Public debt makes the state go round

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wineandcheese
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Apr 13 2010 13:04
Public debt makes the state go round

In May 2010 voters in the UK are asked to decide on the appointment of the state’s most important employees for the next five years. Although voters are not asked anything but a question about personnel and no issue of substance is actually their call, the surrounding debates focus on the budget deficit as the decisive factor. Both Tories and Labour agree that the financial crisis of 2008, the subsequent bank rescue package and the eventual economic downturn caused both public debt and budget deficit to rise to undesirably high levels. The Conservatives opt for tax cuts and austerity measures in order to decrease the deficit; tax cuts to boost the economy and austerity measures to decrease spending. New Labour argues that this would kill the upswing and that what is needed is more investment. Quite bluntly both sides put on record that what they care about is ‘our’ economy and that provision for the subjects of the state has to be subordinated under this goal. Provision for the people has to be measured by its impact on the economy, rather than measuring the economy by its impact on the provision for the people. Topsy-turvy world.

As usual when public debt is discussed, a parallel is drawn with private debt. The state would have to pay off debt just like a working class family has to pay back a loan. Also, references to how poorer countries are suffocated by their debt are made. However, taking a quick look at one of the many tables comparing total national debt across the globe we find that successful nations such as the USA, the UK and Germany accumulated national debt year by year for decades and hold much more debt in total than any of the poorer countries. Of course, this fact does not escape economists and they reply that one has to look at the ratio of national debt to GDP. While this allows new exciting ways to plot numbers over time and to compare charts, it still does not explain how the ‘strength’ of a national economy relates to national debt and why and when a certain ratio is considered harmful. Why is 68.6% too much?

The implications of the budget deficit and the public debt reach far beyond the state’s ability to pay for its undertakings such as killing people in Afghanistan and maintaining the miserable existence of workers in the UK. The public debt weakens the national currency. Since many groceries etc. are imported from the eurozone, this drives up prices for many people. Even prices for goods produced in the UK rise; a development well known as inflation.

This article is our attempt to explain the basic principles behind these phenomena:

http://www.junge-linke.org/en/public-debt-makes-the-state-go-round

Cheers,
Wine & Cheese

admin - on libcom here: http://libcom.org/library/public-debt-makes-state-go-round

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Steven.
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Apr 13 2010 17:54

looks interesting, I'm going to read that article shortly.

On a general note the public debt and the spectre of failure like Greece is being used to batter people in the UK into accepting cuts as a necessity. It is important to point out that this is false propaganda attempting to make workers pay the cost of the crisis.

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CRUD
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Apr 14 2010 23:38

The workers are funding surplus value in more than one way.

RedHughs
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Apr 16 2010 02:06

It's wrong to say that public debt is always good or always bad for the economy.

For the policy maker controlling the modern economy, its short-term management is a difficult balancing act involving keeping consumers spending, workers working-but-docile-and-low-paid and capitalist profitable or at least not ready to fire you (since the economy's managers work ... for the capitalists).

For short-term analysis, I like some post-Keynesian models like Hyman Minsky but this is not really something where revolutionaries want to go "toe-to-toe" with capitalist prognosticators. Such prediction are a kind of losers game for us. It's better for the working class to fight for it's own interests and not care about the economy. I see the purpose of Marxian theory as illuminating the long-term behavior of, and social relations in the economy. What works in the short-term is opaque - if revolutionaries knew everything about economy, we could finance the revolution from our stock market winnings but that's certainly not going to happen.

And in the long run, the capitalist system is fundamentally unstable and so whatever strategy the capitalists use, things will come crashing down on a regular basis. those strategies which seem to work like magic for a few years years (like lots of debt) tend to be those which later fall to piece dramatically.

mjw101
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Apr 25 2010 19:09

wineandcheese,

thanks for this article, i'm 2/3 of the way through and it seems really good. i have a question, though:

Quote:
Through their credit money states created the inherent necessity for permanent growth, which is used so often to justify any austerity measure, job or wage cut. Because if accumulation does not meet expectations, not only is a particular company endangered in a way that would work to some other company’s advantage, but all money and a national economy dependent on it is at stake.

basically, i just wanted a second opinion on this. i have no doubt that states influenced the need for permanent growth by the mechanism you describe. but isn't growth also necessary because capital has to expand? so that if growth is not achieved then the position of capital will be weakened and unstable? or does this only apply meaningfully at the level of an individual capitalist rather than at the level of an economy?

Klaus
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Apr 27 2010 22:08

The section titled Credit money has the following footnote.

Quote:
The following avails itself of the article Der Staatshaushalt (in German) in GEGENSTANDPUNKT 4-1997.

Incidentally, Ruthless Criticism just translated that text into English:

http://ruthlesscriticism.com/nationalbudget.htm

Klaus
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Apr 27 2010 22:17

Hi mjw101,

maybe it is useful to have a look what this necessity of capital to grow means in more detail.

First of all, it means that a particular capital investment must be lucrative when compared with others. If

(A) capital is liquid (usually this means in money form, on an internal level it also means in a strong currency) and

(B) a particular investment does not have some other qualities which make it attractive such as a high security or promises on exceptional future growth (cf. the dot-com boom where many companies which did not make any profit at all received a lot of investment),

then capital is withdrawn from that particular company (or part of a company etc.) and invested elsewhere. This is the most basic way to understand this necessity (cf. Chapter 3 & 4 of Capital Vol.1).

On top of that, we also have that a capital with sub-standard growth rates might not be able to invest in new technology and thus might loose market shares later on to its competition (cf. Chapter 15 of Capital Vol.1: the production of relative surplus value).

This is modified with the availability of credit since it frees capital from the amount of money already earned. With the availability of credit, current growth rates become one signal among many to banks etc. for the credit worthiness of a company (we attempt to explain this in the "Surface Tension" text on our website).

So far all this is considering individual capitals.This free flow of capital also presupposes that states allow this kind of flow across their borders. If some industries are not competitive with the world market but the state deems them necessary, their failure to accumulate on international level may not necessarily mean that they go bankrupt.

When we consider credit money and its relationship with the national economy all this is amplified and new conditions are added. If the national economy fails to produce the wealth which ought to be commanded by the credit money 'supplied' by the central bank, then this leads to inflation. If this inflation is unexpected then the whole national economy is threatened without a single of its companies failing to accumulate at the normal level. They are not only compared with each other (and foreign companies) but also with the rate anticipated by the 'money supply'.

Furthermore, the growth of the national economy is again a signal for investors to assess the security of both credit money and state bonds. A growing national economy implies more substance in the future the state could tax to service debt (although a lot of debt is serviced using debt by states these days). If this assessment is not positive then again the whole national economy is threatened since its money is threatened without it failing to grow. Again, it is compared to the anticipated growth.

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Apr 29 2010 22:51

Great article. This was also the article that was discussed on the blog of PD so much, am I right?

There is a small typing error in this one sentence; "Mexico’s central bank thus had to buy pesos with dollars to maintain some trust in its currency". That should be, buy dollars with pesos.

Klaus
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May 1 2010 11:01

Hi Noa Rodman,

yes, the article was discussed on the blog of PD:

http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=832

Quote:
There is a small typing error in this one sentence; "Mexico’s central bank thus had to buy pesos with dollars to maintain some trust in its currency". That should be, buy dollars with pesos.

This isn't a typo. The central bank was confronted with the problem that its money was not considered worth holding on to. Investors, merchants etc. wanted to exchange them for dollar. However, finding someone to exchange these peso for dollar is difficult, since nobody wants them. So the central bank buys pesos using its dollar hoard to support the peso. The calculation being, that if it guarantees that it would buy back these pesos investors wouldn't be as reluctant to do business in them (when trading with Mexico etc.)

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Noa Rodman
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May 1 2010 14:34

Okay, that clarifies it for me. What a world we live in.

Yes PD, but could you perhaps move the discussion over here, its a better place to do it IMHO.

B_Reasonable
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May 4 2010 11:16

As suggested, let's move the debate on Principia Dialectica to Libcom. Here are the 28 responses to the Wine & Cheese document from “The German sense of humour may be no laughing matter…” (http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=832)

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1. negative potential Says:
April 17th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Bravo, Principia Dialectica! Finally breaking out of the Postone/Krisis straightjacket!

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2. principiadialectica.co.uk Says:
April 17th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

yeah good innit?

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3. negative potential Says:
April 18th, 2010 at 12:10 pm

FWIW, this is the journal that seems to exert the most influence on Junge Linke:

www.gegenstandpunkt.com

Couple things in English there too. Not all of it is good, but some worth checking out.

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4. principiadialectica.co.uk Says:
April 18th, 2010 at 6:40 pm

The PD editor in chief writes:
Neg Pot did not miss an opportunity to give us his creepy thoughts about the Wine & Cheese Society doc. It is worrying that he likes it. I will reread the Wine and Cheese document when I have it printed. It is better than anything Neg Pot has ever written, that is for sure.

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5. negative potential Says:
April 19th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Actually, I don’t recall giving any thoughts about the Wine & Cheese Society document, “creepy” or otherwise. What I did was praise you for acknowledging groups outside of the constricted matrix of Postone/Krisis, which was always a subsection of a subsection of the form-critical debates in the German left. It was just nice to see you leaving the ghetto; can’t a fellow express good will about that?

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6. AuntieSlovenier Says:
April 19th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Gegenstandpunt? Well, they do have a good point every once in a while, but largely they are just “All evil is the state”, are they not?

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7. negative potential Says:
April 19th, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Yeah, they tend to be quite reductionist in that regard. When it comes to talking about the state itself, one can learn something from them. Problematic is when they start trying to derive every phenomenon of social reality in terms of functionality for the state.

In a way, they’re sort of the flipside of the orthodox Wertkritiker; instead of deriving everything from the value-form, they derive everything from the state-form.

Junge Linke (the network to which the Wine and Cheese people belong too) is not strictly a Gegenstandpunkt group; more like a group that is strongly influenced by Gegenstandpunkt.

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8. Bryn Says:
April 20th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

@Negpot

Thanks for pointing out the influence of Gegenstandpunkt that certainly helps with understanding the bias within the W&C App doc. Whilst it describes in detail the mechanics of the relationships between banks etc, it relegates the forces of capital mostly to the footnotes. Clearly, the judgment of the financial markets, as to an economy’s ability to repay its debt, is the determining factor as to how large a deficit can be serviced. Governments are competing to sell debt against other means of valorization with differing rates of risk/return. For this reason, politicians have to talk about cutting the deficit to give the markets confidence that they recognise this relationship.

Are you comfortable sitting on the fence? It’s a false dichotomy to say that ‘on the one hand’ its Wertkritiker and ‘on the other’ Gegenstandpunkt, and by imply that the wise taoist-communist should navigate the middle-way to the truth. There’s a hierarchy at work here. Sure, the state can support many kinds of social domination but currently the main driver is value. To say otherwise, leads to silly conspiratotial statements like, the one in the document, “…reforms perpetually deal with the question of whether expenditures are really necessary for what they are for; for example, is free dental care really necessary to maintain the working class?”

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9. principiadialectica.co.uk Says:
April 20th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

The Welsh Bureau has identified the achilles heel in the body of the wine and cheese ouevre, it seems

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10. negative potential Says:
April 20th, 2010 at 6:02 pm

“Are you comfortable sitting on the fence?”

I’m comfortable not dividing social reality into “primary” and “secondary” contradictions, which strikes me as quite Maoist, Then again, Robert Kurz does come out of the MLPD. smile Replace “class struggle” with “value”, and voila: “Wertkritik!”

