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Last updated: 7/1/2020

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: Communists have repeatedly either ignored or attempted to circumvent the issue of struggles of a non-exclusively proletarian nature. The question must extend beyond just class composition into one of the content of critique itself.


Following the decline of the USSR and the rise of the neoliberal “end of history”, the broader left began to find itself in an identity crisis of sorts. This is the type of crisis Derrida finds himself contending with when writing Specters of Marx:

Today, almost a century and a half later, there are many who, throughout the world, seem just as worried by the specter of communism, just as convinced that what one is dealing with there is only a specter without body, without present reality,without actuality or effectivity, but this time it is supposed to be a past specter. It was only a specter, an illusion, a phantasm, or a ghost: that is what one hears everywhere today. (Derrida 1984, 47-48)

As for what “defines the left”, I've written on that before; the focus of this piece is to provide a response to the questions raised by one of Marxism's alleged “gravediggers”, the New Left.

On the other hand, there has emerged a growing body of leftist intellectual work which is highly critical of Marxism and often explicitly anti-Marxist., Two characteristics of these new critiques of Marxism are particularly important.

First, they are critiques on the Left, not from the antisocialist Right. The criticisms are not from apostate Marxists who have become defenders of capitalism; they are from anti-capitalist intellectuals with commitments to progressive social change. In some cases, in fact, these theorists' vision of the alternative to capitalism is not radically different from the image of socialism and communism contained in Marxist theory; what is different is the view of the theory of society needed to help create such a society.

Second, the critiques are not simply critiques of the insufficiencies or gaps in Marxist theory; they are critiques of Marxism. In one way or another all of these theorists argue that Marxist theory is a hindrance, that its theoretical assumptions necessarily create blind spots, that its foundations are fundamentally flawed and thus it cannot be reconstructed — it must be abandoned. (Wright 1983, 452)

One of the major points of contention for these social movements was the question of whether Marxism fundamentally has a “tendency toward class or economic reductionism in Marxist typologies of historical forms of society” (Wright 1983).

Is a primarily material conception of society able to testify to the experiences and promise liberation for groups of a racial, sexual, or gender-based identity?

This essay will deal with evaluating common responses to this question, and providing an answer that does not jeopardize the content of a revolutionary critique.

Worker-ism versus Communism [section incomplete]

To a lot of the early socialists, the obvious answer seemed to be to focus on uniting proletarians across the world under a common class identity. This seemed like the simplest solution, after all two central concepts of Marxism were the uniquely revolutionary potential of the proletariat and the notion that productive relations governed the rest of society.

Those are all well and good from the outset, but we should be careful about how far and why we draw said conclusions. Often times, these conclusions are drawn out of political expedience at the cost of both our understanding of and the development of class-struggle itself.

The Formation of a Proletarian Identity

Marx's famous call was for workers around the world to unite. This task proved much more difficult than expected.

The Poverty of Populism

The global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past three decades. Yet despite widespread anger at Wall Street bailouts, there has been no great upsurge of left-wing American populism in response. It is conceivable that the Occupy Wall Street movement will gain traction, but the most dynamic recent populist movement to date has been the right-wing Tea Party, whose main target is the regulatory state that seeks to protect ordinary people from financial speculators. Something similar is true in Europe as well, where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move. (Fukuyama 2012)

This quote is part of a piece by Francis Fukuyama, in which he identifies that “in the aftermath of the [Great Recession]... populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one”. He attempts to provide an explanation of why this is, but he (unsurprisingly) misses the mark in the process. The purpose of this section will be to provide an alternative answer to this problem, tying it back to our central theme of class-composition.

OWS and Populism

As the left rallied behind the call of “the personal is the political”, the question of class only became all more daunting. By the 2010s, one possible solution was starting to gain traction: if one class theory ends up excluding others, then why not make everybody the revolutionary class?

This theme was at the center of Occupy Wall Street, quite possibly the most prominent example of a left-wing movement in the 21st century. Signs, posters, chants, all repeating the same slogan: “we are the 99 percent”.

For the uninitiated, the term “99 percent” refers to a statistic of income inequality in the US (one percent of the country controls approximately two-fifths of the nation's wealth). From this one statistic springs out a rudimentary class-narrative littered throughout Occupy rhetoric:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late. (Stiglitz 2011)

If this passage screams “populism” to you, you're absolutely justified in your suspicions. Yes, there is an economic element to the whole dichotomy, but it still is predominantly populist. Of course, defining populism is tricky, but there are common patterns we can observe:

The people are defined in opposition to outsiders, who allegedly do not belong to the moral and hard-working true people. While many studies of populism define the essential social conflict as between the people and the elite, this report uses the more general term “outsiders”, because populists as often stoke divisions between marginalised communities as between marginalised communities and elite.

From there, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people. This general will of the people, populists argue, is not represented by the cartel of self-serving establishment elites who guard status quo politics. (Kyle and Gultchin 2018, 12)

The very same report denotes a subtype of populism that should prove more relevant to early Occupy:

Socio-economic populism does not constitute a specific package of economic policies, but rather paints the central ‘us vs. them’ conflict as between economic classes. Among socio-economic populists, there is a reverence for the common worker. The pure people belong to a specific social class, which is not necessarily constrained by national borders. For example, socio-economic populists may see working classes in neighbouring countries as natural allies.

The corrupt elites can include big businesses, capital owners, state elites, and foreign forces and international institutions that prop up an international capitalist system. (Kyle and Gultchin 2018, 23-24)

For some, socio-economic populism may sound all well and good, since it still deals in vaguely economic terms. However, that alone is not enough; the foundations still remain far too equivocal to constitute a proper class theory.

