Capitalist Murder

“Behind the self destructive behaviour, the authors say, are economic factors, including rising poverty rates, unemployment, financial insecurity, and corruption. Whereas only 4%of the population of the region had incomes equivalent to $4 (£2.50) a day or less in 1988, that figure had climbed to 32%by 1994. In addition, the transition to a market economy has been accompanied by lower living standards (including poorer diets), a deterioration in social services, and major cutbacks in health spending.” James Ciment 1999

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1116380/

“Though the Whites executed and starved tens of thousands of Reds after the war, they were particularly ruthless with the Women’s Guards. White soldiers raped and mutilated them before shooting them dead. Their bodies were stripped naked or twisted into obscene positions.

A 2016 study by a young historian, Marjo Liukkonen, uncovered evidence revealing that the Whites executed far more women and children in the infamous Hennala concentration camp than previously believed.” –“Finland’s Red Women,” Jacobin

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis.

 

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Folke Fridell’s Analysis of Unfreedom in Capitalism

Based mostly on Swedish Syndicalist biographical material, I wrote most of Folke Fridell’s English-language Wikipedia biography. But toward the end, I started doing a little analysis of his work, which is not Wikipedia’s thing. So if they delete it, here’s what I wrote:

Folke Fridell

Fridell was born in 1904, the youngest of a large family (6 siblings, and 6 more half siblings by his father) living in a stream-side home in a woods in Lagan, Kronoberg County, Småland, in Götaland, Sweden. His mother was a public school teacher and seamstress and his father was a soldier, tailor, and postal carrier. The family was locally known for their intense reading culture, and Fridell’s education mostly came through that family culture, the local library, and a book collection he found in a deserted house while he was shepherding. At age 13, he started working in a textile factory, and after a youthful spell of learning the masculine arts of card-playing, drinking, fighting, and generally being a roughneck, at age 19 he was shocked straight by his older brother’s drowning. Thereafter he returned to reading, and in addition took up writing after factory work hours. Fridell married Hanna “Stina” Wahlberg (9 years his junior) in 1934, and together they raised two boys, born 17 years apart. He would remain at the factory until 1946, when he was able to quit and support himself on his writing.[1]

Despite his brief hard-living period, at a young age, Fridell joined the IOGT, the Temperance movement. In 1921, the year of his brother’s death, he participated in the formation of and was made secretary of a local branch of the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (Sveriges arbetares centralorganisation, SAC). In meetings, he was at first shy about the organization material he wrote. When the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation (Syndikalistiska arbetarefederationen, SAF) broke from SAC in 1929, Fridell followed, as he admired the more radical politics of the founder, a Swede who had spent some years working and living in the U.S. Fridell became a member of SAC once again when SAF merged back into SAC in 1938.[2]

In the 1930s, Fridell started writing for Arbetare-Kuriren, the newspaper of SAF. After the reunion of SAC and SAF in 1938, he contributed frequently to Arbetaren, SAC’s newspaper. Fridell is recognized as a theorist of syndicalism.[3] He was also active as a lecturer and a delegate at several SAC congresses; from 1942 until 1946, he was a deputy in the organisation’s central committee. Swedish Syndicalist archives include posters prominently advertising Fridell as the featured speaker at May Day demonstrations inviting “All peace- and freedom-loving people together.”[4]

Fridell debuted as a fiction writer with the novel Tack för mig – grottekvarn (“Thanks from me, treadmill” ?) in 1945, and his breakthrough came with his second novel, the strongly autobiographical Död mans hand (1946). He was hooked and wrote a book nearly every year thereafter, winning labor and national awards for his writing every decade of his life after 1950. Although they were savagely denounced and dismissed by conservatives, his novels were widely read, in part thanks to their distribution by book ombudsmen in the factories. Fridell explained the reason behind his art:

“As long as there are proletarians, there is a proletarian literature. And I would like to go a little further and say that as long as people are insulted in their work for so long, there must be voices that speak their language and take their case.”

By his influential criticism of monotonous and soul-killing factory work in the era of Taylorist automation, Fridell become a renewer of the workplace as well as a champion of the right of the worker to defend his dignity and capacity for cooperative decision-making. Other frequent themes of Fridell’s writing were juvenile delinquency, rural emigration, and dystopian views of the future.[5]

Fridell’s work has been regarded as easy to read, conveying an ironic sense of humor. A prolific writer and editorialist, he often wrote in the voice of an alter ego.[6] Some of his plays were translated into English; the working class characters’ dialogue was represented in British cockney accents.

