Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/01/2018 - 9:28am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

January 4, 2018 Tithi Bhattacharya, editor of Social Reproduction Theory, on capitalism, Marxism, feminism, and society

The Productive Base as the Ground of Society and History: Marx’s Base-Superstructure Theory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/01/2018 - 8:34am in

Base-Superstructure Theory (BST) is Marx’s guiding general theory, but is long misunderstood.  Deeply embedded in a monumental corpus of system-challenging analysis, it has become lost in secondary interpretations with partial takes and opposed propagandas militating against coherent comprehension. Within the last 35 years, there has also been a sea-shift of global culture to anti-foundationalist relativism which has uprooted the very idea of a common base or ground, Marx’s ‘economic base’ most vehemently of all.

By Prof. John McMurtry

MR-Online via Global Research

December 23, 2017

The Productive Base as the Ground of Society and History

One basis for life and another basis for science is an a-priori lie -–Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1845.

Within a dominant post-1991 cultural assumption that ‘Marxism is dead’, the BST has been essentially abandoned even by Marxists as ‘postmodernist’ and ‘identity politics’ tides sweep across the West. Yet Marx’s overall historical materialist principle remains intact within the academy – that the material conditions of historical societies – opposed to God or human concepts – determine human affairs. This first ontological step of Marx’s general theory repudiates the conceptual idealism of philosophy from Plato to Hegel which supposes that disembodied Ideas determine material reality, rather than the other way round.  Marx introduces this foundational principle of the BST (emphasis added as henceforth):

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, religion, or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence.

This is Marx’s ‘productive base’, usually referred to as Productivkraften or ‘productive forces’.  This production beyond Nature’s available provisions increasingly “subjugates Nature to its sway” (Capital, “On the Labour Process”). Yet Marx’s work takes on the revolutionary political edge for which he is most famous in the iconic Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848. Here his philosophy of society and history moves to a sweeping 10-Point social program, much of it instituted within the next century – extension of existing industrial development to state ownership, graduated income tax, free education for all children by public schools, and a national bank.  Marx’s theory has been in this way largely proven in practice against the standard assumption to the contrary.

Yet it is not until his 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, that Marx defines his general theory with his base-superstructure model as “the guiding thread of my studies”. Since this canonical statement carried through in Das Kapital is widely misconceived as a mechanistic determinism in which all elements of society are uniquely determined by the ruling economic system, it requires close inspection.

In the social production which men carry on”, Marx begins his paradigm statement, “they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will.

While this is usually thought to be a statement against humanity’s free will, it is more modestly a statement of unacknowledged fact about the ‘free society’ capitalism is assumed to be. Wage or salary work must be done by the great majority to stay alive “independent of their will”. Their “definite relations” are materially determined by the employer who must achieve the lowest costs with ‘no choice in the matter’. And behind this “wage slavery”, Marx emphasises in Capital, lies the further unacknowledged horrific historical fact of the “great expropriation of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and from the means of labour – [by] violent  and painful methods”. They must sell their labour into servitude, or they do not survive. This servitude, Marx documents, is enforced by mass hangings, mutilations, floggings, pillories, and deprivation of children.

Yet Marx acerbically rejects any kind of voluntarism as an alternative.  The mode of production that produces a society’s means of life must, he argues, be developed to a stage where the direct producers are effectively organised to historically replace the ruling capitalist system of social production.  This is why he asserts as the guiding framework of his work:

production relations must correspond to a definite stage of development of men’s material powers.

This is ‘the productive base’ on which slave-owning, feudal or capitalist social systems are raised in their turn, but which ruling cultures assume as ‘everlasting’. Marx summarizes in this central statement of his general theory that the “the totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society– the real foundation [or base] on which the legal and political superstructurearises”.

Marx is opposed to the ruling determinism, but organises the facts as they are against ‘ideological illusions’ – the essential method of his base-superstructure theory. While many claim Marx denies the autonomy of individual consciousness, or free choice, or democracy, or all at once, his master verb for superstructure determination by the economic base is entsprechen- to correspond to or comply with. This means that the state and legal institutions of a society must comply with the ruling ownership structure society’s forces of production, or be selected out as materially unviable. This is why Marx says in his Preface to Capital,

My standpoint can less than other make the individual responsible for relations for whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them (emphases again added as elsewhere).

Marx insists against most philosophy that subjectivism is incapable of understanding the real world or changing it. This is why he ridicules Kant’s ‘moral will’ as an impotent deontology that excludes consequences a-priori; and why he mocks Max Stirner’s ‘Omnipotent Ego’, neo-Hegelianism, and all commentary which revolves within “consciousness in itself”. Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach is the iconic expression of this unprecedentedly activist ontology and epistemology and the philosophical ground of his base-superstructure theory:

The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a merely scholastic question (Thesis II).

Marx would be hard on most postmodernism, analytic theory, and academia in general today, and this may be why they are all inclined to pooh-pooh Marx. Yet his BST is most easily de-mystified when reading attends to its straightforward material model – a building foundation and a superstructure raised upon it. No superstructure can stand without a foundation, and this could be called an ‘inexorable law’. But this does not mean the superstructure conforms to the base by ruling out all alternatives within its range of permission.  Nor, conversely, does it mean that the base will change in virtue of those alternatives in the mind, even if socialist.  Superstructural phenomena must, in Marx’s BST, comply with the underlying mode of production, or face strong selective pressures to extinction. Thus Marx argues that the laws, policies and state in a society correspond to the productive base to survive, and why he disparages those who think a legal proclamation will change social reality if there are not the material conditions to enable it to occur. In logical terms, Marx’s meaning may be summarized without his militant mood: legal, state and ideological phenomena must be consistent with the society’s material reproduction at the established level of society’s productive provision of means of existence, or go under.

Social Being Determines Consciousness

Marx continues his BST ‘guiding thread’ to write that “definite forms of social consciousness correspond to a society’s mode of production”. This has led to many competing interpretations, dogmas and denunciations. Yet to test it, one may ask: where is there not correspondence in global capitalism between ‘ruling forms of social consciousness’ and ‘the economic structure’?  More specifically, do we find that the dominant meanings of “freedom”, “responsibility”, “productivity”, “and “justice” are do not comply with  the capitalist system? An easy refutation would be any published conception of these anchoring normative concepts which opposes, say, the rightness of private profit, or rejects the assumption that citizens must sell their services to employers as their duty to society.

Marx continues his explanation with perhaps the most controversial sentence of his base-superstructure theory.

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness.

