Corporations or Capitalists? was Re: exploitation

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Mon Jun 18 21:59:06 MDT 2001

Thank you Carrol, your comments are timely and to the point. The bourgeois
class has changed remarkably in a relatively short time and I don't pretend
to have many answers.

Your point is true in terms of ownership corporations do not own
themselves, far from it. To the degree they have socialisied themselves
their owners are the share-holders, many of whom by no stretch of the
imagination are bourgeois.

But are they the actual owners? Now this is within context of your
criticism, capital does not exist without people, it is people who give it
life, but can things be arranged where capital appears to have life an
ultimate fetishism. It returns to the real owners which the normal response
is that they are the large portfolio owners but in a real sense this is not
true either, though this is the modern bourgeois class.

Now I don't know about the original debates you refer to, but I will put
this notionally to you. In order to socialise capital ownership the
bourgeoisie made the state the nominal owner while the shareholder had a
right to the dividends. This would seem a strange interpretation but I make
this point, the owner of any form of property has as last resort the right
to use or abuse the property held. Strangely enough the only owner who fits
this bill is the state which determines just how far a public company can
be used or abused - if the state so wishes the directors are bound by
sanctions to obey.

Obviously our present states take this duty very lightly indeed, but how
could they otherwise being a bourgeois state. But now lest turn back to the
nominal share owners. The state allows under ordinary circumstance the
biggest share owner to place their nominees into management. This is how
things get articulated in the real world , by real people just as you
rightly point out.

However, the bourgeoisie are a greedy lot, untradable shares glue them too
closely to particular capital, what they want is to become apart of
universal capital (an appearance not a reality) the tradability of shares
is their important aspect. In this trade capital apparent moves, in this
trade it appears to have a life of its own, what is more a life only
tenuously connected to the grubby realities of actually making profits.

My point is that these real bourgeosie can mimick capital quite easily by
dispensing one lot of share holding and grabbing another - they can do this
globally, even though the national borders define the nature of each share
and they can do this almost instantly.

This is what I mean by how capital dominates states. Even when the shares
stay more or less within one set of borders, the movement of large
bourgeoisie in the stratosphere of world financial capital has an immediate
effect. For this to happen the actual bourgeois need never leave his/her
home, yet the effect over governments and what appears to be completely out
of their control is real enough.

>Greg, just a note on a problem here. Back in the early 1970s there was
>an extensive debate, published in the journal _Socialist Revolution_
>(which soon changed its name to Socialist Review, then to the even more
>innocuous SR) on the subject of Who Owns the Corporations? The answer to
>that is important, but no way near as important than recognizing that
>corporations DO NOT own themselves: at some point they are owned by
>people with eyes and legs and breakfast preferences, etc. As on
>contributor to the debate entitled his article (quoted from memory):
>"Who Owns the Corporations? Capitalists Own the Corporations."
>The U.S. Supreme Court long ago perpetrated the legal fiction that
>corporations were persons and entitled to the rights endowed on persons
>by the 14th amendment (and doubtless other legal systems have done the
>same), but in analyzing the world we should not automatically accept the
>U.S. Supreme Court as dogma. Some capitalists are indeed (over their
>life span) "international," but on the whole, capitalists (however they
>may share ownership of a given corp with each other) are still pretty
>tied to particular nation states.
>Your argument may still be correct, but expressed as above it is

Carrol, in some ways I am satisfied with your comment and in others not so.
One of the problems with discussing any of this is of course the fantasies
manufactured by the bourgeoisie and disseminated via the media. Hard
capital does not fly anywhere, means of production are solid and immobile
(for the most part), through credit financial capital moves and moves so
quickly that it can be said that it has no natural home even if for
convenience it congregates in some currencies and shares and ignores
others. The bourgeois for her/his jetting about is as virtually immobile as
the means of production (the limits of flesh and blood).

Where things differ from the past is that big capitalists like Morgan,
personally owned the companies (at least in owning non-tradable shares, or
shares which by the very act of selling would lose him capital), more over
while he had foreign interests, there was no getting away from his overall
subservience to the US state - to me the classical imperialist relationship.

However, universalised and instant share trading (only possible with
computers - many to many communications) and the socialisation into public
shares of just about every capital property form, creates quite a different
situation. Now capital not only appears to stand oustide of states, but the
financial part, the flightiest and therefore the determining part of
whether one place does better than another, this actually does stand
outside states by any practical measure.

There is an illusionary and real part to this, the illusion is that capital
therefore looses all human qualities, the reality is that this appearance
is supported by the removed and many filtered nature of its actual
movements - big bourgeois are big, but not independent of much smaller
capitals - it is the credit nature of the capital that allows big bourgeois
moves but also ties them to massively complex relationships to other
capitals, move in the wrong direction and you could cease being a big
bourgeois, move in the right direction and you will get bigger, but only by
accumulating more complex strings.

By nature of this all states are subject to international financial capital
and its moves, this is what throws out the Lenin's imperialism where the
logic could only be that national financial capital (even its international
credit) depended on the imperial home state and was expressed by it. Lenin
allows us to understand fascism and its rise, national liberation, but not
the situation today (I mean this in terms of his theory of imperialism),
the logic has passed beyond the highest stage of private capitalism into
socialised capitalism.

I don't know if this helps, but what you write is important because it
refocuses back onto a living class and not mere abstract capital. My
conclusion would be that while the movements of big capital are personified
in the actual portfolio owning bourgeoisie, the relation between them and
the actual capital is attenuated by many things not the least their ability
to change their portfolio.

Bourgeois arrogance is rife, they have obtained a god-like personae, they
are the free men and women, Anne Ryand's hero in a pinstripped suit bound
by no earthly chains - however most of it is illusion brought about by the
particular property form of capital, their power is immense, but their
power base is rotten is how I would see things now. Ownership of the actual
means of production has been vested in the local states, ownership to
profits is available through shares and the shares themselves are the
foundations of credit and it is this credit which is actually traded around
the world transformed into a myriad of different appearances.

Finance capital as moving credit is global, but all the bourgeoisie have
actually gloablised is just some bits flowing from computer to computer,
after all that is all that credit is a, reputation turned to paper, traded
as an object by becoming bytes and transformed back into paper so that the
holder of it gains the reputation of the accumulated credit - most of the
time it never becomes money which is used merely as an accounting tool. The
individual gains immense power over states because this much needed credit
can so easily go elsewhere, the bourgeois need never move.

It looks like old fashioned imperialism, because states act in the
interests of the bourgeoisie in the time honoured fashion, but the
relationship to the state has changed, it is not their board of directors,
rather a few big bourgeois are the effective board of directors of the
state. I suggest this is the number one reason why social hegemony via the
state has collapsed around the world and why a US President so corrupt and
stupid can simply fiddle the vote, more or less in the open, to get elected
and why even when this is known it is not even a scandal. Bush was picked
exactly like any other CEO - this was not the case in the past where the
political leader held together social hegemony in order to express
bourgeois interests.

Carrol I don't know if I have really addressed you concerns, I will from
time to time adopt sloppy expression and actually appreciate being caught
out and been forced to reformulate, I don't know if I have done this well,
however the question of exactly what is ownership in this period is not
likely to be settled quickly as it touches on so much that is distinct
about our current period.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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