“(T)erminating labour and share markets, along with the type of commercial banking taken for granted today, is a prerequisite for a post-capitalist society with functioning markets, authentic democracy and personal liberty.”
Left accelerationism seems tempting in a time when markets, democracy, and liberty are in peril. but Yanis Varoufakis is hinting that with an upcoming book, that some sectors need to be deconstructed and then reconstructed in the post-COVID economy. Like the need to be ever-historicizing, broad economic socialization is also coming, and major institutions must and will change.
The question in the case of the US is whether this as GND, resembles New Deal policies in terms of public works and corporate regulation and like the DPA, national planning. What must come is a green energy economy whose consequences will be dynamic, and as Varoufakis says could be dystopic. Walking Dead capitalists amidst the pandemic won’t thrive as financial markets become decoupled from the economy.
No, what we are living through now is not your typical capitalist disregard for human needs, the standard tendency of the capitalist system to be motivated solely by the needs of profit-maximisation or, as we lefties say, capital accumulation. No, capitalism is now in a new, strange phase: Socialism for the very, very few (courtesy of central banks and governments catering to a tiny oligarchy) and stringent austerity, coupled with cruel competition in an environment of industrial, and technologically advanced, feudalism for almost everyone else.
Before capitalism, debt appeared at the very end of the economic cycle; a mere reflection of the power to accumulate already produced surpluses. Under feudalism,
- production came first with the peasants working the land to plant and harvest crops.
- Distribution followed the harvest, as the sheriff collected the lord’s share. Part of this share was later monetised when the lord’s men sold it at some market.
- Debt only emerged at the very last stage of the cycle when the lord would lend his money to debtors, the King often amongst them.
Capitalism reversed the order. Once labour and land had been commodified, debt was necessary before production even began. Landless capitalists had to borrow to lease workers, land and machines. Only then could production begin, yielding revenues whose residual claimant were the capitalists. Thus, debt powered capitalism’s early oeuvre…
This was the process by which, from 2008 to 2020, the policies to re-float the banking sector from 2009 onwards resulted in the almost complete zombification of corporations. Covid-19 found capitalism in this zombified state. With consumption and production hit massively and at once, governments were forced to step into the void to replace all incomes to a gargantuan extent at a time the real capitalist economy has the least capacity to generate real wealth. The decoupling of the financial markets from the real economy, that was the trigger for this talk, is a sure sign that something we may defensibly label post-capitalism is already underway.
My difference with fellow lefties is that I do not believe there is any guarantee that what follows capitalism – let’s call it, for want of a better term, post-capitalism – will be better. It may well be utterly dystopic, judging by present phenomena. In the short term, to avoid the worst, the minimum necessary change that we need is an International Green New Deal that, beginning with a massive restructuring of public and private debts, uses public financial tools to press the oodles of existing liquidity (e.g. funds driving up money markets) into public service (e.g. a green energy revolution).
The problem we face is not merely that our oligarchic regimes will fight tooth and nail against any such program. An even harder-to-crack problem is that an International Green New Deal, of the sort alluded to above, may be a necessary condition but is, most certainly, not a sufficient condition to create a future for humanity worth striving for. Can we imagine what may prove sufficient?
My controversial parting shot is that, for postcapitalism to be both genuine and humanist, we need to deny private banks their raison d’être, and to terminate, with one move, two markets: the market for labour and the share market.
Fully aware of how difficult it is to imagine a technologically advanced economy lacking share and labour markets, I wrote my forthcoming book Another Now – in which I lay out the argument that terminating labour and share markets, along with the type of commercial banking taken for granted today, is a prerequisite for a postcapitalist society with functioning markets, authentic democracy and personal liberty.
Spoiler alert, more likely is that it will be more socializing things, which if you’ve ever worked for a public institution, has its own issues, but it is clear that property relations will change. It may happen in Europe and with greater activism, perhaps in the US, assuming we survive Trumpism’s baroque attempt to instate warlord-kleptocratic capitalism.
