[Marxism] Economics as a weak point
M. Junaid Alam
alam1 at lefthook.org
Mon Nov 7 21:20:18 MST 2005
"Well, economics is definitely my weak point"
Let me second that statement for myself. At least as far as I can see,
something about LOTV just doesn't add up with what I read in the
business pages everyday. First of all, with finance, speculation,
interest, and investment, what the hell does any of this have to do with
surplus? I just don't see how the old story about the guy who produces
yarn and how much yarn he produces for his own maintenance versus the
boss's profit actually comes into play in the modern economy.
I don't think any of this is of mere academic interest for all the
reasons Josh pointed to. Clearly it's time to start explaining things in
terms of reality and not in terms of models. I mean I cover some small
towns as a local freelance reporter, and I see and meet all kinds of
people, very few of them fit into the stereotypical description of
factory worker. They're small business owners or government workers or
some kind of management bureaucrat or technology person...you can't
describe these folks or define them within a proletarian context with
all the assumptions that comes with. First of all, their social
relations, work relations, relationship to the means of production - not
to mention salary - it's totally different.
You can weakly fall back on the idea that the worker is alienated from
the means of production because he exercises no direct control over it,
but this is a retreat to Marx's alienation concept of the 1840s and does
not address political economy. What needs to be addressed in my opinion
is the social and psychological factor: the way workers reach for other
heirarchies way before they reach for class consciousness - like race,
sex, and nationalism. The tired game of dismissing all this as "petty
bourgeois elements" no longer flies. By that definition, half of this
country is some kind of a petty-bourgeois element, and so is the same in
most every other country.
The political events of the last few months should make us think really
hard about how to actually apply and expand class analysis, instead of
repeating the same trope about class as the ultimate marker, We have the
riots in Toledo and the hurricane in the Gulf Coast, after which the
Bush admin. has a 2 percent approval rating among blacks. At the same
time, what's his approval rating among whites? At least 50% I gather.
How many of those whites support Bush precisely *because* he has such
little support among Blacks? That is like a halo on his head for some
And now we have this rioting in France - look at all the traditional
left parties, caught completely unawares and issuing bland standard fare
statements. They've all ignored completely the specific conditions of
Muslims in France and Europe generally, where there is a huge proportion
of them in prison and a huge proliferation of Islam in prisons. There
were a couple articles in the mainstream press in the last year,
actually, about Islamism as the new Marxism in Europe - your typically
overblown analogy - but nonetheless the point is there.
Yes, those most affected by the riots and looting and damage are not the
people who run the show. Then again, it's not like those people have
been expressing too much concern or sympathy for the biggest victims of
the system, who are now exploding. So, what makes them so innocent in
all of this anyway? And that's where you keep coming up against the same
problem. There's too much of the element of dichotomy in the classical
Marxist setup. The fact that Marx predicted a socialist revolution on
the cusp of what turned out to be massive worldwide capitalist expansion
(which he also predicted, paradoxically) has serious implications for
the rest of his ideas that have not really been addressed.
Look at what Fanon wrote about Algeria in the 1960s. He wrote about a
relatively privileged and assimilated middle-class in the cities,
counterposed to a hostile, poor, rural class in the countryside. Now
technically, the middle-class workers are supposed to be more
progressive than the fellahs. But in the nationalist framework, they
constitute a brake on development because they are sell-outs to the
Europeans. Now, what if we tried to apply Fanon on a world-wide scale?
Can we identify who are the sell-outs and who are the real basis for
revolutionary change? Is it possible that the more backward, those less
assimilated into the capitalist system, are actually the ones most
likely to carry the revolution?
Isn't this the kind of contradiction in socialism we've been facing
ever since Marx? The backward countries tried socialism, not the
advanced ones. The anti-imperialist struggles and anti-racist struggles
- by definition - were waged by minorities, immigrants, and poor people.
Some of them couldn't care less about socialism per se, some have
outright reactionary political values, and some tried to incorporate
socialism into their struggle, but most of those because little
bourgeois by the end of the day. After all look at what happened
post-liberation in Algeria, when the Francophones took power. Fanon
would be horrified.
All I'm trying to say is, the proof is in the pudding, and looking at
the major movements today, they're not being led by people who have
strong ties to any means of production - most of those folks, well-off
and middle-class, are complicit or complacent - they're being led by the
wretched of the earth.
More information about the Marxism