Socialism and Surplus: Why Planning Cannot Overthrow Capitalism

blackboardAs the economic crisis continues along with militant action against it, the idea of socialist planning has emerged from the grave.  The beginning of the neoliberal offensive, along with libertarian Marxist currents, discredited state socialism for various forms of micro-politics. And yet, its contemporary resurrection has not proven itself a feasible historical project. It exists as a zombie that has lost the horizon of communism as revolutionary action. In its stead, planning has been misrecognized–and not only by social democrats–as if it were post-capitalism instead of a potential strategic avenue within capitalism. The old formulation of the latter has transmuted into the myth of planning as the realization of post-capitalist society itself. It is ultimately a regression in Marxist thought. It is a position that neither Marx nor that 20th century scion, Lenin, held–even though both could periodically fall prey to the illusion. At bottom, socialism is subject to the same compulsions as capitalism. Its planning is the planning of the management of surplus; the category which is the foundation of domination. If it might attenuate some of the most vicious results of the capitalist hell, it cannot help us escape it.

At bottom, socialism is subject to the same compulsions as capitalism. Its planning is the planning of the management of surplus; the category which is the foundation of domination.

It is precisely in the compulsion for surplus that dominating relations manifest themselves. Indeed, its collusion with stratification predates capitalism. Hunter-gatherers did not have permanent leaders since mobility required the minimization of material possessions. A reliable surplus helped some households accumulate larger shares over subsistence-centralizing leadership. In societies which did not have a surplus to consolidate, subject populations could not be integrated and thus hierarchy would crumble. Marx claimed that communism was that which realized human species-being. It would be the re-emergence of the most primitive in the most advanced. Species-being is impossible to realize with the compulsion of surplus since it is a logic which compels alien production.

Honing on this anthropological point is not merely an academic exercise. It indicates the literal lack of empirical evidence for planning as a means to abolish capitalism. The best retort to what is being argued is that efficient planning would equitably redistribute the surplus making it impossible to expropriate. Workplace democracy and the ability for people to take control of society through participation will prevent backsliding, or so we are told.

However, A theoretical and practical problem emerge for revolutionary thought. First, there is no actual material claim to prove that domination would not reoccur. The ties that bind society are, at best, the moral force of a social contract. The ideological delusions exhorting humanity toward its essential goodness are militated against by the system of calculation which must arise for the whole system to function. Calculation would not be the coordination and distribution of use-values. Such a calculation is qualitatively different than calculation in the area of production. The latter is inherently the regulation of socially necessary labor-time. The reduction of labor to planned labor-power reimposes factory discipline in order to regulate the input and output of a given factory. The abstract call for democracy is not as romantic as it sounds. It would only bring us to a world in which labor self-disciplines; the internalization of capital without capitalists.

The second argument follows from the first. An emergent bureaucracy out of capitalism would, despite all intentions, be subject to the compulsions of the economic. In order to demonstrate this point, Amadeo Bordiga’s critique of Stalinist Russia is important. Bordiga thought the problem with the Soviet Union was not in the despotism of the bureaucracy as a class but the laws to which it was ultimately subject. He looked at the social relations in the Kolkoz and Sovkhoz–the former a cooperative farm and the other a straight wage-labor state farm–to demonstrate that the state took the role of merely another firm among firms. Importantly, he argued the essential impossibility of realizing communism alongside calculation in money prices (or in ‘labor tickets’ as some recent scholars have advocated).

Communism is not planning but the overcoming of the “economic” as a functional category.

Communism is not planning but the overcoming of the “economic” as a functional category. Production would not be the creation of alien wealth in any form but the realization of human creative capacity. If the species must metabolize nature, it would not be in the service of production but in the conscious reproduction of basic material needs. The coordination of large-scale society is not planning and to maintain such an argument is to mangle categories. Planning is discipline at the site of production, which is necessarily the regulation of bodies.