Short of nationalizing banks, there will be a need to create institutional frameworks to direct an international GND. It will be about a green globalization that is not about labor or share markets. The question is whether this movement represents a deontologizing of labor values or whether it is a misreading of use/exchange values especially in the case of ecological economics. This does not change its role as a dynamic historical force rather it is a redirection considering the ecological necessity of the climate crisis. Contracts and property rights will change much like the power of the state and eminent domain.
In the US case, it is about devoting cabinet-level and administrative agency authority to climate remediation, substituting environmental defense for many features of homeland defense (see Russian attempts to sabotage public utilities). This acknowledges that many Trumpian policies have materially undermined environmental quality (see privatizing public land and environmental racism). Share market absurdities like emission trading markets must evolve to reorganize “society and technology to eventually “leave most remaining fossil fuels safely underground”.
“It is only when & if it reconceptualizes its analytical apparatus to embed constitutively its value categories in processes of repression or foreclosures of rights and identities that Marxism will be able to enter into dialogue with the movements that lead the insurrection.”
Coming out of a confluence of predictable sparks and within the time of dangerous political impasse (teetering, at the edge of landscapes of inequality and insecurity, between savagery and despair) in which the neoliberal regime of accumulation finds itself in relation to the Trump presidency, the crisis has emerged as an existential threat. The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the existential terror of a racist policing apparatus, which is easily visible at work over diverse racial and ethnic territories; not coincidentally, clear similarities have been popularly recognized between that terror and the terror that COVID-19 (in both its conditions and effects) has differentially imposed along lines of class and gender (but also of age and sexuality). The condensation of varied forms and modes of inequality and injustice into the systemic existential threat felt by some—and sympathized with by many—is what generates the revolutionary potential of the moment.
Revolutionary prospects emerge more clearly if we consider that we are now in the midst and not at the end of a long duré of crisis and struggles. The life-threatening conditions the capitalist regime of accumulation has created are not likely to be adequately addressed in any timely manner.
The second observation is that Marx made agents of historical transformation of workers by virtue of their function as representatives of humanity. I do not mean to suggest any kind of return to a Marxism as Humanism here, certainly not in the terms in which that formation has come to be criticized (a Marxism grounded in any abstract,ideological/philosophical concept of humanity; e.g., Althusser 1970). The function of workers as representatives of humanity is what Marx and Engels (1998) produced in the 1848 Manifesto, 6 where they formulated workers as agents of an epochal transformation on the basis of the dialectical contradiction of their condition of absolute dispossession in a regime that had culturally and juridically boxed humanity into property relations—a formulation that, nota bene, Marx never found necessary to dispute or even qualify in his later writings.
The answer to this question is not that he slipped back into the 1844 zone. It is rather that he and Engels needed this formulation in order to enact a concept of epochal struggle that they had already, even if only broadly, presented in the post-“break” German Ideology of 1846: namely, that modes of production change through the political leadership of a class capable of ideologically/philosophically positioning itself culturally as a better representative of the interests of humanity as a whole (Marx and Engels 1970).
It is also the case,and this is the crucial point to consider, that the very evolution of capitalism (from a formation in which the rule of capital imposed itself immediately at the point of production to a formation in which the rule of the bourgeoisie came to take the form of a state managing the biopolitical conditions of the processes of capital accumulation) has, for a long time now, worked to diffuse the operation of the class struggle from points of production to spheres of citizenship. Class struggles can thus now be seen more directly as forms of the class struggle against the rule of capital than they could earlier (e.g., Brown 2015).
In Capital, then, both analytically and historically, the question of exploitation became(as was the question of socialism to become) a matter of the ownership (or lack thereof ) of the means of production. It is true that the theoretical apparatus of Capital has been, in some ways,qualified and extended considerably; Resnick and Wolff (1987) in particular have made a powerful case for separating the question of surplus value from the question of ownership (and from other questions as well, such as the question of power). Yet the conceptual value apparatus through which the workings of capitalism are laid out remains—even in the nonessentialist philosophical framework in which Resnick and Wolff have embedded it—marked by (and thus cannot but carry the traces of ) the historical conditions of the property or propertylessness of Capital’s fully juridically enabled commodity producers.
