Saturday, June 13, 2020

Working through Racecraft

Barbara J. Fields' engaging and very important book Racecraft: my draft review.

The book can be thought of as composed of several key elements. The obvious starting point is the idea of racecraft as such, but this part has two distinct aspects.

In the Introduction and the first two chapters, we see the emergence of the notion of racecraft itself, as opposed to race, and also racialization. Racecraft begins as a critique of the notion of “race” as something one can have or be, which allows the authors to challenge notions such as “being multiracial” or the idea that there is a biological notion of race which might be grasped through genetics. This is extremely important politically in the present because a biological notion of race has re-emerged into respectability not only among reactionaries, but in mainstream science and so-called liberal discourse through identity, including intersectionality. The use of racecraft to critique this re-emergence of race, which serves to obscure that race itself is nothing more than a by-product of racism, of a certain kind of relationship of power, or as Fields says,

“Starting from “ethnoracial mixture” leads to the great evasion of American historical literature, as of American history itself: the substitution of “race” for “racism.” That substitution, as I have written elsewhere, “transforms the act of a subject into an attribute of the object.”4 Disguised as race, racism becomes something Afro-Americans are, rather than something racists do.”
Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (pp. 96-97). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

This point is fundamental to her analysis, but I want to trouble it right from the start. Let us say that we approach nation, class, or gender in the same way. Would we then say that disguised as class, classes becomes something workers are, rather than something classists do? Disguised as nations, nationalism becomes something Americans are, rather than something nationalists do? Disguised as sex, sexism becomes something women are, rather than something sexists do?

Posed this way, we have two choices. The first choice is to say that, yes, in fact, all social forms are products of a definite structured social practicei, and thus class, gender, race, sexuality, nation are all merely modes of expression or modes of existence of some fundamental social relation, and thus not only race but also gender, class, nation and so on are constituted by this society rather than being per se constituting.ii One would then further have to reckon that race is not merely a product of the activity of racists or racialists, but is a determinate social category of this society as much as class, nation, gender, etc. That necessarily entails that as much as race, we have to propose that nation, class, gender, etc. do not exist outside of this form of society and would cease to exist if we managed to get rid of this society.iii

The other option is the one that Fields chooses quite explicitly, that race is distinctly, though maybe not uniquely, not like class or nation or products of material production.iv For example, race doesn’t exist in the same way that the Brooklyn Bridge and nations do. Not only that, but those who refer to “race” use it as “a euphemism for slavery, disfranchisement, segregation, lynching, mass murder, and related historical atrocities; or as unintentionally belittling shorthand for “persons of African descent and anything pertaining to them.” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 100). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. The footnote following this includes David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness and Race and Reunion by David Blight, books one would be hard pressed to say treat race as a euphemism and a belittling shorthand for Afro-Americans, lumping them in over the next few pages with defenders of cab drivers not stopping for African-Americans, promoters of “Black English” and teachers of tolerance in place of equality, a move that seems to seek to deride and defame rather than to reason.

Importantly for my point, Fields argues that “what they are unknowingly searching for is a neutral-sounding word with racism hidden inside, which is what “race” is.” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 102). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. But then “nation” and “class” (and maybe gender and sexuality?) are not inherently “neutral-sounding” words with oppression and domination hidden inside.

For this to not play out in this way, somehow class, nation and gender would have to be something fundamentally different from race, somehow not merely the mystification of oppression

Racecraft is more than this alone, however, as it also entails a theory of the production of racism and races.v Chapters 3 and 4 in particular take up this idea of how racism and race come to be in the American context as a product not merely of slavery, but of a specific contradiction of the endorsement of slavery by a radically democratic society that has otherwise propounded the natural and inherently universal ‘Rights of Man’. This analysis seems to provide a ground for the production of racism and race and the necessary mystification of racecraft that turns racism into race in order to make racism, that is a very specific kind of unequal relation of power and oppression, disappear into race.

However, this linking of race specifically to the contradictions of the American Revolution and American democracy with American slavery invokes a kind of historical exceptionalism first claimed by the American Communist Party, and it also essentializes democracy and slavery as separate from capitalism. I would argue that for her argument to work, in fact, slavery and democracy must float independently of capitalism because otherwise we might wonder if capitalism has not in fact produced racism and racecraft everywhere. In fact, at one point she makes a very peculiar argument that if race and racecraft were not specific to the American dilemma, how come no one has made the argument for the racial production of the Anglo-Irish relation. The 4th chapter was written in 1990, four years before the publication of Theodore Allen’s the Invention of the White Race, so at the time no one could have known that a book was being written that made exactly this argument, but Racecraft was published almost two decades after that and no mention is made in the footnotes of the presence of exactly such an argument by what is, on all accounts, one of the most widely discussed radical, class-based works on race since 1994. At the same time, as I noted above, books published before Allen (The Wages of Whiteness) and after (Race and Reunion) come in for mention and aspersions, so it feel unlikely that Fields would not be aware of Allen’s work, which was a much larger and more sustained piece by Roediger’s own admission (c.f. Race, Class and Marxism.)