Class-Narratives

In Marxism, classes are distinguished according to their specific role in the process of production:

(i) The class of big capitalists, who, in all civilized countries, are already in almost exclusive possession of all the means of subsistance and of the instruments (machines, factories) and materials necessary for the production of the means of subsistence. This is the bourgeois class, or the bourgeoisie.

(ii) The class of the wholly propertyless, who are obliged to sell their labor to the bourgeoisie in order to get, in exchange, the means of subsistence for their support. This is called the class of proletarians, or the proletariat. (Engels 1847)

This proves important for two reasons:

  1. There are clear lines being drawn; both the proletarian and the bourgeois can be objectively identified according to their productive relations. These aren't just adjectives, but actual historical categories.
  2. The proletariat is presented not just in its negative characteristics (its oppression), but as the producer of value. It is this positive characteristic that is able to give weight to Marx's claim that “the proletariat alone is [the] really revolutionary class”.

Contrast this with the class-narrative of socio-economic populism:

  1. The “people” and the “elite” are incredibly equivocal categories. We can attribute a character to these classes, but not any concrete characteristics. Even if we spoke of them in terms of say, income or wealth, that'd only serve to raise more questions. Where is the cutoff that decides if a person is elite or common? What really unites the 99 percent? Why do some of the so-called elite sympathize with Occupy?
  2. The categories serve a primarily moral function, decrying the actions of the “elite”. But it ultimately fails to go further than that. For people like Stiglitz saying that the one percent will learn their lesson once its too late; this may be a nice thought, but it's ultimately hollow. What would the 99 percent do once its “too late”? Are they willing? Are they capable?

What Marxist class theory takes into account which populists neglect is that the revolutionary subject must have both composition and content. As Dauvé puts it:

Until the two or three last decades of the twentieth century, most radical critique considered the working class as the social pivot and revolutionary lever (metaphors highly revealing of a mechanical age mindset). Nowadays, in contrast with the apparent simplicity of yesteryears, capitalism and contemporary struggles are said to be devoid of centrality. When most radicals speak of labour, they tend to overstretch the notion, with no significant difference between a housewife, a student and an assembly-line worker. The definition has moved from entirely positive to entirely negative: the prole is no longer the pan-creator of wealth, he or she is a less-person: jobless, landless, powerless, propertyless, moneyless, homeless, and undocumented. As result, what is meant by class is a boundless shapeless whole, disjointed not only from the work place (which would stick to the Marxian definition: proles are at work and/or jobless), but from the world of work altogether. (Dauvé 2015, 140)

A movement that fails to advance beyond protesting, that fails to take seriously the questions of what leverage is available, the fundamental interests of those in question, and its goals is doomed from the outset.

And that second part ties back into the earlier question of what really unites the 99 percent? And no, I don't mean a character sketch of the “common man”. What is a meaningful characteristic shared by the members of this group? Populism proved great for spreading awareness and promoting the slogans of the campaign: after all, the 99 percent appeals to everyone. But broad appeal comes at a cost: the content is diluted.

Democracy and Demands

And it's specifically for this reason that we saw Occupy devolve in the way it did. Once people were on board with the idea of fighting back against the one-percent, what was to happen next? What issues should be prioritized? What about conflicting interests among the 99 percent? Is it even possible to represent everyone? Sure, you can say it can be accomplished with consensus democracy, but how does consensus democracy reconcile these divergences better than our current system?

Talking in practical terms, we've seen experimentation with the speaking stack (a consensus-based approach to group discussion) to address concerns raised by minority groups, but even that has run into conflict:

Another check on structurelessness comes in the form of the “progressive stack,” in which the “stack-keeper,” who is in charge of taking questions and concerns from the audiences at general assemblies, is given the ability to privilege voices from “traditionally marginalized groups.”

...Innovations like progressive stack can at times act as a Band-Aid solution covering over pervasive power dynamics that are hard to pinpoint and resolve, she adds. Without serious and sustained work towards women’s equality within the movement, she says, “progressive stack is [just] a way for us to feel slightly better.” (Seltzer 2011)

Confronted with this crisis of identity, the movement which has nothing but an ideal of democracy to its name, does what all democratic movements eventually do: begin negotiations on a list of demands. Demands (and public policy by extent) are essential to democracy:

Democracy and public policy are intertwined because the organization of authority in a nation affects the design and implementation of government activity. Fundamental to democracy is the notion that citizens possess the ability and means to shape decisions made by public officials...

Democracy’s desirability derives from its institutional design which allows the majority of citizens to influence public policy in ways relevant to their interests and needs. (Krane and Marshall 2007)

It should be noted that the move to list demands was not met with unanimous approval; there was some controversy surrounding it, yet I bring it up because these demands still remain Occupy's legacy regardless.

“Everyone is entitled to make their own blog or website to post their opinions about how OWS should operate or what they think the OWS demands should be, this 99% group is no different,” Stepanian said in an email. “However, all of OWS’s official statements are agreed upon by way of consensus-based general assemblies. This matter was not submitted or agreed upon by the NYC general assembly, and therefore by-passed the process all OWS plans have been made through.”...

“Demands have come up before,” wrote Ryan Hoffman in another email to HuffPost. “They were shot down vociferously under the argument that demands are for terrorists and that is not who we are. From that debate however, another proposal was passed: that we table all talk of demands until future notice! Therefore, any talk about demands, posts of demands, etc. are null and void. We already tabled those discussions using consensus.” (Kingkade 2011)

This quote, in addition to introducing the “demand debate”, does give us insight into how Occupy deliberates and also why these demands ended up taking center-stage.

