May 28, 2009 "Information Clearing House" -- -The theft of public money by members of parliament, including government ministers, has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege. It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism, revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations man to sell the “leak”. Why?
The answer lies in a deeper corruption, which tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher, British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies. This “project” was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States. That so many Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally crooked is no more than a metaphor for the anti-democratic system they have forged together.
Their accomplices have been those journalists who report Parliament as "lobby correspondents" and their editors, who have “played the game” wilfully, and have deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment on personalities and their specious crises, have reduced the “national conversation” to a series of media events, in which the withdrawal of popular consent – as the historically low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated – has been abused as apathy.
Having fixed the boundaries of political debate and possibility, self-important paladins, notably liberals, promoted the naked emperor Blair and championed his “values” that would allow “the mind [to] range in search of a better Britain”. And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover. All of it had been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony, “a babbling brook of bullshit”.
How contrite their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on “media training”, called on MPs to “rebuild cross-party trust”. The unintended irony of her words recalls one of her first acts as social security secretary more than a decade ago – cutting the benefits of single mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a “revolt” among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new female MPs, who had been elected “to end male-dominated, Conservative policies”, spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor women. All voted for it.
The same was true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party Establishment and the political media rallied. Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told BBC viewers that Blair had “said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra in May, it left behind, according to scholarly estimates, more than a million people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.
As for the “celebrating” Iraqis, the vast majority, say Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation – they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters of the British population wanted.
Such venality goes far beyond the greed of the uppity Hazel Blears.
“Normalising the unthinkable”, Edward Herman’s phrase from his essay The Banality of Evil, about the division of labour in state crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted the top of one page to a report headlined, “Blair awarded $1m prize for international relations work”. This prize, announced in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, was for his “cultural and social impact on the world”. You looked in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the truth. Instead, there was his “optimism about the chance of bringing peace” and his work “designed to forge peace”.
This was the same Blair who committed the same crime – deliberately planning the invasion of a country, “the supreme international crime” – for which the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg after proof of his guilt was located in German cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s “Justice” Secretary, Jack Straw, blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes from March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered their release. For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalised and celebrated.
“How our corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists,” said the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the government’s collusion with torture?
It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to combat democratic dissent they call “extremism”. Their de facto partners are “security” journalists, a recent breed of state or “lobby” propagandist. On 9 April, the BBC’s Newsnight programme promoted the guilt of 12 “terrorists” arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the Prime Minister himself. All were later released without charge.
Something is changing in Britain that gives cause for optimism. The British people have probably never been more politically aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish while stepping angrily over the babbling brook of bullshit.
Students at London Met have occupied against the threat of cuts at the uni. This is part of a movement which also includes strike action by the UCU. Students are calling for help:
"We still have control of part of the building! Police came... and went, there was nothing they could legally do.
We've just been informed that the governors are getting in security to man the door and make sure nobody can enter or exit, so we desperately NEED MORE PEOPLE TO OCCUPY!
Get your arses to the Commercial Road building, Aldgate East tube station, floor 6 (the cafeteria).
Now it's time for action, so step up to the plate! Bring your work with you, any food or drink, sleeping bags, make a night of it, anything! We are receiving press/media coverage so the more people we have the better.
On Monday (20/04/2009) an independent student initiative for the right to free education started a peaceful occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, Croatia. They organized this action demanding the right to free education for all and the elimination of all tuition fees, at all levels of higher education: undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate. During the occupation, everyone is free to enter and leave the Faculty building, but regular classes will not be held. Instead, students have organized an alternative educational program, which consists of lectures, public discussions, workshops, movie screenings and other happenings. Everyone is free to attend these happenings, whether they are students or not.
Every evening, a plenary session will be held, at which students will decide whether they will continue with the occupation the next day. Everyone is free to attend these sessions, participate in discussions and vote, whether they are students or ordinary citizens. The issue of the right to free education is not one that concerns only the students, it is an issue of relevance for the future of the entire society, therefore every member of the society has the right to participate in decision making at the plenary sessions.
So far, we have received numerous letters of support from individuals and organizations, both at home and from abroad. Among those who have expressed support for our cause are Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler and Slavoj Žižek.
A new generation of Japanese young people are joining the Japanese Communist Party and the Manga version of Capital is introducing them to the ideas of Karl Marx.
