Mark Jones: The ecology of capitalist intersubjectivity

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Nov 23 08:10:45 MST 1999

Immanent Limits to growth? If you take Marx's view that '[c]apital develops
adequately' on the basis of 'unlimited competition and industrial
production,' [Marx (1973) p.559] and that its purpose is not the production
of goods but of profit -- not use-values, but value -- then there can be no
external limits to capitalist accumulation. [Marx (1976) p.725: 'the
employment of surplus-value as capital, or its reconversion into capital,
is called the accumulation of capital.'] Capital is vampiric: but vampires
don't have any natural life span, do they? 'Money attempted to posit itself
as imperishable value,' Marx said, in the hallucinatory language of the
Grundrisse: 'as eternal value, by relating negatively towards circulation,
i.e. towards the exchange with real wealth, with transitory commodities,
which ... dissolve in fleeting pleasures. Capital ... alternates between
its eternal form in money and its passing form in commodities; permanence
is posited as the only thing it can be ... But capital obtains this ability
only by constantly sucking in living labour as its soul,
vampire-like...'[Marx (1973) p.646] Marx is at pains to develop the idea
that the limits to capitalism can only be internal. It is central to the
closure of his system that this should be so.

At the same time, he gives no theoretical guarantees that in practice
capitalism ever will bump up against its limits. Those who think he did,
and that subsequent history therefore disproved him, are wrong. For
Marxism, as with neo-classical economics, there are tendencies ... and
counter-tendencies. Which wins out, history will decide. Marx said 'the
integument must burst asunder' and his work is infused with that thought,
but far from taking it for granted, he endeavours to find out why it may
NOT happen, i.e., what are the preconditions for equilibrium. His attempt
to define equilibrium states led Marx to devise models of capitalism -- in
fact he was the first macroeconomist, the first to utilise multi-sector
modelling. Almost single-handed, Marx made equilibrium the main subject of
study among a generation of political economists. Marx concluded that over
time two related things will happen: despite frequent crises, capital will
go on accumulating until it confronts us with an alternative world of
mysterious and potent technologies, embodied in a gigantic accumulation of
technical and industrial processes, machinery and networks. Confronting
this social-other is the inflated reserve army of labour. This
confrontation is the presence of history in Marx, for it is obvious that
this strange bifurcatory world cannot last, although it was never clear to
Marx or his successors what would come after; Lenin and the Bolsheviks
never rose above capitalism's own programme of urbanisation and factories.
Equilibrium is real, but it conceals an inexorable historical progression.
'The greater the social wealth [Marx said], the functioning of capital, the
extent and energy of its growth, and therefore also the greater the
absolute mass of the proletariat and the productivity of its labour, the
greater is the industrial reserve army... The more extensive, finally, the
pauperized sections of the working class and the industrial reserve army,
the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of
capitalist accumulation.' [Marx (1973) p.798] And still more clearly:
'Accumulation of capital is therefore multiplication of the
proletariat'[Marx (1976) p.764]. The result a century later is a world
where less than 200 million employees of transnational corporations and big
capital produce three-quarters of the profit which valorizes the world's
social capital, while four billion workers and landless peasants form a
largely-immiserated mass of humankind with an average income of less than
$5,000 per annum, one billion on less than a dollar a day. Endless
population growth pose its own problems. Eco-catastrophe seems likely
before capital is destroyed by its internal contradictions. Ecological
damage and Malthusian limits are on Marx's agenda. But these are not the
limit-point he means when he says 'the integument must burst asunder'.
Internal contradictions -- falling rate of profit, rising organic
composition of capital, creation of a reserve army of labour --form the
limits to growth. Marx did anticipate environmental destruction as an
external limit. Examples of ancient world collapses due to salinisation,
desertification, deforestation were there. The impact of capitalist
agriculture on English soil fertility was also clear. If the use of clove
and legumes in the Agrarian Revolution of the 18th C had fixed nitrogen in
depleted soils, ensuring adequate harvests for the burgeoning cities of the
Industrial Revolution, by the mid 19th C these gains had been lost and
English agriculture begin to import guano in competition with European
powers. This race to overcome soil depletion has characterised capitalist
agriculture and is still its central drama.

