- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Deep Marxism &

Posted by: lisa jacks on August 24, 1999 at 19:34:56:

Recent discussions on this list posit Marx and/or marxism as
everything to strict economic rationale, what we used to call
marxism. For Marx, “value” (and not only in the economic sense)
came as
much from nature as from human labor, although that duality in
and of
itself makes me a bit uncomfortable.

This discussion may not seem to matter to our Reclaim the Streets
/ Oppose
the World Trade Organization activities, but in fact, I believe
it will
turn out to be essential, as some who are now our friends turn
opponents down the road because they posit “the corporation” as
the root of
evil, and not the social relations of which corporations are only
one form,
only one part. Take David Korten, for instance, or even many
Greens, who
project a small-scale community-regulated capitalism, sort of, as
an answer
to today’s crisis.

Here’s a piece I wrote that delves into the intersection of
technology and
capitalism, labor and nature, marxism and anarchism, that I think
find interesting. If you are not into this sort of discussion,
you might
want to delete NOW.


Deep Marxism: Towards a Nature Theory of Value
by Mitchel Cohen

The New York Daily News covered a 1995 crash of two subway trains
in New
York City, in which the driver was killed and dozens seriously
injured, in
lurid detail:

“The nearly 200 passengers aboard the J and M trains [the
newspaper wrote]
survived two harrowing ordeals yesterday -- first the crash, then
nail-biting rescue marked by panic and chaos high above the East
River. ...
The crash left the suddenly terrified passengers stranded 15 feet
above the
inner roadway of the Williamsburg Bridge at a point where the
aging bridge
rises about 100 feet above the east side of the swirling East

“The first rescue workers arrived about 10 minutes after the
collision. By
then, a man in a business suit who was in the same car as [Eva]
Grimes [a
diet technician from Brooklyn] was beside himself with fear and

“He was cursing and banging on the walls,” Grimes said. “He was
`I've got to get to work! I've got to get off this train! I've
got to go
make money.' ”

- New York Daily News, June 6, 1995

Some say that for workers -- Marx's Labor Theory of Value
-- there's only one thing worse than being exploited by capital
-- _not_
being exploited. The late-for-work man has but one thought as he
steps over
bodies, gingerly avoids the puddles of blood and staggers through
car hell high over the river on the Williamsburg Bridge, 6:30 in
morning: “I've got to get off this train! I've got to go make

* * * *

The great locomotive of capital has more innocent-sounding names
exploitation than Eskimos for snow. Neoliberalism, privatization,
globalization, the debt crisis, the free market, export zones,
free trade
zones, empowerment zones, enterprise zones, new enclosures,
adjustment, development, progress, New World Order, GATT, MAI,
World Trade
Organization, NAFTA, “Work”! -- synonyms all for the shameless
orgy of
profits and power, the Primitive Accumulation of capital.

Wherever capitalism installs its newest pendulum of accumulation
the pit of
slave labor is never far behind. Its long knife ransacks the
globe. Its
emissaries -- Dems and Reps, bankers and corporate CEOs, media
moguls and
military contractors -- slash this way and that, shrieking (in
DiPrima's words): “Get your cut throat off my knife!,”
no Luddite in sight to stay the blade; no social or deep
ecologist -- or,
for that matter, all-too-few current marxists -- to remind us
that we
should never accept efficiency per se as the measure of progress,
nor labor
alone as the measure of all value.

Capital, on the other hand, makes no bones about the source of
its wealth.
It measures its progress in terms of increasing efficiency and
of profits, achieved by intensifying the exploitation of Nature
and Labor.
All this is assumed to be a “natural” right of corporations. The
industry takes for granted its “right” to clear-cut forests. Its
“Wise Use”
movement spins the clearcutting for public consumption as a
sale.” Magnificent giant redwoods, the oldest living beings on
the planet,
are, to capital, merely “standing inventory.” Beautiful mountain
vistas are
considered “view sheds.” The last few clumps of trees along the
highway en
route to the mall are “scenic corridors.” Carting the strip-mined
off the mountain is portrayed as “sanitizing a unit.” Industry
casts the
technology required to do all that in the dubious forge of
Underlying it all is belief in GOD -- Grow Or Die -- which
permeates every
moment of production and reproduction under capitalism.

