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

drewsheneman-wages

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.

“Communism Leads to Abolition of Private Property” Plus 5 More Objections to Communism: Communist Manifesto, part 3

Steve Jobs and FoxConn Worker- in objections to communism post

Capitalists have had a problem with communism since its inception. In the second part of The Communist Manifesto (third part in my series; other parts here), the authors described how communists related to the proletariat. Communists connected similarities between the European workers’ parties that went beyond national identity (e.g., workers have the same relation to capitalists in England as they do in Poland). Marx and Engels responded to six (technically seven) objections that the bourgeois brought against the communists, and to that we turn. As before, I will try to update some of their language to the present. E.g., I’ll render “bourgeoisie” as “owners,” or “capitalists,” or the “proletariat” as “working class” or “workers.”

The 6 Objections Owners Had with Communism

  1. Communists deny the worker the fruit of his labor
  2. Communists destroy individuality
  3. Those dern communists do away with property
  4. Commies dismantle the family and disrupt family education
  5. Communists desire to share women in common
  6. Communists dissolve nationalities/countries

The main structure of these objections lies in stating a bourgeois objection, explaining how the bourgeoisie critiques communists according to naturalized  categories, and then asserting that what the bourgeois consider as neutral categories (e.g., “the” family, “the” individual, “freedom,” etc.) are actually nuanced by class.

Objections #1: Communists Deny the Worker the Fruit of His Labor

Capitalists, according to Marx and Engels, claimed that communists sought to deny the worker what he had made through his labor: the fruit or product. Workers had this relation to their labor before capitalism. E.g., under feudalism, peasants had to render tribute from their crops, but lords did not own all crops and then sell it back to peasants. This property relation comes under capitalism.

Under the “wage-labor” system of capitalism, a worker receives compensation not in what he produces, but with a wage far below the value he produces. It cost Apple $236 to produce the iPhone 6s Plus, though it sold for $749. In 24 hour cycles, 200K workers were building 540K iPhones daily. At that rate, each worker was producing 2.7 iPhone 6s Pluses per day, which would net Apple $1385.10 ((749-236)*2.7).

You and I both know that most top managers weren’t even making a quarter of $1300 per day. Let’s say the worker is well compensated at $25 an hour. Working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, the same worker who produced 2.7 iPhones per day could not afford to buy the phone outright without almost 4 days’ pay. Admittedly, most people buy on installment plans, helping communications capitalists, but the point stands.

The communists, according to Marx and Engels, wanted to do away with “private property” and move it to worker ownership. In this way of things, the workers (not the shareholders) would own the means of production AND what they produced, drastically altering the relation between persons and capital. By abolishing private property, the authors do not mean taking your iPhone, dog, and fleshlight. One, these would be products you produced yourself. Two, since production occurs for need instead of profit, a new relation develops between humans and commodities.

Objections #2: Communists Destroy Individuality

In the authors’ argument, this objection follows closely from the first. Capital is both the means of production and the product itself. For example, the machines used to assemble iPhones, along with iPhones themselves, are capital that belong to the capitalist class.

What the authors get at is that capitalists mistake their class’s view of individuality with individuality itself (cf. my post on naturalization).

Even if it was a capitalist who originated the idea for the iPhone, the capitalist cannot possibly realize this dream without a mass of labor. However, he attains a social status for the idea/product while the workers remain in the background.

When you think of the Apple brand, who do you picture? Do you think of the thousands of workers involved in producing, transporting, stocking, and selling Apple products? Or do you think of Steve Jobs? This is the individuality communists seek to destroy—a self that is not possible without a largely exploited mass. The communists wish to re-inscribe their individuality.

Objections #3: Those Dern Communists Do Away with Property

Somewhat related to objection 1, owners claimed that communists wanted to abolish private property. Marx and Engels pled guilty. Capitalists equated property with productive property/the means of production. They “rented” this to workers in the form of a wage.

.Capitalists propagated the claim that if property ceased, then work would cease, and universal laziness would follow in this train. Our authors wryly put it,

“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths” (25).

