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Friday, June 19, 2015


Those who know me will attest that I am a pussy cat, a real nice guy, always with a smile and a joke, slow to anger.  But I freely admit that I am now, at long last, really angry at classtruggle.  I have tried everything I can think of, and I simply cannot get him to stop quoting Holy Scripture and instead look at the world.  So this blog post is directed at you, classtruggle.  Everyone else can just play Sudoku or binge watch Scandal or do a load of laundry until I am done.

Your mind set, as revealed in your lengthy comments, is indistinguishable from that of a devout sectarian Protestant desperately clinging to the Word of God in the face of a changing world.  You remind me of Frederick March, playing William Jennings Bryan, in Inherit the Wind, the wonderful old movie about the Scopes monkey trial.  When Spencer Tracy, playing Clarence Darrow, challenges him as he testifies, March responds hysterically by clutching his Bible and reciting in order the books of the Old and New Testaments.

Look, damn it.  Marx published the first volume of Capital one hundred and forty eight years ago.  Right up to the very last moment, he was reading new reports and inserting the very latest information he had gleaned from his reading into the text.  He is for all of us an immortal model of how to try to understand the social and economic world.  You dishonor his memory by quoting his writings as though they were the infallible Word of God!

Just think for a moment of what has changed in the century and a half since the publication of Capital.  The composition of the work force in advanced capitalist countries has totally changed, several times, as I tried to indicate with a few statistics several days ago.  Financial capital has come to play a completely different role in capitalism.  Digital information management has totally changed the way in which economic decisions are made in the spheres of production and services.  Governmental employment has soared, altering profoundly the relationship between employer and employee for scores of millions of workers.  Perhaps most important of all, control of the means of production is now to a considerable degree divorced from legal ownership of the means of production.  Ownership, as represented by shares in joint stock corporations, no longer confers any operational control over the capital represented by those shares.  Even the multi-billionaires who have garnered so much attention recently often have only minority ownership in the corporations associated with their names.  Hence, transfer of legal ownership of the means of production to the people as a whole might turn out to make very little difference either to the work experience of employees or to the decisions made by those charged with overseeing those means of production, unless very great structural changes were made in the organization of productive enterprises.

Our job, as people who owe some sort of emotional and intellectual allegiance to the memory of Marx, is to think as hard as we can about these changes and try to figure out what they mean for our dream of a humane, non-exploitative society.  I do not for a moment imagine that I am equipped to do this, but at least I can see that it needs to be done.  You are not even trying!

Every time I offer an example of the way the world has changed, you respond, just like a Fundamentalist Protestant, by quoting the Scriptures, right down to the goddamn footnotes.

I have just finished teaching an entire course on Volume One, in which I had the students read every single page of that long, complex book.  Trust me.  I know all those passages you quote with such sublime faith that they are the answer to all our problems.

If you are prepared to put down your copies of the works of Marx for a bit and take a look at the world, then you are welcome at this blog.  You are clearly intelligent and well-read and if you can just liberate your mind, you will, I have no doubt, have interesting things to say.  But if you are unable to get beyond the Holy Scriptures and the associated Hagiography, then it would be better if you repaired to the nearest cell of the faithful and spent your time telling your beads and cursing the deviationists.


Chris said...

"Just think for a moment of what has changed in the century and a half since the publication of Capital...."

I think what needs to be established is whether or not these changes are just a change in appearance/content, or a change in form/essence/laws of motion?

jeremie jenkins said...
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Wallace Stevens said...

So let’s now take up the Professor Wolff Challenge and look at our capitalist society as it is today and see what elements are there that might serve as a basis for a transition to socialism.

The one that leaps out at me is the vast expansion in the demands for, and acceptance of, individual political rights of various kinds. I stress the qualifier “political”—marriage and adoption rights for gays, and the legalization of marijuana, to cite some recent examples, represent no more challenge to the capitalist economic order than did the Civil Rights movement in its day. Rather they reflect, as by-products, the ongoing subjection of the public sphere to the rationalizing and universalizing tendencies of capitalism. Distinctions like race and gender, once thought to be inscribed in the very nature of things, vaporize like the morning dew—“all that is solid melts into air,” to quote a phrase.