The commitment to American Exceptionalism is expressed in a reification of all notions of “race” as “racism”.

“One such peculiarity is the fact that, effectively, there can be only one race, since the one-drop-of-blood or any-known-ancestry rule applies only to African ancestry;17 indeed, the rule ceases to function at all if applied to more than one type of ancestry. The cosmetic applied to the resulting asymmetry and invidiousness is “whiteness,” whose champions purport to discover “racialization”—and therefore races—all over the shop. A further sleight of hand defines race as identity so that “white” also becomes a race.18” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 102). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Aside from the manner in which this throws the idea of racism to the wind for people of African descent in Latin America, for people of Mexican or Chinese descent in the United States, and most notably for Amer-Indian peoples all over the Western Hemisphere, it inherently ties itself to a biological notion of race with the one-drop rule. In the name of unmasking race as racism, a state of being with an activity, all that happens is the recourse to an exceptionalism associated with American peculiarity and cut-off from the broader history of European colonialism and the internal relation between race and nation in the history of capitalist society globally.

That said, she nonetheless makes short work of “amalgamation” and “multiracialism”, notions which takes as their foundation the natural validity of “race”. However, one wonders if there is a simple secular humanism underlying this point of view, one which is sound as far as it goes “racism is wrong because it violates the basic rights of human being and citizen” (Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 107). Verso Books. Kindle Edition), but which takes the abstract human being and citizen i.e. the member of a duly constituted nation, as its limit points.

Unfortunately, despite her often excellent critique of identitarian notions of race, Fields lacks a critique of identity as such and the way in which the production of identity is endemic to capital as the dominant social form. Therefore, she will counterpoise the idea of racial identity with national identity, suggesting the latter is illegitimate and the former is legitimate, in order to make the argument (in what is a point easily overlooked in the 4th chapter) that Afro-Americans did not historically see themselves as an identity or a race, but as a nation. This argument strikes me as difficult to defend, but more importantly, it echoed in my mind the position of the American Communist Party on “the Black Belt Thesis” that Afro-Americans constituted a nation. Having already had recourse to this idea that Afro-Americans are not an identity or a race but a nation, to the expression of American exceptionalism which regards race and racism and racecraft to be uniquely American, and a counterpoising of a false or ideological “race identity” with a true or good “nation identity”, strongly reminded me of the American Communist Party positions. However, nothing more than these brief turns of phrase and logical juxtapositions are present in the essays to justify any claim that Fields herself draws on the positions of the CPUSA from the Third Period, when those ideas were first formulated, or from the post-1948 return to that position amidst the Cold War.

The thesis of American exceptionalism at play in her works relies on a very specific timeline. For example, she locates the production of race as such as an outcome of the years leading up to and resulting in the American Revolution and the subsequent continuation of slavery after the revolution and the necessity of men holding to notions of universal individual rights and humanity having to at the same time make peace with and justify a system of slavery within their midst on which they grew rich and which formed a key foundation of the American republic.

This requires her at one point [citation] to claim that no such notions were forthcoming from England, which had little problem in the early years of the colonies with forms of indentured servitude for Englishmen and her claims rests to no small degree on the historical timeline put forward by Edward Morgan, which denies that there is any significant distinction between English indentured servitude and African enslavement until late in the 17th century. However, there is documented evidence that definite legal distinctions between African slaves and English indentured servants were already developed by the early 1650’s. In fact, Re Negro John Punch (1640) already began to make significant distinctions leading in the direction of the racist production of racevi and “Virginia was one of the first states to acknowledge slavery in its laws, initially enacting such a law in 1661.36 The following year, Virginia passed two laws that pertained solely to women who were slaves or indentured servants and to their illegitimate children. Women servants who produced children by their masters could be punished by having to do two years of servitude with the churchwardens after the expiration of the term with their masters. The law reads, “that each woman servant gott with child by her master shall after her time by indenture or custome is expired be by the churchwardens of the parish where she lived when she was brought to bed of such bastard, sold for two years. . . .”37vii. This undermines Morgan’s timeline, though not necessarily Theodore Allen’s from Invention of the White Race, which argues that racism and race were produced as a conscious policy of social control in response to acts of rebellion in which “Africans” (having already been stripped of tribe and people by enslavement) and Englishmen worked together, leading up to Bacon’s Rebellion.

It also requires the idea that no substantial notions of the universal, natural equality of all men was forthcoming from England in the early-mid 17th century and that American democratic impulses were largely formed against English colonial status. However, the colonial venture to North America was already a product of burgeoning hopes for free expression of religious minorities who would themselves become an essential part of the English Revolution from 1642-1651. That revolution would itself produce radical moments such as the Diggers and Levellers, who, to quote Wikipedia, were a political movement during the English Civil War (1642–1651) that emphasised popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law, and religious tolerance, all of which were expressed in the manifesto "Agreement of the People".” While I am not aware of specific historical research about the political backgrounds of those coming to the American colonies to the end of the English Civil War, it would not be surprising if a few people fleeing persecution and debtors prison in England might have been Diggers and Levellers or inspired by them, but most certainly with notions of personal liberty that would extend among the American colonialists.

