Recognition, Multiculturalism & Structural Apprehension

When I was a masters student, I found Axel Honneth very useful, and I had to read Kymlicka (whom I was less enamored of. Maybe I changed.) for my dissertation. In “Redistribution or Recognition?” (2003) Nancy Fraser made the distinction that recognition (as opposed to distributive justice) could be a liberatory politics if it were to involve recognizing identity as status, as opposed to essentializing identity. Unfortunately, in a conservative era, the recognition of identities as distributed status gets drowned out by essentialist interpretations of identity. As well, Patchen Markell has introduced caution about the empancipatory potential of recognition and multiculturalism.

Here are excerpts from an effusive (wordy) review of Patchen Markell’s Bound by Recognition (Main points in bold):

“…Markell’s genius lies in crafting one of the most gripping opening paragraphs (not simply a sentence) composed in the last several decades of contemporary political theory. Markell begins by narrating various instances among the countless acts of recognition, each sentence containing a separate case in point.

Consider a sample of the book’s beginning, which illustrates the complex dilemma of recognition: “Walking along a crowded avenue, you see a friend and call out her name: suddenly, a pocket of intimacy forms in an otherwise anonymous public space. Standing in a long line at the immigration office, you find yourself grateful for your Canadian passport, which you know will make it easier for you to extend your employment in the United States. You roll back the metal gates in front of your shop window, which now displays (next to the list of South Asian languages spoken inside) a new assortment of items prominently bearing the American flag. Sitting down with a calculator, you and your partner wonder weather it will be possible to get a home loan together at a decent rate without being married…Driving down a street in a predominantly white neighborhood, you are pulled over again by the police, suspended in mistrust while the officer runs your identification and plates. You recall how several of your male co-workers unexpectedly declared that they think you’ll be the next woman in the office to have a baby” (p.1).

BOUND BY RECOGNITION builds upon Hegel’s political theory in order to address the ways in which humans enter into moments of recognition. Humans constantly experience what Hegel calls a “struggle for recognition” (“Kamft um Anerkennung”). These intersubjective struggles involve individuals working out their asymmetrical relationships to arrive at a moment of mutually recognizing the humanity of one another in the hope that each will attain sovereign agency over their own mind and body.

As Markell shows, struggles for recognition many times do not lead to resolutions of conflict. Paradoxically, seeking sovereign agency and emancipation in recognition without questioning the normative sources of privilege in a system actually has the effect of reinforcing societal injustices.

Echoing Hannah Arendt’s Emerson-Thoreau Medal Lecture and writings on action, Markell contends we must first acknowledge the human condition of finitude and plurality by recognizing the non-sovereign character of human action when confronting issues of identity and difference. Doing so allows us to begin de-legitimizing normative structures of privilege while simultaneously theorizing ways in which persons excluded in a polity may gain greater inclusion beyond merely recognition.

 The book highlights recognition’s limits through an exegesis of Hegel’s thought, tragic recognition in the work of Sophocles and Aristotle, 19th century Jewish emancipation in Prussia, the contemporary movement of multiculturalism endorsed by theorists such as Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, and central contemporary political theorists reinforcing conventional readings of Hegel on recognition such as Robert Williams and Axel Honneth.

Markell shifts the terrain of political theory by proposing a politics of “acknowledgment” (as opposed to a politics of recognition) which does not abandon the thought of Hegel. It brings out new dimensions in theorizing freedom and human agency in Hegel that Hegel himself did not fully theorize normatively.”

MF: Yuck: “acknowledgment.” Bad neologism. Glad that didn’t catch on. But the analysis is great. Better to push for a change in how we understand recognition: Recognition 2.

“Among the most powerful sections is Chapter 4, which contains an unorthodox reading of the PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT and Hegel’s writings on recognition. Markell unconventionally argues that Hegel possesses “two voices” regarding recognition (pp. 90-95): (1) the diagnostic voice [prominent in the PHENOMENOLOGY] and (2) the reconciliatory voice [prominent in the PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT]. Markell explains that Hegel does not hold a unitary concept of recognition. This claim offers space for shifting theorists’ attention to a politics of acknowledgment. 

