[Marxism] Troubled times

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Sat Nov 25 11:14:35 MST 2006

Louis says, "Maybe you have been in the woodshed cooking  up some new theory
to replace Marxism. You are a smart guy, Joaquin,  but I doubt that you are
that smart. I think you would be much better  off standing on the shoulders
of giants rather than developing some new theory."

Well Louis, I agree with you. And to tell you the truth, I'm not at all
calling for some new world view or method of analysis. And, frankly, I don't
see myself as being among those capable of re-elaborating the theory on the
most generalized level which I believe needs to be addressed, which starts
with the economic theory.

What I would like in terms of the economic theory, which is close to the
foundation levels of the whole system, is a competently done (i.e., not by
me, this isn't my field) economic examination of the exploitation of the
third world and of women.

A. On the Third World, what is required is a mechanism that can reliably
account for  the penomenon of unequal exchange, that leads to it
"automatically" or "organically" or nearly so, and that can hopefully
account for it back several centuries, perhaps all the way to 1492 and its

I'm looking for something in some way parallel to the way capitalist use of
the commodity labor power leads to surplus value. Everything I've seen and
lived through my entire political life tells me imperialism IS NOT AN
OF THE SYSTEM. And it would be satisfying to have a rigorous exposition of
this at the very generalized level that say Capital is written at.

My hypothesis or guess is that it happens because the two labor markets
(that of the colony/semicolony and that of the imperialist country) never
merge, never become one, neither directly, nor indirectly through trade; the
mechanism for the transfer of value would be some sort of arbitrage of wages
and/or values imparted by labor. I believe that basically, this has been the
big money maker ever since trading capitalism was invented, taking beads and
mirrors and trinkets of little value in the motherland and exchanging them
far away for things that have lots of value in the motherland (or can
produce things with lots of value, like land to put oil wells and tobacco
farms on). If Value is not a "natural" property of commodities, but rather
one imparted to it by a given social setting, then it stands to reason you
can CHANGE the value of a commodity by changing its social setting. The real
question is, why doesn't everything level out, so to speak, through simply
the circulation of commodities, and become a zero-sum game.

B. A further elaboration of that theory would extend it to imperialist
countries themselves and the specific case of internally colonized peoples
and adjacent colonies from which labor is drawn to a national minority labor
submarket within the metropolis. Ireland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, South Africa
and Palestine would be concrete cases I'd suggest for examination. My
observation is that, for example, undocumented Latinos mostly do not compete
directly with white workers in the U.S., or only at certain moments when a
sector (say construction) is taken from the Anglo or mixed-race labor market
to the Latino labor market. 

And my *impression* is that this phenomenon is being replicated in several
other imperialist countries, including Germany, France, Britain and Spain,
especially around the concept "immigrant." I very recently read an article
from Britain explaining that the real terrorism threat there were the second
generation "immigrants" -- that's what the article called them. Imagine: you
were born there, raised there, lived your entire life there yet are viewed
and treated as "foreign." That is in essence what is also happening in the
United States, and there is even a proposal in Congress to declare
native-born children of non-authorized immigrants to be non-citizens. So
here I suspect we're seeing a still-emerging regularity/extension of
imperialism as a system. That's important, it could give us great insight
into what the system generates/requires for its reproduction.

C. In relation to women, come up with a description of the process through
which the socially necessary labor time expended in the household in child
rearing and household maintenance contributes to the commodity labor power
in an entirely unremunerated way. It is basically an extension of the idea
of simple/complex labor, except it means recognizing that even "simple"
labor is already complex. This extension of analysis into the household is
necessary for the coherence of the economic theory itself, because labor
saving machinery (washing machines, microwaves, etc.) and products ("TV
dinners," cleaning products) and social child rearing in the money economy
(child care centers, schools) have shown that much unpaid labor in the home
can be directly replaced by products/services in the money economy and the
labor power now or previously expended in the home can be sold on the labor

*  *  *

The political implications of this are that approaches that place central
importance on the traditional concept of "class" especially abrstracted from
its intersection with gender and race/nationality, or worse, fetishize "the
point of production" must be rethought. 

In a sense, the politics are already ahead of the economic theory, but in an
entirely eclectic way and most clearly outside the organized socialist left.
But this entire notion about the centrality of "class" (narrowly conceived,
and stripped of gender, nationality, age, parenthood, and so on) keeps
getting the organized groups off on the wrong track. 