In fact, as John Clegg has noted in an as-yet-unpublished paper, the distinctions between Africans and Englishmen no doubt began to develop when they did exactly because there was a history of struggle between Englishmen of different classes in which the English laborers and yeomanry had, even as they were being turned into a property-less working class, established for themselves certain rights and expectations as custom. Africans held no such history, no such fought-over rights and claims, and were thus eventually more easily turned from “not Englishmen” into “not men”, lacking themselves claims to English citizenship and the rights thus due.

Thus the idea that a notion of systemic racism and with it the ideology of race and the practice of racecraft only came into being with the suspending of the contradiction between American revolutionary idealism and American slavery strikes me as unsupportable. Allen’s own points regarding the religio-racial oppression of the Irish further addresses Field’s earlier complaint of the absence of such a point.

And yet there is a subtlety to Fields’ argument utterly lacking in Allen’s. The idea of a conscious system of social control is actually unsupportable on a number of grounds, not the least being the idea that there was in the American colonies a ruling class of unified opinion. I believe Fields is moving in the right direction, but cannot grasp the essential move of the production of non-citizens within the state, which relates to the production of Nation as a valid identity, but not race. In fact, nation and nationalism have been even more murderous and criminal than race in the last few hundred years by quite a bit. If in the name of race, tens of millions have been oppressed and killed, in the name of nation, billions have been oppressed and hundreds of millions killed. There is no ground from which to counterpoise race and nation and in fact one would be more correct to say that without race there is no American nation. Instead of taking up the complicated interplay of racism and nationalism, of the production of race and nation, these brutal fictions, Fields’ settles for Nation over Race.

It is hard to say if this is from a prior set of essentially unspoken political commitments, such as to something like the CPUSA theses on The Black National Question, or if it is a part of the working out of her philosophical underpinnings through Emile Durkheim. There is a further critique of Durkheim to be made and it is unclear to me if Fields is committed to a Durkheimian sociology or if she simply finds him engaging in thinking through the problem of race. After all, as she herself notes, Durkheim deifies, or as she says, divinizes [citation] society and for Durkheim, nation is society. The philosopher Gillian rose critiques Durkheim’s move as one which he grants validity to Society, but cannot grasp why this society has these particular values, that is, he sacrifices a comprehension of values in exchange for the validity of society over values as such, the opposite of the classic Weberian move in which the values we hold to are comprehended, but their validity is ultimately uncertain.

One wonders if there is something important to this point, which treats racism somewhat individualistically: “Disguised as race, racism becomes something Afro-Americans are, rather than something racists do.” [Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (pp. 96-97). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.] It seems to take the structural and systemic element out of race and again replace it with a voluntaristic notion of practice.

There is something in the defense of nation as valid identity, and thus identity as somewhat unproblematic, requiring only the distinction between actual identity and fake identity, that is not worked out in her work. That this functions as a naturalization of Nation and thus of the bourgeois nation-state ought to seem odd. In fact, Fields is, to the best of my knowledge, an opponent of so-called Black Nationalism, but so was the CPUSA. That is, from the perspective of the Communist Party, nationalists were incapable of realizing the Black Nation because the Black nation was a necessary liberatory moment in the proletarian revolution. Nationalist parties were incapable of truly serving the Nation, pace Lenin’s Imperialism and his later theses on national liberation. Again, I have no idea if Fields herself has any relationship to or interest in the CPUSA on these matters, but the logic of her argument seems to me to make so much more sense if the CPUSA’s theses on the Black Nation are are a part of her inheritance.

Where does this leave us? If the fundamental thesis of Fields’ work is to be cashed out, then the critique of race cannot rest on 1) an American Exceptionalism both in the production of racism and race and in democratic values, 2) a mere contradiction between democracy and a natural rights notion of universal individual liberty on the one hand and slavery on the other, and 3) a distinction between a valid National identity that is real (like the Brooklyn bridge) against an identity that isn’t one (race), that is, a missing critique of nation in particular and identity in general.