Markell concludes by illustrating how his politics of acknowledgment differs from the politics of recognition through a critique of multiculturalism. He does not reject identity politics. He does reject movements like multiculturalism that recognize minority groups without changing the structures of oppression that grant limited sovereign space to these groups.

The aim of acknowledgment revolves around confronting human finitude, acknowledging the elements of sacrifice we perform in an uncertain world future, and restructuring the world to allow for increased human agency. I leave it to the reader to see how the author outlines pillars of this new politics, relating them to areas as wide ranging as ancient Greek tragedy, feminism, and critical race theory.

An aspect of the book other reviewers do not mention is Markell’s desire to link this new politics to contemporary democratic theory, and this radical link emerges in the closing sections.

The author’s Afterword discussing the choice of the book cover to the text’s theme (pp. 190-193): Markell’s literally binding cover shows a photograph from an unorthodox reenactment of the final scene of Aeschylus’s ancient trilogy ORESTEIA. It represents a case of recognition’s limitations. Markell notes reading about a production of the play in which the Furies, dressed in red ceremonial robes, are bound by recognition at the end of the EUMENIDES following their “taming” by Athena after they attempt to punish Orestes for murdering Clytemnestra and her lover. Dressing them in red-the robe color worn by Athenian resident aliens (metics) during the Panathenaic festivals-Athena decides to incorporate the Fury outsiders into Athenian society, relegating them to a subterranean chamber of a home.

What initially appears as Athena’s positive recognition of the Furies in fact ends up highlighting how the Furies become bound by recognition. The book cover portrays one Fury tied to a chair on stage. This sums up visually Markell’s moving thesis.”


The Political Opportunity Structure for Immigrant Advocacy

In a rather astute little essay, “Occupying the Immigration Debate,” David L. Wilson explains that this is an historic moment for immigrant advocates, one that needs to be taken advantage of, and it’s time to make efforts to counter and replace the oppressive, manipulative corporate narrative on immigration.

We need to raise the profile of two points:

1) Elites use divide-and-conquer strategies, including promoting immigrant-native division, primarily to further their accumulation (wealth and power hoarding) interest. We aren’t cornered into being elites’ tools anymore on this; we can build the critical mass to innovate and improve working families’ life chances.

2)  Neoliberal ideology and policy disrupts and destroys people’s homes and livelihoods, and drives population mobility. Capitalism is “creative” destruction. In that siege and upheaval context, working people and their families need solidarity, cooperation and restoration.

We can broaden our influence and change immigration politics. Do not “imagine obstacles that aren’t really there,” urges Allan Nairn. ” Do not “think [ourselves] out of power.”

Conservative Soc Mov Module: Muslim "Honor Killing" Criminals

The thing about conservative political strategy is that it is modular. Conservatives have got a playbook, and it’s not that elaborate. So if they do it to Sweden, they will do it to the Anglo world:

Canadian media sells “Honour Killings” as indication of “natural” Muslim seditionist tendencies.

Political strategy question: How do you get a people who see themselves as super-civilized liberators to support anti-liberatory conservative policies?

It turns out, this is easier than a level one Soduku puzzle. Start with flattery, and then they’ll turn on their own righteousness nozzle. Nationalism + defensive, instable, cul-du-sac liberalism  =  conservative-pliable mass psychology. Think of how conservatism has bloomed in contemporary Sweden, France & Canada.

On the advice of a elder feminist, I went to Sweden to study how their welfare state repressed immigrants. What I found there was a full-blown conservative campaign to destroy labor rights in Sweden, using the double-barreled politics of describing immigrants as both criminals and victims–criminals who make having a welfare state impossible (Because they can’t be trusted, and destroy civilization.), and victims of a welfare state thats de-commodification policies don’t let them “express” (sell) themselves. The conservative-fed media conclusion was that if you got rid of labor protections (and so by extension the labor confederation and social democracy), immigrants would be good and thrive, just like they do in Austria and the Anglo countries.

