India: The Right to the City

Dr. Parthosarathy Ray gives a lecture entitled, "India: An Urban Battleground," on urban struggles and the right to the city in India.

NPC: Value-form theory describes capitalism

The problem that much communization theory points out is that, if your revolutionary praxis is simply to emphasize (materially and ideologically) labourers as a class (by building up industry, focusing the entire society toward developing productive forces rather than re-organizing the "insides" of the means of production to be more amenable to those using the means and the product, etc) then you are simply affirming the value-form as such, which IS very much the class relation...

...In short, Value-form theory tries to describe capitalism. It is a negative critique of capitalism. Whenever the article above says "Value-form theory" or "VFT," you can almost always replace it with "capitalism," since value-form theory is NOT claiming that these things are facts of nature, but facts of capitalism which can (and ought to be) abolished--i.e., it is not an overdetermining totality.

The following is a response from NPC to Nat Winn's article entitled Getting to communism: negating the value form in practice.

by NPC

Nat writes:

"Again, revolution is about more than abolishing the value-form. The method here is one that ignores the realm of politics, the confrontation with the state, armies, and the whole repressive apparatus. It ignores geo-politics. It doesn't deal with any classes outside of workers and capitalist in analyzing the end of capital. What you have here is not a look at a totality but a rigid binary. The complexity of revolution is just not dealt with at this point."

I would first point out that this argument could, verbatim, be applied to basically all the works of Marx himself -- particularly Capital. It basically says that we should NOT engage in economic argument because economic argument does not include all these other things. But that means you are just critiquing something based on what you want it to be, rather than what it actually is (it has a scope which is a priori limited).

Only among communization's critics have I heard of communization as a be-all-and-end-all plan for revolution. Among communization's supporters, I've heard of communization as, alternately, a fresh economic/structural analysis (in the structural wing), or a swath of incendiary outreach materials calling people to action (in the voluntarist wing).

It's certainly true that communization doesn't provide immediate tactical advice. It doesn't provide much revolutionary strategy. Most of the structural works of TC, Endnotes, etc. hardly talk about "the superstructure" at all. But I'd also point out that communization never pretends to be both a necessary and sufficient theory for making revolution.

Honestly, it just seems silly that anyone would consider it as such -- and, again, I literally know of no one (other than its critics) who see it like this.

For those of us who use communization theory we use it for what it is good for -- economic analysis, outreach, reminders of the deeper economic reasons that previous socialist projects were unable to fundamentally challenge the value-form (their failure was absolutely not just superstructural). It also helps to remind us that we ought to talk about the abolition of the working class a little bit more than the affirmation of the working class.

It's also not like anyone is actually thinking that abolition of the value-form happens overnight or that revolution would be evenly distributed -- and its convenient that the above article excludes such quotes as this:

"So there will a "transition" in the sense that communism will not be achieved overnight. But there will not be a "transition period" in what has become the traditional Marxist sense: a period that is no longer capitalist but not yet communist, a period in which the working class would still work, but not for profit or for the boss any more, only for themselves: they would go on developing the "productive forces" (factories, consumer goods, etc.) before being able to enjoy the then fully-matured fruit of industrialization. This is not the programme of a communist revolution. It was not in the past and it is not now. There is no need to go on developing industry, especially industry as it is now. And we are not stating this because of the ecology movement and the anti-industry trend in the radical milieu. As someone said forty years ago, half of the factories will have to be closed.

Some areas will lag behind and others may plunge into temporary chaos[...] Nobody knows how we will evolve from false capitalist abundance to new ways of life, but let us not expect the move to be smooth and peaceful everywhere and all the time."

[[That is from Dauve's intro text on communisation (here: http://www.troploin.fr/textes/60-communisation-uk). Dauve, alongside Aufheben, is in the more "voluntarist" camp (though they engage with the structuralists much more) which is brushed over fairly quickly in this overview.]]

There is no eliding the real problems of reorganizing production -- the point is simply that there is NOT a period in which we have an industrial build-up emulating capitalist styles of factory organizaton, managed with moneyed-wages or labor vouchers and justified in the terms of the people working now and enjoying the fruits of that industry later, once the production base is properly "built up." Clearly, models more similar to that may be necessary if revolution occurs (again) exclusively in areas that have few means of production -- but the neoliberal redistribution of these means of production TO the "third world" makes that less and less likely.

But these natural presumptions based on the economic theory in most of communization are more or less ignored in the above critique -- even though they are precisely the presumptions that DO begin to make tactical and strategic suggestions for revolution.

Instead, the critique just misses the point by attacking communization for not being something that it never claims to be -- i.e., a roadmap for revolution.

Communization theory NEVER claims that we should "look at revolution strictly through the capital-labour relation." It simply claims that the capital-labour relation is kind of really important to judging whether or not your "communist revolution" is very communist (or even very anti-capitalist) -- and I would definitely affirm that point.

----

On the second topic: Communization does claim to be a real critique of the value-form. This article sort of vacillates between acknowledging that the abolition of the value-form is necessary (in which case the differences between communizaton's affirmations and the article's become less clear) and the opposing argument that communization misportrays abstract value (and therefore one would presume that it's a non-issue).

I think that it's obvious that we have to abolish the capitalist value-form, the question is simply again one of whether or not one tries to "use" that value form for a period of time (the "socialist transition period") for the benefit of the working-class -- and the point from communization is that this only reinforces the proletariat class category rather than beginning to take it apart (it, like the state, did not tend historically to "wither away"). And this affirmation basically ignores the class struggle -- which, despite the above article's claims to the contrary, is all about the abolition of the proletariat as a class (since its nature as a class is relationally determined by the existence of the bourgeoisie exploiting it).

But there is also a significant problem with the article's portrayal of the value-form:

First: communization theory doesn't deny the labor-theory of value. It simply points out that if you affirm labor as a category defined by capital you are also affirming capital by affirming its interdependent category -- i.e., they are arguing precisely against "economism" as traditionally defined and as often practiced by political tendencies which see unions or wage struggles, for example, as the primary grounds of revolutionary activity.

Second: The above critique ignores the nuance in Marx's theory of exchange-value and its relation to abstract labor, and misportrays communization's approach to exchange-value (which is NOT equal to "the value-form").

The article quotes from Endnotes: "Rather, in a fundamental sense value — as the primary social mediation — pre-exists and thus has a priority over labour."

Based on this, the article then claims: "It is also the case here that labor is not seen as the primary producer of value. Capital or value "has a priority over labor. This leads to a political call within Communization to abandon the class struggle."

Unfortunately, this is a misquotation. Endnotes in the quote is actually talking about how CAPITALISM (i.e., the capitalist value-form) posits itself as originary. This is clearer if you also quote the paragraph sitting a little BELOW the one quoted by the above critique:

"While it seems true and politically effective to say that we produce capital by our labour, it is actually more accurate to say (in a world that really is topsy turvy) that we, as subjects of labour, are produced by capital. Socially necessary labour time is the measure of value only because the value-form posits labour as its content. In a society no longer dominated by alienated social forms — no longer orientated around the self-expansion of abstract wealth — the compulsion to labour which characterises the capitalist mode of production will disappear. With value, abstract labour disappears as a category. The reproduction of individuals and their needs becomes an end in itself. Without the categories of value, abstract labour and the wage, "labour" would cease to have its systematic role as determined by the primary social mediation: value."

