Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Question about Form

How should a communist write? I don't mean what should a communist write, I mean how; i.e. what form should the writing take? Should a communist write in the first person? Should it be impersonal? 

How did Marx write? What was Marx's form? What was Marx's method, his technique? Should we try to emulate this? Is this just a question of literary form? Or can it be expanded?

Marx was an economic theorist, a scientist, a philosopher, and a journalist.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lenin: State & Revolution, Chapter 5, Review (part one)

Lenin: State and Revolution: Chapter 5 - Withering Away the State (Part One)
Thomas Riggins

Chapter 5 of State and Revolution  has a brief introduction and four sections. Lenin opens by telling us that Marx’s major discussion of the withering way of the state is to be found in his Critique of the Gotha Program. The Gotha Program was the founding document of the SPD in 1875. Although Marx wrote it in 1875, it was not published until 1891, eight years after his death.

1. Formulation of the Question by Marx

Lenin makes some very interesting comments in this section-- relevant to our understanding of socialism and the transition from capitalism in the twenty-first century. First, as opposed to those who maintained that Marx and Engels had different views on the nature of the state, i.e., that the letter to Bebel and the Critique of the Gotha Program are incompatible, Lenin says that they were actually in complete agreement on the state. The two works dealt with different aspects of the state and it is only my misinterpreting these works that any so-called incompatibility arises. Engel's letter dealt with the issue of what the state is under capitalism and the incorrect notions held of its role after the socialist revolution. Marx was interested in discussing  the transition from socialism to communism.

Marx was dealing with the evolution of communism. "The whole theory of Marx," Lenin says, is an application of the theory of evolution ... to modern capitalism."
This raises a couple of interesting points.

For instance, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) has been criticized for trying to apply the theory of evolution to modern capitalism and developing what came to be called "Social Darwinism" (although this term was not used to describe Spencer's views until the 1930s according to Wikipedia).  Darwin's theory is based on "natural selection" as applied to biological organisms and Social Darwinism has been attacked for making a category mistake (applying language appropriate to biological organisms inappropriately to non-biological social institutions.)

This critique basically did in Spencerism and so, it would seem, Lenin's characterization of Marxism as the theory of evolution applied to modern capitalism
should also be rejected. But Lenin did not, as Spenser did, use Darwinian terminology (natural selection, survival of the fittest - coined by Spenser) when he discussed evolution. He did not see Marxism as a subdivision of Darwinism. He used the term "evolution" in a more general sense to describe systematic changes in any type of organization such that any time2 could be understood as a result of causative factors at work at time1 for any system biological or social. Darwinism and Marxism would both be species of the genus "evolution." The terminology of one could not be mechanically applied to the other, hence Lenin did not, while Spencer did, commit a category mistake.

So, what was the question formulated by Marx? Lenin said it was, "On the basis  of what data can the future evolution of future communism be considered?" Lenin's answer is most important as it contains (although not obviously) the seeds of understanding why the twentieth-century socialist experience has been partially set back and is temporarily in stasis.  "On the basis of the fact," Lenin wrote, "that it has its origin in capitalism, that it is the result of an action of a social force to which capitalism has given birth."

Marx and Engels had no use for thinking up Utopias based on speculations about a future society. Unfortunately Lenin uses a biological analogy-- Marx is working like a biologist studying a new organism and explaining it in terms his knowledge of other organisms out of which it developed. This is an analogy, however, and not a category mistake.

Lenin also mentions that the concept of a "people's state" was being bandied about by SPD leadership at this time. This notion was used to justify ideas about keeping the state around under socialism. Marx thought the notion of a "people's state" was ridiculous once one understood what the role of the state was historically and that it had no function to play after the establishment of socialism. Perhaps Khrushchev's views on the USSR as a "state of the whole people" put forth at the 22nd CPSU Congress can be better understood in light of these passages from Lenin. Subsequent events seem to suggest that the concept of "a state of the whole people" was indeed ridiculous considering the actual conditions in the Soviet Union at the time.

2. Transition from Capitalism to Communism

Given Capitalism, Marxists want to end up with Communism— its negation. Marx says there will have to be a long period of transition separating these two systems.
What is the role of “democracy” during the transition? Lenin says we can have “more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic.”  But under capitalism the bourgeois democratic republic puts limits on the extent of democratic
rights i.e., “democracy is always bound by the narrow framework of capitalist exploitation.” Only the rich fully enjoy democratic freedom while the majority of the population  have the illusion of freedom; it is Lenin says, almost the same as it was in Ancient Greece “freedom for the slave owners.”

Marx held that the workers (“wage-slaves”) are so crushed down by debt and poverty under capitalism that “democracy is nothing to them” and “politics is nothing to them.” Lenin gives examples from his day to back up Marx’s comments. Here are some examples from our own time. Well, there has been some advance in our consciousness since Marx wrote those words (1875). Many working people have become aware of the possibilities of using the limited democratic possibilities of the capitalist state to somewhat improve their conditions servitude. But many are still in the condition that Marx described. In the US for instance, in midterm elections such as we have in 2014, traditionally only about 40% of the voters bother to cast ballots.

The working people and their allies have the power in this year’s election to rout the ultra right and put in place less reactionary politicians under whom it is possible to make some gains for the majority in terms of economic and social rights. We will see how well socialists, progressives, and union activists  have succeeded in making the oppressed aware of their stake in elections by the percentage of voters who go to the polls and the extent of the possible rout.

Lenin, following Marx and Engels, understands that wars, human exploitation, and poverty can never be ended until capitalism itself is ended. We have to fight for real democratic change, i.e., worker’s democracy, in order for this to have. Thus Lenin maintains that the way forward is NOT to start here where we are and fight for “greater and greater democracy”— this is the delusion of “liberal professors and petty-bourgeois opportunists” — the way forward is fight to establish workers democracy [AKA the dictatorship of the proletariat] which enacts laws that end the exploitation of working people — that deny to the capitalists democratic rights that they now presently enjoy which enable them to exploit other people.

Lenin stresses the fact that the first REAL democracy, democracy for the poor and oppressed, democracy for the people, is also the restriction of democracy for the rich, the exploiters, the capitalists. Freedom for the 99% can be gained only by restraining the 1%. This is the only way, Lenin says, freedom can  be attained by the masses of people, by using force to destroy the power of the exploiter. This is just the way of the world. Lenin calls it “the modification of democracy during the transition period from capitalism to Communism.”  For those who are less concerned with words than the concepts behind them, the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” can be replaced by “modification of democracy,” or “worker’s democracy” without any change of meaning as long you are clear about  what Lenin thinks is the role of the state in the transition period. Once Communism is reached democracy will fade away along with the state structure itself since democracy is a concept relating to the form of a particular sort of state.

What Lenin means can be understood by examining the logic of a common progressive slogan in use today— i.e., “No Justice, No Peace.” People have an almost innate feeling for justice and fairness (although socially conditioned) and understand quite well when they are not being treated fairly. They will eventually fight back if the unfair treatment becomes to much for them. Since all class based societies are based on the the ill treatment of the vast majority by a tiny minority a state is created which keeps the majority in check. Since there is no justice there are many incidences of no peace—  strikes, revolts, riots, uprisings, civil disobedience, rebellions, boycotts, civil wars, colonial wars, wars for economic dominance, demonstrations, marches, revolutions, etc. all of these are more or less calibrated to reflect the level of injustice being imposed by the ruling minority.

A successful state must keep the majority in check and (with a few exceptions in small societies) “the greatest ferocity and savagery of suppression are required, seas of blood are required, through which mankind is marching in slavery, serfdom, and wage-labour.” With the establishment of socialism a traditional period ensues with a new kind of state, one representing the majority which puts down the exploiting majority and eliminates it as a class, enabling the creation of conditions of justice for all, and thus peace. The end of the transitional period ushers in Communism “which renders the state absolutely  unnecessary  for there is no one to be suppressed”— in the sense of a class trying to exploit others— there will of course be ornery individuals no matter what kind of society you have but they will be dealt with by the people themselves living in communal arrangements.

In the next part of this review we will deal with what Marx thought these two stages of post capitalist would be like— without being Utopian Lenin says. We will resume with section 3 of chapter 5: “First Phase of Communist Society.”

Critique of the 'Declaration' (Hardt and Negri)

Preamble

This essay has had a bit of a torturous history, it was denied publication due (they said) to legal issues of 'copying' (implied plagiarism) by the new editors of Rethinking Marxism after it had already passed through the lengthy academic review process and been accepted and 'signed off'. I was not given an opportunity (at least to date) to revise the text any further and they did not reply to my following (3) emails; it was stated with finality. I worked on it some more and below is the outcome. I had written an introduction that explained the details of all this, putting my 'case', even including the original text, but it made the whole thing too cumbersome and self indulgent.