Why did Marx not incorporate these externalities into his totalising social
logic of capitalist accumulation? His work was incomplete, the planned
studies of the formation of classes, of the state, and of imperialism, left
as sketches and notes; the studies in natural science and mathematics still
more preliminary. Marx's views on Darwin and the German agronomist Liebig
('more important than all the economists') leave no doubt that he would
have continued this work if he'd had time. But Marx left us all that is
needed to continue. Capitalist accumulation reproduces its contradictions
in more intense forms. Therefore the progress of capitalist science and
technology, reflected in increased factor productivity, would never be
sufficient to jerk the system free of its limits. No matter how much
agronomy increased soil fertility, the gains would inevitably be absorbed
by accumulation itself. Gains are short-term and illusory and only bring
closer the day of reckoning, when accumulated environmental deficits result
in insurmountable, final crisis. Marx was thus a deep ecologist, sure that
the logic of accumulation is bound to lead to planetary disaster unless
capitalism is displaced by communism. The counter-arguments to Marxian
doomsaying depend upon continuing uncertainty about the long-term outcome
of capitalist accumulation. The uncertainties operate at all levels. If
population stabilises and the demographic transition does happen, for
example, then Marx's predictions about increasing reserve armies of labour
will be falsified. In this case, sustainable capitalism seems possible
after all. If the world's population peaks and stabilises, as many
demographers predict [IIASA, The Future Population of the World (1996)] --
and at the same time capitalism converts to renewable energy-systems, as
the World Bank now says it can [Fuel for Thought: A New Environmental
Strategy for the Energy Sector, World Bank, draft, June 1998] then what's
to stop capitalism continuing in a stable state? That's one prognosis:
capitalism will survive the upheavals of the next decades and in a century
or so the world will have uniform high standards of life.

People will enjoy near- immortality amid wired-up techno-splendour.
Enthusiasts from as Wired! argue that nothing short of runaway warming or
general nuclear war can prevent this utopia. Of course the fate of the
planet has possibly already been decided by anthropogenic changes to the
ocean conveyor. But short of that, capitalism can survive almost anything:
Massive human die-offs, the collapse of entire regions (Russia, Africa) --
all this is either new business opportunities, or can be ignored as evil
but unavoidable friction-costs. Markets can be restructured to favour
green-capitalism. Pollution- permits will drain the carbon from the energy
system. Even if Marx was right and capitalism must Grow or Die, growth will
be virtualised and GNP dematerialised as services grow, informatics
substitute for matter and energy per unit of output falls. Is this another
way Marx's predictions might be falsified? Even Herman Daly believes in the
sustainable market-based economy. Crisis gives capital the chance to retire
obsolete plant and restructure with 'greener' systems. It no longer greatly
fears popular resistance, which can be recuperated. Systemic shocks, if
severe enough, produce not revolt but passivity, withdrawal and
helplessness, as in Russia. The extent of the collapse has paralysed
collective responses and reduced the population to socially-excluded
spectators at the bacchanalia of the criminal oligarchy. Hopelessness,
despair and impotent passivity is expected; the West counts on it, and that
is clear from many public pronouncements. The strategy of permitting the
Russian people to sink or swim was deliberate. Preoccupied with the
problems of immediate survival, and lacking any faith in popular
institutions, Russians could not resist what was done to them, endure in
silence hunger and mass death. In the socially-inclusive and
politically-integrated core countries, the destruction of obsoleted
proletariats, squeezing of welfare budgets and widening of income and
wealth differentials has continued for two decades without serious
resistance. Meanwhile efforts have been made in the ideo-cultural sphere to
construct new personality-templates and to adjust mass- psychology