This "world that really is topsy turvy" is the world of capitalism, in which capital makes itself into the primary source of productivity, centering the M-C-M' cycle around the M more than the C (or the use-value in it, for that matter). The critique conflates Endnotes' descriptions of how Capital PORTRAYS ITSELF, with the obvious acknowledgement that how Capital actually operates (as exploitative of labour) is evident in Marxist theory.

But the bottom of that quote also gets to another interesting point: "with value, abstract labour disappears as a category." This is interesting in particular because it ties abstract value back to its roots (in Marx) with exchange-value. Here Endnotes is NOT talking about simple "abstract" human labour (or "general human force" as Marx says). Though Marx at times uses this definition, he also acknowledges how problematic it is, since the definition (borrowed from Smith and Ricardo) pretends that "labour" or "work" in capitalism is the same, transhistorical practice of human physical exertion, when really labour as a category is created BY the social relations of capitalism itself. Marx, therefore, translates this transhistorical abstract labor into a more relevant category: exchange value (in an oppositional unity with use-value to create value as such).

The above critique then argues that Value-form theory poses a "monetary theory of value," simply because it acknowledges that exchange value does, in fact, exist and operates much as Marx describes it -- as capitalism's own particular form of "abstract labour" which will be abolished alongside value itself. The abolition of value as such clearly does not mean the abolition of use-value, but the severing of use value from exchange value (and thus the destruction of the wage and money as the form of quantified, generalized exchangeability). Again, Endnotes says it clearly: "Without the categories of value, abstract labour and the wage, "labour" would cease to have its systematic role as determined by the primary social mediation: value."

The "labour" quoted here means SPECIFICALLY CAPITALIST labor--not general human work (which is OF COURSE productive in the simple sense and of course abstractable in that it all requires physical exertion--this is not Marx's point). The problem that much communization theory points out is that, if your revolutionary praxis is simply to emphasize (materially and ideologically) labourers as a class (by building up industry, focusing the entire society toward developing productive forces rather than re-organizing the "insides" of the means of production to be more amenable to those using the means and the product, etc) then you are simply affirming the value-form as such, which IS very much the class relation. It is the very exchangeability (NOT exchange but the POTENTIAL for exchange or its future possibility--exchange does not PRECEDE production) which makes labour itself productive of value (again, value is, in capitalism, not just use-value but also monetary "exchange" value). Obviously physical human work can also produce things that are useful -- but that is NOT "labor" in capitalism or "value" in capitalism.

This doesn't mean that labor does not create value or that money (or capital) is primary in the circuit. I.e. it does NOT (as the above article claims) argue that exchange has to come first. NO, it simply argues that the potential of exchangeability exists--without the ACT of exchange itself yet occuring. This is, again, the SOCIAL part of the relation -- the presumption (and perceived necessity) of the M-C-M' cycle perpetuating itself and the wage being generally exchangeable for goods. In fact, the ACTUAL exchangeability does not have to exist in every instance for labor to be extracted -- all kinds of things (rampant inflation, product shortages, rationing, collapse of a certain currency, etc.) could disrupt that actual exchangeability in a given instance--but in general "abstract labor" would remain abstracted. Marx is fairly clear on this.

There is no basis in the actual works of communization theory for claims such as this:

"Production is concrete labor. Period. Abstract labor is only expressed through the process of exchange. This abstract process subsumes concrete labor and negates its objectivity, thus also negating its role as creator of value. The value-form as validated through exchange in it's totality is the primary creator of value and the contradiction between capital and labor is a relation internal to the value-form process which must be abolished as a process."

For communization theorists, abstract labor exists not through the process of exchange but through the potential of future exchange -- the wage is paid AFTER the work is done and BEFORE it is exchanged for other goods. Value AS SUCH is the production of use-values ("concrete labor" in the above quote) in the interests of exchange (rather than use). Exchange is therefore embedded (as the incentive) in the production itself. That's the topsy-turvy aspect of capitalist relations to productivity, which Endnotes references. Capitalism itself poses (quantified--monetary) exchange as originary, even though exchange HAS NOT HAPPENED yet. The communist point is that things can be made as ends in themselves rather than ends-to-more-money (capitalism) or ends-to-more-things ("productivist" socialism).

In short, Value-form theory tries to describe capitalism. It is a negative critique of capitalism. Whenever the article above says "Value-form theory" or "VFT," you can almost always replace it with "capitalism," since value-form theory is NOT claiming that these things are facts of nature, but facts of capitalism which can (and ought to be) abolished--i.e., it is not an overdetermining totality. The article constantly confuses this, acting like Value-form theory IS saying that the capitalist forms it describes are totalizing or overdetermining--that they are, in short, facts of nature--and thus provides a very poor perspective on what Value-form theory is actually saying or how capitalism works.

Charlie Post: Claims of a world without labor aristocracy

Is the working class divded? How is it divided? What does this mean for revolutionary strategy? A new book by a Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism  which some see as theoretical  evidence for the politics of third worldism has sparked a great deal of debate? Kasama will be posting a series of reviews of Cope's work in order to spark discussion on the relation between class composition, imperialism,and revolutioinary strategy. Other posts can be found here and here. The following review by Charlie Post is from the webzine New Socialist

Workers in the Global North: A Labor Aristocracy?

Review of Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism (Kersplebedeb, 2012)

By Charlie Post

A specter has haunted anti-capitalist radicals and revolutionaries for more than 150 years—the specter of working class reformism and conservatism in the global North of the capitalist world economy. Why have those who Marx called the "grave-diggers of capitalism," the wage-earning majority of the industrialized societies, embraced politics that either seek to "balance" the interests of capital and labour (reformism) or blame other workers for falling living standards and working conditions (conservatism)?

Read more...

Beyond empiricism: More on the "Divided world, divided class" debate

Is the working class divded? How is it divided? What does this mean for revolutionary strategy? A new book by a Zak Cope, Divided World, Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism which some see as theoretical evidence for the politics of third worldism has sparked a great deal of debate? Kasama is posting a series of reviews of Cope's work in order to spark discussion on the relation between class composition, imperialism,and revolutioinary strategy. We've posted reviews by Matthijs Krul and Charlie Post. The following is a critique of Charlie Post's review on the MLM Mayhem blog.