Here’s what I agree with:

“A central recognition of the Marxist discussions of the 1970s was that social contradictions are not processed solely through the value-form, but rather that the political as well as the legal form are also of central relevance. Against a frequent misunderstanding in this debate, it has been pointed out that the political form as well as the legal form are not derived from the “economic form”, and thus subsidiary to it, but rather that these social forms have their foundational cohesion in the reigning social relations of production”.

That’s my quick-and-dirty translation of this here:

[url= www.gruppe-soziale-kaempfe.org/?p=89#more-89] www.gruppe-soziale-kaempfe.org/?p=89#more-89[/url]

The Exit people around Kurz seem to be partially moving away with the “value as primary contradiction” way of thinking by introducing their concept of “Abspaltung” to account for the construction of gender relations, so maybe they’ll eventually get around to reading their Paschukanis and Heide Gerstenberger about the state as well.

Hey, come to think about it, Gerstenberger’s book has been published in English by HM. Something for you guys to check out.

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Quote:
11. Rodman Says:
April 21st, 2010 at 12:49 am

Postone’s LT&SD looks like easy reading compared to Gerstenberger’s 700 page tomb… Do you want to mentally exhaust everybody Neg Pot? You probably did not even read it yourself, so why should I?

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12. Bryn Says:
April 21st, 2010 at 10:35 am

I’m aware that anyone here is suggesting that ’social contradictions’ are ‘processed solely through the value-form’. It seems to be a strawman and perhaps you are looking for a degree of peculiarity in PD’s positions which does not exist - certainly not at a joint level.

Value is important. I’m not suggesting that if value-relations fail that the state collapses like a pack of cards. But conversely, if value-relations are imposed, a state will arise to support it (from within the historical context that preceded it).

The attraction of Postone’s work is that it is based on few assumptions and tracks back to the fundamental characteristics of capitalism identified by Marx, e.g. the commodity-form. It attempts to identify the fundamental dynamics driving capitalism but I don’t think it purports to be a deterministic theory of all social relations within a capitalist society. And, importantly, it seems to have predictive capabilities, certainly compared to orthodox marxism.

Personally, I find theories like Gegenstandpunkt or your ’social forms have their foundational cohesion in the reigning social relations of production’, whilst providing interesting observations, require far too many assumptions to cut it as robust theories. Before I read Gerstenberger’s book, I’d need convincing that his theory was based on reasonable assumptions and gave some useful results. The social sciences are full people dreaming up, and consuming, theories. Crap theories are everywhere. Supposedly dispassionate financial institutions spend millions on trying to predict markets via charting - a method easily shown to be bunkum and, sadly, many critically ill people turn the homeopathy which has been shown to be less effective than a straight placebo. People tend to prefer an explanatory story to accepting an unknown.

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13. principiadialectica.co.uk Says:
April 21st, 2010 at 4:51 pm

As far as Neg Pot’s recommendation for Gerstenberger’s magnus opus…we have been informed from some that feel “it is a rather weak book, much less interesting than some of her early, promising writings. A bit too much like the mainstream historical sociologies of state formation, which she also builds on”
What say you, Neg Pot?

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14. negative potential Says:
April 21st, 2010 at 9:19 pm

“The attraction of Postone’s work is that it is based on few assumptions and tracks back to the fundamental characteristics of capitalism identified by Marx, e.g. the commodity-form.”

It’s good to hear somebody associated with PD stating this so baldly. In other words, what attracts you to Postone’s work isn’t particularly novel. I mean, if you’re just looking for somebody who emphasizes the commodity form, why not Rubin, or Holloway, or Chris Arthur, Albritton, or the zillion other people publishing in English who deal with Marx from this angle (notice I didn’t even list any Germans?) I’ve asked this question about a thousand times of PD, and still haven’t really gotten an answer.

” It attempts to identify the fundamental dynamics driving capitalism but I don’t think it purports to be a deterministic theory of all social relations within a capitalist society.”

But the state is so absolutely fundamental to the functioning of capital. The state sets the parameters for competition (the mechanism underlying value), prints the money, gets things going with primitive accumulation and expropriating the producers, etc. Capitalism without a state is nearly impossible, except for right-wing libertarians. How odd to see purported readers of Marx naturalize capitalist social relations in this way.

“Value is important. I’m not suggesting that if value-relations fail that the state collapses like a pack of cards. But conversely, if value-relations are imposed, a state will arise to support it (from within the historical context that preceded it).”

This gets things ass backwards historically and logically. Even your homeboy Robert Kurz locates the emergence of capitalism in the military expenditures of the Absolutist state (I’m not saying I agree with him on this; I’m far more convinced by Ellen Meiksin Wood’s arguments for capitalism’s origins being in English agriculture). It’s the force of the state that gets the ball rolling by creating the conditions for capital accumulation in the first place. Value is not some natural force like gravity. It’s social existence is coterminous with the existence of the state-form.

“And, importantly, it seems to have predictive capabilities, certainly compared to orthodox marxism.”

This is an intriguing statement. What “predictive capabilities” do you see in Postone’s work? Postone’s book is basically a work of Marx philology. I might go along with you if you’re basically saying “Postone” while meaning “Marx”, but Postone’s work itself really has very little empirical content.

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Quote:
15. Bryn Says:
April 23rd, 2010 at 3:06 am

@-ve Postone being novel isn’t an issue - after all TL&SD only purports to be a reinterpretation of Marx. If you reached the same conclusions eons ago, good for you. Supporting value theory isn’t a straitjacket but an attempt understand capitalist society’s important categories. Please don’t confuse focus on priorities with narrowness of vision. PD aren’t stupid, they know capitalist society is a totality but aren’t satisfied with simply contemplating it with bloated theories which attempt to understand everything but explain nothing. Take the Cheese and Wine doc - it’s like they’ve described the detailed workings of a clock without learning to tell the time.

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Quote:
16. negative potential Says:
April 24th, 2010 at 10:35 pm

“Supporting value theory isn’t a straitjacket but an attempt understand capitalist society’s important categories.”

Correction: it’s an attempt to understand *one of* capitalist society’s important categories.

“Take the Cheese and Wine doc - it’s like they’ve described the detailed workings of a clock without learning to tell the time.”

Cute metaphors might make for punchy ad copy, but it would be nice if you’d actually engage in some substantive critique of the Cheese and Wine doc, i.e. say exactly what’s wrong with it, in detail.

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17. Bryn Says:
April 25th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

@-ve You seem to have missed the main point of my original post (which I tried to reinforce later with a “cute metaphor”): the C&WAS doc’s detail on the precise workings of the state is at the expense of the important overall factors (’the forces of capital’). The detailed critique, you call for, is inappropriate because that would imply that the principal failings in the document arise from its details which they don’t.

The C&WAS may have misrepresented the precise interactions between one or another of the bureaucracies within the state and you might want to argue that the workings and culture of those bureaucracies should be understood in the context of the development of English agriculture and the military expenditure of the Absolutist state. This kind of investigation seems pointless and to leave unchallenged the false methodology that more detailed facts necessarily lead to better theories. As that German writer (of punchy advertising copy, no doubt), Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

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18. negative potential Says:
April 25th, 2010 at 5:32 pm

“the C&WAS doc’s detail on the precise workings of the state is at the expense of the important overall factors”

It’s not a general account of the financial crisis, but rather an account of how public debt functions with regard to the state.

Surprise, surprise! In a document *about* the state, they actually write *about* the state!

“you might want to argue that the workings and culture of those bureaucracies should be understood in the context of the development of English agriculture and the military expenditure of the Absolutist state”

Sometimes I wonder whether PD is actually engaging in cynical, intentional misrepresentation of other people’s arguments. I never argued that English agriculture or the military expenditure of the Absolutist state were important within the context of the Wine and Cheese document. Rather, I named them as examples for the primacy of the role of the state in setting capital rolling, historically, as a response to your typically Maoist assertion of value being the “primary contradiction”.

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19. Klaus Says:
April 25th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

> Governments are competing to sell debt against other means of valorization with differing rates > of risk/return. For this reason, politicians have to talk about cutting the deficit to give the
> markets confidence that they recognise this relationship.

I don’t see how you are disagreeing with the text here: “The recognition of a currency based on decree only reaches as far as the grip of the state. Towards foreign public and private investors the state has to make its money palatable through economic means instead of decree. The acceptance of national banknotes is based on the state’s establishment of an economic interest with foreign investors.”

> To say otherwise, leads to silly conspiratotial statements like, the one in the document, “…
> reforms perpetually deal with the question of whether expenditures are really necessary for what
> they are for; for example, is free dental care really necessary to maintain the working class?”

I do not understand how the quoted sentence is consipratotial? Politicians argue all day long whether a certain scheme is necessary and pressing enough compared to other tasks. It is a real contradiction they are faced with.

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20. Bryn Says:
April 26th, 2010 at 9:35 pm

@Klaus In virtually any contemporary capitalist society I think my statement describes the underlying factor that is determining the call for deficit cutting. The doc’s statements you quote, describe the mechanics of how states manage their currencies but it is neither fundamental nor universal. For instance, “The recognition of a currency based on decree only reaches as far as the grip of the state.”, this implies that within its borders a state will impose its currency by decree. But, for example, in Belarus, executive jobs are often part paid in US Dollars, smuggled in from the Baltic states. This arrangement is encouraged by the Belarusian state to help with foreign currency reserves. This means that state imposition of the currency by decree is actually (if it has any practical meaning) to the limits imposed by the state’s primary objective of facilitating a capitalist economy, i.e. one driven by capital and value. The Belarusian state has a strong grip over its people but not over the currencies used. Or take the statement, “Towards foreign public and private investors the state has to make its money palatable through economic means instead of decree.” Many countries have dollarized economies, officially or unofficially, which means they cannot make their own currencies palatable to their own ‘public and private investors’. Again, capital’s imperatives tend to predominate. And finally, “The acceptance of national banknotes is based on the state’s establishment of an economic interest with foreign investors.” No it isn’t, I exchange (probably US Dollars) with someone holding Belorusian Roubles and then pay for the Belorusian for their tractor in their own currency. States may have economic interests with foreign investors (which may bolster confidence in the currency etc) but it doesn’t affect the basic process of commodity exchange.

Of course, “Politicians argue all day long whether a certain scheme is necessary and pressing enough compared to other tasks.” but they don’t do it in the terms of vanguardist’s wet-dreams (well, perhaps they do in Cuba). But the document is ostensibly about the UK, and the UK state does not see its role (certainly not recently) as ‘maintaining working the class’. If the working class - particularly the tax-devouring non-working ones - became successful little capitalists that would fulfill the Thatcherite ideal that underpins UK mainstream political opinion. The problem with the C&WAS type of analysis is that it purports to be a ‘deep’ analysis of the state but really it is just detailing the minutiae of the workings as a way of justifying a notion that the state is primarily serving the needs of (one or more) elites. When Aneurin Bevan said: “The collective principle asserts that… no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.” and was at the same time wielding a lot of state power, he was not being disingenuous, and really doing it to maintain the working class. That’s not to say that there aren’t self-interested elites who lie, and some of them are part of the state, but it has to be kept in perspective. The NHS represents a 8% of the UK’s GDP and is nearly one quarter of state expenditure. It’s an integral part of the capitalist economy and it is maintained by a genuine belief in social welfare which is also shared by much of the UK population. When politicians cut health services they face a genuine contention between pleasing the voters, and lobbying from business interests, that want lower public spending and other voters, and health unions, who want better services. It’s the voters who waver between these two positions, or hold them both at the same time, who are the key to UK electoral power.