One problem was sufficient attribution: the difficulty with Hardt and Negri's Declaration is that as an electronic text it does not have (at least in the versions I have accessed) page numbers, so here I have had to merely repeat the first attribution citation where I refer to their work (it is freely available).

See here (or you may have to do a search if these have changed):

http://antonionegriinenglish.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/declaration-by-hardt-and-negri/

http://www.micahmwhite.com/leaderless-revolution/declaration-michael-hardt-and-toni-negri-abridged

RM's current editor, Marcus E. Green, is a specialist on Gramsci (e.g. he edited the book Rethinking Gramsci, Routledge, 2011, the same publisher as the journal). My gut feeling was that the editors took the decision to rescind publication for reasons of allegiance, and to avoid actual human responsibility they resorted to a software system (called SafeAssign). This may be ungracious, I may be wrong, there can be other reasons of course, I can only speculate. RM is an excellent journal. But time is not neutral here and I cannot leave the 'accusation' just hanging, if I did not know better I would think this was censorship and an attempt to discredit me.

Whatever, I take this opportunity to expand my theme a little:

Our (Gary Tedman's and Iona Singh's) work derives from and is a small tributary of a tradition of anti-humanist, Althusserian Marxism (and where it intersects with art specifically), a variant that came into some conflict with Gramsci in the past, via Althusser; e.g. (keeping things in proportion) I share Althusser's reservations on the concept of hegemony, and this 'overflows' to concepts such as the 'subaltern' (correctly conceived or misconceived) that Negri etc glean from Gramsci. In the below critique I was criticizing (as you will see) Hardt and Negri, and Antonio Negri may be construed as a part of this Italian tradition. I regard the Gramscian derived concept of the 'subaltern', cited in the book above, as often used as a way to 'shove out' the Marxist concept of class, which I aim to defend here. And subaltern is very like the concept of multitude put forward by Hardt and Negri. I also think, like some, that taking the concept of subaltern from Gramsci and using it in a declassed fashion, and from a Gramsci who was probably using it as code for 'working class' while in prison, is perhaps unfair to Gramsci, the communist.

Academic rewards are always held out for segueing away from the concept of class and nearer to the concept of 'the people' as a general category. And the mixing up of such ideas with Marx is often at least disingenuous (it 'social democratizes' Marx). The concept of class, with its materialist and non essentialist base in economics, reigns supreme for communists, it is part of the science of Marxist economics (and it has lots of deep ramifications for ideas of democracy and the State). The concept of subaltern, multitude, etc, at least in this kind of usage, is not therefore Marxist; - respectably anarchist perhaps, interesting certainly, worthy of attention yes, but a rethinking of Marx? No. Not unless a rethinking means a complete ditching of a central founding concept of its economic theory and the political extrapolation of that economic theory. This is throwing Marx out while pretending to be including him in.

I do not really like the term 'revisionist' because some things do need to be revised sometimes, and it seems to fix Marx in stone forever; but we must add, is it not the way of science to build on solid foundations? It seems to me there is a way to be scientifically interested in truth without Biblical connotations, and, this dislike of old terminology ('revisionist') should not prevent us from recognizing unnecessary, tendentious revisions, e.g. the ways of treating texts that are considered in some way dangerous to the established order. And, in this regard, there is also what I would call 'gatekeeping' (of which the decision to not publish this text may be an example); - I mean the policing of how radical ideas are to be received (i.e. Marxism), actually a subtle censorship employed in the context of our (in advanced capitalism) supposed 'media freedom', indeed it is even a part of the surfeit of information that Hardt and Negri refer to as being negative for freedom, rather like hyperventilating is bad for breathing. I will never forget going to see Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People in the Louvre and walking a gauntlet of bunting and souvenirs which made you think what lay at the end of the tunnel might be a market stall rather than a painting, this was its visual gateway, its 'framing'. In this supposedly 'free' space, in the myth, it is never that something is not 'out there' because it is censored, but because it is not popular and/or lacks quality in the 'free market'; the 'free market' has decided, no political agency is involved, this is (again, in this myth) just the 'facts' and the 'data' (we get endless 'polls' to 'prove' this, endless repeated 'litmus tests' of sentiment).

But then, sometimes people 'vote with their feet'. And sometimes the bourgeois media like this, when it is in their interests, on other occasions however it is taken as the extreme of anti democratic behavior. We have witnessed this ambivalence with regard to two places now in recent history, Libya and Ukraine. The degree to which even the critical-left-liberal media has been biased to bourgeois class interests has been truly astonishing and, for once, badly disguised. E.g. the very pro attitude towards the violent demonstrations by the 'EuroMaidan' (it could not be called 'Occupy Ukraine' of course), while the other encampment by protesters outside the Ukrainian parliament was almost totally ignored, which led to Odessa, and a rather cold response to the firebombing of another non-compliant protest camp by thugs.

This essay now seems to me to have been quite prescient in regard to the Ukraine 'EuroMaidan' and the ensuing civil war and the presence of Neo-Nazis being supported into government by the EU/USA. I did feel some urgency to publish (probably not wise in the academic context), given the intimations of this that were occurring before it erupted, now perhaps events have overtaken some of the value that the essay might have had here, which has given, I think, a concrete demonstration of the negative aspects (especially for communists, but it has wider ramifications) of the theory in the Declaration that I have highlighted.

By the way, both myself and my colleague and partner Iona Singh (2012) are "precarious workers" (Hardt and Negri's famous term is the 'precariat' of course), and have always been such, so it is, to us, not something that we don't also live and feel. There is some irony in that, perhaps. (Academic plaudits from journal publishing in this sense loses some of its allure anyway).

I have necessarily concentrated on the negative in this critique, but I hope this is taken as a constructive contribution to the debate, and that my comrades treat it this way rather than as some kind of attempt at 'damnation' (there is little danger of this in reality, H n' N are of course world famous, we are mere minions of the blogosphere's unruly democracy, voices destined to be lost in the very fullness of the wind).

Gary Tedman (edited by Iona Singh)



Critique of the 'Declaration'

by Gary Tedman


The concept of multitude (1) in Empire (2000) has "revolutionary potential" to establish what Hardt and Negri say Spinoza called an absolute democracy, to subvert the "post-disciplinary" societies of control and their concomitant "biopower' (Foucault 1984), and to attack "post-industrial capitalist hegemony" with (this) weaponry. This essay seeks to cast a critical Marxist eye over this project (2000, 2005, 2011) by mainly focusing on the text that some have called the Communist Manifesto of the 21st Century, their Declaration (2012).

The point of critical attack in Declaration ((Hardt and Negri 2012) note that due to the lack of page numbers in this electronic text, I have been unable to reproduce them in the following citations, as would be normal) is the dominant forms of subjectivity produced in the current crisis. They engage four primary subjective figures—the indebted, the mediatized, the securitized, and the represented. The hegemony of finance and the banks has produced the indebted, control over information and communication networks has created the mediatized; the security regime and the generalized state of exception have constructed a figure prey to fear and yearning for protection: the securitized, while the corruption of democracy has forged a "strange, depoliticized figure," the represented (Hardt and Negri 2012). The discourse begins from the subjective position; they also presuppose the movements of revolt, which subsequently provides them with the means to "refuse repressive regimes" and also to "invert these subjectivities in figures of power." (Hardt and Negri 2012) They discover new forms of independence and security on economic as well as social and "communicational" terrains, which together create the potential to throw off systems of political representation and assert their own powers of democratic action (Hardt and Negri 2012).

They see three aspects:

a) The strategy of encampment or occupation.

b) The movements' refusal to have a leader.

c) The struggle for 'the common'.

Their new 'meanings' in the struggle for the commons now becomes part of 'a new common sense'; they are foundational principles that they take to be inalienable rights, like those that were heralded in the course of the seventeenth century bourgeois English revolutions (Hardt and Negri 2012).