The Theory of Labour Aristocracy and its Discontents: a meta-review of Cope's "Divided World Divided Class"

Although the position Charlie Post takes in his thorough, and thoroughly backwards, review of Zak Cope's Divided World Divided Class was predictable, the review itself tells us more about the state of critical thought amongst marxist theorists at the centres of capitalism than anything else. We could point out that the fact that Post begins by snidely claiming there is no empirical basis for the theory of the labour aristocracy is a rather humorous attempt at empty rhetoric: he knows that numerous revolutionary political economists such as Samir Amin have provided an empirical framework to apprehend a labour aristocracy because he argued with their frameworks in his own analysis (simply because your empirical framework is in disagreement with another doesn't mean that there is no empirical data, it just means that you are calling one set of empirical data into question with your own); he should also be aware that his own empirical data was called into question with another framework of competing empirical data. We could also point out that his argument from authority where he claims that the theory of the labour aristocracy was disproved by a non-marxist (though anti-capitalist) political economist Anwar Shaikh is somewhat laughable. The real point, however, and one that Post cannot help but miss, is that any attempt to prove or disprove the theory of the labour aristocracy through empiricism can only go so far: just us Cope can find the data to prove the theory, Post can mobilize opposing data to supposedly undermine this data, and Cope could probably reply with another pie chart or set of statistics, and Post would reply again... round and around it goes.

Read more...

The realities of "market socialism"

Is it really so easy? I would argue it is not. It falls to me to defend the currently very unfashionable proposition that a socialist mode of production, recognizable to the Marxist tradition as well as to non-Marxist opponents of capitalism, actually requires a system of central planning and cannot permit any kind of market socialism to exist in the scale and manner Ackerman suggests... Firstly, that market socialism cannot overcome the limitations of capitalism, and secondly, that the failure of Soviet central planning does not condemn the idea of central planning. In fact, I will argue that the flaws in Ackerman’s design and the Soviet model of central planning are remarkably similar: both are rooted in the failure to overcome capitalist production, as opposed to distribution... The most significant shortcoming of almost all market socialisms, including that of Ackerman, is that they share with neoclassical economics and the liberal tradition generally the exclusive focus on the process of exchange.

This piece comes to Kasama from Matthijs Krul.

On Communism and Markets: A Reply to Seth Ackerman

In his recent essay on Jacobin, Seth Ackerman makes a number of common arguments in favor of some form of market socialism over and against central planning as well as other designs for non-market, non-capitalist economies. The essay contains much that most socialists could agree with. He rightly cites the failure of the neoclassical argument for general equilibrium to apply in real-world situations under the devastating theoretical impact of the Cambridge capital critique and the so-called ‘theory of the second-best’, and the lack of statistical evidence proving the superior efficiency of market capitalist societies over those of the former Soviet bloc. The historical record of capitalism to achieve general efficiency, equity, and democracy is, in short, atrocious, and neoclassical economics always serves first and foremost as apologetics for this system – we probably need not go into this further.

Also understandable is Ackerman’s negative response to models of a post-capitalist economy along the lines of some form of direct democracy, such as Albert and Hahnel’s “Parecon” approach. For Albert and Hahnel, democratic councils would gather data from individuals regarding their preferences, debate these according to socialist and ecological norms, and process them into a planning system, which would regularly update its information according to the same political processes; all this in order to regulate production for human need. Ackerman is justifiably skeptical of the workability of this proposal, as it would require millions of political debates about millions of input-output processes from wildly divergent sources and for wildly divergent ends. If every aspect of the planning system would have to be truly democratic – in the sense of being up for immediate political input ‘from below’ – any system with more than a rudimentary division of labor would quickly come to a shuddering halt.

For Ackerman, this is proof of the validity of the so-called calculation problem, an old argument from liberal critics of Marxism (in particular the Austrian school of economics), alleging that it is a priori impossible for centrally planned economies of any kind to operate: only prices, the argument runs, are accurately able to convey the necessary decentralized and distributed information that makes up the relative exchange value of goods. Therefore, in any system seeking to replace prices (and by implication, profits) with some form of central management, there necessarily follows a shortage of information in the decision-making process in production and exchange, with the familiar results of shortages, gluts, famines, and failures of supply.

For the liberal critics, and especially the Austrian school, this argument against central planning has often been generalized against any attempt to interfere with the market process: after all, if this argument holds, any interference at all will prevent ‘getting the prices right’, and thereby move the economy away from optimal allocation of goods and services. However, even the mainstream economic literature abounds with debate as to the accuracy of this proposition, with much of the debate revolving around the significance and extent of the presence of externalities, that is, costs not internalized into the price system but nonetheless real from a social or ecological viewpoint. But even taking the pervasiveness of externalities for granted, the critique of government intervention allows the left little substantial political room for maneouvre – at most mere management of market failures. This does not satisfy Ackerman, who is committed to superseding capitalism as a social system, and therefore he is faced with a plausible economic answer to this critique.

Ackerman’s solution is to propose a market socialist alternative, which would have prices (and thereby evade the calculation problem), but not profits – a handy solution if ever there was one, having one’s cake and eating it too. In this, he follows some of the market socialist critics from Eastern Europe, who responded to what they saw as the political-economic failures of their countries under Soviet-oriented rule by formulating a happy middle between a planned economy and the ‘anarchy’ of market capitalism. This proposal boils down to leaving intact the free market in the sphere of production and exchange, with autonomy of firms and competition between them, but by socializing the commanding heights of the economy in the sphere of finance and credit, in particular the banks: “A constellation of autonomous firms, financed by a multiplicity of autonomous banks or investment funds, all competing and interacting in a market — yet all nevertheless socially owned.”

Of course, if one has this, but permits profits to be pocketed by the capitalist class, one would simply have a kind of social-democratic capitalism with nationalized banks – perhaps radical, but not necessarily anything novel. Ackerman realizes this and confronts the problem of profit under market socialism with admirable clarity. His proposal is a compulsory purchase of all private financial assets – stocks, bonds, investments, and so forth – and to deposit them into a “multiplicity of socialized banks and investment funds owning and allocating capital among the means of production”. Any surplus firms would generate would then (presumably as dividend) be allocated towards this socialized fund, and thereby the capitalist class would be eliminated from the social division of labour – the euthanasia of the rentier interest, at least, as Ackerman notes. Now, this would still leave the tremendous inequalities generated by the buying, rather than expropriating, of the capitalists’ financial assets. But here Ackerman has a simple solution as well, a classic left social-democratic measure: one simply caps the total assets an individual (or family) may have. Socialism in two steps!

Is it really so easy? I would argue it is not. It falls to me to defend the currently very unfashionable proposition that a socialist mode of production, recognizable to the Marxist tradition as well as to non-Marxist opponents of capitalism, actually requires a system of central planning and cannot permit any kind of market socialism to exist in the scale and manner Ackerman suggests. To do so, I must also analyze the significance of the central planning efforts of the Soviet Union, seen by friend and foe alike in these debates as the prototype of such a system, and access to what extent it really did ‘fail’ (as Ackerman takes as decisively proven), and what this might imply. It is no small task, and I will necessarily have to be somewhat summary in my arguments, but the significance of this debate makes it essential to get this right. I do not wish to make a virtue of orthodoxy, but market socialist critiques such as those of Seth Ackerman have been a dime a dozen in the history of the communist movement, and they have never been convincing nor been able to make themselves practical within actual anti-capitalist revolutionary movements. I would argue this is no coincidence, for they contain a number of fundamental flaws that Marx and his immediate successors already identified. In this reply to Ackerman, I will argue two things. Firstly, that market socialism cannot overcome the limitations of capitalism, and secondly, that the failure of Soviet central planning does not condemn the idea of central planning. In fact, I will argue that the flaws in Ackerman’s design and the Soviet model of central planning are remarkably similar: both are rooted in the failure to overcome capitalist production, as opposed to distribution.