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21. Bryn Says:
April 27th, 2010 at 12:57 am

@-ve Yes, the C&WPS document is about public debt and the state, but the public are people living in a capitalist society and the debt is being sold on the capitalist free market so its biased in it’s critique because it doesn’t put the issues in the context of the fundamental categories of capitalism. Yes, I know, people who get off the fence make some decisions about what’s important, and what isn’t, are Maoists yada yada yada.

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22. negative potential Says:
April 27th, 2010 at 7:41 am

When I write a recipe for a chocolate cake, I don’t engage in disquisitions on the fundamental laws of physics, even though of course the laws of physics in some sense are “essential” to baking a cake, they really do exist at an entirely different level of abstraction.

As for making decisions about what’s important, of course. As it happens, social life in modern societies is mediated by a variety of objective forms. Capital and the state are mutually presupposing; no capital without the state, no state without capital.

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23. Klaus Says:
April 27th, 2010 at 10:37 am

@Bryn It seems to me you make contradictory assumptions in the two parts of your reply. In the first part you use Belarus as an example, a state which does not have a national economy to speak of (as far as I can see). In the second part of your reply you write - correctly - “but the document is ostensibly about the UK”, a state not only with national capital but also national capital which is successful on an internal level.

In particular, your counter examples do not seem to be fitting since you chose states with limited power which have their actions to a large extend dictated by the WTO, G8, IMF or however you want to describe the most successful nations (e.g. Belarus was dropped from some preferred treatment agreement with the EU for political reasons) These states are indeed very dependent. Not only on national capital and value but on the fore-mentioned states and capital (mainly) from these states. These states do not set the rules of international trade, they obey them. States like the USA, the UK or China are in a different position and can (and do) limit the flow of capital according to their agendas (free trade agreements, trade wars between EU and USA, China limiting the flow of capital in and out etc.)

A similar (but with inverted sides) contradiction seems to be present between the two parts when it comes to “the state’s primary objective”. About Belarus you write that this objective is “facilitating a capitalist economy” while for the UK you deny this as a primary objective when considering health care. That is, you claim that health care is provided due to a “genuine believe” and “pleasing the voters”. I hope I have summarised you correctly.

From a general perspective, one can look at the relationship between capital and state from either side. On the one hand, value does require private property and an enforcement of contracts etc. Thus the state is presupposed when talking about value. On the other hand, if a state uses capital for its power it is required to obey its laws. Put differently, capital is a means which requires to permanently make it one’s end; it is a means which requires subordination; requires to be an end in itself.

Thus, you are right that there are limits to what a state can do by decree — if it wants to use capital as a means for its own power. This does (a) not change the fact that it does issue these decrees expecting its citizens to obey them (the Sterling is legal tender in England and subjects have to accept them for debt payment, the state collects taxes in its own currency) and (b) that in fact value, money and capital require this outside force to (re-)enforce their conditions. Marx already talks about this in Chapter 3 even for gold money.

As for the health care bit in particular, I’m not quite sure if I understand correctly. Are you suggesting that state regulation of exploitation is not a necessity for a capitalist economy? (this is an honest question, not an accusation of some sort). The form in which this is reflected in the minds of politicians and voters is that they ponder whether “we” can afford the “challenges” facing the NHS. Clearly, the decision was that some dental services should no longer be covered, i.e. their perceived service did not compare to the burden they put on the economy. A quite similar example would be the limit of the working day (and mandatory school education) as described in Chapter 10. Here too both politicians and voters had many ideals about why they needed to limit the working day, which does not change what this limit did objectively.

I do not follow your opposition of “genuin believe” and objectively “maintaining the working class”; they are the same thing; politicians and voters alike genuinly believe that people need jobs such that “our” national economy can grow. They genuinly believe in their service to the people in making sure as good as they can that jobs are created through successful accumulation. They are maintaining the working class because they genuinely believe this is the best of all possible worlds.

I do not see how any text on the website linked above is “detailing the minutiae of the workings as a way of justifying a notion that the state is primarily serving the needs of (one or more) elites.” In fact, the group writes: “The kind of anti-capitalism, which suspects evil parasites behind everything and conspiracies everywhere, will not be found in our texts; however, arguments against this rubbish will be.” (www.junge-linke.org/en/about-us) Of course, just because they say so is not sufficient, but I also couldn’t find a statement which would justify your claim.

The statement “If the working class - particularly the tax-devouring non-working ones - became successful little capitalists that would fulfill the Thatcherite ideal that underpins UK mainstream political opinion.” again makes me wonder how to understand it, since your references to capital and value seem to indicated that you follow Marx’ critique of such an idea (Chapter 4ff.).

PS: Sorry, if that’s a bit short, I didn’t want to write too much due to the format (comment in a blog).

.

Quote:
24. Bryn Says:
April 29th, 2010 at 11:39 pm

@NegPot

“When I write a recipe for a chocolate cake, I don’t engage in disquisitions on the fundamental laws of physics, even though of course the laws of physics in some sense are “essential” to baking a cake, they really do exist at an entirely different level of abstraction.”

An understanding physics probably isn’t necessary for writing a recipe for chocolate cake that will give repeatedly good results in your kitchen with your present oven. However, if you want to raise your recipe to the level of a more useful theory, i.e. it will help other people make chocolate cake in their kitchens with their ovens, then you should include the effects of the changing key physical factors which might include, altitude, the oven’s thermal mass and heat gradient characteristics. Of course, you could flounder around, and test every combination of variables you could think of - dragging ovens of different sizes and type up and down mountains. Or, you could employ a disquisition (to whatever fundamental level seemed necessary) on physics’ ‘laws’ (i.e. theories) and identify the probable key variables and the predicted law-like relationships and then test those, and get probably a more robust recipe with less effort.

I think the problem might lie in your faith in the concept of abstractions - that it is possible to make (often very useful) generalisations and then go on to ignore the underlying facts because they are at “an entirely different level of abstraction”. You also seem to think it is justifiable to have different epistemologies for social life, physical phenomena or chocolate cake, and this is probably partly because you are putting too much faith in the ‘truth’ of ‘natural laws’. For instance, you earlier said: “Value is not some natural force like gravity.” Well, gravity isn’t a natural force like gravity either. When described as a force (Newtonian mechanics) its got the slightly worrying metaphysical-like qualities of acting instantaneously at a distance, i.e. there is not obvious mechanical causality to explain it. Later, Einstein predicted the inconsistencies in the ‘natural force’ theory of gravity and came up with a better one (general theory of relativity) which also introduced some idea for causality.

“As for making decisions about what’s important, of course. As it happens, social life in modern societies is mediated by a variety of objective forms.”

Consequently, here’s where I think the key difference lies - in our ‘theory of theories’ of social life. I think social life consists of social relations driven by each individual’s self-perceived material needs, expectations, personal-ideology etc. and (based on this personal psychology) reactions to the social actions of others - be they individual or through institutions. These social relations, and the ideas that support them, can be usefully classified under various labels, e.g. ‘capital’, ’state’, so that we can better understand the dynamics of society in the belief that a better understanding will help in overcoming captialism. However, there appears to be no epistemological justification, or evidence, for regarding these objective forms as having any independent existence. For instance, a commodity relation shouldn’t be regarded as an instance of a existing underlying structural entity, called the commodity-form. It is simply a social relation which has the characteristics so it can be classified as such. The reason for doing this being that such social relations have a certain ubiquity within capitalism and are highly predictive of other similarly classifiable social relations, e.g. abstract labour. What you appear to be doing is abstracting these classifiers and then treating them as if they have an independent existence.

“Capital and the state are mutually presupposing; no capital without the state, no state without capital.”

This seems, for the most part, a tautology because your classification here is capital/the state/other social relations. And your definition of the state is the social relations, other than those classified under capital, which seem to be necessary to start and perpetuate capitalism. As a classification that’s fine but the problem is when this classification is turned into an entity which ‘does’ this or that. It’s an over-simplification which leads to a contradictory statements because while many social relations, classified under the state, actively support the social relations classified as capital (e.g. enforcing property rights), many are driven by other factors, such as social welfare, which whilst not undermining the fundamental social relations of capitalism aren’t necessarily supporting them either. I’m in no way suggesting that any social relations, that could be classified as state, have any emancipatory potential but I am arguing against a singular view which in effect inverts capitalism’s ideology ‘the best of all possible worlds’ to the state having some kind of volition towards ‘the worst of all possible worlds’, i.e. the state finds the best solution for the perpetuation of capitalism. It’s easy to fall into this postmodern fatalism but it in effect leads to a fetishization of the state.

@Klaus

Sorry, I didn’t fully think through that the document, and the statements you later asked me to comment on, as only relating to the UK. It is interesting that you define “states with limited power” in terms of their international economic independence but I don’t see how that makes a fundamental difference to how capitalism operates within their borders. When the UK had to take a loan from the IMF, deep cuts were made in public services. Now the UK is trying to maintain its credit rating, so bond yields don’t go up etc and thus avoid going to the IMF, but we are still facing deep cuts in public services. I understand that the actions of economically independent states could effect the speed and geographical development of capitalism. For example, if the Chinese had been forced to float the Yuan, that might have decreased their growth rate, and US import restrictions on steel etc. probably hastened the decline in European production capacity but it just amounts to jobs not being lost in one place and not being created in another.

“A similar (but with inverted sides) contradiction seems to be present between the two parts when it comes to “the state’s primary objective”. About Belarus you write that this objective is “facilitating a capitalist economy” while for the UK you deny this as a primary objective when considering health care. That is, you claim that health care is provided due to a “genuine believe” and “pleasing the voters”. I hope I have summarised you correctly.”

Following on from my above reply to NegPot, I don’t see that the state should necessarily be treated a singular entity with a singular will so from that perspective there doesn’t have to be any contradictions. My assertion about Belarus’s objectives comes from my conversations with people who have dealt with the government there and undertaken currency smuggling. As for the UK, I was making the point that just because post hoc it is possible ascribe the result of state action as say ‘helping to regulate capitalist exploitation’ - as you call it, ‘objectively’ then that doesn’t necessarily mean that there was any volition on the part of anyone to specifically meet that objective. Furthermore, the result may have been far short of best action to fulfill that objective. For example, let’s take the Obama healthcare reforms, whatever had happened it would be possible to say that ‘objectively’ the state had supported capitalism:

Scenario 1: Healthcare reforms had failed completely => state supported capitalism by keeping down social costs, and thus wages to meet challenge of increasing competition from other low-wage economies.

Scenario 2: Healthcare reforms similar to UK NHS => state supported capitalism by recognising need to maintain working class and thus ensure the reproduction of capitalism within its borders due to the need to increase the productive capacity of workers in the face of competition from low-wage economies.

Scenario 3: Healthcare reforms as they turned out => stated supported capitalism by extending the health-profit system to the poorest member of US society under the guise of increased social welfare.

Regardless of what the state does, capitalism kind of wins every time because its basic tenets are never challenged. Furthermore, talking about the US state ‘doing’ this or that, as a singular entity, is an unjustified over-simplification given the huge splits that occurred in the US political establishment over the issue.

As to your question: “Are you suggesting that state regulation of exploitation is not a necessity for a capitalist economy?”

