fragments of an attempted writing.

Perhaps you didn't know that the hammer-and-plough was the original communist emblem before the plough was replaced by the sickle.  The meaning was the same - the unity between the industrial proletariat and the peasants.  The bottom image is the Red Army Official Badge of 1918, the top image is a modern replica, the middle image an authentic example.  The hammer-and-sickle, though in use since 1917/18, officially replaced the hammer-and-plough in 1922.


I found this article in The Nation worth a read (I don't care for most Nation articles these days):

Charles Koch, billionaire patron of free-market libertarianism, privately championed the benefits of Social Security to Friedrich Hayek, the leading laissez-faire economist of the twentieth century. Koch even sent Hayek a government pamphlet to help him take advantage of America’s federal retirement insurance and healthcare programs.

The hypocrisy charges are a bit of emotional masturbation that is neither here nor there (yeah, communists use Dell computers and blogging platforms with ad based revenue streams to express their views, what choice do they have?, and of course capitalists who paid into Social Security are going to take Social Security, why shouldn't they?).  But the facts at hand are interesting enough, I suppose.  It turns out Hayek was eligible for SS (and Medicare) because he had taught and paid into SS (for long enough) at the U of Chicago some years prior.  At the time of the Koch-Hayek exchange noted here, Hayek had recently undergone gall bladder surgery in Austria (with a near universal health care system) and was concerned about the costs of having health problems away from Austria.  Koch wanted Hayek here in the States in order to help with a Koch think tank that would, ahem, attack institutions like SS and Medicare.

Levine and Ames note Hayek's hardening view towards government provision of SS and health care from The Road to Serfdom (with a relatively liberal stance toward those issues) to The Constitution of Liberty (all government "interference" bad, bad, bad, etc.).  Hayek's later ideology was apparently something which contrasted a bit with the concerns he had regarding his own vulnerable situation.  Levine and Ames contrast the public rhetoric of Koch and Hayek concerning the effectiveness and competence of government safety net programs and the fact that "[i]n private, Koch expresses confidence in Social Security’s ability to care for a clearly worried Hayek. He and his fellow IHS libertarians repeatedly assure Hayek that his government-funded coverage in the United States would be adequate for his medical needs."

Toward the end of the article we get two quite interesting paragraphs:

Meanwhile, in 1974, Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute (called the Charles Koch Foundation until 1977). This think tank has done more than any other to push for an end to Social Security. In 1983 the Cato Journal published a blueprint of how to destroy Social Security, “Achieving a ‘Leninist Strategy,’” by Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis. The authors acknowledged that a strong coalition of Americans backed Social Security and thus saw the need for “guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.” Victory could be far in the future, “but then, as Lenin well knew, to be a successful revolutionary, one must also be patient and consistently plan for real reform,” they write. 
As part of Cato’s campaign, the institute has launched various groups and projects, including the Project on Social Security Choice, whose co-chair is José Piñera, architect of Augusto Pinochet’s controversial pension privatization scheme in Chile. Cato Institute members and alumni also dominated President George W. Bush’s commission on Social Security in his first term and spearheaded Bush’s failed attempt to privatize the program in the early months of his second term.

Hayekian-Leninism?  Hmmm.   What an interesting choice of words from that set.

On the question of libertarian health care schemes, having some familiarity with health care, as a too frequent user and now having seen a wee bit of the provider perspective, I really don't think Hayekians and Paulites realize how many people will still not be able to afford health care if libertarian schemes reduce front end health care costs by 50% or even 75%.  But, of course, in that magical mystical fairy glitter world, private charities will make up a significant amount of the difference, right?  Just like they did before there were public safety net programs, cough, cough, wink, wink.

a marxism 101 moment...

It can be easy to get confused with regard to the relationship between the Labor Theory of Value and supply and demand.

Three helpful resources for understanding this issue are:

The Law of Value as "Equilibrium Mechanism", being Chapter 5 of The Limits of the Mixed Economy, by Paul Mattick.

Law of Value - 10.  Supply and Demand, (this post is just a draft, but a darn good one) over at Kapitalism101

and especially:

Capital: Volume III, Part Two, Chapter 10, The Equalization of the General Rate of Profit through Competition. Market Prices and Market Values.  Surplus Profit.

a month in the country

I was pleased to hear this on NPR this evening.  I came to read Carr after reading Byron Rogers' biography of him.  Rogers wrote one of the best biographies I have ever read, The Man Who Went Into the West, the Life of R.S. Thomas.  After reading it I decided to read Rogers' The Last Englishman, the Life of J.L. Carr, though I had not yet read anything by Carr.  Rogers' praise of A Month in the Country turned out to be deserved.  Jesse Browner's little NPR intro to the work fits the short novel well.

The prints are by J.L. Carr.


Yesterday Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer had some nuggets.  This Walden Bello review of Naomi Klein's new book, in the midst of gushing praise, offers some constructive criticisms of Klein's work.  Start with the "But manufacturing matters!" section and keep reading.   Mention of that review was prompted by Klein stating her hatred of Friedman's "utopianism" in the critical take on Klein found here (the term "anarcho-liberalism" resulted in much discussion).  Henwood wryly noted that "this distrust of grand narratives is ready for the glue factory."

Henwood also noted Ralph Nadar's recent support of Ron Paul, and recalled Nadar's first published article, which is an attack on public housing (a burden on the private sector, destroys incentives, and is the enemy of independence and self-reliance, etc.).  As Henwood put it this morning, "Why is it that when someone says 'We're beyond left and right,' it's almost always a defense of the right?"

Lastly, from Ulli Diemer:

When people say they reject ‘grand narratives’ they aren't referring to cultural theorists like Northrop Frye (The Great Code) or Robert Graves (“there is one story and one story only that will prove worth your telling”). They’re talking about the Marxist tradition.
It seems to me that the pejorative term ‘grand narrative’ is similar in function and intent to the term ‘political correctness’. It’s a glib way of saying “Don’t give me none of that Marxist shit.”
Typically, it’s code for rejecting a coherent historical analysis of capitalism, for rejecting a Marxist analysis of capital and the inherent contradictions of capital accumulation. All-too-often, it signals an unwillingness to seriously consider how capital and the capitalist state can be brought down. Which tends to lead to wishful thinking like ‘changing the world without taking power’.
Me, I prefer Marxism.

Balibar, part II

- image found here.

The second of three installments from Étienne Balibar’s The Philosophy of Marx; the next section will be the last and will be shorter:

‘Commodity fetishism’

The theory of fetishism is mainly expounded in Part One of Volume I of Capital.  It is not merely a high point of Marx’s philosophical work, entirely integrated into his ‘critical’ and ‘scientific’ work, but one of the great theoretical constructions of modern philosophy.  It is notoriously difficult, even though the general idea is relatively simple.