***

The most significant shortcoming of almost all market socialisms, including that of Ackerman, is that they share with neoclassical economics and the liberal tradition generally the exclusive focus on the process of exchange. This stands in stark contrast to Marx’s primary interest, the process of production. It is not for nothing that Marx considered the classical economists’ emphasis on exchange to be a powerful ideological weapon of the bourgeoisie. As long as distribution and exchange are the central categories of social relations, the market will seem to be the natural, self-evident form in which one-off exchange between individuals takes place, at least in societies with an advanced division of labor. But, for Marx, it is precisely this fetishism of commodities, this exclusive focus on the sphere of exchange and distribution, that hides the essential nature of capitalist society. In Capital, after discussing exchange value, he then famously writes: “Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face – ‘No admittance except on business.’ Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.”

This secret, the core of capitalist social relations that must be overcome to overcome capitalist society altogether, is the process of capitalist production. It is there that capitalist social relations are reproduced on an ever-expanding scale through the repeated separation of workers from the means of production, and the generation of surplus value that results from this separation. Whatever value is produced in capitalist society can only be distributed within the market, but is never generated in it: whatever you gain in exchange, I lose. Marx for this reason distinguished between the labor in capitalist society that immediately produces surplus value, and the manifold kinds of labor that are involved in exchange, transport, marketing, and so forth. The latter do not reproduce capitalist social relations, and therefore fall in the sphere of distribution. This is not to say distribution in this sense is not important: indeed, it forms by far the largest part of the everyday experience of capitalism in contemporary Western societies. But this is exactly what leads to mistaking all the economic activities of the market for the reproduction of capitalism itself. This is why Marx considered it a form of fetishism. The process of production under capitalist conditions is what reproduces capitalist society – the actual application of labor and technology that allows modern-day society and its accumulative drive to exist. The everyday significance of the sphere of distribution – with its apparent equality of buyer and seller and the smooth machinery of the price system – give rise to the appearance that this is what capitalism is all about, not what happens behind the doors of the factories, sweatshops, and mines. If market socialism does not address the sphere of production, it does not address the fundamental conditions of capitalist society, and therefore does not succeed in overcoming it.

So it’s no surprise that in Ackerman’s example, nothing at all is said about the production process itself. In his concern to evade the calculation debate’s critique of central planning, he permits the central conditions of capitalism to perpetuate themselves: the separation of workers from the means of production, which are not the banks and other distributional institutions, but the factories, mines, sewing machines, and tractors. If nationalizing banks and investment itself had the power to create socialist conditions by themselves, the Royal Bank of Scotland would now be in the vanguard of socialism – which is sadly not the case. Even if all banks were nationalized, and a good deal else besides, as was de facto the case under total war conditions in various capitalist societies during WWII, there would still be a capitalist mode of production. Private appropriation of surplus is not the central feature of capitalism, although this permits a capitalist class to exist independently in political terms. Rather, its central feature is coercing working people to work on means of production not held in common, means that are used for the purposes of accumulation for its own sake. Even if one were to have a 100% tax on profit, and nationalization of banks, hedge funds, and pension funds, as Ackerman’s proposals seem to reduce to, this would be a left social-democratic version of capitalism, perhaps a radically egalitarian capitalism: but a capitalism nonetheless. It would be nothing to sneeze at, but not achieve his aim of an actually socialist society; with capitalist production left intact, so is exploitation, the alienation of working people, and the politics of growth for its own sake.

The reason for this is that, as Marx pointed out, the root of exploitation under capitalism is not insufficient wages per se, or the depredations of finance, but the theft of alien labor time. Not only is labor under capitalism alienated from the means of production and is the worker alienated from society’s general interests, but more importantly, the process of exploitation under capitalism necessarily implies that for accumulation to take place on one end, the worker must be paid less than the value of her labor-time on the other. The more capitalist production expands, the less time the worker has for herself. This is why so much of the history of socialist activism does not revolve around higher taxes on the wealthy or the nationalization of the commanding heights, but about reducing the share of their total lifetime workers are forced to produce for the reproduction and expansion of capitalist society – for example through pensions and social security, or overtime laws.

The struggle over exploitation is fundamentally the question of whether the worker has the time to fully develop her intellectual, social, and creative powers, or must devote this time instead to the reproduction of a hostile, alien, and benumbing society, with no time to call her own. Here central planning comes back into view. The aim of central planning, what Marx calls “the society of associated producers”, is therefore not just to socialize the process of exchange and distribution of goods – though as Ackerman rightly notes, this is a ‘bread and butter’ question in its own right – but to develop the productive forces to the degree that the necessary labor-time for all workers can bereduced to a minimum. This leaves maximum time for playing, singing, socializing, sports, art, music, writing, debating, and all those things that have been considered the good things in life and the birthright of humanity since the classical age.

There is no known process of the market that can achieve this aim, for the logic of the market is blind to the process of production, and concerns itself exclusively with private accumulation and consumption. Just as we do not care, in practice, about the appalling conditions under which our clothing and our food is made, in Ackerman’s market socialism the condition and work of the producers is of no significance. Their alienation is not abolished by the mere phrase ‘socializing finance’; as long as they are subject to the coercive pressure of competition and accumulation, each other’s eternal counterparts, they cannot fully realize their talents and potential as individuals and can therefore society is a hostile force for them.

Ackerman’s society, in short, would socialize capital, but not abolish it. It would socialize exploitation, but not abolish it. It would not work towards the fullest development of the creative, intellectual, and social capacities of the majority, and would not apply technology, the embodiment of reduction of necessary labor-time, to this end. As Marx wrote: “economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself.” This applies to market socialism as much as any society, and Ackerman’s proposal keeps at arm’s length “the very possibility of defetishizing economic life”, to borrow from David McNally’s critique of market socialism, Against the Market. “To reject this possibility is to embrace the inevitability of alienated labor, of exploitation, and the unplanned and anarchic drive towards competitive accumulation”.(1)

***

Seth Ackerman also confronts us with a new problem, however – a historical one. Doesn’t the Eastern European experience under ‘really existing socialism’ disprove the possibility of central planning? Is central planning really necessary to overcome the limitations of market socialism outlined above? The Soviet (and Soviet-dependent) experience plays a central role in Ackerman’s argument against the very possibility of a centrally planned society. For Ackerman, Soviet-type central planning was simply too radical; by ignoring the centrality of the market it represented a kind of bureaucratic utopianism whose only result was a shortage of toilet paper at crucial moments. Ackerman only barely acknowledges the very real accomplishments of Soviet society: “when Communism came to poor, rural countries like Bulgaria or Romania they were able to industrialize quickly, wipe out illiteracy, raise education levels, modernize gender roles, and eventually ensure that most people had basic housing and health care”. But this is not enough for him. Central planning seems to be unable to go beyond the point of the achievement of mere basic provisions. It can achieve no more than a mid-table economy in GDP per capita terms, with shoddy cars and insufficient toothpaste. This will not do, for the aim of socialism cannot be universal equal poverty, but the possibility of abundance for the widest possible share of society. If central planning cannot achieve this, then we must reject it. But is that true?