There is an ideology which for the most part supports the workings of basic social relations of capitalism, e.g. abstract labour, but ultimately there always seems to be some system of authority to enforce the ‘laws of value’. However, these systems can vary widely in character between say that of a drugs gang in a Rio de Janeiro and a worker’s co-op in Sweden. I have no particular objection to labeling all these systems states. Clearly, nation-states have developed/adapted to support the capitalist mode of production. However, I’m always surprised how one supposed essential element of the state in one country isn’t necessarily there in another. For instance, people from the US are often surprised that there is no pledging allegiance to the flag or teaching of Civics in the UK - what keeps Britain together?

“Clearly, the decision was that some dental services should no longer be covered, i.e. their perceived service did not compare to the burden they put on the economy.”

I think you are seeing the state far too much as a monolithic and rational entity. Today there was a report of a lobby by top healthcare professionals to use the move for cut costs as a way to rationalise services so that they can be improved for patients by circumventing the Nimbys who want to keep local hospitals open.

“A quite similar example would be the limit of the working day (and mandatory school education) as described in Chapter 10. Here too both politicians and voters had many ideals about why they needed to limit the working day, which does not change what this limit did objectively.”

I’m not seeing how these points support the singular importance of the nation-state in supporting capitalism. For the most part, the limits on the working day, er, limited the working day. The capitalists felt exploited by the state’s regulations and used their influence to circumvent them but they were still in breach of the law:

“But what was the good of summoning the capitalists when the Courts in this case the country magistrates — Cobbett’s “Great Unpaid” — acquitted them? In these tribunals, the masters sat in judgment on themselves An example. One Eskrigge, cotton-spinner, of the firm of Kershaw, Leese, & Co., had laid before the Factory Inspector of his district the scheme of a relay system intended for his mill. Receiving a refusal, he at first kept quiet. A few months later, an individual named Robinson, also a cotton-spinner, and if not his Man Friday, at all events related to Eskrigge, appeared before the borough magistrates of Stockport on a charge of introducing the identical plan of relays invented by Eskrigge. Four Justices sat, among them three cottonspinners, at their head this same inevitable Eskrigge. Eskrigge acquitted Robinson, and now was of opinion that what was right for Robinson was fair for Eskrigge. Supported by his own legal decision, he introduced the system at once into his own factory. [122] Of course, the composition of this tribunal was in itself a violation of the law.” Capital Vol1 Ch10

“I do not follow your opposition of “genuine belief” and objectively “maintaining the working class”; they are the same thing; politicians and voters alike genuinly believe that people need jobs such that “our” national economy can grow. They genuinly believe in their service to the people in making sure as good as they can that jobs are created through successful accumulation. They are maintaining the working class because they genuinely believe this is the best of all possible worlds.”

I think you’re overestimating the unity of purpose and identification with national interests by both politicians and voters, certainly in the UK. Many politicians (especially Tory) have no genuine concern for creating jobs and wholly identify with the interests of traditional British capitalists which means they want to put their money wherever it will get the greatest returns. Also, a sizeable proportion of voters saw the mid-decade economic growth in the negative terms of rising house prices and immigration. Despite 21% [8M] of the working population being economically inactive (Jan 2010) and 11% unemployed or claimants., there is little genuine debate in the UK about ‘maintaining the working class’ or how it might be in “our” interest.

“I do not see how any text on the website linked above is ‘detailing the minutiae of the workings as a way of justifying a notion that the state is primarily serving the needs of (one or more) elites.’”

Point taken. I guess I was trying to rationalise why such a view of the state would be adopted.

“The statement “If the working class - particularly the tax-devouring non-working ones - became successful little capitalists that would fulfill the Thatcherite ideal that underpins UK mainstream political opinion.” again makes me wonder how to understand it, since your references to capital and value seem to indicated that you follow Marx’ critique of such an idea (Chapter 4ff.).”

The politicians who support capitalism don’t necessarily understand it or have policies which act in the nation’s capitalists’ best interests. If they did, then they would (as you are alluding) recognise the need for a plentiful source of suitably skilled workers from whom capitalists could extract lots of surplus value. I think your model of the state assumes this understanding and a belief in national interests to go along with it. I’m not saying that there aren’t some states that work pretty much in this way, e.g. Singapore, but, using the UK as an example, this kind of state is not a necessity for capitalism to continue.

.

Quote:
25. negative potential Says:
May 1st, 2010 at 10:26 am

“However, there appears to be no epistemological justification, or evidence, for regarding these objective forms as having any independent existence.”

Wow, I actually agree with you here.

However, if you really mean what you say, I wonder even more why you belong to a group that egregiously (and intentionally?) misrepresents what Marx meant by the phrase “automatic subject”.

.

Quote:
26. Bryn Says:
May 3rd, 2010 at 3:42 pm

@NegPot Now value theory is gaining some traction, it might be good if someone definitively showed that Marx actually had a superficial understanding of capitalism - although it looks highly unlikely. I suspect his supposed omnipotence is hampering people from adopting and developing these ideas, and expressing them in a language accessible to non-specialists. Instead of the Wine & Cheese’s fetishization of the nation-state, if you are looking for something fundamental to go along with value theory you might usefully consider authoritarianism. Then you might realise that reasoning based on appeals to the authority of ‘what Marx meant’ is simply a process of reinforcing whatever ideology employs it whilst at the same time not having to justify it with real-world examples.

.

Quote:
27. negative potential Says:
May 3rd, 2010 at 10:01 pm

“What Marx really meant” is pretty irrelevant to the point I was making, which was solely about your stating that “there appears to be no epistemological justification, or evidence, for regarding these objective forms as having any independent existence” (which is correct, BTW) while at the same time belonging to a group that mouths the phrase “automatic subject” like a mantra.

The fact that PD use the phrase “automatic subject” in a sense different from Marx’s own is actually of no concern to my main point, which is that in the sense that PD *does* use the term, it involves precisely the assumption that “objective forms” have an “independent existence”.

As for “value theory” gaining traction, well, “value theory” is pretty broad, encompassing everyone from John Holloway to Chris Arthur to Moishe Postone to Michael Heinrich to Jannis Milios to Ingo Elbe to Robert Albritton, etc. etc. etc.

My discouraging experience in trying to engage PD suggests that they (i.e. you) aren’t interested in value theory as such, but only the fairly narrow Krisis/Exit sects from Germany, plus Postone.

.

Quote:
28. Klaus Says:
May 4th, 2010 at 12:52 am

Hi Bryn,

you write: “It is interesting that you define ’states with limited power’ in terms of their international economic independence but I don’t see how that makes a fundamental difference to how capitalism operates within their borders. ”

The limited economic independence of states with limited power is an expression of the fact these states are confronted with other states who do have considerable economic independence and use that independence to (attempt to) dictate other states their agendas. These poor states exercise a lot of power over their subjects, they use brute-force, have secret police forces, big military spending etc. They spend a lot of resources on actively suppressing their subjects. However, this immense mobilisation of brute-force shows that they cannot mobilise the basis of their power (their people and their national wealth) as e.g. the UK can. In particular, they cannot found an interest with the subjects in their domination. Or put differently, the fact that they need to have such a strong secret police etc. shows how fragile their grip is (or to be precise: how fragile they perceive their grip) Of course, the grip experienced by the subjects is often much stronger than in Western states (or however you want to call those). I’d say that most of these states with limited power do not have a proper national accumulation of capital (I can expand on that if that’s too abstract).

Furthermore, you write: “When the UK had to take a loan from the IMF, deep cuts were made in public services. Now the UK is trying to maintain its credit rating, so bond yields don’t go up etc and thus avoid going to the IMF, but we are still facing deep cuts in public services.”

The IMF - which grants political credit - is an indication which confirms the relationship between capital and the state I summarised before. States want to make use of capital, but if you want to make capital your means it has to be your end perpetually (*). The IMF was founded such that no nation drops out of the world market completely, the most powerful nation-states want to prevent completely failed states and states which switch over to the other camp (when the SU was still around). For their political project they grant credit where capitalists wouldn’t. The suspend market forces (in the form of market forces: credit!) for their political agenda.

* To avoid a misunderstanding: Any means requires to make it one’s end temporarily, for some time. If I want to eat bread I have to make the seeding of crops my purpose for some time. I also have to act in accordance with the laws of nature. Capital as a means requires to make it one’s end perpetually which includes obeying its laws perpetually.

Similarly, the UK wants to stay on the world market and wants to maintain capital and value within its borders. It wants to make those means for its aims, which implies to play according to the rules of capital (bond yields going up etc.) These rules are real, I didn’t mean to deny that and in the sections “Inflation” and “International Reflection” the W&C text also talks how nation-states have to deal with the consequences of their debt. Of course, it is conceivable that at some point the state’s power does not suffice any more to force its subjects to accept its money. But that doesn’t cancel the fact that the state does make its money accepted by decree. The claim is not to say that state’s are gods who can do as they please.

However, it seems the key point in our disagreement is this: “I think you are seeing the state far too much as a monolithic and rational entity.” As example you give three possible outcomes of the US healthcare reform none of which would make or would have made capitalism loose (there are examples of state actions where the exchange relation is suspended in the national interest, the most striking being war economies)

Thus, you give an example where all sides of the debate agreed that the “basic tenets” of capitalism should not be challenged. Similarly, in those debates the tenets of the nation-state are never challenged. In a heated debate they agreed on what is to remain unchallenged as a monolith (or in unity). Through their disagreement and the limits of their disagreement they express the unity of the state.

Another example is given in the public debt text: “To both questions - in which form to raise taxes and what to spend them on - there is no a priori right answer; only afterwards one can see whether the cutting of a certain scheme was harmful or not. Furthermore, whether a certain scheme is beneficial or not may depend on the point of view. Increased utilisation of solar energy increases independence from oil exporting countries but may harm that part of the national economy which deals in oil. Thus, the questions of how, how much and for what purpose to raise taxes provide endless material for competition among parties.”

A third example, where not all parties do agree on what’s best, would be national legislations to limit climate change, to preserve the environment etc. Any advance in that direction by one country would put limitations on the growth of its national economy. Even green parties (most of them having started off as the advocates of the environment no matter what) become electable once they appreciate that their green revolution must happen in a way which does not present too big of an obstacle to capitalist growth. In Germany the Green party did learn its lesson and implemented the exit from nuclear energy in compromise with the national electricity companies.

The claim is not that each and every politician instantly has the insight, will and power to follow what is in the states interest and that whatever deviates from that would contradict said interest.

The claim is
(a) that they think about what would be best for the nation (I understand that we disagree about that, see below) and
(b) that in their competition for political power etc. the general principles of the state become visible.

In the text on election, we only talk about elections as a means to keep private interests out of office. But it is actually more, it is also a means to verify that some politician’s idea of general public interest actually expresses that interest. Similarly, the separation of powers (legislative branch, executive branch, judiciary branch) and institutions like constitutions, unchangeable laws etc. ensure and express that the state is not identical with some political party; all these checks and balances protect the state against some particular idea of the constitution of the state, so to speak.

So the monolith block state is expressed through the division of its personnel. Thus, I do not actually disagree on: “As for the UK, I was making the point that just because post hoc it is possible ascribe the result of state action as say ‘helping to regulate capitalist exploitation’ - as you call it, ‘objectively’ then that doesn’t necessarily mean that there was any volition on the part of anyone to specifically meet that objective. Furthermore, the result may have been far short of best action to fulfil that objective.”

