Heinrich's Intro to Capital

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Angelus Novus
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Apr 26 2012 20:11
RC wrote:
that a capitalist encounters a declining purchasing power on the market when other capitalists cut wages. But what is the capitalist “subordinated” to do when he faces this “imperative”? To use his means more effectively, i.e. to exploit labor power more intensely. He is subjected to nothing but his own interest.

What is his alternative? Waking up one day and saying, "this capitalist stuff is for the birds, guess I'll go join the ranks of wage-dependent laborers"?

Either way, he's subordinated to systemic imperatives. One capitalist opting out of playing that role doesn't bring the system to a halt.
,

Quote:
That's why it is an inadequate criticism to say, as Angelus does:
Quote:
… but capitalists are certainly subordinated to systemic imperatives. But pointing that out does not mean that they have an interest in ending the system the way workers do.

Capitalists simply have no interest in ending the system! It is their system!

I'm not sure if English is your first language. You speak it very idiomatically, so at the very least you're fluent in it. However, here you've missed how language works:

1. Workers have an interest in ending the system.

2. Capitalists do not have such an interest.

Therefore, as I wrote, capitalists do not have an interest in ending the system the way workers do.

Of course, I could assume the worst and say you're just disingenuously trying to attribute a meaning to the sentence that isn't there, but I'll apply the principle of charity here and just assume you're unfamiliar with how subordinate clauses work in English.

RedHughs
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Apr 26 2012 20:44
LBird wrote:
While you and andy are correct to stress the need for a 'living agent' (I think we all agree that 'structures' do nothing, in themselves), but you seem to think that the 'living agent' is always completely conscious of their acts, possibilities and choices.

Crucial point. I think all of Ocelot's otherwise eloquently argued positions fall apart if he suddenly gets hung on the need for discreet agency.

Andy_g wrote:
that's why I think we have to be careful about seeing structures as embodying the interests of a "dead actor". not sure what the interests of a corpse are anyway???

Jeesh, it's the interests that those actors more-or-less believed they had when they were alive. Everyone observes the world, makes conclusions about they're interests and takes action. Those judgments about the world are often limited and the results of those actions often escape their intentions.

I mean the statement "only individuals have intentions, none of this baloney" has a fine absolutist purity that can let you sit back and avoid any of the problems. But it is not an otherwise useful approach.

All these categorizations that we are so confidently wrestling with are matters of degree and measurement and these degrees and measurement are themselves important only to the degree they relate to our collective, historical quandary. But here, in what sure look like advanced, nearly totalitarian capitalist relations, it seems quite plausible to say the system has intentions.

RC wrote:
We would probably all agree that capitalists by definition have the goal of profit; that is their interest, their personal purpose as capitalists.

Many capitalists motivated by fear of loss. You find lots of individual capitalists that aren't greedy as such but that doesn't change the operation of the overall system. Bill Gates has organized a whole raft of billionaires to give their wealth to charity. This doesn't change anything. Large scale cooperatives have existed at various times but they still also existed to extract labor power from their workers and essentially continue the wage-labor relation.

Angelus Novus wrote:
I think it's interesting you say this, because this was exactly what I thought when I read Steven Johnson's popular book on emergence many years ago.
Andy_g wrote:
I take it the use of the term "emergence" signifies LBird is acquainted with this theoretical paradigm?

The reservation I have with the use terms "emergence" is that it often involves someone with a social background reading a popular science writer's exposition of some of the "sexier", "edgier" parts of natural science. And when gets one's model second-hand, one really isn't in the position to have a critical analysis of which parts of those models are substantial and which parts have nothing going for them.

I mean, I will admit that those very well informed on the details of Capital have kicked my ass concerning what was previously my a rather glib statements about what a Marxian position was (though these detailed discussions haven't convinced me that this deeper Marx was, uh, right. It's more a proof he was sometimes, maybe often, closer to Second International Marxism than the Communization-Style (pseudo)Marxism which I'd still favor).

Now, if one is going to take a rigorous style in one's understanding of Marx, it seems important to take a similarly rigorous approach if one's going to start bringing in models from physics and math.

Further, the idea of value in particular being an emergent phenomena within society seems like an ill-informed use of the concept. Living within the general awfulness of capitalist relations, it seems like we should be painfully aware that value isn't an enrichment of our interpersonal relations but a simplicification of them. Value is a constrain on our personal activity and a process by which our personal activity (the conception of our "labor power") can appear as a smoothly varying resource to the feed-back-loop creators (managers) of this grand capitalist hell. And sure, saying modeling capitalism as simple, non-chaotic dynamic system which converse various quantities, ie, value appeals to the "I want both my horse-and-buggy-Marxism and my sexy-chaos-theory-analogies" desires in all of us but I suggest restraint here.

