Monthly Archives: April 2014

America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations

This is my third article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-The 20th century witnessed the emergence of bourgeois nations (empires wherein most of the population consisted of property owners). These have no future. The bourgeois status of these nations is being gradually phased out by the capitalist class.

 

Let me start this off by saying that America will be a very different place in another 40 years. If current trends continue, then in another 40 years, America will be…

–> an essentially matriarchal society (i.e. basically run by women),

–> majority-minority (i.e. lacking a majority race),

–> probably bankrupt due to a very real structural debt problem we’ve had since the ascendancy of finance in the 1970s and ’80s,

–> economically dominated by non-profits.

That’s the America of the future, like it or not. The American progressives (like yours truly for example) is tasked with adapting themselves to these realities sooner rather than later.

Okay, with that big picture of America’s future in mind, I want to get into why the current bourgeois status of the bourgeois nations in general and America in particular is structurally unsustainable:

All one must do is look to how things were for the average American before the existing social safety net and collection of moderating business regulations existed to see essentially how they’d still be (at best) if we had never created one. Before the New Deal, things really were tending to follow the basic direction that Marx predicted, with recessions (and most of them were full-blown depressions back then) tending to get successively worse and more extreme over time in successive installments. The Great Depression was the worst of these, and the last before major economic reforms were implemented. Unlike in previous crises, the Great Depression (1929-33) only seemed to get worse and worse over time, with no end in sight. Capitalism seemed to be in a self-perpetuating structural downward spiral. The Communist International went as far as to predict that this crisis would mark the end of the capitalist system, with the world either subsequently adopting communism or reverting back to more primitive forms of social organization. (“Communism or Barbarism!” was their formulation during the Depression years.) Indeed much of their forecast proved correct: fascism did arise to support the continuation of capitalism in Europe and it did indeed, as the Comintern predicted, yield a Second World War that was worse than the first. What the communists of the day underestimated was the potential for capitalism to moderate itself when under such distress and with growth potential yet remaining. But the larger point here is that it was only by way of its mitigation that capitalism survived that crisis. And, to a substantial degree I’ll add, it didn’t. Many countries went communist during and after the Second World War. All of Europe probably would have too if not for the Marshall Plan. The whole point of the Marshall Plan was indeed to eliminate that likelihood because post-war Europe was a disaster zone rife with a growing and increasingly radical discontent. My point here is that if the capitalist class had not learned to be more temperate and generous than their natural instincts would allow, they would not have survived as a class. They survived only by bribing their way out of disaster, and as much was only possible due to a certain gargantuan American victory in the Second World War that left it with no war damage, much unlike most everyone else.

During the First Cold War, this regime was, in many ways, sustained for ideological purposes, given the growing global influence of communism and communist ideas. Eventually though, as Doug Henwood recently pointed out in an opinion piece for the New York Times, this regime became intolerable for the capitalist class, which was starting to grow less and less profitable under the new constraints, with class relations breaking down and workers and the poor getting more and more demanding. The solution was a crackdown (so that workers and the poor would get less demanding) sustained by an expanded system of borrowing that enabled for the continuation of a middle class standard of living for most. The financial sector grew rapidly to facilitate the latter transition. You can easily the problem with such a shift though (shifting from a unionized model of capitalism to a debt-driven model):  it yields a borrowing economy, which is unsustainable by definition.

Here are the particulars as to how the First World borrowing economy emerged: At the government level, the modern economy of the First World came to be based on borrowing because the propertied classes have awarded massive tax breaks over the last several decades, which has produced decreasing value intake on the part of the government, which must nonetheless spend at the same level at minimum in order to maintain a social safety net and system of businesses regulations and thus relative social peace. At the individual level, workforce unionization has plummeted, which has resulted in crappier jobs with fewer benefits; people taking in less value. When you’re taking in less value, the only way to maintain a middle class standard of living is to go into debt. The result of both of these situations has been the expansion of the financial sector, as the provider of debt. It’s expansion, in turn, has resulted in increased political influence; an increasing ability to get financial sector regulations (like the Glass-Steagall Act for example) overturned, thus producing especially severe crises like the recent recession.

The collapse of the Soviet Union unnaturally extended the resultant profitability rebound by affording the capitalist class a new world of markets ripe for the plucking. Now though the financial sector has started to reach its limits. Borrowing potential, both on an individual level and on a large, government scale, is starting to become exhausted. Thus the new method of sustaining this system too now is failing. In the 1970s reformism proved unable to sustain the capitalist system and since 2008 we have begun to see that the new solution of a crackdown on workers sustained by unlimited borrowing cannot do so either, or at least not in the long run. What then is next?

In the olden days it was often said in this country that reformism was realism and revolutionary politics were naive idealism. Today it’s increasingly starting to seem more and more like the opposite is true. Though we have seen a rise in progressive activism and politicking lately (ranging from the Occupy movement and the movement to unionize the working poor based mainly in the Northeast and Far West to the Moral Mondays movement that’s expanding today in the South), one still cannot imagine a revolution in today’s America due to how large the middle class here remains, but imagine 50 years from now, or even 15 or 30, after our government runs itself into bankruptcy like southern Europe has and like Venezuela did at the end of the 1980s. Thus will the class composition of the nation become far more proletarian (as in to say impoverished) yet than it is today. Moderating reforms are not an option the rich are willing to accept anymore because they lead to a breakdown in class relations. Hence why they’re slowly doing away with the existing ones. This leaves one alternative: their overthrow by a proletariat that most certainly WILL be in the immense majority well within this century, and probably well within my lifetime. I don’t see any getting around this.