  • The question of Occupy's organization seemed not to have been properly settled. On one hand, there technically is a General Assembly, yet the GA's “authority” seems to be little more than nominal. Groups independent are able to speak on behalf of OWS and receive such recognition by the public no matter how much the GA protests.

  • The consensus-model of the GA brings deliberation to a snail's crawl, showing it to be impotent and bureaucratic in response to a rapidly-unfolding situation. If the GA struggles to discuss an issue (much less offer a solution), their input will remain less significant than that from those who have taken demonstrable action.

Though “On Conflict and Consensus” assured organizers that “Formal Consensus is not inherently time-consuming,” experience suggested otherwise. The process favored those with the most time, as meetings tended to drag out for hours; in theory, consensus might include everyone in all deliberations, but in practice, the process greatly favored those who could devote limitless time to the movement — and made full participation difficult for those with ordinary life commitments outside of their activism. Movement after movement found, moreover, that the process tended to give great attention and weight to the concerns of a few dissenters. In the purest form of consensus, a block by one or two individuals could bring the whole group to a screeching halt. (Kauffman 2015)

Since the GA proved itself incapable for the task, countless other groups stepped up to the plate and put forth their demands.

  • One of the most well-known of these is the 99 Percent Declaration: a list of twenty demands, some of which include congressional term limits, an overturning of Citizens United, and various reforms to the tax code.
  • The Demands Working Group backed a “New Deal-style work program funded largely by ending America’s wars and taxing the rich”. (Harkinson 2011)
  • The Liberty Square Blueprint was a bit more extreme, calling to end all wars, open-source government technology, and abolish the Federal Reserve.

What's shared in common by all of these declarations (even the rather unreasonable Liberty Square Blueprint) is that they all take upon a distinctly reformist character. Despite the fanfare in its rhetoric and the wishes of the more anarchist members, there is nothing revolutionary about what Occupy left behind.

Occupy's Limited Legacy

With the hindsight of all these years behind us, it is rather easy to reflect upon Occupy's legacy. The general consensus seems to be that while the protests may have gone on to promote certain policy platforms, it's impact was far from revolutionary:

Occupy Wall Street takes some of the credit for introducing income inequality into the broader political discourse, for inspiring the fight for a $15 minimum wage and, most recently, for creating a receptive audience for the Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Everyone knows we were right,” said Caleb Maupin, who was working in the insurance industry when he first joined the movement five years ago. “We had a major campaign for president with Bernie Sanders. The campaign was like a giant Occupy Wall Street rally, talking about the 99 percent and the one percent because millions of people know we were right.” (Hajela and Balsamo 2016)

This was always a concern amongst the protestors (especially the anarchist ones), so it's fair to say that this result was far from unanticipated.

The protesters are just reminding those in power to look down. This is the easy part. The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture...

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in a proper way, as it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly new. (Zizek 2011)

What Zizek, along with many other protestors neglected is the form this “dilution” takes:

  • Recuperation need not come from the “elite” or “false friends”, it can arise as a consequence of how we communicate and propagate ideas using modern mediums. Zizek gives an example of Bill Clinton “suggest[ing] the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan”, but what the existence of such a statement demonstrates is not a danger to be heeded, but rather instead, evidence of a compatibility between the rhetoric of Occupy and the goals of Bill Clinton. Occupy makes its motto “let the 99 percent be heard”, Bill Clinton believes he can accommodate this with a jobs plan. The issue isn't with Bill Clinton, the issue is with Occupy's messaging.
  • Zizek is correct to oppose demands. But just because a revolutionary movement is absent of demands doesn't mean it shouldn't be absent of content. He seems to identify this when he speaks of a vacuum, but he underestimated how quickly that vacuum can be filled with other things. In the case of Occupy, the vacuum would end up being filled with a overreliance slogans and imagery, both of which are ripe for recuperation.

However, it is one thing to make an observation, and another to transform said observations into useful information. So, returning to this question of why Occupy left behind what it did, let us reiterate our earlier findings.

  • Confronted with the failure of historically labor-centric movements, Occupy centers itself around a populist class-narrative, pitting the 99 percent against the 1 percent. This allows Occupy to be more inclusive of non-labor struggles, as they can be easily slotted into this 'great majority”.
  • Occupy's class-narrative has the numbers on its side, but ultimately lacks substance. Because the movement is primarily populist, the only common theme that could be pursued is “true democracy”. As a result, the movement's main focus shifted towards promoting consensus-democracy, giving rise to the General Assembly.
  • The General Assembly found itself burdened by the inefficiency of its process, and struggled anything, much less an actionable programme.
  • The lack of demands from both the anarchist occupiers and the General Assembly led other groups to make demands on behalf of the movement. While this was neither agreed upon or official, it was de-facto recognized due to the lack of action on part of either of the opposing parties.

Tying this together, we begin to get a picture of how class-content can determine the nature of a movement. Occupy's populist nature could only lead to a democratic focus which in turn could only be resolved by democratic means, i.e., reform. The question of class had not been solved, but instead, merely ignored:

This points more to a crisis within class relations than to a crisis of class relations—a crisis that might initiate the destruction of class structure. Present unrest acts as if it could absorb class without doing away with what maintains it: the capital-labour opposition. Togetherness is a necessary dimension of revolution, providing it breaks with class division, not when it fuses class groups into an aggregate mass. On Tahrir, Puerta del Sol, Taksim … the fact that those without any means of livelihood have to sell their labour power to those who organise work and profit from it, in simpler words the basic fact of exploitation, was interpreted in terms of poor v. rich, powerless v. powerful, bottom v. top. Therefore the solution could only be a fair resharing of wealth and power.