Capitalism has long ago abandoned universalist ideas of development and
rising standards for all. No-one objects. Under the guise of abandoning the
neurosis, guilt and parsimony of the patriarchal personality, which was a
principal social invention of 19th century capitalism, and stimulated by
the mass conscription of women into the labour-force, there has been a
resolute attempt to deconstruct the family as a residual instance of
solidarity against capital, and to pull away the psychic supports of a
personality-template organised around a psychic centre of sacrifice,
heterosexual gender identity, sexual control and repression of the
feminine. In its place we are witnessing the creation of a new
personality-type adequate to global capital which has subordinated the
family as well as the nation, commoditising their functions and liquidating
the arsenal of atavistic symbols of community, mystery, sacrifice and
other- directed struggle, seen as no longer required to legitimise
bourgeois hegemony and objectively now only the rags of archaic
value-system, absorbed by the deceitful misogynies of the New Right and no
more than a menace to Neo-liberalism. The new ludic, androgynous
personality, playful, self-regarding, narcissistic perhaps, is meant to be
incapable of solidarity or commitment; post-modern feminism has made of the
great feminist issues a study in misanthropic self-glorification and
gender-hatred. Conceiving of emancipation as freedom from biology
(universally misunderstood as 'sociobiology' by writers like Judith Butler,
Teresa de Lauretis, Kaja Silverman, whose followers amplify their own
profound ignorance of real science), they wilfully reject any notion of
genetic determination of the personality or gender-identity. Only a
dramatic social crisis, removing many social support- systems and throwing
individuals back on their own resources, is likely to revive collective
forms of activity which in any case are likely to seem contradictory,
anachronistic and ineffective, even ludicrously so.

The introjection of capitalist-spectacle has overwhelmed forms of mass
resistance even in semi-colonial peripheries where people have far less to
gain from collusion; nevertheless the symbolic power of capital and its
self- aggrandising brand name-imagery and its pervasive suasion of
self-provision, even in circumstances where no form of self-help makes any
sense, has swept all before it. The counter-revolution in Russia has
emboldened capital to persevere in its deconstruction of residues of older
forms of proletarian or class-based subjectivity. At the same time, the
leading imperialist countries retain strong and socially-inclusive states.
In France, Australia and Germany the centre-right has begun to collapse
under the insidious pressure of long-term deflation and chronic high
unemployment; in these countries, as also in Britain, Italy and the USA, it
will be left to centre-left populist governments of the Blair type to bear
the brunt of the impending slump, an economic tsunami which will sweep
across the world market and strengthen right-populist movements, backed by
finance capital. Thus, strong states may survive and become more repressive
in the short term; elsewhere, in parts of Asia, the former Soviet Union,
Africa and Latin America, states will weaken and sometimes collapse.

The reconsolidation of world imperialism in one or two super centres
requires a radical redistribution of the power and reach of states. At the
same time, Manuel Castell's visions of an inverted, global gulag of
enclaves and networks of wealth, disregarding borders and cutting across
the historic and spatial limits of every ethnos, will also appear to be a
determining instance of global, post-national capitalism. Overarching
eco-crises, combining energy and water shortages with flooding of densely
populated coastal regions and with massive new effects of anthropogenic
climate change, will further darken this picture of unprecedented extremes
of squalor and ostentatious wealth, and further deepen the polarisation of
humankind, its prirutal degradation and humiliation, its propensity for war
and for tribalism, social nihilism, the mass destruction of culture. This
is the world of exterminism, the tnanatocracy of late imperialism. The
rediscovery of the ecological imperative at the heart of Marxism enables us
to reconsider its emancipatory agenda. Instead of urbanisation and
development, future revolution will inaugurate a historical cycle of
defending and repairing ecological networks and of reconfiguring our
absorption of the landscape and our construction of locales, based on
reordered architectures of space and time and radically different uses of
energy inputs. The task of reversing entropy will prove extraordinarily
complex and challenging and entails reversing four millennia of urbanisation.

Taking the energy and materials flows out of the 'urban gulag',
reconverting exurbia into truly ruralised space-time and energy flows
(dismantling the suburbs, or allowing ecosystems to encroach on them and
reabsorb them) -- these will be the forms of reappropriation of wealth, the
forms of redistribution of power and privilege, and the way in which 'the
countryside surrounds the city'. This is to invert the strategic
preoccupations of Bolshevik Marxism. It is to repudiate the
Marxism-Leninism which John Gray, author of 'False Dawn', defines this way:
"Classical Marxism, its Soviet embodiment, and western neo-liberalism, also
share a cavalier attitude to ecological and environmental limits. They are
radical technological optimists - arguing that whatever the short-run
damage to the environment, it will be more than compensated for by the
advancement which rapid industrialisation and the displacement of older
types of economic life allow. So both of these philosophies embody a
radically modernist attitude to humankind's relations with the earth, to
cultural forms and types of economic life standing in the way of its
increasing mastery." [New Times, Number 146, 9 May 1998] In fact blind
faith in progress is already confined to crackpots like Julian Simon and
Rush Limbaugh. Instead of the golden uplands of communist plenty we faced a
future of resource-depletion, ecosphere collapse and a potential inability
to sustain the exurban infrastructures of the post-modern city. Socialism
is not even a question of redistribution; there may be nothing to
distribute. As was shown in Russia, when urban systems begin unravelling
they do so with terrifying speed and leave little behind. Cities are
parasitic as they always have been. They depend upon enormous fluxes of
energy and material inputs. They give back only entropic waste: that, and
improved technology. If the technology starts to lag behind the accumulated
disorder which increasing complexity brings, then cities swiftly become
unsustainable. But there is no longer a viable countryside to retreat to.