In other words, yeah I basically feel that Marx was right…in the long run. The trends he spoke have emerged in somewhat different ways than he anticipated and have taken much longer than he anticipated to develop, but slowly they’re happening. Things are indeed unfolding much as Marx predicted, but simply on a slower timetable than he imagined. Marx believed that the industrial revolution had abolished scarcity, at least in the West, while impoverishing the laboring masses to a greater degree than ever before, thus creating a contradiction reconcilable only by way of communist revolution. In reality, scarcity has yet to be abolished even today, though it’s abolition now appears in sight finally, with the advent of near-free reproduction, increasingly, of most everything. And imperialism also provided the capitalists of some countries with the means to buy the loyalty of their workers temporarily, but that model is proving unsustainable in the long run and is now on its way out. We’re headed back to the 19th century class relations. So essentially Marx was right, but like I said, just on a slower timetable than he imagined.

Let’s talk a little more about the current and future balance of class forces in the United States. Contrary to the belief of some, the American working class has not become a right wing institution. There exists a difference between workers in the generic and the working class specifically. As I pointed out in my earlier article Redefining the Proletariat, “working class” is a term that alludes specifically to low-wage workers, as in those who barely get by, who live paycheck-to-paycheck. Not all workers belong to the working class. There are also the ranks of the working poor (i.e. those who actually DON’T get by) and, furthermore, there are, additionally, middle and upper class workers; workers who are net beneficiaries of the capitalist system. In this country, the latter groups (middle and upper class workers) compose nearly a majority of the workforce. When you combine the middle and upper class workers with the business community proper, you arrive at a considerable majority of the American population: 58% if you believe the most recent poll of how Americans classify themselves. 2% say they feel rich, another 8% say they feel upper class, and another 48% say they feel middle class. Those three figures, which describe property-owning classes, add up to 58%. On the other side, 27% say they feel low-income (or what we used to call, and what I still often call, working class) and another 15% say they feel poor. Those two figures, which describe the unpropertied classes, add up to 42%. Thus the current balance of class forces in the United States, if we take people at their word (and I believe we should), is this: 58% bourgeois and 42% proletarian. Therefore America is basically a nation of property owners; of people who materially benefit from capitalism. It has been thus since the Second World War. It is for that reason that I describe America and other nations with a similar class composition as bourgeois nations. Don’t overestimate the loyalty of the working CLASS to this system though. And their ranks are growing these days, post-2008-crash. Think: what kind of jobs are replacing those lost to the recession? It is this kind of trend that I refer to as re-proletarianization.

Southern Europe (countries like Greece and so forth) serves as an example of how a full-scale re-proletarianization works and what it looks like, both in the practical and politically. The financial aristocracy has bankrupted these countries and they’ve consequently been compelled to impoverish their workforces in order to assure the financial capitalists that they’ll never lose “their” money again. The political implications have included a revival of both communism and fascism throughout the region as the political center of gravity shifts leftward toward resistance. General strikes and riots are routine occurrences in many parts of southern Europe now. Don’t believe for a second that that’s not a preview of our future; that that won’t happen to us too. The re-proletarianization of the American workforce IS coming, with all of its implications.

The longer-term future, as in to say what kind of situation and set-up ultimately emerges from a 21st century bankruptcy crisis / mass impoverishment situation, might be better spoken to by the case of Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular. Venezuela, for example, has already gone through this whole bankruptcy process back in 1989 and the ’90s. The final outcome was a sort of political revolution that included the drafting of a new national constitution, the ascendancy of Chavez, of Chavez’s conversion to democratic socialism, and of his creation of parallel state and government institutions: an ideological militia loyal to the political left (since he felt that he couldn’t trust the regular army after the 2002 military coup) and town-hall-style communitarian councils tasked with applying direct democracy at the local level and recommending national policies directly to the president (thus enabling the masses themselves to serve as a de facto branch of the national legislature). His United Socialist Party is still in power today. I feel that this is the best and most plausible glimpse we have available to us as to what American politics might look like 40 years from now, though it is also possible that the continued development of information technology and the Internet of Things may very well make for the advent of national town-hall-style direct democracy, which would historically outmode republicanism entirely by enabling society itself to decide on its policies collectively without need of the elected middle men that form the national legislature. We would then only need to elect an executive branch to enforce the laws thereby decided. This appears to where things are headed in the long. It’s only a matter of how soon e-democracy will be sufficiently developed and secured that it can replace national parliaments.

The Outmoding of Capitalism

This is my second article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-Communitarian socialism corresponds to the outmoding of capitalism and therefore constitutes Marx’s lower phase of communism, from which humanity will gradually evolve into the higher phase that witnesses the establishment of all property as common property and thus the abolition of class distinctions.