The massive upsurge in young people joining the Japanese Communist Party may be explained many different ways, but using art forms like Manga to spread the message of Marxism, is surely contributing to the interest of young people in Marxism in Japan.
Needless to say the Japanese Communist party is about revisionist has you can get but I do not criticise its use of Manga for educational purposes, just the lying of its leaders who say that Marx did not forsee market socialism and praise Deng Xiaoping for creative contributions to Marxism by combining the market economy with socialism.
Marx in his debate with Proudhon and Engels in his debate with Duhring exposed the idea of competitive market socialism as leading to the regeneraion of capitalism and I am sure some of these young Japanese students of Marx will discover that fact and kick out the old revisionist hacks and set Japanese Communist Party on the road of revolutionary socialism.
It is 1942. The Red Army is putting up a violent and effective resistance against the German invaders. 14 year-old Nadya is a medium. In a deadly air raid the girl is shell-shocked. Recovering from her concussion, Nadya discovers her new gift – the ability to foresee the “Moments of Truth” - the most critical moments of future combat encounters, in which one person’s actions will decide the outcome one way or the other.
Nadya’s ability is indispensable for the classified 6th Division of the Russian Military Intelligence, which is waging a secret war against the “Ahnenerbe” – an occult order within the SS. The Ahnenerbe summons from the realm of the dead the powerful prince of darkness, Baron von Wolff. With him on their side they hope to change the course of history and achieve world domination. To oppose the Baron Nadya decides to enlist the support of her old friends from the beyond – the Pioneers of the First Squad.
The Nazi defeat in the Second World War is difficult for some Western commentators and even some historians to comprehend and even the US Military have run and re run countless war games which produces a Nazi victory.
This Film has the Russians enlisting the First Squad from the beyond to explain the Russian victories, has bourgeois ideology cannot face the fact that it was the man in the Kremlin who left his light on working late into the night, and not the supernatural, that won the War.
It was J V Stalin that inspired his people and was Chief of the Defence Committee of The USSR who selected the right Generals for the job and through persistence and hard work brought his people to victory.
As leftists we’ve all had the experience of being told “Hey man, that’s just the way things are.” In the middle of some brilliant analysis of how lame Obama is, or how much the prison industrial complex sucks someone says to us “Hey man that’s just the way things are.” Is this not the essence of any dominant ideology? The point of a dominant ideology is the idea that the present is eternal and unchangeable- that the existing institutions, power structures and injustices are as natural as making babies, that any attempt to critique them or change them is futile. [Though ideologues may try to dress up the message with fancy theories of Pareto Optimality, or fancy algebra, the message is still the same: "Hey man, that's just the way things are."]
In order to do this ideology has to paint the present as something static and unchanging. The feudal landlord had the catholic church which imbued the class relations of society with an eternal christian mysticism. Today we have mainstream economics which projects its own categories backwards and forwards in time to create the illusion that there is nothing unique about modern capitalism and that there are no alternatives to the present.
There is a great, unfinished task before us- not just of how to understand this crisis, but how to understand capitalist crisis in general; and then, specifically to understand the future of capitalism, the openings that will arise for radical breaks from the present order, and the sort of new social orders that might emerge. This task of understanding capitalism also must be a radical critique of dominant ideology- bourgeois ideology. This is why Karl Marx subtitled Kapital “A Critique of Political Economy”. He was very clear that alternative ideas develop in relation to hegemonic ideas. When we aren’t clear about how our ideas relate to dominant ideology we run the risk of allowing bourgeois ideas to subtly influence our own thinking. And I think this is why a lot of leftist takes on the current crisis fall short of being truly radical- that they are not fully conscious of the master narrative and its influence on their ideas.
How does ideology paint the present as eternal? It does this by misusing the process of abstraction. It must abstract away from its description of the present anything which is historically specific, leaving only those vague categories that transcend time.
For instance, take the modern, neoclassical definition of capital which basically says “Capital is stuff that you use to make more stuff.” Now it is true that we can observe throughout human history the phenomenon of people using (stuff) tools to increase the productivity of their labor. According to this vague bourgeois definition there is no real distinction between the bows and arrows wielded by the Iroquois Nation and a Ford Motor plant. And so this definition passes the test of ideology: it makes capital seem universal, timeless, natural and stable. And it does this by abstracting away all historically specific production relations.
