Saturday, June 28, 2008

Good Cop - Bad Cop

Because it is often so extremely brutal, the re-production of capitalist ideology requires especially adroit marketing strategies. Take for example this latest dust- up over "speculators". These (according to the new narrative) are the evil, greedy people who would take advantage of a bad situation, say a credit crunch or housing bubble or short oil supplies, to further drive up prices by betting on future price movement. BAD SPECULATORS! MEAN PROFITEERS! I'll bet they light their Cuban cigars with twenty dollar bills and hate children! Both presidential contenders are doing their part in the great charade, acting outraged, just OUTRAGED! that people would act so self-interestedly, so against the National Interest!

We see this farce re-played every time capitalism acts like capitalism and some bubble bursts, or gamblers get caught cheating, or some form of "creative destruction" destroys the lives of the "little people" caught up in the grinding gears. We call them Barons or Moguls and Frank Capra makes a movie where they get punished for their excesses, reasurring the working class that such gouging will not be tolerated by those who act as their Guardians. ( usually the State) This strategy is ,of course, the classic good-cop, bad-cop con and the American people in their wide-eyed innocence seem especially prone to it. "Gee, look" they say, "Obama who loves the Markets is ready to condemn those who take advantage of the system. He will regulate those darn Profiteers!"

They spank Exxon or the Keating Five or the Ken Lays or the Leona Helmsleys and let them serve as "teachable moments". These ritualistic punishments are embraced by all sides in the "partisan" divide between liberal capitalists and less-liberal capitalists creating a great kum-bye-ya moment of unity and good will. And then capitalism will begin some other destructive rampage across the landscape and the lives of working people. "There's a sucker born every minute" and it is their re-production upon which capitalism depends.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Class - One Perspective

A criticism of the "third class" theory ( professional-technical-managerial class or PMC)) comes from Jean Cohen and Dick Howard who cite the work of Jurgen Habermas (Legitimation Crisis) and Clause Offe (Political Authority and Class Structures) . They concur that "all their analyses lead to the following consequence: the partial re-politicization from above (through state intervention) of both economic and socio-cultural life alters the fundamental presupposition on which Marx based his class theory: the separation of the state and civil society."

These thinkers are basing this political alteration on a change in modern capitalism, a change from liberal, laissez- faire, industrial revolution capitalism to "late" or "monopoly" capitalism. Because the state now intervenes in the economy a "political" dimension is opened which did not previously exist. In this scheme, "If the production and appropriation of surplus value and the determination of wages are increasingly dependent on relations of political power rather than market mechanism", classes give way to parties - "various groups struggling for the power to express their needs both within and outside institutions which provide for the public articulation of interests."

I am a believer in politics. But real "articulation of interests" is subverted by the hegemonic nature of capitalist ideology and the social relations it engenders. If we've learned nothing else it's that "democracy" where the system of production is excluded is a managed Spectacle, a commodity manufactured and marketed for mass consumption, like make-up or hamburgers. This then is the danger of identity politics. The black technical worker depending on state intervention (civil rights law, legislation, social spending, etc) to gain "equality" with the white manual laborer. He joins a Party which claims to represent his interests and assumes the state is somehow neutral and simply exists to express the will of the people.

A class is defined by it's oppositional, antagonistic stance to those who stand in it's quest for emancipation. All "contradictory class locations" will be resolved the day of a general strike. As Ken Kesey put it : 'You're either on the bus or off the bus."

We can only return to politics when class struggle has given control of the means of production to the society as a whole. Only then might such "institutions" actually be capable of articulating "public interests" and only then could a state find accomodation with civil society and justice, equality and democracy prevail.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Talking Bout My Generation

In my view, a class analysis which fits our historical moment is the most important task at hand for the Left. Plenty of New Left theorists tried (and mostly failed) to point a new direction and plenty of others remain mired in worn out orthodoxy, but the project is no less imperative for this. Difficult, sure, but not impossible. I was 15 years old in 1968 and was radicalized through literature and discussions picked up at universities during anti-war protests, actions, teach-ins etc, which was mostly produced by "middle class" radicals.( the exception being literature from the Black Power movement) Raised solidly "middle class"myself, I became determined from that period on to "proletarianize" myself before I ever even heard the word or picked up Marx. My alienation from the "working man", felt but unarticulated, was truly instinctual and I was pretty successful in my project.(and , I suppose, somewhat unusual in that regard.) I "re-classed" without any romantic notions, working for wages in factories, farms ,wharehouses, service industries and construction sites my whole life thus far, in defiance of the college-techno-managerial-professional expectations of my college educated parents.