 

I think I’ll begin this analysis by pointing out the error of those who say that communism is unnatural to our species: the fact that communism has been the rule for our species and class society the exception. Human beings have been around for some 200,000 to 250,000 years, out of which essentially all but the last 10,000 or 12,000 have seen humanity organized in a communist way characterized by collective ownership of all property. Could humanity really have pursued an unnatural form of organization for more than 90% of its existence and survived? But of the communist then you might ask why then it is precisely the age of class society that has been the most prosperous if communism is a superior form of human organization. I like to answer this question by quoting from the summation of the International Communist Current, which provides a classical Marxian answer upon which I will expand:

“…Each level of development of the productive forces of a particular society corresponds to a given type of productive relationship. The relations of production are the relations established between men and women in their activity of producing goods destined to satisfy their needs. In primitive societies the productivity of labour was so low that it scarcely satisfied the barest physical needs of the members of the community. Exploitation and economic inequality were impossible in such a situation: if certain individuals had appropriated to themselves or consumed goods in greater quantities than other members of this society, then the poorer off would not have been able to survive at all. Exploitation…could not appear until the average level of human production had gone beyond the basic minimum needed for physical survival. But between the satisfaction of this basic minimum and the full satisfaction, not only of the material but also the intellectual needs of humanity, there exists an entire range of development in the productivity of labour. … In historical terms, it was this period which separated the dissolution of primitive communist society from the era when fully developed communism would be possible. Just as mankind wasn’t naturally ‘good’ in those ages when men and women weren’t exploited under the conditions of primitive communism, so it hasn’t been naturally ‘bad’ in the epochs of exploitation which have followed. The exploitation of man by man and the existence of economic privilege became possible when average human production exceeded the physical minimum needed for human life to reproduce itself. Both became necessary because the level of human production could not fully satisfy all the needs of all the members of society.

As long as that was the case, communism was impossible, whatever objections the anarchists may raise to the contrary. …”

To expand a bit on a particular point within this — currency — let me highlight that the basic reason why societies of scale use systems of exchange (namely barter and currency) is precisely because 1) the productivity of labor has come to exceed the bare minimum needed to sustain human life, while simultaneously 2) the world’s existing resources remain too finite to satisfy all human needs of all human beings. We thus have to have some way of measuring value until such time as objective scarcity can be vanquished. The Marxist (like yours truly for example) defines the higher phase of communism as being characterized by abundance for precisely that kind of reason. In other words, supply and demand indeed have an inverse relationship and fully developed communism is thus only attainable once supplies in general exceed demand. The more supply exceeds demand, the lower the exchange value of a product or resource gets. Fully developed communism becomes both possible and inevitable when products in general are available in such vast quantities that they have no exchange value and thus become worthless to the capitalist. They then become free. And when everything is free, class distinctions are eliminated. You can’t just leap ahead of objective conditions though and expect it to work out. Any attempt at abolishing money under current global conditions, for example, would simply yield either the spontaneous resurrection of currency systems or the spontaneous resurgence of a bartering system precisely because resources (most of them anyway) remain rather scarce, by which I mean that the global demand for them exceeds the supply. It is, however, exactly this situation which capitalism is itself radically modifying, owing to the enormous increase in the productivity of labor which it is bringing into being.

Most existing schools of Marxism contend that capitalism, with its industrial development, has already rendered human labor productive enough to sustain a fully developed communist system and thus the emergence of such a system is now on the historical agenda and probably has been since the days of either Marx or Lenin. This contention is their fundamental error, which leads to the full host of other errors developed to rationalize why it hasn’t happened yet, dominant among which is the advent of methodological revisionism (the abandonment of dialectical materialism and/or Marxian technological determinism)! In reality, if it were possible to achieve fully developed communism at this time, humanity would already be in the process of doing so according to the Marxian laws of history which dictate that technological revolutions yield social revolutions which in turn yield political revolutions. It isn’t yet happening because scarcity remains the rule! One can see this in that, as I pointed out in my previous post, an equal redistribution of the existing global product would as yet yield universal poverty! (This explains the failure of 20th century communism (state socialism). It was defeated because the realization of its objective was not yet historically possible and because there reached a point where state socialism tended to stand in the way of the emergence of said possibility due to the fact that it was less productive and efficient than capitalism. State socialism is on the retreat today, and nearly vanquished,  not due to a lack of sufficient will power on the part of revolutionaries (as so many other Marxists contend), but due to the fact that it is an historically outmoded aberration of history; one that has already served its historical purpose (assuring the general defeat of feudalism and tribalism) and thus exhausted its usefulness.) But here’s the exciting thing: this situation is changing, for there are today revolutionary changes underway in the development of the productive forces that are trending toward the abolition of scarcity and thus toward the realization of fully developed communism! To highlight how this is happening, bolding a particularly important item therein, I’ll re-post an excerpt from Jeremy Rifkin’s highly insightful new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, that was printed recently in the Huffington Post:

 

“The capitalist era is passing… not quickly, but inevitably. A new economic paradigm — the Collaborative Commons — is rising in its wake that will transform our way of life. We are already witnessing the emergence of a hybrid economy, part capitalist market and part Collaborative Commons. The two economic systems often work in tandem and sometimes compete. They are finding synergies along each other’s perimeters, where they can add value to one another, while benefiting themselves. At other times, they are deeply adversarial, each attempting to absorb or replace the other.

Although the indicators of the great transformation to a new economic system are still soft and largely anecdotal, the Collaborative Commons is ascendant and, by 2050, it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world. An increasingly streamlined and savvy capitalist system will continue to soldier on at the edges of the new economy, finding sufficient vulnerabilities to exploit, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to flourish as a powerful niche player in the new economic era, but it will no longer reign.

What’s undermining the capitalist system is the dramatic success of the very operating assumptions that govern it. At the heart of capitalism there lies a contradiction in the driving mechanism that has propelled it ever upward to commanding heights, but now is speeding it to its death: the inherent dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.