Further, a look at the prices at supermarkets should reveal that these are not neither chaotic nor far off equilibrium in a day-to-day basis. Capital markets, on the other hand, certainly a chaotic, Benoit Mandlebrot indeed formulated Chaos Theory look these markets. If we're going employ even crude logic here, this would suggest, (in diametric opposition Angelus Novus' position), that value is a constraint on the system while capital (or something like it) is the emergent phenomena.

RC wrote:
This discussion seems unnecessarily complicated.

We need to make these ideas "as simple as possible but no simpler".

I would agree that Ocelot's deep dive into "the difference between a human relationship and a social relationship" brings up no treasure for us. There are a vast multiplicity of distinctions we can make in ways human beings relate - how direct, how long-lasting, etc. etc. Within a vast realm of potential categorizations of the world, we take the category capitalism as crucial because it reproduces itself (or a bit less loosely, because the capitalist ruling class has continued to reproduce itself along with a system much like capitalism for quite a long time). We should expect our understanding of capitalism to come through finding irresistible arguments concerning the proper categories for understanding the world.

S. Artesian
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Apr 26 2012 20:48
andy g wrote:
LBird:

I guess marxists have become habituated to using language like the "needs" of the system and so on - it shouldn't conceal an important conceptual distinction though. we run the risk of lapsing into "the system" satisfying its "needs" by itself without the intervention of human agents if we aren't careful. then it's a slippery slope to the "laws of history" guaranteeing the victory of socialism - Kautsky rides again!!

My take's a bit different-- not that we run the risk of of capital satisfying its need without the intervention of human agents, because we know capital is but a social relation of production.

The point being that the intervention of those human agents, acting as individuals, represents material interests of classes, of forms of property.

Whatever the agents think or don't think doesn't matter, it's what they are compelled to do to preserve and extend their own social reproduction.

Kind of why the labor process is really the starting point for Marx, the one he comes to after recognizing the limit to Hegel's presentations. To reproduce oneself as a human being, the human being has to appropriate nature; but the human being does not appropriate nature individually, but rather socially. The human being then reproduces himself/herself as social beings and the appropriation of nature by the labor process becomes the appropriation of the labor process by the social organization.

From there, we have the chance to actually apprehend, in the critical sense, what capitalism does, why it does it, without whether or not the human agents are acting "rationally," "intelligently," "in their own best interests" etc. etc. blahblahblah.

Look, it's not that hard. If capitalism was really this difficult to figure out, Alan Greenspan, Volcker, Draghi, Mervyn King, Buffett, Trump would all be flipping hamburgers at Wimpy's.

RC
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Apr 26 2012 23:54

Angelus Novus wrote:

Quote:
What is his alternative? Waking up one day and saying, "this capitalist stuff is for the birds, guess I'll go join the ranks of wage-dependent laborers"?

His life choices as a human being are beside the point. In his role as a capitalist, he has no alternative except to exploit his workers more intensively and extensively. As I said, that's what the pursuit of his interest in profit requires!

You seem to want to pose the question of his guilt or innocence: it's the system and not the capitalists. In the first place, this is the wrong question and secondly, its a false opposition: the system is the domination of those who exploit.

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Either way, he's subordinated to systemic imperatives.

So the capitalist is just a puppet of the invisible hand? Of the public interest? Where do these "systemic imperatives" come from that you keep citing?

Quote:
1. Workers have an interest in ending the system.

2. Capitalists do not have such an interest.

Therefore, as I wrote, capitalists do not have an interest in ending the system the way workers do.

Thanks for the grammar lesson. But in re-stating your point – i.e., capitalists do not have an interest in ending the system – you beg the question: why would they, if the system serves their interest? Does the system not serve their interest? Does the system have no interests? Or what?

LBird
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Apr 27 2012 06:26
RC wrote:
Where do these "systemic imperatives" come from that you keep citing?

From social structures?

If you reduce everything to the individuals who make up society (that is, the answer to your question is always 'from within individuals'), then surely you are using a 'methodological individualist' method?

I'm a 'social realist', and I think that 'social structures' have 'causal powers' in themselves to compel 'individuals' to act in certain ways (through ideologies, for example). Society is stratified, and the 'individual' is only one level of that stratification.