We are not suggesting everything will be fine the day the Cairote jobless refuse to demonstrate alongside doctors because proletarians don’t associate with middle class. The question is what they do and cannot do together. The shift from factory to street occupation, from private to public places, is immensely positive if occupiers transform what they take over: one has to get hold of something before transforming it. But takeover is not ipso facto changeover. The reclaiming of public space signifies a will to reappropriate our lives, an intuition that production and work should not be central in our lives: that could be a starting point for a critique of the economy and work, if production and work were confronted and not bypassed. Otherwise, just as the occupied factory occupies its occupiers and keeps them within the confines of labour issues, those who occupy the square immerse themselves in the occupation tasks. Solidarity is an indispensable dimension of revolutionary breakthrough, a part, not the whole, and when the part replaces the whole, community becomes an end in itself. A Madrid participant was saying in May 2012: “People are fighting to take decisions themselves.” What self is meant and, what’s more, which decisions? (Dauve 2015, 98)

Rebuttal to Fukuyama

Returning back to Fukuyama, let us see what he concluded regarding Occupy Wall Street:

In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. They include a deeply embedded belief in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome and the fact that cultural issues, such as abortion and gun rights, crosscut economic ones.

But the deeper reason a broad-based populist left has failed to materialize is an intellectual one. It has been several decades since anyone on the left has been able to articulate, first, a coherent analysis of what happens to the structure of advanced societies as they undergo economic change and, second, a realistic agenda that has any hope of protecting a middle-class society.

The main trends in left-wing thought in the last two generations have been, frankly, disastrous as either conceptual frameworks or tools for mobilization. Marxism died many years ago, and the few old believers still around are ready for nursing homes. The academic left replaced it with postmodernism, multiculturalism, feminism, critical theory, and a host of other fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural than economic in focus. Postmodernism begins with a denial of the possibility of any master narrative of history or society, undercutting its own authority as a voice for the majority of citizens who feel betrayed by their elites. Multiculturalism validates the victimhood of virtually every out-group. It is impossible to generate a mass progressive movement on the basis of such a motley coalition: most of the working- and lower-middle-class citizens victimized by the system are culturally conservative and would be embarrassed to be seen in the presence of allies like this. (Fukuyama 2012)

Fukuyama is correct in two areas: there is an absence of a coherent conceptual framework and an increasing inability to link struggles/experiences. However, he quickly loses sight of the issue:

  • This first part should come as no surprise, considering the book he's notorious for, but Fukuyama contributes to the issue at hand by prematurely burying Marx. Marxism isn't perfect, there's a lot of things that Orthodox Marxists were mistaken on, but it was a coherent framework. It did provide tools for mobilization. Recent developments and the publication of Marx's newly-discovered writings show, if anything, what we need is a return to Marx.

  • He irons over the differences between revolutionary and reactionary movements, which leads him to come to the wrong conclusion on why the Tea Party succeeded. First, it should be noted that “most Tea Party supporters are among the middle class”, not the working class as Fukuyama implies (Boushey 2010). Secondly, the ends of reactionary movements are just more suited to populism: the creation of a unified identity, manipulation, a focus on “other-ing” weaker groups, us-versus-them narratives. Combine all of these combined with the middle-class' influence on social institutions and its clear what make right-wing soft-coups so effective.

Occupy had a clear focus against the elites, there was undeniably an economic undertone to it (hence the focus on income and Wall-Street), and the “99 percent” included the middle class. The issue was that they hit a wall precisely because their populist approach had little to offer to those who they wished to mobilize. Taking more pages out of the Tea Party's playbook would only exacerbate the problem, not solve it.

Striking A Balance

The Role of Critical Theory

Bibliography

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the New international. New York: Routledge.

Wright, Erik Olin. “Is Marxism Really Functionalist, Class Reductionist, and Teleological?” American Journal of Sociology 89, no. 2 (1983): 452-59. Accessed May 28, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/2779154.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.” Vanity Fair, March 31, 2011. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105.

Seltzer, Sarah. “Where Are the Women at Occupy Wall Street? Everywhere—and They’re Not Going Away” The Nation, Oct 26, 2011. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/where-are-women-occupy-wall-street-everywhere-and-theyre-not-going-away/

Kingkade, Tyler. “Occupy Wall Street Protesters Propose A National Convention, Release Potential Demands” Huffington Post, Oct 18, 2011. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/occupy-wall-street-planning-convention_n_1018570

Zizek, Slavoj. “Occupy first. Demands come later” The Guardian, Oct 26, 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/26/occupy-protesters-bill-clinton

Kauffman, L.A. “The Theology of Consensus” Jacobin Magazine, May 27, 2015. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/consensus-occupy-wall-street-general-assembly/

Fukuyama, Francis. “The Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?” Foreign Affairs 91, no. 1 (2012): 53-61.

Hajela, Deepti and Michael Balsamo. “Measuring Occupy Wall Street’s impact, 5 years later” Associated Press, September 17, 2016. https://apnews.com/25e3197ee8bc482cb1da20e14819c2fc

Boushey, Heather. “Are the Tea Party Backers Really Wealthy and Highly Educated?” Slate Magazine, April 28, 2010. https://slate.com/human-interest/2010/04/who-the-tea-partiers-really-are.html

Harkinson, Josh. “Occupy Protesters’ One Demand: A New New Deal—Well, Maybe” Mother Jones, October 18, 2011. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-demands-new-deal/

Krane, Dale and Gary S. Marshall. “Democracy and Public Policy.” In . 2nd ed., 538-544: Routledge, 2007.

Bellamy, Richard. “Democracy, Compromise and the Representation Paradox: Coalition Government and Political Integrity.Government and Opposition 47, no. 3 (2012): 441-465.