The near zero marginal cost phenomenon has already wreaked havoc on the entertainment, communications, and publishing industries, as more and more information is being made available nearly free to billions of people. Today, more than forty percent of the human race is producing its own music, videos, news, and knowledge on relatively cheap cellphones and computers and sharing it at near zero marginal cost in a collaborative networked world. And now the zero marginal cost revolution is beginning to affect other commercial sectors, including renewable energy, 3D printing in manufacturing, and online higher education. There are already millions of “prosumers” — consumers who have become their own producers — generating their own green electricity at near zero marginal cost around the world. It’s estimated that around 100,000 hobbyists are using open source software and recycled plastic feedstock to manufacture their own 3D printed goods at nearly zero marginal cost. Meanwhile, six million students are currently enrolled in free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that operate at near zero marginal cost and are taught by some of the most distinguished professors in the world, and receiving college credits.

The reluctance to come to grips with near zero marginal cost is understandable.

Many, though not all, of the old guard in the commercial arena can’t imagine how economic life would proceed in a world where most goods and services are nearly free, profit is defunct, property is meaningless, and the market is superfluous. What then?

A powerful new technology platform is emerging with the potential of reducing marginal costs across large sectors of the capitalist economy, with far reaching implications for society in the first half of the 21st Century. The Communications Internet is converging with the fledgling Energy Internet and Logistics Internet in a seamless twenty-first-century intelligent infrastructure — the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT will connect every thing with everyone in an integrated global network. People, machines, natural resources, production lines, logistics networks, the electricity grid, consumption habits, recycling flows, and virtually every other aspect of economic and social life will be linked via sensors and software to the IoT platform, continually feeding Big Data to every node — businesses, homes, vehicles — moment to moment, in real time. Anyone will be able to access the IoT and use Big Data and analytics to develop predictive algorithms that can dramatically increase productivity and reduce the marginal cost of producing and delivering a full range of physical goods and services to near zero just like we now do with information goods.

Lost in all of the excitement over the prospect of the Internet of Things is that connecting everyone and everything in a global network driven by extreme productivity moves us ever faster toward an era of nearly free goods and services and, with it, the shrinking of capitalism in the next half century. The question is what kind of economic system would we need to organize economic activity that is nearly free and shareable?

We are so used to thinking of the capitalist market and government as the only two means of organizing economic life that we overlook the other organizing model in our midst that we depend on daily to deliver a range of goods and services that neither market nor government provides. The Commons predates both the capitalist market and representative government and is the oldest form of institutionalized, self-managed activity in the world.

The contemporary Commons is where billions of people engage in the deeply social aspects of life. It is made up of literally millions of self-managed, mostly democratically run organizations, including educational institutions, healthcare organizations, charities, religious bodies, arts and cultural groups, amateur sports clubs, producer and consumer cooperatives, credit unions, advocacy groups, and a near endless list of other formal and informal institutions that generate the social capital of society.

Currently, the social Commons is growing faster than the market economy in many countries around the world. Still, because what the social Commons creates is largely of social value, not pecuniary value, it is often dismissed by economists. Nonetheless, the social economy is an impressive force. According to a survey of 40 nations, the nonprofit Commons accounts for $2.2 trillion in operating expenditures. In eight countries surveyed–including the United States, Canada, Japan, and France–the nonprofit sector makes up, on average, 5 percent of the GDP. In the US, Canada, and the UK, the nonprofit sector already exceeds 10% of the workforce.

While the capitalist market is based on self-interest and driven by material gain, the social Commons is motivated by collaborative interests and driven by a deep desire to connect with others and share. If the former defends property rights, caveat emptor, and the search for autonomy, the latter promotes open-source innovation, transparency, and the search for community.

What makes the Commons more relevant today than at any other time in its long history is that we are now erecting a high-tech global technology platform whose defining characteristics potentially optimize the very values and operational principles that animate this age-old institution. The IoT is the technological “soul mate” of an emerging Collaborative Commons. The new infrastructure is configured to be distributed in nature in order to facilitate collaboration and the search for synergies, making it an ideal technological framework for advancing the social economy. The operating logic of the IoT is to optimize lateral peer production, universal access, and inclusion, the same sensibilities that are critical to the nurturing and creation of social capital in the civil society. The very purpose of the new technology platform is to encourage a sharing culture, which is what the Commons is all about. It is these design features of the IoT that bring the social Commons out of the shadows, giving it a high-tech platform to become the dominant economic paradigm of the twenty-first century.

The Collaborative Commons is already profoundly impacting economic life. Markets are beginning to give way to networks, ownership is becoming less important than access, and the traditional dream of rags to riches is being supplanted by a new dream of a sustainable quality of life.

Hundreds of millions of people are transferring bits and pieces of their economic life from capitalist markets to the global Collaborative Commons. Prosumers are not only producing and sharing their own information, entertainment, green energy and 3D-printed goods at near zero marginal cost and enrolling in massive open online college courses for nearly free, on the Collaborative Commons. They are also sharing cars, homes, clothes, tools, toys, and countless other items with one another via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, and cooperatives, at low or near zero marginal cost. An increasing number of people are collaborating in “patient-driven” health-care networks to improve diagnoses and find new treatments and cures for diseases, again at near zero marginal cost. And young social entrepreneurs are establishing socially responsible businesses, crowdfunding new enterprises, and even creating alternative social currencies in the new economy. The result is that “exchange value” in the marketplace is increasingly being replaced by “shareable value” on the Collaborative Commons.