Unless we attempt to uncover the two-way relationships between 'individuals' and 'social structures', we won't be able to analyse and change 'society'.

'Men make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing'?

andy g
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Apr 27 2012 08:06

RegHughs:

you've concisely highlighted the error i was trying to highlight - the "dead" agents had intentions i.e. their beliefs and desires motivated there actions. those actions may or may not have effected a transformation in social structures but it's nonsense to then say those structures themselves have intentions in the same way.

emergence as a concept predates chaos theory. I use it in the sense Roy Bhaskar did in his "The Possibility of Naturalism" in 1979 (or I jope I do as I read it years ago and found it quite hard going). It simply implies a stratified conception of the real, each stratum dependent on but not reducible to those beneath it and each displaying properties or powers that are specific to it. On that basis all social structures or production relations have emergent properties i.e. involve distinct class positions endowing distinct causal powers and capacities to the agents occupying them etc.

IMO the concept of the capitalist mode of production is a way of understanding contemporary social relations, their causal powers to constrain and enable actors, the way these powers operate and the developmental tendencies they give rise to.

S Artesian

not sure if I disagree or if this a question of style. the labour process is the collective appropriation of nature by man. this is a social process, the social interactions involved are explained by and given rise to structural relations. these relations form the condition of social activity and are reproduced by it, whether the specific social actors are aware of this or not. but material production is still a purposive activity undertaken by men and women not "the system"

LBird
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Apr 27 2012 09:03
andy g wrote:
..."dead" agents had intentions ...but it's nonsense to then say those structures themselves have intentions in the same way.

.

andy g wrote:
It simply implies a stratified conception of the real, each stratum dependent on but not reducible to those beneath it and each displaying properties or powers that are specific to it.

No, but surely it's possible to say that 'structures have intentions' in a different way, a 'way' not reducible to 'live agents'?

That is, 'structures' have the 'intentions' of 'dead actors'?

FWIW, I think that we're very close in our ideas, and it might be just semantics, about 'intentions', 'imperatives', etc.

andy g
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Apr 27 2012 10:05

LB

could be - I just remember being very struck when I first read Archer (or rather summaries of her work) with how persuasive the argument against "conflationism" is and how often the language marxists have used can lead to it

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ocelot
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Apr 27 2012 11:08

Yeah I think the danger to be avoided here is the problem of reifying or anthropomorphising the systemic-level entities and logics. Because Capital is not a living entity with consciousness or desires, to say that it had "interests" would be a case of pathetic fallacy*.

Hence, for the sake of clarity, that in talking of different levels of determination, the entities we are considering are of a different nature, it is more helpful to use depersonalised or abstracted terms like "the logic of... [a systemic entity]", or "imperatives" or "drivers".

Particularly when we're trying to fight against conflationism in the other direction** (the argument I made earlier about orthodox marxism's tendency to set an "objective" class interest against the actually-existing interests of the class composition).

People have interests, systems have imperatives. The whole idea of emergence is that those emergent imperatives can be distinct from the interests of the persons implicated in that system (whether in the past or present - the notion of the interests of the dead is a total confusion in that respect).

RC's position, if I understand it, is that any notion of determination above the human is a case of reification fallacy. A Hegelian malady of ghostly categories that move of their own volition. The laws of motion of the system are nothing more than sum total effect of the interests of the individual actors involved.

As well as the counter-challenge of "methodological individualism" which has been repeatedly ignored, I would like to point out that this also amounts to the animistic fallacy.

Name-calling aside, I think the philosophical problem can have real political effects when it comes to the question of the transition period. If the animistic fallacy is true, then having liquidated the power of the capitalists (through the appropriation of the MoP), the transitional society can continue to retain the relations of distribution proper to capitalism (the wage, price system by SNLT, etc) as per the Gothakritik. Whereas I take it as a starting point for all heterodox post-Marxists that the Gothakritik is wrong, that the retention of the relations of distribution of the wage and exchange carry with it not just capitalist "form" but also "content".

I'd be interested to hear the GSP viewpoint on the transition period and what is required to make the definitive rupture with the reproduction of capitalist social relations.

---
* from WP: "The pathetic fallacy is a special case of the fallacy of reification. The word 'pathetic' in this use is related to 'pathos' or 'empathy' (capability of feeling), and is not pejorative."

** I haven't found a converse to pathetic fallacy - that is the upwards transference of anthropomorphic characteristics to systemic entities - the converse, the downwards projection of systemic characteristics or logics onto their human subcomponents, should have a term, but doesn't appear to have. Avatar fallacy?