The exurban post-modern society has been involuted, decanted itself into
the country and made of wilderness a besieged enclave within itself. We are
tied to the fate of the city as we have never been, the more so now that
more than half the world's bloated human population live in cities, as Marx
predicted. Yet the city is no longer viable. It has to be replaced. That's
the scale of the challenge, the problem and the drama of the era of
transition. Capitalist production is simultaneously the production of
'surplus' population; capitalist enrichment of the few is always and
everywhere also the pauperisation of the majority. Marx called the
production of surplus population, 'the absolute general law of capitalist
accumulation'.(Cap I p798, Penguin ed.).

This 'absolute general law' of population is central to understanding the
conjuncture: 'The production of a relative surplus population, or the
setting free of workers, therefore proceeds more rapidly than the technical
transformation of the process of production that accompanies the advance of
accumulation ... in proportion as the productivity of labour increases,
capital increases its supply of labour more quickly than its demand for
workers'. (p789) 'The constant movement towards the towns presupposes, in
the countryside itself, a constant latent surplus population, the extent of
which only becomes evident at those exceptional times when its distribution
channels are wide open... The third category of the relative surplus
population is the stagnant population...' (p796). It is impossible to
analyse tidal movements of people which are at the heart of so-called
immigration crises, without understanding the general law of population in
the first place. That is why Marx spent so much time analysing the matter.
Immigration into the US is the direct result of the previous creation of a
surplus population, principally by driving peasants off the land in the
process of extending capitalist agriculture.

There is a one-to-one connection between the aggressive extension of
monopolised agriculture in the oppressed peripheral countries, and the
creation of the megacities in the South which are the sumps of stagnant
surplus population, and the ultimate source of contemporary tidal
immigration into the US, Europe etc. The argument from social justice
begins with the proposition that as of now, we have enough food production
capacity to feed people all over the world comfortably. All that is needed
is more equitable distribution, meaning among other things less meat in
Western diets. This is the classic Green argument: if we eat more wholesome
beans and vegetarian foods, there is enough food for everybody. But it is
utopian. The call for social justice involves not just redistribution, but
a structural change in the mode of food production itself. What will this
change entail, and how can it be implemented? Once you start to examine the
problem in detail, you discover that the level of food production we have
today, which is historically very high, depends upon the inputs which the
total capitalist system provides: everything from chemical inputs,
pharmaceutical, pesticides, stock breeding, biotech -- to distribution
methods, the vertical organisation of agriculture, the existence of a large
scale, powerful agronomy research sector, the existence of sufficient
energy inputs etc.

Third World food depends on the 'Green Revolution' in agriculture which is
itself just an aspect of modern capitalism. This 'Green Revolution' which
produces an abundance of food also produces new 'surplus' populations,
i.e., former peasants made landless and driven into the cities. But if
people object on spurious grounds even to the terminology 'surplus
population' the we are unable even to define the problem, which is that the
productivity of modern capitalist agriculture creates excess population as
a by-product. This surplus population is a hostage to imperialism and it
guarantees that modern capitalist agriculture, far from becoming
sustainable or green/organic, will be still more intensified, capitalised,
and imbued with the technologies of gene- modification, germplasm
patenting, chemical saturation of soils etc.: because there will be no
other way to feed the hostage populations of the megacities which their
very process creates. Pools of hunger, scarcity, malnutrition, epidemic
disease etc. are produced by capitalism alongside and together with the
enclaves of prosperity.