The Swedes were in complete denial about the potency of immigration politics in Sweden–Despite the legislative meetings and bills; despite feminist galvanization against the cruel, cruel, racist state and the cruel, cruel anti-Swedish civilization Muslim fathers; despite the massive media coverage of these conservative themes (and a very few, although of course always tragic, instances of violence within Muslim households) and simultaneous neglect of contextual data clearly showing that patriarchal violence is common across “civilizations” and hardly monopolized by Muslims; and despite the fact that Karl Rove was there in Sweden strategizing with a new conservative political coalition about this conservative campaign. One year later, the conservative coalition was the ruling government, and it has been ever since.

Now the exact same political trope is being used in Canada. Why now, eh?

You have to know your audience. On the other hand, there you have your data. Are you going to tell some unreconditioned, decades-old tool story about how the immigrants are super oppressed by the state and their fathers? Sure some of them are, sometimes. And they are oppressed by “authority” in a broader sense. So look, there’s something else going on here as well. Something rather pressing.

As Nancy Fraser has argued, people need to strongly consider that the contemporary incapacity of pro-liberation liberals to apprehend conservatism and conservative strategy is decidedly non-trivial. That incapacity decides labor policies and capital regulation in favor of capital. It feeds state-based working class institutional breakdown and reinstitutes full human commodification. It allows capitalist elites to confidently delegate to altruistic liberal managers the diligent pursuit of the task of imposing proletarianization, irrational and ideological privatization, and austerity. In an era of declining growth, it fuels capitalist expansion via primitive accumulation, rather than allowing humans to decrease our throughputs while rationally redistributing accumulated surpluses. Not really ironically, it exacerbates racism and sexism. It promulgates vicious war.

What I’m talking about is this problem: People can be very nice. People can be anti-authoritarian. People can be pro goodness and they can be all about extending moral consideration. Not conservatives, but liberals to lefties. (Though conservatives can champion  elaborate decorum. Order, you know.) 

All that fails to solve this problem: Without an adequate, socially-embedded theoretical framework (eg. Marxist), even self-identified progressives’ work (in the broad, materialist, Scarry sense) can be readily co-opted by conservatives to advance the conservative goal of shrinking moral consideration, monopolizing surplus and stunting human development. This is the problem of directive hegemony (Therborn. As opposed to legitimation — Habermas).

(Discuss Desai, Hall on the historical Thatcherite construction of conservative hegemony, around here.)

If structure is the accumulation of collective action, then conservative collective action creates the pathways that convert altruistic intentions and beliefs into dehumanizing hierarchy and tyranny.

Political-economic engagement (intellectualism, to use Perry Anderson’s term) is not just for conservatives or property-owning white men. Political-economic literacy and engagement matter. A lot. To everybody.

To illustrate this point further, I will discuss how the summer 2011 Winnipeg Rebelles gathering unfolded. Hint: To work together–to express our humanity, even feminist, multiculti lefties/progressives need to be able to distinguish conservatism. And in my personal experience in the technocratic, anti-Big Questions, anti-macro theory Anglo world, this has been an unmet need for over a quarter century, at a minimum.

We’ll see what happens to the Honour Killings conservative strategy in Canada. If Canadian feminists and the judiciary can avoid getting sucked in, if they firmly assert that violent patriarchy is not the exclusive property of Muslims (Obviously, in Canada there is already wide recognition that Aboriginal women are killed by their male relatives.), then maybe they can keep the neocon anti-Muslim “Clash of Civilizations” politics out of courtrooms and out of currency. And just maybe it will not justify, in the minds of Canadians, both Israel bombing Iranians (Yes, partly on behalf of Anglo-American geopolitical/energy strategy.) and domestic austerity measures.

good neoliberal cop bad neoliberal cop: immigration

Neoliberalism: Politics, policies, institutions and culture promoting higher levels of exploitation and social, economic and political inequality under the public rubric of creating a space of socio-economic inclusion for a permanent underclass.