Jordan Kyle and Limor Gultchin, Populists in Power Around the World. (London: Tony Blair Institute For Global Change, 2018)

Engels, Frederick. 1847. The Principles of Communism. Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/11/prin-com.htm#intro.

Dauvé, Gilles, and François Martin. 2015. Eclipse and re-emeregence of the communist movement. Oakland, CA: PM Press. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=1066120.

Last updated: 7/5/2020

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: The conflation of the demands pushed by secular labour with Calvin's concept of the calling has its roots in historical-material — not theological — foundations.

Further Reading:

  • The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
  • Abolition of Work by Bob Black

When we're trapped in one frame of reference, one era of history, it is very easy to take for granted just how fragile our understanding of the world around us is. Without falling into the trap of relativism, assuring the integrity of our beliefs requires that we maintain a critical eye on the issues we hold dearest, especially in matters as important as religion.

I would like to touch upon the relationship held between work and Protestant Christianity (more specifically, wage-labour and the Reformed tradition), in an attempt to better highlight the various political and economic influences that have been coinflated with Christian doctrine.

Taking Moltmann's advice, I will be approaching this topic with a hybrid analysis:

Personal, inner change without a change in circumstances and structures is an idealist illusion, as though man were only a soul and not a body as well. But a change in external circumstances without inner renewal is a materialist illusion, as though man were only a product of his social circumstances and nothing else...

Consequently the ‘coincidence’ of the change in circumstances and of human activity as a change in man himself applies to Christian practice to an eminent degree. The alternative between arousing faith in the heart and the changing of the godless circumstances of dehumanized man is a false one, as is the other alternative, which hinders by paralysing. The true front on which the liberation of Christ takes place does not run between soul and body or between persons and structures, but between the powers of the world as it decays and collapses into ruin, and the powers of the Spirit and of the future. (The Crucified God, p. 34)

The first task will be to contextualize the issue both in economic and historic terms. This will allow us to better separate the doctrine of the Word from the doctrine of the world.

From there, we'll be able to

Defining Work

The worst arguments tend to be over semantics, and unfortunately for us, there is a lot of semantic disagreement on how the word “work” is to be interpreted. It's very easy to walk into a topic like this leaning on preconceptions, so our first task should be properly defining work.

The line drawn between work and labour is generally ambiguous, so before we proceed we will have to reconcile this matter.

I will be considering the work of four authors who write on this topic, each with greatly differing worldviews; yet there are shared understandings which will help us form our definition:

Adam Smith's Definition:

As the accumulation of stock must, in the nature of things, be previous to the division of labour, so labour can be more and more subdivided in proportion only as stock is previously more and more accumulated. The quantity of materials which the same number of people can work up, increases in a great proportion as labour comes to be more and more subdivided; and as the operations of each workman are gradually reduced to a greater degree of simplicity, a variety of new machines come to be invented for facilitating and abridging those operations. As the division of labour advances, therefore, in order to give constant employment to an equal number of workmen, an equal stock of provisions, and a greater stock of materials and tools than what would have been necessary in a ruder state of things, must be accumulated beforehand. But the number of workmen in every branch of business generally increases with the division of labour in that branch, or rather it is the increase of their number which enables them to class and subdivide themselves in this manner. (Smith 213)

Karl Marx's Definition:

What, then, constitutes the alienation of labour?

First, the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labour is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. (Marx 133)

John Calvin's Definition:

Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man's mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random. So necessary is this distinction, that all our actions are thereby estimated in his sight, and often in a very different way from that in which human reason or philosophy would estimate them.

He who is obscure will not decline to cultivate a private life, that he may not desert the post at which God has placed him. Again, in all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God. The magistrate will more willingly perform his office, and the father of a family confine himself to his proper sphere. Every one in his particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendour and value in the eye of God. (Calvin 3:10:6)

Bob Black's Definition:

My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or communist, work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness. (Black 6)

One characteristic of work is that it is compulsory. Black seems to be the most on-the-nose about this characteristic, but Marx's earlier writings also imply this, when he refers to labour (what we are calling work for the sake of simplicity) as serving abstracted needs. Even John Calvin, who considers work in a much more positive light, acknowledges the compulsion; he simply interprets the compulsion as having a divine origin. However, even if this characteristic is the most apparent, it is by no means primary.

The essential characteristics of work rest in a concept of division.

A simple example of this would be a vocational division. This has been known to us for a while now. Even writers as fresh out of the Enlightenment as Calvin and Smith provide extensive insight into this division. Calvin was interested in understanding what such division could mean to a Christian, whereas for Smith it was a question of the economic origins and implications of its existence.

The Dissolution of Work and Leisure

However, the characteristic of work that requires further discussion is its constitution of a division of time. When we talk about work in relation to time, we counterpose it against leisure, forming a division between the two.

The quickest way to illustrate such a division is to allude to the very first division as a metaphor of sorts:

Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep. God's Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness.

God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. There was evening and there was morning, one day. (Genesis 1:2-5)

Day and night are both created and defined simultaneously. Day is the not-night, night is the not-day. When there was no day, there was no night either, because there can be no night without a day. It is the same with work and leisure; there cannot be one without the other, because the boundaries of one are defined in opposition to the boundaries of another.

We already conceive work only as one half of this division, but it should also be understood as the catalyst of the division too, the light that divided itself from the darkness, so to speak. Because the existence of work logically precedes the existence of leisure, it is not to just be understood as one half of the division but the division itself.