LBird
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Apr 27 2012 11:59
ocelot wrote:
** I haven't found a converse to pathetic fallacy - that is the upwards transference of anthropomorphic characteristics to systemic entities - the converse, the downwards projection of systemic characteristics or logics onto their human subcomponents, should have a term, but doesn't appear to have. Avatar fallacy?

Given our discussion of 'dead actors', perhaps 'Zombie fallacy' is apt!

S. Artesian
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Apr 27 2012 13:00

Zombies? Not exactly.

Shelley had it right in her novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

Monster to Dr. Frankenstein:

"You are my creator, but I am your master. You must obey!"

LBird
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Apr 27 2012 13:07
S. Artesian wrote:
Zombies? Not exactly.

Shelley had it right in her novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

Monster to Dr. Frankenstein:

"You are my creator, but I am your master. You must obey!"

But isn't that ocelot's 'pathetic fallacy'?

"pathetic fallacy - that is the upwards transference of anthropomorphic characteristics to systemic entities "

'Zombies' in social analysis sounds so much more exciting!

andy g
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Apr 27 2012 13:43

flesh eating embodiments of capital - Marx would have liked it! What with all the vampire and werewolf references in C v1!

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ocelot
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Apr 27 2012 14:44

Heh. Quite like the zombie fallacy. Accumulation as desire to eat brains. Nice.

Andy, I have to thank you for that reference to Margaret Archer above. I'd never come across her before (or any of that critical realism stuff really). But just reading the WP brief on her Analytical Dualism concept, that maps really neatly onto what I'm trying to articulate.

I think Manuel de Landa's attempt, in "An New Philosophy of Society" to get beyond micro-reductionism and macro-reductionism has some similarities. Although overall I wasn't impressed by his attempt to systematise D&G.

Anyway, ta for that.

for good measure, I'm going to quote a chunk of that Archer précis:

Quote:
Archer argues that much social theory suffers from the generic defect of conflation where, due to a reluctance or inability to theorize emergent relationships between social phenomena, causal autonomy is denied to one side of the relation. This can take the form of autonomy being denied to agency with causal efficacy only granted to structure (downwards conflation). Alternatively it can take the form of autonomy being denied to structure with causal efficacy only granted to agency (upwards conflation). Finally it may take the form of central conflation where structure and agency are seen as being co-constitutive i.e. structure is reproduced through agency which is simultaneously constrained and enabled by structure. The most prominent example of central conflation is the structuration theory of Anthony Giddens. While not objecting to this approach on philosophical grounds, Archer does object to it on analytical grounds: by conflating structure and agency into unspecified movements of co-constitution, central conflationary approaches preclude the possibility of sociological exploration of the relative influence of each aspect.
S. Artesian
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Apr 27 2012 16:36
LBird wrote:
S. Artesian wrote:
Zombies? Not exactly.

Shelley had it right in her novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

Monster to Dr. Frankenstein:

"You are my creator, but I am your master. You must obey!"

But isn't that ocelot's 'pathetic fallacy'?

"pathetic fallacy - that is the upwards transference of anthropomorphic characteristics to systemic entities "

'Zombies' in social analysis sounds so much more exciting!

I don't think it's any fallacy. The nature of the social relation, the "logic" of accumulation requires the capitalist, as the personification of capital, to do certain things.

At a certain point, the capitalists themselves become merely the tool for capital-- the human expression of the dispossessed need.

Anyway, minor point. Not worth getting bogged down. The question is, always is, always becomes; what are the needs of accumulation and the immanent tendency within those needs for the overthrow of a capitalist accumulation?

klaus u
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Apr 27 2012 19:04
Quote:
I'd be interested to hear the GSP viewpoint on the transition period and what is required to make the definitive rupture with the reproduction of capitalist social relations.

1) Why do you want to know this?

2) What's the connection to the debate about Heinrich's interpretation of Marx' Capital, Vol. 1?

RedHughs
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Apr 27 2012 19:35
Quote:
Yeah I think the danger to be avoided here is the problem of reifying or anthropomorphising the systemic-level entities and logics. Because Capital is not a living entity with consciousness or desires, to say that it had "interests" would be a case of pathetic fallacy*.

Hence, for the sake of clarity, that in talking of different levels of determination, the entities we are considering are of a different nature, it is more helpful to use depersonalised or abstracted terms like "the logic of... [a systemic entity]", or "imperatives" or "drivers".