As for the lack of identification with the nation. I acknowledge that there might be some Tories etc. who do not have the general public interest at heart, who consider office a means to advance their business etc. not business as such. The mechanisms mentioned above also work to keep those attempts in check. Through elections etc. generally only those remain in power who make the general public interest their interest (cf. Section 4 in the election text) Btw. we are working on an article on nationalism which might be a good starting point to discuss further what we mean when we say that voters do identify with national interests.

PS: At www.libcom.org/forums/theory/public-debt-makes-state-go-round-13042010 I was asked to move this discussion to libcom. Feel free to reply there if you think it’s a good idea, I didn’t want to impose.

PPS: I realise that it doesn’t fly so well to suggest literature to someone else. I also acknowledge that I wouldn’t jump to read some book somebody on the web suggested to me. Regardless “The Democratic State - Critique of Bourgeois Sovereignty” available at www.gegenstandpunkt.com/english/state/toc.html is what most my arguments on the state are based on.

.

B_Reasonable
Offline
Joined: 6-02-09
May 4 2010 14:03

[aka 'Bryn' on PD]

Negative Potential wrote:
“What Marx really meant” is pretty irrelevant to the point I was making, which was solely about your stating that “there appears to be no epistemological justification, or evidence, for regarding these objective forms as having any independent existence” (which is correct, BTW) while at the same time belonging to a group that mouths the phrase “automatic subject” like a mantra.

The fact that PD use the phrase “automatic subject” in a sense different from Marx’s own is actually of no concern to my main point, which is that in the sense that PD *does* use the term, it involves precisely the assumption that “objective forms” have an “independent existence”.

As for “value theory” gaining traction, well, “value theory” is pretty broad, encompassing everyone from John Holloway to Chris Arthur to Moishe Postone to Michael Heinrich to Jannis Milios to Ingo Elbe to Robert Albritton, etc. etc. etc.

My discouraging experience in trying to engage PD suggests that they (i.e. you) aren’t interested in value theory as such, but only the fairly narrow Krisis/Exit sects from Germany, plus Postone.

Due to the carry-overs from Marx's own usage and the hegelian-based language of subsequent writers, discussions about the 'automatic subject' don't always preclude its interpretation as an objective form with an independent existence. But can you find any examples from PD where that interpretation is necessary for the piece to retain its meaning?

As you know, PD has encouraged you to translate the works you feel would be of benefit to a wider audience. Again, don't confuse focus with narrowness of vision. If you have something specific to say - great - but simply reeling off a list of authors just makes you appear as some kind of marxian accountant who knows the price of every theory but the critical value of none.

Angelus Novus
Offline
Joined: 27-07-06
May 4 2010 14:36
B_Reasonable wrote:
Due to the carry-overs from Marx's own usage and the hegelian-based language of subsequent writers, discussions about the 'automatic subject' don't always preclude its interpretation as an objective form with an independent existence. But can you find any examples from PD where that interpretation is necessary for the piece to retain its meaning.

Would I be correct in assuming that PD's usage is the same as Robert Kurz's in his essay "Subjektloser Herrschaft"? (Rule Without a Subject) If so, then then it involves precisely that assumption.

Without that assumption, then all the various polemical sideswipes at groups like Aufheben make absolutely no sense, and can only be attributed to the narcissism of small differences, i.e. PD trying to stake out a claim of market share in the bazaar of tiny left groups.

Quote:
As you know, PD has encouraged you to translate the works you feel would be of benefit to a wider audience.

Rather disingenuous, as I've already translated quite a bit.

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2008/heinrich090608.html

http://www.oekonomiekritik.de/205Invaders.htm

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2007/heinrich220607.html

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2007/heinrich280707.html

http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2007/heinrich220607.html

Etc.

I don't recall PD ever engaging any of that. Rather disappointing, especially since Heinrich formulates some rather trenchant critique of the Krisis/Exit school of "Zusammenbruchstheorie", which PD seems to have uncritically adopted. To Postone's credit, he doesn't seem to think along those lines, though you'd never get the impression from reading PD texts that he differs from Kurz, Trenkle et al in this regard.

B_Reasonable
Offline
Joined: 6-02-09
May 4 2010 21:25
Klaus wrote:
B_Reasonable wrote:
It is interesting that you define ’states with limited power’ in terms of their international economic independence but I don’t see how that makes a fundamental difference to how capitalism operates within their borders.

The limited economic independence of states with limited power is an expression of the fact these states are confronted with other states who do have considerable economic independence and use that independence to (attempt to) dictate other states their agendas. These poor states exercise a lot of power over their subjects, they use brute-force, have secret police forces, big military spending etc. They spend a lot of resources on actively suppressing their subjects. However, this immense mobilisation of brute-force shows that they cannot mobilise the basis of their power (their people and their national wealth) as e.g. the UK can. In particular, they cannot found an interest with the subjects in their domination. Or put differently, the fact that they need to have such a strong secret police etc. shows how fragile their grip is (or to be precise: how fragile they perceive their grip) Of course, the grip experienced by the subjects is often much stronger than in Western states (or however you want to call those). I’d say that most of these states with limited power do not have a proper national accumulation of capital (I can expand on that if that’s too abstract).

Accepting that most people (due to alienation) believe that statist measures are needed when capitalism goes into crisis, e.g. high unemployment, isn't what you are describing simply this process? There need is no need for it to be driven by inter-state economic competition and the nation-state self-consciousness.

Klaus wrote:
B_Reasonable wrote:
“When the UK had to take a loan from the IMF, deep cuts were made in public services. Now the UK is trying to maintain its credit rating, so bond yields don’t go up etc and thus avoid going to the IMF, but we are still facing deep cuts in public services.

The IMF - which grants political credit - is an indication which confirms the relationship between capital and the state I summarised before. States want to make use of capital, but if you want to make capital your means it has to be your end perpetually (*). The IMF was founded such that no nation drops out of the world market completely, the most powerful nation-states want to prevent completely failed states and states which switch over to the other camp (when the SU was still around). For their political project they grant credit where capitalists wouldn’t. The suspend market forces (in the form of market forces: credit!) for their political agenda.

The IMF was created to try to minimise capitalist crises and protect international market mechanisms. It's a capitalist intervention into the workings of a nation-state, to keep capitalism functioning overall and keep a nation-state functioning in a capitalist manner. Capitalism (free market or otherwise) isn't self-sustaining - the IMF, banking bailouts etc have to be developed by states to try to keep it functioning. However, my point is, that whether the fix is provided by the market (e.g. bonds), or state-instituted bailout (e.g. IMF) the net effect on people is the same.

Klaus wrote:
* To avoid a misunderstanding: Any means requires to make it one’s end temporarily, for some time. If I want to eat bread I have to make the seeding of crops my purpose for some time. I also have to act in accordance with the laws of nature. Capital as a means requires to make it one’s end perpetually which includes obeying its laws perpetually.

My reading of this is that a state can choose to use 'capital as a means' - or not, presumably.? How would a state make this choice (given your later point that:"the monolith block state is expressed through the division of its personnel") and can you give examples of states that chose not to use capital as a means?

Klaus wrote:
However, it seems the key point in our disagreement is this: “I think you are seeing the state far too much as a monolithic and rational entity.” As example you give three possible outcomes of the US healthcare reform none of which would make or would have made capitalism loose (there are examples of state actions where the exchange relation is suspended in the national interest, the most striking being war economies)

In WWII, there were different restrictions on trade etc reflecting the war objectives but fundamentally capitalism was unaffected - wage-labour continued, war-supplies were bought with money, companies made profits, workers went on strike etc.

Klaus wrote:
Thus, you give an example where all sides of the debate agreed that the “basic tenets” of capitalism should not be challenged. Similarly, in those debates the tenets of the nation-state are never challenged. In a heated debate they agreed on what is to remain unchallenged as a monolith (or in unity). Through their disagreement and the limits of their disagreement they express the unity of the state.

Good, we've established that for the most part the state doesn't alter the basic tenets of capitalism. I'm not arguing that the basic tenets of the nation-state get challenged often either but I do question your assumptions about the scope and generality of those tenets. Further, the tenets of the state can alter if capitalism is in crisis, and that you are mis-attributing the cause to loss of inter-state economic competitiveness when this is in fact one of the effects of capitalism failing within a state.

Klaus wrote:
Another example is given in the public debt text: “To both questions - in which form to raise taxes and what to spend them on - there is no a priori right answer; only afterwards one can see whether the cutting of a certain scheme was harmful or not. Furthermore, whether a certain scheme is beneficial or not may depend on the point of view. Increased utilisation of solar energy increases independence from oil exporting countries but may harm that part of the national economy which deals in oil. Thus, the questions of how, how much and for what purpose to raise taxes provide endless material for competition among parties.

This time, your overly-rational expectations of the state have extended into a logical fallacy: the chosen scheme may prove to be harmful but that doesn't tell you anything about whether the alternative not chosen would have been equally or even more harmful.

Klaus wrote:
Furthermore, whether a certain scheme is beneficial or not may depend on the point of view. Increased utilisation of solar energy increases independence from oil exporting countries but may harm that part of the national economy which deals in oil. Thus, the questions of how, how much and for what purpose to raise taxes provide endless material for competition among parties.

Are these kinds debates of any fundamental importance to people's everyday exploitation, or the function of capitalism? Let's say some oil industry gets 'creatively destroyed' by the state subsidising solar energy. Some jobs are lost in the oil industry and some others (perhaps not as many) get created in solar energy. The owners of capital sell shares in some oil service companies and buy some in solar service companies (or those companies diversify in to solar). State intervention is just one of many causes that make this kind of process happen all the time in capitalist societies.

Klaus wrote:
A third example, where not all parties do agree on what’s best, would be national legislations to limit climate change, to preserve the environment etc. Any advance in that direction by one country would put limitations on the growth of its national economy. Even green parties (most of them having started off as the advocates of the environment no matter what) become electable once they appreciate that their green revolution must happen in a way which does not present too big of an obstacle to capitalist growth. In Germany the Green party did learn its lesson and implemented the exit from nuclear energy in compromise with the national electricity companies.

There probably are countries (perhaps in Europe) were the debate would be centred on maintaining "the growth of the national economy" but in the UK this would sound archaic and from the pre-Thatcher era. Here, it would most likely be centred around jobs so the idea that each party is by their actions still (inadvertently) supporting some kind of national mission doesn't hold. Actually, the EU with its restrictions on support for national industries and structural funding to poorer regions would seem to directly contradict your model for nation-states consistently acting in this corporatist way.

Klaus wrote:
The claim is not that each and every politician instantly has the insight, will and power to follow what is in the states interest and that whatever deviates from that would contradict said interest.

The claim is
(a) that they think about what would be best for the nation (I understand that we disagree about that, see below) and
(b) that in their competition for political power etc. the general principles of the state become visible.

The refutation is
(a) politicians, within the limits of their ideology, think about what is the best way to get elected (that's unless Italy and Silvio Belusconi fall outside your criteria for a western democracy)
(b) the common principles of the parties with a reasonable share of power can be presented as the state's general principles - big deal

Klaus wrote:
In the text on election, we only talk about elections as a means to keep private interests out of office. But it is actually more, it is also a means to verify that some politician’s idea of general public interest actually expresses that interest. Similarly, the separation of powers (legislative branch, executive branch, judiciary branch) and institutions like constitutions, unchangeable laws etc. ensure and express that the state is not identical with some political party; all these checks and balances protect the state against some particular idea of the constitution of the state, so to speak.

Again you over-estimate the rationality of the state and the electorate. What 'general public interest' does Silvio Belusconi represent? Isn't he basically a private interest who has used electoral system to abuse the separation of powers etc, e.g. getting himself immunity?

