Monthly Archives: May 2014

Redistributive vs. Reproductive Communism

There has evidently been some confusion concerning what I mean when I contrast 20th century communism (state socialism) with the new kind of communism that’s emerging in this 21st century (communitarian socialism), so maybe an example is in order to illustrate the fundamental difference:

Do you remember Napster? I’m sure you do. They were the people who pioneered peer-to-peer file sharing. The service they famously provided to subscribers between 1999 and 2001 mainly vis-a-vis music was an example of communism, as in to say the free sharing of property via common pool of resources. However, it was not history’s traditional, redistributive communism. Instead it introduced the world to a new kind of communism: reproductive communism. I think we can illustrate the difference by pointing to some other examples of the common pool approach. Consider, for example, libraries and rental services. Since all products therein are used, they can be offered for use either cheaply or for free. However, one must eventually return the product to the pool because the resources of a physical library or rental outfit are finite. It is entirely possible for a library or rental place to be out of a certain item at any given point. Napster, by contrast, never had shortages. Why not? Because rather than relying on the redistributive model of sharing wherein people sacrifice personal possession of property to the common pool for the benefit of all, Napster’s high-tech approach to the common pool was instead based on uploading a copy of the original material to the pool, whereupon subscribers were free to copy that copy at will. It was a different approach to sharing that didn’t involve sacrifice on the part of the sharer! Thus, naturally, it became very popular very quickly.

The Napster approach to the free sharing of resources promoted artistic experimentation, creating the free publicity that drove the commercial successes of such previously less popular and less-known artists as Radiohead and Dispatch, at the expense of the music industry overall and of established artists like Metallica and Meat Loaf in particular. We thus see how innovation and experimentation became antithetical to the market economy in that context, as communism was proving superior at promoting the new. The music industry, with the support of the established musicians, used the power of the courts — the power of the state, in other words — to shut Napster down on the grounds that the free sharing of music files violated copyright laws, i.e. the concept of intellectual property: the notion that one’s ideas are private property. We see, in other words, how a technological revolution had created a social revolution that ultimately ran into fundamental conflict with the powers that were (and are) that could be resolved only with the use of political force. The inevitability of a different final resolve though is spoken to by the fact the, following the shuttering of Napster (which later revived in a more commercial form), other comparable services emerged online to take its place, with the difference that many of them (the ones that have survived) strategically adapted to copyright laws by working around them, adopting a decentralized structure that renders it nigh impossible to prosecute the central institution. Today, through these venues, countless people all around the world routinely acquire free music, movies, TV shows, and all manner of other media, and meanwhile the music industry continues to lose more money every year in spite of its attempts to crack down. The communist approach — this communist approach — is winning out vis-a-vis media in general for a reason. It is winning out because it is the better approach. It affords each individual the opportunity to possess an unlimited quantity of pretty much whatever media they want at will. There are no shortages because a reproductive, rather than a redistributive, model is applied, and there is no cost to the individual (beyond perhaps any cost that may be associated with subscription) because the unlimited nature of the quantity in a reproductive model eliminates all exchange value. In short, the high-tech, peer-to-peer file sharing approach eliminates the core historical problems of redistributive communism: shortages and a lack of innovation, both of which are traceable to the necessity of sacrifice. By eliminating the sacrifice component, the main problems with communism are eliminated, thus pretty much leaving only benefits. Benefits that render capitalist notions of private property and profit outmoded. In the future, people will produce social value (use value) instead of market value (exchange value).

But, you say, that’s only media. It’s only communications. What of other goods and services? How can we copy, for example, industrial machinery or energy in a similar fashion, you ask? Believe it or not, we are actually getting there! There is now not only a Communications Internet (the one we often simply refer to as “the Internet”) in existence to serve as the world’s common pool for media and other communications, but also an Energy Internet and a Logistics Internet that are starting to serve as a comparable common pools for those other things. And these different Internets are slowly merging into one. Think of the implications for the future! And think of what else we will surely, at some point, find a way of reproducing in unlimited quantities! What we’re talking about here is the emergence of a global common pool of resources resulting directly from the information revolution. This is why I suggest that Marx’s biggest mistake was not forecasting the inevitability of communism, but rather believing that it we be a product of the industrial revolution. The fully developed communism Marx envisioned, characterized by universal abundance, is indeed going to become a reality, and is already in a slow process of becoming one right now. That process, however, did not begin with the industrial revolution, but with the information revolution, which Marx could not have foreseen. That is the key error in Marx’s work, not something else related to human nature or whatever.