On this basis they construct their concept:

Once upon a time, they imply (Hardt and Negri, 2012), there was a mass of wage workers; today there is instead a multitude of precarious workers: the former were exploited by capital, but that exploitation was masked by the myth of a free and equal exchange among owners of commodities, the latter continue to be exploited, but the dominant image of their relationship to capital is now no longer configured as an equal relationship of exchange but rather as a hierarchical relation of debtor to creditor: note, what has changed is the status of the myth about this exploitative relation. Capitalist work relations have shifted, they say, and the center of gravity of capitalist production no longer resides in the factory (we slip from abstract relations to talk of mere buildings to justify another abstraction) but has drifted outside its walls; society itself has now become a factory, or rather, capitalist production has 'spread' such that the labor power of the whole society tends to be subordinated to capitalist control. Capital increasingly exploits the entire range of our productive capacities, our bodies and our minds, our capacities for communication, our intelligence and creativity, our affective relations with each other, and more; life itself "has been put to work." But now, it is no longer just a question for them of a shift in mythology: the actual economic relations have changed: the capitalist accumulates wealth primarily through rent, not 'profit'—this rent most often takes a financial form and is, they say (Hardt and Negri, 2012), guaranteed through financial instruments; this is where debt enters the picture, as a weapon to maintain and control the relationship of production and exploitation.

Whilst we can see that one tendency of advanced capitalism is increasingly to make all products also services which you pay for continuously, it is a different thing to claim this relation has overtaken that of capital to labor. Yet according to Hardt and Negri (2012) the entire basis of capitalism has gone from the process of expansion of capital through exploitation to obtain a profit, to that of the process of extracting rent, and thus to the relation of tenant to landlord. Essentially this is a reversal of Marx's discovery in the 1844 Manuscripts that rent of land is another form of profit on capital. It seems this theory of debt has to be backed by some theory of rent, but the relation between rent and debt is left obscure. Nonetheless the crux of Marx's mature theory, of capital as surplus value derived from unpaid labor time, seems to have been ejected, even while referring to Marx throughout in a complementary fashion.

Production relies, in these passages of theirs, increasingly on socialized, not individual, 'figures of work', that is, on workers who immediately cooperate together prior to the discipline and control of the capitalist. The 'figures of work' are considered as prior to capitalist control, they 'immediately cooperate' (why?); the suggestion is of a spontaneous subjective tabula rasa preceding the social subject.

This subject is mediatized in a fashion that corresponds to Deleuze (1994), where repressive forces do not stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves. They (Hardt and Negri, 2012) are more concerned, therefore, about the ways that today's mediatized subjects suffer from an opposite problem: stifled by a surplus of information, communication, and expression, the problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, as Deleuze apparently explains, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. They ask (Hardt and Negri, 2012): is it possible that in their voluntary communication and expression, in their new social media practices, people are contributing to, instead of contesting against, repressive forces? Media and communications technologies are 'increasingly central' to all types of productive practices and are "key to the kinds of cooperation necessary" for today's biopolitical production, they say (Hardt and Negri, 2012); the mediatized is a figure “caught in the web, attentive, and enthralled”; the media is increasingly becoming the means of expression for the rich and powerful.

─Whilst it is hard not to see some naivety in this implied notion that there was once a time when media (such as it was) was not restricted to the rich and powerful, the crux of the meaning of the term 'mediatized' becomes clearer when we see that it is opposed to Marx's concept of alienation: so whereas the consciousness and feelings of the alienated worker is disenfranchised, the consciousness of the mediatized is subsumed or absorbed in 'the web'.

Throughout it is clear we are always talking about consciousness. The subjective consciousness of the mediatized (Hardt and Negri 2012) is not a split but understood as fragmented and dispersed. The media, furthermore, do not really make you passive; actually they constantly call on you "to contribute your opinions, to narrate your life." (Hardt and Negri 2012) In return you are attentive; the mediatized is therefore a subjectivity that is paradoxically neither active nor passive but rather absorbed in attention.

We cannot refer to feelings based in alienation from sensual labor (Marx) here. It also implies a dispensing with Freud's materialist theory of affects (1985). We lose alienation in Marx's sense, the psychological and affective (felt) 'metamorphosis' of the real economic relations, to become an absorbed but dispersed (mental) subjectivity. The concept of alienation is replaced by the 'mediatized' multitude, which has in turn replaced classes.

As well as mediatized, they see society as increasingly totally securitized, always under a regime of surveillance, and we are all also a part of this surveillance─the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have arrested a promising development in anti-capitalist insurrection by enabling the state to defend itself against the multitude through the production of a “culture of fear.” So Multitude (Hardt and Negri 2005) went back to the subject of Empire (Hardt and Negri 2000). Post 9/11, multitude is seen as having the possibilities to work through institutions that create a mode of social organization that is not based on imperial sovereignty or anarchy. After 9/11 war is now a matrix for all relations of power and techniques of domination (Foucault 1980). Wars have traditionally initiated 'states of exception' (Schmitt 2008, Agamben 2005) in which civic rights are suspended and extraordinary emergency powers are adopted by governments. In that the War on Terror supplied the U.S. government with a permanent/general state of exception in which the war has to be won repeatedly, war has become little different to general police activity, and this new constant meant a rethinking of the concept of democracy was needed "to confront the leap of scale" necessary when considering globalization; so now they focus more on the global apparatuses of governance, organizations such as the United Nations and the IMF, and on broad democratic principles such as 'representation' as such (Hardt and Negri 2005).

Here (Hardt and Negri 2005), the concept of biopolitical power is merged with multitude, which they see appearing in the 'carnival and mimicry' (shades of Bakhtin, 1941) of protests, as well as in the 'decentralized intelligence' of the new social networks. Singularities are defined by being multiple internally and finding themselves externally only in relation to others. The communication and expression of singularities in networks, then, is not individual but 'choral', and it is always operative, linked to a "making of ourselves while being together". This is the episteme of the singular subject, ideal for the concept of the multitude because it is 'internally a multitude' and always requires the other singularity, not to make whole because the whole is described as a constant process, no conclusion may become a unity different from the singularity-multitude. Biopower is accordingly anti-capitalist insurrection "using life and the body as weapons"; examples include flight from power and suicide bombing, the latter understood as the opposite of biopower, which is "the practice of sovereignty in biopolitical conditions". The precise link between Hardt and Negri's use of the concept-term and Foucault's is unclear mostly because in Foucault it is also rather loose; for some, such eclecticism is deemed positive, it allows for 'slips' to be made, perhaps in the Lacanian (1977) sense of undercutting the mastery of your own discourse.

The multitude's (Hardt and Negri 2005) central role in challenging current threats to democracy is the production of 'the common'. The possibilities of the common are most visible, they say, in the realm of 'immaterial labor'. Immaterial labor in turn must be understood as a form of 'biopolitical labor' the example given is that of communication, which can be understood as 'symbolic-analytic' work. Hence we get the biopolitical force of immaterial labor, and this is coupled with the refusal to separate the economic, the political, and the social, so there is a collapsing down of certain classical concept structures, such as, markedly, the notions of levels and practices of the social formation from Althusser (1971) and/or the concept of base and superstructure of classical Marxism (Marx, 1981), or indeed the concept of social classes. Because of this, the lived reality of labor and the abstract reality of globalization are seen to, somehow, meld together. The multitude depends on the becoming common of multiplicity, while each form of labor is assumed to be able to retain its singularity. The concepts of the possibilities of the common derive from immaterial labor in the new forms of communication.

The 'securitized' is a creature that lives and thrives in the state of exception (Hardt and Negri 2012). For them the motivation is fear, fear of the 'outside'. We might want to suggest people like to know 'the other', and this is why 'a people' are social, so that any fear is always accompanied, if it is the case, by a certain comfort in making communal association. They pre-empt this possible objection: we must not confuse this state of exception with any natural condition of human society, and must not imagine it as the essence of the modern state or the end point toward which all modern figures of power are tending. The state of exception is a form of tyranny, they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), one that, like all tyrannies, exists only because of our voluntary servitude. They are suddenly quite forceful on this question, that this servitude is voluntary; i.e. we have decided upon it and so are in this sense responsible for it in terms of conscious will. But has the 'natural' actually been dealt with theoretically here? Consider the problem of democracy versus tyranny in Ancient Greece; it is not so obvious which is the most oppressive system, given the existence of slavery.

