The Philosophic Roots of Marxism

“The fullest possible appreciation of pleasure creates a need for the prudent management of the flow of pleasures over time, and for a mental grasp of the art of living.”

Marx’s dissertation compared the Epicurean tradition favorably to the Skeptics. Marx used Greek materialism to found his socialist humanism.

Marxist materialism is elaborated by Mandel (D Henwood found this):

Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, pp. 394-396: 6.

“…Marx fully appreciated and stressed the civilizing function of capital, which he saw as the necessary preparation of the material basis for a ‘rich individuality’. The following passage from the Grundrisse makes this view very clear: ‘Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one.’

 For socialists, rejection of capitalist ‘consumer society’ can therefore never imply rejection of the extension and differentiation of needs as a whole, or any return to the primitive natural state of these needs; their aim is necessarily the development of a ‘rich individuality’ for the whole of mankind. In this rational Marxist sense, rejection of capitalist ‘consumer society’ can only mean: rejection of all those forms of consumption and of production which continue to restrict man’s development, making it narrow and one-sided. This rational rejection seeks to reverse the relationship between the production of goods and human labour, which is determined by the commodity form under capitalism, so that henceforth the main goal of economic activity is not the maximum production of things and the maximum private profit for each individual unit of production (factory or company), but the optimum self-activity of the individual person. The production of goods must be subordinated to this goal, which means the elimination of forms of production and labour which damage human health and man’s natural environment, even if they are ‘profitable’ in isolation. At the same time, it must be remembered that man as a material being with material needs cannot achieve the full development of a ‘rich individuality’ through asceticism, self-castigation and artificial self-limitation, but only through the rational development of his consumption, consciously controlled and consciously (i.e., democratically) subordinated to his collective interests.

 Marx himself deliberately pointed out the need to work out a system of needs, which has nothing to do with the neo-asceticism peddled in some circles as Marxist orthodoxy. In the Grundrisse Marx says: ‘The exploration of the earth in all directions, to discover new things of use as well as new useful qualities of the old; such as new qualities of them as raw materials; the development, hence, of the natural sciences to their highest point; likewise the discovery, creation and satisfaction of new needs arising from society itself; the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations – production of this being as the most total and universal possible social product, for, in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures, hence cultured to a high degree – is likewise a condition of production founded on capital….”

There is No Compromise with Conservatives

“So, the Heritage Foundation said let’s do an individual mandate because it keeps it (health care reform) within free enterprise. The alternative was single payer. And they didn’t want that, and I’m in sympathy with that. So now all of a sudden the free-market alternative becomes unconstitutional and terribly intrusive where a government imposition and government-run project would not be? I don’t get it. Well, I do get it. It’s politics” Liberal-conservative Charles Fried commenting on the the Randy Barnett-led conservative campaign, which aims to use the Supreme Court to kill Obamacare. 

Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA 2010) requires, on pain of fines, individual Americans to buy health insurance from private health insurance firms. Why conservatives hate it is because it is a progressive redistribution of wealth, and so an enlargement of power and freedoms. Further, millions of Americans cannot afford food or shelter, let alone buy expensive health insurance; so their insurance costs must be socialized. Conservative states and conservative business organizations filed lawsuits (and amicus brief), and the Supreme Court agreed to hear their arguments.

Say you want to get something done: Address the problem of the predatory, unregulated health care industry which is sapping the economic strength of responsible employers and the working class, causing crisis within the working class and foisting the costs of an unhealthy, traumatized populace upon the state, capital productivity, and society.

If you wanted to do something, you would have had to coordinate a massive protest + polity campaign, first to get a President who would and could appoint progressive judges to the Supreme Court, and then to press for universal  Medicare, with the state being a single buyer of services (to negotiate medical rents down). Given the judiciary is conservative, this is a long-term project at this point. There is no other road. If you wanted to get social reform accomplished, you cannot compromise with class warrior conservatives, because even though they own Congress, they own the judiciary more. Ideologically, Republicans and other class warrior conservatives will not tolerate the idea that any policy that strengthens the working class strengthens the capitalist class or economy.