From a historical perspective, conflicts between labour and capital resulted in the adoption of an eight-hour work schedule:

“The movement to reduce the work-hours is intended by its projectors to give a peaceful solution to the difficulties between the capitalists and laborers. I have always held that there were two ways to settle this trouble, either by peaceable means or violent methods. Reduced hours, or eight-hours, is the peace-offering.”

The unrest that preceded this negotiation should serve as evidence of one thing, and it was that the previous division of time was unsustainable. Work is perpetual by nature, and it was necessary to adjust the division of time to maintain labour's cooperation.

Why must the spheres of time be exclusive? Because another essential characteristic of work is that it itself is exclusive. Those eight hours spent at work belong wholly to work and none else, the existence of the worker reduced to a machine.

With this division of labour on the one hand and the accumulation of capitals on the other, the worker becomes ever more exclusively dependent on labour, and on a particular, very one-sided, machine-like labour. (Marx 35)

Yet, it is incorrect to conclude that the exclusive nature of work restricts its dominion. Leisure is still defined in relation to work, and is thus governed by it. What the 8-8-8 schedule inadvertently highlights is the exclusivity of each of these spheres of life.

Despite what we would initially assume, embracing leisure is no better. Just as night is the not-day, leisure is little more than the not-work.

Due to the success of separate production as production of the separate, the fundamental experience which in primitive societies is attached to a central task is in the process of being displaced, at the crest of the system’s development. by non-work, by inactivity. But this inactivity is in no way liberated from productive activity: it depends on productive activity and is an uneasy and admiring submission to the necessities and results of production; it is itself a product of its rationality. There can be no freedom outside of activity, and in the context of the spectacle all activity is negated. just as real activity has been captured in its entirety for the global construction of this result. Thus the present “liberation from labor,” the increase of leisure, is in no way a liberation within labor, nor a liberation from the world shaped by this labor. None of the activity lost in labor can be regained in the submission to its result. (Society of the Spectacle, Section 27)

As work is the division, any solution must be able to confront the division itself. In other words, what is often called “the abolition of work” is more accurately the dissolution of work and leisure.

This takes effect not just with relation to time, but also other divisions.

Historical Origins of The Ethic [section in-progress]

When dealing with the intersection of Protestant Christianity and the capitalist mode of production, one book stands out as a rather in-depth investigation of this very topic: Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The book mostly deals in historical and sociological terms, focusing moreso on analyzing relationships than making any normative claims. There are some things I heavily disagree with Weber on (which we will get to later), but we'll use the book anyways.

Weber's aim is to connect the virtues of early Protestant theology with what he terms the “capitalist spirit”. He composes the definition of this phrase “from its individual elements, taken from historical reality.” (Weber 94)

We shall nevertheless provisionally use the expression “spirit of capitalism” for that attitude which, in the pursuit of a calling [berufsmäβig], strives systematically for profit for its own sake in the manner exemplified by Benjamin Franklin. We do this for the historical reason that this attitude has found its most adequate expression in the capitalist enterprise, and conversely the capitalist enterprise has found in this attitude its most adequate spiritual motivation. (Weber 107)

To put it succinctly, the “spirit of capitalism” is the process of production interpreted as “ethical activity”.

To better illustrate what this ethic entails, Weber cites Benjamin Franklin, more specifically, his Advice to a Young Tradesman.

Some of the “individual elements” to be found in this are:

  • The Prolific Element: “ Money can beget Money, and its Offspring can beget more, and so on. Five Shillings turn’d, is Six: Turn’d again, ’tis Seven and Three Pence; and so on ’til it becomes an Hundred Pound. The more there is of it, the more it produces every Turning, so that the Profits rise quicker and quicker.”
  • The Temporal Element: “Remember that time is money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that Day, tho’ he spends but Sixpence during his Diversion or Idleness, ought not to reckon That the only Expence; he has really spent or rather thrown away Five Shillings besides.”
  • The Social Element: “The most trifling Actions that affect a Man’s Credit, are to be regarded. The Sound of your Hammer at Five in the Morning or Nine at Night, heard by a Creditor, makes him easy Six Months longer. But if he sees you at a Billiard Table, or hears your Voice in a Tavern, when you should be at Work, he sends for his Money the next Day. Finer Cloaths than he or his Wife wears, or greater Expence in any particular than he affords himself, shocks his Pride, and he duns you to humble you.”

From this, Weber makes a rather insightful point:

All Franklin’s moral precepts, however, have a utilitarian slant. Honesty is useful because it brings credit. So are punctuality, hard work, moderation, etc., and they are only virtues for this reason—from which it would follow that where, for example, the appearance of honesty serves the same purpose, then this would suffice, and any unnecessary surplus of this virtue would inevitably seem, in Franklin’s eyes, like unproductive and reprehensible profligacy. And indeed: anyone reading his autobiography must inevitably come to the same conclusion. It contains an account of his “conversion” to those virtues [22] and, in particular, describes how, by strictly preserving the appearance of modesty, or officiously belittling one’s own merits, it is possible to enhance one’s standing in the community. [23] According to Franklin, these virtues, like all others, are only virtues at all to the extent that they are “useful” to the individual in concrete situations; the mere appearance of virtue is an adequate substitute wherever it serves the same purpose. (Weber 97)

These “virtues” are primarily concerned towards the ends of capital. They only hold merit insofar as they continue the reproduction of profit. However, this should not be mistaken for simple greed. After all, greed has existed long before capitalism has, and the “spirit” we are discussing here is something unique to capitalist society.