And guess what: the poor still worked in order to survive. They did not toil for their own needs, which might take roughly 4 hours a day to meet if they lived in a forest commune. No, they worked arbitrarily long hours to create enormous surpluses of products, the profits of which all went back to the capitalists.

Communists wanted, not to leech peoples’ property, but to prevent the already-occurring exploitation of the workers by the capitalists.

Objections 4: Commies Dismantle Family and Disrupt Family Education

This objection is a bit obtuse if you don’t know what’s going on in the background. The authors frame this as yet another case of the bourgeoisie mistaking its own concept of the family for the family itself.

Marx and Engels describe this bourgeois family as based “on capital, on private gain” in contrast with the “practical absence of the family among the proletariat.” I’m not sure what goes on here. Later they remark that they wish to end parental exploitation of their children. It remains unclear, however, if the authors mean bourgeois children, proletarian children, or children in general.

On r/Communism101, u/Ornlu_Wolfjarl claims that the communist aim to end the capitalist family was to remove inheritance rights, and therefore, the propagation of class. This makes sense, for at the end of this section, the authors call on banning all inheritance. U/laserbot claims something similar, in that commies were not about ending marriage or parent/child relations per se, but ending the reduction of women to baby factories and children to heirs.

It seems, too, that workers’ children were subject to child labor at this time. The authors state, “all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor” (27).

The communists wanted every child to have education, not just the owners.

Objections 5: Communists Desire to Share Women in Common

Marx and Engels charge the capitalists here with projecting again. The assumption seems to have been, according to our authors’ assertion, that women were property of their husbands. It makes sense, then, why capitalists would conclude that sharing property would include sharing women.

The authors desire women to self-actualize, to be more than reproductive vehicles, to be more than dependent upon men. Thus, in a communist world,  proletarian women would not have to resort to prostitution, for class exploitation would have ceased.

What communists did wish to share was to share freedom with women. As Clara Zetkin would later state, “When a proletarian then exclaims: ‘My wife!’ he will add mentally, ‘Comrade of my ideals, companion of my battles, mother of my children for future battles.'”

Objections 6: Communists Dissolve Nationalities/Countries

Marx and Engels counter that the workers have no country to leave behind or betray. Since they have no private property and no stake in the state, the authors push for a “nationalism” that is internationalist. In their words, Marx and Engels declare, “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word” (28).

When the workers gain a foothold within their own states, it seems to follow that they would help workers in other states gain power there, too.

Next, however, they state something spurious, at least as history went on: “National differences and antagonisms between peoples are vanishing gradually day to day, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie…” This comment is definitely of its time. They were writing mainly about and to other Europeans, who shared semi-common cultures.

A Postlude of sorts

Though Marx would relegate religion to an echo of productive means, religion, as a cultural marker between groups, has served just as strong an identifier as nationality does now.

picture-of-Hatch's-the-democratization-of-american-christianityAdmittedly, religion changes as the means of production change. Though not his aim, Nathan O. Hatch chronicles this change (in Christianity at least) in his The Democratization of American Christianity. He shows how religious practice shifted when monarchy shifted to democracy, a definite example of Marx’s theory that changes in the means of production drive history (here, on would say that the shift from feudalism to capitalism changed both politics and religion).

Perhaps, however, this criticism of Marx is premature. While they may have underestimated the power of nationalism (and ideas generally) in our time, Marx and Engels were prescient on group struggles. The ease with which politicians can scapegoat immigrants or unions or anything else for American problems demonstrates one thing. Workers largely have not realized that they are in common cause with workers of other countries. The owners of corporations, the ones who sent American jobs elsewhere, are not the friends of workers, American or not. Unions happened here to guard against the crap non-American workers now endure.

The next entry will be on Marx and Engels’ “10 Point Program.”

Communist Manifesto, part 2 (but really Part 1): Bourgeois and Proletarians

Capitalists wringing money from workers

This is part 2 of my series on The Communist Manifesto. Part 1 is here. Now we get into the meat of the book. While this is my part 2, this entry covers part 1 of the Communist Manifesto: “Bourgeois and Proletarians” (aka capitalists and workers). This is also one of the major socialist works mentioned here.