Illustrated: the difference between Fried (a Reagan-era conservative = Democrat) and Barnett class-warrior conservatives is that the former agree that something had to be done about health care cost and access in the US–and something could be done that would benefit capital. Whereas the latter are “Let them eat cake” Malthusians. The Barnett class-warrior conservatives believe that the working class should be miserable, in crisis, and dead young (The elitist Supreme Court judges laughed merrily at the idea of working-poor families booted off health insurance.), and on principle no state should stand in the way of that proper “market”/god-given outcome. Following feudo-capitalist British tradition, as long as US military troops and mercenaries are competitive in imperial war, there is no need for class compromise or social amelioration in Malthusian conservatives’ view. Might makes right.

And when I’m finally old enough to learn to play the game, 
Oh the dinosaurs will roam the earth, and resume their bloody reign. 

Political Problem: The Supreme Court is a Fundamental Enemy of Democracy

Robin plumbs another depth to conservative strategy: The reason why the Supreme Court agreed to hear this challenge to Obamacare as a matter of constitutional law is because that conservative court has been using the Constitution’s commerce clause to work toward constructing the class-warrior legal interpretation: broadly, the interpretation that the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to create working class-supportive social institutions (eg. Medicare, food assistance, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.). This conservative constitutional interpretation would illegalize all institutions of the welfare state, making the US a night watchman state.

Doug Henwood and Daniel Lazare argue that with one exception-that-proves-the-rule (post-FDR) period, history has shown that the Supreme Court is hopelessly anti-democratic. Robin explains the  elitist Supreme Court problem for democrats: The commerce clause hasn’t always been an obstacle to progressive social change. Iff you had a social movement in place, and iff you ALSO had a president who was able to appoint Supreme Court justices who wouldn’t strike down all progressive legislation, the commerce clause could be turned to freedoms expansion.

So after Roosevelt’s liberal judicial appointments, and with social movement pressure, for a couple decades justices used the commerce clause to authorize Social Security, the Wagner Act, the Civil Rights Act, and more. But  social movement is not enough. There were social movements in the US for many decades that managed to pass legislation, and it all got struck down by the Supreme Court.

Unless you struggle to abolish the Supreme Court or pass an amendment that radically restricts its authority, it’s going to wield that authority and strike down freedoms-expanding legislation.

The only temporary alternative is if a social movement can over time both advance a President who will appoint new progressive judges and maintain the disruption and pressure needed to advance progressive, freedoms-expanding legal interpretation.

Left Hegemonic Strategy vis-a-vis the Right

This long discussion may provide some clues as to how some members of the non-elite Right can be won over by the Left.

Left Gramscian considerations for a reorienting organization of non-elite conservatives
Generally: Understand that most non-elites, especially in Anglosphere societies, have been socialized (in the workplace, in the church, in the patriarchal family) primarily as feudal serfs, not ideal liberal workers. To organize them Left requires a Freirean approach.

The conservative ideological system–narrow boundaries of moral exclusion, aversion to democratic politicization (qua change), god-affirmed feudalism–is self-reinforcing in its parts and founded in institutionalized solidaristic incentives.

Tactical consideration 1:
a) Well-educated Left can make alliances with non-elite conservative intellectuals, focus on broadening their circle of moral inclusion
b) Left organizers create organizations with solidarity incentives to engage non-elites, focus on broadening their circle of moral inclusion

I consider that one opportunity lies in understanding and addressing the non-elite Right’s struggle to come to terms with their boundaries of moral exclusion. Conservatives seem to feel overwhelmed at the extent of humanity. The Right reflex seems to be to see the human world as very small, with a big old throng of sub-humans outside the boundaries–so, broadly, the conservative’s relationship to that sub-human throng is properly, reflexively, simply to use/exploit that sub-human mass, like you might eat vegetables.

Yet in the context of modernity (which the Right labors to destroy), and with Left critical mass delegitimizing this cognitive ordering, perhaps the non-elite Right can be convinced to broaden their boundaries of moral exclusion. The very well educated Left might best be situated to move well-educated, non-elite conservatives, who probably believe in intelligence hierarchy.