For this, Marx is held to be declaring a materialist reductionism, or the epiphenomenal nature of human thought, or denial of moral choice, or undialectical simplification, or a soulless doctrine. In fact, Marx only repudiates any theory which excludes material foundations from its understanding. Thus received philosophers and press commentary, for example, are ridiculed by Marx and more specifically, religio-moral certitudes reflecting ruling-class interests. Yet since all words and languages are social constructions, Marx’s claim is obviously true in a now accepted way. The most studied philosophers of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, declare language as the “home of Being” and “the limit of thought” respectively, and contemporary etymology usually presupposes language’s social and historical nature. Marx’s claim that “social being determines consciousness” is hardly controversial today except that Marx’s BST further argues that the social is y determined by the capitalist economic structure that must and will be overthrown. In Marx’s BST terms without his militance, this line of thought is rejected by official society as unacceptable. This is how, as Marx provocatively describes it in many different contexts, a realm of illusory cover stories and concepts blinker out the capitalist system’s oppressive exploitations while purporting the highest moral motives. Consider Marx’s bitingly witty asides in this light:

The Church of England will more readily pardon an attack on its Thirty-Nine Articles than 1/39th of its income.

This is the same Marx that in The Holy Family talks of religion as the “spirit of spiritless conditions, the heart of a heartless world” – thus resonantly affirming the spirit and the heart that he is said to deny. What he is in fact castigating is the capitalist church and its rich investments, rents and hypocrisies exploiting the populace and grinding the poor. Marx’s BST analysis also lays bare the institutionalised veils of doctrine masking the cupidity of the Conservative Party and its Lords: 

“The high Tory hymns the beauties of the British Constitution, the Crown and the Law until the day of danger snatches from him the confession that he is interested only in – Ground Rent.”

Marx’s base-superstructure method of laying bare private capital gain underneath moral pomposity and the robes of religion, the constitution, and the law still applies to, say, US politicians’ invocation of ‘God’s blessing’ and ‘our sacred Constitution’ – why Marx may be so abhorred by establishments across the world.

Freedom in Marx’s Base Superstructure Theory

Long the primary reason for repudiating Marx’s base-superstructure theory has been its alleged denial of individual freedom. Yet his work from the beginning is devoted to freedom as of ultimate value, preferring Epicurus to Democritus in his doctoral thesis solely because the theory of Epicurus allowed freedom into an arbitrary “swerve” of atoms against the “far more scientific” Democritus who is a mechanist.  Yet there is an implicit principle of ‘technological determinism’ as the ultimate regulator of Marx’s base-superstructure theory.  Few understand that this position rules out the success of state seizure for socialist revolution without a developed productive base to sustain it – as history since Marx has significantly confirmed. Marx also predicts social transformation to a “many-sided” working class “ready and able to meet any change of production;” as well as technological replacement of labour to allow “free time” from “the realm of necessity” – opposite positions to a denial of human freedom.

In spite of Marx’s failed prediction of ‘inevitable revolution’ in advanced industrial societies, Marx is rather prescient in anticipating the material possibilities of freedom by technological and worker development, and how they are ‘fettered’ by the capitalist economic structure within which all lower-cost benefits of technological advances like labour-saving machinery go to capitalists  as the working day increases. Marx’s evolving productive base is throughout grounded in humanity’s distinguishing feature as a species and the origin of human freedom: “the capacity to raise a project in the head before it is constructed in reality”. (Capital, “On the Labour Process”). A socially self-directing mode of production with socialist plan is the meta version of this built-in human freedom.

This distinguishing ground of historical materialism is brought into revealing alliance with Darwin’s classical Origin of the Species when Marx connects “nature’s technology” to human society’s “organs of technology” as the ultimate basis of historical development:

Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature’s Technology i.e., in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments as of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organization, deserve equal attention? (Capital, “The Development of Machinery”).

In his still under-theorized evolutionary theory, Marx goes beyond Darwin in arguing that:

the forces of selection are increasingly social, not natural, and organic instruments are evolved by creative cooperative production, not instinctual repertoires or genes.

Marx’s base-superstructure theory is the framework within which historical as opposed to natural evolution develops, and human capacity self-realization not species reproduction numbers is its logic of advance.

Economic Determinism, Darwinian Selection and Social Revolution

Marx’s implicit principle of economic determination by extinction of what does not fit the ruling property order is evolutionary biology at the historical level, As Marx says in his Preface to Capital,

the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history. 

In fact, however, history is not a natural process as its laws are made not found in nature, and Marx’s own theory implicitly seeks human society’s supersession of nature’s ultimate law of dominance by physical force.

Yet both evolutionary and historical materialist theories recognise selection and extinction of life forms that adapt or not, survive, flourish or die, in the struggle for continued life. Marx, however, argues for the revolutionary necessity of surpassing the brutality of natural evolution by working-class overthrow of the ruling class system of “hitherto existing society” which always “pumps out surplus labour from the direct producers” to enrich masters, lords or capitalists” (Capital III, “Genesis of Capitalist Ground-Rent”). Marx’s ultimate goal is liberation from capitalist class rule, in his theory the last to rule society against its common interests with productive development the material base of this revolution. For Marx’s BST, however, species liberation only becomes historically possible with industrial mass production to organise it. Human survival and extinction, class domination and overthrow are based on technological development which eventually outgrows the old form of control and appropriation of society’s means of production to bring about a higher stage of society led by the direct producers themselves.

Marx’s revolutionary theory is the most controversial element of his explanatory model, and has so many versions that it helps to define its inner logic in dispassionate terms:

a social revolution in a society’s law, politics and ideology is propelled by
ever more open class struggle to
achieve a higher stage of development of the productive base of society
than the prior ruling-class economic structure can manage
without forfeit of society’s stage of material production.

In the rare periods of successful social revolution, Marx offers an original causal explanation: Only when productive force development goes beyond the fetters of the established ruling-class relations of production can a social revolution occur.  Marx’s guiding framework is concisely stated by his ‘guiding thread’ (with possible application to contemporary society in square brackets:

At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production [think of the Internet] come into conflict with the existing relations of production – or – what is but a legal expression for them – with the property relations within which they had been at work before [private -profit copyright, patent and control over published meanings]. From forms of development of productive forces, these relations [of corporate ownership profit] turn into their chains. Then occurs a period of social revolution [the creators of knowledge deciding on commons publication and open access in cumulative transition from the for-profit ‘information economy’ to the ‘knowledge commons’].