What is Plutocratic Republicanism?

This is my fourth 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 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.

 

The (serious) Marxist has always maintained that political democracy under capitalism is insurmountably biased in favor of the bourgeoisie. Marx viewed it this way: in his words, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Marx christened this situation a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, posing the alternative of establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. You see, as far as Marx was concerned, liberal democracy was a myth. In reality, political power was always dominated by one or another class. It therefore became simply a matter of which class reigned supreme to the exclusion of the others. To many liberals, this may seem as but a cynical view rather than a reflection of truth. Marx here, however, concentrates a very typical proletarian perspective. Marx, after all, was poor and unemployed for most of his life. He belonged to this strata of the population and accordingly his views were often reflective of those that members of such a class develop spontaneously. These views get developed because poorer people FEEL disenfranchised, which is why they are, in any country, the least likely to vote and also why financial penalties for not voting have proven the most effective way to drive up election turnout. The big question is WHY poorer sections of the population so consistently feel disenfranchised under what on paper are democratic conditions. After all, don’t they have as much right to vote as anyone? Isn’t political power thus rendered class-neutral? Sure, in the olden days when there property qualifications for voting and holding public office, you could characterize that situation as a rich man’s dictatorship, but how can one honestly argue that the present democratic arrangements we see here in America and throughout most of today’s world, which afford universal suffrage and so forth, simply constitute another form of aristocratic rule?

A recent scientific study examining 30 years of opinions surveys and policy decisions — the first of its kind — has definitively answered the above questions by showing that, in reality, the amount of political power you have (i.e. the extent to which you can influence the policy decision-making process) can be measured in terms of the amount of time politicians wind up having to spend with you and that the amount of time they are compelled to spend with you, in turn, is determined by how much money you have. The ballot box is but one venue of access to politicians. In that sense, voting makes a difference in terms of your ability to influence policy decisions, but not much of one. Far more effective are the everyday things that influence policy decision-making like lobbying and organized campaign fundraising: things that involve giving politicians money. Money that is not evenly distributed across society and thus to which a few people have wildly disproportionate access to. You can now begin to see how this is, in fact, a dollar democracy. In the words of the aforementioned study, even the average, middle class American has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” and poorer Americans have even less because they’re the least likely to bother voting. “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose”, the researchers what’s more find. But then if the super-rich really do one-sidedly drive public policy, why then doesn’t the average middle class American feel as disenfranchised as poor and working class people do? Why doesn’t the whole 98% feel alienated enough to see no point in voting? This question and many others that naturally spring to mind at this point were recently the subject of an excellent series of New York Times opinion columns responding to this new study’s findings, all of which I will strongly recommend reading before continuing with this post. Here they are:

Political Inequality Worsens Economic Inequality, by Ruy Teixeira

There Are Really Few Disagreements Between Classes, by Scott Winship

Organize to Re-Democratize the Nation, by Theda Skopcol

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Public Opinion, by James Stimson

Oligarchs Rule Because People Let Them, by Jelani Cobb

The answer to that earlier question as to why the average middle class American still feels enfranchised despite the fact that objectively they’re not is highlighted in Scott Winship’s article. He points out that the study finds “policy preferences are widely shared between middle-class and upper-income Americans. The correlation between the two across nearly 1,800 polling questions is 0.78; it would be 1.00 if the two groups had the same preferences and 0.00 if their preferences were completely unrelated to each other. (It would be negative if middle class and rich preferences were opposed.)” In other words, rich people and middle class people agree on public policy ideas 89% of the time: a fact which conclusively proves that middle class strata tend to naturally align with the ruling class overall and therefore should be considered class enemies of the proletariat. But does the proletariat itself have a different set of class interests? Yes! That’s why more and more people are developing skeptical attitudes about the existing political system. Why do more and more people feel that the system is rigged? Answer: because more and more Americans are falling out of the middle class and thus developing the value system of the unpropertied strata, which is far more antithetical to those of the rich!