I shall not linger here over the origins of the term ‘fetishism’, its relationship with theories of religion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, or the place which, by taking up this term again, Marx occupies within the history of the question of fetishism in general.  Nor, for want of space, shall I discuss the function this argument performs in the overall architecture of Capital, a function it fulfills particularly by its explanation of the ‘inverted’ form which, as Marx tells us, the structural phenomena of the capitalist mode of production (which all relate back to the way expansion in the value of capital feeds on ‘living labour’) are perceived at the ‘surface’ of economic relations (in the world of competition between different forms of capital, profit, rent, interest and their respective rates).  I shall, however, attempt to explain the connection with Marx’s text of the dual legacy we can recognize as his today: on the one hand, the idea of the reification of the bourgeois world in the forms of the generalized ‘commodification’ of social activities; on the other, the programme of an analysis of the mode of subjection implied in the process of exchange, which finds its ultimate expression in structural Marxism.

‘The fetishism of the commodity,’ Marx tells us, is the fact that a ‘definite social relation between men themselves… assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things.’  Or, alternatively, ‘to the producers… the social relations between their private labours appear… as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things.’

Commodities, produced and exchanged, which are useful material objects and which, as such, correspond to individual or collective needs, also possess another quality, which is immaterial but no less objective: their exchange-value (generally expressed in the form of a price, i.e, as a certain sum of money).  That quality, which is attached to them individually, is therefore immediately quantifiable: just as a car weighs 500kg;, so it is worth £10,000.  Naturally, for a given commodity, this quantity varies according to time and place, as a function of competition and other more or less long-term fluctuations.  However, far from such variations dissipating the appearance of an intrinsic relation between the commodity and its value, they in fact confer on it an added objectivity: individuals go to the marketplace of their own free will, but it is not as a result of their decisions that the values (or prices) of commodities on the market fluctuate.  It is, rather, the fluctuation of values which determines the conditions in which individuals have access to commodities.  It is, therefore, in the ‘objective laws’ of the circulation of commodities, governed by changes in value, that human beings must seek the means of satisfying their needs and regulating the relations which are mediated by economic relationships or dependent on them.  Marx presents this elementary objectivity, which appears as soon as a simple relationship with commodities on the market exists, as the starting point and model of objectivity of economic phenomena in general and their laws; it is these laws which are studied by political economy, which ceaselessly compares them – either explicitly, by the use of mechanical or dynamic concepts, or implicitly, by the mathematical methods it employs – with the objectivity of the laws of nature.

There is obviously an immediate relation between this phenomenon (in the sense that things ‘present themselves’ in this way) and the function of money.  It is as a price, and therefore as an at least potential relation of exchange with a quantity of money, that exchange-value presents itself.  At bottom, that relationship is not dependent on money actually being spent or received or even merely being represented by a sign (credit money, bank notes ‘given forced currency’ etc.): in the last analysis, especially on the world (or universal) market which Marx tells us is the true space in which the commodity relation is realized, the monetary reference must exist and must be ‘verifiable’.  The presence of money over against commodities, as a precondition for their circulation, adds an element to the fetishism and allows us to understand why this term is used.  If commodities (food, clothing, machines, raw materials, luxury objects, cultural goods, and even the bodies of prostitutes – in short the whole world of human objects produced and consumed) seem to have an exchange-value, money, for its part, seems to be exchange-value itself, and by the same token intrinsically to possess the power to communicate to commodities which ‘enter into relation with it’ that virtue or power which characterizes it.  That is why it is sought for its own sake, hoarded, regarded as the object of a universal need attended by fear and respect, desire and disgust (auri sacra fames: ‘the accursed thirst for gold’, wrote the Latin poet Virgil in a famous line quoted by Marx, and in Revelation money is clearly identified with the Beast, i.e., with the devil).

This relation of money to commodities, which ‘gives material form to’ their value on the market, is, of course, supported by individual acts of sale and purchase, but the personalities of the individuals who carry out those acts are quite irrelevant to it; in this connection, they are entirely interchangeable.  One may therefore construe this relation either as the effect of a ‘supernatural’ power of money, which creates and animates the movement of commodities, embodying its own imperishable value in the perishable bodies of commodities; or, on the other hand, as a ‘natural’ effect of the relation between commodities, which establishes an expression of their values and the proportions in which they can be exchanged by way of social institutions.

In reality, these two conceptions are symmetrical and interdependent: they develop together and represent two moments of the experience which individuals, as ‘producer-exchangers’, have of the phenomena of circulation and the market which constitute the general form of the whole of economic life.  This is what Marx has in mind when he describes the perception of the world of commodities as a perception of ‘sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible’, in which aspects of the natural and the supernatural coexist uncannily, and when he declares the commodity a ‘mystical’ object, full of ‘theological niceties’ (directly suggesting the comparison of economic language with religious discourse).  Contrary to what Max Weber would later assert, the modern world is not ‘disenchanted’, but enchanted, precisely insofar as it is the world of objects of value and objectified values.

The necessity of appearances

What, then, is Marx’s objective in describing the phenomenon in this way?  It is twofold.  On the one hand, by a movement akin to a demystification or demythification, he is concerned to dissolve that phenomenon, to show that it is an appearance based, in the last instance, on a ‘misunderstanding’.  The phenomena just mentioned (exchange-value considered as a property of objects, the autonomous movement of commodities and prices) will have to be traced back to a real cause which has been masked and the effect of which has been inverted (as in camera obscura).  This analysis really clears the way for a critique of political economy.  For at the very point when that discipline, driven by a desire to provide scientific explanation (Marx is of course thinking here of the representatives of classical political economy: Smith and particularly Ricardo, whom he is always careful to distinguish from the ‘apologists’ of capital), is setting out to solve the enigma of the fluctuations of value by pinning value down to an ‘invariant measure’ – the labour-time necessary to produce each commodity – it actually deepens the mystery by regarding this relation as a natural (and, consequently, eternal) phenomenon.  This is explained by the fact that economic science – which, in accord with the research programme of the Enlightenment, seeks the objectivity of phenomena – conceives the appearance as an error or illusion , a representational defect which could be eliminated by observation (chiefly, in this case, by statistics) and deduction.  By explaining economic phenomena in terms of laws, the power of fascination they exert should be dissipated.  In the same way, half a century later, Durkheim was to speak of ‘treating social facts as things.’

Now fetishism is not a subjective phenomenon or a false perception of reality, as an optical illusion or a superstitious belief would be.  It constitutes, rather, the way in which reality (a certain form or social structure) cannot but appear.  And that active ‘appearing’ (both Schein and Erscheinung, i.e. both illusion and phenomenon) constitutes a mediation or necessary function without which, in given historical conditions, the life of society would be quite simply impossible.  To suppress the appearance would be to abolish social relations.  This is why Marx attaches particular importance to refuting the utopian notion, widespread among French and British socialists in the early nineteenth century (and which would often be seen again elsewhere), that money could be abolished, giving way to work credits or other forms of social redistribution, without any attendant transformation of the principle of exchange between private production units.  This structure of production and circulation which confers an exchange-value on the products of labour forms a single whole, and the existence of money, a ‘developed’ form of the general equivalent of commodities, is one of the necessary functions of that structure.

