The socio-cultural meaning of the debt - Goldstein speaks
bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Mon Sep 22 13:36:28 MDT 2003
I wrote on PEN-L:
Nowadays the US government goes one step further: they want to do good
("good" defined in christian-fundamentalist terms) using money from other
people which those people don't really have in the first place, a sort of
magic. In other words, they don't just transfer a large amount of income
from the poor to the rich, but they transfer a large amount of income from
the poor to the rich which doesn't really exist, they just hope that in the
future it will exist.
I should add something to this.
If "they just hope that in the future it will exist", the basis for this is,
that the working class and the peasantry will through their surplus-labour,
produce the added value that will be the source of this future income.
Because of course the debts incurred today must be paid off in the future,
and logically if you want to be rich on borrowed money and borrowed time
today, then somebody MUST provide something for nothing in the future in
wealth or time.
That creates a practical problem because how do you do it ? You have to
ensure that people are sufficient regimented to produce what you require,
and give it to you for free, on a platter. You can distort the temporal
issue a bit in the spatial dimension (we displace the costs of our activity
to some other geographic area, and we hope people just won't know) but of
course there are limits to that, if communications are global also.
The only way in which you can sustain the practice of consuming wealth you
don't really have today, using the credit mechanism, is to guarantee its
repayment in the future through appropriating "something for nothing" -
unequal exchange, exploitation or robbing of some sort. The modern Russian
republics provide testcases for how this works. If you cannot pay up or
cough up, you die.
This leads to a whole new ideological discussion along the lines of, "when
is a debit really a debit, and when is a credit really a credit". You get
these Robin Hood characters and St Augustine characters, and all sorts. And
postmodernist people will say, "well I just don't accept your concept of a
debit, or I don't accept your concept of a credit" - this plays itself out
culturally also. We can skirt around the issue in zillions of ways by
displacing it somewhere different.
For a classconscious worker, this has of course has revolutionary
implications, because the fight to appropriate something for nothing,
considered as a struggle between social classes, is a zero-sum competitive
game (in this sense, Ernest Mandel was a politically bit ahead of his time,
in setting up an organisation in Brussels to promote the cancellation of the
Third World Debt, though of course it's never too late, if people die like
flies - the poor orthodox idiots thought Mandel was a reformist). It is
impossible for both to be better off, one must necessarily lose.
You can attempt to "share out" sacrifices in an moral way until you are blue
in the face, but the point is that people are differentially equipped to be
the lamb of God, and be sacrificed on the altar of Capital. The egalitarian
distribution of debt founders on the fact, that some people are better
equipped to shoulder it, than others. This creates a whole new problematic
of moral liability, in which the Dutch are specialists.
Which gets us to the "prophetic" passage in Marx's Capital, where he talks
about credit instruments creating the potential to explode the foundations
of capitalist society sky-high. When we have a look at Argentina, Liberia
and so on, we can begin to understand just exactly what this involves.
The bourgeois ideology is, "we are going to take away some more of your
assets and income today, in order to stimulate private enterprise by the
rich, but in the future you will see the benefits of all this, when we have
kickstarted economic growth again, and you will realise that your extra work
effort has not been in vain", which is really not unlike the CPSU
justification provided by forced industrial accumulation in the USSR and
extolling the heroism of the Stakhanovites, or the ideological justification
provided by the Zionist state about the benefits of Judaism as a way of life
in Palestine, which Palestinians just had to get used to.
It is always the same thing, we are building a New Jerusalem somewhere, or
God has told us to annex some place, or we are the heirs of History, blah
blah. There is no verification, no practical proof, you have to BELIEVE and
show your positive intention, and if your intention is different from the
intention which we require, then ex definitione it cannot be positive. Once
you BELIEVE, anything is possible and we can move mountains.
Where the Stalinist regime was more convincing, was that the Communists
actually really did build roads, schools, hospitals, power networks,
housing, telephones, and so forth, in other words they were constructive and
improved people's lives. Hitler gave us Volkswagens, but not much else
except weapons technology. What Zionism provided, is best left for Yoshie to
specify, it takes Japanese mind to do it, and not my fried brains.
