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blah blah capitalism blah blah

August 5, 2013

Watching ABC’s This Week yesterday, I started thinking about whether our fucked up political system is fixable. It seems to me, for example, that most people tend to think of the bourgeois state in general, whatever its size or character, as simply a collection of elected and/or appointed individuals; and that if we want to change the way things are, we can simply change the individuals who compose it. The reality, however, is a bit more complicated than that, in my opinion. The state isn’t just a collection of people, it’s also the political representation of capital, the social relation, that subsumes the capitalist class and working class alike, and which seeks to help resolve the reoccurring crises of overaccumulation that result from the intrinsic contradictions within the capitalist mode of production itself.

In this capacity, then, the state, even with an overwhelmingly working-class majority, is still the representative of capital, the social relation, and depends on the continued existence of capitalism. As capitalism develops, and both the mass of superfluous (i.e., unproductive) capital and labour increase in conjunction with efficiencies in production, causing the rate of profit to fall and a shrinkage in the absolute mass of profit created, the state, in conjunction with capital, must find ways to overcome this, whether through encouraging debt spending (which itself is somewhat paradoxical in that it essentially provides this ‘life-support’ by consuming superfluous capital to facilitate expansion in the private sector instead of employing it productively), the opening of new markets, the ‘creative destruction’ of superfluous capital (mostly through state consumption), or creating ways to increase the mass of profit that via evolutions (i.e., innovations) in the means of production and finance that, in turn, set up the conditions for further overaccumulation and crises.

Changing the players in this game doesn’t change the game so much as the moves that are made within it—the object being the continual expansion of capital. So while one individual may favour austerity while another may favour increased state spending, and one may be for gay marriage while another against, they’re all still ultimately aiming for the same goal as each is constrained and compelled by certain ‘blind’ material forces at work, i.e., the underlying contradictions that constantly push capitalism to the point of collapse and thus requiring ever-increasing intervention on the part of the state to prop it up and stimulate the production of surplus value. And the longer it takes for us to realize this, the longer it’ll take for us to find a better alternative. As @Damn_Jehu argues via Twitter against redistributionism:

The mode of production concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, while redistribution seeks to unconcentrate it. The effort to redistribute wealth only gives rise to forces within the mode of production itself that leads to greater concentration. […] An increasing mass of workers is rendered superfluous to production, but this is no less true for an increasing mass of capitalists. This really has to be emphasized: BOTH the working class and the capitalist class is rendered superfluous to production due to the development of the productive forces of society. This most emphatically is not a problem simply for the working class alone. Both, therefore, are responding to a real present danger to their existence as classes, when they turn to the state to resolve the crisis. The crisis does not simply threaten the existence of one class or the other, but both, i.e., it threatens the existence of capital itself.

It will not do to conflate capital, the social relation, with the capitalist class. Capital is a social relation subsuming both classes together. The ideal expression of capital, the social relation, is not the capitalist, but the state. Even in a democracy, with a huge overwhelming proletarian majority, the state is still the representative of capital, the social relation. It is not the representative of the workers, even if they consciously treat it as such, as in Social-Democracy. This argument, like the one on redistribution, is counter-intuitive, because it seems as if a working class majority must have an impact. But it does not. The state form cannot express the rule of the working class; it can only become a state capitalist. (31 Jul)

As I’ve argued before, our productive capacities are such that we no longer have a material necessity for capitalist wage labour or social relations, but the demand for profit creates an political-economic system that consistently depresses our productive capabilities and produces artificial scarcity, limiting the production and consumption of commodities to only that which can realize profit, among other things. We have reached an epoch of material abundance via the technological advancements and innovations of the past, but the old masters, who must increasingly rely on the state (so much so that the two are almost indistinguishable, with the state essentially acting as the national capitalist), are refusing to let go of their death grip on wealth and power, their ownership of the means of production, finance, etc., stalling our transition to a post-capitalist society.

What’s worse is that most of us follow suit, fearing that society would drift into chaos and crisis and economic barbarism without them, without capital, wage labour, and profit, when the reality is that we’re actually descending into chaos and crisis and economic barbarism because of them, because we refuse to let these relics of a past epoch go, because these things are holding us back and we lack both the imagination and the motivation to conceive of a future without them. We’ve reached a point where the working class, even with vast reductions in hours of labour and/or employment, consistently produces more than can be productively consumed in the capitalist production process (i.e., in a way that produces surplus value for the capitalist) despite no shortage of need.

And I think this is precisely what Marx meant when he wrote, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” The world he foresaw is a world of material abundance and social equality, characterized by what he called “a community of freely associated individuals” rather than capitalists and wage-labourers, that no longer revolves around the realization of profit — with production primarily benefiting one class of owners and the state’s primary purpose being the continued existence of an antiquated mode of production — but the needs of all. But that world, as @Damn_Jehu so tactfully puts it via Twitter, is only going to be realized once we, as a community of freely associated individuals, regain the capacity to imagine we can organize our own lives:

For 80 years liberals have been saying poverty and unemployment could be fixed by the state. The state has yet to fix either. At what point do we figure this shit out? How long will we continue to believe the myth. The belief that social ills can be fixed by political action is the single most debilitating illusion today — democracy is the real opiate. The illusion that the state is a neutral instrument that can be wielded by society to address its defects is shockingly naive. It goes against every experience we have with it. We approach the state like black people approach the Constitution, always expecting the words of slaveholders to be made real for slaves.

“How can we eat without a job” = “Who will build the roads” = “If property is abolished who will own everything”[?] We have lost our capacity to imagine we can organize our own lives — fully grown adults acting like coddled children. There should be no tolerance for this childishness among the working [class]. Grow the fuck up and take [responsibility]. When did your momma die and leave the state to take care of you? Everything the state provides for you it got from you, minus its cut. This infantilism has to end. The nanny state is an abuser and exploiter. The state provides nothing for you. Not a single thing. It takes from you everyday, all the time, without remorse. And then it has the nerve to ask YOU to sacrifice! The sheer gall of the state, of politicians, can only be explained by your own ignorance. (2 Aug)

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