iI am going to explicitly dodge the argument over structure and agency here, not because it is not important and not because I do not have a definite point of view on the matter, but because it will take us rather far afield.
iiHere too, it would be going a bit too deep to explicate the notion of what is constitutive and what is constituting beyond saying that what is constituted at one moment becomes constituting at another moment.
iiiIn fact, she comes very close to this when she says that “and slavery, rather than something slaves were, became something slaveholders did—to the corruption of themselves, the injustice of the slaves, and the probable destruction of the country.” Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 99). Verso Books. Kindle Edition. Slavery, after all, was racialized and racializing, but it was ultimately a form of organization of labor for exploitation and thus a relation between classes, enslaved laborers and a group of capitalist slaveholders. But a problem arises insofar as capitalism is not merely something capitalists do and neither the working class nor the slave class merely merely something done by capitalists.
ivI add the “though not uniquely” because I am not aware of her views on gender or sexuality, she only counterpoises race to Nation and to bridges.
vIn the beginning of “Rogues and Geldings”, Fields makes this clear: ““Race” too often recommends itself as a guiltless word, a neutral term for an empirical fact. It is not. Race appears to be a neutral description of reality because of the race-racism evasion, through which immoral acts of discrimination disappear, and then reappear camouflaged as the victim’s alleged difference.” Racecraft might best be understood as the evasion itself, the activity of transforming racism into race. Fields, Barbara J.. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (p. 95). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
vi FN 35, “Three indentured servants—John Punch, James Gregory, and Victor —ran away and were recaptured. James Gregory and Victor, both white, were given “thirty stripes” and an additional four years of servitude, whereas John Punch, a Negro, was sentenced to serve the remainder of his life. Helen Tunnicliff Catterall, ed., Judicial Cases Concerning American Slavery and the Negro, 5 vols. (1926; reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1968; KF4545.S5 C3 1968), 1:77”

vii including fn 36-38 citing the Virginia laws.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Contributions to The Critique of Value - Elena Louisa Lange

Recently I have had the pleasure of reading a series of essays by Elena Louisa Lange.  I highly recommend that anyone serious about the matter engage with her work, it is outstanding.

Just a few essays worth finding:
Hegel‘s Contribution to Capital. ‘Essence’ and ‘Appearance’ as Categories of the Critique of
Political Economy

Exchanging without Exploiting:
A Critique of Karatani Kōjin’s The Structure of World History\
Historical Materialism 23.3

Moishe Postone: Marx’s Critique of Political Economy as Immanent Social Critique
Chapter 31
The SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical theory

Money versus Value?:
Reconsidering the ‘Monetary Approach’ of the ‘post’-Uno School, Benetti/Cartelier, and the Neue Marx-Lektüre
Historical Materialism (2019) 1-34

The Critique of Political Economy and the ‘New Dialectic’

The Proof is in the Pudding:
On the Necessity of Presupposition in Marx’s Critical Method

The Transformation Problem as a Problem of Fetishism
Filozofski vestnik  |  Volume XL  |  Number 3  |  2019

Sunday, November 10, 2019

In the Pitts

This was going to be a small reply to ellenleinwand from my post here, but it grew large enough that it needed its own post.

As I am reading Open Marxism 4, I have come across a presentation of the matter by Frederick Harry Pitts appropriate to the comments here.  Pitts, explicating Heinrich as the most representative of the New Reading of Marx (NRM) proponents, says,
"The NRM suggest that value does not consist in the amount of labour-time expended in production by any one labouring individual.  It relates to the amount of time 'socially necessary for its production' (Marx).  For the NRM, value is subject to a social validation made after the concrete expenditure of labour (Heinrich 2012).  In production, value can thus only be a potential quantity, pending validation in the exchange of commodities."

The first two sentences are quite correct.  The third sentence however begins to express a problem.  "Value" is not subject to a social validation made after the concrete expenditure of labour, but the quantity of value, unless the value-form is only potential until C' become M', in which case we return to traditional Marxism via the back door that production is only verifiably capitalist if the end result is successful valorization.  Like traditional Marxism, capitalism remains in exchange, but does not go into production itself, and retains the capitalism as maldistribution-modernity split Postone and the Krisis/EXIT! journals levels such a trenchant critique of.

Pitts then seems to adjust course in the next sentence by stating that "In production, value can thus only be a potential QUANTITY."  And if I may nitpick, since it is critical in such an explication to dot the i's and cross the t's, it is possible that he should say "in the exchange of commodities for money", especially as Heinrich's claim to fame is his "monetary theory of value".

However, that evidence the slippage back and forth is not an accident, but immediately reappears.

"In this respect, a product of labour is not automatically a commodity.  By means of its sale it must be validated as such in order to enter into the value relation,  For a product to bear value, it must be a commodity."

Insofar as a commodity is something produced for exchange, that is, a presumed use-value for someone other than the producer, whose use-value for the producer is as something to be exchanged for another commodity or its universal form of appearance i.e. money, it is a commodity already prior to succeeding to be exchanged.  In point of fact, Marx does not refer to the C or the C' in M-C...P...-C'-M' as potential commodities, but as commodities (labour power, means of production and raw materials, that is, constant and variable capital, are already commodities because exchange has already taken place before production ever begins, and thus by the time production begins we are already wholly within the capital cycle, that is, M-C-M'.)

Secondly, a product of labour is obviously not necessarily ever a commodity.  Marx makes this point himself, but in relation to kinds of labours that, by their form, are not possibly value-producing, such as personal services in which the labor purchased is not used to produce something for excahnge with something else.  However, in the way Pitts puts the matter, in the context of the expanded capital cycle, he is not following Marx but Bailey.  He conflates what makes something a Commodity with whether or not particular unitsof ouput success as commodities.

Thirdly, let's take a situation of actual capitals, as opposed to the aggregate capital of Volume 1 where particular capitals are not what is under discussion, and let us say that we had 3 producers of computers, where column 1 is MoP, column 2 is labour power, column 3 is surplus value.