The point isn't that capital is exactly like a person but the people aren't exactly like what we think they are. IE, people don't absolutely unambiguously have intentions, etc. Needs, intentions, desires, etc are spread-about socially rather than being the atomistic possession of atomistic souls, citizens or whatever irreducible unit you might name (if you need an authority to reinforce this, as many seem to, try Vygotski). Trying to trace a given intention to a given person has all the poisonous metaphysics of trying to trace actions to their "first cause".

If you ever try to unravel some complex event, a murder, the construction of a housing development, the release of toxic wastes or whatever product of a series of actions you might name, the complexity of determining what someone's "real intentions" are becomes evident. Given this, it makes just as much sense as anything to talk about the sysem's needs, desires, etc (Artesian's "You are my creator, but I am your master. You must obey!" for example). Talking about the system's needs is not using logic at the level of syllogisms but to discuss the complex situation of people caught up in a game and simultaneously influencing that game, you simply aren't going to be able to do that. (I'll take an effective statistical dynamic model of the whole she-bang as proof that you can treat capital as purely a thing abstracted entirely away from our many intuitive senses of the world and it's "intentions". Go ahead, I'm waiting).

Building philosophical walls against one or another "error" just invites further error. The fire-walling simply has to happen at a completely different level.

Dave B
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Apr 27 2012 19:54

I think there is a different and valid interpretation of the Frankenstien story.

Actually the monster in the book is quite a sympathetic and innocent character who aspires to be as cultured as that which created him.

His creator(s) rejected him as an abomination.

For Shelly the bourgeois scientific enlightenment created industrial production and with it came automatically the unwashed and uncultured base working class, the monster.

The delicate intellectual bourgeois middle class liberals like Shelly and their circle where terrified of an industrial working class that couldn’t read Greek and appreciate poems.

Just like ‘terrified of Tunbridge Wells’ are today of walking through of council sink estates.

To say nothing of the unwashed and uncultured masses wanting to have a say in the running of society.

It was a paternalistic kind of idea, that you can get also from the otherwise sympathetic to the working class Dickens, and his fear of them kicking off as in Barnaby Rudge ( Orwell wrote and interesting essay on that) and to a certain extent Dickens anti trade union stuff in Hard Times.

LBird
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Apr 27 2012 20:35
ocelot wrote:
Heh. Quite like the zombie fallacy. Accumulation as desire to eat brains. Nice.

Andy, I have to thank you for that reference to Margaret Archer above.

Margaret Archer calls her method 'The morphogenetic approach'.

Given our discussion about 'pathetic' and 'zombie' fallacies, which covers the same area as 'morpho' and 'genetic', I propose a different, more exciting, name for the method, as outlined by LibCom.

The 'Pathetic Zombie' method.

Imagine the front cover of LibCom's introductory text.

PS. ocelot, will the 'undead' get the vote, under Libertarian Communism?

RC
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May 3 2012 16:39

Last week there was a podium discussion (somewhere in Germany) with Michael Heinrich and an editor of GegenStandpunkt, Peter Decker. I have no idea how it went, but here (in English) are Decker's theses for the event:

Theses on the character masks of capital, the social classes, and what follows for anti-capitalist politics

Neoprene Walgesang
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Jun 7 2012 10:22

The discussion with Heinrich and Decker was recorded. It is available for download either at archive.org:
or a little bit "enhanced" at VEKKS:
Part 1
Part 2

I made a transrcipt (in German of course) of the last portion of the debate:
„Erfahrungen“ versus „unbrauchbare Unzufriedenheit“

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jura
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Jun 7 2012 10:33

Neoprene, thanks for that!

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jura
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Jun 7 2012 14:30

The transcript is really good. Heinrich makes a lot of sense in my view. It should be translated into English, because it clearly shows that Heinrich is not just another academic who thinks that if there just were enough Capital reading groups, everything would be great and we'd have a revolution. What he says about practical experience with struggles and the importance of interventions resonates nicely with the ultra-left take on these things.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 7 2012 22:13

What I find odd and somewhat paradoxical is that at the level of an analysis of capitalism, GSP accuses Heinrich of being overly structuralist, deterministic, and inattentive to the factor of human agency (which I consider a distortion of Heinrich, btw), yet when it comes to the question of how to dismantle capitalism, GSP have this completely deterministic, idealist conception of first convincing the majority of the population of a refined critique of capitalism, while Heinrich argues that human agency and activity is often able to break through the surface level fetishism.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 7 2012 22:15

BTW, somewhat relevant to these questions of agency and activity, here's an older interview with Heinrich I translated a long time ago.