In the case of the bourgeois economic growth effort, by contrast, we are
dealing with an increasing pile of computer paper providing proof of an
intellectual, sexy brilliance. Entire forests are consumed in order to
document new ideas for pumping extra surplus-labour out of the working class
and the peasantry, motivate them to produce literally "like there was no
The ideology of sacrifice, redemption, repentance, references to the march
of history, historical progress, atonement, "putting right past errors",
social service, patriotic commitment, declining moral standards, humanity,
human nature and all sorts of other sanctimonious moral claptrap obscures
the bald facts of what is really going on, which is made crystal clear by
statistical reports on the financial transactions of the bourgeoisie and the
other data we have on employment patterns. You don't actually need a lot of
theory for that, you only need to collate the evidence which there is
When the bourgeoisie mortgages the population into enormous debt, and
continues capitalism on borrowed time, it simultaneously projects guilt and
other moral pathologies onto the working class and the peasantry, i.e. the
working class and the peasants should feel guilty, shame, grief, repentance
etc. and respect standards of bourgeois decency and bourgeois morality. This
fosters the debt-servicing mentality. I recall doing an interview with Dr
Rob Steven about Japanese imperialism once (he had written a book about it),
and he had an objection to imperialism: it encouraged a servile mentality.
His critics argued that imperialism could be made to service the needs of
the working class, and the Trotskyists prattled about the "relationship of
This incidentally refers to another aspect of the Orwellian "war against
terror" and similar banalities, which is little mentioned by the liberals
and leftists: the bourgeoisie has certain fears about its system crapping
out in the future, and it seeks to project these fears onto the working
class and the peasantry, and educate or cowe the working class and the
peasantry into being nice and non-aggressive and peaceful, and do as they
are told, for example when asked to go and fight a war somewhere for the
The bourgeoisie has debt, the workers have guilt and other pathologies, the
guilt pays off the debt, and the instrument of moral pathology serves to
create a servile mentality conducive to the provision of surplus-labour
(something for nothing) that will pay the debt off. Before you know it, we
are talking feudalism, and we are back into the dark ages qua moral and
social ideas (no offence to Melvin), courtesy of Condoleeza Rice and other
experts in World History doing Hegel imitations.
It would not surprise me at all, if, with the aid of sniggering stupid
Leftists who jibe about statistical information, the production of
statistical data will be severely curtailed and censored in the future,
direct communication within the bourgeoisie substituting for an objective
macro-economic statistical picture. Already censorship is increasing, in the
sense that if you don't have the cash, you don't get the information.
How about the law ? Well, you can ask Justin Schwartz, he is the the legal
guy. Intellectual property rights ? Ask Michael Perelman. And so on. The
furious pursuit to solve the bourgeois equilibrium problematic and find
somebody to reconcile the company balance sheet has oodles of dimensions,
and in the last instance, as Paul Mattick formulates it, Marxism can also be
a "last refuge for the bourgeoisie".
It is one thing when your accounting is corrupt. It is another thing when
your debits exceed your credits by an astronomical amount, and the
implication happens to be that YOU have to pay it off. That is not
politically acceptable, and therefore we ought not to talk about it, and
reconstruct the evidence such that a debit becomes a credit. That just
means, we rearrange the exchange process and revalue the assets. We start an
argument about what assets really are worth, and what people really are
worth, who is prepared to pay what, and so on. We try to make a deal
somehow, or an offer you cannot refuse.
In the case of the New Zealand government, what they did was restructure
government institutions and accounting practices in such a way, that a debit
indeed became a credit, or at any rate that debits seemed lower and credits
seemed higher, and if you have any disagreement, we just block you out. The
argument is that foreign capital is just a bit of paper, and as long as you
pay the rent everything is fine.
You said, you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him, do you want to make a deal?
- Bob Dylan
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