In the unfolding struggle between the exchange economy and the sharing economy, most economists argue that if everything were nearly free, there would be no incentive to innovate and bring new goods and services to the fore because inventors and entrepreneurs would have no way to recoup their up-front costs. Yet millions of prosumers are freely collaborating in social Commons, creating new IT and software, new forms of entertainment, new learning tools, new media outlets, new green energies, new 3D-printed manufactured products, new peer-to-peer health-research initiatives, and new nonprofit social entrepreneurial business ventures, using open-source legal agreements freed up from intellectual property restraints. The upshot is a surge in creativity that is at least equal to the great innovative thrusts experienced by the capitalist market economy in the twentieth century.

While the capitalist market is not likely to disappear, it will no longer exclusively define the economic agenda for civilization. There will still be goods and services whose marginal costs are high enough to warrant their exchange in markets and sufficient profit to ensure a return on investment. But in a world in which more things are potentially nearly free and shareable, social capital is going to play a far more significant role than financial capital, and economic life is increasingly going to take place on a Collaborative Commons.”

 

In other words, the technological revolutions that are being wrought by the advent of the Internet of Things are trending our species toward the abolition of scarcity in most fields and thus toward a situation wherein the bulk of the social product is more or less freely distributed! And, just as exciting, there are now books like this out discussing how the social relations are already in a protracted process of revolutionary transformation along more collectivist lines as a direct result! Can this not but yield corresponding political revolutions in the future according to Marx’s laws of history which dictate that social revolutions yield corresponding political revolutions??

In Marx’s day the terms “socialism” and “communism” were used interchangeably. Over the 20th century though, the term “socialism” started to generally be applied to the lower phase. For example, when a Marxist uses the term “socialism” today they typically are referring to the lower phase, whereas their use of the term “communism” almost invariably refers to the higher phase. According to Marx, the lower phase of communism can be distinguished from the higher phase by its distribution of the social product: in the lower phase, according to Marx, the social product is mainly distributed according to work, while in the higher phase it is instead distributed according to need. It is through this process, Marx contended, that production for use will come to replace production for exchange. Indeed the former ethos (distribution according to work) prevailed in 20th century communist systems of state socialism accordingly. But systems of state socialism in reality corresponded to the outmoding of feudalism rather than of capitalism, as Marx believed. What we are now seeing is the emergence of a different kind of socialism; one that actually does correspond to the outmoding of capitalism! And this new kind of socialism operates somewhat differently than how Marx envisioned the lower phase of communism functioning. It does not distribute the social product mainly according to work because social value, within its framework, has already largely replaced market value! The interesting feature of such a development — the protracted economic takeover by non-profits — is that it doesn’t feature generalized government ownership, but yet manages to largely replace production for exchange (the capitalist ethos) with production for use (the communist ethos). So, in other words, it’s looking like the lower phase of communism (the kind of socialism that actually leads to fully developed communism) will not be built around the distribution of value according to work after all, but more in accordance with what Marx would have considered the ethos of the higher phase of communism (production of social value). And it’s also looking like property ownership will get more collective than it is right now in this developing lower phase, but that it won’t necessarily reach the level of collective ownership by society (as in ownership by the central government), but rather more like collective ownership or collective control by private groups. And from there we leap to the higher phase — fully developed communism — once further technological revolutions have finished off scarcity in the remaining economic sectors as well. That’s how I think the transition to fully developed communism will actually look as it happens over this next century or two.

Think: We are used to thinking of society and the economy as being divided into two sectors: the public sector and the private sector. However, within the private sector there exists a division between its commercial and not-for-profit sections (the latter of which, as highlighted in the excerpt from Rifkin’s book above, tend to be of a more collectivist structure and ethos). The former produce market value while the latter produces social value. Thus the fact that we can now foresee that the latter will ultimately take over the bulk of the world economy well within this century means that we can now foresee the beginning of capitalism’s historical outmoding.

Redefining the Proletariat

This is my first article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-The most basic contradiction in the world is between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The unpropertied strata are the proletariat and the propertied strata are the bourgeoisie. This is why communism has only taken root in poorer countries to date (with the exception of East Germany, but that was forced upon their people by a foreign occupation).

 

To begin, the historical basis for my alternate definition of the proletariat as the global poor instead of as the industrial wage-workers, that redefinition has its roots in the experience of the Chinese Communists under Mao. The Chinese Communists had initially attempted to loosely follow the Soviet model of how to make a communist revolution: first uniting the country’s socialist forces toward the achievement of liberal democracy, then establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat through urban insurrection. What they hadn’t counted on was the fact that the Chinese class enemy had learned from what had happened to their Russian counterparts and made preparations. The Nationalists (theoretically a democratic socialist party, though not so democratic or so socialist in practice under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek as it had been under Sun Yat-Sen) turned on the Communists whenever they wrenched control of a major city from the feudal warlords that had de facto control of the country, forcing the Communists out of the cities. Though the Trotskyists suggested that said defeats were consequential of ideological impurity on the part of the Chinese Communists (namely of trusting the Nationalists), it’s hard to 1) imagine how the Communists could have independently wrested control from the warlords in the first place, and 2) explain why subsequent attempts to overthrow the Nationalists’ government resulted in catastrophic failures that, taken together, nearly wiped out the CP if revolutionary struggle independent of the Nationalists was indeed the answer. Mao Zedong offered a different conclusion: that the Russian approach to making proletarian revolution (urban insurrection) simply couldn’t work in China because the political circumstances of the Chinese Communists were fundamentally different than those the Russian Bolsheviks had confronted. He advanced the idea that, based on this experience, each country needed to find its own distinct path to communist revolution, and he prescribed an outline for China that later became further developed and synthesized as protracted people’s war. Central to protracted people’s war was a concept Mao called the mass line, which is the doctrine of embracing a majoritarian orientation. Mao believed that the Chinese Communists could still achieve victory if they based themselves among the peasantry since the peasants composed the overwhelming majority of China’s population (as in well over 80%). This idea was seen as heresy by the Communist International. The strategic separation from the industrial wage-workers Mao proposed was taken as a fundamental betrayal of Marx’s famous call “Workers of the world, unite!” Accordingly, Mao’s forces received little aid from the Soviet Union. Mao and his forces were taken by both the Comintern and many in the West generally (including many in the American government) as, for all intents and purposes, simply agrarian reformers analogous to the American populists of the 19th century. Mao proved them all wrong though by successfully wresting control of the country, reorganizing it along socialist lines, and at least initially aligning with the Soviet Union. The Chinese peasantry had served as an effective social base for proletarian revolution! Where the Russian Revolution had first taken power in the cities among the workers and spread out to the vast countryside (where the overwhelming majority lived) from there largely by force, the Chinese communist revolution first gradually won over the vast countryside in general and the peasantry in particular before encircling and overrunning the cities from without. The two approaches were strategically opposite, yet both had produced a socialist outcome. This began to chip away the perceived centrality of industrial workers to communist revolution and the romantization of them and their role.

