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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jehu Eaves' Critique of My Work

Jehu Eaves has written a thoughtful, multipart "critical examination of Kevin Carson's mutualism" at Gonzo Times.

Eaves begins in Part One by acknowledging the truth of my account of the state's indispensible role in the primitive accumulation process and the rise of capitalism, but defends Marx against the charge that he denied the indispensibility of the state. "He writes of the bloody violence unleashed on the floating population of England under Henry VIII, and, moreover, the history of plunder and colonization, and intensified inter-state conflict that accompanied the rise of Capital...."

Eaves quotes Marx again, in Part Two, reiterating his argument that "Wage Slavery was, in Marx’s opinion, not a result of nature, nor was it the mere product of preexisting social development."

And in Part Three, he asserts once again that I would "get no argument from Marx" regarding the claim that "every step in the development of Capital has required State coercion and violence...."

Here I would just say that the problem with Marx is that he describes the state's role in ways that imply its indispensibility in some places, while hedging on it in others. He is ambivalent. And Engels, in Anti-Duhring, flat-out asserts that the process of separation of capital from labor and the rise of wage-employment as the predominant model for organizing production would have occurred even if not a single hectare of peasant land been expropriated. (My reading of Engels will become a topic of dispute later on).

In any case, Eaves himself acknowledges that bloody, brutal state coercion was central to the rise of capitalism and the wage system as we know it. And more importantly, he acknowledges that

Even with the appearance of commodities, trade, money, etc. the emergence of capitalist social relations is not a necessary outcome. It occurs in history only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence enters into a specific relationship with another who has the “freedom” to sell her capacity to labor and is, moreover, compelled by circumstances, on pain of starvation, to sell this capacity. However, as was shown in the previous post, even facing starvation, it still took relentless state violence over many decades — centuries — for this mass of pitiful sub-humans to be broken to a life of wage slavery.

Wage slavery is no natural state for any human being. Despite the violence of the State and the efforts to starve them into submission, domesticating human beings to the routine of modern wage slavery was nowhere near as clean and elegant as is implied by the supply/demand curve of the simple-minded economist. It was — and remains today — an arena of constant violent aggression within society against the worker, in which every means available — political, military and economic — are brought to bear to compel her submission.

Despite all this in defense of Marx himself, Eaves seconds my scorn for modern-day Marxists. Interestingly, in Part Two, he seems to be of the opinion regarding Marx that (in the words of Nietzsche) "There was one Christian and he died on the cross."

On the other hand, we have the Marxist, who, despite his self-identification, could not pick Karl Marx out of a crowd of well shaven Keynesian economists. Unlike the Anarcho-Capitalist — who, reflecting his social base, decries the imposts of the Fascist State on the meager wealth of the petty capitalists, marginalized from productive employment of their capital by the progress of Capital itself, and forced to scurry about in various speculative enterprises to protect it from inflation — the Marxist is a poseur, who advocates on behalf of the wage slave — but only so far as she remains a slave of the State. Reduction of hours of labor to end unemployment forever? The Marxist has never heard of such nonsense, despite having read Capital, where Marx explicitly referred to it as the “modest Magna Carta” of the working class. In any case, the Marxist explains, we need the Fascist State to “invest” in “infrastructure” and “green jobs”, so the active laboring population must be worked to its absolute limit and the unemployed left to starve, so that the Fascist State may have the resources it needs to accomplish this. (Taking a page from the talking points memo of Fascist economists like Paul Krugman, the Marxist has taken to referring to wasteful Fascist State expenditures as “investments”.) If, by some fantastic chance, working people should overthrow this Fascist State, the Marxist explains, even then compulsory labor cannot be done away with. The workers is not prepared intellectually to manage her own affairs without the despotism of the party-state, which alone has the foresight and vision to manage society on her behalf until such time as she is deemed capable. When might this be? The party-state will know it, when the time arrives, of course.

Eaves' main area of disagreement with me, stated in Part Three, concerns my difference from Marx -- and himself -- "on the question... of, which, the State or Capital, is the driving force in this development," and my belief that "the State is the autonomous actor in the development of capitalist exploitation...." He takes what, in the terminology of 20th century Marxist analysis, would be considered a much more purely instrumental role of the state in relation to capital. The role of the state, although essential, is an inevitable outgrowth of the nature of capital:

However, even if we... assume the State has acted throughout history directly on its own behalf as the social capitalist, it is still obvious that the inherent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production impose on the State-Capital entity precisely the same laws as are imposed on the total social capital when it is formally operating independent of the State. The entirely formal distinction between the State, on the one hand, and the total social capital, on the other, has absolutely no impact on the influence of the relations of production on political relations generally, but only on the ways this influence is expressed in actual political events.

