[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.

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