At the macro level of interface with evolutionary biology, Marx’s BST suggests new technologies as the ‘organic extensions of human society’ outgrowing the ruling ownership ‘anatomy’ to necessitate society’s transformation to a higher and more productive form.  A society, he writes in introducing Capital, is an “organism always changing” while the “birth-pangs of revolution” presuppose a long process in “the natural laws of its movement” which “can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles involved – – but can shorten the and lessen the birth-pangs”. The underlying common ground of both disjunctive and cumulative-transition understandings of this social transformation is that any uprising social organisation of material forces must be more efficient and productive than the one now ruling . This is an understanding that has, ironically, been seized upon by counter-revolutions across the world since wherein external capitalist powers deliberately destroy socialist life bases by armed and financial means – the converse of Marx’s revolutionary theory.  Marx asserts in his definitive BST explanation:

No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed, and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions have matured in the womb of the old society.

Counter-revolutions prevent this evolution of the ruling mode of production ever succeeding.

Self-Maximizing Growth and Marx’s Aporia of Productive Object

Marx’s base-superstructure theory implicitly recognises that the ultimate value base and driver of capitalism is the “fully developed shape [of] the money form” in terms of which all decisions of what commodities to produce and how they are produced are made solely to maximize revenue returns to private capital owners in cycles of increasing accumulation: in general formula Money-Commodity-More Money or M-C-M1 . As Marx also argues, capitalist investors are “personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests”, and so are a-priori indifferent to what life is degraded, exploited and destroyed in multiplying private money profits with no cumulative limit (Marx’s Preface, Chapter I, and Chapter  XXV of Capital).

While Marx’s BST is confirmed by capitalist history, a deep-structural issue emerges. How can Marx or his followers believe that the results of this totalizing system of life oppression, immiserization and life capital rundown must “inevitably” result in a completely opposite outcome of “social revolution”, “dictatorship of the proletariat”, and “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?  There is no clear definition of any step of this historical vision. Most deeply, there is no answer to the question: what is the criterion of the life needs that production is ultimately for?

Marx focuses rather on the socialist logic he sees built into competing large scales of capitalist production  – “an ever-expanding scale, the co-operative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour in instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with all this the international nature of the capitalistic regime” (Capital, Chapter XXXII). Marx’s  analysis here is breathtaking in scope, but what remains absent is the underlying life base and laws of any productive force development and exponential growth. That this development must be consistent with the universal needs and capacities of humanity, its natural biosphere and fellow creatures does not enter into Marx’s base-superstructure theory as an issue (nor mainstream theories today). As with the capitalist epoch in general, technological development seems to be a secular Providence that can solve any problem.

In Capital, Marx restricts the parameters to be considered to the technology used and collective wage labour as historical agency.

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails”, he writes in his first sentence of Capital presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities.

The commodities of which all wealth consists in capitalist society are always produced in accordance with the master organising principle of their production and profit, M-C-M1 , the capitalist value-system Marx first defines. This ‘immense accumulation  of commodities’ are the values of this system in whatever form they take, and are defined in the same first page of Capital as material use-values for wants – – – whether they spring from the stomach or fancy makes no difference”. Marx underlines this criterion of commodities by his approving footnote citing Nicholas Barbou’s subjectivist principle:

Want is the appetite of the mind and as natural as hunger to the body.

It is this commodity base – and all capitalist productive forces are commodities – which constitutes the productive forces to drive the ‘inevitable proletarian revolution’.  

Since all these productive and consumer commodities are driven ex hypothesi by systemic compulsion to sell anything to moneyed desires for the lowest inputs costs and highest profits over generations, there is a problem of transition to socialism that is not met. The depredatory effects on organic and ecological life systems of these capitalist productive powers and consumables across generations are not recognised or regulated to prevent them in theory or practice. With no defined  life standards or criteria to distinguish life-destructive from life-enabling productive forces and products, how can the cumulative looting and polluting of humanity’s and other species’ life support systems by global capitalism be reversed when they are conceived as “development” even by Marx?

Marx envisions in his Grundrisse notebooks to Capital a future state in which “once the narrow bourgeois form is peeled away”, there can be “the evolution of all human powers as such unmeasured by any previously established yardstick”. But what if the ‘bourgeois form’ cannot be peeled away because it built into the productive forces themselves? The life-base standards definable at every level do not exist. In Capital Volume II, Marx is poignantly unaware of the problem when he says (emphases added):

Regardless of whether such a product as tobacco is really a consumer necessity from the physiological point of view, it suffices that it is habitually such.

We see here the relativization of life necessity to habitual wants which can drive productive forces through the human organism and the biosphere with no life-carrying capacity limits defined in even Marx’s BST.

Re-Setting Base-Superstructure Theory to the Life Ground

Marx’s base-superstructure theory begins with humanity distinguishing itself from other animals by production of the means of life. Yet ‘means of life’ disappears as a category after 1847 in Marx’s corpus, and is replaced on the first page of Capital by commodities serving desires not needs. Productive forces since increasingly mass-manufacture commodities which are disabling and addictive in their consumption – even in a communist-party society moving from mass bicycle riding to fossil-fuel motors toxifying the air and environment. Marx conceives commodities as values because they embody labour hours. Yet if we take into account the life and life capital effects of industrial commodities from extraction through processing to product through consumer bodies to wastes through the biosphere  – all in motion in Marx’s day – a darker picture emerges than ‘productive force development’ and ‘‘immense wealth of commodities’ to ground socialist revolution. Nowhere does any measure of life capital enter into theory or measure. True productive value measured by the yardstick of life capacity gained versus lost is not conceived.  As in capitalism before and since, the “precision of natural science” Marx attributes to “the material mode of production” lacks any criteria which we may call life capital standards to meet this fatal problem.  Life-degrading commodities and machines cannot be selected against even by revolutionary socialism if there is no regulating principle whereby to recognise them. It seems that Marx’s first principle in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts has dropped out of view:

One basis for life and another basis for science is an a-priori lie.

The Missing Life Capital Base of Marx’s Base-Superstructure Theory

Re-set of Marx’s base-superstructure theory to principled consistency with life capital standards is the missing foundation, and the measure of life capital necessity is undeniable once defined. Any material need or necessity is that without which life capacities of any kind are reduced or die – from oceans to songbirds to human brains. While Marx’s BST abstracts out this life base of the productive base, it seems implicitly presupposed in both his attacks on the capitalist system and his revolutionary alternative to it. One may test the italicised principle by seeking any denunciation or affirmation of Marx’s analysis which does not conform to it. So can Marx’s BST be re-set to include this life base and measure?  There is only way do so, and that is by comprehension of the following three moments of any coherent value system that

(i) produces more life value

(ii) without loss and

(iii) with cumulative gain.