Even though fully one-half of the world's forests have been cut
down in the
last 40 years, corporations are not without allies in asserting
“natural right” to cut down the rest. One would think that
enraged members
of the militia movement in the U.S., for example, who are not
corporate apologists (in fact, many oppose monopoly corporate
would want to protect old growth forests as part of our natural
heritage if
for no other reason than to conceal their paramilitary
activities. But, in
a stance that is rife with contradiction, many have apparently
joined in
absurd and self-defeating alliances with Wise Use corporate
fascists to
tear down the forests, under the guise of “property rights,”
individual freedom” and “freedom of entrepreneurial spirit” --
“freedom,” that is, to exploit.

Two hundred years ago the Luddites -- along with the Iroquois and
American Indian communities -- offered a different measure of
progress, one
not defined by efficiency or acceptance of exploitation, neither
of Nature
nor Labor. They opposed not machines per se, but “machinery
hurtful to
Commonality,” as Kirkpatrick Sale points out in an important
essay in “The
Nation” (June 5, 1995). Because of the radical nature of their
critique --
in England, hammers in hand; in France, “sabots” (wooden shoes)
in the
gears (and hence the term “sabotage”) -- the Grow Or Die system
had to
physically crush the Luddites and other opponents of
mass-production, and
then obliterate memory of their example from history texts.

Defense of the forest and the rights of peasants against the
stormtroopers of the state, who were acting on behalf of the
capitalist class in England of the 18th and 19th centuries,
sparkled in the
work of another figure also generally omitted from writings about
Karl Marx. Marx's earliest adult essays defended the right of
peasants and
workers to glean dead wood from Rhineland forests -- lands
unrestricted by law and used in common. As the state's legions
Luddite opposition to anti-communal technology (and, along with
European powers, did far worse to American Indian communities
the Americas) they also expropriated communal lands, legalizing
privatization through subsequent legislation -- Marx called it
accumulation” -- at the behest of the expanding needs of
industry. By 1842,
85 percent of all prosecutions in the Rhineland, for example,
dealt with a
new crime: “The theft of wood.”

How did it happen that public lands, and the same with early
were becoming privatized and re-shaped by the needs of capital?
(We can ask
the same today of Giuliani and Pataki, and our once-public
hospitals and parks.) How did such “enclosures” come to receive
socially and sanction in law? How did the taking of dead wood for
heat and
cooking by peasants become a criminal offense, while corporations
increasingly freed to strip public lands -- whole mountains! --
of all the
trees on it with impunity?

These are questions Marx's most important early writings raise,
along with
his focus on the nature of alienation. On his birthday thirty
years later
(the man knew how to party!) Marx drew upon those early
observations and
chastised fellow Leftists for basing their critique of political
solely upon the exploitation of labor -- and a faulty one at
“Nature,” Marx wrote, “is just as much the source of use values”
as labor,
“and it is surely of such that material wealth consists.”
[“Critique of the
Gotha Programme,” May 5, 1875] Poor analysis, Marx feared, would
workers in what to do.

Yet that is exactly what has happened. Since his death in 1883,
epigones have ignored his formulation of the twin sources of
value and
concentrated narrowly on the exploitation of labor -- and even
there, too
often within capital's framework. In omitting the exploitation of
central to capitalist accumulation, from their fundamental
critique of
capitalism marxists have generally accepted capital's industrial
form of
production as “natural” and “progressive,” chaining all working
initiatives and the possibility of a qualitatively different
world to the
expansion of the factory form.

A Desire Named Streetcar

Instead of envisioning a society based on a very different
organization of
productive forces and projecting a different way of producing the
goods we
need and desire (let alone investigating where our desires
themselves come
from), marxism -- potentially a philosophy of liberation -- has
transformed into its opposite: an instrument of rapid
through centralized state control which would (proponents hope!)
bring “the
good life” to workers through the wonders of conspicuous
consumption and
the production of ever more commodities, in whose manufacture
ever more
natural and human-made resources are used up and permanently
destroyed. In
so doing, official marxists literally miss the forest for the
reproducing the dominant paradigm of capital even when meaning to
oppose it.

Every moment of mass production -- regardless of whether it is
service, or the “production of knowledge” -- reproduces
capitalist and
patriarchal relations in their entirety. The drudgery of the
and office, the inferno of rancid relationships and twisted
dreams, the
turning of everything and everybody into things to be bought and
sold, the
reproduction of hierarchy, domination and patriarchy, the
subjugation of
Nature (and of Nature within us) to the exigencies of production
and the
market are all embedded in technology; the ensemble of capitalist
patriarchal relations are reproduced through the factory form of
as much under socialist governments as capitalist ones, under
state-centralized planning as what passes for “democracy” -- the
dictatorship of the “free market.”