To the first stage of the critique, which consists in dissolving the appearance of objectivity, there must be added, then, another which is, in actuality, the precondition for it, and demonstrates the constitution of the appearance in objectivity.  What presents itself as a given quantitative relation is, in reality, the expression of a social relation: units which are independent of one another can only determine the necessity of their labour, the proportion of social labour which has to be devoted to each type of useful object a posteriori, by adjusting their production to ‘demand’.  It is the practice of exchange which determines the proportions, but it is the exchange-values of the commodities which, in the view of each producer, represent in inverted fashion – as though it were a property of ‘things’ – the relationship between their own labour and that of all the other producers.  Given this state of affairs, it is inevitable that, to the individuals, their labour appears to be ‘socialized’ by the ‘value form’, instead of this latter showing up as the expression of a social division of labour.  Hence the formula I quoted above: ‘To the producers… the social relations between their private labors appear… as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things.’

Marx refutes this by undertaking a thought-experiment which consists in comparing the way socially necessary labour time is apportioned in various different ‘modes of production’, some of them historical (primitive societies based on subsistence economies, for example, or medieval societies based on serfdom), others imaginary (the domestic ‘economy’ of Robinson Crusoe on his island), or hypothetical (a future communist society where the apportioning of labor is consciously planned).  It then appears that these relations of production are either free and egalitarian, or oppressive and based on force, but ‘the social relations between the individuals and in the performance of their labour appear at all events as their own personal relations, and are not disguised as social relations between things, between the products of labour.’  In other words, these societies are, first and foremost, societies of human beings, whether equal or unequal, and not commodity (or ‘market’) societies where human beings serve only as intermediaries.  

contra Löwith: on marxism and eschatology, via Boer.

This past summer I discovered the work of Roland Boer, who writes concerning Marxism and religion.  His works Criticism of Heaven: On Marxism and Theology and Criticism of Religion: On Marxism and Theology, II will probably be mentioned from time to time on this blog, and the first volume probably reviewed at some point.  It's hard for me to post on that material as my only access to the books are at the local mainline Prot seminary library (which is a great place to study as it is nearly always fairly empty and there are no nursing students there to shoot the breeze with and I can take breaks and read decidedly non-nursing material there), but once I start working more hours this summer I'll probably buy both texts which will will provide more opportunity to reflect and write concerning them.  Given my own history growing up with Marxism and Christianity and having "rededicated my life" to Marxism after being backslidden for years, I was naturally attracted to Boer's work.

I was pleased to learn that Roland Boer has a blog, Stalin's Moustache, and I thought of it today when reading a quote by Karl Löwith on a thread this morning.  Boer addresses Löwith in a blog post from August of this year:

1. Is Marxism a secularised version of Christian (or indeed Jewish) history?
I have had a go at answering this one at the level of Marx’s texts in an article in Mediations. The short answer here is that Marx and Engels set themselves against the dominantly eschatological nature of communism at the time (Moses Hess et al). However, what about the oft-repeated opinion, first proposed by Karl Löwith early last century? At a general level, Marxism partakes of a historical narrative drawn originally from Jewish and Christian thought: this world is a fallen one, the messiah/saviour will come (the proletariat) and bring in the millennium and heaven on earth (communism). Apart from the fact that our dear Karl L. doesn’t actually work with any texts, this seems an obvious position to many.
This position has at least two problems. First, you may make the same point about any political and economic project: liberalism, feminism, anarchism, conservatism … at which point it becomes meaningless. Second, the whole argument assumes that Christian thought is the origin of this narrative and that everyone has borrowed it in various fashions. Crap, since that absolutises Christianity. Instead, the theological or biblical shape of this narrative is but one form it may take.
All the same, there is some connection between a Marxist theory of history and Christianity, but at an unexpected level. You find it in the forgotten pages on Max Stirner in The German Ideology, pages that constitute the engine room of historical materialism. In response to Stirner’s search for a lever of history – the ego, of which Christ is the model, minus the theological trappings – Marx and Engels develop a very different approach. The lever is not the proletariat but contradiction itself. The way modes of production crunch into other ones is through internal contradictions that eventually bring the older one undone. It is certainly a very different lever of history, but the question remains whether Marx and Engels actually develop something completely new. My sense is that they get halfway: contradiction is a novel lever of history, but it remains a lever.

In the thread on that post Boer notes that it is Ernst Bloch who "introduced eschatology into Marxism in a big way."  Hmmm.  I hope to post more concerning my own thoughts on Bloch at a later date.  Boer's essay which he links to above, Marxism and Eschatology Reconsidered, is definitely worth a read.  

Balibar, part I

What follows is most of the section The aporia of ideology found in Etienne Balibar's The Philosophy of Marx.  I present this section as a prelude to my posting of the next section of the book 'Commodity fetishism', which I will post later.  I am posting these sections in order to have a "base" of background material for a later post which will deal with two of the major themes of Balibar's 'Commodity fetishism' section - Marx's understanding of "the mystical" in economics and social relations, and the role of ideology in a social milieu of commodity fetishism.  In what follows it is important to keep in mind that Marx's conception of the proletariat, emphasized especially and perhaps crudely in the early stages of Marx's writing, was that of the proletariat as a universal class, "a mass situated virtually beyond the condition of class, the particularity of that mass being denied in its very conditions of existence."  This creates a number of analytical problems for Marx, as Balibar notes here:

Given Marx’s conception of the proletariat, the idea of an ideology of the proletariat (or of a ‘proletarian ideology’, later, as we know, to meet with much success) is obviously devoid of meaning.  In reality, the concept of the proletariat is not so much that of a particular ‘class’, isolated from the whole of society, as of a non-class, the formation of which immediately precedes the dissolution of all classes and primes the revolutionary process.  For this reason, when speaking of it, Marx employs, for preference, the term ‘Masse’ (‘mass’ or ‘masses’), which he turns round against the contemptuous use made of it by bourgeois intellectuals in his day.  Just as the proletarian masses are fundamentally propertyless (eigentumslos), they are fundamentally ‘without illusions’ (illusioslos) about reality, fundamentally external to the world of ideology, whose abstractions and ideal representations of the social relation ‘do not exist’ for them.  The Manifesto will say the same thing, illustrating the idea with phrases which have since become famous, but which today seem derisory, such as ‘the working men have no country.’  Similarly, they are free of beliefs, hopes or hypocrisies of religion, morality or bourgeois law.  For the same reason, they could not have ‘ideologues’ proposing to instruct or guide them – ‘organic intellectuals’, as Gramsci would later term them.  (Marx certainly did not see himself as anything of the kind and this produced increasing difficulties when it came to conceptualizing the function of his own theory within revolutionary practice.  Here again, Engels was to make the decisive step by bringing the expression ‘scientific socialism’ into general use.)