And yet, socialism is not rejected as inherently evil. Uneven and combined development indicate the necessity for multiple mediations in the realization of communism. The problem to be isolated is the false belief in socialism as the abolition of capitalism itself. If there is room for socialism, then the situation is one of strategic retreat. Retreat is not used in a pejorative sense; revolution is not Pickett’s Charge. Rather, there is no such thing as a “victory for socialism,” just another step in the Long March* to communism.

*A strategic retreat necessary for a victory.

Seeing Red (Part 2): United Teachers vs. Bipartisan Opposition

It has been four years since the financial collapse of 2008 set off the greatest world economic crisis since the 1930s. “Reform” measures put into place to stop the hemorrhaging have succeeded only in exacerbating socio-economic inequalities around the country, with the poor, once again, bearing the highest costs. Nowhere is this more apparent than the right-wing attacks on public workers, unions, and pensions. It comes as no surprise to teachers that they find themselves on the front lines.

On September 10th, educators began a citywide strike in Chicago, home of the third-largest school district in the country. Despite arrogant threats from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff for President Obama, the Chicago Teachers Union and community leaders have fought back against measures that have been described as “educational apartheid” by concerned parents. Under Emanuel’s hand-picked school board – largely devoid of actual teachers and mostly stacked with millionaire CEOs, privatization wonks, and real-estate developers – corporate operators have worked to seize public schools, enact longer school days and school years, and force blanket metrics for evaluating teachers and students. Teachers will be expected to do more work for less pay.

The Chicago establishment is known for this sort of thing. Milton Friedman, the spiritual forefather of deregulation and economist of the Chicago School of Economics infamously said:

“Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function … until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Emanuel has fully embraced Friedman’s ideas, taking advantage of the economic crisis to eliminate liberal arts classes, displace hundreds of teachers, weaken teacher health benefits and tenure, and privatize essential services. He’s also demanded teacher evaluations be tied to standardized tests results of students, an idea that hurts poor students as teachers in crowded inner-city schools are forced to narrow curriculum. Instead of planning lessons that teach students to inquire, students will be force-fed facts to be demonstrated on exams. Students will no longer learn, they will memorize.

As CTU President Karen Lewis proclaimed to thousands of teachers and parents at a Labor Day rally in Daley Plaza, “This fight is for the very soul of public education, not only in Chicago but everywhere.”

This is no exaggeration; Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and architect of the privatization scheme he called “Renaissance 2010,” was appointed by President Obama to be secretary of education. His policies have been embedded in Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative, a union-opposed program that requires states to make reforms to get federal education funds. The anti-teacher Democrats in Chicago have another tie to the White House; Arne Duncan headed the CPS under Mayor Richard Daley, the brother of William Daley, who replaced Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff in 2011.

We are beginning to have as little choice between the two major parties at the national level in educational policy as we currently have on civil liberties and war-and-peace issues.

We are beginning to have as little choice between the two major parties at the national level in educational policy as we currently have on civil liberties and war-and-peace issues. Even Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been explicit in his support for Emanuel. “Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues,” he declared, “but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teachers’ union strike is unnecessary and wrong.” He added that “education reform is a bipartisan issue.”

Unfortunately, Paul Ryan is correct. But if bipartisan efforts continue to pander to the hedge-fund bigwigs behind the charter school movement and ignore efforts at improving our public schools, our hopes for a better educated generation will be suspended, permanently.
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Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

 

Commons 2012 – Radical Squares 2 – George Caffentzis

“Uploaded by on Jan 24, 2012

George Caffentzis speaks on the Radical Squares: Reflections on the Global Indignant Moment panel at the Tragedy of the Market: from Crisis to Commons conference in January 2012 in Burnaby BC Canada.