Over-population confronts the world with multiform crises whose scale and
intensity make alternatives to capitalism almost unthinkable. Socialism's
law of population must begin with the fact that the population cannot
exceed Earth's carrying capacity, and all economic processes including food
production must be sustainable. The population already exceeds carrying
capacity, yet it may rise to 10 bn. within forty years. This huge surplus
population will be hostage to capitalist agronomy, science and technology,
to monopolised agribusiness with its complete dependence on unsustainable
technologies, on chemical and pharmaceutical inputs, biotechnology and
gene-manipulation, to the monopolistic food producing centres which will be
concentrated in the temperate zones of the rich North. The tempo of change,
too swift to plan or vary; and the structural imbalances which will only
deepen over time, make this fate seem all the more inescapable. But this
only means that capitalism's crises will become still more explosive and
dangerous. How new is post-postmodernism? It is argued of the 'new' pomo
elite "that there has been a transformation of the political class in the
period following the End of the Cold War. The argument runs like this: not
that there has been a transformation of capitalism, in toto, but that the
changes are profound, and that it is wrong to minimise them. Of course the
social class of capitalists, as a spontaneously self-reproducing class is
not so turmoil-ridden as the political elite that serves them. But all the
same the changes even in the way that business is done seem marked ... thus
it is pointed out just how useless the signposts of 'left' or 'right' are
in the new political landscape.

Did the right win the cold war? Then how come they were all bounced out of
office? Is Bill Clinton/Tony Blair right-wing or left wing - your answer to
that question will tell us more about where you stand in the political
spectrum than about them. There is in any event always a generational
turnover in the elite. Just as the elites of the eighties grew up in the
forties (Bush being the last president to serve in the Second WW, Thatcher
the last prime minister to have lived through it), today's rulers cut their
teeth in the sixties and even seventies, smoking pot at Oxford, or playing
in a pop band there. But while that generational turnover is just a fact of
life, what givs it special pertinence is the exhaustion of the old
political and cultural framework that was put together in the Cold War..."
[the foregoing is culled from an elist exchange of views] But how real is
this change in the formation and mindset of elites, and how much is just
spectacle, just for show? It was Prime Minister Harold Wilson who gave the
Beatles the MBE in the 'Swinging Sixties'.

Homosexual and abortion rights arrived in 1967 in the UK. John Profumo, a
Tory War Minister, employed Christine Keeler and allegedly smoked dope
before that; and let's face it, homosexuality, sexual freedom, polygamy and
monogamy, recreational drugs, and any other hallmark you can apply to pomo
swingers like Bill and (maybe) Tony, have been the preogatives of the
ruling class in Britain and elsewhere since before Byron, Swinburne, the
Restorationists, John Donne, Chaucer-- hell, you can go back to Richard The
Lionheart, whose crusaders bought hashish off the Arabs... It is much more
useful to examine the construction of mass sexual psychology, to find clues
to the historical fluxes between alternately more permissive and more
austere moral climates. And a key question this century anyway is control
of fertility. Fertility and mortality rates are obviously important
determinants of female participation in the labour force. A majority of
American women did outwork in the C19; ditto Chinese and English women for
a millenium before that; the Chinese used herbal oral contraceptives, with
some degree of efficacy in the C17; Chinese and Persian WOMEN controlled
much of the silk trade and often owned the workshops (their Mongol
conquerors accorded women still more equality; they rode alongside their men).