Neoprene Walgesang
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Jun 8 2012 11:51

The very abstract code word "human agency" very often, and here too tries to circumvent the obvious fact, that if humans do not see the need to do somehing specific, they simply do not do it. It may sound "idealistic" to try to convince sufficient people that it would be a good thing in general and especially for them personally to get rid of capitalism. But I don't see that any "activity" per see can be a substitute for this.

The basic untruth in this regard is the mythical "lesson" that can be had by "experiences". And of course automatically or rather without any real learning and understanding of those people who have lived through turbulent times or have participated in some sort of class action. Capitalism can "teach" different people quite different things, as everybody knows. Neither the successes nor the defeats bring about any correct understanding, any neccessary change of the beahvior of the masses. Otherwise we would be heading to victory on an even path to the socialist sun. But as some roughly 200 years of modern class struggle could show us: no, it does not work this way. Lessons can be "forgotten", class consciousness can get lost, victories can be taken away or even be given up. If you do not win that constant fight for the minds of the working class, you do not have any chance to win at all. And this is neccessary bedore fights, during fights and afterwards. The fights per se don't help.

(And only as a P.S.: Never got it better, when times got rougher. Bad times for the masses are normally not better times for communists, as the history of all major imperialist states unfortunately shows.)

Angelus Novus
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Jun 8 2012 15:33
Neoprene Walgesang wrote:
that if humans do not see the need to do somehing specific, they simply do not do it.

But look at workers' everyday behavior under capitalism. Hardly anyone makes a conscious decision to perpetuate capitalist relations. Rather, people are confronted with a set of pre-existing circumstances, and have to act according to those circumstances. So if they don't want to starve, they have to sell their labor-power. But in doing so, they perpetuate capitalist relations. And without having intended to do so on any conscious level.

I imagine you'll counter that there are certain people in society whose job it is to consciously perpetuate capitalism, i.e. the state's functionaries, agents of capital, and that's correct, but it's only one side of the equation. Capitalist relations could not be perpetuated without the consent of the exploited, which is almost never consciously given, but is the result of blind processes.

So given that the perpetuation of capitalist relations is the result of a blind process, at least on the part of the exploited, I don't understand how the dismantling of capitalist relations has to be the result of some sudden, conscious decision. I think it's more the result of a series of steps within a larger process, one of which is that people attempt to fight for their own interests within the system, only to find that there is only a limited capacity for the system to satisfy their interests.

I have a hard time imagining how GSP supporters imagine the implementation of communism. Like, you just convince 50% + 1 of the general population of its necessity, and then take a vote?

Quote:
Neither the successes nor the defeats bring about any correct understanding, any neccessary change of the beahvior of the masses.

Sure, but I don't see Heinrich suggesting that experiences necessarily lead to specific changes in perception, simply that there is a possibility that they can.

Also, I don't find it fruitful to evaluate struggles only in terms of their effects upon consciousness. This is a weirdly detached way of evaluating social conflict, as if by an impartial observer who doesn't have to worry about getting food on the table.

But when locomotive engineers go on strike, or Hartz IV recipients struggle for the fulfillment of specific demands, they do so to satisfy tangible material interests/needs. The struggles are worth waging for that reason alone, and not simply because they fulfill some litmus test of communist purity.

Quote:
(And only as a P.S.: Never got it better, when times got rougher. Bad times for the masses are normally not better times for communists, as the history of all major imperialist states unfortunately shows.)

I don't think it's automatic either way, i.e. that good times or bad times lead to specific changes in consciousness. I would say that Germany's comfortable position as the neo-mercantilist master of Europe makes it extremely difficult to convince German workers that they have a stake in fighting the system alongside Greek and Spanish workers.

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Jun 8 2012 14:44
Angelus Novus wrote:
I would say that Germany's comfortable position as the neo-mercantilist master of Europe makes it extremely difficult to convince German workers that they have a stake in fighting the system alongside Greek and Spanish workers.

