If I Were to Do Theology Again…

Language–>Subjectivity–>Text–>Interpretation–>Faith

This is my model of how people arrive at faith, if they ever do. It is also a reworking of an e-mail I sent my dad. If I were to do theology again, these would be some initial thoughts.

Language

Gordon Kaufman grounds his An Essay on Theological Method not in the Bible, a tradition, or human experience, but in language. While I had thought experience may have been a good place to start in the past, he reminds his readers that there is no such thing as pre-linguistic experience: experience involves meditation, reflection, ratiocination, speaking, writing, and reading, all of which presuppose linguistic competence in some human language.

Subjectivity

Children are not born religious or really anything in the sense of experience. These they accumulate through time. Human personhood, or subjectivity, includes all that goes into making a person: habits, decisions, mistakes, parents, thoughts, relationships, abuse/acceptance, bodies, societies, communities, wars, money, education, livelihood, religion, friendships, ethnicity, race, conflict, politics, hobbies, etc. Some of these elements are far more important than others in self-formation; selves are an amalgam of things that become more or less stable over time, though there is the possibility of change, like trauma, new experiences, etc.

Text

Regarding “texts,” I take these to mean all linguistic artifacts, from speech to writing. One brings a lot of one’s subjectivity to the texts that one reads, not just parts. Based on various experiences one can reject or accept things in texts rather quickly. At other times there are texts that give one pause, particularly if they are eloquent, beautiful, jarring, peculiar, or any combination of these things. If I read a headline, I bring a bent, previous thinking, as well as openness to that text. More often than not headlines go out of my mind by the next day because of the nature of that genre of text. Texts such as the Bible, which contain rich layers of genre and human interest, I generally give more time to ruminate.

Interpretation

Texts, however, do not sit by themselves. I can drop a book on a table and say, “Speak,” and, barring some miracle, it will sit silently on the table (this example is worked from Dale Martin in Sex and the Single Savior). Interpretation organically springs from subjectivity as described above. Depending on what community one does or doesn’t belong to, one can come to a wide variety of interpretations of a particular text. Dale Martin has demonstrated that those committed to the historical-critical (e.g., lexicology, syntax, literary forms, genre, discourse, text-criticism, redaction) method of the Bible can come to diametrically opposed interpretations. One can also adopt more avant-garde methods like feminist, queer, post-colonial, ideological/Marxist, reader-response, deconstruction, economic, and African-American and come up with helpful and insightful interpretations not on display in more traditional approaches. These approaches question the proposition that there is one inherent meaning per text.

Faith

The final part in the model is faith. This section assumes arriving at a kind of faith; some people never want this. Some people have faith, and then leave it. Others don’t start with it, but find it later in life. I have written elsewhere (here, here, here, and here) of my slavish dependence on Bruce Lincoln in defining religion (I really need to work this out more). He regards the phenomenon as discourse, practice, community, institution and these all reinforcing each other. If one takes this in Christianity, discourse can be Bible/tradition, practice ethics, community congregation, and institution Church structures.

My model, though I introduced it as linear, becomes circular, dialectical. Each of these structuring structures (Bourdieu) end up reinforcing, sometimes breaking, each other.

Me and My Past Faith

For me, I no longer have a particular faith. I was raised in a Pentecostal, evangelical tradition. Some of biblical themes have been with me since I was a boy: humans are special and deserve dignity (e.g., imago Dei), people are built for community and owe to their communities (e.g., brother’s keeper, not good for “man” to be alone), redemption. Some ideas have moved me beyond reconciliation with evangelicalism: patriarchy as divinely ordained, death penalties for trivial things (blasphemy, sorcery, men having sex with men [note the lack of the same standard against women!], proclivity to war, authoritarianism, embeddedness in empire, the concept of messianism, the injustice of substitutionary atonement theory, racism/ethnocentrism, slavery, and choosing ambiguities of faith over certainties of reason.

Me and Interpretation

Probably where I fit in interpretation is synthetic. I think we have to make use of the building blocks of history, language, and syntax, but texts don’t just sit there as “fully interpreted” if we stop at “this verb means this in such and such tense when followed by the definite article in Hebrew and when used by the leader of a family household.” If that’s what a text meant for such a person, what, if anything, has that to do with me? That question involves what I call the Gap. There is a vast chasm between ancient literature and myself, of time, language, and culture. I can fill in some of that, but inevitably I fill in with tools from my training, my community, and my life experience. This is why there’s no such thing as a Bible commentary without an author and publisher. There simply is no such thing as a biblical interpretation without human subjectivity involved. At all.

Some are uncomfortable with human subjectivity being involved so much in faith. When I came to this realization, it was preposterously disconcerting, especially since I was raised with the idea that the Bible is the only authoritative rule for faith and practice. I had to come to grips that I am responsible for what I believe and practice, and couldn’t put it on some outside force to do my thinking or doing for me.