The events of 1848-50 were cruelly to emphasize how far removed this vision was from reality.  Indeed, these events might have been sufficient to prompt abandonment, if not of the idea of a universal role of the proletariat (at the level of world history and the revolutionary transformation of society in its entirety), without which there is no Marxism, then certainly of the proletariat as a ‘universal class’.  The most fascinating text in this regard is The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte…  In it, the search for a strategy with which the working class can confront the counter-revolution is combined with new analysis of the historical gap between what Marx calls the ‘class in itself’ and the ‘class for itself’, between the mere fact of similar conditions of life and an organized political movement – conceived not in terms of consciousness merely lagging behind life, but as an effect of contradictory economic tendencies, which he now began to see as promoting both the unity of workers and competition between them.  Immediate experience in France, as in Germany or Britain, was, in actual fact, to reveal the power of the political and military machines of the established order.  How was the theoretical thesis that the conditions of production of ideology were radically external to the proletarian condition to be reconciled with the observation of the daily interpenetration of the two?  It is very remarkable that Marx never invoked an implicitly moral notion, such as that of false consciousness (as later employed by Lukács and others), just as he never spoke of proletarian ideology or class consciousness.  But the difficulty remained a glaring one in his writings and led to the suppression of the very concept of ideology.

Another factor conspired towards this same end: the difficulty Marx experienced in defining bourgeois political economy – particularly that of the classics: Quesnay, Smith and Ricardo – as ‘ideology’, since this theoretical discourse, which was ‘scientific’ in form and clearly intended to provide the foundations for the liberal politics of the owners of capital, did not fall directly into the category of ideology (characterized by the abstraction and inversion of the real), or of a materialist history of civil society, given that it was based on the postulate that bourgeois conditions of production were eternal (or that the relation between wage-labourers and capital was invariant).  But it was precisely the need to extricate himself from this dilemma which was to lead Marx to immerse himself for years in the ‘critique of political economy’, a critique fuelled by intensive reading of Smith, Ricardo, Hegel, Malthus, historians and statisticians… And that critique, in its turn, was to throw up a new concept, that of commodity fetishism.  

Claude Flight
Breaking Waves - c.1931

25.4 x 30.3 cm (inches: 10 x 12.)
Coppel CF 38
Printed in three colours (vermilion, cobalt blue and emerald green) on thin off-white oriental paper.

I posted this post on me ol' blog and a friend asked me about it recently, thus:

R.I.P. Milton Rogovin.

For Celtophiles: the photo with the dude with the tattoos is titled "Scottish Mining Family."

Canned Acoustica is one of the many reasons I'd like to get back to Houston some day.  The Rothko Chapel and Houston Catholic Worker are others.

Most collaborations like these don't do much for me, but I liked this one.
Courts are not instruments of justice; when your case gets into court it will make little difference whether you are guilty or innocent; but it’s better if you have a smart lawyer. And you cannot have a smart lawyer unless you have money. First and last it’s a question of money. Those men who own the earth make the laws to protect what they have. They fix up a sort of fence or pen around what they have, and they fix the law so the fellow on the outside cannot get in. The laws are really organized for the protection of the men who rule the world. They were never organized or enforced to do justice. We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world. 
--Clarence Darrow
Troy Davis, R.I.P.
Of all the Christian responses to the current economic crises that I have read in the last couple of years, I think this one has disgusted me the most, perhaps because I naïvely expect more from Benedictines than from, say, fundamentalist Baptists.  There is nothing new here in terms of "argumentation" or the simplistic spiritualisms, but the monk managed to get the litany of truisms down pat and the tone, uh, just right.  It's clear from the literature this outfit sends out that they have some very wealthy backers.  This "keep the proletariat in line" message is exactly what their target donor demographic would like the Church to focus on, no doubt.  How utterly nauseating.  Of all the things that need to be said, now.  

I shouldn't be surprised, I know.  These forms of Christianity, whatever they say of themselves and despite all desperate appeals to the contrary, are essentially by the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois and for the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois, a few anomalous stragglers notwithstanding.  

capitalists on strike? catachresis as the language most befitting the new reality?

I should state from the get go that I'm not sure how much mainstream political rhetoric matters anymore in terms of public response -- i.e. the actual political alignments and allegiances and correspondent political activity of the masses.  

I think most of the American public operates with the assumption that nearly all or all politicians are full of shit and this has resulted, ironically, in politicians having even more leeway with regard to their rhetorical audacity.  But it is nonetheless interesting how forthright the Right is becoming at both national and states levels of government.  There have been times when the industrialist/business side of the Republican Party tried to avoid like the plague anything that hinted of overt class distinction (they rather presented themselves in the "common sense" or "ordinary American values" postures), and there have been times when they have strayed from that "plain American common wisdom" song and dance but I don't know that the straying has ever gone this far before.  

Now you have the surreal situation in which Paul Ryan and Co. bemoan a small tax increase on the very wealthy as class warfare, even as that disgrace to the state of Ohio John Boehner tells us that job creators in America are on strike, because they dislike "excessive" regulation, government binge spending, and a "tax code that discourages investment."   Add to that the steady stream of lesser Republican politicians saying things like this and this, and you have to at least marvel at the chutzpah.  That Boehner uses the overt working class language of class warfare in defense of and applied toward the bourgeoisie is remarkable.  I'm not sure if this use of language is more pomo or théâtre de l'absurde.  Something tells me Bertolt Brecht would have relished this rhetorical moment, but then again maybe he would have hated it, because there is nothing left to rhetorically exaggerate in order to meet the needs of theater.  We are living Die Dreigroschenoper now.

But at very least the Boehner, Ryan, and pals acknowledge that class warfare exists.  Obomber cannot, of course, be counted on for that.  He's been convinced by his handlers that contemporary economics has to do with math.  How quaint.

Yesterday I read a defense of John Fleming's statement about only having 400k left over after "feeding his family" in which, par for the course, the defender pointed out that increased taxation of Fleming would result in less job creation, as 62% or somesuch new jobs come from small businesses, or so the story went.  But if those job creators like Fleming are already on strike when it comes to job creation, it seems to me that perhaps we could talk about acquiring some job creator scabs - which could be funded via taxation schemes.  Now if Obama were to go tit-for-tat in the use of language here, and actually respond to Boehner by suggesting that job creating scabs be brought in to take the place of Boehner's striking capitalists, that would suggest that the Democrats have a modicum of intent at actually playing the game.  But that, of course, will never happen.

One of my favorite Cockburn songs.  I was surprised to find it on YouTube, but I guess I should stop being surprised at that sort of thing these days.

I have long liked the line -
All you can do is praise the razor
For the fineness of the slash. 

day of stage.

As a friend of mine (in the DSA) put it, this is why you should never let the anarchists organize your protests.  How cringe-fully pathetic.  Unfortunately, this sort of thing only reinforces a common impression/caricature of "the Left" in this country.  Ugh, sigh, wince....

As a FB friend described it, "Basically, it all boiled down to 'My anti-establishment lifestyle choices are better than your mainstream lifestyle choices.' Even anti-consumerism (at least as represented here) is a form of consumerism."