Most important to the subject of democracy for them (2012) is 'representation': they see that many of the Occupy movements refuse to be represented and direct their strongest critiques against the structures of representative government. They claim that to understand their critique we must recognize that representation is not a vehicle of democracy but instead an obstacle to its realization (Hardt and Negri 2012). The figure of the represented "gathers together" the figures of the indebted, the mediatized, and the securitized and epitomizes the end result of their subordination and corruption. Their (Hardt and Negri 2012) synthetic critique of representative democracy is biting, but it comes to rest with Rousseau and Carl Schmitt (2008), and the social contract and state of exception, which are not so much criticized, now, as by-passed, for (they argue (Hardt and Negri 2012)) it "does not matter if they are right" (are they? It must certainly be nice to be self-absolved of this responsibility), the political conditions to which they once referred (apparently) are no longer so potent: today, they say, and even if we were to believe the modern myths of representation and accept it as a vehicle of democracy, the political context that makes it possible "has radically diminished" (Hardt and Negri 2012). The new protests make challenges in this context. Where, they ask, has the project for democracy gone? "How can we engage it again and what does it mean to win back, or, really, to realize for the first time the political power of the citizen-worker?" (Hardt and Negri 2012)

They see a path that these movements teach, which passes through the revolt against the impoverished and depotentialized subjective figures that they have outlined: democracy will be realized only when a subject capable of grasping and enacting it has emerged, and this subject is their subject (Hardt and Negri 2012). And their subject is a version of Hannah Arendt's subject (Matynia, 2009, Arendt 1973, 1999). The 'kairos' is the anarchic impulse now linked to Arendt's democratic humanism and Aristotelian notion of action, where "Making the truth is a collective linguistic act of creativity." It is figured as the collective power of singularities, so the concept of collectives is not abandoned, and neither is individuality, but both appear 'squashed together' as if the mere act of placing them near each other suffices to overcome all theoretical obstacles, and so there is a kairos of resistance as well as a kairos of community. Almost nonsensical phrases ensue, like: "It becomes singular, because becoming singular, in contrast to becoming individual, means finding once again the subjective force in being together", "The will is born positively from the impulse to affirm a plenitude not a lack, the urge to develop a desire", "We flee those bonds and those debts in order to give new meaning to the terms bond and debt, and to discover new social relationships", "we need to make new truths, which can be created only by singularities in networks communicating and being together." (Hardt and Negri 2012) At work is perhaps Deleuze's epistemology of difference as opposed to Marxist dialectics.

Now we come to the most central question for Hardt and Negri (2012): how can people associate together in the common and participate directly in democratic decision making? How can the multitude become prince (Machiavelli, 1992) of the institutions of the common in a way that reinvents and realizes democracy?

They see this as the task of a "constituent process" (Hardt and Negri 2012).  Every revolution needs a constituent power—not to bring the revolution to an end but to continue it, guarantee its achievements, and keep it open to further innovations. A constituent power is necessary to organize social production and social life in accordance with 'our' principles of freedom, equality, and solidarity.

So, we see some form of power or authority is envisaged as necessary (constitution), but this is understood in a specific philosophical manner: constituent processes are "dispositifs of the production of subjectivity." (Hardt and Negri 2012) Because, they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), even if there were some original or primordial human nature to be expressed, there is no reason to believe it would foster free, equal, and democratic social and political relations: political organization always requires, according to this schema, the production of subjectivities: "we must create a multitude capable of democratic political action and the self-management of the commons." Believing that only a constituent process based in the commons can provide a real alternative, they therefore maintain "these truths to be self-evident, that all people are equal, that they have acquired through political struggle certain inalienable rights, that among these are not only life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but also free access to the common, equality in the distribution of wealth, and the sustainability of the common." (Hardt and Negri, 2012) It is equally evident to them that to secure these rights, democratic governance must be instituted, deriving its 'just powers' from the participation of the governed and the transparency of governmental organization.

The problem of guaranteeing democratic rights for minorities, often tied up with the relation of indigenous peoples to the 'common land', is approached: how can we guarantee tolerance toward the rights of powerless minorities? First of all, they say (Hardt and Negri, 2012), we should recognize that contemporary social movements are experimenting with "new practices of majority rule" that result in "new conceptions of tolerance." Tolerance in this scheme must give everyone the power to participate as different and to work actively with others; this tolerance is an essential feature of their understanding of the internal multiplicity of a ruling majority. There is a denegated force in this imperative must, in the insistence of this as the a priori principle. The 'glue' that holds these struggles together, as implied already, appears to be for them fundamentally linguistic, in the manner they grasp cognitive immaterial labor.

This double relation of constitutional action is seen as something like the relationship established in the thirteenth century at the foundation of the British legal system when the declaration of the Magna Carta was accompanied by a Charter of the Forest which establishes rights to access the commons.

The multitude subjectivity is in effect a Lockeian-Leviathan made up of singularities who each reflect as multitude-singularity the Leviathan as a multitude-singularity. In terms of political philosophy we have returned to questions of the common land and the enclosures (Locke, 1998).

John Locke (1632–1704) was an empiricist, for him knowledge about the world begins with sense perception. He is famous for his idea that the mind is like a blank sheet of paper, in contrast to Cartesian rationalism, wherein God is a foundational principle and necessary to thought and self. Concepts could be examined, like a doctor examines a patient, and reduced to their most basic sense components. Locke nevertheless distinguished ideas that represented 'actual qualities' of objects, such as size, shape, or weight, from ideas that represented 'perceived qualities', which for him do not exist in objects except as they affect observers, such as color, taste, smell, by calling the former primary and the latter secondary qualities (quite like Deleuze's intensive and extensive). Knowledge of 'Man's' own existence is intuitive; 'Man' exists as material and immaterial substance, he is not clear though and plays with the notion that 'Man' is simply material substance to which God has superimposed 'immaterial' thinking. But Locke could not give a good account of the idea of substance, essential to his entire epistemology, it is not a simple idea given in sensation, and it cannot be derived from given principles, but he carries on anyway; moreover his source of information on human sense is more often introspection, i.e. thinking, than actual empirical observation.

Locke's most important contribution on political philosophy, his Two Treatises of Government (Locke, 2013) is a refutation of Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha (1991), the first a defense of the divine right of kings, the second a refutation of the absolutist theory of government as such. He makes a general argument against the concepts of Absolute Monarchy or power, particularly as espoused by Thomas Hobbes (1982), but like Hobbes he is not ultimately definite. Government is a trust, which can be forfeited by any ruler who does not secure the public good; the individual does not give up all his rights when he enters civil society, he has established his right to property by 'mixing his labor' with things originally given to people in common, but now made his own by his labor. This individual has the right to expect political power to be used to preserve his property, in his own person and in his possessions, and the right to freedom of thought, speech, and worship.

Note, this 'labor' has an abstract rather than sensual quality; the 'mixing' assumes a 'making of his own' as happened in the acts of enclosure of the commons, so more an abstract 'labor' of the landowning capitalist's decisions, rather than that of the peasants who sensually worked the common land. The commons is seen as not 'owned', and thus 'waste' lands open to owning by 'industry'. In 1671 Locke was a big investor in the English slave-trade, and his participation in drafting the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas meant he had useful insider knowledge. Locke's constitution established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves; his statements on unenclosed property have been seen as an attempt to justify the ejection of Native Americans, and because of his opposition to aristocracy and slavery in his major texts he is accused of hypocrisy, caring for liberty, certainly, but mainly for English capitalists. These ideas influenced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (Farr 2008).2

For Hardt and Negri, the existing powers are seen to represent threats to the common land, what is then envisaged to act as a counter-power are the various ecological movements, which are understood as guardians of the commons, as a kind other state emerging within the existing. They see democratic counterpowers must be able to force the corporations and the nation-states to open access to the commons, to divide the wealth 'equitably' so all can meet their basic needs, and repair the damage to social and ecological systems.

Hardt and Negri's notion (2012) of the 'new meaning' given by recent protests is that the common is figured as a kind of debt-in-common which, not moral obligation, functions through an ethics based on the "reciprocal recognition of the social debts that we are understood to owe to one another and to society", this is a positive, for them, side of the socialization of debt. That people have debts that they might need to be guilty of is assumed.

─We know, of course, long before even capitalism but at all stages of society in which there has been class struggle, the relation of debtor to creditor has existed, but it is always secondary to the primary economic relation, production: slavery, serfdom, and the wages system. Their theory seems to challenge this.

An irony of Hardt and Negri's conception of debt is that today in the crisis it is not necessarily the working class which is the most indebted, as may be construed from their analysis, but the bourgeoisie and their banks and corporations, this is why, in fact, the working class are supposed to have to pay, via their future taxes, to bail-out the bankrupt private banks and thereby 'socialize the debt' of their masters. Debt may be a way to exploit the subject on a greater scale than ever before, there is no doubt, it also helps poor consumers to continue to purchase the overproduced commodities, but the very scale of the debt shows that the biggest are incurred by the largest entities, in many cases these debts have certainly been transferred from 'too-big-to-fail' entities to their governments, and then passed to the population of humble workers, but did the workers, whose hard labor power generates value, also initiate all this debt while being exploited? A worker may borrow certainly, but she has had surplus value expropriated by working for periods without pay, and so often is in need of loans. The capitalist in this circumstance (as banker or loan shark, etc) is loaning value to the worker that has already been expropriated from them in the production process. This lending is therefore a further extension of the existing exploitation.