The social and economic conditions in which the factory form of
developed have indelibly stamped the rapaciousness of capitalism
into every
moment of the production process. Capitalism is “in its genes,”
so to
speak. And we, raised in those same conditions, can barely
conceive of
modern societies producing to satisfy human needs in any other
Industrial production seems, to us, most “natural” and integral
to our
notions of progress.

The self-organization of the working class, the expanding nature
of its
powers and the possibility of revolution in the relations of
production are
alienated and perpetually undermined not only by capitalist
relations but
by their technological form. As capital newly “encloses” every
communal space, it privatizes and commodifies every moment of
and “free time” for corporate profit. It claws its technological
grasp not
only through the natural environment around us but colonizes the
within. Today, even arrangements of genes are legally patented,
and new
life-forms containing them are considered private property.

Through genetic manipulation, agribusiness hopes to maximize
profits at our
expense by growing fruits and vegetables that generate their own
genetically altered toxins, as well as the ability to withstand 3
to 4
times the current high levels of pesticides (which we will then
ingest) --
a boon to the pesticide industry and a catastrophe to our health,
let alone
to the balance of nature. Genetic material from fish --
vegetarians, take
note! -- is spliced into tomatoes. Human hearts are grown in
pigs. Soldiers
(and cows) are shot up with genetically altered vaccines, while
companies that refuse to use the genetically engineered Bovine
Hormone and who truthfully notify their customers of that
decision are tied
up in multi-million dollar lawsuits brought by such industrial
giants as
Monsanto, the owner of the rBGH patent. Dupont and other toxic
use genetic screening to justify firing workers -- mostly
-- from their jobs because they are alleged to show a “genetic
predisposition” to certain illnesses, instead of cleaning up job
And, through such federally funded programs as the Violence
Project, psychiatrists are claiming the existence of a genetic
predisposition to the commission of violent crimes, thus
relieving them of
responsibility for finding and resolving the underlying
sociological and
economic causes -- the better to rationalize experimenting with
psycho-surgery, lobotomies, electro-shock and genetic
recombination on
people of color -- in the name of Progress.

Is nothing sacred? Is all life and every stretch of wilderness
(and “the
wilderness within”) for sale? Unfortunately, many post-Marx
believe in “developing the forces of production” at any cost,
rarely going
even as far as Marx in asserting -- let alone analyzing -- the
central role
played by the exploitation of Nature, along with Labor, in the
of capital and the reproduction of the capitalist system. Even
when they
fight to save the environment they do so from a liberal
perspective. At best they attempt to curtail some of capitalism's
extreme abuses by relying with religious fervor upon “the genie
technology” to get us out of the social-ecological crisis we are
in, seeing
the politics of technology as merely a matter of which class owns
it and to
what use it's put. In so doing, they unwittingly reproduce the
conditions they had aspired to change.

The “genie of technology” -- now, there's a concept worth a
second rub of
Monsanto's lamp. That emetic phrase comes to us verbatim from the
programmatic statement of the socialistic Committees of
which claims that a revolution in social relations of production,
the vast machinery of production in the hands of the working
class, would
of itself end the wage system on which the exploitation of labor
is based
and, consequently, the destruction of the environment. Radical
movements such as Earth First!, on the other hand, offer a
different analysis: Unless leftists also dismantle the factory
capitalist and patriarchal relations will continue to be pushed
up from
within technology and destroy Nature, ecological and human alike,
under a “socialist” government. Even in the hands of
people without competition or monetary profit as a motive, they
there is a complex internal dynamic within technology itself that
beyond which class owns and controls it (the “social relations”),
into question the whole industrial schema of what constitutes
progress and
challenging both bourgeois and traditional leftist notions of
growth and

In rejecting an essay I'd submitted to the journal “Science &
(“Big Science, & the Left's Curious Notion of Progress”), an
reviewer again rubbed the technological genie's lamp. Out popped
following curious rationale: “That [the inequities of the factory
will have to be transcended I have no doubt. But the only way
forward as I
see it is through automation of the factory system, which means
science and technology, not less.” Such “developmentalist”
notions are
prevalent among leftists, especially in the U.S. where
dialectical thought
itself is used more or less whimsically as a means to rationalize
this or
that when needed and not treated seriously -- even among marxists
-- as a
pervasive philosophy of liberation. The idea that science and
are (or could be) somehow “neutral” or “objective” is itself an
construct and a figment of capitalist mythology. Calls for more
technological development ignore the capitalist relations
embedded in
technology, and facilely peel away the critical marxian category
“forces of
production” from the intricate constraints of its dialectical

In fact, the factory form of production is dripping with
ideology, immersed
within a falsely dualistic and “instrumental” paradigm. Factories
can no
more be “taken over” by revolutionaries, run communistically and
for their own purposes than can the State (itself a form of
for running the common affairs of the capitalist class). But,
like the
state, the factory form has become a model that official Marxism
seeks to
emulate, take over and administer, not smash.