How do we, those who seek the emancipation of the proletariat, overcome this? Theda Skopcol’s article presents us with the answer of revisiting reformism: organize in a way that’s independent of the wealthy. She proposes that the masses establish “dues-paying citizen associations to provide votes and predictable funding to carefully vetted politicians and officeholders – who would, in turn, be expected to spend time talking with ordinary constituents and their representatives.” That’s pretty much analogous to the idea of unionization save that it’s more populist than workerist. Spiritually this is analogous to 20th century reformism, in other words. That kind of simple reformism worked in a sense, but 1) only for a time (and a time that is now past for reasons I laid out in my recent article America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations), and 2) it was something that was done in response to the threat of communism in the first place (as I also pointed out in that same article), not independently of communism’s existence. What’s more, the unfavorable balance of class forces in the bourgeois nations in general, including America, also ensures the existence of only limited demand for progressive reformism, as most of the population’s interests line up with those of the ruling class (as pointed out in the previous paragraph). The capitalist class will solve the latter issue for us in probably a decade or two with a national bankruptcy crisis that will re-proletarianize the bulk of Americans. Demand for populist action against the ruling class will therefore increase as this century goes on. But since that we know that reformism by itself obviously isn’t adequate to liberate the proletariat or “re-”democratize the system (as if it was ever principally democratic!), what then is the actual solution? After all, it’s not as if 20th century communism fared any better than the reformist movement in the end! Granted that we know the reason it failed to defeat capitalism was because it was a kind of socialism (state socialism) that was unable to do so; because the advent of such a socialism was historically premature as yet and that that will certainly change well within this century.

In conclusion, it’s not as if our election results aren’t basically authentic or anything. It’s not like what some people on the left suggest: that corporations can really just buy every election or elections generally and thus very directly control all election outcomes. They can’t. The last presidential election here in the United States exemplifies this fact. After all, it was Romney who enjoyed the backing of most of corporate America (by which I mean, according to a survey on the subject conducted shortly before election day, two out of every three American business owners), yet he lost. How? He lost because, while laws restricting campaign contributions have been greatly weakened in recent years to the obvious benefit of the wealthy, unlimited corporate contributions can still be largely countered by the modern-day phenomenon of crowdfunding. Relying mainly on crowdfunding, team Obama was able to muster a sufficient war chest to compete with Romney’s corporately-financed one. Even though Romney still marginally won the money game, Obama’s campaign funding was still close enough to Romney’s level that he was able to get his message out in an adequately competitive way that enabled him to win. It goes to show that, yes, our election outcomes are basically authentic even now. But here’s the key: it doesn’t really matter very much because actual policy decisions are overwhelmingly determined outside the electoral arena. That’s what this new study shows us. The result is a bourgeois dictatorship, but of a particular kind. It’s not a dictatorship of ALL property owners (as in the olden days), but specifically of the very wealthy, i.e. specifically a plutocracy (rule of the rich). However, it doesn’t feel like one to most people in this country as yet because the interests of middle class people overwhelmingly line up with those of the super-rich! But with re-proletarianization (which, again, is inevitable), that feeling will start to fundamentally change with people’s changing class interests. Eventually, in probably a decade or two, following a wholly foreseeable and structurally inescapable bankruptcy crisis, most Americans will come to belong to the ranks of the poor and working classes. That change in their class interests will expose the already-existing plutocracy for what it is because, as a result, America will no longer feel like a democracy anymore to most Americans. Policy will become fundamentally divorced from public opinion. Thus American democracy will no longer feel authentic and large numbers of Americans will want a radically different kind of political system. In my earlier entry entitled America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations (which I linked to earlier in this article), I laid out a basic sketch of what the emergence of such an alternative politics might look like in the future.