The sole concept which comprehends these three moments is life capital – what may also be called true capital – whose collective form includes every social asset through time from the sciences and arts to stable hydrological cycles to a public healthcare system to pollution-abating and recycling technologies to regional biodiversity and arable lands to aquifers, rivers, sewers and filter systems. In fidelity to Marx’s method which understands social systems in terms of social relations rather than atomic aggregates, this missing concept may be modified as ‘collective life capital’.  In onto-axiological terms, any life capital at all is only coherent if it reproduces and gains consistently with other life capital: as follows from Marx’s principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

The Productive Agency of Social Transformation 150 Years after Capital

Marx believed that industrial workers (the proletariat) would rise up around the world (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At the heart of Marx’s base-superstructure theory, the concluding pages of Capital contend that the industrial working class or proletariat is “disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself” to revolt against it.  Yet a logical slippage occurs here. For within “this very mechanism of capitalist production”, no purpose is allowed but to serve the M-C-M1 “law of motion of modern society” which, by Marx’s own description, operates solely to lower money costs for capitalists to pump out maximum profit. What has gone unnoticed is a fallacy of equivocation between the production process of workers bound to strict servitude within the industrial workplace and workers joining together outside this workplace on the basis of their collective life interests. As Marx himself says in Wage Labour and Capital,

Life only begins for the labourer where his bought labour ceases.

Marx further claims in this signature passage that the industrial proletariat is “growing in revolt” and “always increasing in numbers”. Here the error is not logical, but historical. The industrial proletariat since Marx’s Capital has been increasingly replaced by automated systems which in the last half century have multipled industrial job reduction, separation of work functions into globally scaled assembly-lines, and deprivation of collective worker leverages of strike, union association, local market demand, and job security. Here again Marx’s base-superstructure theory of social transformation needs to be re-set to remain applicable. The class most superseding and displacing the industrial proletariat is one of knowledge workers who emerge everywhere that symbolic practices replace physical inputs in production. Yet Marx’s First Preface to Capital where his general theory is most evident as in his previous Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (bear in mind that a Preface is a traditional location for a work’s lodestone of meaning to be generically defined) is far-seeing in a way that has not been recognised. Marx implicitly conceptualises the leading edge of the knowledge class and its public- sector economic base as a transformative agency of developed industrial society across life domains:

where there are plenary powers to get at the truth (Marx’s emphasis): if it was possible to find for this purpose men as competent, as free from partisanship and respect of persons as are the English Factory inspectors, her medical reporters on public health, her commissioners of inquiry into the exploitation of women and children, into housing and food”.

Observe how encompassing these ‘plenary powers to get at the truth’ are. Observe how even in a capitalist society Marx supports the knowledge-formation capacities of public servants to be competent, free from bias, and respectful of persons. Observe how he exactly endorses their existing capacities to seek the facts across the most basic domains of human life production and reproduction of the working class. Little known in contemporary culture, Marx’s base-superstructure theory implicitly calls for life-capital knowledge evolution as the ultimate species advantage led by public authority with ‘plenary powers to get at the truth’.

John McMurtry Ph.D (University College London) is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Professor (emeritus) of Philosophy.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. 1975-2004. Collected Works.  Lawrence and Wishart Ltd./Progress Publishers: New York/Moscow.

The original source of this article is Global Research
Copyright © Prof. John McMurtry, Global Research, 2017

Keynes: Reader's Goodwill, Intelligence, and Co-operation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/01/2018 - 4:09pm in


Economics, Marxism

"A final difference was one of intellectual manners. By the early 1930s, Keynes and his followers felt a sense of urgency, almost of desperation, to get their ideas accepted. It became the hallmark of Keynes's coterie to regard every economist outside Cambridge as mad or stupid; argumentative good manners were sacrificed to world salvation. On the other hand, there is near unanimous testimony to Hayek's intellectual hospitality."

There's no dearth of goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation towards Keynes and his coterie in the essay where that passage comes from. His author does not number among Keynes' harshest critics. What one cannot see there is goodwill, intelligence or co-operation towards those "outside Cambridge". They were simply "mad or stupid".

Believe it or not, one finds that passage in Robert Skidelsky's 2006 essay "Hayek versus Keynes: The Road to Reconciliation".

John Toye, in his 2000 book "Keynes on Population", chronicles in excruciating detail a couple of public controversies Keynes sustained on trade (and demographics and Eugenics, implicitly). Referring to Keynes' first controversy in 1910-11, Toye writes: "From the beginning, he [i.e. Keynes] did not shy away from public polemics on issues related to the quality of population."

That's not an overstatement, by any means. Keynes enjoyed playing hardball. In that book Toye demonstrated enough goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation to earn positive reviews from prominent Keynesians, even though he concluded that:

"To propose that Keynes was afflicted by a considerable coarseness of sensibility is no doubt controversial and will provoke objections from those who are interested in Keynes as a towering contemporary cultural icon. Is it not sacrilege, they will doubtless ask, to aim such criticism at a member of the cultural pantheon? This charge is groundless. It deserves not only to be rejected in the name of free enquiry, but also to be turned back on those who make it. If the question of sacrilege were to be raised, I would contend that it was committed fifty years ago. Those who successfully established Keynes as a secular saint committed it. Those who wrongly attributed to Keynes an all embracing love of humanity committed it. Those who raised him from the status of a mere wise man to the rank of a Prophet of the Age committed it. That was the impiety. That was the hubris. That was the error that must now be redressed."

That controversy, first in Keynes' long record of controversies, saw him taking Alfred Marshall's side against Karl Pearson. Keynes was 27, Pearson 53. In a private letter to a friend, Keynes apparently wrote of Pearson:  "[T]he man is a liar".

That was beyond merely convincing his opponents.

Indeed, Keynes was not beyond convicting his opponents or even those among his followers who gained his disapproval. Paul Samuelson, Abba Lerner and maybe even Lionel Robbins could have provided testimony of that.

One need not repeat Keynes' numerous disparaging comments on Marx, Marxism and Marxists. Joan Robinson, who wasn't even remotely a Marxist and who knew Keynes personally described Keynes' attitude towards Marxism in the preface to the second edition to her "Essay on Marxian Economics":

"In those days most of my academic colleagues in England thought that to study Marx was a quaint pastime (though Keynes, who was allergic to Marx's writings, received my Essay kindly) and in the United States it was disreputable."

Keynes never gave much goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation to others.

That, of course, does not deny Keynes' intellectual achievements. A man can be despicable without being inept. Further, in his defence one must say he was neither the first nor the last to act that way.

There's much to say for this plea for the reader's goodwill, intelligence, and co-operation, to be sure, but I find it a bit rich that Keynes, of all people, had the gall to make it.

03/01/2018. By the way, in the biographical notes of Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, delivered on occasion of being awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences (2001 and 1998, respectively) Cambridge does not emerge as a model of intellectual hospitality, even after the world had been "saved". If one believes their recollections, maybe outsiders were no longer seen as "mad or stupid" (or liars), but they were treated with serious reservations. Nor was Cambridge a big, happy family: there were many "outsiders" inside Cambridge.