Tons of traditions agree on the idea of biblical truth, but then claim that they have the right interpretation in the bag, regardless of how much diversity of opinion there ends up being. Charles Hedrick wrote once that if God really wanted to clear things up (assuming the Bible contains some kind of God speech), God could speak for godself. It would settle disputes, there would be winners and losers, loyalists and rebels. I would add that because language is ambiguous, God would have to clear things up quite often.

As we have it, we have a lot of people grasping at straws about the unseen and then holding people accountable based on that unseen thing that some apparently have access to, but which I don’t. I can’t corroborate it unless I bathe myself in their communal discourse. I get along quite well with people even if they accept that God speaks from beyond a metaphysical barrier. It gets sticky when it gets political, though, for then the private, innocuous belief becomes a concrete political option that makes or breaks other communities in a pluralistic society.

My Stay in the Mental Ward

Onset

It was February 23, 2018, a Friday. I was driving alone in my truck on collections. No matter what I thought about, my thoughts kept drifting back to “What would it be like if this truck just careened off a bridge and I was no more?”

Of course, I didn’t act on it; I’m writing this. But the thought recurred throughout the day. What would it be like without Monte in the world? For me, I knew there would be rest. Rest from not being able to bring in enough income for my family. Rest from living with my in-laws. Rest from my whiny kids. Rest from alienation from my family and friends through distance. And that rest was all my mind ruminated on.

Then the tears started. It was raining that day, too. I was so alone in that truck. Cars, trucks, semis sped past me. I got to the oasis for lunch around 3:45 pm. I called 911 or some crisis line; I don’t remember. I told the woman who answered, “I feel like hurting myself.” “Do you feel like hurting anyone else?” she asked. “Yes.” I won’t say who.

Check-in

After I clocked out and drove “home” to the in-laws, I kept crying. I don’t recall if I went there or straight to the hospital. All I remember is seeing Sarah there. We cried in each others’ arms for a while. They checked me in at St. Catherine’s in Kenosha. Did all the vitals, that sort of thing. “Do you own any guns?” “Yes.” Check. This guy has the means and the mood to hurt himself. They called the ambulance to take me to St. Luke’s in Racine.

The ride was long, even though it was only about 10-15 miles. I didn’t know why my wife couldn’t take me. Anyway, we arrived at St. Luke’s. The place looked abandoned. This part actually is. Most of it is closed, except for the mental ward. There I checked in all my things: my phone, wallet, keys, clothes. They gave me scrubs, some hygiene products, and then showed me to my room. I had a room to myself for a night. My roommate slept the whole time I was there, so I never caught his name.

Names escape me now, but we were in it together. I’ll give them some names. Sue had anxiety. She had been there for about 4 days and felt the longer she was there, the more anxious she got. Tara was depressed. No affect. Sometimes she smiled, but her eyes never showed it. It was a lifeless smile. Bill was high as a kite. And fun. Man could make you laugh, but he had tried to kill himself the night before when he was on a drinking binge. He was bipolar like me. I never knew what Jess had, but probably some sort of psychosis. Schizophrenia maybe? I’m not up on my diagnoses. Grace had learning disabilities, felt like she didn’t have any friends, and was suicidal, too. One guy (who Jess yelled at a lot because she thought he was her ex), I never got his name. He just sat in a corner reading a novel.

We had breakfast together at a long table. They would give us a menu, and we got to pick what we wanted from a few options. It wasn’t terrible. The day was lightly structured. The only thing I remember was a group therapy session with…we’ll call her Joan. Joan was nice. Somehow, don’t remember how, Sue got to talking about god and assumed I believed something akin to her god. She looked at me for a connection on this, but I sheepishly said I was an atheist. Again, memories are funny things. All I remember is something like “How could you believe such a thing?” A lot of good god was doing us. We were all in this ward. Joan at least asked me if I was ok with Sue’s badgering. I thanked her for her concern but said I was alright.

I liked the occupational therapist. Still don’t know why they call them that. They seem to do something like tool you with skills. We talked about assertiveness.

I said I was here because I could barely make ends meet. My job didn’t challenge me, and my coworkers weren’t the greatest people to be around. And it was breaking my body. The one thing I could work at in this area (that wouldn’t kill me) was this job, and my body was breaking down. My neck got to where when I turned it, I felt a sharp pain into my shoulder and upper back. This made a manual job pretty damn hard. 4 Advils did nothing. Oxy helped with the symptoms but not the cause. If I was eligible for nothing else, and this job couldn’t really help my family financially, what good was I to them or to the world? I felt my worth completely tied to my ability to contribute to the family economy, and I was found lacking.

So the occupational therapist, who we’ll call Jenn, hooked me up with some job coaching and a job center. Though nothing ever came of it after my stay, it gave me some hope for the time being.

Then there was the psychiatrist, Dr. something-Armenian. He was nice, I guess, but seemed bored to be there. He put me on Latuda because he said it was an anti-depressant better suited to bipolar depression. I started taking that on the weekend stay.