Klaus wrote:
So the monolith block state is expressed through the division of its personnel. Thus, I do not actually disagree on: “As for the UK, I was making the point that just because post hoc it is possible ascribe the result of state action as say ‘helping to regulate capitalist exploitation’ - as you call it, ‘objectively’ then that doesn’t necessarily mean that there was any volition on the part of anyone to specifically meet that objective. Furthermore, the result may have been far short of best action to fulfil that objective.”

So your description of the state is just your post hoc labelling of the actions of various parties acting within the fundamental tenets of capitalism?

Klaus wrote:
As for the lack of identification with the nation. I acknowledge that there might be some Tories etc. who do not have the general public interest at heart, who consider office a means to advance their business etc. not business as such..

Why, even in a capitalist society do you assume that 'general public interest' is to 'advance business as such'? The majority of the UK voters want the railways renationalised and don't want the NHS privatised. OK, that wouldn't change the basic capitalist nature of either of those organisations but it does point to a variance with certainly the Tories' key beliefs. I don't think you quite understood, many Tories are quite happy to justify supporting the so-called Anglo-Saxon version of capitalism which makes no pretense at having any interest in the economic success of the nation-state. If you asked them whether it was in the 'general public interest' of course they'd say yes but they don't give a rat's arse about the general public. This general public interest concept is another example of these post-rationalisations which keeps this nation-state fetish afloat.

Klaus wrote:
The mechanisms mentioned above also work to keep those attempts in check. Through elections etc. generally only those remain in power who make the general public interest their interest (cf. Section 4 in the election text)

This so-called mechanism is just a way of describing the process of electing politicians and that at a basic level it prevents obvious kleptocrats from gaining power most of the time.

Klaus
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May 6 2010 16:43

Hi B_Reasonable,

in light of the many disagreements about pretty much every argument/example each of us puts forward it might make sense to take a step back and ask what we are actually discussing. The discussion took off because of a statement in our text where we say that free healthcare “is for” maintaining the working class. (After some misunderstandings which we could clear up) your criticism is that our understanding of the state is too rational. To me it seems that in our debate we keep confusing 1) the principles of the democratic state 2) in which way these principles are services and preconditions the state provides to capital and 3) what politicians and voters think about it. The question connecting what it (ostensibly) is and what they think is: since there is not the state next to the cops, judges, politicians, civil servants, laws etc. how can one talk about the state as an entity. Do you think this is a fair summary?

Some principles of the democratic state

Below I give a rough list of principles of the democratic state. NB: in German one would write “ bürgerlicher Staat”, where “bürgerlich” translates as both bourgeois and civic, “civic state” sounds strange though (?) By “democratic state” I mean states such as the UK, France, Germany, the USA, Japan, Italy etc. By “capitalist state” I mean states whose national economy is based on capital accumulation within the country (and not oil rent states for instance).

1)States claim a monopoly on violence. Democratic states grant their citizens principal liberties, they do not command them what to do (with some notable exceptions like in war) and when.

2)Democratic states found their sovereignty on the people. A democratic government is meant to be a representation of the people.

3)Democratic states are states under the rule of law. Their decrees have the form of law and are universally applicable.

4)States under the rule of law protect persons and property. In such states citizens dispose over themselves and their property (this does not imply that they have the means to do so, on the contrary).

5)Capitalist states provide infrastructure such as roads, education which capital operating on its soil can make use of and maintain some form of welfare state.

6)Capitalist states pay for the services they require. Capitalist states collect taxes, that is, they directly appropriate their means.

7)Capitalist states provide credit monies. They manage their expenditures as a national budget which is public. States usually accumulate new public debt each year.

8)Capitalist states exercise economic policies, they support key and emerging industries, they control the money supply (through the central bank) to foster development.

9)Democratic states hold regular elections, have a separation of powers, a parliament and a government distinguished from the parliament.

10)In democratic states the public exercises a pluralism of opinions and tolerance towards each other.

11)States have a military, considerable military expenditures and most have diplomatic relationships with other states.

Certainly, none of the above is a “big deal” insofar as they are plainly visible. I assume we might disagree about some detail here and there but overall we won't have an argument about that these things are common features of the states I listed above (?) The question we are trying to answer when writing about the state is what are these things? How does public debt work, what is the welfare state, what are its conditions and what happens in an election, to give some examples.

State and Capitalism

Moving on to how these principles provide the conditions for and foster capitalist development.

1)The value relation presupposes freedom for the bearers of commodities and conditions where their commodities are not taken by force. This presupposes some force which allows for these conditions.

2)This force has considerable power which can also be used to gain an advantage within competition which could potentially undermine the valorisation of value or at least the role this force has in it.

3)A lot of infrastructure is not lucrative or simply too expensive to be provided by capitalist enterprises. Yet its provision fosters capitalist development in general. The state takes on providing this infrastructure.

4)Capitals undermine the source of their wealth: people and nature. The welfare state is a means to make this contradiction practical, by enforcing that the working class show solidarity (mandatory insurance etc.)

5)Credit money frees capitals from the money already earned. As long as it is provided by private banks the replacement of cash by credit money remains temporary. The state's credit money makes it permanent and also unfetters the credit business.

This list is by no means exhaustive. All this does not require to consider what either politicians or ordinary citizens think about the state and about capital. It does not matter at this point what either of them genuinely believe since all these points are concerned with what is. This is also not a statement whether there could be some (hypothetical or not) other way of providing conditions for capitalist development. These are statements about how it is done here.

Ideas about the relationship of the state and capital

About the contradictory relationship between state and capital politicians and ordinary citizens have a variety of ideologies, some examples:

1)Every law, however neutral the intend, will aid some and harm others. Banning certain business practices etc. does harm the people who make a profit using those practices. Thus, for every law there is likely to be someone complaining that it violates neutrality/justice/equality/whatever.

2)The state is a massive force in the capitalist economy and all its personnel can only be recruited from that society. This explains both corruption and the “mechanisms” and moral to keep the state “clean”.

3)Some would say: “aren't all these laws limiting the working day etc. just limitations on companies, unjust deductions from their freedom to conduct business? Wouldn't it be better the market could decide about such things? Consequently more people could get employment since it's cheaper to employ them. Aren't all these welfare schemes just encouragement to become lazy.” Others would reply that the workers deserve decent treatment or that higher pay for them means more money to buy the products those companies produce.

4)What does “too expensive” mean? “Doesn't the state's monopoly on certain services deprive investors of a lucrative business opportunity?” Vice versa: “Doesn't the privatisation threaten the well-being of the nation/the people/business in general/you name it?”

5)“When the state makes companies pay taxes, isn't that undermining their ability to make profits?” Thus, some say: “taxes down”. “If taxes are to be collected then they should be collected from unproductive members of society, the poor”, some would say. Others reply that these taxes are needed to maintain the bond of society/the conditions of these firms to accumulate or simply say that these firms make enough profits anyway and that the poor don't have that kind of money. They say: “tax the rich”.

I'm sure I forgot some important ones. My point here is: In their agreement about the basic tenets of capital and the nation-state they have a massive disagreement about how these ought to be understood. But even in their disagreement one can see a fair amount of agreement.

I think we agree on that the purpose of production in capitalism is the valorisation of value and not the provision of the people with useful goods. So what does it mean to say that healthcare “is for” maintaining the working class. The UK provides free healthcare. It does help to maintain the working class intentionally or not; work does make people sick and free healthcare provides for their recovery to some extend. The healthcare provided in the UK is limited, it is not the best possible healthcare, but a compromise of cost and benefit. Thus another external point of view is introduced into the consideration about healthcare, a standpoint where the provision for the people has a limit in something else. In political debates (I'm sure others on this forum know a lot more than me about the particular debates in the UK) this standpoint seems to be expressed as exploding costs due to better available treatments and an ageing population. One way of dealing with that could be to allocate more resources to the NHS, causing more costs, more tax burden. This is not what happened in the last decade or so, instead NHS services were reduced. Measured by the costs it wasn't deemed necessary (or affordable) to provide free all-round dental care. A further expression how the provision of the people is measured by its impact on capital (the very same thing that contributes considerably to making them sick). So the politico-economical reality of free healthcare is that it does maintain the working class and has its limit in capital's drive to accumulate.

It is not my intent to evade any of the points you made. Thus, below I list all the open disagreements which – to me – take us somewhat away from the core debate. I do this to acknowledge what I didn't engage with so far:

1) I do not understand the reference to alienation, maybe because I have difficulties to parse the sentence: “There need is no need for it to be driven by inter-state economic competition and the nation-state self-consciousness.”

2) You disagree with my account for what the IMF is.

3) I have yet to answer whether the state can choose to not use capital as a means and to provide examples for the later.

4) “Further, the tenets of the state can alter if capitalism is in crisis, and that you are mis-attributing the cause to loss of inter-state economic competitiveness when this is in fact one of the effects of capitalism failing within a state.” I am not aware that I did say this. In fact, I would maintain that the loss of inter-state economic competitiveness can be explained by failed capitalist accumulation within the state.

5) We seem to disagree whether the content is altered when the political debate focuses on job creation instead of the growth of the national economy.

6) You seem to imply that one should analyse the EU as one state instead of as a supra-state institution.

7) I have yet to explain how the peculiarity of Silvio Berlusconi fits into the general principle (if at all).

8) I would indeed say that in a capitalist society a strong nation-state and the accumulation of capital are the general public interest since these are the two conditions for any private interest to be realised.

B_Reasonable
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May 7 2010 02:30

Hi Klaus

Firstly, please don't feel obliged to answer all the questions I posed before but, if you do, then address my original points not your interpretations of them listed above because some of them have shifted in meaning. Also, apologies for the confusing typo: "There [need] is no need for it to be driven by inter-state economic competition and the nation-state self-consciousness."

TBH with your theory of the democratic nation-state being reliant on the 'general public interest' I've kind of lost the will to go on. It's so vague and prone to post-justification. The majority of the UK population support the death penalty but no major political party does because it's not in the 'general public interest'? Nearly all voters chose a party that promised to drastically cut public spending thereby guaranteeing to decrease their standard of living but it was done in the 'general public interest'?

Klaus wrote:
In political debates (I'm sure others on this forum know a lot more than me about the particular debates in the UK) this standpoint seems to be expressed as exploding costs due to better available treatments and an ageing population. One way of dealing with that could be to allocate more resources to the NHS, causing more costs, more tax burden. This is not what happened in the last decade or so, instead NHS services were reduced.

Wrong! NHS spending (oveall and as a proportion of GDP) has increased in the last decade. For example see: NHS Stats Was it the capitalists complaining that their workers were dropping dead on the job or didn't your in-depth theory of the state enable you to detect the action of your fudge factor the 'general public interest'?

Klaus wrote:
Measured by the costs it wasn't deemed necessary (or affordable) to provide free all-round dental care.

Actually, it's been a long time since entirely free dental care was available to people in work (maintaining the working class?). It is still available to those on benefits and under-16 (maintaining the non-working working class?). See if you can bend the following facts to your theory that NHS spending has been reduced to stop maintaining the working class: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8112538.stm Or, have you now done a reverse-ferret, and accepted that NHS spending increased? Luckily, you can always take refuge in your 'general public interest' so you're never wrong according to you own criteria.

Klaus wrote:
A further expression how the provision of the people is measured by its impact on capital (the very same thing that contributes considerably to making them sick). So the politico-economical reality of free healthcare is that it does maintain the working class and has its limit in capital's drive to accumulate.