An example of this is my own organization Solidarity, which in reality even
before it was founded, as the currents that eventually would come together
were taking shape in the old SWP and the old IS, has hyper-privileged a
concept/approach called the rank and file strategy and work in unions; but
has had no really consistent orientation to nationally oppressed communities
on anything like the scale or consistency that I believe is needed and have
advocated in the group. At the same time Solidarity has at least some focus
on gender "built into" the structure of the group, for example a requirement
that leading bodies be gender balanced.

*  *  *

You can call what I am advocating a change "in" Marxism; And in a sense that
is entirely justified since I propose no change to the Marxist method and on
the economic theory sphere an amplification and modification and not at all
an overthrow.

The reason I present it *radically* is THE POLITICS. I think we will be
quite surprised when we apply the tools of Marxist analysis to dissecting
the programs, nostrums and fetishes of the organized Marxist left. 

Take, for example, the extreme variant of the "Black and white, unite and
fight" line that calls for "unifying" class demands and resists demands that
embody the drive of the Black community for equal socio-economic status with
whites. It sounds harsh to say it, but isn't this in many concrete
circumstances a utopian diversion that ends up leaving white privilege
intact? And not just intact, but in fact entirely unrecognized?

And although in the form I present it there is sectarian foolishness, it is
very much a live and important question of trade union movement policy. If
there is a workplace where Latino undocumented workers average $8 an hour,
Blacks $10, and whites $12 (because of seniority, different job titles,
etc.) and the union leadership thinks we can wrest a total concession that
works out to an increase of 10% in total wages, an average of $1 an hour per
worker, because there are equal numbers of Latino, white and Black workers,
what should a union leadership do? Propose a "unifying" 10% increase for
everyone, which in reality means the biggest increase for whites and the
smallest for Latinos? Or a "unifying" $1 across the board increase, leaving
the differentials the same? Or propose bigger increases for the lower paid?

I believe the politics will be radically different, especially when compared
to how the 1848-1890s original edition of Marxism has been interpreted and
vulgarized, especially after the advent of Zinovievism and then Stalinism
and its descendants. The politics HAVE TO BE radically different because
WHAT WE HAVE has not worked, no variant of it. 

And actually, the groups that at least superficially at first blush have had
the most relative success, the SWP and YSA in the 1960's and 70's, the ISO
in the last decade or so, did so by keeping their "proletarian orientation"
strictly confined to Sunday speeches and similar rituals and not letting it
influence their practical, actual orientation in real life. I would just
warn the ISO comrades of today that the SWP's history shows that there is a
high price to be paid for this incoherence. There is no way to avoid that as
long as the group remains hyper-ideological and committed to traditional
"classist" Marxism. 

I believe the change that is needed is LIKELY TO BE a very radical change
because privilege and its effects have been accumulating since Lenin's time,
and in the best of cases our politics only begin to approximate his, but
with this difference: Lenin had an agent, a class subject, a class actor for
his politics. The continuation and entrenchment of imperialist and white
privilege has meant that we DO NOT have an actual class movement within
which we can promote his approach, nor have we EVER had it, speaking for
those of my generation (those of us now in our 50's and 60's).

What all is involved in the change politically I do not know. It means at
the very least abandoning the hyper-priorization and privileging of "class"
in and of itself while there is no sign of the re-emergence of the movement
of the class as a whole.

What has been driving this whole line of thinking in me and other folks that
I've been in touch with and discussing these things through with is that the
"classist" approach of the organized Marxist movement led it to smash into a
10-foot brick wall, and it recoiled back and fell into a hole. 

And instead of trying to find *some way* to climb out, the comrades insist
that we must keep digging and making the hole deeper. Because our Marxist
geological instruments detect class bedrock underneath all this muck, and
we're going to hit the class bedrock foundation any day now, at least so we
hope. And that foundation will be so solid that on it we will be able to
build a structure that will get us over the wall. 

Whereas I suspect that the wall has a door somewhere, or comes to an end
somewhere, or has already been breached somewhere, or we can build a ladder
to get over it or tunnel to go under it. 

And I also believe that the bedrock so many are digging for on this side of
the wall is exposed on the surface on the other side, because if you step
back far enough from the wall, on a clear day you can see mountain peaks on
the other side.


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