…But moral boundary expansion will be hard to accomplish when elites with control over the surplus can just pay non-elites to keep the boundaries narrow. Still, it helps to increase the cost of repression and, in organizing, the Left can work solidarity incentives. Existing resource: Easing young people through broadening boundaries of moral exclusion is what many liberal arts scholars do as educators; so liberal arts scholars can have a role to play in social movement.

Tactical consideration 2:
a) Model not getting overwhelmed by politicization, understanding politicization structurally, not taking politicization too personally. Train conservatives into politicization desensitization, not abjection.
b) Prioritize and rationalize your organization’s politicization agenda, in anticipation of coalition building. This can be different for different groups, and can change over time with collective consideration. But affinity groups with solidarity incentives should reduce anarchic politicization, by for example, using the same people who craft group principles to execute principle-based agendas.

Business Insider’s Dougherty points out that non-elite conservatives become exhausted with and abject the Left tendency to recognize “all” areas of life as subject to political debate between equal humanities. Although they may enjoy political warfare, conservatives yearn for social settlement, social contract settlement, containment of politics-qua-change (but on high-inequality, feudalistic terms that at least somewhat privilege themselves).

Would rationalizing politicization help move conservatives, if they were simultaneously helped to widen their moral exclusion boundaries? I think there is potential for Leftists to help non-elite conservatives, rather than disengage, either learn to relax in the face of politicization aimed at decreasing socio-economic, health, and political inequalities and increasing freedoms. Though such learning is probably more feasible with stronger Left institutions to socialize people. Or Leftists can collectively prioritize and order politicization in time and space.

This is an interesting question, and a point of co-optation vulnerability for the Left, because just about everybody, conservatives, liberals and Leftists included, is exhausted by and hates anarchic politicization–it can be a social capital / trust destroyer. Humans are limited, not gods, and do not have the capacity to live in absolute aporia. But under favorable conditions, we can live with more freedoms-broadening politicization than conservatives are willing to allow. Existing resource: Easing young people through politicization is what many social scientists do as educators; so social scientists can have a role to play in social movement.

Tactical consideration 3:
a) Demonstrate to non-elites that order is not secured by a god-principle, but by fallible humans.
b) Build organizations and institutions that value and can develop democratic order, in order to short-circuit conservative loss passion.

For conservatives, the good society engages people in a romantic / mystified struggle for what they  were already socially-given. Conservatives’ elite ideal is the feudal warlord; their subordinate ideal is the feudal serf. Conservatives yearn for people to earn / demonstrate the assets / virtue that they have been assigned / ascribed. Conservatives ache for order confirmation, to see the face of God, necessity behind power, its lack, and order. In their view, rulers need to be provided the opportunity to demonstrate their vigor to rule.

…But this demonstration is always underdetermined–What does the face of God look like?; and so elites can be shown to be undeserving of their privilege.

With aforethought, and in system contradiction and crisis, I think Left critical mass can use this particular conservative psychology of desire to divide non-elite conservatives from elite conservatives. It’s a potential wedge.

But obviously, non-elites then need to be weaned from the psychological compulsion for unassailable order confirmation.

Failure example:
Such weaning was one of postmodernists’ projects, I think; though they failed at it because they took the liberal view of automatic progress (even though they were cynical about it) at its word, and they tried to wean before anyone had managed to divide serfs from their feudal lords. (Consider feudal workplace law.)

(I think that’s why postmodernist language became so insular; they had to just keep on chastising the Left “modernist” academics–the only people sort of capable of hearing the demand to wean, though they didn’t need it very much because they didn’t have much of the conservative compulsion for divine confirmation. Again, we settle for the path of least resistance and fail to get stuff done.
…And now, with that, I will quit blogging today.)

Tactical consideration 4:
a) Build humanist “churches” (communities)

One of the strongest themes that emerges from the conversation with Dougherty is the cementing role of an institution in Dougherty’s management of his own psychology of order-confirmation compulsion and his compulsion to contain freedoms-expanding politicization, and in providing solidarity incentives. For Dougherty that institution is the authoritarian Catholic church of his father. The Left needs to be able to design and offer sufficient (modified) replacement for many of the mobilizing, social, and coordinating functions of religious churches.