Let's assume a Rate of Surplus-Value of 100%, each produces 100 widgets in an hour, with constant and variable capital and surplus-value in dollars.

Producer #1 (socially average labour time)
50 + 50 + 50

Producer #2 (poor productivity)
50 + 80 + 80

Producer #3 (fully automated, no workers)
50 + 0 +0

$410 for 300 widgets
$150 constant capital
$130 hours of labour power (value)
$130 hours of surplus-value

Each widget is worth about $1.37, therefore each producer receives $137.77, so that Producer 1 has a rate of profit ~27%, Producer 2 has a rate of profit ~6%, but Producer 3 is way ahead with a rate of profit ~64%.

In a capitalist world, insofar as the realization of value in exchange is the determination of an aliquot part of value to each capital based on its productivity relative to the average socially necessary labor time, we have the peculiar outcome that for an individual capital, it is possible to have a 0 labor power expendure, but insofar as each producer is in the broad mesh of total capital, they all appropriate via their sales some portion of total value created by the total expenditure of labor power at the socially necessary average.

Pitts, and if he is correct about Heinrich and NML, cannot comprehend this: that an output  that is not a product of labor is still a commodity and can appropriate surplus-value.  It did not become a commodity through successfully being sold, it was a commodity because it was in the total cycle.

For a product to bear value... it must be part of total capital process, it must have had money spent on its production, even if that money is only on constant capital.  The point here being, insofar as the use-value was produced in a process begun with M-C...P... C' cannot but be a commodity entitled to an aliquot part of the total monetary expression of value equal to its C+V.

The only exception to this is the case in which something is produced and not one unit of the output is sold.  If even one unit of the output is sold, the originating capital recieves an (however infinitesimally small) aliquot part of total surplus value.

To not realize this, Pitts, and I am suggesting Heinrich as well, move loosely back and forth between treating Volume as about particular capitals and as aggregates.  Following Fred Moseley, I hold that Volume 1 is about aggregate capital, not particular capitals, and thus everything produced is a commodity because it is considered in the total capital cycle of M-C-M'.

Finally, if Pitts is correct his presentation of Heinrich, then it implies that Value is not merely realized in exchange, but only produced in exchange, since the ouput is not even a product of Commodity production if the commodities did not successfully get sold.  Taking a step further, the suggestion is that both the commodity and the value of the commodity only have a determinate social form because of exchange.  Again, Bailey, not Marx.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

What is Communism?

Jehu does these neat little nuggets and I think he hits this, above all else, on the head.

His own blog header starts with this:
"Communism is free time and nothing else!"

That is a good start.

This is the obvious one:
"Communism can only be defined as the complete abolition of wage labor, capital and the state, and the realization of the principle of “to each according to need”. If communization has any meaning, it is that the complete abolition of wage labor, capital and the state — a fully communist society — is possible right now, immediately."

This adds a little clarity to what the abolition of the working as a class means:
"There is only one way the proletarians can abolish themselves as a class: the buying and selling of labor power must be abolished."

But what does that really entail? This is a little more specific and it is very important [all subsequent italics mine]:
"A society characterized by the communist principle requires certain definite technical material conditions so that the social product can be distributed without regard to the labor contribution of its members. These conditions may not necessarily require the complete automation of production, but they must at least guarantee that whatever living labor is required can be met by voluntary contribution of the members of society. Basically, communism requires that wage labor is already superfluous to the production of material wealth at present."

Now that is some good stuff as a basic "elevator pitch" answer to the question, "What do you mean by communism?"
It does not tell us how to get there and is not political strategy, but it puts us in the right frame of mind because there is no question that we can produce enough to take care of people, that it can be done with many fewer hours of labor than even happens now, but further that even now, wage labor is superfluous to the production of material wealth.

Postcapitalism, Basic Income and the End of Work: A Critique and Alternative by Frederick Harry Pitts and Ana C. Dinerstein

A lot of this essay is a pretty convincing poke at the anti-work milieu, whether Left or Right, Accelerationist or (post-)Autonomist.  It is very much worth reading, especially as they point out how often these theories are predicated on a very masculine and middle-class flight from reproductive labor and "bullshit jobs" (Graeber), that is, work that doesn't suit their personal (intellectual/non-manual) creativity.

That is something very important to point out and a problem I have with people for whom the abolition of labor is the abolition of "the metabolic interchange between humanity and nature".  They are quite right to point out that the problem is not generic, transhistorical labor, but the social form of labor.  As I have tried to point out in earlier posts, it is the social form of labor as abstract domination that is at issue. 

The section outlining the way in which a Universal Basic Income (UBI) conforms both to a strong statism and nationalism seems very clear.  The way in which a UBI is managed through a citizen's right opens the way to deny the UBI to non-citizens, to the disenfranchised (in the United States, for example, would this also include persons who have lost the right to vote through felony offenses?)  They make a very strong presentation on how the authoritarian Modi government in India has looked to possibly use a UBI as a way to further mobilize national-chauvinism against minority groups.

