase an equivalent value in another commodity.  This allows for a more equitable exchange of value between commodities than took place in simple barter, which tended to involve uneven transactions.

Capital Capital is self-valorizing value.  In other words, it is value that becomes more value, or money (which is but an expression of value) that magically transforms itself into more money.  The principle of capitalization is that you start the day with a certain amount of money, and by the end of the day you have more money.

As Marx put it, this process is almost “theological.”  In capital, value becomes at once the subject and object of its own activity, ceaselessly augmenting its own magnitude.  The analogy Marx uses is the differentiation of God the Father from God the Son in the triune theology of traditional Christianity; they are both made from the same substance, and are equally old, yet one begets the other.

The ultimate expression of capital in all its forms is the following:

M → Mº.

(º = “prime.”  Money “prime” signifies the increment of value over and above the amount of value originally advanced.  Once thrown back into the circuit of production and circulation, however, this augmented money or value obtained as a result of capitalization becomes the starting value of the new formula).

Species of Capital

1. Interest-bearing (usurers’) capital M → Mº.  This is the basic formula of money lending or usury.

A certain amount of money is advanced as a loan, in return for a greater amount of money to be received later, the magnitude of which is determined by a contractually agreed-upon interest rate.

2. Commercial (merchants’) capital M → C → Mº.  In its most simple form, this just involves the purchase of a commodity for a certain amount of money and its resale for a greater amount of money.

This can be accomplished in any number of ways.  First, a merchant can simply find a chump who is willing to either sell a commodity for less than its value, or a chump who is willing to buy a commodity for greater than its value.

A more calculated approach might involve the purchase of a commodity in a locale where it is abundant (where it is not as highly valued), and then transport it for sale in a locale where the commodity is scarce (where it is more highly valued).  The difference between the money originally paid and the money received at the end of this cycle is the surplus value.

3. Industrial capital M → C → Mº.  Formally, this circuit is identical with that of merchants’ capital.  The crucial difference consists in the nature of the commodity purchased.  In the movement of industrial capital, the commodity bought is always the labor-time of another person.

Thus, the formula for industrial capital may perhaps be more properly described as M → C(L) → Mº.

Obviously, in this formula the following symbolism is used:

L = Labor.

The labor-time expended by the worker imparts greater value onto the articles under production, thus augmenting the original value of the commodities involved.

Two methods can be used to extract surplus-value in this process:

1. Absolute surplus-value — The capitalist extends the length of the working day, so that the worker invests an amount of labor-time into production greater than the value he receives in wages.  Once the commodities produced in this process are sold in circulation on the market, the surplus-value gained thereby is “realized.”

2. Relative surplus-value — The capitalist reduces the amount of time required to impart a certain amount of value into production below the average of the social aggregate.  This is accomplished by either revolutionizing the social organization of the division of labor or by overhauling the technical means of production.  As a result, the capitalist is able to sell the commodities produced at a level lower than the social average while still realizing the same amount of surplus-value.

Of course, once these new methods of heightened productivity are generalized throughout society, the advantage gained vanishes.  This necessitates a constant revolutionization of the technologies and organization used in production, and an accelerating pace of modernization.  This gives rise to what Moishe Postone has called the “treadmill effect” of capitalism.

4. Finance capital Mx → M → C → Mº → Mºx.  In this formula:

x = x/100, where x ≤ 100.

Finance capital operates by having investors contribute a percentage of the overall money used to supervalue the value originally inserted into the circuit.  Typically, finance is invested into industry, where again the commodity purchased is labor.  Thus, the formula in this instance would appear as Mx → M → C(L) → Mº → Mºx.

Corporation A corporation is an association of capitalists who jointly share ownership of a single enterprise.  This is achieved by making shares of the company’s ownership available for purchase by the public.  Historically, this is connected to the rise of the join-stock exchange in the middle of the nineteenth century.  While corporations tend to be much larger and more visible than smaller private businesses, both operate according to the logic of capital.

NEGATIVE DEFINITIONS

Now that we have indicated what these terms are, we can safely say what they are not, in order to clear up some common misconceptions surrounding them. 

Commodity A commodity is not identical to any other good, article, or product.  Unlike these other products, commodities are not produced for immediate use or consumption by their producer.  Rather, commodities are produced in order to be sold or exchanged, either for money or for other commodities.

Furthermore, commodities are not unique to capitalist society.  Obviously, there existed precapitalist systems of barter, commerce, and exchange.  The point is that throughout most of history the majority of products were not intended to serve as commodities.  They were for the most part produced to serve the most immediate needs of the producer, or alienated without recompense into the possession of one’s feudal lord.  By contrast, capitalism only comes into existence when the majority of products produced by society are commodities.

Currency/Money The value of money is neither imaginary nor arbitrary.  Money is simply the universal equivalent form of exchange, used as a measurement of the value of goods, or commodities.  This is something of which the Alternative Currency working group should take note.

There are quite real and concrete historical reasons for the development of the money-form of value.  Precious metals came to serve as this medium of exchange because of their practical divisibility, and because of their relative scarcity (and thus also their value, given the difficulty of their location/extraction).  It is true that these metals come to be increasingly substituted by paper money representing their value, and even more abstract forms of credit, but this does nothing to diminish the validity or reality of money as an expression of value.

Capital/Capitalism Capitalism does not necessarily entail the existence of a free market.  The libertarian notion that has become fashionable in recent years is that only under the economic conditions of laissez-faire, or government non-intervention, can capitalism flourish and exist in a “pure” form.  They cite Bernard Mandeville or a diluted, oversimplified version of Adam Smith as evidence of this proposition.

Some leftish moderates, accepting this facile rightist notion of what capitalism is, naïvely believe that administrative reform, government oversight, more expansive welfare/social programs, and bureaucratic regulations would help counter the volatility and rampant inequality inherent in capitalism.  They believe that the perpetual crisis at the core of capitalism can be “curbed,” “corrected,” or even “controlled” by such Keynesian, neo-Fordist measures.

In reality, however, state-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free market capitalism.  The fundamental principle underlying capitalism in all its different configurations is perhaps elusively straightforward: capital itself.

Corporation A corporation is not simply any form of capitalist big business.  In fact, in terms of private property, a corporation is actually less tied to the interests of a single individual than non-corporate businesses.  Because the existence of a corporation qua corporation involves an enterprise “going public,” i.e. selling shares of its ownership, it actually reflects (in terms of sheer magnitude) a larger proportion of the public interest than a smaller private enterprise.

Of course, the public character of the corporate enterprise and big agribusiness (the Monsantos of the world) shouldn’t fool us as to their capitalist nature.  A corporation is beholden only to the interest of its shareholders, and not to the public at large.  They have one obligation alone — to turn a profit for those who own a portion of their stock.  And corporations have been known to be exceptionally ruthless in this pursuit.

The only point that I am trying to make by this is to note the irrevocably capitalist character of both big corporations as well as small businesses.  Both operate according to the logic of capital: the supervaluation of value.  In other words, big corporations and small businesses have the same goal at the end of the day.  They seek to turn money into more money. Continue reading