- Capitalism and Alternatives -


Posted by: Barry Stoller on October 01, 1999 at 11:01:16:

In Reply to: Crying My Eyes Out posted by Dr. Cruel on September 30, 1999 at 10:39:37:

Dr. Cruel's response here is so confused and so erroneous, I barely know where to begin. That may be no accident, however. Confusion is a classic debating technique. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis called this technique---stringing together 'a series of non sequiturs [and] illogically related ideas' in order to disable the recipient's own faculties---cardstacking.(1)

The claims made were:

: Once upon a time, back in the 19th century, industrial production was skyrocketing. All sorts of new products were being put on the market, and were greedily gobbled up by an excited public, eager to leave the mundane and dreary existence of the farms for the opportunities that the new, growing cities offered.

This benevolent, 'free market' interpretation of the early Industrial Revolution is contrary to history as it has been recorded, preserved, and acknowledged by any sensible person. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is recommended---following a refresher on Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England. Or, just skip reading altogether (hooray!), and consider: if the 'public' was so 'excited' by all their consumer choices and so 'eager to leave the mundane and dreary existence of the farms for the opportunities that the new, growing cities offered,' why then was Europe a riot of revolutionary activity and the U.S. a riot of labor strife throughout the 19th century?

Which brings us to...

: This sort of thing naturally brought in parasites as well. The idea was, with all this wealth flowing around the cities, disruption of that flow might be worth something - in stolen loot, bribes to be had for preventing it, and so forth. Communism was born...

Ayn Rand's 'Prometheus' thesis! Again, if the 'public' was so 'excited' by all their consumer choices and so 'eager to leave the mundane and dreary existence of the farms for the opportunities that the new, growing cities offered,' how would these 'parasitical' communists ever get an ear? This reasoning disregards all material facts.

Now things get really hairy.

: Then, a funny thing happened. The justification for the exploitation of these individuals -in that they were expropriating the value of proletarian labor - vanished. Colonialization [sic] disappeared, as the activities of modern peoples centered more and more on the virtual, and the abstract. Once booming Third-World trade centers stagnated, priced out of existence by the new technology.

Colonization disappeared? I realize Doc is accusing the Soviet Bloc of imperialism (a claim that has substance), but to disregard the West's (continuing) imperialism is beyond the pale! Ever heard of the IMF? How about the WTO? NATO perhaps? Imperialism has not disappeared, the only thing that has 'disappeared' is the former strength of the oppressed people's struggle. When the oppressed submits, the clash lessens; that is not to say that the oppression has lessened. This is a most important point.

: Now, more and more, the labor of people is becoming more and more valueless. Impossible, you say? Doesn't value come from labor, rather than from the deliberate decision of a consumer? If the former, the new world becomes impossible; if the latter, then for those on the Left it becomes intolerable.

A jumble. Consumers do not put any value into a product---unless they are capitalists who purchase commodities for production. But then---only then---the value comes from the commodity of workers (living labor) transforming the commodity of raw materials (dead labor). Otherwise capital would have never needed to hire a single worker! But to suggest that the dope standing at the Wal-Mart register puts value into a product (by 'deciding' that it's 'truly' worth the price, no doubt) is like saying that the moon is made of green cheese.

This is painful but I'm almost done...

: More and more, in prime part because of the active pursuit of the Left to pricing labor
higher and higher in value, that the actual value of unskilled and semi-skilled labor is rapidly shrinking to nothing. The few who can produce what people want to buy become fabulously wealthy, and thus, themselves ascend to the "ruling, capitalist" class - by being the only people worth turning into the high-tech proletariat necessary for such industries.

First, let us not forget that 'shrinking' skill is a vital ingredient of capitalist production! The technology you are so dazzled by is---primarily---a means to 'decrease the number of workers attached to it'(2) and to subject the labor that remains to increasingly discrete detailed tasks. A job that requires only one mindless function will not command a very high skill---or wage. That is what the capitalist industrial revolution has been all about! The Babbage Principle is alive and well today---proletarianizing the middle class via the 'computer revolution.'

Now, this nonsense about '[t]he few who can produce what people want to buy become fabulously wealthy' disregards the fact that commodities are made by people, many people (i.e. the international proletariat), and the fact that the people who are actually doing the work---whether assembling computer parts in some Far East sweatshop or picking strawberries in California migrant farm camps---are not becoming 'fabulously wealthy' at all. But, reading about all the wealth 'everyone' is enjoying, they may begin to wonder where their cut is.

1. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, The Fine Art of Propaganda, Harcourt, Brace, & Co., 1939, p. 103.
2. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital [1974], Monthly Review Press, 1998 edition.

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