To support broadening moral inclusion, politicization navigation, and critical thinking, the Left needs to build new solidarity institutions that can provide sacred solidarity incentives (where unions have been effectively legislated out of existence, where universities have lost the capacity to provide solidarity incentives, and where universities are too exclusive).

In essence the Left could build humanist community churches that provide many of the same cohering, intergenerational social functions religious churches provide: social interaction; collective opportunities such as supportive social networking, solidarity incentives, collective coordination and action, a cohering discourse about working for a higher good, a collective, sacred experience of the sublime via culture–including creating a beautiful building together to house the humanist church, singing, music, dancing, raising food and cooking and eating together, collective public-oriented actions, and collective retreats to sacred, sublime, semi-natural environments (absent from most people’s lives).

The current state of the Anglosphere Left is woefully undersocialized, and so far more ineffective than it needs to be or has been in the past or elsewhere. We sit and watch AIPAC with our mouths open in disbelief–How does 2% of the US population accomplish all that?, when we should be analyzing AIPAC’s political, economic, networking and cultural tactics, and adapting them to a Left (low capital) initiative. Part of what we should be learning is that everybody, including the Left, can be moved to cooperation by a combination of solidarity incentives, the sublime (culture, nature), the sacred community, and collectively fashioning a greater good. This combination needs to be rigorously designed because the Left lacks the most important “solidarity” incentive in capitalism: ownership of the surplus, and the prestige it confers.

Existing resource: Apprehending, learning from and appreciating (regarding as sacred) the sublime natural world is what some biologists do as researchers and educators; some artists, craftspeople and women tend to attend to aesthetics and collective creation and appreciation; so biologists, artists, and women can have a role to play in social movement.

Tactical consideration 5:
Cultivate external support, especially where domestic elites will not support the Left.

AIPAC has Israel. The North American Left needs external allies as well.

Tactical consideration 6:
Oppose austerity culture.

James Livingston argues that tactically, the US needs a pro-libidinal, anti-austerity cultural revolution, starting with affirming consumerism and environmental exploitation.

Sigh. OK, I understand it’s not within Anglosphere culture to understand Epicureanism. Let’s just try to get there, OK? The most direct route starts with Elaine Scarry (The Body in Pain). Also, I think that where it might appeal to anti-intellectual suburbanites and marketeers, Livingston’s cultural revolution is going to clash unstrategically with environmentalism.  Can pro-libidinal culture be modified to jibe with environmentalism? (See Magdoff’s modest proposal.)

Livingston’s argument is a little like the suggestion that social democracy was reinforced by Scandinavians’ 20th-century bonobo-style feminist free love culture, whereas chimp-like, ascetic, violent, authoritarian, militaristic cultures involve the concentrated accumulation of sexual access and withholding sexual libidinal release from the majority of young men.

Primitive Accumulation, Anyone?

There are two ways to read this HSBC investment ad. The first one is naive.

The second one is about how wealth languishes in the remaining assets of the aging yet childish (unworthy, vulnerable) American middle class, and the bank is there to help investors get in on the expropriation. We were warned.

It was William Julius Wilson who argued that affirmative action in the US was designed and applied  to benefit (black) elites rather than the people who had been super-exploited in US history, see “Still separate and unequal” by George M. Frederickson.

Adolph Reed was critical of Wilson, but consanguinely argues that affirmative action is primarily used by black elites (eg. mayors) to support capitalist elites.

Check:

  • Frederickson implies that Wilson’s critique applies more widely: Global elites benefit from affirmative action, rather than impoverished American minorities with historical roots in the US. Does Wilson say this, or does he just focus on middle class v. working class American blacks?
  • Does this critique apply to multiculturalism / diversity management as well? Angela Davis and Zizek have critiqued global capitalist multiculturalism.
  • What have BAR, Manning Marable had to say about this, if anything? 