The Meat: Capitalists and Workers

Marx and Engels claim that society consists of class struggle/antagonism (instead of homogenized/unified/lockstepped nations or realms). The current struggle is between two classes: capitalists (this is how most socialists refer to the bourgeoisie) and workers (this, or “working class,” is a more straightforward translation of “proletariat”).

Marx and Engels reveal that there are more than two classes at play. However, capitalists and workers are the two principal players. The authors mention past antagonisms like lords/serfs and patricians/plebeians.

How and why the classes exist as they do occupy this section of the Communist Manifesto. Their argument unfolds in what is at times history, philosophy, and activism.

How Did the Capitalists Come About?

Capitalists emerged due to a confluence of advances: land discovery, colonization, communication, navigation, technological efficiency, division of labor, and commerce. In a phrase, capitalists owe their existence to new “modes of production.”  They transitioned from a group oppressed by the nobles. Then to one used by the monarchy against the nobles. Then  capitalists came to dominance as the monarchy and nobles fought to their mutual ruin.

Their pursuit of commercial interest above all else led capitalists to embrace “free trade” (by “free trade,” Marx and Engels mean trade free from the encumbrance of nation or faith). As technology became more efficient at yielding product, capitalists had to exploit new markets to keep profits up. These newly integrated markets gave the world a cosmopolitan character,  replacing old social relations (such as patriarchy and fealty) with urbanization.

When I first read this section, I thought Marx and Engels had overplayed their hand. For example, they state, “The bourgeoisie, whenever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” (11). Let’s grant that feudal relations had largely evaporated by their time. Surely patriarchal relations had not. However, as young people flocked to cities and factories took the place of small-time workers, family ties began to break down. Their new life free from the oversight of the village created a new sense of social relations. In fact, Marx and Engels later assert that as city population increases along side urban production, power shifts from from the village to consolidation in the hands of a few in the cities.

Back to their argument.

How Did the Working Class Come About?

While technological advances helped capitalists become dominant, they also were an Achilles’ Heel. Overproduction became a problem. Oversupply means lower prices. To keep advancing profits, capitalists needed new markets.

Technological innovations created the working class. As each worker became less necessary for profit, the worker’s existence became more precarious. If the owner of a factory needed less workers, working existence becomes more perilous as the workers who are left compete with each other in order to survive. They lived in cities and didn’t own land in the country, so the workers’ entire existence depended on the ability to secure jobs, if they resided in the cities.

Again, technology makes labor less necessary to capitalists. For example, machines make the John Henrys of the world obsolete. Or in Marx’s words, they make age and sex meaningless. A change in modes of production yields change in modes of social relations.

The wages the capitalists spend to maintain the workers’ subsistence soon siphons to smaller capitalists. One should note, too, that this group sinks into the proletariat because of competition with larger capitalists. This is where Marx and Engels begin to describe other classes. There are “petty bourgeoisie,” like shopkeepers (aka small business owners), land owners, etc. These are the smaller version of large capitalists like factory owners or industry leaders.

Development of the Working Class

Now the authors portray a trajectory of the development of the working class. Early in the workers’ development, they are precarious as individuals. If they move along toward union, they first unify in a factory as each worker begins to recognize their factory owners as possessing interests different from theirs. Then, perhaps, all factory workers who machine tools begin to develop a mutual group-interest (or class consciousness). Then they can develop a unified struggle (aka union) against the bourgeoisie in one locale. Initially Marx and Engels describe a reactionary impulse among workers to destroy the machines that replace them. If the machines are absent, they can have their jobs back. The authors soon argue against this folly.

Worker unity becomes possible from the conditions that conjured capitalists into being. Recall improved navigation and communication. Today, the internet is a boon to groups trying to extend their influence. One should note, though, that the internet also allows greater surveillance. When workers unify, they can exploit breaches in capitalist unity, e.g., in the achievement of the 10-hour bill that Marx and Engels mention.