Reading through an interesting book, "Between Labor and Capital", published in 1979, has brought back a lot of my own contradictory thoughts and actions and illuminates the theoretical battles being waged between those proposing a third ,"professional-managerial class"(PMC), and those who found fault with this analysis.It is dated but important nonetheless, at a moment when we ( local radicals, intellectuals, Wobblies, etc) seem to run into this question at every turn. The book begins with an essay by Barbara and John Ehrenreich in which they posit the existence of this new class as a product of monopoly capitalism.There follows ten essays in reply, debating their proposition on many levels and from many ( though all radical) points of view.

The Erenreichs put the PMC in a position antagonistic to both the working class and capitalists, yet their primary function in the social division of labor is "the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations". They are "salaried , mental workers who do not own the means of production". It has strata within the class, some of which identify more with workers, others more with capital, but it's cohesiveness rests on the change in capitalism itself and the production of social surplus which requires these reproductive "functionaries".You can see the can of worms this opens up!

It is an impressive list of folks who weigh in, including Al Syzmanski, (author of The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class) Jean Cohen (The Crisis of Class Analysis in Late Capitalism), Dick Howard (The New Working Class:Selected Writings of Serge Mallet) Eric Olin Wright (Class, Crisis and the State, Class Structure and Income Inequality) Stanley Aronowitch, Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel ( Paracon, Znet) and several others.I'm going to keep posting when I'm able on the "can of worms" because I think the issues are still relevent, perhaps more now than ever.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


In a Common Dreams essay Chris Hedges points out the surreal, down-the-rabbit-hole quality of contemporary popular discourse and states "This growing disconnect with reality is the hallmark of a totalitarian state." The economist Charlotte Twight homes in on the vast corporate system of spectacle and democratic collapse which she labels "participatory fascism". Guy Debord's trenchant critique of Spectacle was done almost forty years ago but is still the best analysis of the deep"bread and circus" corruption and dehumanization by societal commodity fetish. Hedges and others lately have directed their attacks at "neoliberal capitalism" or "monopoly capitalism" or "corporate capitalism" as deviations from some kindler, gentler, "managed capitalism", but I feel they miss the whole logic of capitalism and it's necessary fascist and totalitarian nature. A well managed , tastefully decorated concentration camp is no less brutal.

The true danger to me is the increasing number of people I encounter who say" It's hard to know what to think." Break that message down and there is cause for much alarm. Hard to know. Hard to think. What to think? What to know? The real crisis for me is not a war in Iraq but the mothers who raise sons that can't wait to get there. The true crisis is not global warming but the increasing number of teenagers who want to join the Army just so they can buy a brand new three-quarter ton pickup!

"Before they sieze power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the human mind than reality itself." Hannah Arendt

Commencement ceremonies in Greenville S.Carolina : "President Bush called Saturday for a new 'culture of responsibility'...Mr. Bush's message resonated in this conservative community." He then called for a return to the 18th century through "atomic time machines" and called their invention a "national priority." Claiming to be the reincarnated Napolean Bonaparte, Mr. Bush said he thought all gay people should be sent to "a massive space station ,yet to be developed." This message also resonated well in this conservative community. He ended with these pearls: "So my call to those of you entering the business world is to be honest with your shareholders", and he added, "All of us have a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment." This too resonated well with the lobotomized citizens. Can you guess which quotes are real? Exactly.

"Among todays adept practitioners, the lie has long since lost it's honest function of mis-representing reality. Nobody believes anybody, everyone is in the know...the downward urge of the intellect loses it's inhibitions and all the detritus dumped in the individual by barbarous culture and half-learning, slackness, heavy familiarity, coarseness, comes to light."
Theodore Adorno