Radical Squares: Reflections on the Global Indignant Moment – The spreading scope of systemic crisis (economic, ecological, social) has been met with an intensifying circulation of struggles around the world. How can we analyze the public eruption of recent struggles beginning in the Middle East and spreading across the globe? What does this moment mean? What are people indignant about? Is this a moment of both cultural transformation as well political upheaval? Presenters: Nefertiti Altán, George Caffentzis”

United State of Emergency: Outlawing Dissent

During the 1967 Six Day War, a series of strict emergency laws were enacted across the Arab World, most notably in Egypt and Syria. Police powers became absolute while constitutional rights were suspended; any non-governmental political activity such as street demonstrations, rallies, protests, and organization of dissident political groups was quickly crushed by the iron fist of dictators. The laws were called temporary defensive measures, emergency acts that would be lifted once the nation was safe again.

The laws were simply left in place. The rulers of Egypt and Syria, content with their power, decided to concede nothing to their citizens. Tens of thousands of people found themselves imprisoned for extended periods of time, simply for demanding the principles of democracy already encoded in their constitutions or being critical of the government. The emergency laws provided these autocratic regimes with the authority to force their will onto to their people without opposition.

Under a president deemed worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, the will of the authoritarian tyrant caste is being written permanently into American law.

H.R. 347/S1794, otherwise known as the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” passed unanimously in the House and receiving only three negative votes in the Senate, makes it a felony—a crime defined by the federal government as punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year—to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.” The law makes no exception for demonstrators who unknowingly gather outside of federally-designated free-speech zones; you may not have willfully or knowingly done anything other than exercise your free speech and free assembly rights, but if you “in fact” “[impede] or [disrupt] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions,” you’re going to prison. And since Obama’s ink dried on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and America was declared a battleground, you could be held indefinitely.

These laws would have made Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights luminaries felons subject to indefinite detention.

When, and if, demonstrators get released from incarceration, they will continue to suffer the long-term legal consequences termed by prisoner-rights advocates as “civil death.” Felons are barred from multitude vocations, associating with certain people or even living in particular areas, ineligible to serve on a jury or receive government assistance, and even denied the right to elect their own public servants. As of 2008, over 5.3 million people in the United States are currently left without the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement. A sure-fire way of controlling political opposition is to deny it the ability to participate in political life.

Restricted areas spoken of in HR347, interpreted under existing law and court precedents, include any “building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” and “a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.” This definition, kept intentionally broad and vague, allows anti-protest measures to be applied at the whim of the political elite. Already in Chicago, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over crippling restrictions on public activity brought as a result of the upcoming NATO conference—and the simultaneous anti-globalization protests—on May 20-21st, 2012.

While the laws were called a temporary response to the G8 summit taking place in Chicago alongside the NATO conference, the Obama White House made a last minute decision to move G8 to the presidential compound at Camp David, a restricted military installation. The laws in Chicago will remain. Draconian laws enacted in the name of national defense in the Other Civil War are nothing new.

On September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a national emergency due to the terrorist attacks of three days earlier. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 requires the President to renew this state of emergency on an annual basis if he wishes it to remain in effect; Bush renewed it every year he was in office and Obama has continued the trend.

The United States has been in a declared state of national emergency for the last 11 years.

According to Harold Relyea, a specialist working for the American government in the Congressional Research Service, the president “may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”

Combined with Patriot Act measures enacted by Congress under George W. Bush and extended by Obama, these laws provide a framework of surveillance and control only dreamed of in some Orwellian nightmare.

The nature of neoliberal globalization virtually ensures that fascist cartels will force their monopolies onto unwilling nations or unknowing populations; plurilateral agreements like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, are created in secret by leaders of a select handful of the wealthiest countries and designed with the intention of forcing them upon developing nations. ACTA includes provisions that profoundly restrict fundamental rights and freedoms, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy. It also severely restricts generic drug creation and use in underdeveloped countries. They are nonnegotiable.