I probably could have left Sunday, but Dr. so-and-so wasn’t there. Maybe Kasparian will work. Dr. Kasparian wasn’t there. So I had to call my supervisor to let him know I’d miss work on Monday. He asked if everything was ok. I told him, “No, I’m in a hospital, but I should be back tomorrow.” He was very understanding.

Aftermath

So Monday afternoon, they let me out. Sarah picked me up. I forgot what we talked about or where we went. One of the things, though, was we sold my shotgun, and I forfeited my rifle to the Pleasant Prairie Police Department. Some Lieutenant or Sergeant whatever looked at me dumbfounded. “Is this some kind of Russian rifle or something?” “Yah, a Mosin-Nagant.” They drew up some sort of legal thing for me to sign, so I signed away my ownership of the weapon to them. I now had no easy means to harm myself.

After Dr. Kasparian put my order into Walgreens, I went to pick up the Latuda. “That will be $500.” Shit. Well, I have insurance. “But I have insurance. Does it not cover it?” “Well, that’s what it is with insurance.” Double shit. I looked at what insurance had covered. It had covered $1300. So a one-month supply of this drug cost $1800 without insurance. No wonder people commit suicide. They can’t afford treatment.

Anyway, I call my psychiatrist. Dr. Chandragupta is a funny man because he is so direct, almost aggressive. “Why didn’t you call me? You don’t need Latuda. We’ll just add some Zoloft to your Wellbutrin, change your Risperdal to Abilify, and that will be that.” He, of course, doesn’t speak like this. For that matter, all these quotes are me paraphrasing people with some of the still-vivid memories. And this med change was over several months after that episode.

Postlude?

Now, I’m dealing with extremely low energy, fatigue, long sleep (but never feeling rested, no matter how much rest I get), and loss of interest in things that usually jazz me up. But I think I’m coming out of this round of depression. I was just thinking today, I have a wife who loves me, a family who calls me once a week, friends I game and chat with around once a week, coworkers who seem to think I’m cool, and I’m making progress on my goals. I may have a drinking problem, but I’m working on that, too. One day at a time. Reading is becoming fun again. My kids don’t set me on edge. I’m good at my job. I’m making a bucket list. I am valuable; don’t need you to tell me that. I just am. And that assurance feels nice for a change.

If you struggle with mental illness, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone. I’m a pretty good listener, even though I’m no professional. Maybe comment. Maybe dm me. Maybe bypass me altogether and get with the pros. Hang tight to your kin. It gets better.

Alabama Overreaches in Law to Control Pregnant Persons

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Photo from blog https://www.biffandi.com/

About 4 years ago, I wrote a piece on abortion in which I asked a lot of questions and waffled even more. I hadn’t thought about it much since then until this week. I didn’t discuss personhood, pregnant persons (more on this below), etc.

A Dumb New Law in Alabama

May 15 ended a series of debates within the Alabama state congress over abortion. The Alabama House passed the measure 74-3 in April and the Alabama Senate passed it 25-6 on May 14. Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law May 15. There are no exemptions for rape or incest. It outlaws abortifacients. It condemns doctors who perform abortions to up to 99 years in prison, but doesn’t hold the woman criminally liable (which is interesting, for one would think the woman would at least get some kind of accessory or conspiracy to murder charge if the fetus is a person with rights). Not widely reported on, it also defines a woman as a female regardless of whether she has “reached the age of majority.” Also, while she can’t have an abortion, a woman can have one if her life is in danger from suicidal intent. Read the rest of the shitty bill here. (A friend of mine pointed out that this language is woman-centered, erasing trans men who are pregnant; hereafter, I will refer to people who are pregnant as “pregnant persons”).

This condemns pregnant persons to a particular ideological destiny, one that only gains traction from a theological backdrop. One lamb senator said, “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb…it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life.” He slept through class when they discussed the establishment clause.

That Sticky Issue of Personhood/Subjectivity

The spectrum of human life begins when distinct DNA originates from the fusion of 23 chromosomes from two donors. Thus begins the stages of human development. However, the human zygote is not yet a person. Personhood cannot possibly enter the discussion until a fetus has exited a uterus. Pregnant persons are already persons. They have experienced heartache, hope, happiness, hostility. They exist in social relations. Perhaps they have jobs unless, of course, they’re little girls who’ve been raped and are forced by this terrible law to bear their rapist’s child. Their destiny outweighs the decision making power of the fetus.

Fetuses do not have volition. I’m not arguing whether a fetus is a life. I actually agree with pro-birthers that the fetus is a life on the human spectrum. However, it’s like asking which life is more valuable in war, the general or the private. The general, with more experience, training, information, and networking is far more valuable since they make far-reaching decisions; privates follow orders. This analogy breaks down because both generals and privates are persons; fetuses simply aren’t.

What this comes down to is limiting the parameters, destiny, volition, autonomy, body-sovereignty, privacy of pregnant persons to childbearing. For trans men or those who are non-binary, it forces them into the gender binary they no longer live.