Many of the colossal debts actually emerged as fictitious capital in the midst of speculative deals that ballooned in the trading back and forth of high finance. That some of these bundles included 'sub-prime' residential mortgages was highlighted by the press, implying citizens with a supposed innate greed were the originators of the global crisis, and then used to justify greater exploitation as the answer. But the key factor originating the crisis is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (Marx Capital Vol. III Part III, Chapter 13. 1977, or see Moseley 2013). It appears to the capitalist that it is lazy workers that are the problem, but the capitalists very success usually means the falling rate of profit, which is exacerbated now because often he also has debts to bigger capitalists, e.g. the big banks, which now rise with the interest faster than the rate of growth of the profit on his capital. Indeed this slowdown in capital expansion was one main source of the vastly expanding debts. The problem today is not a lack of value in the hands of investor institutions, but a glut of wealth, including 'stimulus', that is now stashed unproductively because of the fear of investing in the declining market, leaving just the huge debts to play out or be socialized.

How do Hardt and Negri find their way out of their own debt impasse? We must apparently remember the basic recognition of the nature of power explained by Foucault and, before him, Machiavelli (1992): power is not a thing but a relation. No matter how mighty and arrogant seems that power standing above you, we must know that it depends on us, feeds on our fear, and survives only because of our willingness to participate in it. We must consequently look for an escape door. One escape door is messages spread virally "through the neighborhoods and a variety of metropolitan circuits." (Hardt and Negri 2012)

─After all the talk of action, of weapons and riots, we are back to mere messages, to ideology. Media becomes the tools for our collective 'self-production': we are able to create 'new truths' only when we stop being individual and constitute ourselves in our relationships to others, opening ourselves to an apparent "common language", the project of liberation is a question of contested meanings.

And communication among "singularities in networks" requires an encampment, where the kind of self-learning and "knowledge production" can take place. Still, for all the talk of physicality, they tend to forget (although I'm sure they have not) that over 800 revolutionaries lost their lives in the 2011 January revolution in Egypt, and that there were violent, sustained, confrontations over long days and nights with the state and parastatal forces. It is also notable they ignore the case of the uprising in Libya and the violent civil war there. The idea that "We have little interest…in heroes and martyrs" is rather denied by the fact that the martyrs of Tahrir were a constant figure of justified symbolism to aid in the furtherance of the aims of the Egyptian Revolution. Wanting (rightly) to avoid the cult of personality is clearly not the same thing as denying the role of your own heroes. Significantly, the bourgeois media tended to ignore the large working class contribution to the achievements of the Egyptian (mainly bourgeois democratic) revolution, even notably Al Jazeera, and such interpretation could help this along. Will it not be the case that these genuine heroes will be the ones that get forgotten while we dismiss 'cults', especially if we also dismiss classes at the same time?

─In the Declaration Hardt and Negri tend (I suggest) to repeatedly mix up, specifically, the protests in Britain that took place after the police killing of a black man, Mark Duggan, a local, in Tottenham, London, who was shot dead on 4 August 2011, with the riots which began on 6 August 2011, failing to see the distinction that many did in the UK between such protests and the later criminal opportunism and nihilism, the latter assisted by peculiar 'backing off' by the police, or between this and other 'non riot' mass protests. They reject any 'old Bolshevik' theory of a passage of political consciousness from spontaneity to organization (e.g. Lenin 1977), because they want no apparent "moralizing about how the rebellions of the poor should be better organized, more constructive, and less violent" (!), and on this basis they see the supposed absence of struggle for socialism as evidence of a struggle 'for the common'. What they have noticed is the very real lack of a proper understanding among today's rebellious groups of class and class power, but this lack is taken as a positive.

The concept of class in Marx is not a category imposed 'by science', but a discovery, that the mode of production of a society, such as capitalism, divides people into broad social groups based in their differing relationship to the means of production; to be a wage worker and seller of labor as a commodity is not the same relation to the means of production as an owner of capital and employer of labor. The economic concept is thus a way to avoid identity politics and the essentializing of difference, since class can be fixed while its content (individuals) may change. The absence of a concept of class in 'rebel' discourse therefore tends to return us to identity, but deferred by constant difference, since the resolution can never be final because any coming to rest will end in essence; they forget that constant absolute difference simply becomes the new essence.

Irrespective, one aspect of Hardt and Negri's interpretation of the protest encampments is where they refer to the way affects are expressed at those sites, where "they are produced and trained." The constituent experiences they refer to see them as animated and permeated by flows of affects, and indeed there is "great joy", here. Physical proximity facilitates the common education of these affects, the intense experiences of cooperation, the creation of mutual security in a situation of extreme vulnerability, and the collective deliberation and decision-making processes: a "great factor for the production of social and democratic affects". We would not want to overemphasize ' Kraft durch Freude' of course, but nonetheless, are not these tent cities also reminiscent of army encampments, with their 'field hospitals' and supply lines, etc? And could not the sense of joy also stem from the sudden feelings of empowerment that proximity of the mass gives? The military nature of such entities does not so easily partner the populist concept of democracy, but it may the class feeling, which is being overlooked here (as probably too 'Bolshevik').

"How can such democratic counterpowers get constructed", they ask (Hardt and Negri 2012), and where will they get their force? We are thrown back to the past to try to grasp what is happening. They could have referred to the early Marx articles on democracy and the Debates on the Theft of Wood (Marx 1842, see also Tedman 2013), and one wonders why they chose instead to go to a much earlier point in history (Magna Carta). Nevertheless, because of this avoidance, unfortunately they bar themselves from answering their own question and come to the Lockeian impasse. ─How this resistance will come about is not clear; the only obviousness is the urgent needs of humanity/the earth, and the incapacities of all the existing powers to fulfill these needs. The best they can say is that it requires what they call a 'leap' from the individual to the collective in order to become an autonomous and participating political subject, a decision that must be both singular and common.

In this 'leaping' a host of theoretical difficulties are simply evaded. In order to define the kind of deliberative democracy that this leap allows, they make another distinction between the common and the public, as in ownership. Public ownership is still state ownership via the public (e.g. taxes) while 'the common' is a different kind of ownership or non-ownership, not private and not public. But what is it, communist, or communal freedom? Not exactly, it is not projected forwards in time as a final goal of socialism, because it is deemed as possible now: common ownership requires citizens' democratic rights and this is defined pragmatically as when free access to a resource, like water for example, is enabled. Again, here the task, by not seeing itself as being in any way enacted by the contradiction in the present state and its public ownership of utilities, a romantic idea of an unsullied type of non-state ownership, a pre-capitalist commonality, is implied as existing and possible.

In this manner perhaps the concept of indignation may also be the expression of a (sometimes) misplaced sense of princely nobility and an essentially aristocratic view of the soil. For them, deliberative democracy enhances and enables this kind of commonality over resources like free access to free water because, they say, it would be necessary for all to understand the methods, rules and regulations of water supply to really maintain this as a democratic freedom., a common good that all citizens must manage and make decisions about democratically is not, they argue, transcendental, like the general will, but immanent to the community.

Materialist immanence indeed seems to open up a route out of the 'princely' view, but whether and how this route is to be taken remains obscure. Rousseau managed to establish the general will as a concept of authority only by imagining that it has to stand above them all and belong to no one, this is why, they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), Rousseau's notion of the general will is susceptible to statist and even authoritarian interpretations. A common good, in contrast, they argue (Hardt and Negri 2012), is something that must be constructed, possessed, managed, and distributed by all. But what, we must ask, prevents this process from ossifying precisely into another kind of state standing above the people (see Althusser 1977, 1976)? Is it merely the fact it is a process? Becoming common is for them (Hardt and Negri 2012) a continuous activity guided by reason, plus the desire of the multitude, which itself must undergo an education of its knowledge and political affects. Yet presumably this education would be by an existing power. No amount of imagining this as a process can hide this simple fact.

Hardt and Negri do of course recognize some of these difficulties and that they have been approached before: they refer to the Soviets who, battling capitalist domination thought they were headed for a new democracy, but 'ended up in a bureaucratic state machine'. They ask, therefore, what kind of bargain are we making when we struggle for the common but settle for the rule of public property and so state control?