My favorite quotes in the post:

Concerning the "anonymous" masks - 
But I’ve always wondered this: How hypocritical is it to wear a plastic toy, designed and licensed by the Warner Brothers corporation, and manufactured in a polluting slave-labor Chinese factory, to advertise a mainstream Hollywood film, starring overpaid actors, the profits from which will go to corporate shareholders, and yet you think that by doing this you’re somehow anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian?
Concerning the kids in Wobblies gear - 

Other lefty fads popular this month in San Francisco, for all you trend-watchers: Adolescent middle-class anarchists who have never labored a day in their lives sporting “IWW” badges as if they even qualified as “workers” at all, much less “industrial workers.”  What would a real Wobbly from the early 20th century think of these softies? 

The photo of the hippie yoga session was the, uh, "best" part.

Eugene Nida, R.I.P.

I don't know how I managed to miss this (see also here) .  Nida died August 25, in Belgium, at age 96.  Nida was a mentor to one of my own mentors.  I still occasionally pick up my copy of The Theory and Practice of Translation.  The theory for which Nida is famous would influence the linguistics world far beyond the relatively small subculture of bible translators, and the implications of dynamic equivalency are difficult to overstate.  Nida's theory was a tool that proved very effective in countering rigid ethnocentrisms - when I think of what effectively ended the reign of the "old style" of white missionaries teaching "natives" to act, dress, speak, and (presumably) think like white people, Nida comes to mind as the thinker perhaps most responsible for undermining that paradigm.  [Rightly or wrongly, I think of Nida's vision as the polar opposite of the well crafted caricature we see in Nathan Price, the antagonist of The Poisonwood Bible.]  The idea that the hearing/reading culture should determine the manner and form that texts and ideas are communicated to them may seem rote and obvious today, but make no mistake, Nida's theory was a radical departure from previous cross-cultural postures on the part of Westerners.
This was a very interesting read, and the video of Hayek exactly as one might expect from the man: a pompous self-referencing, parochially minded twit with a savior complex.

Carl Oglesby, R.I.P.

Carl Oglesby died on Tuesday.  He was 76.

I asked my dad for his impressions of Oglesby and dad said he remembers Oglesby as the "old man" of the new left, which is now funny to think about as dad and Oglesby, these decades later, aren't that far apart in age, relatively speaking.  

Oglesby was into using theater to teach the anit-war method. My dad attended one of Oglesby's workshops and impressed him enough that Oglesby asked dad to do similar workshops in Cleveland, where dad was living at the time.  At some point I'll probably post some of my dad's thoughts on the difference in cultures between the Ann Arbor and Cleveland branches of SDS back in the day.  I've been thinking about this a lot since reading Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History in which Staughton Lynd makes comparisons between SNCC and SDS.  My dad was involved in both, SNCC in the mid 60s working with Stokely Carmichael in Mississippi, and then SDS in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Dad recalls that Oglesby was worried about "watering down" the anti-war movement by getting caught up in other radical concerns, such as women's lib and racism.  Staughton Lynd notes this as a typical problem with the SDS national leadership, when they did try to make inroads into working class and minority communities, it was too little, too late.  SNCC on the other hand, according to Lynd, had a much better legacy of socio-economic and racial integration in terms of its membership, leadership, and activities.  

Oglesby was forced out of SDS when it took its more Leftward turn in 1969, in part because he was deemed "too bourgeois."  There is an irony in this.  Oglesby had actually grown up working class.  His dad had worked in a rubber factory in Akron (my mother is convinced that Oglesby is a distant relative of ours as we had distant relatives who worked in that plant and she thinks they were Oglesbys).  When SDS went Leftward toward what would become the PLP and eventually the Weathermen, the new leadership, insisting on their new "Marxist" purity, were, as my dad puts it, "the epitome of bourgeois" - sons and daughters of the captains of finance and industry, with a long list of degrees from elite universities.  As dad tells me, not only was the new SDS leadership not working class, they didn't even know any working class people.  Some day I may post about dad's thesis that his old antagonist Bernadine Dohrn used her (albeit very attractive) body to lure some of the male fence riders in SDS to go Weather Underground.  Shortly after the "radical" turn, the new leadership issued a statement that monogamy was a "bourgeois" institution.  When sex is used to organize, I suppose social constructs regarding monogamy best be ditched ASAP.

Carl Oglesby would eventually come to be a libertarian who spent his later years obsessed with conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination.  But the man made some decent music, and he lived through times which leave an imprint on the American mind which, as Oglesby put it, remains "mysterious."  

Orwellian reading of Sheed on communism vs. christianity

Review of Communism and Man by F.J. Sheed
Peace News, 27 January 1939
By George Orwell

This book – a refutation of Marxian Socialism from the Catholic standpoint – is remarkable for being written in a good temper.  Instead of employing the abusive misrepresentation which is now usual in all major controversies, it gives a fairer exposition of Marxism and Communism than most Marxists could be trusted to give of Catholicism.  If it fails, or at any rate ends less interestingly than it begins, this is probably because the author is less ready to follow up his own intellectual implications than those of his opponents.

As he sees clearly enough, the radical difference between Christian and Communist lies in the question of personal immortality.  Either this life is preparation for another, in which case the individual soul is all-important, or there is no life after death, in which case the individual is merely a replaceable cell in the general body.  These two theories are quite irreconcilable, and the political and economic systems founded upon them are bound to be antagonistic.

What Mr. Sheed is not ready to admit, however, is that acceptance of the Catholic position implies a certain willingness to see the present injustices of society continue.  He seems to claim that a truly Catholic society would contain all or most of what the Stalinist is aiming at – which is a little too like “having it both ways.”

Individual salvation implies liberty, which is always extended by Catholics writers to include the right to private property.  But in the stage of industrial development which we have now reached, the right to private property means the right to exploit and torture millions of one’s fellow-creatures.  The Socialist would argue, therefore, that one can only defend private property if one is more or less indifferent to economic justice.

The Catholic’s answer to this is not very satisfactory.  It is not that the Church condones the injustices of Capitalism – quite the contrary.  Mr. Sheed is quite right in pointing out that several Popes have denounced the Capitalist system very bitterly, and that Socialists usually ignore this.  But at the same time the Church refuses the only solution that is likely to make any real difference.  Private property is to remain, the employer-employee relationship is to remain, even the categories “rich” and “poor” are to remain – but there is to be justice and fair distribution.  In other words, the rich man is not to be expropriated, he is merely to be told to behave himself.

“(The Church) does not see men primarily as exploiters and exploited, with the exploiters as people whom it is her duty to overthrow… from her point of view the rich man as sinner is the object of her loving care.  Where others see a strong man in the pride of success, she sees a poor soul in danger of hell… Christ has told her that the souls of the rich are in special danger; and care for souls is her primary work.”