At the time of their writing, 1848, workers were subject to working hours much longer than 10-hour workdays. Imagine working upwards of 16 hours, 6-7 days a week.

As class struggle intensifies, the capitalists and aristocracy, in an attempt to undermine the other, equip workers with education. The petit bourgeois/small capitalists sometimes side with the workers against the capitalists. They do this not to advance worker struggle, but in an effort to retain their former privileges. Another class, the “social scum” (German: lumpenproletariat), the authors portray as dangerous because any group can potentially by them off with enough provisions.

What Happens When the Workers Unify?

The workers of every country share a lack of capital (that is, means of production; see upcoming entry) and oppression beneath the exploitative capitalists. Therefore, if the workers revolt, they have no former privilege to defend. It would be the first revolution of the majority for the majority. Marx and Engels contrast this with revolutions fought by the many poor for the few rich (like the American Revolution fought so owners could self-govern away from monarchic oversight).

Capitalists exploit workers through wage-labor (I will cover this more when I write a series on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital”; in the meantime, here is a definition), creating competition between workers rather than between the workers and capitalists. Therefore, workers must begin uniting against the capitalists in their own countries.

Upcoming Posts

The next section describes the relation of the workers to the communists. I hope this summary of part of the Communist Manifesto helps you understand a little more about it. If so, please follow the blog, and share it on Facebook or Twitter. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or lampoons, please comment, email me at ilostmyprayerhanky2 at mailgay otday omcay (look up Pig Latin if this makes no sense to you), or tweet @PessimistsHope.

Communist Manifesto, part 1: Prolegomena, Preface, and Preamble

Communist ManifestoKarl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto [1848]. Authorized English Translation. Translated by Samuel Moore. New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1948.

 

 

Prolegomena, or Intro stuff

This entry is a (part of a 4-5 part series) review that covers Engels’ 1888 preface to the authorized English translation of the manifesto, as well as the “preamble.” Thus begins my foray into reviewing the major works of Marxism and socialism (way down the road I will probably do this with anarchism).

In this most (in)famous of texts, The Communist Manifesto (CM), Marx and Engels lay out the program for the overthrow of the bourgeois (those who own the means of production) by the working people (proletariat). Its pace is fast, its metaphors strident. I have read the work maybe twice before, but never in so much detail as now. For example, I went so far as to number the paragraphs and summarize each in my own words. My life situation also makes this reading more memorable.

The CM text I review divides into seven sections, but four primary parts. Engels’ preface covers the reception of the CM following the revolutions of 1848. The second section, or preamble, lists communism as a bogeyman that requires definition and subsequent defense. The main argument of the book (and how the work is structured) consists of four parts: “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” “Proletarians and Communists,” “Socialist and Communist Literature,” and “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties.” The final section concludes with Engels’ notes.

The Preface: The Communist League and Growing Working-Class Movement

What is now available online for free, and has been read and used by many revolutionaries since its publication, was once the agenda of a secret group called the “Communist League.” They quickly translated it from German into the major languages of Europe. However, Engels remarks on the vulnerability of the group. After the 1848 Paris revolt, and its subsequent repression, many of the League were imprisoned, until they quickly dissolved the group of their own volition.

It is common now to see the left a splintered mess: egoists, anarchists, communists, social democrats, democratic socialists, Maoists, Marxist-Leninists, Marxists, Luxemburgests, situationists, and habitual circle-jerkers. Apparently this sectarianism was present in the 1850s, too, for Engels refers to Marx’s grating success of uniting followers of Proudhon, LaSalle, and English unionists into the International Workingmen’s Association (First International).

Engels claims that the emerging working-class movement followed the translation of the CM into various languages. Though he admits the words “socialism” and “communism” could be used roughly interchangeably by 1888, they definitely could not be used synonymously in 1848. Then, socialists were those who wished to improve the welfare of people without challenging capital; communists were working class people who wanted the benefits that derived from owning capital themselves (more on Marx’s definition of “capital” in upcoming posts). Or to quote Engels: “Whatever portion of the working class had become convinced of the insufficiency of mere political revolutions, and had proclaimed the necessity of a total social change, called itself Communist” (5).