Although Mao had viewed protracted people’s war as a strategy applicable only to China, variations on it was spontaneously applied by radicals and communists in a whole range of other countries thereafter, often with success. (Just a few examples of victories resulting from the application of people’s war: Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and more.) Observing all this, the Chinese Communists began to see that there were many countries with conditions at least basically similar to China’s and that small tweaks of Mao’s version of people’s war seemed to work in all of them; in all of the generally feudalistic and backward countries of the world. The Russian approach started to be seen by the Chinese Communists as an aberration rather than the rule when it came to achieving success. Some (like Chen Boda, who would ultimately become head of the Cultural Revolution Group) went as far as to propose that people’s war was universally the best revolutionary strategy, even in more developed countries (where perhaps urban guerilla warfare might be pursued in place of rural guerilla warfare). But it was Mao’s top army commander, Lin Biao, who took the idea the furthest, proposing the idea of a single, unified global people’s war for the vanquishing of imperialism in general and American imperialism in particular. It was formulated this way:

“Taking the entire globe, if North America and Western Europe can be called “the cities of the world”, then Asia, Africa and Latin America constitute “the rural areas of the world”. Since World War II, the proletarian revolutionary movement has for various reasons been temporarily held back in the North American and West European capitalist countries, while the people’s revolutionary movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been growing vigorously. In a sense, the contemporary world revolution also presents a picture of the encirclement of cities by the rural areas. In the final analysis, the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggles of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s population.”

(Source)

This made sense to some Maoists at the time, considering that most of the world was indeed still rural at that time (as were particularly the general areas Lin highlighted). He also pointed out in that same document that…

“In committing aggression against these countries, the imperialists usually begin by seizing the big cities and the main lines of communication, but they are unable to bring the vast countryside completely under their control. The countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the broad areas in which the revolutionaries can maneuver freely. The countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the revolutionary bases from which the revolutionaries can go forward to final victory. Precisely for this reason, Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s theory of establishing revolutionary base areas in the rural districts and encircling the cities from the countryside is attracting more and more attention among the people in these regions.”

Here we are presented with both motive and opportunity for revolution: imperial aggression as the motive and the agrarian nature of its victims as the opportunity. Critics of trying to apply this strategy in the contemporary world like yours truly point out that conditions have fundamentally changed: that the world of today is primarily urban and that the class enemy has solid control most everywhere accordingly and that the aforementioned opportunity component has therefore diminished immensely since Lin Biao’s formulation of this strategy for world revolution in 1965. I firmly believe that world revolution remains inevitable, but that it will take a different form in today’s world that more generally resembles the old Russian approach of urban insurrection. Namely, while one opportunity component (physical space not controlled by the enemy’s state) has diminished, a new one has opened up in its place: the Internet, with its vast improvements in the ability of the masses to communicate with each other and the inability of the enemy’s states to adequately control the free-flow of said communication. Physical space for revolution may have diminished in the last 50ish years, but cyberspace for revolution has emerged to take its place. As a direct result of this new increase in opportunity for revolution, recent years have seen a major increase in global revolutionary activity, and namely in urban areas.

Anyway, I want to get back to a point Lin highlighted in the first quote: the idea that “Since World War II, the proletarian revolutionary movement has for various reasons been temporarily held back in the North American and West European capitalist countries, while the people’s revolutionary movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been growing vigorously.” This rang true to many and brought up the question of why in Maoist circles around the world. What exactly were these “various reasons” for the delay in the global northwest; in the countries that were mostly capitalist and urban rather than mostly feudal and agrarian? After all, when leading forces in the world communist movement start proposing that the world proletarian revolution take a shape opposite that which Marx proposed (from rural areas to urban areas instead of the other way around), clearly some explanation is required. One gathers from the way that Lin Biao words his document that he believed the main reason for the aforementioned delay to be the solid military control of the urban areas of the world that the class enemy had. However, some in the global Maoist movement dug deeper into this question. In the early 1980s, the Maoist Internationalist Movement emerged with the conclusion that the class enemy had simply bought the loyalty of most of the population in the imperial citadels of the world with the plunder they had extracted from the Third World nations. In other words, when it came to the global northwest and other countries like the global northwest, it wasn’t just the opportunity for proletarian revolution that had radically diminished, but also the motive. The MIM’s orientation contended therefore that the question of one’s wealth level was every bit as important to and defining of their class orientation as their formal relationship to production; that communist revolution had thus far only taken place (voluntarily) in Third World countries because the general populations there, including the peasantry, were more proletarian than the typical worker in the First World by virtue of being poorer. The term “proletariat” after all stems from an old Roman term that simply meant “poor”. Here (with highlights by yours truly) is how Engels defined the proletariat in The Principles of Communism:

“The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labor and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for labor – hence, on the changing state of business, on the vagaries of unbridled competition. The proletariat, or the class of proletarians, is, in a word, the working class of the 19th century.