On “Compassionate Conservatism,” applied to immigration politics:

It is stupid to deny the concept of the alien. A central, enduring social problem is the global Chamber of Commerce’s politics, which work in all countries to keep both immigrants and natives *vulnerable,* and set against each other, to cheapen labor. Any liberatory political program, including compassionately fighting immigrant scapegoating and xenophobia, would have to include first recognizing the nature of the Chamber and then strategically breaking down the Chamber, which always, everywhere works to destroy worker solidarity by here playing their “immigrants as criminals” card and there playing their “immigrants as victims” card.

We won’t stopped getting played by indiscriminately, upon stark emotional manipulation, embracing “the foreign” every time it romantically accompanies capital mobility and global upperclass entitlement–because the Chamber will always turn back around to tell us to pitilessly scapegoat the “foreign” *workers;* and we’ll never figure out how to develop better ideas and approaches. To stop getting played over and over like this, we need a far more focused lens.

We are brothers and sisters of men and women the world over. But corporations and political management organizations are not our flesh and blood. They are not human. Their interests, goals, and activities are often opposed to ours. Most of them today are alien to us, utterly alien.

Value struggles at the heart of capitalism

Synopsis of:

McNally, David. 2009. “From financial crisis to world-slump: accumulation, financialisation, and the global slowdown.” Historical Materialism 17: 35-83.

How is capitalism reproduced? What is capitalist crisis?

McNally is arguing that Brenner’s concept of post-1973 “global turbulence” is more accurate than a “long downturn.” The Bretton Woods era (core growth (prolonged expansion; rising levels of output, wages, and employment—p. 45) + no overaccumulation crisis) was a deviation, not the capitalist norm (44). While capitalists argue that their system steadily promotes growth, promotes welfare, and does not generate its own limits, McNally argues that crisis and global turbulence is the norm in capitalism (43). Capitalist expansion throws up limits to itself, such as when it demands wage compression (45). Crisis does not prevent but rather accompanies globally-shifting growth. After 1973, capitalist expansion centered on East and South Asia (43). McNally argues that problems of overaccumulation did not manifest in the core in 1973; they manifested in the East Asian semiperiphery in 1997 (46).

[MF note—to revise: “Crisis” is understood popularly. From a popular perspective, and from a parochial capitalist political perspective, “crisis” is understood as a condition whereby capitalism is exposed as a destructive system and a conflicting class system. Local capitalist leaders are exposed as unable to rule for the common good. To talk about a crisis of accumulation that occurred after 1973 is to talk about the rise of conditions—declining profitability (people must buy more things and services, but people are only part of the cost of goods and services), cured by local wage compression and production relocation that spatially and temporally defers accumulation collapse—that expose its destructive and class-conflicted nature.]

Methodological issue: The national-state and national economies should not be the unit of analysis when analyzing the reproduction of capitalism. “…(C)apitals in the ‘core’ economies of the world-system have demonstrated a systematic tendency to move investment outside the core in search of higher rates of return,” producing higher rates of accumulation in select semi-peripheral regions, and slower rates of growth in the “dominant economies.” Because capitalism is a world-system dedicated to accumulation, frameworks attempting to explain the reproduction of capitalism must analyze the operation of capitalism as a global social relation. (44-45)

Thesis I:
After 1973 crisis of profitability in the core, capital restructured, growth occurred in East Asia

After the recessions of 1974-75 & 80-82, the ruling class launched offensives against unions and the Global South. Generated primitive accumulation & larger reserve labor armies, introduced lean production, raised the rate of exploitation. Ruling class invested in East Asia (45).

McNally argues that 1983-2007 was a period of capitalist restructuring, that involved the destruction of capital in the core (47). Characterized by rapid de-industrialization and de-unionization in the core (47). In the US, the rate of surplus value was increased by 40% (48). Profit rates climbed between 1982 and 1997, though at their peak they remained half of mid-1960s profit rates (see confirmation by Mohun, Moseley, Wolff, Dumenil and Levy, Husson, Brenner; McNally 2009: 49-50).

Cites Ch. 13-15 of Capital v. III, discussing the tendency for rate of profit to decline and capital’s arsenal of countermeasures. Restructuring countermeasures can only be stopped by “massive organized working-class resistance.”