The Communist Party journal “Nature, Society, & Thought” also
tried to
master the genie: “Your paper ... departs too far from the
dialectical-materialist orientation of our journal, not
arguing for the need to abandon the scientific methodology that
from it,” its editor wrote. My point, of course, was exactly the
not to abandon science but to apply it in examining Science’s own
and hidden assumptions. Resistance to doing that among the
official Left is
astounding. Those who claim privileged access to the holy mantra
“dialectical-materialist orientation” -- awright you DMOs, outta
closet! -- are in need of the proverbial dialectical enema.

Decay-Mart & the Texas Chain Store Massacre

Che Guevara put it best: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous,” he
“let me say that a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings
of love.”
“Somewhere in the blood, in the place inside where pain and fear
and anger
intersect,” writes Kirkpatrick Sale in “The Nation” article cited
“one is finally moved to refusal and defiance.” I hope Kirk Sale
would not
be too upset if I add Che's great feelings of “love” to his
explosive mix.

I don't mean to be glib about this, nor tokenistic. As I see it,
love is
nothing if it is not anti-instrumentalist, which puts it into
conflict with industrial technology. Exploitation,
manipulation, the pillaging of Nature and each other -- the
features of our society -- are negations of love. Technology --
again, not
simply machines, but “machinery hurtful to Commonality,” as the
held -- cements the system of power relations and its
paradigm into place, codifies alienation, and accepts
exploitation as
“natural.” It is anti-Love.

If, as Che observed, love is needed to guide revolutionaries and
focus the
seething alienation and resentment to daily life dominated by
capitalism and its powerful State, the other half of his maxim,
Marx's, has gone unnoted, especially by the Left: Why would
talking about
Love -- or resistance to technology -- risk seeming ridiculous?
And why
would appearing ridiculous be something to be afraid of?

One should always be suspicious of those donning the mantle of
“seriousness.” Especially revolutionaries. Those who fear being
viewed as
“ridiculous” will likely sell you out to the first suit-and-tie
that offers
“credibility” or that threatens them with ridicule. Soon they
will be
scolding creative activists to be wary of “marginalizing” the
“disrupting the minimum common denominator,” and of emerging
publicly from
their assorted anxiety-ridden closets. But en route to their
Brave New
World Order (Armageddon? Arm-a-geddin outta here!), there's the
embarrassment of the Luddites -- among many others -- who
resisted the
imposition of the factory form itself. Marxists have always put
as much
distance as possible between themselves and the Luddites,
dismissing them
as hopelessly arcane, anachronistic, backwards-thinking,
_ridiculous_ --
when they're remembered at all. And they treat today's
neo-Luddites (to use
Kirkpatrick Sale's terminology) with similar derision for
“standing in the
way of progress.”

Work: Scourge of the Drinking Class

Progress, for capital and its apologists, is technologically
framed. Only
within its overarching embrace do other aspects of what we'd like
to see in
a new and humane society ever get discussed, such as the way we
treat each
other and organize our lives. That the industrial form of
production -- and
not just the way it is administered -- inherently propels
anti-loving behavior is generally missing from even the most
ardent leftist
critiques of capitalism.

Today, with its development of “modular” capital -- the ability
capitalists to rapidly move bits and pieces of production around
the globe
by a simple command on a computer or an invisible hand hammering
numbers on
a telphone -- corporations are able to better capitalize on the
of laborers competing with workers in super-intensive “enterprise
zones” in
other countries for an ever-shrinking wage. Its media portray all
this as a
form of “individual freedom,” for workers the “right” to “freely”
wages as independent individuals against multinational corporate
giants, in
competition with other individual workers around the globe. This
is all
seen as “normal.” And resistance to it seen as “anti-social,”

And yet, the struggle against the imposition of factory wage
labor -- of
being forced to sell your labor-time in order to survive -- goes
continuously. It may be hidden from the statistician's checklist
or the
sociologist's “conscious demands,” but it goes on.