We have a frenzied desire, an infinite eagerness, to pursue wealth and honour, intrigue for power, accumulate riches, and collect all those frivolities which seem conducive to luxury and splendour. On the other hand, we have a remarkable dread, a remarkable hatred of poverty, mean birth, and a humble condition, and feel the strongest desire to guard against them. Hence, in regard to those who frame their life after their own counsel, we see how restless they are in mind, how many plans they try, to what fatigues they submit, in order that they may gain what avarice or ambition desires, or, on the other hand, escape poverty and meanness. (Calvin 1810)

Calvin's “spirit of greed” would fail to explain the attitude taken upon by the Pietist labourer; why would the greedy man put in additional work for the same reward?

If we had to make a provisional assessment of the practical effect of these differences, we might say that the virtues cultivated by Pietism tend to be those which might be developed by, on the one hand, the “faithful” [berufstreu] employee, laborer, and home worker, and, on the other hand, in the manner of Zinzendorf, rather patriarchally minded employers displaying pious condescension. (Weber 194)

As capitalism is predicated on the existence of wage-labour, workers are just as (if not more) essential to its reproduction as capitalists. What we are dealing with is the tendency for all things to be subordinated to the self-perpetuating logic of capital. This is how these different various of Christianity can coexist, each assuaging Christians of their respective classes of their role in the larger process:

Compared to this, Calvinism seems to have a closer affinity with the tough, upstanding, and active mind of the middle-class [bürgerlich] capitalist entrepreneur. Finally, pure emotional Pietism—as Ritschl [186] has stressed—is a religious pastime for “leisure classes.” Inadequate though this description is—as will be shown—it does tally with certain differences in the economic character of the peoples who have been under the influence of one or other of the two ascetic traditions. (Weber 194)

It is impossible to chalk this up to simple”greed”, for it is not individualistic ends that capitalism perpetuates. There is no opposition between the labourer and the lazy. Both are essential for the reproduction of something larger than their own self-interests:

In truth, though, matters are not as simple as that. We are here dealing with something quite other than a case of purely egocentric maxims being dressed up as moral precepts. This is clear both from the character of Benjamin Franklin himself, as revealed in the rare honesty of his autobiography, and the fact that he saw his discovery of the “usefulness” of virtue as a revelation from God, who wished to direct him toward virtue by this means. Instead, the “summum bonum” of this “ethic” is the making of money and yet more money, coupled with a strict avoidance of all uninhibited enjoyment. Indeed, it is so completely devoid of all eudaemonistic, let alone hedonist, motives, so much purely thought of as an end in itself that it appears as something wholly transcendent and irrational, beyond the “happiness” or the “benefit” of the individual. (Weber 98)

Calvinists could testify to the existence of such an ethic, but because they failed to grasp the larger picture, they assumed this was towards a greater social end:

But what had been for him a tentative suggestion became for the Calvinists a characteristic part of their ethical system. “Christian charity” [Nächstenliebe]—since, after all, it was to serve only the glory of God, not that of the creature[86]—expressed itself principally in the fulfillment of the duties of the calling given through the lex naturae, and in this it took on a peculiarly neutral and impersonal character—one which served the rational structuring of the surrounding social cosmos. The wonderfully purposeful structuring and organization of this cosmos, which, according to the biblical revelation and equally according to natural insight, is evidently designed to be of “use” to the human race, shows that labor in the service of this social usefulness furthers the divine glory and is willed by God. Later, we shall be analyzing the significance of these points for the light they shed on the political and economic rationalism of Calvinism: the source of the utilitarian character of Calvinistic ethics lies here; important peculiarities of the Calvinist concept of the calling also originate from it. (Weber)

There was a conflation of the ends of capital and the ends of society; capitalism is not just a tool, it is an end in and of itself. It is not a tool, we cannot just expect to be able to employ it “towards the glory of God”. It is in the concept of exchange-value and its opposition to use-value that this is reflected:

Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third...

This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use value. Then one use value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity...

As use values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use value. (Marx 28)

Note that it is upon the moment of exchange that a commodity takes upon a new character; the exchange-value we speak of is an end peculiar to capital itself. This is why I refer to the logic of capitalism as self-perpetuating; all that is subject to it must continue its reproduction:

As we have seen, capital is M-C-M’, self-valorising value, value that gives birth to value...

Capital, in contrast, does not come out of the process as it entered it. It is in the process that it is first converted into actual capital, into self-valorising value. The total product is now the form in which capital exists as realised capital, and as such it again confronts labour as the property of the capitalist, as a power which is independent and has been created by labour itself. Hence the production process was not only its reproduction process, but its process of production as capital. Previously the conditions of production confronted the worker as capital in so far as he found them to be present over against him in independence. Now it is the product of his own labour that he finds confronting him as conditions of production that have been converted into capital. What started as a presupposition is now the result of the production process...

Capitalist production is not only the reproduction of the relation, it is its reproduction on an ever growing scale; and in the same proportion as the social productive power of labour develops, along with the capitalist mode of production, the pile of wealth confronting the worker grows, as wealth ruling over him, as capital, and the world of wealth expands vis-à-vis the worker as an alien and dominating world. At the opposite pole, and in the same proportion, the worker’s subjective poverty, neediness and dependency develop. The deprivation of the worker and the abundance of capital correspond with each other, they keep in step. At the same time the numbers of the working proletarian these living means for the production of capital, increase. (Results)

Distilling the Ethic [section to-do]

Understanding our Calling [section to-do]

Last updated: 5/17/2020

Note: This essay is a work in progress. As this essay was started on months ago, I expect I'm going to have to do some major cleaning up to address holes in my understanding from when I first wrote it.

Thesis: While Austrian economic theory seems to address the problems left behind by classical theory, it still has not provided a proper response to Marx's critique of political economy.