This is because, in historical materialism, the State, whatever its relation to the existing mode of production prevailing in society, is nevertheless only a body composed of members of society carrying out the particular public functions of the State. It is a part of the general division of labor prevailing in society, and not, as mainstream political-economy would have us believe, an entity standing outside this division of labor. It does not matter in the least whether politics forms a sphere separate from the direct exploitation of labor power in the capitalist mode of production — as, for instance, is said to prevail in the United States — or is entirely fused with this direct exploitation of labor power — as might be argued in the case of the People’s Republic of China at present — the contradiction arising from the process of production of surplus value itself gives rise to the same necessities.

Moreover, in every historical epoch known to us, the State is not, and has never been, anything but a given quantity of surplus product of the existing mode of exploitation of labor organized in the form of the State. Since, in all epochs for which historical records are available, it is composed of men and women who are, by definition, unproductive drones within society, wasting the productive capacity of society on efforts, which, under any and all previous epochs, are entirely superfluous to human needs, it follows that its entire constitution depends on the productive labor of the remaining portion of society, and on the actual mode of production of surplus product prevailing in the society, however historically determined. For the State to be otherwise, it would no longer be the State, but a particular element of the productive capacity of society itself.

Now, as to the chicken-or-egg question of the state versus capital, I would argue that they've existed in a dialectical relationship from the beginning. The state has existed since its first origins as an instrument for the "poliitcal means" of extracting wealth from labor, and existed -- at least in some form -- before the rise of modern capitalism. The rise of the absolute monarchies in early modern times and the rise of modern capitalism were parallel developments, feeding off one another in a dialectical manner. The monarchies aided the rise of the nascent mercantile capitalist class in the towns and their corruption of the craft guilds into oligarchies, while capitalists elbowed their way into a larger and larger share of the seats at the table -- alongside the landed interests -- in the "executive committee of the ruling class." The state, to some extent for its own autonomous reasons, took actions that -- wittingly or unwittingly -- promoted the growth of capitalism and the wage system, but at every step in the process the growing capitalist class changed the character of the state, and the state in dialectical fashion changed to reflect the character of the coalition of ruling class forces.

And at any point in this process, I would argue, the state itself constituted some portion -- in its own right -- of the ruling class. In some societies, the state itself is the primary component of the ruling class, extracting surplus value directly (as in the so-called Asiatic Mode, in which a despotic state is superimposed on the peasant communes, with village society itself organized on the neolithic pattern (something like the English open-field model) that predated the rise of the state. Even under capitalism, the state pursues autonomous interests of its own, with the state apparatus itself occupying some of the chairs on the executive committee alongside the representatives of capital.

Eaves' next area of disagreement with me is my "offensive" and "absurd" attribution to Marx of the belief that "the system of Wage Slavery could only be abolished given the abolition of labor itself," and that

Wage Slavery could not be abolished until the productive forces founded on Wage Slavery "had reached their fullest possible development under that society." Carson offers not one bit of evidence to support this outrageous claim, and is demonstrably wrong on it.

But Eaves himself excerpts this passage from Marx from my Studies in Mutualist Political Economy:

No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society.

And he follows it directly with this quote from me:

For the Marxists, a “higher” or more progressive form of society could only come about when productive forces under the existing form of society had reached their fullest possible development under that society. To attempt to create a free and non-exploitative society before its technical and productive prerequisites had been achieved would be folly.

As far as I can tell, they say essentially the same thing. I leave it to the reader to decide.

In Part Four, Eaves goes on to argue that Marx himself acknowledged that the prerequisites for a free and cooperatively organized society already existed within industrial capitalism, in his own day, and that no further development of productive forces need occur before such a society could be viable. Marx himself argued that industrial capitalism had already created sufficient productive forces for a socialist society to exist.

In the German Ideology, Marx explains that Capital has already rendered a great mass of society propertyless, and produced great wealth and culture, based on a great increase in productive power of labor. It had already developed the productive forces and brought about universal competition within society; which produced a global labor force of wage slaves, made each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and effectively created a perverse sort of global community founded on wage slavery.

Thus, in 1845, Marx argues, the premises for a voluntary association were already in existence. These developments, in Marx’s opinion, not only made a free and non-exploitative society possible, they made its eventual emergence inevitable.