Engels is rather self-effacing when it comes to the origins of the manifesto. He attributes the nucleus of the work to Marx (though he would say they came to similar conclusions independently): social organization being invariably linked to economic production, class struggle, and proletarian emancipation from the bourgeoisie.

I find Engels’s historicizing remarks in the concluding paragraphs of his preface quite striking. He (and Marx for that matter) did not take their words as sacred scripture to be taken without criticism. For example, one of the most famous passages occurs at the end of part two, a ten-point program of sorts (from which The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would pen its own ten-point program). Engels states that some of these aims simply don’t match the historical conditions of 1888 and so remain an artifact of 1848. He also remarks that the socialist literature reviewed in part three only goes up to 1848 and that some of the parties mentioned in part four no longer existed.

That is Engels’ preface. Now to the preamble.

Preamble: “A specter is haunting Europe–the specter of Communism.”

The Communist League saw their mere existence as a threat so severe as to elicit a unified response from parties as diverse as pope, emperors, financiers, and police-spies. The writers took this to mean that they were a power, but one which deserved a hearing of its aims and demands. It was internationalist from its beginnings. In other words, there’s was not a nationalist situation, but a union of members from England, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Internationalism would play a huge part in communist revolutions globally.

Concluding Thoughts

Is the CM mere antiquities, a literary piece for hobbyists? One could use it that way, I suppose, but to do so would forfeit the document’s power. Even if one does not agree with all of Marx and Engels’ assertions, they should at least give one pause. What does it mean if people are grouped into antagonistic classes? What would it mean for working people to unite as a class, overthrow bourgeois hegemony, and obtain political power (the aims of the Communist League on p. 22)? Do the revolutions of Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and the various Bolivarian revolutions speak to the truth or falsehood of this document? Or how do those revolutions compare to the ideas Marx and Engels put forth?

My life situation makes this reading more poignant this time. I had written toward the end of last year a massive reading goal of 22 non-fiction works and 10 fiction works. Surely with school being done I would have nothing to do. It turned out that working 40+ hours a week in manual labor plus 10+ hours a week in commute time make for a tired and ragged Monte. It’s hard enough being a parent who is present and getting chores done; what little time I have is devoted to reading for this blog, and I don’t exactly feel great about my efforts.

I don’t know how the miners of yesteryear worked 12-16 hour days by candlelight and still made time to organize for better conditions. They are inspiring. They inspire while I feel the pressure of student debt, tired muscles, anxiety and desperation to use my mental skill, little time for my wife and children, and even less time to just read. So is the working class life. We work just to survive, while those who own capital make money off the labor of those who work. This is no a c’est la vie, or “it is what it is” statement; such is the outlook of those who share precarious conditions (like trying to find affordable healthcare), but through some obfuscation see this way of things as natural, unalterable, divinely-inspired, deserved. Recognize the power of your own activity. The way things are are not the way things have to be. Far from it.

Subjectivity, Text, Interpretation, and Faith

This is a letter I wrote to someone dear to me after s/he asked about my faith, with only a little editing. Edits will be inside brackets.

 

“Hey [person who is dear to me]

Thanks for opening up what I think can be a fruitful dialogue. I’m composing this for you as well as for me so I can put down some thoughts […].

The subject line [‘Subjectivity, Text, Interpretation, Faith’] shows in an abstract way how I think we arrive at faith. Children are not born religious or really anything. The faith that they accumulate or don’t comes from life experience. Subjectivity in my model includes all that goes into making a person: habits, decisions, mistakes, parents, thoughts, relationships, abuse/acceptance, bodies, societies, communities, wars, money, education, livelihood, hobbies, etc. I wouldn’t say any one of these things are necessarily more important than any other [after further reflection, I find some of those elements far more influential than others] in self-formation; selves are an amalgam of things that become more or less stable over time.