The objection to this is that in practice it makes no difference.  The rich man is called to repentance, but he never repents.  In this matter Catholic capitalists do not seem perceptibly different from the others.

It is obvious that any economic system would work equitably if men could be trusted to behave themselves but long experience has shown that in matters of property only a tiny minority of men will behave any better than they are compelled to do.  This does not mean that the Catholic attitude toward property is untenable, but it does mean that it is very difficult to square with economic justice.  In practice, accepting the Catholic standpoint means accepting exploitation, poverty, famine, war and disease is a part of the natural order of things.

It would seem, therefore, that if the Catholic Church is to regain its spiritual influence, it will have to define its position more boldly.  Either it will have to modify its attitude toward private property, or it will have to clearly say that its kingdom is not of this world and that feeding bodies is of very small importance compared with saving souls.

In effect it does say something of the kind, but rather uneasily, because this is not the message that modern men want to hear.  Consequently for some time past the Church has been in an anomalous position, symbolized by the fact the Pope almost simultaneously denounces the Capitalist system and confers decorations on General Franco.

Meanwhile this is an interesting book, written in a simple style and remarkably free from malice and cheap witticisms.  If all Catholic apologists were like Mr. Sheed, the Church would have fewer enemies.

I'm not particularly impressed with Orwell's take on the fundamental difference between Communism and Christianity - if Christianity were egalitarian in its care for souls, it would not so fervently support political systems in which so many are treated as chattel, thus giving the chattel all the more reason to suspect the genuineness of authoritatively-Christian concern for souls.  And Orwell's take on the supposed connection between Communism and the expendability of human lives is no doubt a remnant of the bad taste the Soviets left in his mouth, particularly in the Spanish Civil War: 

The whole of Comintern policy is now subordinated (excusably, considering the world situation) to the defence of U.S.S.R., which depends upon a system of military alliances. In particular, the USSR is in alliance with France, a capitalist-imperialist country. The alliance is of little use to Russia unless French capitalism is strong, therefore Communist policy in France has got to be anti-revolutionary. This means not only that French Communists now march behind the tricolour and sing the Marseillaise, but, what is more important, that they have had to drop all effective agitation in the French colonies. It is less than three years since Thorez, the Secretary of the French Communist Party, was declaring that the French workers would never be bamboozled into fighting against their German comrades; he is now one of the loudest-lunged patriots in France. The clue to the behaviour of the Communist Party in any country is the military relation of that country, actual or potential, towards the USSR In England, for instance, the position is still uncertain, hence the English Communist Party is still hostile to the National Government, and, ostensibly, opposed to rearmament. If, however, Great Britain enters into an alliance or military understanding with the USSR, the English Communist, like the French Communist, will have no choice but to become a good patriot and imperialist; there are premonitory signs of this already. In Spain the Communist 'line' was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that France, Russia's ally, would strongly object to a revolutionary neighbour and would raise heaven and earth to prevent the liberation of Spanish Morocco. The Daily Mail, with its tales of red revolution financed by Moscow, was even more wildly wrong than usual. In reality it was the Communists above all others who prevented revolution in Spain. Later, when the right-wing forces were in full control, the Communists showed themselves willing to go a great deal further than the Liberals in hunting down the revolutionary leaders.
- from Homage to Catalonia.

One can certainly sympathize with Orwell's frustrations on that front.

But I find points of the Orwell review of Sheed's book insightful, particularly the notion that calling on Christian and other capitalists to be better behaved will never result in an influential number of them behaving better, and thus it sure seems as if the near constant expression of concern for those suffering economic injustices (and Popes make use of "injustice" language in a manner that implies something broadly akin to what socialists mean by the term) is feigned - that the Vatican has no intention of laying a binding law down upon its members which insists upon changed behaviors leading to better economic conditions for those suffering these injustices.  And I also think Orwell's call for the Church to speak more "boldly" is still applicable today.  As Catholic Social Thought develops, and we receive more and more criticisms of capitalism from Popes, there is no indication that this will ever rise above rhetoric which is kept just vague enough as to demand nothing specific.  Lastly, given recent Wikileaks revelations about Vatican hatreds towards Hugo Chavez (see here and here), the comment by Orwell about pinning medals on Franco remains pertinent.  

I think what impresses me most of all in this review is the insinuation it leaves that the Catholic Church is particularly concerned for the spiritual fate of the rich.  Considering the contemporary influence within the RCC by groups like Opus Dei and the Legionnaires of Christ, groups whose charisms are very much focused upon "reaching" the wealthy, it seems there has been no substantial reduction in this arena of evangelism and concern.  I find this a rather disgusting phenomenon, as the thought of displaying any notable spiritual concern for the rich is nauseating and perverse.  They have their reward.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison

28 Oct. 1785 Papers 8:681--82

Seven o'clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you; this [Fontainebleau] is a village of about 5,000 inhabitants when the court is not here and 20,000 when they are, occupying a valley. ...The king comes here in the fall always, to hunt. His court attend him, as do also the foreign diplomatic corps. ...This being the first trip, I set out yesterday morning to take a view of the place. ...I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her, ...her vocation, condition and circumstance. walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe. The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards. These employ the flower of the country as servants, ...They employ also a great number of manufacturers, and tradesmen, and lastly the class of labouring husbandmen. But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.

Italic emphasis mine.  I'm inclined to think that the texts of the founders are a lot like the scriptures in this regard - there is enough varied textual material to argue for a wide variety of policy positions.  Discerning the founders' intent(s) in such a way as to provide clarity with regard to a contemporary policy matter is a dog that don't hunt so well.

I've seen this quote tossed around the internet over the years, by agrarians, distributivists, leftists of various sorts, and even libertarians (stressing the last line).  Setting aside that modern technologies wide and far (including those in the realm of agriculture) are such that we will never live in a state wherein a majority or even a plurality of households are made up of small landowners (if we mean by 'landowner' more than just the land upon which a house sits anyway), one can play fanciful little imaginary games whilst thinking through the dilemmas of actually trying to make the political and social sentiments expressed here become applicable.  

The "small landowner" today, if he attempts to farm, faces regulation and subsidy ordos which heavily favor corporate ag in terms of access to loans, per acreage transportation subsidy advantages (if you transit 5000 acres of soybeans from one location you end up with a greater transport subsidy per acre than if you transit 5 acres of soybeans from one location), and cost of regulations per acre (a diary farmer with a 30 head dairy pays a hell of a lot more in certified equipment and the auditing/inspection of equipment and processes than does a dairy with 800 head of cattle), and with states greatly reducing the state ag extension offices (which in many states have come to really focus upon efforts concerning the support of small farming operations), the free and cheap resources available to small farmers are becoming harder to get access to.