A Problem?
There is a section near the beginning of the essay that I have problems with, and maybe it is just a matter of precision on their part, or maybe it is not.

"We suggest that the postcapitalist prospectus fails on three fronts. The first is that the post-work literature is productivist insofar as it sees ‘work’ as the central relation of capitalist society and not as the antagonistic relations of property, ownership and subsistence that logically and historically precede a society in which most people are compelled to sell their labour to live, nor the specific kind of results assumed by the products of that labour in the market."

What the part I have italicized seems to suggest is that Marx's critique is not a critique of relations of production, of abstract labor as determinate social form, but of relations of distribution (property, ownership).  Moishe Postone makes a very succinct critique of exactly this view and it remains his most enduring contribution to revitalizing Marx's work.  The problem with this view, in its most succinct sense, is that it is a criticism of property and ownership that leaves labor as determinate social form, as form of domination, untouched.  The logic is then that one needs to change who owns, to change the property relations, but it doesn't take issue with production as such.

I believe that Dinerstein and Pitts do actually want to call the social form of labor into question, but you cannot do so from the perspective of the relations of distribution.  It is labor, as the contradictory unity of concrete and abstract labor, itself which must be abolished because value as the social form of wealth is itself a category of production, not of exchange or circulation, that is, not a social form produced after production that leaves production beyond critique.

This dilemma probably arises from the adoption of the position now put forward by Michael Heinrich and Christopher J. Arthur that the value-form is produced through exchange.  This so-called monetary theory of value does exactly what Marx does not: it situates value as social form of wealth in exchange, rather than in production.

This essay also dovetails with a point made by Jehu, repeatedly, regarding the crisis of capital being one of the increasing superfluity of living labor leading to technologically-driven permanent unemployment due to the increasing organic composition of capital, as opposed to the increasing organic composition of capital increasing the difficulty of expanded valorization of value and hence of a crisis of overaccumulation.  The former, which Jehu ascribes to Endnotes (fairly or not), he says is a Keynesian position (fairly), whereas the latter is Marx's position. 

Dinerstein and Pitts point to a similar issue when they say that "But this is a very narrow understanding of capitalism that sees it synonymous with labour itself and not, as we have stated above, with value, commodities and a certain historically-specific set of antagonistic social relationsbased not around labour but labour-power. With the waning of work, we are told, technological unemployment renders the wage insufficient to secure workers' subsistence. Their labour-power- the pure potential to labour- must be reproduced through other means." [Italics mine - CW]

Here again we see this attempt to drag domination and exploitation out of the relation of capital and labor in the production process.  The fixation on labor-power comes at the expense of the problem of abstract labor.

This gets a little weird at the point at which they seem to claim that UBI would destroy the class struggle by putting an end to the struggle over property and ownership:

"This is an extreme example that usefully serves to highlight how, liquidating class struggles for a nationally-constituted citizenry, abstract utopias reliant on the UBI might also treat the class struggle as a closed case whilst largely retaining the current rule of property ownership, including, crucially, that of the means of production, for which no postcapitalist or  post-work vista gives a convincing vision for redress. The basic income, as a key principle of  the proposed post-work society, breaks here with some vital preconditions of worker organisation. In his analysis of the Keynesian state, Holloway argues that the latter constituted a specific ‘mode of domination’ (Holloway 1996, p. 8) for the Keynesian state contained the power of labour via the ‘monetization’ of class conflict: ‘In the face 13 of rigidity and revolt, money was the great lubricant. Wage-bargaining became the focus of both managerial change and worker discontent’ (Holloway 1996, p. 23). The crisis of Keynesianism was, in this sense, ‘a crisis of a form of containment of labour’ (Holloway, 1996, p. 27). The basic income could become, then, another form of domination of the power of labour, only that this time, rather than relying on class conflict, aims at obliterating it." [Italics mine - CW]

The key here is the idea that capital is a "form of domination of the power of labour".  If, however, domination is all the way down to the point of production, then it seems unlikely that a UBI scheme will obliterate class conflict.  The struggle after all is not merely over wages, but over the very imposition of labor as the necessary condition of life for the vast majority of human beings, of the conditions under which that domination takes place, of the logic for which production takes place, and so on.  In other words, the struggle against capital is the struggle against more than the distribution of the means of production, but over the very way in which those means of production are themselves an expression of domination.

This comes back to the problem that if the abolition of labor in the accelerationist sense has a merely technological determinist notion of what is wrong with capitalism, so too the fetishistic putting forward of labor as something to be liberated takes us backwards to the view of the identity of free labor and freedom, as opposed to freeing humanity from the imposition of labor on individuals as a precondition for the actual freedom of all.  Only when labor is no longer imposed, that is, when an individual's access to the means of life no longer depends on the performance of labor, will human beings be free.  Contra the accelerationists, that doesn't mean that human beings won't engage in the metabolic interchange with nature, but that that interchange will not govern the relations between human beings.

My problem with Dinerstein and Pitts, in the end, is not that they go too far, but do not go far enough.