“The term ‘pluralism’ is acquiring increasing currency in our own time. It is presumably the ideology describing the centrifugal tendencies of a society that threatens to disintegrate into unreconiled groups under the pressure of its own principles. This is then represented as if it were a state of reconiliation in which people lived together in a harmony while in reality society is full of power struggles. As a minor by-product of these lectures I would like to recommend that you adopt an extremely wary attitude towards the concept of pluralism which, like the similar concept of ‘social partners,’ is preached at us on every street corner. To transfigure and ideologize the elements of discontinuity or of social antagonisms in this way is a part of the general ideological trend. In the same way, it is very characteristic of our age that the very factors that threaten to blow up the entire world are represented as the peaceful coexistence of human beings who have become reconciled and have outgrown their conflicts. This is a tendency which barely conceals the fact that mankind is beginning to despair of finding a solution to its disagreements.” (Adorno. History & Freedom: 93)

BAR has published Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (imprisonment) in serial form. Other commentators on this topic: Bruce Western, Angela Davis.

Race, Militarism & Apartheid Allies

On Israel’s ideological and military support for apartheid South Africa.

Israel ousts Africans in 2018.

Israeli’s Racism “Outside of Language.”

 

The conflict between Israel and Sweden especially, though Israelis lump the Scandinavian social democracies together:

The Jerusalem Post has a whole official comms category, Racism in Sweden. It contains 14 articles dedicated to this topic. At the start of this series, it has a motivational guide for this Hasbara campaign’s participants, called Sweden and Israel: A Complex Relationship. This is a must read for anyone who is interested in the occasional corporate and social media flowering of arguments that social democrats, Swedes, and Scandinavians in general are racist Nazis, and I describe and quote it below. Israel has a massive Hasbara machine and massive motive for portraying Scandinavians as racist, reducing socialist, social democratic, Scandinavian, and especially Swedish international moral authority.

In 2016, the Jerusalem Post’s Daniel Schatz (a political scientist with successive appointments at Georgetown, Harvard and Stanford) outlined some of the features of the long-term conflict, arguing that Sweden has attempted diplomacy to reduce Israeli apartheid since Israel’s inception at the hands of the Anglo-American empire:

(A)s early as 1947…Swedish Justice Emil Sandström became chairman of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), tasked with presenting a solution to the Arab–Jewish conflict. The engagement continued in 1948 with Bernadotte’s legacy as the first UN mediator in the conflict, and Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring’s subsequent largely unsuccessful mission in 1967-1990 as the UN secretary general’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process. The Scandinavian country made a subsequent fruitless effort to initiate a dialogue between the US and the PLO through initiatives taken in 1988 and facilitated the so-called “Beilin- Abu Mazen Understandings” in 1994.

As the UN’s first official mediator, Folke Bernadotte had been working with the US’s Ralph Bunche, attempting to secure an Israeli-Palestine confederation, but backed by the UK, Israeli leaders rejected anything but total annihilation of the Palestinians, and the Zionist organization Lehi assassinated Bernadotte in 1948.  The assassins were not punished, and one became an Israeli Prime Minister.

Sweden’s de jure recognition of Israel was postponed until 1950 following Lehi’s assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem in 1948…(But) in the two decades to come (1950-70), Stockholm came to express strong ideological sympathy for the Jewish state…the Nordic country became one of Israel’s major European supporters in the period leading up to the Six Day War.

This policy went through a radical change during the early 1970s with the rise of Swedish Socialist prime minister Olof Palme, which determined Stockholm’s position toward the Arab-Israeli conflict and its protagonists for the next quarter- century…He became the first Western prime minister to initiate direct contacts with the PLO in 1974, meeting with Yasser Arafat during a time when the organization was isolated…Stockholm soon became one of the major international supporters of PLO and was the only Western European country to vote with the Arab, Communist bloc and Third World states in support of UN General Assembly resolution 3326 (1974) and Security Council resolution 3327 (1975) which recognized Palestinian self-determination and the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians…Gradually Sweden became perceived as one of the Jewish state’s most vocal critics in Western Europe…”

You will note that Folke Bernadotte was assassinated by the Zionists in 1948.
Palme was assassinated in 1986.