The following excerpt from his novel Tack för mig – grottekvarn demonstrates Fridell’s anarchist, but also very Swedish critique of the suffocating, crushing experience of intimate betrayal, excessively imposed upon workers as unfreedom cascades like a net from the controlling interest of the capitalist (concentrated wealth accumulation):

“Imagine if I went to the employer tomorrow and said, ‘I do not want to work today. I will snatch pike from the brook and laze me in the grassland, for I am a free person.’ What do you think he would say? He would say I was mad, that I should be investigated or detained at a forced labor agency.

I judge his judgment because he is a party to the matter and he loses financially if I celebrate but one day. But that’s not the worst.

Worse it is that everyone else becomes his avatar. My companions would say, ‘Now Oskarsson has gone crazy again.’ And in the barracks all the fools would huddle in the stairwells and pitch pointed words at my old lady, and the kids would ask my kids how it was with crazy Oskarsson! And the end of the whole thing would be my own wife crying, begging me to relent and, for her and the children’s sake, to get back to work yesterday.”

The dialogue suggests the character is struggling with the pain of betrayal, as he partially feminizes that traitorous net of inegalitarian social control. That associative feminization could work as a distraction from the inegalitarian distribution of sovereign agency that, Fridell also recognizes, directs that refracted, enveloping, and penetrating coercive power. Yet Fridell’s analysis, expressed in his creative work, does not point to human social interdependence–or even non-sovereign, delegated agency–as the root of unfreedom. Rather, the cause of unfreedom is the inegalitarian institution of ownership and control–as it dominates, enslaves, and turns against us our own human social interdependence.

In capitalism, we are compelled to betray one another, and our own needs, usually for nothing other than the thoughtless maximization of elites’ relentless accumulation of wealth and rivalry with each other. In this way, our torturous social- and self-dissolution, our unmaking, is automated. That is one devastating price of absolute private property right and absolute elite liberty.

Conversely within this framework, heroism, which is not automated, consists in collectively devising and implementing interventions–deprioritizing capitalist and other rentier interests in control, exploitation, and appropriation–by which working people can regularly allow each other and themselves reasonable freedoms. Apart from fleeting, idiosyncratic moments of grace, heroic interventions cannot be uncontested, painless, or bloodless. But they restore to us our captured social network and ourselves, our freedom. They restore to us our social human capacity to relieve our mortal, sentient suffering.

Fridell died in 1985 at the age of 80 and is buried in the cemetery of Berga church in Lagan.[7] Outside the library in Ljungby, a bronze head sculpture of Folke Fridell commemorates his contributions to the development of literature, working conditions, and human liberty in Sweden.

Unfree Labour & Mass Killing

“The preoccupation with the origins of ‘freedom’ and a persistent understanding of market economies as essentially ‘free’ has clouded our perspective of the past. It is time to engage with new explorations on the role of unfree relations, not only in the form of slavery, but in other variations as well. Studying the role of slavery in the Dutch global empire and the presence of slavery in the Dutch Republic is only a modest first step. It is important to critically re-examine the role of coercion in other parts of the history of and explicitly in Europe as well. How did debts, legal and economic force, or other limits to freedom influence migration, labour relations, social strategies, everyday life and politics?…As much of the global history of slavery, these questions are waiting to be explored” (Karwan Fatah-Black and Mattias van Rossum. 2014. “Slavery in a slave-free enclave?: Historical links between the Dutch Republic Empire and slavery, 1580s-1860s.” Werkstatt Geschichte 66-67: 55-73.

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I.

What is liberalism? Liberal principles have been asserted as rear-guard, ad hoc defenses of elite privileges under significant assault by absolutist rulers, chartered corporations, and centralized states. Across these rear-guard defense options, one principle grounds liberalism: absolute private property right.

  1. See Losurdo 2011.
  2. Fatah-Black and van Rossum: The States General (1776) “The freedom of the Negro and other slaves, brought here from the State’s colonies to these lands” ordinance stipulated that “the freedom of the citizens of the state, who would lose their property (if slaves were freed), would be damaged more severely than that the upholding of the principle of freedom would be worth… ‘This would be a far graver affront against the birthright and immediate freedom of the inhabitants of this Republic,’” the preamble announced (64).
    1. Roman Law was introduced in 1629 to manage slavery in the Dutch Republic (62).
    2. Creditors’ rights superseded both plantation owners and slaves’ rights (65).