Given what I have just shared though, were workers synonymous with the proletariat in the 20th century? Are they today? Or is there more nuance? What is more fundamental here to one’s political orientation: the property-less condition or a certain relationship to production? The MIM had reached the conclusion that they were both at least equally important based upon the aforementioned research and real-world experience. The MIM’s ideological successor, the Leading Light Communist Organization — of which I was briefly a member for six months in 2011 — goes further, proposing that the properly-less condition is more decisive than any other factor in terms of one’s political orientation; their willingness to embrace and fight for socialism and communism. The LLCO accordingly has redefined the proletariat as the global poor. To explain some of their case for that, I used to be with the Leading Light Communist Organization and there was a mathematically gifted member of that organization known publicly by his screen name Serve the People who provided a credible estimate of the overall value of labor valid as of 2005:

“Comrade Marx pointed out that labor is the substance of value. He said that the number of hours of average abstract socially necessary labor needed to produce a commodity represents its value. That means labor of average productivity under the given working conditions for the specified type of work. Therefore, if traded at value, one hour of labor put into harvesting parsnips is exchangeable against one hour of assembling washing machines (if the labor in both cases is of average productivity).

Elsewhere I have seen estimates from the UN that the world’s nominal GDP in 2005 is about $36 trillion. That would put the value of labor at $8400 per year, or $4.20 per hour. What is the implication? In the US, the minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, and even higher in some states and cities. If average labor is worth $4.20, then even people making the minimum wage are overpaid on average by about 23%. The average wage in the US is about $18 per hour, which is more than 4 times the value of labor.”

In other words, if we were to redistribute all the wealth on this Earth equally, as of 2005, everyone would have received the U.S. purchasing power equivalent of about $8,400 for the year. Now we could update this, I’m sure, for subsequent increases in global production and inflation, but you can gather that the adjustment wouldn’t be massive and that what we’d be looking at here is universal poverty. That’s what equality looks like in today’s world in a material sense. That’s what communism would look like if applied globally today, which is precisely the reason why it’s not being applied globally today. How is that possible? Because, while the average American makes around $25,000 or $30,000 a year (and about $50,000 per household), the average person on this planet, by contrast, is living on the U.S. purchasing power equivalent of about $1,000 to $2,500 a year. The immense majority, in other words, lives in extreme poverty. That’s the cold, hard fact of the matter. An equal redistribution of wealth would not eliminate poverty, but only extreme poverty, and it would do so by making ‘ordinary’ poverty universal. That was LLCO’s orientation. They defined poverty relative to the value of labor instead of by an objective standard of what constitutes poverty: being able to make ends meet. LLCO thus wouldn’t acknowledge that theirs is a pauperist perspective (i.e. that they are advocates of universal poverty), though they objectively are. Pauperism here is favored based on the idea essentially just that it’s moral. …That’s not exactly a concept Marx would’ve agreed with. Reliance on moral arguments is one of the biggest shortcomings of the modern communist movement. It shows how far divorced the modern communist movement has become from a scientific understanding of the world. Marx’s historical materialism is a technologically deterministic theory in which the economic relations of production are functionally explained by the material forces of production and in which the political and legal institutions (the “superstructure”) are functionally explained by the relations of production (the “base”). The transition from one mode of production to another is driven by the tendency of the productive forces to develop. As for why this happens, I agree with G.A. Cohen’s reasoning provided in his 1978 book Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence, where he accounts for this tendency by reference to the rational character of the human species: where there is the opportunity to adopt a more productive technology and thus reduce the burden of labor, human beings will tend to take it. Thus, human history can be understood as a series of rational steps that increase human productive power. In abandoning Marxian economic determinism, writing it off as “economism” and “triumphalism”, the communist of today has, in its place, been forced to adopt a subjectivist rationale for being a communist: it’s morally right. Sounds pretty scientific, doesn’t it? Gee, why aren’t the global masses buying this?? Hmm, maybe it’s because 20th century communism (essentially the alternative these groups offer) proved less productive and efficient than the capitalist alternative, thus assuring a greater burden of labor! Think: why is it that in the world’s remaining socialist countries today (that would be Cuba and North Korea) the most economic growth is generated in the capitalist sectors of the economy (like tourism)? Why is that the workers there dream of working in capitalist tourism zones? Because the standard of living there is higher, that’s why! In other words, 20th century communism (state socialism) is historically outmoded, while capitalism is not yet historically outmoded. Communism WILL replace capitalism in the end, but not in its inefficient 20th century form. As I will explain more fully in another entry this week, the form 21st century communism will take — the one that corresponds not to the outmoding of feudalism, but of capitalism — has become apparent, but is not yet manifest. The productive forces have not yet been sufficiently developed, though they will be sufficiently developed well within this century. But anyway, my point here has been to make the case that we need to define the proletariat as the poor (and, in my opinion, the relatively poor as well (those who barely make ends meet) because overall they align the same way as the actual poor when surveyed).

