On Nestor's "analysis"

Julio Huato juliohuato at SPAMhotmail.com
Wed May 9 21:38:51 MDT 2001


Charles Brown writes:

>CB: Without the protection by the state power, the capitalists would not
>last very long. As discussed below, your use of "essential" is not a
>Marxist concept.
>

The first sentence is an anarchist myth.  Marx demolished it in Poverty of
Philosophy and Engels in Anti-Duhring.  In Mexico, without the protection of
the state power, capitalism would reconstitute its state power.  What state
power is protecting the drug cartels?  Yet, they are challenging the state
power in the US.  They have created from scratch or coopting an organized
force.  That's how virulent economic capitalist compulsion is.  State power
follows capitalist reproduction, not the other way round.

And let's not argue about what the term 'essence' means.  Still, it is your
idea of capitalism as essentially state power which is alien to Marx.  Under
capitalism, laws and their enforcement express economic need.  Not the other
way round.  Read Marx's description in Capital of the formation of laws that
sanctioned commodity exchange as derived from the customary repetition of
commodity production and exchange.  See also Marx's response to Proudhon's
idea that property is pure theft in Poverty of Philosophy.

If you prefer, let me not use the term 'essence'.  The distinctive
characteristic of capitalism -- the one without which capitalism would not
be itself -- is economic compulsion.  That's precisely what distinguishes
capitalism from other exploitive modes of production.

Capitalist production is based, not on extra-economic compulsion, like
slavery or feudalism, but on the separation between the direct producers and
the ownership of the material conditions of production. And the dynamism of
capitalist production, as compared to other modes of production, depends
crucially on this characteristic.

The difference between capitalism and other exploitive modes of production
is not the appropriation of surplus labor by the class of owners, but the
specific way in which it is appropriated.  Exploitation under capitalism is
mediated by economic compulsion.  If as a rule it is appropriated
forcefully, then it is not capitalism.  It is something else.

>CB: Your notion of the essential or essence does not inform practical
>critical activity to overthrow capitalism.

It does inform practice.  If the essence of capitalism is economic
compulsion, then the abolition of capitalism does not consist, as Lenin
explained in his many writings on the NEP, of the mere conquest of power and
expropriation of the capitalists.  It doesn't consist either on organizing
some planned economy.  Capitalism, Lenin wrote, emerges spontaneously out of
commodity production, which also emerges spontaneously dissolving
precapitalist modes of production.  Fetishizing the conquest of power and
forceful expropriation comes from this misunderstanding.

If overthrowing capitalism consists of conquering power and forbidding
capitalist ownership, how come Lenin had to allow what he called 'state
capitalism', 'private capitalism', etc. in the NEP period?  Wasn't the state
power that protected capitalism already defeated.  If so, how can one talk
about capitalism if its essence has been destroyed?  It flows from your
story the idea that, if capitalism lacks the backup of state power, then it
is dead.

>  A ruling class must hold state power as a NECESSARY  condition of the
>reproduction of its mode of production. The capitalist ruling class is not
>an exception to this generalization.  But for capitalist state power, no
>capitalist economic reproduction. Capitalist reproduction implies
>capitalist state power. That is what is important about the relationship
>between state power and capitalist reproduction to the working class
>struggle, for it informs us that we must win state power in order to end
>capitalism , i.e. end capitalist economic reproduction.  We cannot aim only
>to control capitalist economic reproduction, as if such a strategy without
>regard for state power could abolish capitalism.
>

The trick is that you say 'the ruling class'.  The important thing is that a
state power in charge of protecting specific capitalist ownership is not a
necessary condition for capitalist reproduction.  Capitalist reproduction
took place by itself for centuries, grew and became a formidable force,
without having state power specifically aimed to protect it.  That's at
least since the 16th century up to the Napoleonic wars in Europe.  Just
because A is implied by B does not mean B is the distinctive characteristic
of A.  Think about it.

>You are in an economist error.  Your anti-Leninism prevents you from
>learning one of the main lessons of _What is to be done_. The working class
>must not only take up economic, trade union , shopfloor, point of
>production ( and reproduction) issues, but POLITCAL, i.e. state power
>issues and questions.
>

I don't deny the importance of state power.  But state power cannot be the
essence of capitalist reproduction.  Not even a part of it.  And I wouldn't
characterize myself as anti-Leninist.  I am critical of some of Lenin's
doctrines, as we should be.  What Marx says is that the main lever to induce
social change is state power because it is concentrated force.  That is why
proletarians aspire to conquer state power.  Not because by smashing
capitalists' state power and establishing their dictatorship they can or
will abolish capitalism (its essence anyway).  In fact, the conquest of
power is a very powerful blow against capitalism but it is not necessarily
fatal.  Capitalism can reemerge and be restored even if its state power has
been smashed.  If need be, it can reconstitute a state power to protect it.
Look at Rusia.  IMO, and based on what you say, I don't think you have very
clear the idea of state power.