In the 1970s, for example, managers of newly-installed factories
in Zaire
and in pre-revolutionary Rhodesia were unable to induce the
discipline among people living there to get them to “go to work”
in the
factories. The new factories were able to get only one or two
days work per
week out of each person. The workers, it turned out, seized every
opportunity to go fishing instead of to the assemblyline.

Such resistance to being “proletarianized” causes manufacturers
-- usually
from the U.S. and other industrial countries -- to take
dollar losses on their foreign investments. In the Zimbabwe
situation, even
when capitalists sweetened the inducements the communally-based
refused to return to work. Capital's sociologists termed them
Historians called them “uncivilized.” Leftists called them
“pre-capitalist.” And so, left with “no choice,” the great
breath of civilization (as one 19th century radical now suffering
considerable disrepute put it) “was forced” to blow people like
wisps into the factories -- at the point of U.S. machine guns.
“It's for
their own good,” the pundits pontificated. “We provide them with
Without jobs, they'd starve.” All in the name of “Democracy” and

Once upon a time, that identical force was employed to accomplish
the same
mission in the United States and throughout Europe. Driven from
the lands
they used (in Europe, under the aegis of the English Enclosure
Acts and the
Corn Laws; in the U.S. today, by bankruptcy foreclosures of small
who are unable to keep up with “mortgage payments,” police
actions against
homeless people squatting abandoned houses, and massive cutbacks
publicly financed social programs, obliterating schools, transit
and other victories the working class had won many years ago)--
the same
facilities that the US/NATO bombed in Yugoslavia and Iraq! --
preferred vagabondage or a life of “crime” to the oppressive
conditions and
low wages of the new capitalist industries, where people's bodies
were (and
still are) mutilated by machinery, poisoned by toxic chemicals,
and driven
to exhaustion by the artificial rhythms of the assemblyline.

“Thus were the agricultural people first forcibly expropriated
from the
soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then
branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible into the
necessary for the wage system.” (Karl Marx, “Capital,” Volume I,
28, International Publishers. p. 737. And, speaking of history
itself! in today’s “three strikes and you’re out” legislation in
states in the US, Marx writes: “At the end of the fifteenth and
during the
whole of the sixteenth centuries, a bloody legislation against
was enforced throughout Western Europe. The fathers of the
present working
class were chastised for their enforced transformation into
vagabonds and
paupers. Legislation treated them as `voluntary' criminals, and
that it was entirely within their powers to go on working under
the old
conditions which in fact no longer existed. ... Whipping and
[are the new law] for sturdy vagabonds. They are to be tied to
cart-tail and whipped until the blood streams from their bodies,
then they
are to swear on oath to go back to their birthplace or to where
they have
lived the last three years and to `put themselves to labour.'
What grim
irony! ... For the second arrest for vagabondage the whipping is
to be
repeated and half the ear sliced off; but for the third relapse
offender is to be executed as a hardened criminal and enemy of
the common
weal” -- speaking of “three strikes and you're out!” (Karl Marx,
[Ben Fowkes edition), p. 897.]) Marx spends page after page going
England’s enactment of law after law, decade after decade, and of
resistance to being forced to work at alienated and slave labor.
A desire
to sell one's labor-time on the market and subject oneself to the
rule of
capital has never been “natural.” People rebelled over and over

Today's written accounts of working class movements are filled
with reports
of militant union struggles to increase wages and improve working
conditions, but rarely are those struggles presented in their
revolutionary context: as battles against capital's imposition of
commodity-form of production in the first place -- that is,
against the
factory form of production and its ownership by the capitalist

Indeed, that is, in part, what the Gulf war was all about, as
well as the
1993 U.S. invasion of Somalia and most of the famed (and not so
labor struggles of the past two centuries. Seen from the vantage
of an
international class framework, the Gulf War was not only a
slaughter to
control a large share of the world's oil resources and test out
new weapons
systems, but 1) a means to whip the entire capitalist class
behind the
global strategy of the New World Order (the UN system,
globalized); and, 2)
a means to reconfigure the oil-producing proletariat, the better
to control
it and extract additional wealth from it.

In Iraq the U.S. government and the U.N.'s “allied forces”
this goal by wiping out the most advanced health care,
sanitation, and
education infrastructure in the region (apart from Israel). At
the same
time the U.S. allowed the Iraqi dictatorship's Revolutionary
Guard to
survive intact to crush the leftist-led working class uprising
Sadaam Hussein around Basra (portrayed in the U.S. media solely
as a
religious Shi'ite rebellion) and maintain a perpetual and
debilitating war
against the Kurds in

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