But, you may ask, what then is unique about our era that renders communism inevitable if not the existence of an historically new and unique class (the industrial wage-worker)? After all, the poor have been with us forever and poverty has always been the rule for the human species! Doesn’t such a redefinition of the key class therefore effectively negate Marx’s whole case for communism? No, it doesn’t. What is unique about our era that renders a communist future inevitable isn’t the existence of an historically new and unique class, but the advanced and onward marching development of the productive forces in general and of communications in particular. Improvements in communications tend to yield more egalitarian movements and outcomes. In ancient human societies for example, the development of language yielded uprisings by the lower ranks that forced primitive communism into existence, whereupon it became the rule for our species for most of our history until societies of a larger scale were established. In today’s world, we see a communications revolution of similar potential getting underway (one which is already yielding a major uptick in revolutionary activity around the world), accompanied by the emerging developmental possibility of a society wherein production occurs for use rather than for exchange, as well as the protracted re-proletarianization of the bourgeois nations (including this one, the United States). Inevitability is the convergence of possibility and necessity. Just such a convergence is developing right before our very eyes in this century.

There are also other, more personal reasons I believe in defining the proletariat differently than Marx did: I’m a woman and a teacher. Women have not traditionally been allowed into the formal workforce, at least as a career option anway, but they’ve nonetheless been both poorer and responsible for most of society’s labor. For example, in today’s world overall, the United Nations has found that women that women do 66% of the world’s work (which includes responsibility for producing 50% of its food) and for it receive just 10% of its income and 1% of its property. Women are still, even today though, far less likely than men to be permitted into the formal workforce in general and manual labor fields like industrial work in particular. I therefore find it rather demeaning, dishonest, and frankly sexist for Marx to have proclaimed industrial workers specifically the source of all value in capitalist society simply because it is more productive! If not for the labor that women have traditionally performed in the main — things like maintaining the household, raising the children, etc. — then would men have had the same opportunity to engage in industrial work in the first place?? I think not! Whose labor then has really been central?? Or take my current job for example. I’m a teacher. Modern industry increasingly involves the use of advanced machinery that requires education to master. …Okay not that I personally teach that stuff (I’m a history teacher!), but I think you get my point. Marx’s way of defining the sources of value was rather sexist (which shouldn’t be at all surprising considering the age in which he lived) and also quite belittling of the contributions that other workers contribute to the production of value, including indirect but absolutely vital contributions to industrial production.

The Fundamental Elements of Monkey

As some of you know, I’ve been in somewhat grey political territory for about the last three years now, describing myself alternately as a democratic socialist, a futurist, and a communist revolutionary nonetheless. That has changed recently. I have recently consolidated (at least in my head) a sweeping new communist theory rooted in the Marxist tradition, or at least what constitutes a solid starting point for the fuller development of such a theory. I have so far disclosed the full version thereof to no one and part of it only to one person. I feel that it is time to define myself — my philosophy and politics — concretely once more. To that end, for your consideration, I am posting the basic points of my new perspective today and will elaborate considerably in future posts, whereupon I will likely modify this post to include links to further information. This is all simply so that you, the reader, understand where I’m coming from.

 

-Dialectical materialism is a basic scientific method for understanding the world in general, including all fields of human endeavor, but becomes methodologically enhanced when complemented by the mass line, aspects of rational choice theory (the theory that people are rational creatures who tend to choose the most productive and efficient approaches) and game theory (the theory that people tend to avoid the riskier option).

-The most basic contradiction in the world is between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The unpropertied strata are the proletariat and the propertied strata are the bourgeoisie. This is why communism has only taken root in poorer countries to date (with the exception of East Germany, but that was forced upon their people by a foreign occupation).

-The 20th century witnessed the emergence of bourgeois nations (empires wherein most of the population consisted of property owners). These have no future. The bourgeois status of these nations is being gradually phased out by the capitalist class.

-The dominant political system in the world today is plutocratic republicanism; a particular form of bourgeois democracy. It is a form in which the masses can more or less genuinely choose who wins an election, but in which election outcomes barely matter because the capitalist class commands the levers of everyday political power.

-20th century communism (state socialism) was defeated because it corresponded to the outmoding of feudalism, not to the outmoding of capitalism. Its emergence was inevitable and positive (without which most of the world would still be agrarian and feudal/tribal to this very day), but an historical aberration nonetheless. It was not Marx’s lower phase of communism, which corresponds to the outmoding of capitalism, but rather communism of an historically independent and unique sort.

-Communitarian socialism corresponds to the outmoding of capitalism and therefore constitutes Marx’s lower phase of communism, from which humanity will gradually evolve into the higher phase that witnesses the establishment of all property as common property and thus the abolition of class distinctions.

-Communist revolution, led by the proletariat and most often taking the form of urban insurrection, is inevitable. It is guaranteed by the developing convergence of opportunity and necessity. The opportunity will be provided by the emergence and development of the Internet of Things, with its ability to finally vanquish global scarcity on the one hand and the qualitative improvement in human communications it offers on the other. The necessity will be provided by the emergence of a growing contradiction between the continued development thereof on the one hand and the continuance of the existing property relations on the other, and aided by the protracted re-proletarianization of the bourgeois nations.