“In the absence of such powerful class-resistance, crises will serve as moments of reorganization that create conditions for increases in labour-productivity and rates of profit—which, in turn, make renewed expansion possible. (49)”

[MF note: TINA enters when capitalist agents insist that renewed expansion is what the working class wants.

Yet what are those restructuring countermeasures, according to Marx?

According to McNally, post-1980, restructuring countermeasures included a) re-subordinating “Global South” (peripheral countries) to promote primitive accumulation; b) using primitive accumulation (in India and China) to create huge new global labor-reserves; c) relocating accumulation to China (semi-peripheral countries); d) financial market ascendance. (55) They also included wage compression accomplished through union-busting, bifurcated wage tracks, cuts to the social wage (reduction in social rights and benefits); lean production techniques and technology to boost the relative surplus-value; and increases in work hours in the US to boost absolute surplus-value (60) This latter group of restructuring countermeasures reduced living standards of working-class people while concentrating wealth at the top of the social ladder, thereby increasing inequality within societies. In 1991 the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned 39% of corporate wealth, but 2003 they owned 57.5% (60). This creation of vast inequality produced a huge demand from the wealthy for interest-paying financial instruments; it fueled the extension of vast amounts of credit to working-class households desperate to sustain living standards (67). Now restructuring countermeasures include collapse, merger/nationalization of financial institutions, auto and electronics industries, service sector slumps, the ongoing collapse of sales and profits. With the centralization of capital we will have decline in wages, benefits and employment. With the diminishment of the dollar to act as a stable form of world currency, there will be pressures to develop an Asian currency bloc, and competition among currency blocs for greater conrol of financial markets and global monetary privileges (77). Debt loads in the emerging market economies will make countries like Turkey and South Africa vulnerable to restructuring and asset appropriation. Core governments will further regulate the movement of labor (78).

“At the same time as they press for ‘free movement’ of capital, governments at the core of the system also demand tighter control and regulation of the movement of labour. With the deepening of the conomic crisis, many have already started to play the anti-immigrant card. Britain, in particular, has signaled a tightening up of immigration policy, as has Canada, and others will surely follow. As businesses fail, factories close and unemployment mounts, protectionism—‘Buy American’, ‘British Jobs for British Workers’—is likely to fuel xenophobia and immigrant bashing.’ Government officials and parties on the Right will continue to fan xenophobic sentiments…This crisis will thus put a premium on a Left for which anti-racism and defence of migrant workers are absolutely central to a politics of resistance” (78-79)]

By mid-1980s, Japanese & German capital turn to FDI (Foreign Direct Investment, rather than domestic investment) (50; data from OECD). In the 1990s, there was a 300% jump in capital-formation in East Asia (outside Japan) (63). FDI follows tractable labor; invests in East Asia, where people pushed off the land (primitive accumulation) due to rural impoverishment, dispossession and war (52). Post-1990, this contributed to a quadrupling of the world working class population (reserve army of labor) after 1980.

Primitive accumulation and higher rates of labor exploitation is the cause of 1982-1997 profitability rebound (54-55). McNally argues for Marxist basics, against a magic box view of credit.

Thesis II:
Based on fictitious capital, the dollar creates demand for hedging risk, financialization of capitalist relations

Due to escalating debt taken on to pay for the Vietnam War, the US printed more money in 1971. The US was wreaking havoc with the value of the gold underlying the currency. Countries began demanding gold in exchange for dollars and withdrawing from the Bretton Woods system. The Nixon administration unilaterally ended the gold standard, and exchange-rates floated. This was seen as an American victory over adversaries at the time. As we shall see, by refusing to deal with the mounting costs of the Vietnam War, Nixon merely staved off a reckoning for one generation and laid the basis for a global crisis. To hedge risk in the uncertain financial system, new financial instruments were developed. These financial instruments created a large financial services market and financial sector profits, as well as large speculation. New credit instruments were created for financiers and consumers, but these credit instruments did not play an important role until after 1997. Neoliberalism is the financialization of capitalism (46).

Why the financial sector collapsed is because 1) money became volatile after early 1970s end of dollar-gold convertibility; 2) wages were compressed for 30 years; 3) the world economy is flooded with US dollars (56).