Whither Inequality?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/12/2017 - 1:08pm in

Inequality (size and functional: labour shares) has been a matter of increasing interest for a while. The work of Thomas Piketty and associates, popularised in the aftermath of the Occupy Wall Street global movement, only added impetus to that trend.

Incidentally, living in a capitalist world, one would have thought that concern not only reasonable, but obviously so. After all, the question of who gets what seems clearly vital.

Apparently, however, that's not so obvious. Without a "scientific" explanation, for this scientist, concern over inequality is just dogmatic.

As an explanation of its importance, then, let's just say that the subject of inequality and distribution -- more generally -- has fundamental practical implications well beyond science. Nor is inequality an abstract concern: it can be a matter of life and death, literally. It affects the political stability of our societies. If that's not enough to justify inequality to the eyes of the scientist, then what the hell is his "science" good for?

Back to our subject. From the start, Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" received a mixed reception: high-brow non-economist pundits often produced glowing reviews, while economists -- heterodox and neoclassical alike -- ranged from indifference, passing through some more or less favorable reviews (usually with reservations), to a surprisingly large number of dismissively hostile comments, often verging on obsession and plain thuggery.

No surprise in the mainstreamers' reaction: the empirical facts of inequality cast doubts on their own politically sensitive theory of distribution. Understandably, warnings about increasing inequality coming from one of their own may have been too much. Therefore, either one re-defines the numbers so as to deny their message or one shoots the messenger.

Much harder to understand was the reaction of the anti-neoclassical insurgents. Whatever the merits (or lack thereof) in their criticisms they seem wildly exaggerated. In my opinion, they were being short-sighted.

David Ruccio (from a Marxist perspective) is one of a relatively small number of non-neoclassical economists to engage the subject. Recently he noticed Marshall Steinbaum's article "Why Are Economists Giving Piketty the Cold Shoulder?" for the Boston Review (May 12, 2017).

That article is a survey of research inspired by criticism of Piketty's book. As far as I can tell, it's a neoclassical-only affair. Steinbaum links to a series of related academic research papers. To be sure, he addresses himself to the layman. Unfortunately, the truth is his article is wonkish … to the max, dude (as kids would add). It's not an easy read by any means, and fairly long, to boot.

That's sad: the discussions Steinbaum surveys are getting very interesting, particularly for old-fashioned Marxists. Frankly, I doubt many among the internet post Keynesians (perhaps with the exception of Sraffians) are able to follow that discussion. It's worth the effort, though.

Personally, among the bloggers I follow I'd recommend it to two persons. Chris Dillow, whom I believe is an Analytical Marxist and is on holidays, is one.

"Rents" is how neoclassicals try to make sense of these distributional "anomalies". Robert Solow: due to monopolistic power, for example, firms are getting a positive economic profit in the long-run. The question, then, is how to make sure capital gives labour its fair share of it. Presumably, through regulations. (It wouldn't work, but I won't say why here).

Ruccio has explained the relationship between rents, market imperfections and Marxist economics endlessly. There's no point repeating him here: go there and check by yourself.

The funny thing is that anti-neoclassical insurgents, critical of everything neoclassical without exception, are rushing to embrace "rent". Lacking a theory of value of their own and with characteristic opportunism, post Keynesians have no choice but to adopt the modified neoclassical theory of value Solow et al offer.

To explain the problem for them and their new-found neoclassical allies I can't do better than point to Angus Deaton's recent "How Inequality Works", for Project Syndicate.

The 2015 winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on consumption, poverty and inequality touches briefly a huge variety of topics, without going into details, but probably ruffling lots of feathers in the process.

A couple of scattered quotes to whet your appetite:

"In this account, the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else. Recent research suggests that there is some truth to the second story, at least in the US."

"It's hard to believe that low-skilled Americans' wages would have remained as low as they did in the absence of inflows of unskilled immigrants."

And, what's his solution? Well, if the problem is monopolistic power, imperfect competition and all that then obviously, the solution is … drums roll, please … the free market! Laissez-faire, baby!

"But we do need to put the power of competition back in the service of the middle and working classes".

And the thing is, Deaton is right. Don't blame him: it's your argument that sucks, dumbass.

God knows I dislike everything related to the alt-right … with just one single exception. The word cuck fits the interventionist, reformist Kensian left to a T.

The Season of Hope?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/12/2017 - 7:16am in


Australia, Marxism


So this is Christmas, as the old song says.

There are objectively more horrifying, devastating, heart-crushing images, to be sure. In a real sense, however, the sheer revulsion this image produces gives it a deserved claim to notoriety.

That photo shows the mouth of a 32 year-old citizen of the richest, most prosperous and democratic capitalist nation ever: humanity's self-appointed beacon to success and freedom. Presumably, it's a recent photo.

As far as I can tell, that man has no name. At least I haven't seen it anywhere (a matter of confidentiality, I suppose). He is one in 41 million Americans living in poverty. (See also)

How did we get to that situation?

There are probably way too many answers. One, however, is relevant here: lack of solidarity. The idea that one looks after oneself and the devil take the hindmost.

409 Australian working families will be having a difficult Christmas this year. They are fighting for their rights and, by extension, for ours. They are our brothers and sisters, they are family.

Perhaps it's too late for our American brother, but it may not be too late for those Aussie workers.

If you can chip in, please do. Tell them that you care and you are with them. Tell them that there's hope in unity.

Merry Christmas.

The Western Myth of Buddhist Tolerance Blinding the World to Its Persecution of Muslims

The clip below is a grim report from The Young Turks about the methodical rape of Rohingya women in Myanmar by the Buddhist armed forces. This comes from a report from the Associated Press with 29 women and girls, who had fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Some of these testimonies are very disturbing. In one instance, a woman was nine months pregnant, when she was caught by the soldiers and raped. She couldn’t get away because of her condition. Nevertheless, her husband, who sounds like a scumbag himself, is blaming her. She didn’t run fast enough. He, however, had already scarpered. In another interview, one woman told of how she and her husband were both caught, and her other half was tied to a tree while the Myanmar storm troopers gang raped her in front of him. When he began to scream and cry at what was being done to his wife, they stabbed and killed him.