II.

Varieties of domination across space: Why (where) slavery and not wage-wage slavery or genocide?

Premise 1: There are different forms of slavery.

Premise 2: Imperialists rely on genocide where slavers’ freedom cannot be supported by the slavery of the regional population.

What conditions support or attenuate slaver freedom?

  1. Structural explanations:
    1. As slavery contributes to slaver societies’ value accumulation–for example, between 1595 and 1829, slavery contributed around 70 million guilders to the Dutch port cities’ economic profit margins (69), slavers are an economic network. Within this network, slave traders‘ profits are typically “modest” (70), and could be a bottleneck for the development of slavery.
    2. To capture and distribute wealth within an oligarchical metropole, specific commodity chains produced by slavery promote or prevent slavery across locations.
      1. Slavery-promoting commodities: Cotton, sugar, rum, coffee, sexual services, domestic service, diamond mining. See also economic sectors that rely heavily on “volunteer,” “labor of love,” and “intern” labour: education and research, conservation, community and social services,…
      2. Wage slavery commodities: Expansive, alternates with slavery, see above.
      3. Genocide commodities: Commodities requiring total territorial control? Doubtful. Rather than “genocide commodities,” genocide probably is structurally caused by irreconcilable oikoi within a region, and may be indicative of a closer power balance than is present in slavery and wage slavery regions. As they are central in financing slavery commodity production, expanding financial metropoles and capitalization may play a role in spurring oikos rivalry blocs into genocide.
      4. To parse out the distribution of slavery, wage slavery, and genocide, compare commodity production and capitalization histories of high- indigenous population American regions–Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, the Four Corners, USA, (New Zealand?); and regions that relied more heavily upon genocide: financial-manufacturing Eastern US and Canadian regions, Argentina, Australia, etc. What is happening distinctively with commodity production and capitalization in indigenous-settler mixing zones– “La Malinche” Mexico, New Zealand, and Metis Manitoba?
  2. Cultural & social network explanations:
    1. Within this structure described above, relative regional coordination capacity and culture would matter.
      1. In Dutch Asia, slaves came from East Indonesia because the non-Islamic population had low coordination capacity and lacked anti-slavery culture (60). By engaging in internecene war and raiding, supplying slaves to the imperial merchants, violent Indonesian parochial competition made Dutch slave traders’ work easier and profit margins higher.
    2. The trade in slaves was (re-)produced through elite networking. Slaves were taken from merchant elites’ business travels and dislocated around the globe, via elite network gifting, etc (59-60).
      1. Network symbolic capital, distinction (63)–as in modern, inegalitarian, imperial, cosmopolitan immigration/colonial settler societies–incentivizes the separation and relocation of humans as slaves, and by that, produces “trouble” in metropoles.
        1. This trouble had to be regulated with metropole laws that progressively reduced slaves’ freedom further, until at the last (just before illegalization of the slave trade) owners’ sacred property was threatened–the law threatened to free any slave who gave herself up to authorities when entering the metropole (65-67).
          1. Capitalism works by unevenly allocating exploitation and appropriation across space, across social categories. Yet over time separating these geographically requires great management effort, including racialization to reproduce exploitable parochial competition, and this differential breaks down when the slave comes to the metropole. The metropole is a value-distribution zone opposed to extraction zones.
            1. Contemporary: Core global metropoles–NYC, SF, Singapore– are even today policed and efficiently cleansed of anyone surplus who is not a wage slave or owner. Non-capitalist populations in metropole space degrade the capitalization-coordinator/accumulator function. Check out geography lit.
    3. Slavers could depend on black overseers to use their human capacities to innovate torture, to control slaves on plantations (72).
      1. The Master’s dependency on the humanity of the dehumanized: “Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have in the woman most nearly connected with them not a forced slave but a willing one.” –JS Mill, 1869, “The subjection of women.”
        1. See also Hegel’s critique, “Herrschaft und Knechtschaft” (1807).
      2. The human capacity for unmaking (see Scarry 1985): Using others’ human sentience against them to destroy their material worlds, and in place of their semantic world, promote the imperial voice and order.
      3. The stimulated jump from a state of unsolidaristic, competitive, parochial soveriegnty to a state of subordinate patriarchal intermediary secures the social construction of steep and complex social hierarchy.
        1. According to Federici 1998, patriarchy in complex societies invokes intimate and, by categorical extension, systematic alienation and fear of the target of defection and the defected relation, to realign trust and solidarities to an inegalitarian, socio-spatially dispersed network, an imagined global community of men, “winners v. losers.” This trust realignment permits the transfer of property to and up the hierarchy of men. Alienated on multiple everyday levels, and crippled by fear, non-elites are compelled to reproduce exploitation and appropriation.
          1. Not all communities are responsive to patriarchal co-optation, and it is not structurally advantageous. For example the Basque maintained intra-community solidarity that permitted an autonomous and successful economic development path within capitalism (Federici 1998). Some communities rather are disposed to the protection racket bargain and patriarchal co-option. Why? What are the factors?
            1. As well as Robin (2004), the comparative history of the Scandinavian countries suggests some hypotheses, see Barton (1986). Ask Jonah Olsen about the Basque exception as well.
        2. Once instituted, capitalist law recreates the vertical-solidarity, competitive patriarch.
  3. See Losurdo (2011), Robbie Etheridge, Fatah-Black and van Rossum (2014).