Kader Arif, the European parliament’s rapporteur for ACTA, resigned from his position in January 2012 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

As with other undemocratic measures being passed around the world, HR 347/S1794 is a ruthless and reactionary law designed to eliminate political and economic dissent.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is little wonder that HR 347/S1794 has been called by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), one of only three members of Congress to vote against the bill, the “First Amendment Rights Eradication Act.” While the NDAA seeks to remove your 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights, this newest attack on self-determination is aimed at the heart of 1st Amendment rights including Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom to Petition.

The Supreme Court ruled in Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312, 318 (1988), that protesting outside an embassy was worthy of Constitutional protection, recognizing that freedom of speech, even if it may interfere with normal governmental activity “reflects a ‘profound national commitment’ to the principle” and “‘debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’”

While the right to free speech, assembly, and the petition of grievances is enshrined in the US Constitution, the right of government to conduct its business without dissent is not.

In 1783, twenty-four year old William Pitt, then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was petitioned to change the law based on the “necessity” to save the East India Company from bankruptcy. His reply was brief.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

The arguments of a tyrannical Congress would have you believe that HR 347/S1794 is a necessity, that demonstrations against the actions of government and business cause it undue hardship. While the government’s ability to permissibly restrict expressive conduct is limited by reasonable time, place, and manner regulations, the restrictions must, by law, be narrowly tailored to prevent unconstitutional adversity.

HR 347/S1794 flagrantly violates the First Amendment, since it is a broad and sweeping restriction based particularly on political speech in a public forum and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

Of course, the crypto-fascists in Congress will argue that protecting themselves from the sight of the “unwashed masses” is a compelling state interest. They wouldn’t be incorrect. The nature of power is self-preserving; by surrounding themselves with a no-free-speech zone, the State can continue its self-congratulatory paternalism, content in the false knowledge that they’re “looking out for the little guy.”

The unconstitutional socio-political deprivation embedded in these authoritarian anti-Occupy laws would arguably be unfeasible without an almost complete blackout by mass media.

Media and communication play a central, perhaps even a defining, role in the ability of police-state measures to pass. Where is the outrage over the state of emergency laws that have gripped this country for almost a dozen years? How can unelected bankers wrest power from leaders in Greece, the birthplace of democracy, while the rest of the world fumbles with “austerity measures” to save their own necks? Consolidation of the global commercial media system can be easily linked to deregulation in the name of neoliberal “progress.”That deregulation—and the resulting monopoly that keeps alternate news sources like Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera English off the air—has allowed only capitalist rhetoric to flourish.

The business interests that control the mainstream media are the same that control the United States government. They will allow no dissent as they continue their war on liberty.

American anarchist Noam Chomsky, long known for his critiques of U.S. policy, has often written about the “manufacture of consent,” something propaganda maven (and Freud nephew) Edward Bernays happily called the art of manipulating people. In his criticism of the global commercial media system, Chomsky posits that mass media, as a profit-driven institution, tends to serve and further the agendas and interests of dominant, elite groups over the social well-being of entire societies. His writing firmly rejects the kinds of censorship that HR 347/S1794 proposes.

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”

What does this mean for us? Simply put, this is not a battle of the Left versus the moderate Right. This is a direct attack on the United States Constitution, a charter written expressly to limit the government’s power over its citizens.

This is a war of the authoritarian oligarchy upon the principles of democracy.

Around the world, the working and middle classes have risen up against the duplicity of their governments, the engineering of political realities by corporate interests, and the social stratification enforced by capitalist exploitation. In the United States, both Occupy Wall Street and the libertarian wing of the Tea Party have demonstrated against the excesses of the US federal government. These protests, however, have been relatively small compared to the injustice being perpetrated upon the American people.