When dollar became the international credit money, it was grounded in fictitious capital (general confidence in the future increase in the dollar). This made global credit money (the dollar) a magnet for speculation (57). Now money could not measure value reliably. Value is the socially-necessary (abstract) labor-time and commodities’ market value (57-58).

To protect against this volatility, capital had to assess risk and hedge against risk, especially those capitals moving through multiple currencies. Derivatives were developed to assess and hedge against risk. Investors could buy derivatives (insurance) against risks to assets they did not own—that is, speculate. Therefore, financial instruments have been developed to capture future values—shares of surplus-value not yet produced. This is a proliferation of fictitious capitals, eg. mortgage-backed securities and Collaterialised Debt Obligations (59). Working-class debt was packaged by banks and hedge funds and sold to themselves, as well as pension funds and financialized corporations (61). During Alan Greenspan’s tenure as President of the Federal Reserve (1987-2005), private and public debt in the US quadrupled to $43 trillion (61). When the bubble burst in 2007, capital fled the US. Private capital flows were reduced by $1.1 trillion in the third quarter of 2007 (65).

Thesis III:
1997 East Asian overaccumulation crisis at the root of core credit overextension

Capitalist expansion began to falter in 1997, with East Asian overaccumulation crisis. Rates of growth, postponement of general capitalist crisis bolstered with expansion of credit. Credit bubble burst in summer 2007.

McNally has previously argued that there was an overaccumulation of capital in East Asia by the Asian crisis of 1997. The investment boom had created excess capacity in computer chips, autos, semi-conductors, chemicals, steel, and fiber optics (62). US prices for consumer durables began to decline in the autum of 1995 and continued falling into 2008 (62). As a result East Asian economies cut local currency exchange rates, shed labor, reduced costs, and restructured industry. Still capacity was not reduced very much, as foreign investors snatched it up. East Asian firms drove down costs, but exports continued to grow. Their market was the US, which accounted for 1/5 of world exports, and which sustained $857 billion current-account deficit. Low interest rates and cheap consumer credit allowed US consumers to go into massive debt to consume imports and permit a temporary global economic recovery (63). Only the US could have built up such a current-account deficit, because it held the inconvertible world money, the dollar (64). No matter what US finances looked like, it was in countries’ interest to back the dollar.

Asset values dramatically departed from wealth creation after 1996. Eg. The NYSE continued to rise while profits turned down (53-54). Gargantuan credit expansion and low interest rates “’financialized’ (“embedded in interest-paying financial transactions”) relations between capital and labor’” as well as between capitals (55-56). Lines between industrial capital and financial capital blurred. Firms financialized themselves during neoliberal period because finance was more profitable (56). Bewteen 1980 and 2004, FIRE (Finance, Real Estate, and Insurance) doubled to capture nearly 50% of US profits.

By the mid-2000s, due to overinvestment, China was experiencing overcapacity, in steel, iron-alloy, auto, aluminum, cement, coke, and home appliances (64). Overcapacity again weighed down profit rates (65). The US appears to be exhausted as a source of demand sufficient to restart sustained global capital growth (66). Real capital is destroyed because there’s no sufficient engine of demand (67). Fictitious capital, based on expectations of obtaining future from working class Americans, has deflated and will continue to decline: there is not working class income to pay much credit card debt; as corporate profits sink, corporations cannot repay the IOUs they used to finance Leveraged Buy Outs (LBOs); commercial mortgages are in trouble; Credit Default Swaps (CDS) were used for speculation, and the sellers of CDSs have to pay not just the creditors insuring against debtor default, but the army of speculators as well (that’s why the US bailed out AIG to the tune of $150 billion, most of which has been used to cover losses in the CDS market.) There remain $54 trillion in CDSs (67-68). Most derivatives including CDSs are not regulated. No one can tell where they are, and this destroys banks’ confidence in each other, so markets remain illiquid (69).