What conditions support or attenuate genocide?

  1. See Straus, Scott. 2007. “Second-generation comparative research on genocide.” World Politics: 476-501. Of the early 21st century efforts to improve on genocide theory, Valentino’s (2004) is the most convincing, least ideologically-motivated, most comparative explanation. He argues that in the modern era, small groups of leaders are ideologically persuaded to choose mass killing (including both genocide and politicide) as an instrumental solution to resource and land acquisition, or to defeat collective resistance. Everyone else just accommodates and enables the political entrepreneurs. Valentino’s theory has the virtue of specifying a central role for rational calculation as well as a lesser role for irrational ideology, both by a small leadership group. In modern/capitalist societies, the popular classes are dominated and socially accountable to elite-ruled networks.
    1. Valentino (2004) identifies two categories of mass killing: a) Dispossessive mass killing, such as where leaders seek to transform/modernize societies across diverse, populated territory; and b) Coercive mass killing, including mass killing in wars and in imperial strategy, where “leaders try to defeat resistance and intimidate future resistance” (485).
      1. Arguably the long colonial genocide in North America is the progressive confluence of both forms of mass killing.
    2. Levene’s (2005) explanation is flawed but offers a couple of insights of value. In his first volume, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State, he argues that genocide is a contingent outcome and more likely when targeted populations resist. He specifies the irrationalism as phobia. However, Levene is an elitist, and his overall argument is that popular irrationalism in late-developer countries causes genocide. To arrive at this explanation, he ignores colonial mass killing. However, the irrationalism of phobia could just as well be imported into Valentino’s theory to specify the elite ideology behind the genocidal path. Semelin suggests that leaders use ideology to transform popular anxieties into fear, and this is affirmed by Federici’s study of the European witch hunts.
    3. Of the comparative genocide theorists, Levene’s second volume alone attempts to survey mass killing in the vast expanse of the pre-modern period. While he is unable to substantively theorize pre-modern mass killing, it exists empirically. The transhistorical abstraction of mass killing explains it as a byproduct of “political development.” So by comparison (following the Marxist technique of comparing a phenomenon’s capitalist form to its transhistorical form), “modern” or capitalist-era mass killing is caused by political development (also), state interest, and to a lesser extent, ideology, or the elite deployment of fear.
    4. Midlarsky’s comparative work (2005) is also flawed but has the virtue of exploring where genocides did not occur: There was not genocide in Cambodia, but politicide. Greeks in the Ottoman Empire and Jews in pre-WWII Poland were not targeted for genocide. Such examples could be used to help explain mass killing. Midlarsky thinks that modern genocides are created in the context of loss: territorial, economic, or population loss in war (486). His theory also helpfully specifies that targeted populations are simultaneously feared as threatening and assessed as vulnerable (486), and he points out that genocide perpetrators have both gotten away with violence before they commit the genocide, and have some international support, such as the Vatican for Nazi Germany and France for the Rwandan genocide (486).
    5. This brings up the point that theorists of genocide have to take political sides. In the early 20th century, the UN defined the problem of mass killing as genocide on the model of the Shoah. That specific context and formulation produces a liberal moral framework and research agenda, which at first produced explanations of genocide that were highly idiosyncratic to the Jewish community’s preexisting frameworks and post-Holocaust political needs (see pp. 480-483), and in the second wave of genocide scholarship, still produced explanations, like Weitz’s (2003), that identified communist revolution as genocide, or like Mann (2005) tended to select genocide cases from amongst the Anglo-American Empire’s late-to-the-party rivals. Less ideological approaches recognize and theorize the mass killings committed across the political and geographic spectrum, including the colonial genocides.
    6. Note that both Mann and Levene think that late capitalist development causes genocide. I don’t agree with this, but I think it’s interesting that sociologist Mann as well as Levene acknowledge the position of Germany relative to the Anglo-American Empire at the start of the 20th century. Idealist explanations for the rise of fascism typically obscure what Hegel had identified in the early 19th century as the intractable problem of an already-owned world–at the individual level, The Right of the Starving Man.
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At stake:

Consider the recent indigenization interventions of Glen Coulthard and Leann Betamosake Simpson. They call for a reclamation and reinvention of indigenous lifeways and associated ways of knowing, and anti-capitalist and anti-colonial refusal, rather than mere Reconciliation and cultural celebration. Their intervention is heroic.

At the same time, even liberal Reconciliation is countered by furtive but insistent protest. If a viable alternative to capitalist extractivism was built in extractivist Canada, a place that exists within the World-system in order to transform nature’s work into capitalist accumulation, would the settler protest switch into mass brutality again? As it is, it’s more like a constant mining or blood-letting. One thinks of the baby moose of the north-eastern U.S. seaboard, drained to death by tens of thousands of ticks. Humans have mass-killed off our rival macro-predators, and the tiny killers, the biomass of bugs, flood into the breach. We sit like Mr. Kurtz amidst the entropy we have created, and we celebrate culture.

Under what conditions does capitalist power organize through its hierarchical network its primary forms of economic- and other warfare, its infinitely-negative judgment–wage slavery, slavery, and genocide?

Research Site

The Equal Justice Initiative’s The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. For background, see review by Laquer, Thomas. 2018. Lynched for drinking from a white man’s well. The London Review of Books.

The US has killed more than 20 M people in 37 countries since WWII.

 

 

 

Against torture from an historical-materialist perspective

Were I to rewrite the position on the cruelty of solitary confinement from a Marxist historical-materialist perspective (rather than phenomenological), this is what I would say:

Consider the recent article on the social and habitat isolation of the bipolar Colorado mass murderer James Holmes.

Prolonged isolation inflicts a harm, one that can never be justified. This harm is ontological; it dismantles the very structure of our relational being–our species being as a social species, how our senses are built to depend on communicating with other humans. Consider a basic example: Every time someone walks around the table rather than through it, or bumps into a table, my brain quickly mirrors their action and receives an unspoken, usually unremarkable, confirmation of my own experience that the table exists in a specific way in the world, and that my sensory experience of tables is shared by others.

When I don’t receive such implicit social information, I can usually ask someone — but for the most part, we don’t need to ask because our sensations and concepts are already interwoven with the sensations and concepts of many other sensing, communicating beings who relate to the same world from their own unique perspective. This multiplicity of shared perspectives within one world is like an invisible scaffolding that helps order, prioritize, provide boundaries to, and confirm my sensory experience of the world.

If we truly want our prisons to rehabilitate and transform criminal offenders, then we must put them in a situation where they have a chance and an obligation to explain themselves to the others we need them to be accountable to, to repair damaged networks of mutual support, and to lend their own sensations and unique perspective to communities creating both shared meaning and the world beneath and informing meaning.

Consider as well that some people’s epistemologies-ontologies are more robust under torture, as Elaine Scarry famously discussed–In particular, those that recognize human intercourse in terms of “making” and “unmaking.” People whose epistemology-ontology allows them to recognize that someone is trying to unmake their world, for example via solitary confinement torture or other forms of torture that are designed to alienate your bodily senses from you, to unmake your world and impose theirs upon the vacuum that they have created in you– people with such making/unmaking perspectives are more protected from torture, from imperial, colonizing unmaking.

That doesn’t mean it’s easier, knowing that someone is laboring to destroy your world in order to implant their order within you. And being able to resist might mean the prisoner is tortured to death. Torture is to be abjected as an abomination against our social humanity.

Why Do They Hate Our Liberal Feminism?

“American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.

Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.

To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.”

from

Landler, Mark & Andrew W. Lehren. 2011. “Cable Shows Delicate US Dealings with Egypt’s Leaders.” The New York Times, January 27.