Pro-birthers Don’t Do Much with the After-birth

Pro-birth proponents traditionally don’t support much after-birth help, at least through the government. They typically want no help from the government to go to the mother or newborn, or notice that many children grow up without co-parents, or don’t acknowledge the brokenness of the foster system, or redo adoption pricing and policy. There’s only the thought of getting that baby delivered and then the good lord taking care of the rest. What irresponsibility and negligence. This is pure blindness to the poverty and pain in the world caused by policies like this.

Pro-birth, not Pro-life

It is this irresponsibility regarding life that irks me so much. Conservatives are all about death penalties, peace-time aggression, forever wars, depleting the welfare state/social democracy, denouncing marriage equality (though admittedly, this last one is more from older folks). They want families, not the government, caring for children. They want personal responsibility. I get that. But at what cost? According to what definition?

Conservatives define personal responsibility in this case as reducing pregnant persons to baby-making machines. This framing, though, actually takes responsibility away from the pregnant person and puts it in the hands of the government. This is the literal maintenance and perpetuation of patriarchy, via government. If you want patriarchal relationships in a religious context, go ahead. We have a constitutional right for that. But don’t force that on the goddamned secular republic.

Conservatives desire the fetus to have a chance to live. That’s not necessarily a bad thing to wish if it didn’t also involve requiring pregnant persons to make this chance a reality, to delay the lives of a person in order to actualize the merely potential person, to demand the physical/emotional turmoil of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum separation if they choose not to raise the child.

Some Concluding Remarks

All in all, I don’t want to live in A Handmaid’s Tale. And neither do many. If these lawmakers want to curtail abortions, maybe they should wear some fucking condoms before they impregnate their mistresses. It is the privilege of those like Rep. Tim Murphy who could actually procure abortions after a law like Alabama’s. As Senator Linda Coleman-Madison said, “We want abortions to be safe, and we want them to be few, but it should be legal, because there will be abortions,” and “The people who have the wherewithal will fly out of state…Not everyone can afford to do that.” Illegal abortions jeopardize the life of pregnant persons; legal abortions do not. Once again, this is not about protecting babies but policing bodies. We need more sex ed and stiffer rape penalties, not jailing doctors and playing god with pregnant persons.

Alienation and Isolation- some feelz

My life is work, parent, study to qualify for something (that always feels out of reach), a little relaxation that doesn’t rejuvenate me, and then no time to really reflect on things.  Hopefully teaching works out, because although I’ll work like hell, I’ll also get breaks. I need that to rejuvenate. Everyone needs something like that to rejuvenate. And we don’t have that in the United States.

Our “betters” (or rather, economic elites) traded our leisure and rest for the most powerful economy in the world, while they get “theirs.” We traded our soul so they can have leisure. Or did we? Do we as workers really have control of our economic destinies when we don’t own the means of production (for more on this, check out this post)?

The lack of leisure makes it hard to organize into something bigger. Why? Because I’m busy working, parenting, or trying to qualify for a better job. How do you have time to form well-reasoned opinions when you feel alienated from your interests out of sheer exhaustion? How do you find the time to organize when the closest comrades are 50 miles/1.5 hours away?

Something has to give. I’d rather it not be my health. I’d rather this system change to accommodate the millions who work millions of hours with little to show for it. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have family time AND personal time that’s not constantly pestered by economic anxiety? That’s a world I want and am willing to fight for. I just don’t know how to fight without losing everything. Or is that the risk you take when you want to see a new order? Perhaps it is. It’s probably “easier” in community with others. It’s near impossible when you feel (or maybe are) alienated and isolated from so many.

Insights from the 2017 List of Top Defense Contractors

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about worldwide military conflict. As the United States entered its 16th year of the War in Afghanistan, I’ve been thinking more about the U.S. military-industrial complex. Why does the American state spend so much on defense? Or propaganda?

American politicians-Republican and Democrat-say we never have enough money to fund those pie in the sky social programs, but have enough to pass a $700B military budget with even the most progressive Democrats voting yes (except Gillibrand, Leahy, Merkley, and Wyden). Why do we spend so much on “defense”? It pays.

Aram Roston uncovered Erik Prince’s slides behind his presentation to privatize the Afghanistan War. Prince’s intentions were hardly subtle. An estimated one trillion dollars’ worth of minerals lies in one province alone. War for defense or resources?

So with the amount of money going into and out of the Pentagon, I thought I’d look into defense contracting. Here’s what I found based off the top 100 defense contractors list on Defense News. Some of the results may surprise you.