Sorry. Total side-issue. I've seen the characterisation of the dominant German economic doctrine as neo-mercantilist before, e.g. from commentators in the FT like Martin Wolf, etc. Apriori it seems to fit. But my question is, has anyone looked into this (i.e. parallels between current doctrine and mercantilism) more formally or analytically? If so, I'd be interested in a few refs. Not important otherwise.

andy g
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Jun 8 2012 17:04

neoprene

I'm not sure any of us would agree with the simplistic notion that communist consciousness is somehow the immediate product of workers' everyday experience. certainly not where i work anyway!!

however, the opposition of "theory" to experience you seem to put forward is problematic too. it would be very strange for a materialist to suggest class consciousness develops in a vacuum, isolated from class experience.

not that it proves anything Charlie certainly had a more "dialectical" (light blue touch paper and retire)view:

Quote:
Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01d.htm#d1

recession in itself doesn't make the growth of mass revolutionary consciousness inevitable OR impossible. of course communists have to propagandise and "educate". but surely we also have to organise resistance to the attacks on our class imposed under the banner of austerity? and in so doing prove the correctness and relevance of communism in action. relying on propaganda alone is a recipe for disaster IMHO

Neoprene W's picture
Neoprene W
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Joined: 8-06-12
Jun 8 2012 20:37
Quote:
look at workers' everyday behavior under capitalism. Hardly anyone makes a conscious decision to perpetuate capitalist relations. Rather, people are confronted with a set of pre-existing circumstances, and have to act according to those circumstances.

Who could object to this. With the rare exception of those few full time cadres of the revolutionary organizations even the communists amongst the general population have to work as wage laborers in most cases. A few Friedrich Engels types don't count. And, yes,

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“in doing so, they perpetuate capitalist relations. And without having intended to do so on any conscious level.”

But, and this is a big but, this in no way dictates or forces them to think the way most of them do. A turning point for my political understanding and turning away from “classical” orthodox leninist thinking was a little story from Peter Decker's speech, that he gave to the stalinist SED cadres at their party college in 1991 just a few months before their state the GDR/DDR gave up and was swallowed up by West Germany:

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“We stand before factory gates in West Germany, at each large factory. And people say, “we don’t need this,” and mean: sincerely sorry, I am a father and have an installment loan for my car. Your arguments do not help me any in getting by. Here he is right, really. Every special sales coupon is more useful for getting by than our criticism. Our criticism aims for something completely different: consider whether you do well to tighten your belt to live within your means, which they have set for you. We want to ask people whether they do not for once want to make a break in their willingness to get by. Are they ready for one moment to think about it, about what it is they actually get by with? And then they say to us: sorry, I don’t have time; I just have to get by.”

Most of the workers and most of the population in general unfortunately are no underground fighters, that eagerly wait for your communist call for action. The consciously and firmly are rooted in this capitalist society and positively accept their role as workers. (On a general political level this can also be seen in the very high percentage of workers that participate voluntarily in the democratic elections and thereby legitimize the governments that give them back austerity and state racism as the “unavoidable” policies of the day.)

Therefore I think it wrong and minimizing the problems that communist face, if you say:

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“I imagine you'll counter that there are certain people in society whose job it is to consciously perpetuate capitalism, i.e. the state's functionaries, agents of capital, and that's correct, but it's only one side of the equation. Capitalist relations could not be perpetuated without the consent of the exploited, which is almost never consciously given, but is the result of blind processes.”

I don't understand why you come to the assumption that your counterposition in this debate and more precisely the position of RC (or GegenStandpunkt) would be “the dismantling of capitalist relations has to be the result of some sudden, conscious decision.”

I too think

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“it's more the result of a series of steps within a larger process”

One part of this is

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“that people attempt to fight for their own interests within the system, only to find that there is only a limited capacity for the system to satisfy their interests.”

The problem with “their interests”” is, that they are shaped and bent by the constraints of the “objective” laws of capitalist society. And therefore even a decent trade unionist can be satisfied with a meagre wage increase because more would endanger his existence as worker, because it would hurt profits to much.

You have a hard time imagining how GSP supporters imagine the implementation of communism. Neither do I. But even you should know that they definitively are no friends of democratic rules and therefore laugh at your

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“50% + 1 of the general population of its necessity”.

A central point for me is your weak attempt to defend the insistence of Michael Heinrich on the miracles of “experiences”:

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“Sure, but I don't see Heinrich suggesting that experiences necessarily lead to specific changes in perception, simply that there is a possibility that they can.”

Of course, as we speak about intelligent beings, a possibility for people to change their minds is given in every moment of their lives. But there in no inner neccessity that any specific experience brings them to a specific political understanding.