We bring all (or sometimes only parts depending on how integrated we are as persons) of ourselves to the texts that we read. Based on our experiences we 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 political bent, previous thinking, as well as openness to the text at hand. More often than not it goes 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 […] give more time to.

When I told you today that I hadn’t really touched a Bible that much in a while, unless for class, [it] is because I have spent a lot of time […] ruminating over various passages. Some of these textual interactions have been with me since I was a boy: humans are special (image of God; even if I am probably more of an agnostic now, this value has continued to develop in me even after I left tradition), we are built for community and owe to our communities (brother’s keeper, not good for [hu]man[s] to be alone; the owing of ourselves to our communities is a more recent development), redemption (not so much in an orthodox understanding, but in a narrative sense, I have experienced redemption after Sarah’s and my relationship became better). Things that have moved me beyond reconciliation with evangelicalism (if one assumes inerrancy an integral part of that label): patriarchy as divinely ordained[…], death penalties for trivial things (blasphemy, sorcery, men having sex with men [note the lack of the same standard for women!- original brackets], Sabbath breaking [technically one is to be cut off from the people, but that’s essentially a death sentence in that context- original brackets]), proclivity to war, authoritarianism, embeddedness in monarchy and empire, the concept of messianism, the injustice of [substitutionary] atonement theory, racism/ethnocentrism, slavery, and choosing ambiguities of faith over certainties of reason (particularly when the two are in conflict).

On interpretation, I see it as organically springing from our persons as described above. We can be trained in various interpretive models–the more traditional ones that involve history, language, syntax, and sociology–or more avant guard [hehe, avant-garde] ones like feminist, queer, post-colonial, ideological/Marxist, reader-response, deconstruction, economic, and African-American (this could probably fit entirely under post-colonial approaches). The more avant guard [again, avant-garde] ones call into question the traditional historical-critical approach that understood there to be one inherent meaning per text. Scholars such as Dale Martin have demonstrated that when two scholars beholden to the same historical-critical methods approached one text, they arrived at diametrically opposed conclusions.

Probably where I fit in interpretation is synthetic. I think we have to make use of the building blocks of history, language, and syntax (kind of the historical-critical school in a nutshell) but texts tend not to 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 it 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 commentary on the Bible without an author. There simply is no such thing as a biblical interpretation without human subjectivity involved. At all. Some are uncomfortable with this. 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. If that’s the case, we’re screwed. Tons of traditions agree on the idea of inerrancy, but then claim that they have the right interpretation in the bag, regardless of how much diversity of opinion there ends up being.

If God/Jesus/Spirit ruled as a physical personage, we would know who the right and wrong were, for then they could settle the dispute! They’re [the trinity] conspicuously silent when I really need them to come through. We could have real loyalists and real rebels. 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 to corroborate it. I get along quite well with people even if they accept this. It gets hard when it gets political[,] though [,] for then the innocuous belief becomes a concrete political option that makes or breaks communities.

From my religious studies training, I was exposed to the debate between idealism and materialism. All religions have elements of both: you’d call one theology and one ethics, or the immaterial and material. Because of where I’m at, I focus on the material. If the Bible says, “If a man lays with a man as with a woman, that is an abomination,” (it says something similar to this in Leviticus; I’m just going from memory) and in the other form of that passage it adds the death penalty, I’m going to stop and think a bit before I do something [about the] concrete passage. Even if we account for genre and time, that is still present in the inerrant text. If two men happen to pork each other, and they aren’t doing it in public or to children, I see no reason why they should be stoned, particularly since passages like this one give no reason for the ruling other than “God said” or a sacred text said so. Such arguments from authority simply don’t do anything for me anymore. If there is not a rational basis and God is perfect, that [text] couldn’t have been spoken by God, for then it would be associating irrationality or tyranny with God.

This is getting long. Suffice it to say, I have access to God/Jesus/Spirit solely through a text and the person of Monte I bring to that text. The ONLY thing that would change that would be if they were to speak for themselves. Short of that, we are all gods […] since we end up being the final arbiter of which texts we find authoritative and which ones we don’t.

