- Capitalism and Alternatives -

A missive to an eager student

Posted by: Dr. Cruel on October 31, 1999 at 17:49:19:

Something I found, when mucking around the board. Pardon the lateness of my response (about a month delay):

: 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)

DC:*This, from an individual who complains about idiotic and curt responses to his erudite prose. ‘Confused’? ‘Erroneous’? And, apparently, a deliberate ploy as well.

Very well. Let us flip the cards, and see what they reveal…

: 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?

DC:*Why indeed. We presume, of course, that people revolt - violently - when oppressed. The historical record would state otherwise. The Nazi regime actually ran a brutal slave labor system, with hardly any unrest (Sobridor is the only instance that comes to mind). The Bolsheviks, outdoing their aristocratic predecessors, ran work camps (‘gulags’) that were even more brutal, if less well documented. These laborers were the motive force behind the ‘patriotic victory’ of Russian Marxism over their German cousins, not the ‘socialist fervor of workers and comrades’, as was popularly conceived by most hard-core Leftists - until very recently, anyway. The French revolutionaries, by contrast, could raise very large armies very early in their ‘struggle’ - armies made possible by the explosion of agricultural production that the Enlightenment had most recently made possible. The American colonists hardly could have been considered ‘struggling’; they were actually rather well off, and wanted to protect and enjoy the advantage of their new prosperity. The Russian were certainly in a bad way by 1917 - but the revolution itself was conducted by Russian soldiers sick of the Great War, and led (and partly funded) by agents of Germany who were little more than Russian criminals (Stalin) and traitors (Lenin). Of thus are revolutions made.

Revolts and revolutions come about in environments of rising expectations, and are initiated by fit, healthy people - not the apocryphical ‘starving masses’ of Marxist mythology. Still unexplained is why, if the industrial hell of the cities offered nothing but exploitation and abuse, why did so many people flock to them from the rural areas?

: 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.

DC:*They don’t need to get the ear of the productive. Hitler didn’t cater to German businessmen - like any good socialist, he nationalized industry. Hitler spoke to the unemployed, and fed the hunger for glory and vengeance that seethed in the German Wehrmacht after Versailles. Lenin didn’t appeal to the business people, or even to the workers (although he talked a good talk) - his strength came from his ‘revolutionary cadre’ (with the implied promise of virtually unlimited personal power if they won) Russian deserters (sickened by years of fruitless, pointless slaughter in the trenches) and landless peasants, who were promised the ‘expropriated land’ of the capitalists and boyars.

Incidentally - of course, as soon as conditions permitted, the land was snatched up again. Stalin created the collectives, but the idea was already in the works long before he came into ultimate power. The Bolsheviks could write some eloquent persiflage (as Mr. Stoller is most kind enough to quote from, ad nauseum), but were little more than secular boyars themselves - and a vicious group of backbiters as well. Of such are socialists made.

: Now things get really hairy. (DC:*No doubt. Read on)

: : 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.

DC:*The biggest problem for most countries is the increasingly lessened need for their services and goods by the industrialized West. Technology and mechanized production methods has made the sweatshop obsolescent, not activism or left-wing fervor. The lack of sweatshops has made the ‘civilization of the heathen primitives’ less than lucrative. Even the feeding of these masses of people is readily becoming more trouble that it’s worth; the impulse to compassion generated by the pitiful barbarity of these regions is becoming quickly dispelled by the war and atrocities that feed off the flow of wealth and food to these areas. The greedy and short sighted struggle of left-wing rebels (and, when successful, oligarchs) to exploit and brutalize their indigenous ‘charges’ in their petty quests for power helps matters not a bit.

: : 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.

DC:*You must apparently think that the moon is made of green cheese. I won’t pay for a disc of plastic, but one with the right sort of software is very valuable to me. The labor that went into it is inconsequential to me - all that matters is what value I might derive from its use.

It is thinking like this that generated the shoddy, trashy consumer goods of Soviet Russia. It is the need to compete, in markets where consumers are very stingy with the ‘valuation’ they assign to goods, that has made the quality of what Japan produces so high - that, and the long sighted, pragmatic, capitalistic nature of their leadership. The Chinese communists, valuing their authority over ‘orthodoxy’, have recently been shedding their Marxist economic policies, fostering exponential growth in the standard of living of their people - and, as one would expect (read above) discontent, and revolutionary fervor.

: This is painful but I'm almost done...(DC:*Illumination cannot come without pain, grasshopper...)

: : 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.'

DC:*The problem is not that workers are being consigned to one discrete task, but to no tasks at all (except, if you consider this a ‘task’, the cashing of their dole or welfare check). Increasingly, the rapid development of a knowledge-based, highly automated society is leading to people who simply aren’t worth ‘exploiting’ - that is, not by capitalists. Such people, mindful of the goods that a massively productive capitalist system can produce, but with only the most slender means of acquiring such things, will turn to whatever is at hand in compensation - minority racism, drug dealing, robbery, rioting and looting … all the sorts of things that good Marxists would call ‘revolutionary action’. The relation is no mistake. Communism is not about doctrine, which is more or less incidental (being changed and discarded as convenient) - it is about stealing what one wants, and the elaborate justification behind such theft that facilitates the organization of criminal behavior. It is the core behind every leftist movement that has ever existed (outside of the most idealistic, like Orwell). The few that become true believers, and actually want to help society and the people in it, quickly become disillusioned with this crowd (most turn to anarchism, or something close to it).

: 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.

DC:*The parts assemblers in Malaysia and Indonesia often are women; for them, it is a way to escape from a predominantly patriarchal society. Strawberry pickers in California make more than doctors in the socialist-leaning oligarchy of Mexico. As their expectations rise, so will the ‘revolutionary movements’ - partly to feed on the envy and ambitions of these people, partly to profit the cadre who lead them with the increasing wealth flowing to these regions. And so it goes.

One finds, sir, that when facts are derided as nothing more than ‘stacks of cards’, the result is something less than a winner. Perhaps, if you thought to play the game of economics by rules with a stronger empirical basis, you’d find yourself with a better ‘hand’. For myself, I’d rather bet on what I have.

: Notes:
: 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.

(footnotes refer to the earlier document of Mr. Stoller)

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