  1. Of the top 100 defense contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), 58 are foreign-held companies. In descending order, the countries with the most contractors are UK (10), Japan (8), Russia (6), France (5), Israel (4). This doesn’t really amount to much. It’s just funny that Russia ostensibly thwarted the 2016 U.S. election and yet is a major supplier of war products.
  1. Of the 42 American defense contractors, 3 are on the Fortune 100, 18 are on the Fortune 500, and 25 are on the Fortune 1000. The most odious thing about this set up is that defense contractors are in the Fortune anything. They are not about peace or stability. Were they about such things, they would put themselves out of a job, and a lucrative one at that. It is not your freedom they fight for; it is their finance.
  1. 33 Companies had >50% of their revenues from the DoD; 23 companies had >80%; astoundingly, 10 companies had 100% of their funding from the DoD.
  1. 14 of the defense contractors had total DoD revenue over $5B; 7 were over $10B, and the highest (Lockheed Martin) had DoD revenue at $43.47B. Lockheed Martin receives 92% of its funding from the DoD and is currently #73 on the Forbes 500.

One of the consistent arguments of socialists and communists is a withdrawal of the state from war. Why? War profiteering is a big motive in starting conflict on the flimsiest of justifications. It inflicts undue suffering on normal citizens to “get back” at or put another state “in its place” (according to the interests of the aggressor). Defensive wars for just reasons make sense. Just how often America and other capitalist nations conduct such wars is another issue. While that issue is easily answered, I will conclude with a question: how often do the U.S. DoD and war departments of the capitalist nations actually conduct defensive wars?

Wage Decline under Capital: Wage-Labor and Capital, pt. 3

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This is the last post of a three-part series on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital,” chapters 7-9. For other parts in the series go to the series page. This post covers how capital deleteriously affects all classes with producing a declining wage.

 

What Determines the Rise and Fall of Wages and Profit?

Capitalists must replenish the wage with profit. Therefore, the price of their commodities must account for replenishing raw materials, the wear on tools, wages, and profits. As profits rise, Marx argues, wages fall, and vice-versa. I admit, I don’t fully understand this point of Marx, but I assume it reflects the relation of the two. This doesn’t mean that literally if one goes up, the other goes down; it is relative. E.g., if the profits of capitalists go up, wages can go up also, but not at all in the same ratio.

If profits increase disproportionately to wages, the profits as a fraction take up more of the pie than wages. Let’s say a capitalist gains a technological advantage over his competitor capitalists. He can then produce more for the same production cost, thereby gaining more profit than his competitors. This helps consumers but not workers. Consumers get cheaper products- at the expense of workers.

 

Capital and Wage-labor Are Necessarily Opposed

Rapid increase of profit necessarily involves the rapid decrease of the power of the worker’s wage. The more a worker produces, the more crumbs he gets from the bigger pie of the capitalist, as just mentioned. At the same time, capital requires more workers to work capital. The workers are ever dependent on capital. While wages do increase as capital expands, it can’t possibly keep pace with the rate of capital profits.

Now, the existence of multiple capitalists increases competition between them. Wins come through selling a product cheaper, but gaining more of the market share as well as looking for more markets for the cheaper product. Productive power increases as more innovations impact technology and labor is divided into smaller, simpler tasks.

 

Effect of Capitalist Competition on All Classes

Capitalists seek to best their competition through further division of labor and new machines to offset the equalization of the playing field by all capitalists obtaining the same machinery. As labor divides and divides into smaller, simpler tasks, competition becomes fiercer between workers, and wages go lower. Why? Because the buyer (capitalist) has the advantage: there are more sellers (workers) than buyers. Good old supply and demand. The worker must do more in the same amount of time or work longer hours. However, the more the worker’s output, the less return on his relative wage.

Economists maintain that as one sector of labor recedes, a new sector will arise to replace it. However, Marx argues this applies to the class, not to each laborer in the class. E.g., the young have more of an advantage in acquiring new skills to be productive for a longer time (and at less pay) than their older counterparts. Marx even complains that the bigger productivity gained through technological innovation replaces the natural strength of men with a woman and three children. This wouldn’t be so bad if workers were in control of the means of production. Fact is, they aren’t.

Again, as more product is made, the more markets are needed to exploit. If the capitalist can’t exploit new markets, he can’t continue to make profit. Marx questions, however, what happens when there are no more markets to exploit. This is one of the contradictions of capitalism.

 

This is where Marx rather abruptly concludes the work. As technological innovation moves at a quicker pace, profits increase for the capitalists, and for a short period, to the workers.

Relation of Wage-Labor to Capital: Wage-Labor and Capital, Pt. 2

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This is the second of three posts on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital,” chapters 5-6. This post covers the nature of and relation of capital to wage-labor. You can find the rest of the series here.

The Nature and Growth of Capital

Marx defines capital as the extracted raw material, manufacture of labor instruments, and production of means of subsistence to create new raw materials, new labor instruments, new means of subsistence. An example of capital could be this: a rubber farm harvests rubber and sells it to a tire factory. The rubber farm would be an extraction of raw material, and the tire factory would be manufacturing new raw materials to sell to automobile companies.

Marx also calls capital “accumulated labor.” Production requires specific and reciprocal social relations. E.g., if there is no crude oil, there are no jobs to make cars, or refining plants to make gasoline, or truckers to transport it—and all the communities that form around these sectors become less tied, less communal. Marx contends that social relations vary and alter according to the means of production. Each epoch of the means of production becomes discrete: ancient, feudal, capitalist.