Neoliberal Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson supported Israel between 1999-2000, and Persson was the first Swedish PM allowed to visit Jerusalem since 1962. Sweden facilitated two rounds of secret, high-level negotiations between Israel and Palestine in 2000. This attempt to reduce Israeli destructiveness with affirmation did not bring about any substantive difference in results, and Persson’s government was rejected by the voters for its neoliberalism.

The Swedish-Israeli rapprochement was nonetheless short-lived. Stockholm’s new minority government reverted to the Palme tradition in 2014 by becoming the first EU member state to recognize a Palestinian state, notwithstanding that some Eastern European countries had done so during the Cold War. The recognition – which in Sweden’s eyes aimed to further the peace process” added to the enmity after Sweden’s “housing minister had been arrested in 2010 by Israeli authorities as a participant in the Mavi Marmara” humanitarian aid ship that Israel attacked in international waters, killing 9 people, beating many others, and stealing personal belongings. Israeli newspaper comments sections overflowed with derisive allusions to Swedes “appeasing the Mozzis.”

In a May 18, 2015, the Jerusalem Press published an article explaining that Israel opposed socialism in Europe, on the grounds that it would interfere with apartheid and recognize Palestine. The article called for Israel to attack Sweden to discourage other “socialist” European countries from supporting Palestine–in particular its author was worried about a Labour government in the UK. The article named several peace organizations that Sweden sponsored within Palestine. In addition to the Church of Sweden sponsoring BDS (Boycott Divest Sanctions),

The Swedish government funds numerous Israeli and Palestinian NGOs through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the embassy in Tel Aviv, the representative office in Ramallah, and indirectly by outsourcing to Swedish aid organizations such as Diakonia and Kvinna till Kvinna.

In 2016 Swedish Social Democratic Foreign Minister Margot Wallström called for an investigation into Israeli sponsorship of extrajudicial killing. The Other Hot Mess of Imperialism, Israel responded to this proposal with its usual unfettered braying, bombast, threats, and strident demands to fire the offending Minister. As of 2018 Wallström is not, however, assassinated, and unlike in Anglo-America, where disloyalty to Israel is illegal, she is still able to do her work.

Unlike in Anglo-America, politicians in Sweden do not strive to outcompete each other to shove their faces under Israel’s ass. However, Israel still retains the power to oust less-central politicians in Sweden.

What Do Tuition Increases Accomplish?

Mind-blowingly, the normally right-wing Maclean’s somehow, doubtless by tactical mistake, recently published this article reviewing the data on how the astronomical tuition increases in Anglosphere societies is spent:

on bloated administration, bloated administrative salaries, lawyers, million-dollar managerial consultant firm fees, for-profit private training firm subcontracts, R&D subsidies to for-profit technology firms such as Monsanto, construction firm contract graft, and pre-professional sport feeder franchises.

These are heavy parasitic cost burdens that only aggravate the contemporary neoliberal problems we suffer, such as debt, academic proletarianization and deskilling, economic and political inequality, and social class sclerosis (immobility).

What do tuition increases accomplish in the neoliberal Anglosphere? Essentially, they increase the rate of exploitation.

Education is a social good, and its costs should be socialized and judiciously contained to education: teaching/learning, research, libraries, educator and librarian compensation and networking, student community development, minimal but sufficient technical, secretarial and janitorial support staff, and spaces and technology conducive to those activities.

The data suggests that of the Canadian university bloat costs, the greatest are administrative salary rents and the growing costs associated with research–supplying researchers and cheap student labor to private firms (as well as to a lesser extent state legitimation and social integration campaigns). It is very clear that legislatures, and not students, are acting irresponsibly as they privatize these massive costs–upon the backs of students, their families, and the future community. The university has a constructive function in society and should not be reduced to a black-box dumping ground for unpalatable, expensive legislative policy.

1) If legislators believe universities are there in large part to subsidize for-profit firms’ R&D, then the state, not tuition, should pay for that economic subsidy to capital. To do this, legislators should have to explain convincingly to the public why supplying public subsidy to for-profit firms is in the public’s interest, as they seek to raise taxes to cover the R&D subsidy costs. It’s a political question; don’t give it the form of a debt albatross and sling it around students’ necks.