It seems that once we succeed, we are again stuck with state rule, which brings us no closer to the desired democratic management of the common. As a solution they propose (Hardt and Negri 2012) two 'paths': the first is theoretical and modeled on the 'difference principle' that they say John Rawls (1999) proposed in his theory of justice. The second is more active and practical than the first, and involves a 'double combat': many social movements for the common and against neoliberalism struggle for the public to overthrow the rule of private property and, at the same time militate against that public power in the interests of the common and mechanisms of 'self-management'. Throughout the twentieth century, socialist practices are seen as establishing a typology of such relationships as internal to the political structure: in the dynamic between trade union and party, for instance, this was internal to the functioning of the party, and when in power, socialist governments configured the activities of social movements as within their ruling structures, as the state apparatus. They charge (Hardt and Negri 2012) that this internal relation derived from the assumption that the union, the party, social movements, and the government all operated according to a single ideology, the same understanding of tactics and strategy, and even the same personnel. The slogan, they say, "fighting and in government" promoted by socialist parties conceived these two functions as compatible and internal to the party.

This analysis however glosses over the fact that for Lenin this stage of the working class holding state power would not have been under one singular 'perfect ideology', but be seeking to contain another competing ideology, that of the old exploiters (though see Althusser's 'left' critique of Stalinism, 1976). But for these writers, the socialist tradition that posits such an internal relationship between social movements and parties or ruling institutions has now been broken, for example, in South America, where they see (Hardt and Negri 2012) a decisive externality and thus separation of the social movements with regard to organizational practices, ideological positions, and political goals. The 'identity', they argue, of the movements is grounded in specific local situations, but at the same time the movements maintain cooperative or antagonistic relationships or both simultaneously, with the government, so that they can apparently act autonomously "on specific economic, social, administrative, and constitutional issues."

This is all well and good in this social context and with this particular history. However, local socio-economic conditions underpin this, rather than any specific notion of special subjectivities, and this loose 'space' may also enable returns to the old capitalist norms of exploitation. An "open laboratory of consensual interventions and plural creations of legislative norms" is fine but with the continuation of vicious class struggle, both external and internal, what are its chances? Have we not also had the lessons of World War II and the rise of fascism? (It is in my view a peculiarity of these times that this episode of human history is being erased from popular memory (Tedman 2008) by the same process that removes the concept of class). Possibilities of resistance are always clearer when there is an obvious, more immediate, colonial, imperial past to overcome, to which other struggles may be subordinated at every class level. It is also conspicuous that they (Hardt and Negri 2012) do not mention which Latin American countries they are referring to; because in each situation there are differing circumstances (for instance Venezuela has oil). In any case, nothing is said about any emancipation of the working class from exploitation here, so in that sense its class interests are ignored. We might be tempted to say, if they want water, and recognize that for water to become common requires pipes, pumps, and management systems, whereas for ideas to become common requires education, publication forums, and so forth, they also need to realize that to get water and build schools requires working class sweat and toil, and often blood (South African miners know this).

They ask if it is possible to make these 'post-state' aspects of federalism the basis for a legislative power that is not closed and centralized. We have to assert that this circumstance in no way shape or form represents a stage of 'post-state existence', and that this is pure idealism. In fact we are definitely instead in a 'post-encampment' stage of struggle when the state everywhere has reasserted its dominion, not exactly back to where we were before, we have certainly moved on, but talk of post-state environments is exceedingly premature, like talking of 'post state' after the encampments of Resurrection City in the Poor Peoples' campaign in the late 1960's. The lament over the traditional 'parties of the Left' that Hardt and Negri develop comes from not seeing their agency in the false dialectic of cartel democracy, and perceiving this reactionary structure as a remaining possibility for furthering democracy. On the other hand, they see the socialist struggle for state dominance, when it is successful in asserting itself, as a false imagining of the basis of a workers' dictatorship that would, after a transitional period, "somehow give way to democratic governance"; this assumes for some reason that workers councils were not democratic in the first place, which seems to be simply a prejudice, ─why would it need to 'give way' to democratic governance if it was such governance in workers councils?

In Marxist theory democracy itself is a part of the state and so superstructural anyway; democracy therefore 'withers away' when the state does. While they do grasp the vital element of workers' councils in their attempt to incarnate, as they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), legislative power in the field of production, destroying the separate realm of politics and politicians, and instead "spreading the circuits of political decision making widely through the networks of workers" they do not propose to resurrect workers' councils 'in their twentieth-century form' (Hardt and Negri 2012), for one of their obvious (to them) limitations is that they were apparently restricted to a portion of society, i.e. the working class (the majority); even the participation of all industrial workers would leave out of the political process, they argue, waged workers in other sectors, the families of workers, the unemployed, and others. Yet this seems to be a rather artificial obstruction. Why should there not be councils for all forms of labor in a socialist system?

The new social movements probably reveal the desire to move towards new associations that may embrace those who are as yet uncovered by such institutions as unions, but also, quite differently in terms of the stage of class struggle, find them lately to be stagnated organs. There is certainly a tendency within some of these movements to see their political position as one of indignation (i.e. the Indignados) because their petty bourgeois rights are being eroded by the strictures of the crisis. Many small bourgeois are being thrown down into the ranks of the working class or straight into the 'underclass', and when they see and feel their rights being withdrawn this way, it is natural to wish to 'take the square' back into 'their' ownership, to assert their site. However, for the working class and peasants the 'commons' as far as it existed never was theirs, and especially in the age of capitalism they were always excluded from these spaces anyway if not precisely by written law, by custom, tradition, manners and taboo.

To conclude, we seem to have been returned, by default, and as with Arendt, to the founding of the U.S. republic as the nadir of democratic political development here, social problems tend to be declassed so that not to recognize class becomes the individuality of the atoms of the multitude and seen as democratizing as such. the main concept that 'immaterial labor' overshadows appears to be the labor theory of value of Marx (et. al.), which locates the source of value (other than that which is given in nature) in material-sensual labor power; this is substituted by 'its debt'. Its 'debt' appears to be owed to a subjective force: perhaps capital in disguise. Broadly, the concept of multitude mixes the complex global international class struggles and interconnections between different national conflicts at different stages of historical development and on different levels (economic, aesthetic, ideological and political) into a single homogenized aggregate which overlooks/conflates important and subtle differences, which can cause a cascade of tactical errors. They tend to reject socialism as having any real answers in its proposal for a state, but at the same time still assert that 'management' is necessary. The constant refrain is for democratic immanence as a process, but this seems inadequate so far to base any furtherance of the 'project' on, which needs unity with the working class to go forward. The references to affects and immanence are to this author nevertheless interesting because they overlap with materialist concepts of the aesthetic level of practice (Singh 2012, Tedman 2012), in other words, there is definitely an unexplored space to open up here that they have, I think, located and are 'working around'.


Notes

1. For Marx the concept of multitude would probably fall under the same strictures as 'population', as explained in the section on method in the Grundrisse. See:

Karl Marx: Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse) 1. Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation) [Abstract] (3) The Method of Political Economy.
https://www.marxists.org/subject/dialectics/marx-engels/grundisse.htm [accessed 27 August 2014]

2. Wikipedia entry: “John Locke” :

“In addition, he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina while Shaftesbury's secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves. … Because of his opposition to aristocracy and slavery in his major writings, he is accused of hypocrisy and racism, or of caring only for the liberty of English capitalists.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Locke


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Piketty for Progressives 2

Thomas Riggins

“Introduction” to Capital in the Twenty-First Century— Part 2

2. Malthus, Young and the French Revolution

This section is not particularly enlightening as it is mostly just descriptive. We are informed that Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) wrote his 1798 work "Essay on the Principle of Population" based on few sources, one of the most important of which was a travel diary that the British agronomist Arthur Young (1741-1820)  published of his trip to France (1788-89) where the extent of poverty he saw led him to fear a revolution was in the offing. Malthus was led to believe the social troubles facing Europe as a result of the French Revolution and the changing economic conditions of the day were caused by overpopulation. Too many poor people were being born and not enough food could be produced to feed them. His solution was to advocate the end of any kind of welfare aid to the poor (let nature take its course) and to discourage their procreative activities. Piketty says we cannot understand the extreme views of Malthus without understanding the role that fear played in a Europe experiencing revolution, fast economic changes, and the rapid increase of population and poverty occasioned by the Industrial Revolution. He stress that the theoretical work of the time was based on limited sources due to scanty record keeping by modern standards.

3. Ricardo: The Principle of Scarcity

Piketty says in retrospect we might make fun of the dark prophecies the nineteenth century  thinkers made concerning the dire consequences that the development of the class nature of capitalism and the consequent unequal distribution of wealth seemed to indicate.  He seems to think “these prophecies of doom” did not happen  but were justified by the “traumatic” changes the development of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution engendered. David Ricardo (1772-1823) and Karl Marx (1818-1883) “the two most influential economists of the nineteenth century” both had apocalyptic views of the future. Ricardo thought the wealth of society would be monopolized by the owners of land, Marx by the industrial capitalists. In this section Piketty discusses Ricardo’s views.