Yes, it may be the case that large swaths of the population today still believe, say, in some kind of creationism. But antiquated beliefs like these are weightless--mere personal preferences and “lifestyle choices” that, in the language of political rights, individuals are free to hold. They have, however, no bearing on the conduct of business as usual in the marketplace. This drives a traditionalist who objects to gay marriage on religious grounds crazy. Such a person can take no comfort from being told, “Of course, you are free not to marry someone of the same sex if you feel strongly about it. But you cannot prevent others from doing so.” That person wants to live in a community that prohibits gay marriage and shares other beliefs. What other people do matters! And it is exactly this kind of community that capitalism destroys like so many hand looms, guild rules and other outmoded ways of doing things.

I want to work with this paradox: That a key tendency of capitalism is to erode traditional communities of various kinds—religious, ethnic, guild, extended family—while at the same time forging in people a very strong sense of individual rights. The two tendencies can be seen in fact as two sides of the same coin. The paradox lies in the fact that the Left shares the belief in individual rights—in my right to realize all that I can be based on who I am—but also dreams of a new and better community (hence “communism”). But maybe the way forward is to focus on the individual and his or her rights. Maybe it’s time to take the community out of communism. I am working on an example of what this might look like. It is not as cold as it might sound.

classtruggle said...

Dear Robert -- this is a small petty debate which I may have started and I apologise if it has tested your patience. There is no real 'beef' here so to speak. If we want to see real tension and conflict, we should visit the workplace and labour market where the working class spends most of its life.

You may feel offended, perhaps because not many of your students are willing to debate with you on these key issues which you seem to ignore or conveniently dub dogma. The fact is that you have still not answered or commented on anything that I have written.

I pointed out that communists and socialists take clear stances on whether or not we can draw up imaginary blueprints of the future. You term this dogma? I encourage you to think about what the the terms Marxist and Anarchist mean in the context of speculating on a future socialist society. There are clear differences. But you seem to be dodging the issue or unwilling to come out and say "I disagree with Marx/communists that we cannot speculate about the detailed organisation of a future society." Issues like these, by the way, are what communists and anarchists have been discussing in their meetings and gatherings for the past century.

I pointed out that, okay, if we want to discuss the future (socialism) it is not possible without looking at working class conditions and demands and their significance for the general class struggle to overthrow capitalism. Again this falls under the category of dogma.

As an aside, even in your reflections you seem to focus much more on capital or things other than the working class or the labour movement. The nice thing about reading Marx is that on every page you can clearly see dialectics at work -- a discussion of capital and labour. Without having read Hegel, you will most definitely see Marx in a different light (in a Stalinoid fashion -- much like many American Marxist economists) and your analysis will no doubt reflect that.

Marx notes that the shortening of the working day is the first step towards time for oneself, free of the necessity of producing for material needs. He is giving you a clue here. I would discuss this at length but best to save it for my thesis. It is an original contribution and an argument that so far has garnered support from my supervisor, Kevin B Anderson and Simon Clarke.

On a more personal note, I have spent my life, very much like my father and grandfather before me, serving the working class, as an active member in the labour movement and several Communist Parties as well as building a Labour Studies department (a space that the working class has carved out for itself). I may draw on Marx quite a bit, but let's get this clear I did not make a living off writing about him as many Marxologists have. I mentioned in a comment once that out of Lukacs, Althusser and Gramsci the latter is the most remembered and influential because he was an active communist leader. And as Engels once noted, the IWMA and not CAPITAL was in fact Marx's 'crowning achievement' just as the welfare state or social reforms in the form of labour standards, particularly the shortening of the working day, is the crowning achievement of the working class. You will no doubt remember the eleventh thesis of Feuerbach.

Chris said...

Classtruggle, would you mind e-mailing me? I've got my own 'original' theory about Marx's theory of labor time, that I'd be interested in discussing with you, if you don't mind?

K.Reader said...
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