The result is an especially trade-unionist view of matters that if the workers don't have income to fight over, they have no reason to fight the system:

"The basic income effectively abolishes any means by which workers can struggle for a better deal, liquidating class struggle and purporting to resolve its contradictions at the imaginary level of a nation state paying free money to a nationally-defined people. In so doing, the vista of an abolition of work afforded by the basic income serves up the fruits of struggle prematurely, without struggles having taken place. It temporarily defers the contradictions of class antagonism without resolution through the antagonism itself. This is ironic even on the terms of the postcapitalist argument itself, insofar as class struggle would be necessary to drive up wages to the extent that employers would be motivated to worth(sic - "replace"?) low-paid workers in bad jobs with machines in the first place. Yet none of the popular imaginaries of an automated future entertain this notion, outsourcing capitalist development to technology as a neutral force as opposed to one imbricated and resulting from wider social relations."

How is it that a UBI serves of the fruits of struggle prematurely?  Is there some bizarrely Christian self-flagellation requirement without which the working class is not entitled to the fruits of that suffering?

However, as is evidently the case, it doesn't resolve the antagonism itself.  And why not?  That is not actually addressed because to do so would involve taking up the point that the only problem with labor is not that it is monetized, but that it is the necessary form of activity that produces value, that is, that there is no value-form without human productive activity in the form of abstract labor.  The point being, that capital that would cease to employ living labor qua wage-labor would cease to produce value and collapse.

But we are not done yet.  About a page later we find out that "basic income...  purports to change the social relations under which we get paid for the better, but runs the risk of doing so for the worst precisely because the class struggle contained and concealed in the formal legal relationship between the buyer and seller of labour is elided."

Now the class struggle is contained and concealed in the exchange relation between buyer and seller.  This is really explicitly the end of the Marxian idea of a critique of the relations of production for one in which the real problem is the buyer-seller relation.  And yet Marx makes explicit that this is a relation of equality, one which he goes on to mock as the seller (the worker) is taken by the buyer (the capitalist) for a good tanning in the actual labor process itself.

In the end, UBI could only be deployed in a minimal manner.  Dinerstein and Pitts are more right than they seem to realize in pointing out that maintaining dependence on monetized relations, on the money-form, thus entails the maintenance of domination, but not because value is produced there, but because monetized relations assume a commodity that produces a surplus of wealth, not merely in material form, but in the social form of value.

Environmental(?) Crisis and that Guy

Posted at Cominsitu

Debord, once again, decades ahead of his time.  And yet, one should ask, what is left of the idea of workers’ councils?  I do not mean to despair, but to ask in all fairness "What does the Left have in mind, if it has a mind at all, in imagining that such a thing might have any purchase in the present?"  If anything is clear right now, it is the lack of a revolutionary subjectivity presenting itself anywhere, in any way.

Like Debord at the end of his life, we should proceed recognizing that the police behave like revolutionaries and the revolutionaries are all police.  This is not to adore the police, but to recognize that the "radicals in balaclavas" were agent provocateurs and the radicals in balaclavas were "agent provocateurs". 

The potential is absolutely clear, and has been for five to six decades (Adorno and Horkheimer recognized it in the 1950's, and were not the first) that the way we live is insane, and that decency of life with a minimum of effort has long been present.  What Debord and Adorno took up was how such a potential could be repressed by a lifeless, a spectacular, a damaged, life.  The actuality of that crisis presents itself more virulently than ever before.

Arguably, in a piece filled with brilliant flashes of the brutal future-present, this passage struck me most profoundly:

"Nineteenth-century scientific optimism foundered over three main issues. The first was the claim that the advent of revolution was certain, and that it would ensure the happy resolution of existing conflicts; this was the left-Hegelian and Marxist illusion, the least acutely felt among the bourgeois intelligentsia, but the richest, and ultimately the least illusory. The second issue was a view of the universe, or even simply of matter, as harmonious. And the third was a euphorically linear conception of the development of the forces of production. Once we come to terms with the first issue we shall deal by extension with the third, thus enabling us, albeit much later, to address the second, to make it into that which is at stake for us. It is not the symptoms but the illness itself that must be cured. Today, fear is everywhere and we shall escape it only through our own strength, our own ability to destroy every existing kind of alienation and every image of the power that has been wrested from us: only by submitting everything except ourselves–to the sole power of workers’ councils, possessing and continually reconstructing the totality of the world–by submitting everything, in other words, to an authentic rationality, a new legitimacy."

The first illusion, richest and most profound indeed, at the time.  Today, even more difficult to feel among any part of the population except the intelligentsia

The second illusion, the view of the universe as harmonious is the foundation of the fetish of the natural sciences that is supposed to guide us today against the impending, the already-overwhelming, irrationalism.  And yet its predicate is a nature reducible to mathematics, to a logos only comprehensible through a Logos of God, a certainty of quantification outside of historicial specificity only in a deity-dominated universe.

The last presents itself in complete self-negation: the certainty of overproduction as our self-destruction alongside the certainty of production as our only way out.