But 19th C England was the first society to escape Malthusian balance --
and to put women en masse into factories. Falling mortality rates produced
a population explosion, which however began to abate early this century.
The reasons why bear examination. What led to the declining fertility rates
which complement declining mortality and morbidity rates? Contraception is
the usual answer, but it is wrong. It was not available. That's the
difference with today. By the 1890s controlling fertility had become a
vital question, and a dramatic and often traumatic question, of great
importance to individuals as well as whole classes. It was directly related
to rising or declining social opportunity, and the chance of
self-betterment. A powerful explanation of 'Victorian' repressive sexuality
is that it was the product of perceived new opportunities, in the absence
of effective contraception. There were strong incentives for working and
lower middle class people to internalise Victorian values. I'll say more on
that in a moment. The changes which brought 'permissiveness' in the Sixties
were based on the Pill not on any mysterious transformation in elite
consciousness. It went with the upsurge of postwar literacy and the advent
of near-universal accessibility to further and higher education, which did
give some of the socially-subaltern cohorts more opportunity to progress
into political and business elites; that and the disintegration of Fordism
and decompositon of mass blue collar production cycles/working classes.
Social co-optation of the lower classes was a significant underlying reason
for 'permissiveness', but paradoxically the same desire to cross class
boundaries was at work in the moral austerity of the late 19th C. The
introjection of Victorian Sam Smiles values into the English w/c,
previously renowned for its Hogarthian shiftless, feckless,
morally-dissolute, licentious, drunken and brawling nature, was not merely
the enforced substitution of Methodism for booze, but was also an adaptive
response to perceived greater social possibilities resulting from
restraint. Where a century before, more children was a key to security in
later life, by the end of the last century the opposite was clearly true.
But the mechanisms of birth control were poor or absent, thus placing a
premium on abstinence as the most reliable way to keep family size down. A
pathbreaking study of the whys and wherefores of fertility change in
Britain is Simon Szreter's "Fertility, class and gender in Britain
1860-1940" (Cambridge U.P. 1996). Szreter shows that rubber and chemicals
do not explain much of the early falls in the birthrate. You have to look
elsewhere, at conditioned and internalised forms of psychosexual repression
and control. These mechanisms also underpinned not only the cult of
property-acquisition and consumerism which defines the repressive
desublimation of western libido, but also and just as conveniently, which
powered its machismatic inversion: the assumption of the 'White Man's
Burden', so essential to victorian imperialism. Thus trends originating in
the Reformation reached their climacteric in the half century before WW2,
and thus did Victorian capitalism construct sexuality; unbundling that
construct has been the work of the entire postwar period.

"The English census of 1911 is often called the 'fertility census', because
the census-forms contained special additional questions. Households had to
report on how many children had so far been born into unions. Over the next
decade or so Dr T.H.C. Stevenson, superintendent of statistics at the
General Register Office, worked on the answers to these special questions,
seeking to analyse the figures according to a particular categorisation of
English social classes. This class scheme was to prove momentous beyond
anything Stevenson could have foreseen: for him at the time its relation to
fertility was simply a very pleasing confirmation of what he had already
believed about the nation's sex-life. Stevenson's scheme was nothing less
than the five-tier, one-dimensional, occupation-based division of classes
which remains, in essence, orthodox and official in the present day, eighty
years later. Stevenson's version went as follows: I Professional, II
Intermediate, III Skilled Manual, IV Intermediate, V Unskilled Manual.
There have been lots of complaints from historians over the years about the
inadequacy of this list, but with slight revisions it remains ascendant.
Stevenson's emphasis on occupation and skills had at first been a response
to the agenda set by eugenicists, whose hereditarian theories were being
increasingly resisted, according to Szreter, by a 'confident, revitalized
and more comprehensive environmentalist analysis' in institutions of social
policy such as the GRO. The eugenicists said that low skills and high
fertility were linked, leading to 'race suicide'.

Given his environmentalist views, Stevenson may have been dismayed when he
saw that the linkage predicted by the eugenicists in fact held. But he also
saw an alternative line of argument, which accepted the linkage but
overtrumped the hereditarian explanation with an impeccably
environmentalist one. Birth-control was the key. It was 'diffusing' slowly
from the educated and prosperous in a gradient through the less educated
and poorer ranks." (from a review of Szreter by Michael Mason). Now, the
question is, was Stevenson right, as generations of policy-makers,
historians and sociologists have all assumed? Was it birth control
techniques which were being diffused -- or something else? Mason summarises
Szreter's argument like this: "Szreter is confident that Stevenson was
wrong, even on his own showing. The argument involved here is somewhat
elaborate. Stevenson, and demographers ever since, have held that true
birth-control - in the sense of full sexual relations between partners
performed with the deliberate adjunct of devices and substances believed to
prevent conception - will most clearly show up in the statistics in the
'stopping' rather than 'spacing' of births. Large numbers of couples will
be detectable as at first producing children at something like the
biologically maximum rate - and then producing no more. Stevenson claimed
that stopping behaviour was discernible as 'diffusing' in the English
social classes across time.