I argue that the conventional narrative of central planning’s failure must be radically revisited. Ackerman himself already notes that the central planning system performed not much less efficiently than most actually existing capitalisms of today. The Soviet strategy was based on a classic model of high investment rates, financed by the artificial repression of living standards and the (forcible) distribution of the surplus population unproductive in agriculture into the cities as an industrial working class, generating an enormous increase in the productivity of labor. The idea is that such productivity gains are then reinvested into heavy industry, further generating productive capacity, and so forth. This model was followed not just by the USSR, but in a different way also by China, Japan, South Korea, and other nations.

Using mainstream productivity and growth models, the liberal economic historian Robert C. Allen compared the central planning and collectivization of the Stalin period to various alternative approaches. In his book Farm to Factory, Allen astounded orthodox economic historians by finding that the ‘Stalinist’ approach (albeit credited to Preobrazhensky) was the best possible result among the alternatives(2). But, the narrative goes, Soviet planning could undertake labor-intensive industry well, but not capital-intensive industry. While the USSR could compete in sheer quantities of steel and coal and cars produced, as their propaganda often boasted, it couldn’t compete in spheres of production requiring substantial R&D and rapid technological upgrading of goods. Robert Allen’s account, for example, uses this as the explanation of Soviet failure. However, I believe evidence points to a very different conclusion.

William Easterly and Stanley Fischer’s World Bank study of the ‘Soviet climacteric’ argues that Soviet R&D on civilian production actually increased substantially between 1959 and 1984, rejecting the common notion that the Soviet arms race combined with the inflexibility of Soviet production caused the consumer economy to come to a standstill.(3) Moreover, Brendan Beare’s correction of the Easterly and Fischer paper has demonstrated that due to statistical mistakes in the reconstruction of the data, the elasticity of substitution between capital and labor in the Soviet economy was much higher than is commonly believed.(4) In other words: previous scholars claimed that when the Soviet surplus population ran out, the USSR was unable to efficiently replace labor with machinery, leading to an inability to make the leap from labor-intensive to capital-intensive production. But Beare’s data show that the ratio of this replacement of labor by capital may not have been as bad as previously thought, but in fact may have been quite high, as it was in Japan, which did not experience such stagnation. Nor did investment itself falter: even as late as 1989 the Soviet investment share of GDP was a staggering 35%. In short, Soviet central planning did not fail due to its inability to develop or implement labor-saving technology.

Why do I mention all these technicalities? Simply to make the important point that the traditional narrative, in which the Soviet central planning model collapsed due to the inherent flaws in such a system’s ability to expand and deliver the goods, is untrue. The failure of Soviet and Eastern European planning is no less real than it was before, but it must be understood as a contingent, political failure, located not in the concept of central planning itself, but in the limitations of the Soviet version. By most statistical measures, even those of outright foes of the Soviet Union, their central planning system was an overwhelming success in terms of growth, increases in productivity, and raising the potential living standards. It is not a coincidence that the USSR was the only state ever to make the American ruling class tremble – no mean achievement. Contrary to Ackerman however, I would argue its ultimate failure rested not so much in these categories. It failed for reasons not dissimilar to the flaws of Ackerman’s market socialism. The Soviet Union failed not because it was too socialist, but because it was not socialist enough.

The one weakness of the Soviet model was that it was still a form of the 20th century ‘developmental state’, that is, part of the general push of the past century of poor and underdeveloped countries to develop the productive forces (as Marxists would say) and to modernize at all costs. In so doing, it achieved tremendous things, but it was still subject to the logic of accumulation characteristic of all the negative aspects of capitalism. The workers of the USSR never saw the ‘switch’ from the development of heavy industry to the point in which the enormous productive capacities so generated would actually be used in their favour: when production would no longer be for exchange or reinvestment, but for general use. Their working days were long and intense, and as illustrated by the propaganda of Stakhanovism, they were ever exhorted to work harder and longer for the accumulation of a socialized surplus.

This brings me to the similarities between the failure of the Soviet model and the problems with Ackerman’s plan. Since the USSR arguably lacked a capitalist class, the surplus so accumulated was socialized, but not used for the purpose of general needs. The technology developed was socialized, but applied to further generate surplus, not to reduce the necessary labor-time to a minimum. Finally, the ultimate yardstick of the USSR was its military-industrial competition with the USA, not the fullest development of all. In short, just like Ackerman’s market socialism, Soviet society fell short of true socialism. Soviet society, and the Eastern European states dependent on them, asked its working class to postpone the move to a recognizably socialist form of production as long as the country, isolated and surrounded, needed to develop. Investment, the distribution of goods, housing and healthcare: all these were socialized, but there was no ‘society of the associated producers’ sought by Marx. The result was that competitive production would lead to the preservation of exploitation. This is exactly the same flaw I outlined in Ackerman’s plan: a failure to overcome capitalist production means a failure to overcome capitalism itself. In this sense, the Soviet economy is actually closer to Ackerman’s ideal than he realizes.

I would argue then, contrary to Ackerman, that the failure of actually existing central planning is not one of its potential, but historically one of its politics. The drive for accumulation for its own sake makes sense, when productivity in poor countries must be developed so that socialism can mean general abundance, not general poverty. I completely agree with Ackerman when he points to the importance of whether the supermarkets are full or empty. But there can be no market-based socialism, because capitalism ultimately does not reproduce itself in the market, but in production. Soviet central planning is in this respect a step up from that, as it socializes not only all spheres of distribution and surplus, but also consciously aims for developing productivity so that ultimately the ‘switch’ can be made towards a general needs-based society. However, it failed this test. The working class resisted this accumulation, as it represented the perpetual postponement of their personal development in the name of the general interest. This resistance took the form of a resistance to work, since this and this only was the remaining locus of capitalist logic in the Soviet system: hence the endless thefts from the workplace, the low quality of production, the shoddiness of the finished goods, the sullen, passive noncompliance with the state apparatus and its designs, and finally the fruitless attempts by the Soviet state to remedy these by draconian measures and moral exhortations. The problem with Soviet-type central planning was therefore a political, not a technical one.

Central planning is simply not the problem Ackerman makes it out to be. In fact, we see it at work even in ‘normal’ capitalism all the time. As soon as push comes to shove, and the liberal-democratic societies are threatened by total war, they approximate central planning in their production methods as closely as their political systems allow. Capitalist firms rely on high-level central planning all the time in the modern economy. Just-in-time distribution, Amazon’s on-demand system, modern supermarket provisioning, international cargo shipping, air traffic coordination: all these are examples of sophisticated and accurate central planning in the contemporary world. Our computing techniques and capacity have improved by several factors since the Cuban Missile Crisis: there is nothing technical stopping us from applying this technology in the benefit of socialist humanity rather than a small elite of owners and investors. But if we do not want to repeat the mistakes of market socialism and of Soviet planning both, we must put the conditions of production at the forefront of our transition to socialism. Let us learn all we can about logistics, about organizational theory, about planning models. Let us take the enormous technological capacities and productivity of capitalist society, “which has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals”, and use it to reduce to a minimum the work expected from everyone; especially dirty, unpleasant, and degrading work. Our unprecedented expansion of free time will see not just a flourishing of culture and the intellect, but also of many more ideas to perfect the process of production and distribution to the benefit of all. Then the realm of freedom will truly begin, and with it a new, socialist, history of humanity.