Peter Decker the leading spokesperson of the GegenStandpunkt tendency a few years ago answered to the question “Muß das Ganze nicht ir­gend­wann au­to­ma­tisch um­kip­pen, zwingt nicht ir­gend­wann die Er­fah­rung des Elends die Leute zum Auf­ruhr?” [Is there no neccessity that the whole thing will turn around automatically? Will the misery not force the people into an uprising?”

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“Was wir bräuch­ten ist, dass die Leute sich eine an­de­re Frage stel­len: Mache nicht ich einen Feh­ler in der Er­fül­lung mei­ner Pflicht. Nicht, ma­chen die an­de­ren Feh­ler, weil sie ihre Pflicht nicht er­fül­len, son­dern ist nicht in mei­ner Pflicht, in dem Pro­gramm, das meine Pflicht aus­macht, liegt darin nicht der Feh­ler. Gebe ich mich nicht für etwas her, was für mein Wohl gar nicht ge­strickt ist? Diese Um­keh­rung der Fra­ge­stel­lung braucht man. Und das hängt nicht von der Größe der Ab­sur­di­tät und der Größe der Lei­den der Men­schen ab. Son­dern von der Weise, wie sie es sich er­klä­ren. Man kann ein Volk, dafür sind die Deut­schen ge­ra­de ein schö­nes Bei­spiel, un­glaub­lich nie­der­drü­cken und es muckt nicht auf. Wenn es davon über­zeugt ist, dass das halt nötig ist, um die ei­ge­nen Le­bens­grund­la­gen zu ver­tei­di­gen. (Ich meine hier Hit­ler und den zwei­ten Welt­krieg.) Und am Schluß fres­sen sie nur noch Dreck und haben immer noch nichts gegen den Laden. Wenn sie davon über­zeugt sind, dass das gegen ihr Leben und Über­le­ben ist. Wenn sie sich davon über­zeu­gen wür­den, was das für eine miese Sache ist, für die sie sich her­ge­ben, dann wür­den sie es nicht tun. Und dies nicht erst, wenn sie so­weit run­ter­ge­drückt sind.
Das ist ganz wich­tig: Von einem Au­to­ma­tis­mus, in zehn, fünf­zehn Jah­ren, dann kippt alles um, kann keine Rede sein. Es ist ein­zig und al­lein ab­hän­gig von der Mei­nungs­bil­dung derer, die die Las­ten tra­gen müs­sen. “
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[What we would need is that people ask themselves another question: Could it be that it is a mistake when I always attempt to fullfill my duties? Not the question whther the other ones make mistakes when they du not act according their duties. Could it be that my duties and the programm that lies behind these duties are the real mistake? Could it be that I offer myself for something that basically does not have my wellbeing on its list? This kind of turning around the questions people ask themselves is what is necessary. And this does not depend on the amount of the absurdities of life they suffer or the amount of suffering. But only on the way they explain their life to themselves. You can make a people suffer to enormous degrees (the Germans are a “good” example for this) and it will not revolt: When it is convinced that these hardshipsare unavoidable to defend the basics of their lives. (I am speaking about Hitler and the Second World War) In the end the could only eat dirt and still firmly supported their system. Because they were convinced that it was a question of live or die [as a nation]. If they could convince themselves that it is a rotten thing that they are giving themselves to then they would not do it. And not only, or only then, when they are brought down that enormously as then.

It is very important: There does not exist any automatism: In 10 or 15 years the tide turns! No, it will not work like this. All and everything depends on the estimations the attitudes, the lessons of those who have to take the burdons.]

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“But when locomotive engineers go on strike, or Hartz IV recipients struggle for the fulfillment of specific demands, they do so to satisfy tangible material interests/needs. The struggles are worth waging for that reason alone, and not simply because they fulfill some litmus test of communist purity.”

First of all, it is of enormous importance whether a group of workers (or more exact members of the working class in general) have a stance that they can put pressure on the capitalist side (as the GDL locomotive engineers in Germany a few years ago could) or whether you belong to the weakest elements of the class that the state has decreed to be an unneccessary burden on its task to bolster profits in its economy (as those millions of poor Hartz IV unemployed). Whatever can be won by workers in a capitalist society can only be won by those that can harm the other side by their class struggle action as strikes or sitdowns or blockades.

And, surprise, surprise, exactly for this reason the GegenStandpunkt has put quite some effort in its interventions in the GDL strike and strike solidarity movement. This must have impressed quite some people even in this traditionally conservative trade union of rather craft union type. As a first (as far as I know) for decades, one of the trade union locals printed an article of Peter Decker in its newspaper. I do not know of any other communist tendency that made it that far in this regard in the last years.