2) There are not sufficient internal checks and balances on ballooning administrative salaries in Anglosphere university systems. That means the checks must come from the legislature. Only the legislators have the capacity to reign in administrative rents. If they refuse to do it, or refuse to design into university systems adequate checks on administrative bloat (eg. adequate faculty union oversight of administrative costs), we have to ask why. Are university administrative positions political dispensations, political patronage? Students should not have to take on economically-crippling debt to pay for a badly-designed institution and corruption.

Quebec students are in the right to disrupt tuition increases, which will only feed the neoliberal managerial and privatization-graft bloat machine.

There is a more socially-rational, efficient and effective model of higher education financing and spending: Sweden‘s. Slovakia could provide another more effective higher education model.

Dean Baker’s Critique of Capital Rents

I think “The Rent is Too Damn High” is one of Dean Baker’s best arguments.

But still, Desai’s critical examination of the limitations of the conservative Anglo interpretive and political tendency applies. She recalls the limited sociological imagination that emerged in Britain in response to the Great Depression:

“(During the Great Depression) the ‘responsible and judicious’ British intellect saw the new political task and sought to harness all its native (liberal and individualist) resources to its fulfilment…Thus in Britain, as Elizabeth Durbin has shown, the newly founded microeconomics was used to justify state intervention so as to increase social welfare and the Fabians, who constituted a distinct segment of the new intellectual stratum and who had already examined and rejected Marxism, used it in their theory of ‘rents’ and ‘unearned incomes’ to justify socialist goals” (Desai 1994: 47).

Crisis is based in Maldistribution

In “Celebrating Consumption,” Sasha Lilley (“Against the Grain”) interviews (and clarifies) economic historian and “residual marxist” James Livingston’s study of the structural problems of capitalism.

Lilley’s clarifications are integral to this discussion, because Livingston’s project seems to be taking Marxism and rebranding it and making it palatable to Cold War-scarred, pro-capitalist and Judeo-Christian Americans. While this ambition I think creates problems in his diagnosis, on the other hand, it must be said that Dr. Livingston nonetheless seems to be a remarkably gracious gentleman and a scholar. For now, I think it would be unsporting to begrudge him his reframing experiments.

Private investment is not key to productivity or growth in capitalism

Livingston:

Empirically,
Private investment is not historically key to increasing productivity, to growth in the US.
Private investment has been atrophying since 1910.
What has increasingly promoted growth is consumer spending, government spending (officially classified as investment), residential investment.

Against Brenner, the problem with the decline of manufacturing in the US is not the loss of productivity, but the loss of wages and unions, leading to the maldistribution of income and wealth.

In view of the historical evidence (private investment atrophy), what happens when we drop the assumption that private investment is key to growth? What kinds of policies can we work on that move us out of crisis mode?

Livingston’s use value-exchange value discussion (TBD)

To get to innovative policy formation, we need to address a cultural block. Livingston: to advance structural development, we have to address the moral question. We need to move from attaching income to waged work to attaching it to need. The cultural revolution Livingston advocates: Making things should not be so important. “People deserve an income that allows for a decent, humane life, that allows for freedom, mobility, dignity.”

Lilley points out that that’s communist (From each according to her abilities to each according her needs). Livingston would prefer to identify this value as historical religious culture.

Livingston observes that crisis arises in capitalism as we socialize risk but let the 1% decide everything. Where bankers won’t invest, we need to socialize our ability to use the tremendous store of wealth.

Toward market socialism: We collectively decide, will this investment create the kind of jobs that afford everyone a decent, humane and dignified life? Use value re-enters politics.

Talk About Repression: Weber! Nietzsche! Freud! Anybody but M__x!

Crises are problems internal to the economic structure. According to Livingston, the problem is the distribution of income. There is too much surplus capital. Crisis is not a problem of money, monopoly, the Fed’s choices, or morality.