Savagery, brutality and violence are part of the human condition, and are found in people of every race, creed and political ideology. Buddhism is no different from any other religion or ideology in this regard. But M. Reza Pirbhai published an article in Counterpunch in September this year, 2017, arguing that the world’s failure to respond adequately to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar was partly due to the western, liberal myth that Buddhism is uniquely tolerant. He begins his article by arguing that the silence and reluctance to condemn the atrocities is partly due to western imperialist perceptions of Islam as uniquely evil. He then goes on to argue that the positive image Buddhism has as a uniquely tolerant religion was created in the 19th century by disaffected western intellectuals. Alienated by the sectarianism and bigotry of their own Christian culture, they turned to the Buddhist east, and so created an entirely false image of the religion as uniquely peaceful and tolerant. He writes

Academia is in fact rife with examples of scholarship that touts the tolerance and inclusiveness of Buddhists and the general argument is nothing new. According to Thomas A. Tweed, Professor of History at Notre Dame University, increasing awareness of religious diversity due to colonial expansion and Christian missionizing led Euro-American Enlightenment intellectuals repelled by Christian sectarianism to consider Buddhism to fit the bill of the “natural religion” (or “perennial philosophy”) they sought, one that exuded “tolerance” toward people of different faiths and was amenable to scientific progress. So convinced were they that some, such as the nineteenth century German-American scholar Paul Carus, even chastised Asian Buddhists when they launched polemical assaults on Christian missionaries, accusing the Asians of using language the “Buddha certainly would not…” So was born the pervasive myth, characteristically articulated by the early twentieth century Swedish-American Theosophist Herman Vetterling, that Buddhism is “a religion of noble tolerance, of universal brotherhood, of righteousness and justice,” and that in its growth as the religion of a global community it had not “caused the spilling of a drop of blood.”

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Michael Jerryson, picks up where Tweed signs off to show that the tendency to associate Buddhism with tolerance did not die in the early twentieth century or remain bound in an ivory tower. In the wake of World War II, it found its way into the writings of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, marching further forward in time with such works as Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and by the 1980s assumed political dimensions in the form of the Free Tibet Movement. And finally, who can forget (even if you want to) Keanu Reeves in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha.

Social history, however, tells a different tale than Orientalists and popular culture. For every instance of forbearance, history also provides examples of violent intolerance legitimated by Buddhist doctrines and conducted by practitioners. As many ancient Jain and Brahmanical texts speak of persecution at the hands of Indian Buddhists, as Buddhists accuse their South Asian competitors of the same. And consider Jerryson’s examples of the sixth century Chinese Buddhist monk Faqing, who promised his 50,000 followers that every opponent they killed would take them to a higher stage in the bodhisattva’s path. Or recall that with the advent of nationalism, Buddhist monks rallied to the cause as with Japanese Rinzai support for the military campaign against the Russians in 1904-5, or Zen and Pureland Buddhist justifications of the Japanese invasions of China, Korea and Singapore during World War II. Buddhism has been corrupted in these places, they argued, and violence is necessary to insure that ‘true’ Buddhism is restored and preserved. The same rhetoric – of some fundamental Buddhism under threat – also underwrites the more recently nationalized bigotry and violence that Buddhist monks and laypersons have unleashed on non-Buddhists in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and, last but not least, Myanmar.

It isn’t just Muslims, who are in a perilous position in Myanmar. So too are the country’s Roman Catholics, who are also under the threat of Buddhist persecution. This explains why the Pope was very careful not to describe the Rohingya as indigenous Burmese when he decried the violence against them the other week. He was afraid of upsetting the authorities too much, and calling down persecution on the country’s Christian population. At least according to another article in Counterpunch.

Pirbhai’s article notes that Buddhist priests, laymen and armed forces have also carried out atrocities against those of rival or different religions elsewhere, including Sri Lanka. In May 2013 Tariq Ali also published a piece about rising Sri Lankan Buddhist fundamentalism. This was during the conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils, who wanted a separate state and union with India. The Sinhalese are Buddhists, while the Tamils are Hindu, although the Tamil Tigers, the revolutionary force fighting for independence, were Marxists and therefore atheists. The civil war resulted in horrific atrocities, for which the Sri Lankan army was condemned, but little action taken by the West. And Muslims there were also the victims of Buddhist intolerance. Ali wrote:

Four years after the brutal assault on the Tamil population and the killing of between 8—10,000 Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, there is trouble again. The saffron-robed fanatics, led by the BBS—Bodu Bala Sena: the most active and pernicious of Buddhist fundamentalist groups that have sprouted in Sinhala strongholds throughout the island— are on the rampage again. This time the target is the relatively small Muslim minority. Muslim abattoirs have been raided, butchers shops attacked, homes targeted. Terrified kids and adults in Muslim areas are living in fear. The police stand by watching passively while the Sri Lankan TV crews film the scenes as if it were a school picnic.

A few weeks ago, Buddhist monks led some hoodlums and attacked the car sales room of a Muslim-owned company (Emerald Trading) in Pepliyana. Reason? An employee was stepping out with a young Sinhala woman and her father had complained to a local monk. A journalist on The Sunday Leader (a courageous broadsheet whose editor Lasantha Wickramatunga had, four months ago, denounced President Rajapaksa for corruption, predicted in print that he would be killed as a result and was) reported on 2 April that, ‘Following the complaint, an eye-witness saw a monk leaving one of the temples in Pepiliyana followed by a group of youths, mostly under 25 years of age. The group carried stones and, people were later to discover, kerosene…’

As if the anti-Tamil pogroms were not enough to satisfy the blood-lust, a BBS blogger explained the ‘reasoning’ behind the targeting of Muslims in the Colombo Telegraph (6 March 2013):

“Muslims have been living in this country since 7th century and now only they want to have Halal food in Sri Lanka. Population wise they are only 5%. If we allow Halal, next time they will try to introduce circumcision on us. We have to nip these in the bud before it becomes a custom. We should never allow the Muslims and Christians to control anything in Sri Lanka. What is Halal to Muslims is Harem to Sinhala Buddhists. Slaughtering cow and eating beef should also be banned in Sri Lanka. Instead, we should promote pork. We are glad that the parliament has re-introduced pork in their menu. Hijab, burqa, niqab and purdah should be banned in Sri Lanka. The law and the legislature should always be under the control of the Sinhala-Buddhists and our Nationalist Patriotic president. After all, Sri Lanka is a gift from Buddha to the Sinhalese.”

Difficult to imagine how circumcision could be ‘nipped in the bud’ even by a buddhist, or how the percentage of the Muslim population could have decreased from 9.7 percent in 2011 to 5 percent today. It has undoubtedly gone down but demographers doubt it could have done so by more than one or two percent at the most. The decline is obviously a direct result of unchecked harassment and persecution. It has gone down over the last few decades. The Tamils did their bit. Muslims in Tamil-majority areas were harassed and effectively driven out by ethnic purists from both the communities. They regret what they did now because it has been done to them on a much larger scale.