Perhaps so. But first, this is not inconsistent with a belief that the PAST development of industrial capitalism had been necessary to create the productive forces which existed in Marx's day, or that the rise of industrial capitalism and the wage system fulfilled a progressive role in creating these productive forces that would have been impossible in a society of peasant proprietors. Second, the argument that the productive forces already achieved made inevitable the emergence of socialism does not contradict my paraphrase of his argument; it affects, not the principle I attributed to Marx, but only the periodization of its application. And third, the evidence that Eaves amasses does not change the implications of the material from Marx that I quoted -- which I believe I interpreted correctly. It just indicates that Marx was ambivalent and conflicted, and -- like most thinkers, myself included -- was not fully consistent throughout his entire body of work.

And for what it's worth, my interpretation of Marx on this question owes nothing to Benjamin Tucker. I'm not even aware that he ever addressed this specific issue.

Interestingly, in Part Four Eaves himself characterizes Marx's argument in a way that -- to me at least -- seems to be a paraphrase of my own position:

Even if we consider Carson’s assertion that

'Just social and economic relations are compatible with any level of technology; technical progress can be achieved and new technology integrated into production in any society, thorough free work and voluntary cooperation.'

we only arrive at the conclusion that in all epochs men and women have struggled to put an end to the exploitation of their labor under whatever were the prevailing conditions of its extraction and realize a society in which they were not treated as the property of another in one guise or another. Marx makes no argument against this assertion, except to state that, owing to the conditions of society up to Capita,l all of these attempts merely end in new fetters on the individual. While the existing mode of the exploitation of labor is abolished, it is merely replaced by a new mode of exploitation. He does not offer a theoretical response to Carson’s hypothetical argument, but a historical one, in which men and women replace one limited mode of existence with another.

Isn't that what I said Marx said?

Then Eaves immediately seems to hedge on this:

However, Marx never once argued development of the productive forces could not take place within a producer owned context; he only argued that the actual historical development of productive forces took place in opposition to peasant property and the free cities. Far from making the patently absurd argument that development of the productive forces could not take place within the context of producer control over the forces of production, Marx made the argument that, with the system of wage slavery, producer control of the productive forces could be achieved only through their voluntary association and the means of production made the common wealth of society — there was no other possible route to ownership and control over the means of production by the great mass of propertyless wage slaves other than by establishing this control in a voluntary cooperative union.

I think he did, in fact, at least "once" argue this, in the passage I quoted. Marx's argument was not simply an empirical description of how history had actually occurred -- it was a theoretical argument that a new system of organizing production could only come about when the productive possibilities of its predecessor had been exhausted.

Eaves continues:

From these passages, it is clear that Marx could not have believed that a non-exploitative society had to wait until the productive forces created by wage slavery reached their fullest possible development, because he believed the system of wage slavery itself created barriers to development of the productive forces.

On the contrary, this simply proves that Marx believe the building up of productive forces necessary for socialism had already occurred, or was almost complete, and that he was witnessing in his own time the birth pangs of those productive forces "bursting out of their capitalist integument." But his belief that the productive forces were already achieved does not in any way contradict his belief that they had to have already been achieved, at some point -- even if the process was complete in his day -- before wage slavery could be superceded.

In Part Five, Eaves writes:

Kevin Carson’s attempt to synthesize the arguments of Anarcho-Capitalism and Marxism was always a fool’s errand. He produces a mash up of a critique of Capital from the viewpoint of the capitalist and from the viewpoint of the laborer, when what was really called for from him is a critique of capitalist labor itself — of the relation between these two classes and the implications this relationship has on the emergence and development of the Fascist State. We are led to believe that the relation between property and wage labor is entirely innocuous save for Fascist State intervention. Thus, Carson makes the assertion that wage labor can exist in a non-exploitative society without ever investigating the nature of wage labor itself as a historical social form. He essentially treats the worker as a self-owned commodity and applies to the labor market the same analysis he applies to the market in shoes.

Is this possible? Marx, who before he even begins to consider the commodity in circulation, and before he considers it as an essential element of the capitalist mode of production, takes the time to consider the commodity in its own right as an object. He begins by noting that every commodity has a two-fold character — that, for the producer, it satisfies no need for her and exists for her only as an object to be exchanged, a social use value. Without these two together, it is not a commodity....