Ricardo's interests were in the price and rent of land and were expressed in his 1817 book "Principles of Political Economy and Taxation." He had few statistics to work with, Piketty says, but he understood contemporary capitalism and further developed the theories of Malthus. As population grew the demand for land (for agriculture especially) would go up and so would its price and consequently the amount that could be charged as rent.
Eventually the landowners would be getting the lion's share of the wealth expressed as income and the rest of the people would be getting less and less. Unless taxes on land were radically increased to readdress this income imbalance social stability would collapse and the spectre of the French Revolution would arise to haunt Europe.

Piketty points out that Ricardo was wrong because of technological and industrial developments that took place after his time that diminished the role of agriculture in the economy. Nevertheless, Ricardo's views on the role of "scarcity" were insightful as they indicated that the prices of certain commodities (goods and services) could get out of hand and disrupt society, especially in the present age when the global economy is coordinated and kept in balance by an international pricing system.  "The problem is," Piketty says, "the price system knows neither limits nor morality."

Here is a classic example of the problem of reification discussed by Marx in the first volume of Capital in the chapter on the fetishism of commodities. Something created  by human beings takes on an "independent" existence and enthralls its creators who treat it as as some kind of  self-subsistent entity whose laws we are subject to and incapable of changing or abolishing.

Scarcity could still be a problem in our century. But there is a way to contain problems of scarcity-- namely supply and demand. Piketty says if prices get too high because of lack of supply, then people will not buy  and the demand will lessen causing the prices to fall. But what about a problem with the food supply? Not enough food, sky high prices, people can't buy-- but will the demand for food lessen? It would not. It's possible that food purveyors would end with a wholly disproportionate and unequal share of social wealth in their control.  Piketty thinks in this sort of situation a Ricardian Apocalypse is theoretically possible. However, he doesn't think it will ever come to this but will put off further consideration of this problem until later in his book where his treatment "will be more nuanced.”

4. Marx: The Principle of Infinite Accumulation

By the time we get to Marx in the second half of the nineteenth century (Capital Vol. I came out in 1867) the main problem was understanding how industrial capitalism actually worked and what was responsible for the immiseration of the  industrial working class [and not just it alone]—“the most striking fact of the day.”

 During this period, right up to World War I, Piketty says, the evidence indicates that there was growing income inequality with the ruling class expropriating more and more of the social wealth created and leaving less and less for the working people and others in society to share. He says this “endless inegalitarian spiral” only came to  an end due to the shocks of the World War and only these shocks could have halted the growing inequality let loose by the Industrial Revolution. [One of the biggest shocks was, incidentally, the Russian Revolution and the forces of social consciousness it unleashed on the planet— still somewhat reverberating throughout the world.]

Piketty dates the birth of  the “first” movements of socialism and communism to the 1840s (actually there were even earlier movements dating back to at least the seventeenth century) when people began noticing that while capitalism was working for the capitalists, enriching them, the working people were not benefiting from the system and were subjected to the same kind of miserable living conditions as they had in the pre-capitalist past.

Enter Karl Marx who sets himself the task of explaining how capitalism works and why it keeps the working people is such miserable conditions (relatively speaking). Piketty says Marx built his system (expressed in Capital ) on two principles he took from Ricardo— the principles of the price of capital and of scarcity. It is true that Marx had great respect for Ricardo but he actually rejected Ricardo’s price theory, and replaced it by his own original theory developed out of his concept of labor power and surplus value based on socially necessary labor time. I don’t see how Ricardo’s views on “scarcity” played any positive role in Marx’s system as Ricardo’s theory was developed in the context of his misconceived theories of agricultural rent.

Pekitty also says that Marx developed a “principle of infinite accumulation” in which he showed “the inexorable tendency for capital to accumulate and become concentrated in ever fewer hands, with no natural limit to the process.” Piketty then says this is the foundation of his “prediction of an apocalyptic end to capitalism.”  Either the capitalists will fall into violent conflicts over their inability to keep accumulating (it isn’t infinite after all) OR the workers will revolt because “capital’s share of national income would increase indefinitely.”

Yes capital must continue to accumulate to survive in Marx’s system, but there are natural limits— namely saturating the market both domestically and eventually world wide. It was these conditions that led to monopolization, colonialism, and imperialism and brought about the apocalyptic twentieth century in which the capitalists managed to set off, two world wars, ignite both the Russian and Chinese revolutions, destroy the lives of hundreds of millions of people and usher us into the present century in which they have instigated violent conflicts in Europe, Africa and Asia anyone of which could set off a more general war. The instability of capitalism is as great as it ever was and poverty is spreading everywhere (except mostly in those countries still maintaining communist governments). Therefore, Piketty’s conclusion that  “Marx’s dark prophecy came no closer to being realized than Ricardo’s” is considerably premature— the game is still afoot.

This introduction has a strange reading, I think, of twentieth century history— it improves later in the book. He doesn’t see World One I as part of Marx’s Apocalypse but admits a communist revolution did break out in Russia “the most backward country in Europe.” However, “fortunately for their citizens” the advanced European countries “explored  other, social democratic, avenues.” I don’t know how advanced Spain and Portugal were after the war (WWI) but I don’t think Franco or Salazar qualify as social democrats, nor do Hitler, Mussolini, or P├ętain. By and large I don’t think the citizens of the “advanced” countries had a very fortunate century.

There are two other comments on Marx in this section which are unjustified. The first is that he “neglected the possibility of durable technological progress and steadily increasing productivity” as “counterweights to accumulation and concentration of private capital.” Marx did not “neglect” either technological progress or increased productivity but he saw them not as counterweights but as the results of the accumulation and concentration of capital.

The second unjustified comment is that Marx did not devote much time to speculating about how a post capitalist society would be structured. This is meant to be seen as a failing on Marx’s part but that would be an error. Marx did not think it a good use of his time to engage in utopian speculations on the future but he did study the example of the Paris Commune of 1871 and discussed the economic and political actions that would have to be undertaken in a post capitalist society (“The Civil War in France”) and his ideas were elaborated on later by both Engels and Lenin. There is a Marxist literature on this subject to which Piketty could have referred.

Piketty ends this section by saying Marx is still important to study and that his principle of “infinite accumulation” is still at work in the twenty-first century but not as “apocalyptic” as he thought. But this is faint praise and seems to miss the point of what accumulation is for Marx and why Marx is still important.

Piketty says too much accumulation of wealth when population and productivity growth rates are low can lead to social disequilibrium. But Marx isn’t talking about accumulation as too much private wealth. When Marx says “Accumulate, Accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets” [Capital I c. 24, section 3] He means that the wealth accumulated is to be reinvested in production because capital must expand itself continuously or perish. By reinvesting the capital people are put to work the economy expands and more accumulation is generated to do it all over again (until a crisis due to capitalism’s contradictions.) Marx is still important because this movement of capital is still going on and still creating crises (we are in one now) and the spectre haunting Europe has not been exorcized.


Part III of the this introduction will continue with Piketty’s section “From Marx to Kuznets, or Apocalypse to Fairy Tale.”

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Eleanor Marx: A Life [Book Note]

Thomas Riggins

Rachel Holmes' new biography of Eleanor Marx (1855-1898) is coming out in the US early next year  and can be pre- ordered at Amazon.  Here I am posting some notes from "Troubles of Tussy" by Elaine Showalter (TLS August 22 & 29 2014). "Tussy" was the Marx family's nickname for Eleanor.

Ms. Holmes calls EM "the foremother of socialist feminism." EM was the fourth child of Karl and Jenny Marx and thus a member of the world's original set of red diaper babies. She was home schooled by her father and could quote passages from Shakespeare when she was three years old. She became a avid socialist at a young age (hanging out with Marx "one of the greatest minds in Europe" and Engels her "second father" may have unduly influenced her!) At sixteen she became her father's private secretary and he took her with him to meetings and congresses both at home and in Europe.

Eleanor also became a leading proponent of feminism. It seems that even Marx and Engels, who were champions of women's rights had difficulty putting into practice what they preached-- the nineteenth century was not noted for being very open to the rights of women.  Jenny Marx,  AKA Mrs. Karl Marx , once wrote, as quoted by Showalter,  regarding the activities of the male socialists that "in all these battles we women have to bare the hardest, i.e., pettiest parts. In the battle with the world the man gets stronger ... we sit at home and darn socks."

But EM did not stay home and darn socks. She became super-educated for her time and helped her father in the researching and writing of Das Kapital. She also organized workers and gave speeches to large crowds: "Karl Marx was the theory," Holmes says, "Eleanor Marx was the practice."