If it were only the BBS mouthing this nonsense, it would be one thing. But many within Sinhala political-military mainstream pander to rhetoric of this sort. In Pottuvil in the Ampara district, for instance, where the Muslims are a majority, the uniformed soldiers have been collaborating with the local monks and monasteries to erect Buddhist statues and inflaming the region in noise pollution via loudspeakers which start early with Buddhist hymns and a nightly replay. Local women who own land are being driven off it: the monasteries steal as the army provides protection.

The 1911 consensus revealed, as has always been the case, that the Buddhists compose a huge majority (70.2 percent), followed by the Tamil Hindus (12.6), Muslims (9.7) and Christians (7.4). Nobody threatens the Buddha or his followers except fanatics from within.

Ali ends his article with a report of Buddhist sectarian attacks on Muslim fishermen in Myanmar.

And will talk of Burma joining the Commonwealth be nipped in the bud? Buddhists have clashed with a tiny Muslim minority and driven them out of their villages, though the cause in this case appears to be material rather than ethno-religious Puritanism. The Buddhists wanted the land for themselves. A macabre confrontation resulted in, of all places, an Indonesian refugee camp where the Burmese Muslims had been provided with shelter. Eight Burmese Buddhist fisherman whose vessel had foundered in nearby waters were also rescued by the Indonesians and taken to the same camp. That night the two sides battled and all the fishermen apart from one were killed. Muslim casualties were two dead, and seven wounded.

It was an ominous precursor of the mass violence against the Rohingya that broke out a few years later.

Pirbhai ends his article by noting no religion has the monopoly on violence. But the myth of Buddhism as uniquely peaceful and tolerant is blinding Americans to the savagery that Buddhists, as humans, are capable of committing.

“No religion has a monopoly on ‘violent people’,” Jerryson astutely concludes, “nor does any one religion have a greater propensity for violence.” All religions are vast complexes of thought and institutions and devotees of each can always find legitimacy for hostility or hospitality toward the other depending on mundane needs or wants. It is for this very reason that the apparent disconnect between historical Buddhism and the sustained Euro-American myth of its tolerance is as malignant as the perpetual dehumanization of Islam and Muslims is cancerous. These Buddhists have long been the good guys and those Muslims the bad in this lore. Each is a necessary fiber in the liberal fabric of Euro-American imagination that veils the gaze of international law when it comes to the murder and displacement of the Rohingya.

American Tsarism

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

Vale James O’Connor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/12/2017 - 7:00am in

James Richard O’Connor (Apr 20, 1930 – Nov 12, 2017)

The passing of James O’Connor marks a significant moment in the history of Marxist scholarship and politics. Born in 1930 and growing up in Boston, a short stint in the merchant marine introduced him to a world beyond the oppressive cultural and political environment of Cold War America. This aroused his interest in a more critical engagement in understanding the world beyond capitalist America. He completed studies in economics and sociology before working on a doctoral thesis exploring the forces that had resulted in the Cuban revolution, a study, which was subsequently published under the title of The Origin of Socialism in Cuba in 1970

This set him on the path as a warrior, along with others such as Joel Kovel, as a radical in the face of the cultural wars that were unfolding with the civil rights movement, feminism and student movements. He joined an emerging group of young intellectuals interested in drawing on the writings of Marx and other radicals intent on critiquing capitalist hegemony. He was intent on reinvigorating debate within Marxism and investigating established interpretations of this tradition to forge an invigorated Marxist analysis of capitalism, first publishing a series of reflections that contributed to exposing the nature of American imperialism and the unfolding contradictions with global capitalism.

After some teaching positions on the east coast, Jim took up academic positions in San Francisco where he joined a cohort of other radical thinkers in the early 1970s, and where he began to really make his mark on radical thinking and politics and particularly Marxist discourse. His particular focus concentrated on interrogating the role of the state in contemporary capitalism, and he drew together similar thinking colleagues to debate and develop critique. He led the way in setting up the journal Kapitalistate in 1973. The journal brought together comrades from the San Francisco Bay Area and from across North America and the world, including Italy, Germany and the U.K. His own thinking was developed in The Fiscal Crisis of the State, a pathbreaking analysis of the fundamental contradictions inherent in the role of the state’s inability to reconcile all of the claims for resources being made on the state. The Fiscal Crisis firmly established his standing as one of the foremost Marxist critics of the era.

The originality of The Fiscal Crisis lay in the innovative approach to drawing on Marxian categories to rethink how we should analyse the state. This capacity to revisit Marx’s concerns was also demonstrated in subsequent publications that concentrated on the multiple crises of capitalism, with the publication of Accumulation Crisis in 1986, followed by The Meaning of Crisis in 1987.

Settled in Santa Cruz at UCSC, and drawing on Barbara Laurence’s enthusiasm for protecting the red wood forests on the Californian coast, Jim turned his attention to the environmental destruction being wrought by the capitalist system. Indicative of his longstanding efforts to encourage others to join in and develop critiques of contemporary capitalism, he, Barbara and others, fostered a coterie of graduate students to contribute to this developing critique. He reconnected many of his old comrades to focus on the environmental question and established the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism as a global enterprise and the Center for Political Ecology.

Once again, Jim returned to exploring ways of creatively building on Marxian categories to reformulate how we might go about interrogating capitalism’s destructive force. Incorporating insights from Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, Jim posited the notion of ‘the Second Contradiction’ of capitalism, the inherent tendency for the process of capital accumulation to undermine the natural (environmental) conditions of its existence.  This concept contributed, if not spearheaded, a dramatic engagement of Marxists and other radicals in recasting their critical focus on the environment.

The formulation of ‘the Second Contradiction’ was posed in opposition to the shift in radical discourse that had been influenced by post-structuralist thought and which had jettisoned Marxist theory to privilege the place of social forces, other than class. Jim was determined to re-establish the import of the working class in the forging of a progressive politics, and this prompted some intense and often acrimonious debate, not always confined to the battle for intellectual primacy in understanding the force of social struggle. But the significance of the notion of ‘the Second Contradiction’ lies in the extent to which it has become a foundation, or reference point, for the extraordinary growth in radical analysis of the array of environmental problems across the globe.

Jim will be remembered by friends and foes alike, as well as those who he encouraged to join the cause, as an iconic figure in our efforts over the last fifty or so years to rebuild the force of radical discourse and to take control of our political future. Over the last decade or more, he was working on extending this project by developing a critique of the many contradictions embedded in the processes of globalisation and neoliberalism, a project that remained frustrated by ill-health. However, he leaves behind a remarkable legacy that will continue to frame and inform radical analyses of capitalism’s many contradictions well into the future.

Other tributes to James O’Connor are being collected by the Center for Political Ecology.

Cover photo: James O’Connor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1978, by Carol Foote.