This 'oh so rational' connection is entirely in the head of you state fetishisers. What was the benefit to capital of increasing NHS spending? And, what evidence do you have for this mechanism, i.e. "what shall we do to maintain the working class for the benefit of capital accumulation?", existing within UK state? Remember, I've already accepted that there are states where this mechanism could exist (Singapore) but my point is that it isn't instrinsic to the operation of the nation-state.

Klaus wrote:
I think we agree on that the purpose of production in capitalism is the valorisation of value and not the provision of the people with useful goods.

That's fine, as far as it goes, but you haven't thought through the implications of valorising value and how it goes along way to explaining the characteristics of the democratic nation-state without having to attribute all these unified and directed attributes to it.

In valorising value, capitalism is seeking to meet three simple objectives:[i] minimise the risk of losing any capital, [ii] maximise the profit [iii] maximise the proportion of value that can be valorised. For [i], a well administered state is a must with an independent judicial system. For [ii] ,high productivity is a goal so value must be (as Marx put it) intensified, and there be the means to employ large amounts of fixed capital (dead labour) a state providing good education and living standards for more productive workers. For [iii], a broad economy providing more opportunities to employ labour, and produce surplus value, and also the consumer market to buy the wide range of (product and service) commodities produced.

One of the main fallacies running through your thinking is believing that higher taxation and better public services is at the expense of valorising value. Higher taxes may affect the profits of a given company, for a certain amount of time, but that has to be set against the growth in the opportunities to obtain greater surplus value from more productive labour, consumers with more disposable income and lower costs/risks for employing greater capital. All your issues outlined in your 'Ideas about the relationship of the state and capital' section can be seen as the playing out of these factors with reference to capital and thus explaining the characteristics of the democratic state.

Can you think of a known state set-up which better meets the criteria for maximising the valorisation of value than the one you've described? The key point is that it provides the best found societal configuration for enabling free competition, see: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch12.htm (search for 'Competition')

I think it is easier to understand how the economic forces and ideology of free competition work towards the forming of a democratic state if you look those states that don't fit all your criteria but do support advanced capitalism and are moving towards the full-democratic model. Malaysia and Thailand being good examples.

Klaus
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May 12 2010 10:53

Hi B_Reasonable,

given that you lost the will to go on (understandably since the debate didn't really move into one direction or another) I will restrict myself to (hopefully) clear up possible misunderstandings.

Quote:
TBH with your theory of the democratic nation-state being reliant on the 'general public interest' I've kind of lost the will to go on. It's so vague and prone to post-justification.

A theory which uses the 'general public interest' (or 'common weal' perhaps?) to explain a particular outcome of a political debate a la "they cut the NHS because of the general public interest" would indeed be tautological and empty. Because in that debate all sides claim to represent the common good or general public interest and thus whoever wins could claim the victory of the general public interest (and they do). This is not understood when we use this phrase to describe the democratic state and its public. Instead, I'd emphasise that it is worth appreciating that all private interests, all political programmes even are subject to review from the standpoint of the general public interest. This leads to a situation where for example unions justify their demands for higher wages because it would be beneficial for the national economy or whatever.

Quote:
The majority of the UK population support the death penalty but no major political party does because it's not in the 'general public interest'? Nearly all voters chose a party that promised to drastically cut public spending thereby guaranteeing to decrease their standard of living but it was done in the 'general public interest'?

Just to emphasise that the general public interest in a capitalist nation-state is not the sum or the majority of private interests in society. Private interests (e.g. a living wage, decent housing, not too much stress, etc.) in a capitalist society have as their basis capitalist accumulation and the nation-state in the sense that they cannot be pursued without the two. E.g. no job without a company which makes a profit, no savings without the state guaranteeing private property. Private interests are reflected with respect to the functioning of capital and nation and insofar it makes sense to talk about them as the general public interest.

Quote:
Wrong! NHS spending (overall and as a proportion of GDP) has increased in the last decade.

I was referring to a cut back in services provided. Spending might have been increased, it certainly didn't rise enough to provide sufficient health-care for those in need. The health of those thus cannot be the sole measure for the provision of health-care. I am genuinely puzzled arguing with you whether the valorisation of value is a fundamental principle in society which the provision of the people (use-value) is subordinated under (this is not intended as an insult of some sort, I am truely confused where the problem lies)

Quote:
One of the main fallacies running through your thinking is believing that higher taxation and better public services is at the expense of valorising value.

Higher taxation on companies is at the expenses of immediate profits by those companies. If this taxation allows the state to provide conditions for higher profits in the future is another question. Yet, this relationship remains a contradiction: direct appropriation of current profits in the interest of future profits (and unproductive expenditures).

Quote:
Can you think of a known state set-up which better meets the criteria for maximising the valorisation of value than the one you've described?

No I cannot, that's why I am trying to make it explicit how this state set-up meets the criteria of the valorisation of value.

B_Reasonable
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May 12 2010 22:51

Hi Klaus

I haven't addressed your other points because I'd repeat points I've already made. However, to your specific response on the supposed link between healthcare and the maintenance of the working class:

'Klaus' wrote:
I was referring to a cut back in services provided. Spending might have been increased, it certainly didn't rise enough to provide sufficient health-care for those in need. The health of those thus cannot be the sole measure for the provision of health-care. I am genuinely puzzled arguing with you whether the valorisation of value is a fundamental principle in society which the provision of the people (use-value) is subordinated under

As the link I provided demonstrated, there haven't been overall cutbacks in services, and outcomes have improved, so one could kind of say the use-value has been increased overall. The NHS doesn't claim that it doesn't ration services - its point is that it's free at the point of delivery and resources are allocated on the basis of need not ability to pay (or to what degree treating someone will help in maintaining the working class). It's widely accepted that it doesn't provide the same overall level of care of say Germany but even in Germany there are limits imposed on the level and coverage of care by ability to pay, insurance coverage, capital investment in new treatments etc. The valorisation of value, being a fundamental principle, places obvious limits on what the NHS provides and also greatly affects the way it is managed. As in the implementing of market-mechanisms as a way of improving the service, i.e. getting value-for-money, which, as you say, "provision of the people (use-value) is subordinated under".

My point continues to be, that your fetishisation of the state, as demonstrated by your maintaining that people within the state necessarily make a conscious decision on the level of healthcare spending by considering the need to maintain the (national?) working class is not supported by any evidence [i] you've still not suggested any mechanism by which this happens, [ii] the operation of the NHS doesn't suggest that this process is operating, [iii] your repeated assertion, that over the last decade that the use-value has decreased is contradicted by (a) the facts, (b) the stated government policy that led to the increase in service provision. As I've said on a couple of occasions already, I'm not saying that there aren't states (e.g. Singapore) where such a conscious might be made but to assume it in UK and other democratic states, makes for a silly conspiratorial view that misrepresents the role of the state.

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Noa Rodman
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May 12 2010 23:26
angelus novus wrote:
Would I be correct in assuming that PD's usage is the same as Robert Kurz's in his essay "Subjektloser Herrschaft"? (Rule Without a Subject) If so, then then it involves precisely that assumption.

Without that assumption, then all the various polemical sideswipes at groups like Aufheben make absolutely no sense, and can only be attributed to the narcissism of small differences, i.e. PD trying to stake out a claim of market share in the bazaar of tiny left groups.

You're right to force PD to take a stand. Kinda rude of b_reasonable to ignore this question. Or maybe PD is internally divided, some go with Postone, others with Kurz.

Quote:
especially since Heinrich formulates some rather trenchant critique of the Krisis/Exit school of "Zusammenbruchstheorie"

Debatable. I thought Heinrich attributes to Kurz the belief that socialism will come with the collapse of capitalism, so we can just wait for it. That's a rather weak criticism.

B_Reasonable
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May 13 2010 11:19
'Noa Rodman' wrote:
You're right to force PD to take a stand. Kinda rude of b_reasonable to ignore this question.

FYI, I am working on providing a response. Because AN wasn't willing to simply point out where he feels PD is using 'automatic subject' in a way that necessarily requires it to be a metaphysical entity, his question requires the time of someone (not me) who [i] reads German, [ii] is sufficiently immersed in the paradigm of continental philosophy (e.g. hegelian terminology) to discern where AN might have a problem with Kurz's essay - since he hasn't deigned to point that out either, and [iii] communicate to anyone else, who might be interested, what the supposed issue might be. If that point is ever reached then there would be a discussion as to whether this might have any relevance to what PD may have said.

I suspect that this is a complete waste of time and probably driven by a lingering desire to fetishize the proletariat. A few months ago, Dave Black made a similar point about Postone's use of the automatic subject but once we managed to get down to what all the abstractions he was using referred, there was no case to answer.

'Noa Rodman' wrote:
Or maybe PD is internally divided, some go with Postone, others with Kurz.

Sounds like you may be confusing PD with these bunches of theory contemplaters who are constantly searching for a theoretical messiah to provide a new revealed truth - to replace orthodox marxism - so they've got something to hang their vanguardist hats upon.

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LadyJacobin
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May 13 2010 11:24

The amount of debt these governments have gotten themselves into, over the most puerile, wasteful expenditures - it's disgusting. These states have no responsibility whatsoever to the citizenry and no respect for their rights. They ruin the accounts of honest men while enriching false-bankers (that is men who do not store value, but expropriate it from its owner), false-statesmen (men who do not provide virtue in government, but tax virtue in the citizenry).

Angelus Novus
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May 13 2010 12:18
B_Reasonable wrote:
his question requires the time of someone (not me) who [i] reads German, [ii]

Oh please, if this is going to be your disingenuous response, at least be consistent and stop the fawning references to Kurz, Krisis et al on your website. PD makes no secret of its attempts to represent itself as co-thinkers of the Exit/Krisis lineage, even going so far as to adopt the Zusammenbruchstheorie that Postone himself is not an adherent of.

Quote:
I suspect that this is a complete waste of time and probably driven by a lingering desire to fetishize the proletariat.

Maybe instead of constantly chanting the mantra "fetishize the proletariat", you can elaborate what that term is even supposed to mean.

Of course, I realize it cuts into your sect's market share to have to admit that there are others who have been criticizing economism, truncated critiques of capitalism, etc. for many years and who for that reason are not terribly impressed by the oh-so-new ideas of Postone, Kurz, etc. For you to admit that would basically be for PD to forfeit it's right to come onto forums like Libcom and hector people about what class-struggle dinosaurs they are.

Quote:
Sounds like you may be confusing PD with these bunches of theory contemplaters who are constantly searching for a theoretical messiah to provide a new revealed truth - to replace orthodox marxism - so they've got something to hang their vanguardist hats upon.

This actually describes PD quite perfectly, actually. Situationism functions for you as "the god that failed", and as a result you've latched onto Postone and some people in Germany who like to regard themselves as his co-thinkers as the next idols to be worshipped.

Angelus Novus
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May 13 2010 12:23

Oh, and will an admin please ban the fascist LadyJacobin?

Klaus
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May 13 2010 18:52
Quote:
I haven't addressed your other points because I'd repeat points I've already made.

I agree this debate should end, we are running in circles.

Quote:
As the link I provided demonstrated, there haven't been overall cutbacks in services, and outcomes have improved, so one could kind of say the use-value has been increased overall.

I was under the impression that the NHS used to pay for artificial teeth and it does not any more. Also, finding an NHS dentist which accepts patients is not that easy these days.

Quote:
The NHS doesn't claim that it doesn't ration services - its point is that it's free at the point of delivery and resources are allocated on the basis of need not ability to pay (or to what degree treating someone will help in maintaining the working class).