And then our poor little farmer faces intellectual property fascism from the likes of Monsanto, wherein even if this small landowner starts with non-GMO seed and tries to store and use his own seed from original crops, because of cross pollination he stands to be sued by a Monsanto over independent property rights issues.  If he starts with GMO seeds, he must buy seeds direct from a corporate entity each year, and is thus subject to price fluctuations in seed.  Price fluctuations in seed are greatest when you are buying smaller amounts of seed - the huge hundred thousand plus acre corn and soybean corporate farm operations in the plains states can negotiate seed prices in a manner which, relatively speaking, levels their pricing through market fluctuations in a way that a guy growing 10 acres of corn or soybeans never can. The small landowner, if he is given access to his land because of inheritance laws or a redistribution of wealth along the lines Jefferson promotes here, might, in today's world, have no choice but to contract with an outfit like Tyson, which will build a chicken operation on the property, and which will insist upon contractual terms which result in just over 50% of those small farm operations eventually losing their land to Tyson, as we see in the non-corporate contractors Tyson uses today (Tyson also subcontracts to larger corporate outfits, and these fare better as they are big enough to get better terms, and they generally have lawyers who prevent them from signing stupid contracts).  I just mention these sorts of things as a few examples.  The people who are "making it" in small farming today are almost always financing their small farming via income previously made, or income concurrently made by one family member with an "outside job."  The prospects for a small landowner today who does not have capital in hand are very bleak.  

There is no way Jefferson could ever have imagined the complexities facing small landholders today.

According to Wiki:

Shortly after the Chilean coup of 11 September 1973, he [Jara] was arrested, tortured and ultimately shot to death by machine gun fire. His body was later thrown out into the street of a shanty town in Santiago.

As to the U.S. involvement in that coup and what led up to it, well...

A lecture I enjoyed by Noel Ignatiev, on C.L.R. James.  Thanks to El Pelón for getting me to listen to this.

a reply

The following is a reply to Ariston's last comment on this thread.  I decided to make my reply a post in order to keep this discussion upward on the blog.


Given that Marx was so much a man of the 19th century it is amazing that he got so much correct about how things would play out. Yes, many of the terms he used are not easily applied to the current situation. Yes, the Labor Theory of Value does not immediately correspond to the current economic paradigm (especially as it is read by libertarian and Austrian economists) in a manner that makes it useful without a fair amount of tweaking. Yes, Marx’s “eschatology” was typical of his era (when conservatives bitch about Marx’s “eschatology” I like to recall the rhetoric of some of the pro-confederate theorists I have read – denouncing Marx for his eschatology is , in most instances I have encountered it, a decidedly selective application of criteria of dismissal).

Marx’s foresight with regard to how capitalism plays out – from early capitalism to monopoly capitalism to cartel capitalism - is insightful and helpful even if he could not foresee such things as, say, how technology would change the world of finance. Marx’s analysis of fetishism is a requisite to understanding our age, even if it need be nuanced in light of more detailed and accurate analysis of how the human being relates to commodities and commoditization.

Many of the tools Marx gives us are crude tools – Labor Theory of Value perhaps most famously so. But those tools led to later Marxist and non-Marxist critiques that are now taken for granted, and rightly so.
So we take such terms as proletariat, working class, exploitation, and the like and we conclude that it is impossible to determine a precise definition, or a precise parameter of definition to such terms. So we take questions such as what degree of redistribution is appropriate and with what levels of redistribution going to which parties and how we determine the classes of the parties to be redistributed to, and we conclude that we cannot precisely define the parameters of these questions. Yes, that is the situation.

A great deal of human life is lived in ambiguity and even contradiction. The inability to live in the midst of the ambiguity and contradiction inherent in human social relations is a sign of mental illness. There is no neat and clean empirical method of determining what age a minor has to be younger than in order for statutory rape to occur. 18 years old? 16? 14? 12? I submit that there is no singular method by which we can confidently (even when just considering a single culture, place, and time) assert that this is the age at which consent of both parties does not involve rape. But all but madmen would agree that, in those general terms that lead to sustainable legal orders, a 24 year old sleeping with 6 year old involves a rape (or sexual assault, whatever), regardless of whether or not the 6 year old asserts consent to the act. But simply because I cannot precisely define the age parameters of what constitutes statutory rape, and even though I could, hypothetically, expand those parameters upward to 50 years old, or 100 years old, this does not mean that there is not a meaning rooted in reality behind the notion of statutory rape. The arguments against the use of Marx’s (sometimes crude) tools in the analysis of economic affairs very much strike me as arguing that we cannot outlaw the “consensual” sex act involving a 6 year old and a 22 year old because the terms cannot be precisely defined.
Pornography might serve as another example. It is extremely difficult to define pornography with precise and empirically determined parameters. The discernment of what is and is not pornography is culturally conditioned and very much a socially mutable project. But this doesn’t mean that the term pornography (a political term if there ever were one) is useless. This doesn’t mean we cannot speak with a degree of confidence regarding the fact that magazines graphically depicting violent sexual acts performed on pre-teen girls are pornographic, and probably should not be sold next to a playground (as a friend of mine once saw in Eastern Europe).

So, sure, any means to redistribute wealth wrongly taken from the workers at, say, a shop that I am familiar with, will involve some arbitrary decisions that flirt about with the parameters of imprecise definitions.
Economic transactions , like sexual relations and the distribution of pornography, are social transactions. Any time human beings are interacting you are going to have levels of complexity which make ambiguity and contradiction inevitable.

Were a wealth redistribution to occur at the shop mentioned above, there would inevitably be a rhetoric behind it which makes much use of terms like “fairness” “justice” “rights” and so forth. But in the end there is no way that, with absolute and unequivocal precision, the wealth could be redistributed in a manner that perfectly corresponded to productivity or performance or recompense for past grievances or need or any combination of these factors. But that doesn’t mean that a redistribution effort is therefore pointless or an act of mere political expediency, any more than the effort to prosecute a person who has raped a (outwardly consenting) minor, and to take actions to protect the community from such a person, is a meaningless or utterly arbitrary effort.

The workers at the shop in question have been exploited; they have been, as it were, raped. Outwardly, they consented to that rape, but in reality most of them were coerced into the work there (to various degrees, sure).

The owners of the shop in question inherited the business and, by the analysis of just about everyone looking at the company from inside and out, have done the company more harm than good. They actually work very little, and most of what “work” they do is social networking, and even on that front they have made some mistakes in recent years.

The origins of the business even began in such a light – a man from an aristocratic Memphis family begins bending tubing over his knee in the evenings (he had a regular day job) and his wife sold the chandeliers from their living room during the day. The man in question was from an old “good” family that had lost everything after the civil war (they had once been the largest slaveholding operation in Shelby Cty TN). He marries a girl from Memphis aristocracy whose family still has money. Her dad insists that all his rich friends buy their light fixtures from his son-in-law. Soon he needs to hire employees to help. In a couple decades he has a good size manufacturing shop. Into the 80s it was mostly Asian workers being paid illegally less than minimum wage in what can only be described as a sweat shop. To this day the old guard managers regret that they cannot get such labor anymore – dirt cheap with excellent productivity – could they get it again they would take it in a heartbeat.