Capitalism is a bourgeois social relation. It operates under the assumption of exploiting a class that can only work, but without possession of property. Elsewhere, Marx equates property with capital. E.g., the worker doesn’t control the property that manufactures iPhones, the property from which they extract rare minerals, the seed patent property of Monsanto, the utility property that heats and cools their homes, water treatment property, or the property of bus and train systems. In the end, capital is living labor serving accumulated labor: preserving and multiplying it; it does not serve the living, except the bourgeois.

 

Relation of Wage-labor to Capital

In the relation between wage-labor and capital, the former gains subsistence, though this subsistence is consumed immediately for life. The latter receives even more value added to accumulated labor. Marx uses the example of the day laborer getting paid $1 a day, even though he produced $2 of product. This extra $1 of value he produced goes to the capitalist, $1 of value he didn’t work for. Multiply this by 5 workers, 20 workers, 100 workers, 1000 workers. This is that much money the capitalist gains for all the work produced by the laborer(s), again that he didn’t work for.

An increase in capital requires an increase in workers, because it requires that much more labor to increase it. As it grows, living labor more and more serves accumulated labor, both of the accumulated labor of their own making and that which past workers have produced. The capital remains long after workers are dead. Consider the Rockefeller family. The Rockefeller progeny still lives off of the formerly exploited labor of 19th-century workers, while continuing to add more to that accumulation through exploitation of 20th- and 21st-century laborers. Workers perish without work; capital perishes without exploitation.

Labor and Commodities: Wage-Labor and Capital, Pt. 1

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This post is the first in a 3-part series on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital.” Part 1 covers chapters 2-4, part 2 chs. 5-6, and part 3 chs. 7-9 (the first chapter is an unnecessary introduction). The main idea of the work is that capitalists obtain all their advantages by exploiting the labor of workers. You can find the rest of the series here.

What Are Wages?

Workers typically define wages as what a capitalist pays a worker for hours of work or a completed project. Marx contends, however, that the worker actually sells his labor-power—a commodity—to the capitalist.

Prices are the exchange rate of a commodity in money terms. Wages aren’t a share in the product produced, but are commodities themselves, given to workers in order to live. Work is not the worker’s life; his life begins when his work ends.

How Do Commodities Get Their Price?

Prices obtain their exchange rate from the competition between buyer and seller. Competition between sellers drives price down; competition between buyers drives price up. In this case, the capitalists are the buyers and the workers are the sellers. Since workers far outnumber the capitalists, the capitalist, in addition to owning the means of production, has an enormous advantage in buying whatever worker he desires.

The cost of production factors in to the seller’s profit. When price goes below the cost of production, capital withdraws its investment. What is the cost of production? It includes labor time, raw materials, and machine maintenance.

How Are Wages Determined?

The laws of commodities apply to wages. Labor costs the capitalist the amount of money required to train the worker, keep him alive, and literally reproduce the worker through sexual reproduction. Shorter training periods save the capitalist money, because then he has to pay less for non-production. According to Marx, however, this “minimum wage,” refers not to the individual worker, but to the class of workers.

Preparation for a Communist Revolution: Communist Manifesto, part 5

Global Solidarity

The last sections of the Communist Manifesto pamphlet involve Marx’s analysis and critique of his present-day socialisms. In part 3, he lists the shortcomings of 5 distinct socialisms: feudal socialism, petty-bourgeois socialism, German “true” socialism, conservative/bourgeois socialism, and critical-utopian socialism. Then in part 4, Marx lists who he agrees with (with caveats) among the various workers parties. The sections involve the preparation work for revolution.

While these sections are wonderful historical fodder, on their surface they aren’t that valuable for praxis. Engels admitted the antiquity of these sections a mere 30 years later. Most of these groups no longer exist. We simply live in a different political situation. Socialist experiments have occurred where Marx least expected: outside Europe. What is valuable from this section is the notion of critique. Critique is preparation for revolution that involves three elements: taking stock of one’s situation (assessment), identifying allies (identification), and moving forward toward mass mobilization (mobilization).

Critique Element 1: Assessment

Part 3 comprises the stock-taking element I call assessment. I know this is dangerous ground, but let’s try to illustrate Marx’s socialisms with 21st century American examples. Of the five groups he lists, Republicans wouldn’t factor in at all as socialist. They would be the bourgeois enemy, plain and simple. Democrats would probably fit most nicely in conservative/bourgeois socialism. This group attempted to sidestep the fissures of capitalism with social welfare, rather than deal with capitalism as the root cause of modern oppression. They would go after reforms rather than radical transformation (revolution). And this makes sense. They benefited from the way things are. If you ever hear people call Democrats socialist or communist, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Democrats, as Lance Selfa put it, are capitalist lite.

Socialist groups do exist in the United States and abroad. Though I know of some like Podemos (Spain), Die Linke (Germany), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL, United States), and Minjung Party (South Korea), I don’t know enough about them to categorize them or identify them as allies.