Why do Americans lean so heavily on the morality explanation? Livingston follows Weber, blaming this dependence, this urge to personify the cause of crisis, on the Protestant ethic. But the Weberian approach plays a larger role in Livingston’s explanatory scheme. Repressive protestant culture is the cause of, or primary impediment to Americans’ inability to switch out of crisis-prone economic relations to a more rational, constructive grasp of work and wealth distribution.
What can replace Protestant repression?, he asks. What can transform our characters? His overdetermined answer is a more libidinal culture. Livingston wants to start by valorizing the libidinal culture that currently exists–as is promulgated by advertising and consumer culture.
However, empirically, it’s very hard to say that such libidinal culture hasn’t been emphatically encouraged and harvested–and we have the austerity agenda. If Livingston is attempting a reframing experiment, I fail to understand the strategy in that I fail to understand how a political historian’s weight can modify the trajectory of the great mass of marketeers’ raison d’etre. Consumer spending and advertising have been dominant cultural institutions (See Michael Dawson’s The Consumer Trap.), and they have not freed us from Protestant repression–and I doubt they can be hitched to anti-austerity. I would argue that is because repression and libidinal excess are two sides of the same coin, capitalist culture in dialectic. They do not exclude one another. They constitute each other as two ends of a cultural teeter totter. But it’s possible there’s a strategic grappling hook in there.

Here is Ehrenreich’s alternative theory on what needs changing in US culture (elite belief in and reification of a “culture of poverty”)…that I think could get us to a rational approach to work and distributive justice. (It also contains of story of how neoliberalization happens to good socialists who just want to be heard…but at what a price.)

2nd part of Livingston’s book: It kind of goes off the rails

It is Livingston’s market-aficionado thesis that commercial culture is liberatory and solidaristic. Commercial culture is disfigured utopia, but tells us that after work is when we become unalienated, and advertising reminds us of that. Livingston feels that this is culturally important because work should not define us. Basically, commercial culture, he feels, can lead to libidinal liberation.

Lilley reminds us that advertising touching on and co-opting desires isn’t the same thing as unleashing desires. We can contrast Livingston’s capitalist dichotomy, ascetic Protestantism / libidinal carnival, to Marxist Epicureanism. Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain is much, much better than Livingston on the psycho-social / cultural theory of work and making. Perhaps because she’s not afraid of M__x.

Purchasing commodities is social, Livingston insists.

Citing consumer movements, Livingston argues that consumption does not negatively impact the environment. If consumers have requisite income, then they reduce their footprint (modified Bruntland argument). That is not a strong argument, see Jevon’s Paradox, ecological footprint/slaves analyses. I don’t know why anti-austerity should entail abandoning the headway the Left has gotten from Red-Green coalition-building.  That seems unstrategic.

Another Anglo Fabian in want of a Marxist backbone?

Livingston’s arguments can at times seem to be overblown sophistry or excessively solicitous of current hegemons. But he’s trying to do interesting things, seeing ways of looking at capitalism’s problem institutions (the capitalist Protestant Ethic abstemiousness/libidinal commodity consumption–which he doesn’t recognize as intertwined) as potential sites of market socialist development. I think though that James Livingston would be more effective if he re-read Scarry, picked up Dawson, checked out Epicurean ethics, and if he engaged Sasha Lilley as his co-author.

…Or maybe I just need to write an article on the Marxist approach to making / unmaking, production and consumption, as an alternative to the austerity dogma. Eureka.


“Such discrete, theoretically-unintegrated critical impulses attacked the irrationality and inhumanity of capitalism. The common aim was to reform it piecemeal into a more rational and human social order in which inequalitites of wealth and incomes would be drastically reduced and democratic rights extended and substantiated, and in which the still-marginalised and -alienated working class would be integrated into the political system. In a(n Anglo) cultural landscape dominated by laissez-faire Liberalism, these concerns made a shift from individualist to collectivist thought a ‘necessary intellectual adjustment’ on the part of the more socially conscious liberal intellectuals. This was the common temper of the New Liberals as well as the Fabians” (Desai 1994: 47, describing the conservative Anglo inteligensia’s tepid and temporary “radicalization” to Fabianism in response to working class disruption).