By such a definition there is really nothing in capital that could cause a capitalist crisis. How can there be a crisis between a man and his tool? And this is why bourgeois economics must always paint crisis as something external to the system: famine, drought, or maybe malevolent manipulations of the market by governments or unions. But rarely do we hear anyone dare suggest that capital itself might be causing the crisis. (Even some self-proclaimed Marxists are hesitant on this point.) Such an explanation would suggest that there was something historically unique about capital. And after all, what could go wrong between a man and his tool?
The problem is that in a capitalist society those tools are not the property of the people who wield them. The means of production are privately owned by the capitalist class. Class relations are basic to the way production is organized. We might also note that work is a social process mediated through wage labor, not just a relation between individuals and tools. But now we are talking about people in groups, something bourgeois economics avoids at all costs.
Bourgeois economics treats society atomistically in a souped-up version of supply and demand: demand is the product of isolated individuals interacting with commodities; supply is the product of isolated individuals relating to tools. And because people have always wanted stuff, and because there has always been a limited amount of stuff on the planet this is considered all we need to know to understand the economic universe. Mainstream economics substitute some eloquent algebra for what should be the fundamental question: what determines demand and supply? Demand is a function of one’s income from working and socially conditioned preferences from a consumer-driven culture. Supply is determined by the amount of labor apportioned to various tasks and the productivity of this labor. So we see how quickly the image of the atomistic individual falls apart and is replaced by a vast mode of social regulation all regulated by the class relations of a labor process. The picture of the individual, atomistic consumer/producer can only be sustained by abstracting away all mention of these social relations.
This is Marx’s starting point in Kapital: this world of individuals interacting with commodities conceals a deeper world of social relations. By ignoring these relations ideology paints a picture of an eternal world of people interacting with objects in perfect equilibrium. All other factors are considered an external interference. [When a union organizes for better wages, this is not seen as a a direct result of the antagonisms of private ownership of property, but instead as something external to the picture which interferes. When the state intervenes to open markets, or protect capital from itself (like it is currently doing) this is not seen as an inherent reality of a crisis-prone capitalism, but as an external interference.]
Let’s take a look at an actual society with no internal crisis: the primitive hunter-gatherer society. Here work was a collective effort with little or no differentiation of activity. [This undifferentiated form of social labor was probably the simplest of economic systems.] It was immune to internal crisis because, as a large undifferentiated whole, there were no different internal parts to go awry. Crisis then was purely external- drought, famine, earthquake.
The productivity of capitalism is such that we rarely have to worry about an external threat causing a crisis. Hurricane Katrina was horrible but it didn’t make global stock markets tank. In our ability to store up enough social surplus to survive against these external shocks the crisis has been internalized. Now crisis is a problem with the internal mechanisms by which social labor and its surplus is apportioned.
In a capitalist society social labor is wage labor. The ability to work is bought and sold in the market as a commodity as are the products of that labor. Those commodities have value to the extent that they are part of the social labor process. It is in studying this value that we can begin to understand the way capitalism works.
The goal of the capitalist is to amass value, measured in money, for the sake of amassing value. The capitalist wakes up in the morning with money and at the end of the day has accumulated more money. And he doesn’t need to perform any labor at all in order to do this, nor does he care what kind of or how many commodities he has produced. The only question for the capitalist is “Tomorrow what will I do with all this money?” And the answer is always “Try to turn it into more money.”
Thus the total amount of value in society is expanding, by some estimates an average of 3% a year. This is growth for the sake of growth, regardless of the social consequences. Here is where the absurdity of the conspiracy theory becomes clear. The basic idea of a conspiracy theory is: “There is such an amazing coincidence of messed up stuff in the world. This can’t be an accident. There must be some evil will behind it all.” But the conspiracy theorist misses the point. The motor of society, growth- blind, inanimate capital accumulation- doesn’t happen for a reason. There is no will behind it. It’s growth purely for the sake of growth.
But how far is bourgeois economics from the conspiracy theorist? Surely, this is what was most fascinating about the Ron Paul phenomenon: how Ron Paul fused the libertarian and conspiracy causes. If we take libertarianism to be the basic ideological distillation of modern economics isn’t it revealing how close the bourgeois theories of crisis coincide with the conspiratorial notion of an evil, outside force destroying the fabric of society- governments, the FED, jews, aliens. Neither can see that capitalist crisis is indistinguishable from capitalism itself.