Assessment is preparation. The Black Panthers wanted their leaders to read at least 2 hours daily to keep abreast of current affairs. This is a tall order, but necessary, since the rules in place are set by the bourgeoisie and taken for granted by a majority of the populace.

Critique Element 2: Identification

Part 4 involves two elements, but the first involves identifying allies. Here Marx lists various parties of Europe (and only Europe; he wasn’t exactly a forward thinker when it came to naming non-European groups “barbarian,” unless one takes this to refer merely to their modes of production), but only really names one. In France he states that the communists ally with the Social-Democrats. The other “parties” (if you can call them that) he lists by their actions: Radicals (Switzerland), agrarian revolutionaries (Poland), or anyone fighting against monarchy and the bourgeoisie (Germany). The fact is they really don’t list that many parties at all, perhaps because the workers movement was so young then. Again, this part of preparation takes a lot of reading, conversation, and time.

Critique Element 3: Mobilization

Marx then finishes on the practical question. What are we to do? He hedges all his bets on Germany as the ripest place for revolution (sadly, Germany hasn’t had a great track record with socialism). Communists must push political and social conditions to benefit the working class. They must push the property question (that is, that private property must be abolished). Finally, they must push for union between the democratic parties of all countries.

Preparation in the Present Moment

How does this fit the American present?

  1. The awakened worker must exacerbate the distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat. This comes through conversations, reading various socialist literature, and meeting with like-minded people to strategize.
  2. In each country, communists must ally themselves with the most radically democratic forces locally and nationally. They must push a clear, concise agenda that accentuates the dueling interests of the bourgeoisie and proletariat. One way of doing this is pushing abolition of private property more consistently. In the United States, this would be the PSL, Worker’s World Party (PSL and WWP used to be one group), and to a lesser extent, the Democratic Socialists of America (which isn’t a party, but an educational organization).
  3. The journey toward international communist solidarity is hard when workers from various countries literally can’t understand each other. Marx and friends knew enough different languages to forge solidarity in at least the European nations. If one wanted to think more globally, and if one has the time, I think it would be best to learn one of the official languages of the UN: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin I assume), English, French, Russian, or Spanish. Doing so allows one to read literature and converse with workers outside one’s life situation. Since I’m in the United States, the most practical language in this endeavor would be Spanish. If I lived in India, Arabic or Chinese might be a worthwhile second language.

This is my final post in my series on the Communist Manifesto. Next I will review Engels’ Principles of Communism, a catechism of sorts and precursor to the Communist Manifesto.

Revolution in 10 Measures: Communist Manifesto, part 4

workers-uniting-making-a-collective-fist

(For the rest of the series, click here)

It is fascinating reading the Communist Manifesto during a time of nationalist fervor globally. It contrasts strikingly with Marx’s 10 measures of revolution. For although he desires workers to more actively compose themselves as the center of their respective nations, he likewise calls on them to unite with all workers of the world. This is because he sees greater similarity between international workers than between workers and capitalists of a shared nation-state.

So what are Marx’s 10 measures?

10 Measures of Revolution

Paraphrased from Marx, here are his 10 measures of a revolution.

  1. Abolition of land property; rent money goes to public purpose
  2. Heavy income tax
  3. Abolition of inheritance rights
  4. Confiscation of the property of “emigrants” and “rebels”
  5. Central bank with exclusive state monopoly of credit
  6. Centralization of transport and communication under the state
  7. Multiplication of state-run factories; cultivation of wastelands; soil improvement
  8. All must work; establishment of industrial armies
  9. Combination of manufacturing/agriculture industries; population redistribution so city/country more equitably populated
  10. Free education for children; abolition of child factory labor

Why does “abolition” show up so often?

These measures of revolution aren’t ends in themselves. Eventually Marx wishes to see the nation-state fade evaporate alongside class. These are simply the precursors to that end.

Keep in mind that the revolution Marx sought after led to the working class becoming the owners of technology. Neither inventors, nor CEOs. Not board members or shareholders. Not managers. He wanted those that worked the machines to have control over their own lives. Therefore, Marx saw the 10 measures overcoming the capitalist obstacle to worker ownership.

Why the abolition of landed property? Landlords took high rents from workers.

Why the abolition of inheritance rights? Inheritance was one way capital passed from one generation to the next. It was a double slap to workers, because even if a capitalist had amassed great profits off the workers’ backs, a son by luck of birth did even less to earn it; he simply fell out of the right mother and continued to breathe for a few decades.

Why the confiscation of the property of emigrants/rebels? Recall that capitalists were not beholden to one country (and still aren’t). The East India Company had land and capital holdings in London, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Japan. Note, however, that the head of the East India Company was never Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, or Japanese. To establish this particular measure, Marx would have wanted workers from these locales to seize components of the East India Company in their territories. “Rebels” would refer to loyalists to the capitalist order.

The role of the state

If abolition of some roles features strongly, centralization might factor even more.