1) David McNally, Against the Market (London/New York, NY 1993), p. 184.
2) Robert C. Allen, Farm to Factory (Princeton, NJ 2009).
3) Easterly, William and Stanley Fischer. 1995. “The Soviet Economic Decline”, in:World Bank Economic Review vol. 9, p. 341-371.
4) Beare, Brendan K. 2008. “The Soviet Economic Decline Revisited”. Econ Journal Watch 5:2 (May 2008), p. 135-144.

Can work take new meaning?

The following piece comes from comrade Doug Enaa Greene. It originally appeared on Counterpunch. In the wake of Obama's reelection and his promise to create a million new manufacturing jobs, Doug digs into the what it means to be a worker in capitalist society.

Perhaps our struggle can take more conscious forms. We can see our individual condition as something that is not individual, but as the collective lot of a class comprised of those alienated and exploited. We can understand and see a perfect pattern. We can name our enemy: capitalism.

The Monstrosity of Capitalism: Observations on Work

by Doug Enaa Greene

With the election cycle over, President Obama has promised to create one million manufacturing jobs. Obama has also promised to cut taxes forsmall businesses in order to spur job creation. Considering the depths of the recession, the call for the creation of jobs is on the minds of millions. And for those out of work or barely getting by, getting a job seems like a godsend.

Many on the left are pressing for “jobs for the 99%.”  Yet the call for full employment  tends to ignore and obscure the nature of work under capitalism, which at its very roots is fundamentally exploitative and alienating.

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Book Review: Divided world, divided class

This is a review of a book  analyzing the economic development of capitalism-imperialism from a thirdworldist "Settlerist" point of view.  An important question posed in this review is what are the implications for revolutionary strategy contained in Zak cope's political economy? How closely are political economy and revolutionary strategy linked? The following article oiriginally appeared on the Notes & Commentaries blog.

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Why do we need a theory of value?

The following appeared on the mccaine.org blog.

 The concept of value itself is relevant because we need an anthropological/economic/social explanation of the generalized commensurability of goods under capitalism. This is a very strange thing historically and anthropologically speaking, and by no means is it obvious that you can have *all* different kinds of goods as well as *all* different kinds of labors, with all their unique attributes, be commensurable through a process of competition, mediated by money. A society like that can only reproduce itself if particular things hold, such as the generalized production for exchange, the generalized competition between workers and between capitals, as well as the prehistory that generates both, and finally a yardstick that, as it were, ‘underwrites’ money as the form of appearance of this general commensurability. That yardstick is socially necessary labor time, which Marx calls value (and in Vol. 1, exchange value, as he equalizes them for the purposes of explanation there).

 

Why a Theory of Value?

The gentleman from Unlearning Economics asked me recently in response to my rebuttal of Steve Keen’s critique of Marx’s theory of value why indeed there is any need for a value theory at all. It seemed to him labor as the measure of value was simply assumed by Marxists, and even if their explanations of the economy were clearly better than others and they can rebut the critiques of Keen, Bose and others, it is still not clear why there should be such a thing as a ‘labor theory of value’ at all. I find I often run into this problem with many intelligent, critical people who are by no means unwilling to take my Marxisant analysis seriously, but who simply do not get what kind of thing a theory of value is, let alone Marx’s; and then indeed it must seem a strange and unnecessary quasi-metaphysical imposition. Now initially I thought this as well, and before I fully immersed myself in Marxist thought I was quite hostile to the notion of the labor theory of value, or even the need for such a theory at all. And indeed neoclassical economists have spent more than a century trying to refute both Marx’s theory and the need for such a theory at all. However, it is not so much just Marx’s arguments in Capital itself that convinced me, as my wider reading giving me a more historically and anthropologically grounded perspective about production and exchange in history, and I would venture to say the concept of a theory of value can only make sense if put explicitly in this wider context.

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Untold Stories of Quecreek’s Flood

 

CCoal miners after workoal Miners, Water and Heartless Capitalism

“Those are my brothers down there.”

Miner at the Quecreek rescue operations

“The scary part was watching the water rise and knowing that you don’t have a way out.”

Coalminer Dennis Hall after rescue

August 11, 2002 — Eight miners and a foreman went to work June 24. They left the afternoon daylight and entered the portal of Quecreek mine–traveling together through the darkness a mile-and-a-half horizontally, underground, to the working face of “1st Left Section.” And they divided up to their various jobs–grinding up the coal, securing the rock ceiling of the tunnels, and running the coal transport buggies to the conveyor belt.

Quecreek mine is only a year old. It is a small operation in southwestern Pennsylvania, employing 65 workers. The miners are still “driving” the basic tunnels forward, putting the belts and airways in place, so that the coal on this property can be systematically and completely removed over a decade. There is no union at Quecreek.

As the world now knows, these nine men were pushing forward to the boundary line–to the edge of the coal leased by Black Wolf Coal Company. They were heading straight for the old works of the Saxman Mine that had been dug and then abandoned in the 1950s.

The coal seam dips and climbs underground, and the miners were working at an uphill grade as they dug forward toward Saxman’s lease line. On the other side of a disappearing buffer of coal were 50 million gallons of water, accumulated over 50 years as the creek water above filled old tunnels and workings.

Mark Popernack was running the “continuous miner”–20 tons of thick steel plate, electrical motors and revolving drums of rippers–digging huge bites from the coal face. And at 9 p.m., a flood of raging water burst through, as his machine cut into the wall in front of him.

“It was an instant flood–two seconds, one second, an instant flood,” he later said.

Everything disappeared. The roar of the flood drowned out all other sound. His helper was simply washed down the tunnel and grouped up with the rest of the crew. Mark was cut off.

Stunned, terrified, the men went into action. Dennis Hall grabbed the phone to warn the mine’s second crew, who were working halfway to the mine portal, in the lowest part of the mine. The call saved their lives, as the wall of soot-black water rushed downhill toward them at 60 miles an hour.

Anyone who has worked underground knows this moment–far too many have experienced the flash of explosion, or flood, or massive roof-fall and all of us have had nightmares about being trapped miles from the sun, with air and escape cut off by rock, or water or fire.

Mark seemed unreachable. “They couldn’t hear me over the water,” he said. “I shook my head, shook my lamp–no, I couldn’t make it.” The rest of the crew headed out, going with the flow, racing to make it through the lowest point of entry tunnel before the water there reached the ceiling. They hung close together, feeling their way in the darkness for almost an hour, hunched over in the four-foot-high passageway, with the water rising rapidly on their bodies, first waist deep, then neck deep, with their heads pressed against the roof and their helmet lights dancing across the surly underground river.

Exhausted, choked by water, weighted down by heavy clothes and boots, they could suddenly see ahead, the passageway was simply full to the roof. The exit was flooded. They had to go back, uphill, against that torrent, to the workface they had just left.