>CB: I guess you are defining "essence" as  "unique". The capitalist form of
>extraction of surplus value is unique in history, but capitalism's unique
>characteristics are not its only necessary conditions.  The capitalist form
>of extraction of surplus value is not sufficient to have capitalism. The
>capitalists must also have state power or they will not be able to carry on
>the "essence" of capitalism.  That is what is important to the movement.
>

No.  The essence of a process is the law of its existence, the internal
contradictions and tendencies inherent in it, its determining and
distinctive properties.  When you talk about the capitalist form of
extraction of surplus value as one, you imply there are others forms of
extraction of surplus value.  Can you name them?  In fact, capitalism is the
systematic extraction of surplus value.  The capitalist form of extraction
of surplus is the extraction of surplus value.  Period.

You may be confusing surplus value with surplus labor or surplus product.
All ruling classes exploit surplus labor by appropriating it directly or by
appropriating the surplus product.  But only capitalists appropriate the
surplus product under the form of commodities, exploit the surplus labor in
the form of surplus value.  In ancient and pre-modern social formations,
there have been capitalistic activities (trade and banking, for example), in
the sense that they were driven by profit making.  But since they were not
based on the extraction of surplus value, they didn't shape the mode of
production.  They were little enclaves of capitalism in old social
formations based on noncapitalist modes of production.

>CB: In this regard then , it is only a sort of scholastic or abstract task
>to "grasp the essential dynamics of capitalism". I believe you claim to be
>espousing Marxism , but you are not. You are espousing a scholasticism.
>Marxism unites theory and practice and is practical critical activity.  The
>essence you distil here is deficient for guiding practical critical, i.e.
>revolutionary, activity.
>

You accuse me of scholaticism.  I could brand you a pragmatist or an
anarchist in exchange, but where would we go from there?  Indeed, Marxism
unites theory and practice, but that presuposes that there are two separate
things to unite.  Theory is thought and, partially at least, abstract
thought.  It was Lenin who said, without a revolutionary theory, there's no
revolutionary practice.  He didn't say, revolutionary theory and
revolutionary practice are identical or are to be confused.

>CB: Exactly wrong. The whole thrust of historical and dialectical
>materialism is not only to distinguish these , but to understand them as a
>whole and a unity and struggle of differences, and only in that way can we
>develop a winning strategy in the struggle against capitalism.
>
>Marxism is political economy, not just economics. ( See subtitle of
>_Capital_)
>

Understanding them as a whole presupposes that we understand their
difference.  I don't deny the need to understand the historical
characteristics of concrete capitalism.  My only claim is that we should put
them in the place where they belong.

The adjective 'political' in political economy was not given by Marx.  He
took it from common usage.  Political economy was such before Marx developed
his critique.  If they had called it 'economics', he would have set out to
critique economics.  Have you ever considered why Marx's theoretical plan
left the power of the state to the last books?  How come he didn't start
with a chapter on state power and laws instead of dealing with the abstract
world of commodity production and value?

>CB: But we are talking about the state power component here, and in a way
>that does not implicate any conflation of productive forces with social
>relations. So, this is a red herring ( irrelevant argument)  in this
>discussion.
>

I was using it as an example to show why it is important to distinguish
between them.  Examples are not irrelevant.

>CB: Your definition of "essential" is not essential to the Marxist project.

I disagree.

>The "main driving forces" driving things toward what ? The contradictions
>in the relations of production are the main "forces" driving toward a new
>mode of production.
>

Towards increasing socialization of production feeding what Marx and Engels
called the main contradiction of capitalism.  It is not the contradictions
in the relations of production which drive towards a new mode of production.
  It is the contradiction between the productive forces (the increased
socialization of material reproduction) and the relations of production (the
private character of ownership).  IMO, the key contradiction in Latin
America is between the capitalist relations of production and the
super-structure (laws and traits of the state).

>More directly to the point of this thread ,  for the project to abolish
>capitalism, what keeps capitalist "forces" in control of the economic
>processes is just as important to know as what directs capitalist economic
>reproduction.
>

You say it is extra-economic compulsion.  I say it is not.  And I have made
my case.

>It is not some magical mystification or hypnosis of the workers'
>consciousnesses by or superstitious belief in the sacredness of the
>wage-labor contract relationship in capitalist economic reproduction that
>prevents the workers from taking over factories when a strike gets
>militant. It is the police.
>

This is the crux of anarchism.  In Mexico, there are approximately 40
million workers, 1/2 to 2/3 of which are in the relatively modern sectors of
the economy.  Military personel and the police, including those in the
states and municipalities, are less than 2 million total.  The ratio is
20:1.  And this is a country with a recent uprising threatening a civil war
that has not been completely resolved.

Consider Canada, whose labor force is approximately 16 million people.  It
has less than 1/2 million police officers and military personel altogether.
The ratio is 32:1.  The fact is the police would be virtually ineffective
were not for those beliefs.

And the beliefs in turn stem mainly from economic compulsion: lack of
ownership, their need to sell their labor power to survive, and competition
among them.  Their beliefs reflect the condition of powerlessness in which
they live and work.  Once workers unite and become more self-assured as a
result of their struggle, the conditions that feed these beliefs are
objectively reduced, and then repression becomes less effective.
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