Love you. Thanks for speaking with me about this and for letting me speak candidly with you.

Even though some of the statements above are put pretty bluntly, or maybe as if I am hardened to change, that is not the case. I am open to dialogue. Challenge me on things. Question me. Ask what my narrative has to do with my interpretation. Ask for clarification. Provide difference of opinion. And defend it.

Again, love you
Mont”

Labor Day: The Domestication of Radicalism

https://ameriquotes.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/pullmancartoon.jpg?w=640Labor Day in the United States began as a local display of union power in New York in 1882. Many workers worked 12+ hour days and 7 days a week, and many were precarious immigrant workers. 10,000 workers took unpaid time off of work to march from City Hall to Union Square. Twelve years later it would become a national holiday, after over 20 states had made it a holiday. What occurred in the intervening 12 years?

According to the House website, Senator Kyle of South Dakota introduced S.730 in August 1893, proposing the establishment of Labor Day, where it sat untouched for 10 months. However, once brought forward, it passed quickly through congress. Why the swift passage?

Image result for george pullman
Never trust a goat man

Workers in Pullman, IL (now Chicago) had begun a strike that eventually turned national. Pullman was a “company town,” a place where George Pullman housed his workers. Pullman’s eponymous town had a Pullman bank, which took out Pullman rents from Pullman worker’s Pullman checks.

When the Panic of 1893 hit, the Pullman Palace Car Company (sleeping cars) began to cut wages while it kept rents the same. Workers went on strike on May 11 the following year. The American Railway Union called on all railway workers not to run trains with Pullman cars on June 22. On June 29, workers were so agitated, they set fire to a train connected to a mail car.

https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/17/13517-004-48331393.jpg
Governor Altgeld of Illinois

This destruction sparked the ire of President Grover Cleveland. He tried to send in troops because of the breakdown in law and order, but governor John Peter Altgeld blocked this move, seeing claims of anarchy as overblown. Cleveland secured an injunction and sent in at least 10,000 troops. In response to an assault on July 7, troops opened fire, injuring dozens, and killing between 4 to 30 workers. The strike soon ended.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f3/Grover_Cleveland_-_NARA_-_518139_%28cropped%29.jpg/220px-Grover_Cleveland_-_NARA_-_518139_%28cropped%29.jpg
President Cleveland

Now 1894 was a midterm election year. Cleveland was a democrat. Much of his base belonged to the American Federation of Labor, a union not involved in the Pullman strike. In an effort to appease this base, the creation of Labor Day easily passed. Note, though, that the new holiday passed on June 28, a little over a week before the violence that occurred. The Pullman workers regained employment only on condition of never joining a union again.

Labor Day is probably seen as the mere transition from summer to fall because of the shrinking power of unions. It doesn’t help that a large segment of the public sees unions as the problem (e.g., “sending” jobs outside the U.S., as if the workers who don’t actually own the companies voted to send their own jobs away) instead as security for workers. Who do you think got you weekends, an 8 hour workday, pensions, child labor laws, sick days, and social security? Bosses weren’t trying to find ways to share wealth; they had to be forced by labor.

Why do most workers not realize the radical origins of this day, while business blogs (like Forbes and Business Insider) do? I believe it’s due to the leisure time afforded such persons by their high pay, while gas station, food service, and hospitality workers face precarity and just want a little break from it all. Cheap goods can inoculate a populace to the source of the cheapness. Cheap goods comes on the back of the third world with the full security of U.S. gunboat diplomacy. Even a well run social democracy (aka “welfare state”) can only survive with exploitative capital.

As my pastor stated, it’s ironic that a day established to celebrate workers celebrates capitalism with savings on cars and furniture. And those workers have to work on Labor Day. Who are the workers who still get terrible pay and terrible treatment by the public? This is their day. The thing that labor in the U.S. can do is not blame fleeing jobs on immigrants or “foreigners,” but realize the common struggle of global workers vs. international capitalists. As two cool German dudes once said, “Workers of the World, Unite!”