“1st Left Section” itself was the highest point underground, and there they decided to barricade themselves in. “We tried to outrun it, but it was too fast,” Blaine Mayhugh later said.

They risked their lives to bridge the flood and rescue Popernack. The crew was together, pooling their thoughts and their fading strength, sharing water, soda and a single sandwich. The miners decided that from then on, they were “either going to live or die as a group.”

Together, they worked to build cinderblock and canvas walls. As the mine filled, the cold water broke through the barricades and rose within their small 3×12 chamber. The air grew stifling as the oxygen started to deplete. Soaked, using only one or two lamps at a time, they wrote notes to their loved ones, and tied themselves together, so that their bodies would not drift apart in death.

With remarkable skill, rescuers outside dropped a six-inch hole, through 250 feet of rock, finding the tiny pocket where the miners were trapped. That hole brought life–fresh, heated air that kept the trapped men from smothering. They huddled together to keep warm, waiting in utter darkness to conserve their remaining lamp batteries, listening for the drilling noises of rescue.

When the word spreads that coal miners are trapped underground, that the ambulances have pulled up, that families have gathered to wait–the hearts of people everywhere go out to them in concern and support. Working people have a sense of what it means to go deep into the earth, to work bent over following the seams of rock and coal. People respect the deep solidarity that miners forge in their difficult struggles, and workers everywhere admire the militancy that miners bring with them into the struggles of our class.

For three days, millions of people watched as rescuers on the surface drilled toward the trapped men. Early on July 28, 77 hours after the mine flooded, a three-foot-wide rescue hole was finally completed and all nine miners were lifted to the surface.

For Official America and its corporate media, these events were played as a Phase 2 of the World Trade Center recovery–with the difference that this timethey found someone alive. The media mood-makers, eager for an “upbeat story,” transformed the events of Quecreek into a triumphant patriotic parable about “God, Family and Technology.”

But in the process, much of the truth here went untold. The underground disaster of Quecreek was man-made–inseparable from the heartless decisions of capital and from the last decades of corporate rampage.

There are questions that demand to be answered: Why, after all, did this happen? Is there no way for workers to protect themselves from such floods? And why exactly are there hundreds of empty mines filled with underground water honeycombing the eastern coalfields?

Water, Mining and Capitalism

Once, years ago, when I was 20 and brand new to the mines, I was sitting wide- eyed in the section dinner hole when one brother decided to confront Steve K., a hateful, old-school, slavedriver of a foreman.

“Steve,” he said, “I swear, you would risk our lives for one more car of coal.” K. looked over, with his cold fish-eyed stare, and slowly said, “Not for one car, but I will for two.”

If you dig tunnels underground, below creeks and rivers, they will fill with water. That’s a fact of life. Modern mining (and modern industry generally) was impossible before the 1770s, when the first steam-driven engine was created to pump water from the deep seams of Britain’s coalfields.

But there is nothing natural or necessary about the existence of dangerous abandoned works. If mining were carried out systematically, in a planned way, there would be no unclaimed coal or abandoned tunnels left at the end. As the coal seam is removed one bite at a time, as the mountain “sets down,” the rock seams come together.

While the mine is being worked, pumps keep the work areas dry. But if the mine is closed prematurely, the pumps are withdrawn. Below the water table, water builds in the tunnels. Above the water table, the old works often fill with explosive methane or suffocating, oxygen-depleted air.

There are abandoned mines everywhere because, over and over, capitalists have opened and closed mines, large and small, in keeping with the whims of their profit.

After World War 2, the U.S. imperialists came in control of the Persian Gulf and oil was cheap. Domestic transportation was shifted from coal-fired trains to diesel-fueled trucks, and hundreds of mines closed. Two-thirds of the coal miners were driven into unemployment and into northern cities. Those who remained were pressed, endlessly, to boost production, take risks, and mine coal more and more cheaply so their employers could compete with oil.

It was during that historic downturn that the Saxman mine was closed–sealed and left to fill with water.

In recent years, another new twist of capitalism has left hundreds more tunnels abandoned: in the 1980s, the ruling class opened vast surface mines, stripping the coal, and systematically weakened the power of the organized miners.

Suddenly it became possible to open non-union deep mines–even in coalfields that had been strongholds of working class struggle. A large corporation could close their unionized mine, and lease the same coal to a non-union coal company–small operations where the workers would not have inspections by elected union safety committees, where the miners could be pressured to work overtime or take that extra risk. Of course that switch, from large unionized mines to small non-union “dog holes,” requires closing down the old works and opening new tunnels into the same seam.

Today, under this assault, the miners union has shrunk to half its size a generation ago–100,000 members, with only 26,000 actually working as coal miners. The rest are laid off, retired or disabled. Only a third of working miners are now unionized–the lowest percentage in almost a century.

Southwestern Pennsylvania, where Quecreek is, was once a union stronghold. Twenty years ago, it was unthinkable that there would be non-union mines there. Now fewer than 2,000 workers there are organized, out of the 9,000 employed miners. Non-union operations like Quecreek are moving through the same seam once worked by abandoned unionized operations like Saxman.

Black Wolf’s Calculation

Black Wolf Coal’s operation at Quecreek is kept strictly non-union. And the control of that production is a typical corporate shell game–Black Wolf contracts for the stripmine company PBS Coals Inc., which in turn produces coal for who-knows-which-huge-energy-corporation.

State officials have been saying this flood was probably caused by “inaccurate maps”– blaming everything on 50-year-old errors made by long-dead mine foremen.

This covers up for the capitalist crimes: The reason such old maps are inaccurate is that mine capitalists traditionally slashed and grabbed for extra coal underground. At the boundary lines, they would order the crews to keep digging, to gouge out a little extra coal leaving tunnels that went unrecorded.

Regardless of what those old maps showed–the simple fact is that the current management of Quecreek knew there was massive water ahead of “1st Left Section.”

People ask: Isn’t there some way to prevent such a flood?

Of course there is. The media chatters about needing new underground sonar, blah, blah, blah. But the real-world solution is low-tech and well known.

In the years I worked underground, we often cut toward and even into old works. To prevent a flood, you stay hundreds of feet away from the boundary lines. When approaching a flooded mine, you stop production every hour, and you drill ahead horizontally with a thin augur, usually 20 or 30 feet, to make sure there isn’t a hidden tunnel just ahead. When that augur hits water, pipes can be put in to pump it out, before mining resumes.

This is simple, and it is considered routine. But augur drilling stops production for 10 or 15 minutes and cuts that flow of profitable coal about 25 percent a day.

It has come out that Black Wolf had a special permit that allowed them to get as close as 95 feet to the abandoned Saxman works. Meanwhile, in Quecreek’s “1st Left Section,” the miners apparently were not allowed to drill test holes in front of themselves. Instead the miners were ordered to push ahead, uphill, into 50 million gallons of water, backed up 45 feet deep.

It was a cold, calculated management gamble, that almost cost the lives of two workcrews.

All kinds of official investigations will now unfold at Quecreek, as the company owners press to return their operation to production. Some facts may come out, others may be carefully covered up (as usually happens in these cases).