The violent abstraction of the capitalist value form v. sensuous, concrete working-class values

So: As money became more volatile, its measure of value has become troubled (69). The solution that the fearless capitalist leaders came up with was derivatives. But they translate all risk onto a single, abstract metric. Value at Risk (VaR) is used to assess risk, and as a risk-assessment instrument, VaR assumes that all history, social, political, climatological and economic relations are the same, there are no qualitative breaks; so for example to calculate housing prices in 2007, VaR used price data from a period of soaring housing prices. VaR is a typical capitalist “violent abstraction” (Marx) (71). Yet, “during every crisis, value measurement is radically disrupted and destabilized. Pressures of overaccumulation and declining profitability induce a destruction of values…” We don’t know the value of “trillions of dollars worth” of financial assets. This is a systematic problem, exacerbated by the financialization of neoliberal capitalism. Derivatives are a primary symptom of a crisis of value measurement. But value collapse is caused by “overaccumulation, falling profits, and unsustainable build-ups in fictitious capitals” (72).

Systemic crises are moments of both great danger and opportunity (72). Debt—the financialization of relations between capital and labor—disciplines the working class in the Global North. Debt also permits capital to accumulate by dispossessing the working class, and the Global South (72). The only alternative to unfreedom is to repudiate debts (73). Yet without capitalist investment, there is no source of livelihood for workers under capitalism (73).

As well, the working class can struggle against the violently abstract, volatile capitalist value form, instead asserting life values—land, water, food, housing, income (74).

From the perspective of capital, value abstraction, the commodity (the exchanged object without sensuous, concrete working class use-value) is the point of all human activity, because of its capacity to promote accumulation (capitalist use value) (74-75). [M-C-M’.]

[MF note:

A commodity’s capacity to promote accumulation is not simply a matter of whether there is an unmodified demand for it. Rather, the preferred commodity removes wealth into the exclusive control of capital. That’s what accumulation is.

Value-abstraction shifted valuation, to the demise of feudalism. It got rid of patriarchal aristocracy. Then, in using the commodity value form to distance economic prices from sensual, concrete working class values, it removed valuation to spheres which only the capitalist neo-aristocracy manages under the scarce-capital conditions of capitalism.]

Even if capitalists can be indifferent to the sensuous, concrete use-values of commodities, the working class cannot be indifferent to such use-values of commodities (75). There are value struggles at the heart of capitalism.

The crisis puts a premium not only on anti-racism and defence of migrant workers, but also on socialist organization. “Leashed capitalism” is a false construction. To build the capacity of workers to remake the world, they must have access to socialist ideas and to socialism, to a systemic transformation that breaks the hold of the capitalist value form over human life (79).

Foundational Policy Moments

… brought to you, courtesy of academic professionalization:

In “The Mismeasure of Man”, Stephen Jay Gould demonstrates that one of the founding moments in 20th century US political history is a technocratic racism moment as well.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a pscyhology academic functionary, Robert Yerkes, aimed to establish his discpline as a policy-contributing science by getting the US army to administer intelligence tests–devised by himself–to all recruits. This was a period of high immigration and high inequality. The US government assented. The academic was able to process millions of tests, which–very poorly formulated–“showed” that the average American male in the army was mentally retarded.
The policy conclusion?
According to the involved psychologists and policymakers, US political and economic policy should be run–not to reduce inequality and improve human capital across the population, as you might think–but rather to preserve and manage a population where the mass of people were functionally retarded. Obviously, they concluded, democracy was not feasible, given the U.S. population is filled with mentally-retarded ethnic others and working class mental-deficients.
Academic ambitions reinforced the American conservative anti-democratic bent through codification and scientism.

American psychology’s origins are remarkable in their highly-professional political conservatism. Nonetheless, clearly other scholars have lent their sanction of conservative politics and policy to further their professional goals. Ehrenreich discusses a conservative policy position (the culture of poverty theoretical construct) unwittingly unleashed by anthropologists and sociologists concerned with professionalism and career (although, more understandably, in the face of repression, and again, a little more unwittingly. It’s a good example of how socialists can produce conservatism to stay in a terribly-rigged game.).

I’m still waiting on Careerism: Prolegomena to a Political Theory.