The family hired various salespersons over the years, and the significant growth of the company happened under the better salespersons. The people in the manufacturing wing, a highly profitable venture, eventually get to minimum wage (after an employee called OSHA to get an inspection and it was noted that there were no minimum wage info posters in the shop), and eventually the reduced influx of poor Asians to Memphis ends that labor force.

Over the years wages and benefits for the manufacturing workers are still kept ridiculously low, but this is non-union Memphis and there was still a labor pool to pull from to get that work. The owners and management take home many millions out of the operation. Eventually the original owner dies and when his wife finds out how little the manufacturing employees were making, she breaks down crying and demands substantial raises all around – to a point that gets the employees making about half of what they would make doing the same work in a union shop. Meanwhile the owners and management continue to rake in millions upon millions from the operation. The manager of the manufacturing division, a rich boy who is addicted to coke and barely works 2 hours a day, makes well over 100k in salary, not to mention his several hundred thousand a year in dividends given to him as a family member. His notorious fuck ups with the business have to be corrected constantly by lower level management and the foreman in the shop. The highest skilled craftsman in the shop (a guy who has been there 20 years) makes 1/3rd what the coke head does, and gets a Christmas bonus 1/10th the size, and of course gets no dividend.

Now, while the owning family of this shop does little to positively contribute to the accrual of wealth, they are very active in the wealthy social circles in Memphis. They are actively supportive of those social mechanisms which result in a pool of laborers willing to work for low wages (workers who have been coerced into believing they have no choice in the matter). The owning family actively engages in those social mechanisms which pit white and black workers against each other, and in competition with each other – a social mechanism thoroughly analyzed with regard to its impact on low wages in the American South. The owning family actively (and financially) supports political programs and politicians which further disenfranchise low wage Memphis workers. At every turn, the family seeks to protect and preserve class divisions.

For these and many other reasons (which I leave out for sake of time), I think we can confidently say that these workers have been stolen from, though of course to assert this requires some assent to some appropriation of the Labor Theory of Value on some level. Nearly all of the workers will tell you that they have not been given what is rightly due them, and that they believe it is wrong that, say, the owner’s son puts pictures of his new yacht in the break room at a time when workers have just been handed wage and benefit reductions and seen the workforce there cut by well over 50% (even as net profits are higher than ever and management constantly bitches, and lies, about being broke), and this is wrong not just because it is wrong timing to hang such a picture, but also wrong because he does not justly own that yacht.

I don’t mention the story of this shop as a “proof” of anything. It is one example of exploitation, it is a worse case of exploitation than some other examples, but not nearly as bad as many others. I’m fully aware that any mechanism of redistribution, taking money from the owning family and redistributing it to workers, would be imprecise, and I have no rose colored glasses concerning how the workers would view the process – many would inevitably complain about how the redistribution is being wrongly handled, even if every one of them thinks it a good thing that the money is being taken from people who did not rightly come to possess it. But just as we go after the rapist, and just as we cease the distribution of pornography in certain areas, it is necessary for social order that we make a thorough attempt to end exploitation and to redistribute what was wrongly taken. Human beings have to operate in climates of ambiguity and contradiction, yes, but in the midst of the complexities of human social transactions we can and must seek to end or as best we can mitigate humans openly and flagrantly brutalizing other humans.

I’ve read maybe 100 pages of Mises in my life and I don’t plan to read much more – for the same reason that I don’t keep current in the latest thought from the WI Synod Lutherans or those Catholic trads who think the earth is flat and the center of the universe. I have no interest in such things, I don’t believe they in any meaningful way describe reality, and I see them as nothing more than intellectual and cultural niches. Pure Austrianism and Mises proper are niche theoretical realms with seemingly little to no impact on social and economic arenas today. Lew Rockwell and “popular Austrianism” are more in play with folks like Ron Paul and Paul Ryan and the like, so I keep slightly more abreast of those ideological camps.

It is convenient to be able to decry the horrors of actually existing socialism in the 20th century when the CIA and other reactionary organizations made damn sure that peaceful transitions to socialism would not be allowed to succeed. Chile could have transformed Latin America, but instead…

The most interesting thought you’ve mentioned in this discussion is the notion “a Hegelian political order is the one remaining attractive option, and Marxism is the only remaining acceptable/coherent version of one.” I agree. I have also (and I realize this brings me full circle) waved the flag of surrender to Hegel. I simply no longer believe that one can think critically in modernity outside of Hegel – to be modern is to be Hegelian; to be present to modernity is to be present to Hegel, and I, the prodigal who once fled from Father Hegel’s house, have come back home.

I don’t remember if I have told this story before (I offer this story as trivia, not as any proof of anything or as having any grand meaning), but shortly after my friend Mark died in the Fall of 2000, I met a colleague of his who walked into the bookstore I worked at in MN (and would soon leave). Mark had been a neuro-robotic engineer and the youngest tenured professor in the UK when he died of an aneurism. His friend who came to the store (not knowing me from Adam) had 3 doctorates – one in psychology, one in chemistry, and one in philosophy (and the guy was in his 40s). So I had noticed what he was picking up over the course of the day and eventually discerned that I was dealing with a fellow who was very bright. After he’d been there a couple of hours he comes up to me and asks about complications with regard to my birth (breech, post due date, etc.). Every birth related question he asked me about was answered in the affirmative. He said he guessed as much from the way I held a pen in my left hand whilst writing – apparently it’s an odd manner of holding a writing instrument typical of people who were born under the circumstances of complications I was. This man then proceeded to tell me about my life – my personality, many of my quirks and idiosyncrasies, details that simply astounded me. Apparently it has to do with people who would have been left brained becoming right brained because of certain complications in their mother’s pregnancy. The cross over creates very predictable personality and thinking traits. I’ve never in my life, before or since, been so perfectly pegged and described, and this was the first conversation I ever had with the man. He then, after asking if it was OK, proceeded to give me advice – the sorts of jobs I should go for, the sorts of things I should read. He ended by telling me that I needed to read Hegel and keep him close by my side – that Hegelian thought corresponded to how a brain like mine is wired.

I had just, a couple years prior, made my way through the usual undergrad level reading of the usual works from Hegel’s corpus. I had not gotten much out of it, but I was also at a point of what we might call German thought burnout by the time I got to Hegel. I was also at that time increasingly veering into my conservative/traditional understanding of Christianity phase. So while I liked this guy, and I had an emotional connection to him because he had worked with my dead friend, and he had so brilliantly and profoundly described me to myself, I resented what he said and rejected it as specious unchristian determinism, especially the Hegel bits. In the decade since then my life has all the more confirmed that man’s words to me, and upon coming back to Hegel in the last 2 years, I am all the more inclined to believe he was right about my “need” for Hegel.  I'm certainly an amateur, but I am more and more of the opinion that my previous attempts to discern how to make one's way in modernity were twarted by my bias against Hegel.  I no longer think it is possible to think in and through modernity outside of Hegel.  My prior attacks on Hegel were simply another manifestation of that attempt to escape modernity, to escape history.