The published data of 1911 do not permit Szreter to check this claim for
couples who through ageing or death had finished having families by this
date (the larger category), but he is able to perform the neat trick of
checking it for the smaller category of younger couples who were still
producing children. We can work out if this group, at least, was 'spacing'
or 'stopping'. The answer is that "They were spacing. They do not exhibit
the hallmark of birth-control required by Stevenson. There is an obvious
way to rescue Stevenson at this point, in his own despite. Why can't
spacing be  a token of artefactually controlled conception, just as much as
stopping? Szreter does not rest his case only on a refutation of Stevenson,
on his own terms. He agrees that spacing of births could in principle be
the result of birth-control. But he has drawn a further and more profound
observation from the publish ed tables of the 1911 census. This is that low
fertility achieved by spacing correlates with late marriage. Couples of
child-bearing age who were conceiving rather infrequently were also likely
to have postponed getting married." Mason adds: "This is probably the most
important single result to emerge from Szreter's research, and it paves the
way for his own general theory of family sexuality in the years around and
after 1911, which occupies the final third of his book. It was, according t
o Szreter, a 'culture of abstinence', influential right through to Philip
Larkin's 1963 ('Sexual intercourse began'), which mainly drove down the
fertility of England and Wales. On this account, diffusionism is out of the
window. There was no wisdom about obtaining and using certain devices and
substances which needed to percolate down from the privileged to the less
privileged. Moreover, the thinking which impelled couples to resort to
birth-control via 'abstinence' was, according to Szreter, one which
wouldn't yield a simple correlation with social rank.

Couples took steps to reduce numbers of conceptions in response to the
'perceived relative cost' of childbearing." It is the subsequent
availability of cheap and effective female contraception which has
transformed matters by relieving the psychological burden placed on couples
earlier in the century. The process of dissolution of the family is also
not linear and straightforward, as we now even from Laslett's 'World We
Have Lost'. Small 'nuclear' families have been normative in England since
the 14th C. And to speak of the 'explosion of the nuclear family' does is
to exaggerate a phenomenon which is not yet universal and may never be
altho it is true that in some parts of England and Wales, more children are
born out of wedlock than in wedlock, that is still a large minority) and
secondly to misstate the causes, which are material, and are bound up with
the restructuring of the working class which goes in tandem with the
retructuring of production itself. Female labour is more congenial for many
modern assembly line processes, while the demand for heavy manual labour
has almost completely disappeared. Changes in sexuality, in the empowerment
of women, in the female image and self-imaging, in the growth of
third-sexing and androgyny as powerful subliminal messages in mass market
advertising, Hollywood and culture generally, all have their origins in
this constellation of historically-mediated factors which together
constitute sexuality and its mass psychology. Undoubtedly the process has
much further to go, and an all-out asssault by capital upon human sexual
reproduction is just now gathering pace (the Times today reports the first
successful cloning of mice, which apparently much more than with Dolly the
sheep is an indicator that human cloning is close at hand).

What Fred Halliday called a "Second Cold war - both abroad, and at home in
the return of 'Victorian Values' (ie sexism and heterosexism), imperial
war-mongering, and a re-emphasis upon tradition" seems to me the complete
opposite of what has actually happened, which is a further loosening of
those traditional ties. Culture remains an epiphenomenon of the capitalist
mode of production, a shadow that history casts on the wall. Cultural
change is reflexive and the range of its autonomy far more circumscribed
than people understand or acknowledge. It is the immanent laws of motion of
capital which determine the limits of bourgeois culture and their forms.
Postmodernism's specification of the individual, its transcendental
subjectivity, paradoxically rooted in the rejection of the subject
(Baudrillard), or in the construction of the subject as mere emblem of
conflicting forces (Foucault), or in the reduction of the subject to a text
without significance, a sermon with no auditor (Derrida), is actually a
prefiguring of the relocation of the individual in a new ecology of
space-time, one hopelessly beyond capital's grasp; a Rousseauan prefiguring
of an absent social space between subject and World; an Aristotelian
process of self-realisation, which capital prefigures because it has no
choice because this historical inversion is now inescapable and necessary,
and forms the coterminous realm of individual and World known as Communism.

Mark Jones Moderator, Leninist-International listserv November 1999

To subscribe to Leninist-International send <subscribe
leninist-international> to <majordomo at>

Louis Proyect

(The Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list