Note that income tax, centralized banks, centralized transport and communication, and state-run factories all require an initially strong state. You would need a strong state after a revolution, anyway, to fight off counterrevolution. Recall, however, that these are measures of revolution and not its fullest extent.

The full revolution lies in the dissolution of the state as the loss of class character alters former class relations. As Marx understands it, the state is the instrument of one class oppressing another. With this understanding, when the workers seize the means of production, they would all exist on equal footing in relation to property. This is a different class relation (regarding property). Marx sees changes in the means of production altering social relations. This alteration is so severe in the proletarian revolution that the state would eventually dissipate: you cannot oppress an equal. So his logic goes.

How much of the current state relies on exploiting classes (foreign and domestic) to maintain its power? How often are white collar criminals incarcerated with lower class criminals, even though white collar criminals negatively affect far more communities and their environs? What country would board so many American military bases if they had the power to say “No”? Would we honestly harbor any foreign military base on American soil, even our closest allies? This is class exploitation at its finest. And the majority of Americans don’t give it a second thought because of incredibly effective militaristic propaganda.

Terry Eagleton once noted that Marx overesteemed capital in his own time, for it was not as efficient then as Marx claimed it to be. Today, the United States constitutes the most economically and militarily successful capitalist nation in history. Its labor laws favor bosses over workers. The propaganda machine of its military is as effective as the institution is large. To enjoy, really enjoy, the freedoms proclaimed in this nation, one must possess the means to defend them. Else you are at the mercy of those with resources.

Marx notes the necessity of the workers seizing this power in order to liberate the people. It’s understandable why this worries a lot of people. Revolutions aren’t always successful. Even when they are, lots of stuff changes. People die, supply lines have to be secured, the newly formed state has to defend itself within and without. Imagine the loss of civil rights and basic freedoms during wartime. All of those “inalienable” and “god-given” rights come into question; it’s almost as if that rhetoric is meaningless without defense measures in place.

The call on all to work

If Republicans today ever read Marx (some have heard a quote or two from him, but to most he’s a bogeyman of “leftism”), they might jizz their pants when they see him call on all to work. However, this would be a moment where historicizing the Manifesto would be appropriate. Recall that in Engels’ preface to the Communist Manifesto he remarked that parts of the 10 measures of revolution matched conditions of 1848, not 1888. Part of the power of Marxist analysis lies in its focus on the present instead of the past. For the purpose at hand, work, when it is to secure the survival needs of the populace, is a good thing.

The vast majority of American jobs do not meet this standard. Do we really need life coaches, marketers, car salesmen, 50 brands of watches, new cars every 4 months, 2 major but different smart phone brands that offer nearly identical hardware, or 500 brands of denim jeans? Amber B. gives an even more scathing analysis. There she remarks that the majority of work in the U.S. is only possible by exploiting the resources and manufacturing of the global south.

Humans need food, shelter, water, air, sex, companionship, and a means of self-actualizing. When work exists beyond these needs, merely to occupy 8 hours a day so capitalists don’t feel like they’re paying their workers for nothing (even if a worker might have work that constitutes less than half that time), something is amiss.

As we move toward a post-scarcity world and greater automation, the need for work decreases. The rational thing to do, a la Marx, is for people to work way less hours since they would own the means of production.

Let’s say the world needs 1,000,000 new cars for the next year. After the car makers built that many cars, they could do something else with their time. They wouldn’t just punch a clock. This revolutionary measure would severely alter how society works. Not only would the measures of revolution alter the means of production, but it would alter social relations, too.

Then, as Marx writes elsewhere, humans are freer to reach their full potential. With survival needs met easily by technology, the thought goes that people would be freer to do something creative with their lives. There would be none of this “I don’t have enough time” regarding creative pursuits. People could rest and recreate as need be. This could particularly take place in regions that are already highly industrialized.

Concluding remarks

I think it would be interesting to think up communist aims today. Verso edited a 1956 philosophical porno between Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in “Towards a New Manifesto.” It largely consists of them using big words to pleasure titillate each other. A more useful exercise in updating aims for contemporary workers is the People’s Congress of Resistance’s “Society for the Many: A Vision for Revolution.” Note its similarities with Marx and Engels:

  1. Health, food, shelter, and education for all
  2. Collectivizing of banks, communication, transportation, and energy
  3. Abolition of militarism, colonialism, and imperialism
  4. Abolition of mass incarceration and aggressive policing
  5. Reparations for African-Americans and self-determination for indigenous peoples
  6. Abolition of patriarchal oppression regarding sex, gender, and sexual orientation
  7. Environmental justice

Note its move beyond Marx and Engels’ propositions. They did not have the history of environmental catastrophes to factor in. Now we see the effects human industry can have on the environment: acid rain, undrinkable water, and on a vaster scale, global warming. A huge step in measure seven would be to pump vast amounts of money into nuclear fusion research, a step toward cleaner, nearly unlimited energy.

 

The next entry will cover part 3 of the Manifesto, on the various communist literatures of its day.