The post Vale James O’Connor appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Capitalism for Dummies: Slavery and Taxes.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/12/2017 - 8:13pm in

It's been two years since Adele Ferguson and Sarah Danckert (Fairfax Media), plus a Four Corners team (ABC News), exposed the wage-theft practices entrenched in 7-Eleven Australia and affecting foreign workers, largely on 457 and student visas (the kind of courses advertised overseas as "permanent residence courses": you, the sales pitch goes, pay to get a beautician qualification, say, and -- welcome to the capitalist paradise Down Under! -- you get a resident visa).

In the intervening years a string of similar cases came to light, affecting not only 457 and study visa holders but also working holiday tourists (aka backpackers). It wasn't just 7-Eleven either: small and big businesses in all sorts of industries were involved. Nor it was just a matter of bosses stealing wages: often female foreign workers were being sexually harassed or abused or even forced into prostitution.

The common denominator in the three categories is that those visas give their holders conditional and temporary residence rights only. Their stay is contingent upon working for a local employer, tasked to make sure these workers fulfill that duty.

I trust I don't need to explain how this situation was open to abuse: would-be residents desperate to stay, on one hand, employers ready to take advantage of that, on the other. This all should have been pretty obvious to anyone (except, evidently, the LibLab government and "progressive" Australians, for whom this is quantum mechanics explained in ancient sanskrit written in cuneiform script).

The news last week was that the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled a report recommending reforms to the regime governing those visas. The word slavery was used:

" 'If you are a Woolworths or Coles and you're sourcing a product, you need to look into your supply chain to ensure there is no modern slavery practices or labour exploitation, or debt bondage,' said Chris Crewther, chair of the committee."

Will that solve that problem? Let's wait and see.

According to the ABS (3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2017) the Australian resident population grew in the year to March 2017 by 389,100 people. Natural growth produced 142,400 new residents (36.6% of that total); 231,900 (59.6%) are the result of net overseas migration (the total growth figure includes an adjustment).

In percentage terms, resident population grew 1.6% that year. Without migrants, that figure would have dropped to 0.6%.

Evidently, not all those migrants are as susceptible to abuse (included in those figures are migrants with permanent residence visas, for instance), but -- for me at any rate -- it's hard to advance a more precise figure.

Also according to the ABS (3401.0 Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia. Dec. 2016. Table 6: Short-term Movement, Visitor Arrivals) the reasons declared by short-term entrants in Australia were as follows

(Right-click to open a larger version)
It's important to note that those are cross-border movements: one visitor could and often does contribute multiple entries (and exits).

Together holiday, employment, and education (where abuses seem more prevalent) were, in December 2016, the reasons for visiting for 59.0% of short-term visitors (stay up to 1 year) of the 971,800 short-term entrants to Australia that month. But median stay for all categories was short (10.8 days), therefore, cases of abuse probably affect only those in the upper tail of the distribution: again, it's hard to be more precise.

It seems clear migrants themselves are often big losers, but has immigration lowered wages in Australia?

Academic research denies that and lefties in general accept it as Gospel truth. In the UK, for instance, Chris Dillow has frequently argued that case.

Perhaps they are right and have better population estimates. Still, I don't feel reassured. To the best of my knowledge, that research is generally based on highly aggregated official data (including wage data). In Oz, that essentially means the ABS. Normally, that's as kosher as it gets and I myself use ABS data.

However, call me paranoid or racist or stupid (or all three: I'm just a working class commie grunt, after all), in this case, where wage-theft is common I find it hard to trust information provided by employers: they know they are breaking the law. Moreover, those workers themselves, knowingly or not, are probably breaking the law too. Illegal cash-in-hand payments could be very common. Maybe I'm being unduly cynical, but I don't think that's the kind of information people volunteer to the ABS.

And it could explain the underpayment claims explosion the Fair Work Ombudsman has faced in the last few years.

Further, stories of contractors being reduced to misery aren't unknown in the media. I've heard similar stories from delivery contractors, with one additional detail: those who spoke to me claim to have been undercut by foreign contractors who subcontract the job, paying their staff peanuts. I know it's anecdotal and so it shall remain: to change that researchers would have to speak with them. Unthinkable.

In the meantime, this is how businesses are treated:

This is capitalism, mate. Mainstream economics textbooks don't teach you that kind of shit, do they? Neither do post Keynesian allegedly subversive geniuses, by the way. Whether you like it or not, you're stuck with old fashioned, working class commie grunts.

Prager University Tries to Argue the Alt-Right Is Left-Wing through Semantics

This is another great little video from Kevin Logan. This time he’s attacking Prager University, which, as he points out, isn’t actually a university, but a right-wing propaganda site on the Net. It pumps out Christian fundamentalist, militaristic, neocon, reactionary propaganda.

They’re one of the various groups on the American right, who’ve tried to discredit Socialism by claiming that the Nazis were also socialists, because they had the word in their name. I’ve already put up several pieces about that, reblogging material showing that Hitler deliberately put the term ‘Socialist’ in the party’s name as a provocation to the genuinely socialist left. The Nazis, of course, were very definitely anti-Socialist, and the decision to adopt the word ‘socialist’ was strongly opposed by many in the early party, including its founder, Anton Drexler. Going further back, the nationalist intellectuals in the 1920s, who began publishing books about how the First World War was an ennobling experience, and who looked forward to a coming Reich, did indeed talk about ‘socialism’, but they made it clear that they were talking about the integration of the individual into society, in which people would work for the good of the great whole. They called it the ‘socialisation of men’, which they carefully distinguished from the socialisation of property and industry.

Apart from rounding up genuine socialists, communists and trade unionists as ‘Marxist Socialists’, along with other left-wing radicals, the Nazis also strongly supported free enterprise. They privatised a number of state enterprises during the Third Reich, and hailed the business elite as the biologically superior type of human, who had won their right to rule through the forces of Darwinian selection in the business world.

They were not at all socialist.

Now Prager U tries the same trick with the Alt-Right. The argument runs that because the ‘Alt’ stands for ‘Alternative’, it is therefore different from traditional American Conservativism, and so has more in common with the left. This is another lie. As Kevin Logan here states, the Alt-Right are just an even more poisonous version of Conservatism, and have nothing in common with the left.

This is just part of a long-running strategy the Republicans have been running for a few years now, in which they’re trying to deny the rampant and very obvious racism in their own ranks, and project it back on to the Democrats and those further left. In the case of the Democrats, this party was indeed the more right-wing of the two originally, and was the party of the Klan. But this was before Lyndon Johnson won over the Black vote by introducing Medicare, Medicaid and other welfare programmes. However, the Republicans have used this to try to argue that ‘progressive’ are responsible for racism, because of the racist history of parts of the Democrat party. Even though this was before Johnson’s reforms of the late ’60s.