Rural Idiocy

According to Preston, Julia. 2007. “Surge in Immigration Laws Around U.S.” New York Times, August 6, “State legislatures, grappling with the failure of the federal government to overhaul the immigration laws, considered 1,404 immigration measures this year and enacted 170 of them, an unprecedented surge in state-level lawmaking on the issue, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

Some states adopted laws to discourage illegal immigration–such as regulating employers, while others adopted anti-immigrant laws, designed to reduce quality of life–theoretically for immigrants only, yet somehow all us non-elites get the royal rear penetration.

“Every state debated immigration issues, and 41 states adopted immigration laws. A large number of new laws cracked down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. The broadest measure was passed in Arizona and signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, in July. Arizona employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants face suspension of their business license for the first offense and the permanent loss of their license for a second offense within three years. The law requires employers to verify the status of job applicants with a federal immigration database known as Basic Pilot.

‘The message loud and clear from our constituents was their frustration that the federal government has not taken the necessary action to secure the border,’ Timothy S. Bee, a Republican who is the president of the Arizona Senate, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Tennessee made it a criminal offense, rather than a civil one, to ‘recklessly employ’ an illegal immigrant, with fines up to $50,000. Several states passed laws denying state contracts to employers of illegal immigrants, and other laws barred those immigrants from collecting unemployment benefits. In all, 26 laws on employing immigrants were passed in 19 states — covering the nation from Hawaii to Arkansas to Georgia — with most of the measures intended to curb illegal immigrants’ access to jobs.

But in Illinois, lawmakers barred the state from requiring employers to verify job applicants through the Basic Pilot system. The legislators called the system unreliable and error-prone.”

Immigration economist George Borjas points out that “The United States could probably deter many more illegal aliens by imposing substantial penalties on the employers who hire them (than by barring illegal immigrants from public services and goods). These firms–large agricultural enterprises, sweatshops, and native households that hire illegal aliens as maids or nannies–get the bulk of the gains from illegal immigration, but bear few of the costs. The demand for illegal aliens would probably drop dramatically if the government began to bill the owners of the fields where the aliens toil and the families who hire illegal servants for the expenses incurred by public schools and Medicaid” (Borjas 1999:206). Borjas runs through other discincentive suggestions from an economic efficiency point of view, before suggesting that the US link the point system for legal immigration with the size of the illegal alien flow.

Preston describes anti-immigrant laws: “Several states — including Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana and Nevada — passed new laws or hardened existing ones to bar illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses. The ‘toughest’ (eg. most fascist) law was adopted in Louisiana, which now requires applicants’ names to be checked against a federal immigration database as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s terrorism watch list.

Eleven states enacted 15 laws on public benefits, most of them denying state assistance to illegal immigrants. In May, Minnesota passed a version of a federal law that makes illegal immigrants ineligible for most medical aid.”

Here is a depressing story about how American conservatives are scapegoating immigrants for (capitalist class warfare and) the decline of the American working class (what’s new, Know-nothings?):

Kotlowitz, Alex. 2007. “Our Town” The New York Times, August 5.

Way too many Americans will do anything to other people just to cling to that one source of status they have remaining–nationalist. When the going gets tough, American working class chumps get their festering, ineffectual hate on! How’s that been working for y’all? Solving lots of problems, Mean Joe Blow Green? Restoring quality of life much? While you bluster furiously about your nasty, punitive little laws, *further* decreasing the quality of life (oh sure, you’re just trying to immiserate the immigrants, and yet it just gets worse and worse for everyone), your bosses are laughing. All. The. Way. To. The. Bank.

And as for the educated liberals–at whose behest we never, ever talk about the central role of capitalist class warfare in our lives–are you enjoying living in your fasco-racist society and pretending it’s all the fault of working class people for not accepting their lot and being nicer?

The only way anything is going to change is if somebody manages to privately recognize that the U.S. is set up to be run by vicious pricks and managed by unreflective cogs–and yet still works to help people develop some semblance of humanity in the public sphere. How can we facilitate working class leaders to come up with something other than authoritarian responses to the problems of rampant authoritarianism? The mega churches aren’t doing it.