I conclude by suggesting a hypothesis about how Marxism can restructure its discourse on value so as to be able to contribute to the right-to-existence struggle that social movements have been waging, insofar as they can be struggles for socialism: by using the conceptual apparatus of Lacanian analysis 11 in order to rethink the value processes of capitalism in terms that map the repressions and foreclosures of some as elements in constitution of (and not simply conditions of ) the regime of the idea of value with which the bourgeoisie has played its cards in history. That mapping could serve not only to enrich the critical analysis of the rhetoric of value but also to reset the terms of economic-theory analyses of money-value-price relations. The outcome will be a deontologizing of labor values, a rejection of the universal rationality that bourgeois thought assigned to its calculation of value, and an understanding of the constitution of the regime of value, including its quantitative accounting, as a condensation of the conditions of repression and foreclosure through which capitalism was born and works, as well as of the conditions of exploitation at the point of production that capitalism set up and works to enforce and reproduce. Then it would be possible to visualize (and be energized by) a condensation of social movements and socialist struggles. For the right to existence.
It is not profitable for companies to produce a mask or a bed or a glove. To produce these things, to store them in some warehouse, let alone to stockpile them all over the country, waiting who knows how many months for the next virus to show up, is not profitable. The risk is enormous. You are just not going to do it as a capitalist. You can find more profitable, less risky investments elsewhere. How do we know that? Because that is what they did. They did not make the stuff, and we were not prepared.
In that situation, you could have the government come in and say the following: “Private capitalism stinks at being prepared for viruses; it is an unreliable engine for preparation, so we the government will be the offsetter; we will take on the risk and we will take on the expense because private capitalism is a failure here and we must compensate.” You would buy all the supplies and the test kits you might need for a disease that enters our country, and you would have it available. You would take the necessary steps at the government’s expense.
Why did the government of the United States not do that? The answer is that it has long ago been captured by an ideology that runs roughly as follows: If it is not privately profitable to do something, then it should not be done. So the government of the United States did not do what it could have done. Through the failure of the private sector and the complicit failure of the public sector, we were not prepared. That’s three-quarters of the answer to why we have suffered so badly from coronavirus.
— Rethinking Marxism (@RethinkMarxism) August 26, 2020
In heterodox economic terms, the MMT discourse is one of many means by which the deontology of labor might be discussed, even as there are other discourses on monetary policy that also seek social justice. This might be the way that the deontology of labor may be discussed as a problem in social ontology. For example the discourse about environmental racism is one that is about social division but also about land value and zoning that forces racial minorities into the industrial brownfield and “unincorporated” margins. Class struggle is yet still spatial.
In terms of an orthodox economic discourse, Stagflation is also looming. The projection is that Trump will likely be handing stagflation to the Biden administration.
— Lauren Peikoff (@laurenpeikoff) August 26, 2020
- Fed Chairman Jerome Powell announced a major policy shift Thursday to “average inflation targeting.”
- That means the central bank will be more inclined to allow inflation to run higher than the standard 2% target before hiking interest rates.
- In addition to the inflation change, the Fed shifted its approach to employment in a way that will focus on those at the lower end of the income spectrum.
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) August 26, 2020
For those wanting more empirical evidence one can see the cultural industry’s labor transformation that will become more ubiquitous, for example in the above convenience store. Instrumentalizing routine labor at a distance during a pandemic is also about recording movements to be reproduced and hence exploited using automation as labor substitution. This no different than cinema CGI using analog movement recording (motion-capture) as actors and crew can be replaced in the production of mass-market motion pictures. A more advanced version of this is the possibility of A.I. robot lawyers, probably with no effect on Shakespeare’s dictum in Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2.
These are neo-Taylorizing and backward cost-shifting processes no different than the current move to pandemic remote work. They will therefore be tools of exploitation in a wide range of industries and services even as the economy shifts.