But the untold story here is that capitalism riddles the coal seams with half-worked tunnels and abandoned mines, and then sends new generations back into danger when profitability returns. It is irrational, wasteful, and potentially deadly.

Leaving No Man Behind?

The media played the Quecreek rescue like a remake of Black Hawk Down – as if coal operators and workers are “all in this together,” and as if the whole country now operates according to Hollywood war slogans like “Leave no man behind.”

Listening to that crap, I have to say, it left my stomach in knots.

The coalfields of the U.S. are full of people “left behind”–although this, too, is an untold story, made invisible by the media blindspots.

In southern West Virginia, where I worked, the rich seams of high-quality coking coal were simply shut down in the 1980s as the layoffs hit the steel industry. The workers there had started to dream that maybe life for them might turn out less hard than for their parents. And then, suddenly, without warning, it all shut down.

MacDowell County, for example, was a deserted shell by the mid-1980s, with 90 percent unemployment. Huge mine portals that once employed many hundreds were closed and covered over as meadows. The surrounding coal camps became ghost towns.

The energy and steel corporations were merciless. People were simply abandoned, discarded. They had to leave, or scrape a living any way they could.

Then, when they chose, these same coal companies sometimes opened and closed and reopened dozens of small operations at each location, with isolated crews, gouging around underground in the seams. Or else they switched to stripping the tops off the mountains with earthmovers, recklessly filling the hollers with refuse.

Similar stories are repeated across the coalfields from Alabama to Illinois to southwestern Pennsylvania.

Several major struggles to defend the union ended in defeats–at A.T. Massey in 1985, and Pittston in 1989-90–as coal operators mobilized both police and private armies of hired gun thugs.

One result of all this can be measured in the casualty figures: While the number of miners is dropping, the number of underground deaths has gone up steadily for three years, from 29 deaths in 1998 to 42 last year. The death rate for miners is seven times that of workers generally in the U.S. Meanwhile coal production per worker-hour doubled from 1986 to 1997, from three tons to six.

Not content with that, Bush appointee David Laurisky, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), called for a “change of culture” among federal mine inspectors–to make them more sympathetic to “business concerns.”

In short, while the media praises high-tech “rescue capsules,” the de-unionization and doghole-ization of mining has produced mounting danger.

Meanwhile, the capitalists have left behind the thousands of retired and disabled miners, using a simple financial trick: closing more and more of their union operations. After a quick change of paper ownership, the “new” operators claim it is “un-fair” to expect them to uphold the obligations of “previous” operators. In February 2002, the Supreme Court agreed, 6- 3–saying coal companies should be exempt from paying benefits to miners who retired from operations that were later absorbed in corporate mergers.

The lives of hundreds of thousands of widows, retired miners and disabled workers were casually tossed into turmoil. The average age of a union coal miner today is 50, a whole generation is facing retirement. Meanwhile, the capitalists are coldly tucking the promised pension money into their own pockets.

So: No, we are not “in this together.”

*****

During those long hours when those brothers were trapped below, I slept restlessly, sometimes waking up suddenly in the darkness, thinking of them sealed in by black waters, breathing that stifling air.

This same week, over 110 miners died in a methane explosion at Chengzihe mine in China’s northeast coalfields. In the Ukraine 34 miners barely survived, and many didn’t, when a fire swept their mine half a mile below the surface.

So when those nine men were hoisted into fresh air in Quecreek, my heart rose with them. Far too many have died over the years. It is wonderful to see them escape.

But the celebratory hugs of state officials and coal company owners were impossible to watch.

The dangers and sufferings of this dangerous industry are caused by a heartless system. And those dangers and suffering can be ended only when that system is overthrown and replaced.

Restless capital risked those lives in Pennsylvania. And tomorrow, ten million miners on the planet earth will again descend into coal mines–where capitalists will make outrageous new calculations about “acceptable risk” and “acceptable loss.”
Available online at mikeely.wordpress.com. Send comments to: m1keely (at) yahoo (dot) com

Published: December 2007. Feel free to reprint, distribute or quote this with attribution. This website’s contents are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 U.S. License.

Greek reality under the Troika

Kasama recieved the following piece from the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE).

Social aspects of the Greek Drama and the struggle for a way out

KOE Note: This is a “non paper” for the information of our international friends. Despite been all but exhaustive, it aspires to offer an updated view on the actual social conditions in Greece.

The humanitarian crisis in Greece is worsening day by day as a result of the policies decided by the IMF-EU-ECB Troika and implemented by the puppet tripartite government (composed by the right-wing Nea Dimokratia, the “social democratic” PASOK and the so called “Democratic Left”). The official data that have been published last week by the Hellenic Statistical Authority under the auspices of EUROSTAT, despite been “embellished”, are quite revealing:

UNEMPLOYMENT ALMOST TRIPLED SINCE 2009

The unemployment, which was 9,5% in 2009, before the transformation of Greece into a guinea pig by the Troika and its local lackeys, has jumped to 12,5% in 2010, then to 17,7% in 2011, and now (official data for October 2012) amounts to 26,8%. What makes things even worse is that actually, out of the 1.300.000 unemployed, less than 200.000 receive any form of “unemployment benefit” (the term is rather an euphemism: the “benefit” for the few lucky ones ranges from € 180 to € 468 per month, and is paid for a period of 5 to 12 months, depending on the wage, the length of employment, and the number of dependent members of the family).

EXPLOSION OF POVERTY

The percentage of the population living in conditions of poverty, from 12,1% in 2009 passed to 16,3% in 2010, and in 2011 jumped to 22,9%. Considering that in 2011 a series of social services and benefits (which now have been eliminated) still existed, the report of the Statistical Authority expresses “serious concern” for further explosive increase of the poverty in 2012 and 2013.

NO MORE HEALTH CARE

As nowadays the right to health care depends on the number of days that someone has worked during the previous year, the long-term unemployed and the uninsured workers lose their access to health care. In the meantime, the health services offered to the general population have been reduced, since several public hospitals and prevention centers have been shut down as a result of the cuts (40%) in the health and welfare budget, combined with the introduction of increased fees even for the insured patients. These problems, combined with the critical situation of the public hospitals still functioning (many suffer by tragic shortages in personnel and even in basic material, such as medicines, disinfectants, bandages etc.) and the inability of many citizens (mainly pensioners) to pay the much increased share for their medicaments, has led even the EU’s Centre for Disease Control to warn against an imminent outbreak of viral infections, hospital viruses, contagious diseases, HIV etc.

LACK OF HOUSE HEATING

The rapid decline of the heating oil consumption is another indication of the ongoing extreme pauperization of the population: compared to 2011 (a year that was marked already by a first sharp decrease in heating oil consumption), there is a75% decrease of the consumption in December 2012, despite the cold spell in the biggest part of the country. A large part of the population is suffering today by cold because of the unforeseen successive increase of taxes imposed on heating oil by the Troika and the government, which resulted to the sharp rise of its price (average prices per liter 2009: 0,57 euro, 2010: 0,71 euro, 2011: 0,91 euro, and in 2012: 1,37 euro).

THE SPECTER OF HUNGER RETURNS

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