The interesting question (to me) is: it rations services according to what measure? Some free services are deemed too expensive while others are provided.

Quote:
The valorisation of value, being a fundamental principle, places obvious limits on what the NHS provides and also greatly affects the way it is managed. As in the implementing of market-mechanisms as a way of improving the service, i.e. getting value-for-money, which, as you say, "provision of the people (use-value) is subordinated under".

The interesting thing about the NHS is that it isn't just immediately subordinated under the law of value, one does get healthcare for free as you point out. Also, the NHS might implement market mechanisms but is still directly paid for by taxes. One the one hand: the valorisation of value is suspended to some extend so to speak. On the other hand, it influences what services are provided since some are deemed too expensive.

Quote:
My point continues to be, that your fetishisation of the state, as demonstrated by your maintaining that people within the state necessarily make a conscious decision on the level of healthcare spending by considering the need to maintain the (national?) working class is not supported by any evidence

I wrote earlier: "The claim is not that each and every politician instantly has the insight, will and power to follow what is in the states interest and that whatever deviates from that would contradict said interest." I insisted several times that there is a difference between what politicians think about some scheme and what its objective function is.

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[i] you've still not suggested any mechanism by which this happens,

I suggested that politicians think about the "national interest" when faced with "inherent necessity". I suggested that they think how to deal with the "challenges" facing the NHS.

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[ii] the operation of the NHS doesn't suggest that this process is operating,

Capital makes people sick, capital needs people, free healthcare is provided but only rationed.

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[iii] your repeated assertion, that over the last decade that the use-value has decreased is contradicted by (a) the facts,

See point above about dentists.

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(b) the stated government policy that led to the increase in service provision.

Recall that this debate was sparked because of a remark in our text about free dental care. But just to 100% clear: I do not deny that service can increase and did increase in some medical areas (e.g. the screening offer for over 40s). Subordinating healthcare under the interests of capital and nation does not necessarily imply that provision has to be reduced. Otherwise, the introduction of the NHS itself was the striking counter example. Before we get into an argument about this again: no, it would not be sufficient to say that healthcare provision was improved/reduced because of capital and nation, that's too abstract and does not explain much.

Quote:
As I've said on a couple of occasions already, I'm not saying that there aren't states (e.g. Singapore)

Point taken.

B_Reasonable
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May 15 2010 01:24
Angelus Novus wrote:
Maybe instead of constantly chanting the mantra "fetishize the proletariat", you can elaborate what that term is even supposed to mean

.
Fill your boots
anything still not clear?

You say that PD is a sect, with a view to having 'market share'. PD doesn't work on that basis. It probably wouldn't meet your standards of discipline and orderliness but actually at a personal level there is a lot of common ground about both the important theoretical issues around understanding capitalism, e.g. value-theory, and the broader issues of communism. The Wine & Cheese doc is a case in point, it was posted on the PD website because it is interesting. A sect would have not put it up at all, or put it up, and then written a critique to restate their own position. As it is, I've engaged in a discussion with Klaus which I've found interesting. Whether everybody associated with PD agrees with all the points I've made, I don't know - it's not a party and I'm not a party apparatchik.

You may find my candour about the fact that nobody, suitably qualified, is particularly interested in responding to your fairly non-specific criticisms disingenuous but it reflects the fact that, on the whole, the people associated with PD are not motivated by your repeated (and repeatedly not denied) assertions that "there are others who have been criticizing economism, truncated critiques of capitalism, etc. for many years". The problem is that groups like Aufheben or The International Marxist-Humanist Organization are dinosaurs. And whilst you take an equivocal approach to them you cannot expect to get much engagement. It's not a case that you have to 'go all the way with LBJ' but at least make some interesting points that engage from a reasonable starting position opposed to going on about straitjackets etc.

On Zusammenbruchstheorie, here's my ha'pennies worth: obviously if anyone in Krisis genuinely thinks they can predict the end of capitalism then they're wrong but there are changes in the make-up of capital which need to be better understood and it seems plausible they could lead to a breakdown. In the link you gave, Heinrich is employing a induction fallacy, just because capitalism hasn't self-destructed in the crises since 1858, and has perhaps benefited from creative destruction, that doesn't mean that a terminal crisis can't happen in the future.

I think it is nearly guaranteed that better theories of capitalism will arise than those of Postone etc. It is also not impossible that they could incorporate a greater/different role for labour than that of value-theory. I see no intrinsic reason why PD wouldn't entertain such a theory if it was presented as a genuine attempt to better understand of capitalism and not just a stalking horse for more of the same old classist crap. Portraying PD as having painted itself into a corner over value-theory and not wishing to lose face by admitting that something better might exist is quite untrue. Nothing better has become evident.

B_Reasonable
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May 15 2010 02:08
Klaus wrote:
I wrote earlier: "The claim is not that each and every politician instantly has the insight, will and power to follow what is in the states interest and that whatever deviates from that would contradict said interest." I insisted several times that there is a difference between what politicians think about some scheme and what its objective function is.

Isn't an 'objective function' just a metaphysical sleight of hand to enable you to imply a structural relation to justify points like: the state weighs up healthcare spend against a need to maintain the working class?

Klaus wrote:
I was under the impression that the NHS used to pay for artificial teeth and it does not any more. Also, finding an NHS dentist which accepts patients is not that easy these days.

Another factor that greatly affects the provision of services is that dentists, GPs and senior doctors operate as private businesses although they have been trained entirely at the public expense. Normally, the Tory-dominated press tried to run down the NHS - with scare stories about no false teeth etc. This gives quite a balanced view:
Torygraph article
Actually, in the country I'm in (Wales), the provision of NHS dentists has greatly improved. I'm not sure about the country you're in (England?). It might be different as healthcare has been devolved.

Aneurin Bevan wrote:
I stuffed their mouths with gold

More on how the state has been dictated to by the medical profession: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/jul/03/NHS.politics2

Angelus Novus
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May 16 2010 08:16
B_Reasonable wrote:
Fill your boots
anything still not clear?

I ask you to elaborate what is meant by the phrase, and your response is simply to link me to other instances of you using the phrase? Not useful at all, but it does confirm my suspicion that you simply don't have much to say beyond phrase-mongering.

Quote:
You say that PD is a sect, with a view to having 'market share'. PD doesn't work on that basis.

Could've fooled me. PD's entire MO up to know has been that of a sect; emphasizing miniscule differences with other groups in order to hype itself as the next big thing on forums such as this one.

Quote:
The problem is that groups like Aufheben or The International Marxist-Humanist Organization are dinosaurs.

And why are they "dinosaurs"? Because they "fetishize the working class"? It's phrase-mongering all the way with you.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
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May 16 2010 12:50
Angelus Novus wrote:
I ask you to elaborate what is meant by the phrase, and your response is simply to link me to other instances of you using the phrase?

sadly not a new phenomenon...

George Orwell wrote:
prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse
Angelus Novus
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May 16 2010 20:02

FWIW, my critique is directed primarily at PD, and not so much at either Postone or the Krisis/Exit people in Germany, none of whom can help the fact that PD have set themselves up as some sort of "co-thinkers".

Whatever major disagreements I have with the Exit and Krisis people regarding their "final crisis" assessment of capitalism, I can usually read their journals and actually learn something, or at the very least encounter arguments that force me to reconsider my own assumptions. For example, there's a rather long article by Roswitha Scholz in Exit no. 5 dealing with processes of exclusion and social hierarchization that I find to be quite insightful.

With PD, on the other hand, there's nothing. No insight. No analysis. No arguments. Nothing but, "we're the enlightened guys who have read Postone and the rest of you are just class struggle dinosaurs who haven't gotten with the program", repeated ad nauseum, like a wanna-be street gang or primitive schoolyard clique.

When PD first emerged I thought it potentially had promise to be an insightful and useful project; at the very latest, when they simply didn't bother to respond to Aufheben's 20-page critique of Postone (other than ad hominem attacks on Aufheben for being "dinosaurs"), I should've already realized what I've only recently learned: they just aren't serious. When Postone and Wertkritik have already ceased being the "next big thing", they'll find something else that allows them to carve out a distinctive niche on the sectarian landscape.

B_Reasonable
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May 17 2010 13:46
Angelus Novus wrote:
With PD, on the other hand, there's nothing. No insight. No analysis. No arguments. Nothing but, "we're the enlightened guys who have read Postone and the rest of you are just class struggle dinosaurs who haven't gotten with the program", repeated ad nauseum, like a wanna-be street gang or primitive schoolyard clique.

Perhaps its inescapable that you should view PD as a brand ('market share' etc), and from that point of view, shouldn't you stop consuming it, if it isn't your cup of tea? You clearly have ideas as to how groups should conduct themselves and the respectful tone and manner of their output. Exit meets with your approval and PD doesn't. However, does Exit give you advice on how to make better chocolate cake? That's not to say, of course, that PD couldn't improve its communications but from my point of view, generating greater satisfaction from your 'market segment' shouldn't be a priority.

Angelus Novus wrote:
When PD first emerged I thought it potentially had promise to be an insightful and useful project; at the very latest, when they simply didn't bother to respond to Aufheben's 20-page critique of Postone (other than ad hominem attacks on Aufheben for being "dinosaurs"), I should've already realized what I've only recently learned: they just aren't serious.

Not serious? Get knotted! Don't try guilt-tripping people into behaving in a way that suits your needs. Aufheben didn't respond to PD's criticisms, and that's up to them, readers can make up their own minds. Similarly, Joseph Kay took the 'less said the better' route here: http://libcom.org/library/strategy-struggle-anarcho-syndicalism-21st-century?page=2#comment-318715. That's perfectly understandable, he's got a crypto-Trot, vanguardist organisation to run. He doesn't need to give PD's criticisms the oxygen of publicity. Again, readers can make up their own minds.

Oh look, the above linked PD piece is all about fetishizing the proletariat and the 'phrase mongering' consists of facts and figures backing up the argument. I wonder if you'll understand anything of it?

Elucidating 'fetishizing the proletariat' - how do you envisage that working? Isn't it obvious, that without you telling me what your problem is, I'm simply going to re-use the phraseology that is on the PD site, and then just get accused of 'phrase mongering' again?

Angelus Novus wrote:
When Postone and Wertkritik have already ceased being the "next big thing", they'll find something else that allows them to carve out a distinctive niche on the sectarian landscape.

Leaving aside your brand positioning hysteria, what's wrong with finding better theories?

B_Reasonable
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May 17 2010 18:52
B_Reasonable wrote:
That's perfectly understandable, he's got a crypto-Trot, vanguardist organisation to run.
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
What exactly, do you mean by that? As I get the impression that you don't really understand either of the terms you've used.

As it says in the [url=PD doc]http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=256[/url], the key point is the fetishization of the proletariat, and hence, all too often, believing that the proletariat is the subject. From outside this perspective, then Solfed's strategy suggests that [i] people should adopt the role of proletarian, [ii] take over their workplaces, [iii] these should be the centre of revolutionary organisation. Defining that people should behave as 'the working class' and what they should do, i.e. take over their workplaces, is vanguardist because it is attempting to lead people through a ideology of "what's best for them". Also, because it doesn't challenge the basic relations of capitalism, e.g. abstract labour, it is leading to a modified for of capitalism which where Trotskyite parties are heading so crypto-Trot. I'm not expecting you to agree with my definitions but hopefully you see that from outside the perspective of 'proletarian as subject' they are not being merely used as terms of abuse.