Organized labor has tried to make up for their decline in membership and economic power in recent years by abandoning any pretense of non-partisan organizing and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars of member dues money into the campaigns of Democrats. The opponents of organized labor are allowed to paint it as a partisan special interest group in the pocket of the Democratic Party. This has proven to be the case for far too long. The Democrats, in turn, have taken labor’s vote as a matter of course and done little to advance the political agenda of the working class. The vast majority of workers who remain outside of traditional unions see no use in joining one; management sees suppression of organization as just another cost of doing business. A return of radical unionization, exemplified by the Industrial Workers of the World call to organize the entire working class into One Big Union to abolish the wage system, would do much to stop the pitting of worker against worker, allowing for people over profit, cooperation over competition. The Preamble to the IWW Constitution still reflects this.

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Organized labor can, and should be, a force to reckon with. It cannot do so, however, as long as it continues to blindly support a party that has forgotten the farmers, laborers, labor unions, and minorities that have made up its traditional base. Regardless of whether organized labor feels it must undergo a transitional program from capitalism to participatory economics, it must divorce itself from unwavering allegiance to the Democrats. Labor would be more effective supporting individual politicians who promote a working class agenda, whether they are Green Party, Libertarians, Social Democrats, or independents.

Civil libertarian organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment Coalition, and the Center for Constitutional Rights have a long history of defending the inalienable rights retained by—as opposed to privileges granted to—citizens of the United States under the Constitution. As nonpartisan organizations, they have the ability to denounce legislators of any camp for transgressions of civil liberties. It is expected that they will use test cases to undermine the illegal laws being propagated by the political elite; as part of a diversity of tactic, these kinds of cases should be applauded, even as the larger movement forges ahead with broader goals. Embracing different tactics allows radical proponents of liberty and democracy to work with mainstream advocacy groups to advance our larger strategy in accordance with our common goals. The Saint Paul Principles provide a framework for that cooperation without sectarian breakdown.

The fiscal conservatives, moderates, and libertarians who make up the Republican base have seen the party of Lincoln hijacked by social conservatives like Leo Strauss, who said the “crisis of our time” was a “permissive egalitarianism” embedded in liberal democracy and neoconservatives like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who prompted Reagan to givefinancial and material support to pro-Western authoritarian regimes.

Libertarians and fiscal conservatives have little in common with the state-enforced conservative social policies pushed by the religious right wing that seems to dominate the Republican Party. The interventionist war machine driven by neoconservative thought—to say nothing of the government intrusion into privacy via the Patriot Act, REAL ID, and NSA domestic spying program—runs contrary to principles of state sovereignty and self-determination held in high esteem by traditional conservatism, principles that Thomas Paine instilled into American body politic under the phrase “Common Sense.”

As encroachments on personal privacy and individual liberties continue, both the Democratic and Republican parties have forgotten their base: the working and middle class.

Communist Karl Marx borrowed the term “proletariat” as a description for the working class from the Ancient Roman Empire, whose rulers believed the only contribution the masses could make to Roman society was the ability to raise children to colonize new territories. The crypto-fascist authority today, encompassing both the Democratic and Republican Parties, continues this view; to capitalists, workers are not individuals but only the rungs of a ladder designed to lift them higher on the pyramid scheme of capitalist economics.

The time has come for the American middle and working classes to join their comrades in the campaign for liberty currently sweeping the globe.

 

H.R. 347/S1794, rightly nicknamed the “First Amendment Rights Eradication Act,” has been passed by both chambers of Congress. It now sits on President Obama’s desk, awaiting his signature. If his capitulation to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012—and its promise of indefinite detention—is any indication of his future action, he’ll sign it.

This issue transcends traditional party politics. Political opposition will be outlawed immediately. Pro-life rallies will effectively end with ban on public demonstrations, as well as pro-choice demonstrations. The government will not hesitate to prohibit any and all organizations it defines as dissenting or subversive, including alternative parties, labor unions, veterans’ associations, and others. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party can both kiss the promise of reforming government goodbye.

Congress has already declared America a battleground. They now want to silence us. It is time to bring the battle home.


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA) athttp://www.facebook.com/COBRACollective.