When we ask if crisis is internal to capital we are asking if there is a limit to this growth. Clearly capital can only grow at the expense of the laborer. We, the laborers, are the active agents in a vast field of capital comprised of the products of past labor- machines, tools, raw materials, partially finished commodities. Marx called this ratio of past labor to living labor, of machines to man, the “organic composition of capital” and he observed that over time the composition of capital becomes more and more dominated by machines- all intended to improve the productivity of labor. But just because more widgets roll off the conveyor belt doesn’t mean that more value is being produced.
You may know those beautiful Diego Rivera murals in Detroit- his homage to the American industrial worker. In the murals there is a busyness of motion, of swirling gears and conveyor belts, the clanging and rumbling of great industrial machinery. And in the middle of it all, their bodies falling in to rhythm with the machines, are the the muscular forms of the American proletariat. Here is a brilliant illustration of several of Marx’s key insights about capital. In its explosive growth, capital flows through more and more of our reality until everything around us takes on the rhythm of accumulation. In the acceleration of turnover time, the construction and reconstruction of physical space, the gyrations of the stock market and the interest rate, we are always in the presence of the thumping rhythm of “the machine” that is capital. But we are the solitary living ingredient in the equation. As our bodies fall in with the rhythm of the conveyor belt we breath life into the machine.
The bodies in Rivera’s mural are totally dependent on capital for their survival and capital is totally dependent on the exploitation of those bodies for its survival. Yet despite their mutual dependence the two sides are antagonistic. What happens if we perform that careless abstraction of the bourgeoise economist- if we wave our magic wands and make one of the two elements disappear?
If we were to make capital disappear the wage laborer would cease to exist. Yet, human beings would still exist and they would still labor. In fact humans have labored without capital before and hopefully they may again one day. Thus the self-negativity of the worker is that (s)he can say “no” to being a wage laborer. This is what gives a union power- it’s ability to say a collective “no” to capital. This is also why labor creates value in the first place- the ability to say no is the essence of a social contract. The ultimate “no”, the ultimate self-negativity of labor is revolution. This is when we transcend wage labor.
If the human species were raptured this very minute, imagine the world we would leave behind: Diego Rivera’s mural falls silent, the still machines rusting in dark factories; empty schools and prisons, money lying in dark vaults, oil lying still in its barrels- a dead, motionless world. Capital is nothing without the laborer. Thus the self-negativity of capital is that to the extent that it eliminates labor it eliminates itself.
If we were to paint a dozen more machines into Rivera’s mural, the physical output might double. Perhaps we might erase the workers altogether and replace them with machines. What could be better for capital? A machine increases physical output and frees capital of its reliance on labor. But while this may create short-term competitive profits for the individual capitalist it comes at a high price. The less workers we have in our mural, the less value we produce. The more we spend on machines the higher our costs. This is why efficiency is the self-negating part of capital: efficiency destroys the very thing which creates value in the first place.
This may seem intuitively puzzling. If we erased all the workers from Rivera’s mural, wouldn’t cars still be produced? Wouldn’t people still buy them? Wouldn’t profit still be made? This is precisely the argument of those who maintain that profit is physically determined- that an increase in efficiency/productivity must mean more profits. But this is counter to the tenants of value theory: that only labor can produce value and that to the extent that capital accumulates at the sake of labor it is self-negating.
The debate over these rival concepts of productivity, capital and value is crucial. It is important not to dismiss this debate as mere scholasticism. When the bourgeois economist looks at those great murals of Diego Rivera’s he sees only people using stuff to make more stuff, existing in static equilibrium, besieged on all sides by hostile external forces. From the perspective of value theory the roaring machines conceal a social relation which pervades our reality and is contradictory at its core. Those “hostile external forces” are caught up in the gravitational field of capital and become internal to capital. Capital subsumes money, the state, culture and physical space and leaves its mark on all of them forcing them to express its contradictions.
Bourgeois economics may project its categories back and forth in time to create the illusion of a timeless capitalism in equilibrium. But in times of crisis the veil is torn. In a crisis it becomes clear that all things are in flux, that nothing is certain, that social systems don’t grow on trees- that they must be reproduced. We see motion and change all around us. When capital can’t reproduce itself, anything can happen. A crisis is a horrible time for people, but it’s also a great time for radical theory