Some of noted accomplishments: she translated the first English edition of "Madame Bovary" as well as several plays by Ibsen-- and performed the first staged reading of his "A Doll's House" playing Nora. She also translated Edward Berstein's book on Lassalle from German into English (she was, naturally, fluent in French, German and English among other languages-- Ibsen wrote in Norwegian). She also translated a history of the Paris Commune from French to English, as well as Georgi Plekhanov's Anarchism and Socialism.

Unfortunately she hooked up with a genuine cad in the form of Edward Aveling (he co-authored with her the very important Marxist work "The Women Question") ["the founding text of socialist feminism"]who, after many years of living together, secretly married a young actress of 22 [typical male menopausal action] which made her so despondent she killed herself at the age of 43. Aveling died four months later of kidney disease (aged 49). This very last action of hers was unMarxist but her biographer still thinks her life was inspiring and indeed exemplary. The reviewer concurs, writing that "With the infectious conviction of her narrative, Rachel Holmes has restored her to history." Personally, however, I don't think EM was ever lost to history.

One caveat: the portrait of Eleanor Marx at eighteen published in the TLS along with this article is actually a portrait of her sister Laura Marx (who also committed suicide!). At least it appears as such in the book Marx's General and also on the internet as Laura.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review of “Color Facture Art & Design: Artistic Technique and the Precisions of Human Perception”, a book by Iona Singh


In the first place, this is a book written by a writer, it is 'writerly'. When Singh refers to paints and materials you can almost smell them, the concatenation of the sentences is fluid, enjoyable, prose. And this is not an easy subject, it is in fact a new approach to art, to understanding art, one that does not come from the art as narrative or art 'tells a story' side of the fence, a side of the fence that is also, superficially at least, Marxist, in the sense of social realist interpretations of art. And yet this author constantly refers to dialectical materialism as the bedrock of her development, not the one that is usually vilified and strangled-off, or ossified, but a living breathing version of the Marxist philosophy as it collides into a new context. It is, on this count, small wonder that the mainstream press has studiously ignored it and offered absolutely no reviews. Thus my intervention here. Zero books, a great new publisher, does not provide any publicity or advertising until a certain limit is reached in sales, and so for this reason things can also go unnoticed. On the other hand, the provenance of these chapters is from peer reviewed journals, the work has been tested in the field, so to speak, in “Rethinking Marxism” and in “Capitalism, Nature, Socialism” it has its scientific pedigree.

On the other hand, this book does not ignore or set aside social history or context, or resort to mere formalism, it is Marxist, which means it is materialist. The chapters on Vermeer and Turner are remarkable in their evocative uniting of the materials and techniques of the artist, the artist as a producer, with the social history of their times, they place the materials and techniques of the artist into this maelstrom of politics and reveal their effect, and affects, their sensual reasons for being that way in their time and space, and, what is more important, their agency. This is unlike almost all art historians and critics hitherto, who are divided into the standard camps: those who set art history as a history of formal structure hermetically sealed-off from social struggle, and those who regard art (anachronistically) as always realist, a mirror or reflection of the social times.

Iona Singh herself is an artist, and has grappled with materials and gone through the U.K. art education system, her work is also unusual that someone with this experience nevertheless is able to articulate what they have learned in those institutions, I mean in words that have a scientific resonance and validity. Often there is also a reluctance from these quarters to disclose the secrets known here, and instead we get a playing to the gallery, the well known professional artists' obfuscatory and elusive self aggrandizement and posture as a transcendental being. Yet there is no blaming of the artist here for this, she exposes the economic productive contradictions at work and always refers to the bedrock of theory in her references. This is a solid work, but it sometimes betrays the origins of the struggle she must have had to get this 'out there' into the world, noticeable at times in the text. It is a book that should be in every art college, university art department, department of design and art history faculty, but it should also appeal to the layperson who appreciates art, is mot a philistine, but finds the current 'art world' mystifying. This 'world' is meant to be mystifying, and this book explains why, among many other things.


Gary Tedman

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Piketty for Progressives

Thomas Riggins

"Introduction" to Capital in the Twenty-First Century-- Part 1

Piketty opens his book by telling us the questions he wants to answer are two diametrically opposed queries stemming from the works of Karl Marx on the one hand and Simon Kuznets on the other. From Marx-- does capitalism inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands ?  From Kuznets -- does the later development of capitalism lead to less inequality and more social harmony between the classes? A third question is what lessons can we learn and apply to our present century from a study of wealth development since the eighteenth century?

Piketty admits that the answers he gives to these questions are "imperfect and incomplete." Now if you write a book whose conclusions are imperfect and incomplete you are inviting a lot critical commentary not only from the Left but  from the Right as well. In this respect the reception of his book has not been disappointing.  He thinks however his research provides a "new" way to understand the inner workings of capitalism. We shall see.

He believes that current bourgeois economic "science" has become so sophisticated  that the "Marxist Apocalypse" can be avoided. This is, however, an article of faith and no argument is advanced to substantiate this claim. He doesn't exactly say what the "Apocalypse" is but I rather think it refers to the collapse of the capitalist system and its replacement with a socialist economic order. Marx did give an argument for this outcome based on his analysis of the inner contradictions of the capitalist system. This analysis is in his work Capital which book Piketty mentions in passing only three times in his own book (according to the index, but I counted more) giving no indication that he read Marx's work.

Piketty admits that if/when capitalism provides a greater return on capital than it does on income and economic growth "then it automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based." This is quite a statement. It assumes we live in democratic societies where a person's social condition is based on merit. This is I think demonstrably false for the politically corrupt oligarchical societies of the West with which Piketty is concerned. Race, ethnicity, family background, wealth, availability of opportunities are the actual factors that determine the social conditions of people living in capitalist democracies not "merit." To say our societies are based on "values" that are plainly non-operative beyond the verbal level is no way to go about understanding reality as if effects most people.

He thinks there are ways democracy can "regain" its power over capitalism. He says "regain" because he thinks these negative features of capitalism were operant in the nineteenth century but were not so dominant in the twentieth (!) but seem "likely" to come into force in the twenty-first century. There are few, if any, people on the Left, I think, who view the twentieth century as a success story for meritocratic democracy (except maybe in a few isolated pockets).

Well, I don't want to jump to conclusions so let’s look more closely at the introduction to his book:

A Debate Without Data?

In this section Piketty points out that previous  theories about wealth and inequality have been based on a narrow set of facts that have been appealed to support many different interpretations. He is going to explain his sources and how he and his associates have expanded the amount of data available to researchers.

He also makes some comments in this section that reveal an interesting set of subtextual assumptions of which progressives  (especially Marxists) should be aware.  For instance, inequality is, he says, visible to many kinds of people and many different theories as to its causes flourish due to inadequate data. He tells us peasants and nobles, capitalists and workers, and bankers and non-bankers  [and we might add “slaves and masters” to the mix as well-tr] all see the world differently. Each group sees different “aspects” of reality and this conditions their outlook on justice and injustice. “Hence there will always be a fundamentally subjective and psychological dimension to inequality, which inevitably gives rise to political conflict that no purportedly scientific analysis can alleviate.”

One of the purposes of Marx’s Capital was to show just what nonsense this is and that class struggle and exploitation have objective roots in external reality and can be scientifically understood. Political conflicts between workers and capitalists (just as slave rebellions and peasant uprisings) are not the result of subjective psychological problems due to feelings of oppression because the “oppressed” group only sees its own “aspect” of reality. They are objective historical facts that can be scientifically studied and remedied by a correct understanding of the relations of production and distribution and the mode of value creation within a given society and Marx presents arguments to support his conclusions rather than just stating them as matters of fact.

All sides are represented in [bourgeois] democracy, Piketty thinks, and since there is no scientific explanation for the resolution of the political problems engendered by the subjective psychological reactions of different groups to their experiences of inequality we can conclude “Democracy will never be supplanted by a republic of experts— and that is a very good thing.” Piketty’s value judgment is, of course, a subjective psychological reaction to his understanding of the nature of inequality.

Piketty does see an important role, however, for the class of “experts” to which he himself belongs. While, he maintains, they cannot provide a solution to the  violent  political conflicts that inequality naturally engenders, they can do research which “will inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions.” Piketty says intellectuals such as himself “have the good fortune to have more time than others to devote themselves to study (and even to be paid for it— a signal privilege).” Yes, but who is the paymaster?

Before going into detail on his new methods he wants to present an historical review of how the problems of inequality were dealt with in the past, and so we move on to Part 2 of this review and will resume with the section entitled:

Malthus, Young, and the French Revolution