My error, Eaves writes, is "the very idea that human capacities can simply be treated as another commodity for sale." Of my assertion that "the natural wage of labor in a free market is its product," he writes,

The only thing differentiating one set of human capacities from another are not the uniquely human desires and wants of the individuals concerned, nor how these unique desires and wants are expressed in their activities, but the impersonal exchange value contained in each as expressed in so many ounces of gold. Thus, human beings can be compared to each other as one might compare linen and coats.

I believe the alienation of labor as such has less to do with the formal characteristics of wage labor, than it does with the social context in which it exists. In a society where self-employment, cooperative organization or informal production for barter is the norm, and wage labor is atypical and usually merely an irregular source of supplementary income, it will have a fundamentally different character from a society where full-time wage labor is the norm. And likewise, it will have a different character in an economy where most business enterprises produce for a local market with customers and trading partners who are known to the producers.

Regarding Anti-Duhring, Engels' argument did not merely concern the emergence of pre-capitalist private property from communal property without the state. It concerned the development of capitalism itself without the expropriation of peasant land -- regardless of how it was owned. The issue is not whether the emergence of private property requires force, but whether the expropriation of the peasantry and concentration of property in the hands of a small landed oligarchy requires force.

In Part Six, Eaves makes this assertion:

...in Marx’s actual theory the worker is never paid “less than her product”, since the only “product” in her possession is her labor power. There is no reason to explain how she is compelled to receive less than the value of this commodity; there is no need to appeal to vague nonsense phrases like “social power” or “market power” to explain profit....

My argument is not that the worker receives less than the market value of her labor power under capitalism, as a result of state-enforced artificial scarcity of the means of production, but that she receives less than the value of the product of her labor. They are two entirely different things. The value of labor power is less than the embedded labor-value in the product of labor precisely because artificial property rights and artificial scarcity cause the worker to sell her labor-power for a price less than the value of her product. The capitalist is able to sit in the position of a monopsonist, targeting the price of labor-power to the minimum value the worker is willing to accept rather than the free market value of her labor, for the same reason that a monopolist is able to target price to the consumer's ability to pay rather than cost of production.

Carson wants the worker to be paid the full value produced by the actual consumption of the labor power; but, as we can now see, when the labor power is actually being exploited, it is no longer the property of the worker — it belongs to the capitalist who purchased it. The exchange of money for the commodity was only the first step and has been completed. It is now the property of the capitalist — although it still physically stands before him in the body of the worker. The labor power is not put to work until the capitalist has closed the deal to the satisfaction of both parties. Carson is entirely correct to say that the value of the labor power is its product, but this value is determined by the use to which its owner will now put it. Carson wants to skip over this observation, or treat it as inconsequential to the discussion; but it is, in fact, the heart of the matter. When the laborer puts her own labor power to use as an individual producer, its usefulness for her is directly realized in the product her labor can produce. If we could speak of value (wage) in this context (which, of course, would be silly) the “natural wage” of this labor would indeed be its product. This does not change one iota if we now assume the labor power is employed, not by the direct producer, but by the capitalist: the same condition holds: the usefulness of the labor power for the capitalist is directly realized in the product it produces.

Is there anything in this latter act of exploitation that requires State intervention? Is there anything in the latter act that requires unequal exchange in the former? Is there any reason why just this sort of exchange cannot happen completely as described in the absence of the State?

The concrete values which the capitalist must pay for labor-power, versus what he can receive for the worker's labor product, are not constants. They are heavily influenced by the structure of privilege. The capitalist's power of exploitation is conditioned by the question of whether or not he has to compete with the possibility of self-employment. And the more artificially scarce and expensive the means of production, the less competition the capitalist faces from self-employment.

I'd like to thank Jehu Eaves for the attention and effort he devoted to producing his critique of my work.


Anonymous Derek said...

On the issue of labor-power, wages, and exploitation I think the wage labor you envision occurring in a mutualist economy would be more along the lines of independent contracting. This is certainly permissible from the perspective of a labor theory of property, or more generally a labor theory of appropriation. (I wrote about this here and have subsequently expanded on that analysis here, where I give a simple mathematical exposition of Tucker's maxim that the natural wage of labor is its product.) It seems to me that what one thinks determines the exchange-value of labor's product is beside the point of who should appropriate the value of labor's product. From a legal perspective, since labor is de facto responsible for production labor should also be de jure responsible and appropriate the whole value of its product. Profit, then, arises through a misapplication of the basic juridical principle of imputation, which ends up enforcing artificial property rights. I still hold a different opinion on value theory than you - and I think a case can be made for a social labor theory of value or a social theory of labor-value - but I think my views are much closer to yours than I had originally thought.

July 24, 2011 1:20 PM  

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