All that is missing from Debord's piece, impossible for it was only emerging in his day and "the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk", is the simultaneous hagiography and demonology of financialization as the end-all and save-all of our crisis, of finance as cause and salvation.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hegel's "the rational is real and the real is rational"

Hegel's famous quote from the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, "was vernünftig ist das ist wirklich und was wirklich ist das ist vernünftig", typically translated as "the rational is real and the real is rational" ought to be considered one of the most misunderstood phrases among his generally misunderstood work.

For example, the Wikipedia page on Hegel says the following:

"Hegelianism is the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel which can be summed up by the dictum that "the rational alone is real", which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. His goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of absolute idealism."

What, however, if this is mistaken? On the one hand, for Hegel, following from the Science of Logic, his attempt to begin without presuppositions, to think Being without any presuppositions, from an immediate, unmediated, sheer Being that itself turns out to immediately vanish into Nothing, leads him to the conclusion that the categories of Thought are also the categories of Being, not because we dogmatically assert, that is, assume, this is so, but through a lengthy logical working out. That is, if Thought can think Being without imposing its own presuppositions on it, then, contra the contemporary Pragmatist-influenced reading of Hegel's logic as non-ontological, Hegel's logic is an onto-logic. Following both Slavoj Zizek (Absolute Zero) and Stephen Houlgate (The Opening of Hegel's Logic), both of whom approach Hegel's thought in otherwise quite different ways, I would argue that Hegel proposes a non-dogmatic beginning to philosophy, unlike the modern metaphysics of Leibnitz, Spinoza, and Hegel's own contemporaries, that nonetheless takes seriously the critique of metaphysics pace Kant. To put the matter bluntly, Hegel is making claims about Being in a manner that does not correspond with deflationary notions of truth as argued by Robert Pippin in "Back to Hegel?" in the journal Mediations.

Hegel takes Kant's critique of prior metaphysics seriously insofar as he accepts that metaphysics made assertions about Being that presupposed what had to be proved, but at the same time Kant still presupposes certain things about Being, that is, what could and could not be said about Being, but further Kant simply takes the categories of thought without justification from traditional metaphysics, hence his putting forward of the twelve categories. The result in Hegel's work is the Science of Logic and the attempt to engage the questions metaphysics proposed while keeping Kant's own critique of pure reason in mind.

The end result, and one I would suggest is maintained by Marx, is that the categories of Thought are the categories of Being because the categories of Being can be thought adequately without importation of unjustified concepts by working through Being itself. The dilemmas of philosophical realism, which take for granted and defend the dualistic separation of Thought and Being whether in a (neo-)Kantian mode or an empirical-positivist mode (Trent Schroyer's book The Critique of Domination lays out the distinction between the two reasonably clearly), are fundamentally non-problems from the Hegelian and Marxian perspective. In the case of the latter, this is of course frequently not grasped and so you see nonsense like the split between Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism or Subjective Dialectic versus Objective Dialectic and various other dualisms which uncritically reproduce the aporias of dogmatic thought.

Simultaneously, the categories of thought are also not simply imported by Hegel wholesale from prior philosophy, but themselves come into being and disappear and then reappear in different ways. Not all social formations of humanity have access to the same categories of thought and they don't even necessarily think those categories in the same way. This does not mean that all categories of thought are social constructions as if they had no objectivity of their own, since if they are also categories of being they cannot be simply subjective. Nor do "older" categories necessarily have the same character as if they were immutable. This is fairly clear in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, which takes us through many shapes of consciousness, in which many categories appear repeatedly in different shapes of consciousness with differing degrees of determination and concretion.

However, there is a more important sense in which the reading of the original quote from Hegel is horribly mistaken, and that has to do with what Hegel means by "real" or "actual". Most commentators confuse the real with what exists. Of course if this was the case, then Hegel's point would be conservative at best, and really simply a wholesale justification of "things as they are".

Something is real in Hegel in a speculative sense, that is, not because it is materially there or because it is coherent, but because it has possibility. The real and what exists for Hegel are by no means the same thing at all.

Here I just want to end with a practical example of the speculative dimension of Hegel's statement.

Two people are in a long-term intimate relationship and they are nominally committed to spending the rest of their lives together. However, one of them then finds out that the other person has been having sex with their best friend for years. As it turns out, though the relationship existed, it was not real. Of course, the relationship is also then not rational exactly because an intimate relationship between two people involves honesty, trust, and so on between the two people and instead the foundation of the relationship was dishonesty and distrust; essentially a lie. Thus the relationship, which fully existed, turned out not to be real or rational.

We might then say that Hegel's statement is, at its heart, how we ought to read Marx's oft-quoted, always misunderstood:

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

Communism is the real that is rational within capital. Marx does not praise capital in The Communist Manifesto because it is itself great or rational, but because it's potential is communism, which is the rational outcome and inner dynamic of capital (all inner dynamics, if I may use that phrase, for Hegel are those of negation and so a rational outcome is also a self-negation), and therefore the real movement.