Recommended Reading:

  • Principles of Economics by Carl Menger
  • Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Volume I) by Karl Marx
  • Karl Marx and the Close of His System by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk

The rise of marginalism and the STV only really began to show its effects in the 20th century, well after Marx was dead. It's incorporation into mainstream economics during a time in which revolutionary socialism has found itself at a standstill has put it in a position where it has not been as thoroughly challenged as the classical school of thought, despite how strongly it differs from Marxian theory.

As for differences, I'd argue it fundamentally comes down to each school's theories of value. The reason I say this is because the contrasts found in each theory can be seen as logical extensions of this one disagreement.[1]

  • The Austrian School abides by the principle of consumer sovereignty, whereas Marx focuses on the producer as the center of his analysis.
  • Austrians judge time as a scarce resource that is granted value when a product is able to “save time” for the consumer, whereas Marx sees time as a conversion factor between raw labor and measured value.
  • Marx is far more skeptical about the economic autonomy of an individual; for him, the rigid and mechanical nature and divisions found in the production process is extrapolated to the rest of economy. Contrast this with the Austrian School, which sees the economy as an aggregate of countless individual decisions.

And once we go further and further down the respective rabbit holes, away from the abstract and into the concrete, it becomes clear that the consumption-side focus put forth by the STV has major effects on our understanding of the world around us. As someone who strongly holds to the LTV, I think is important to give the STV a more thorough look.

Outlining the Differences

This section mostly deals with introducing the key breaks in each author's work. Skip this section if you're already familiar.

The first paragraph of Marx's Capital opens as such:

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity. (Marx 27)

The reason the commodity makes such a useful starting point is because its characteristics give us the clearest window into the fundamental logic of an economy. It is through the commodity that we are able to bridge subconscious decision-making to the tangible reality representing said decisions.

Menger seems to concur on this, opening his Principles of Economics with his own definition of a “good”.

Things that can be placed in a causal connection with the satisfaction of human needs we term useful things. If, however, we both recognize this causal connection, and have the power actually to direct the useful things to the satisfaction of our needs, we call them goods. (Menger 52)

Thus the attempt to provide for the satisfaction of our needs is synonymous with the attempt to provide for our lives and well-being. It is the most important of all human endeavors, since it is the prerequisite and foundation of all others. (Menger 77)

Once again, we see Marx employ a similar definition:

A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production. (Marx 27)

However, it is from here when we move away from the origins of a commodity into its present characteristics (in this case, the nature of its value), that we begin to see the disagreements form:

We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use value. But if we abstract from their use value, there remains their Value as defined above. Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value. The progress of our investigation will show that exchange value is the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest itself or be expressed. For the present, however, we have to consider the nature of value independently of this, its form. (Marx 28)

But whether it does so in a direct or in an indirect manner is quite irrelevant when the existence of value in the general sense of the term is in question. The skin of a bear that he has killed has value to an isolated hunter only to the extent to which he would have to forgo the satisfaction of some need if he did not have the skin at his disposal. After he enters into trading relations, the skin has value to him for exactly the same reason. There is no difference between the two cases that in any way affects the essential nature of the phenomenon of value. (Menger 228)

Immediately we're faced with the first major break: if commodities hold a two-fold nature, both in and out of exchange, exactly how do these forms differ?

  • To Menger, both are manifestations of the same concept of “satisfaction”, one direct (use-value), and the other indirect (exchange-value). Because of this, the distinction is purely one of classification rather than inherent function.
  • To Marx, however, the two forms are diametrically opposed: use-value is a material reality that defines commodities qualitatively, whereas exchange-value is a social one that distinguishes them quantitatively.

And its on this topic of value that we begin to see the cruxes of each theory form:

As use values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use value. If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. (Marx 28)

The value of a particular good or of a given portion of the whole quantity of a good at the disposal of an economizing individual is thus for him equal to the importance of the least important of the satisfactions assured by the whole available quantity and achieved with any equal portion. For it is with respect to these least important satisfactions that the economizing individual concerned is dependent on the availability of the particular good, or given quantity of a good. (Menger 139)

So, now we have an idea of what the next question would be: taking into account both the forms value assumes, what defines value?

  • For Menger, the value of a good is defined by the extent to which obtaining it would satisfy an existing need/want. In this sense, it is an intersection of utility and scarcity.
  • Marx, on the other hand, looks at the common factor found within every economic good, being that it is a product of human labour. From here he posits that the value of any commodity is a measure of the labor society as a whole puts into it.

In addition to defining value, both authors have also made statements on what determines the magnitude of value for any given commodity.

There is no reason why a good may not have value to one economizing individual but no value to another individual under different circumstances. The measure of value is entirely subjective in nature, and for this reason a good can have great value to one economizing individual, little value to another, and no value at all to a third, depending upon the differences in their requirements and available amounts. What one person disdains or values lightly is appreciated by another, and what one person abandons is often picked up by another. While one economizing individual esteems equally a given amount of one good and a greater amount of another good,we frequently observe just the opposite evaluations with another economizing individual.

Hence not only the nature, but also the measure of value is subjective. Goods always have value to certain economizing individuals and this value is also determined only by these individuals. (Menger 146)

We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production. Each individual commodity, in this connection, is to be considered as an average sample of its class. Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the same value. The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labour time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other. “As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour time.” (Marx 29)

  • Because the needs/wants of individuals vary, Menger defines value as a subjectively measured phenomena; however the consumer implicitly judges it is the magnitude it holds.
  • Marx uses time as a measurement of expended labour power; to be more specific, the value of a commodity is based upon the average amount of labour-hours it takes to produce said commodity.

Which leads us to the final contrast: where is economic power concentrated?

But if men abandon this most primitive form of economy, investigate the ways in which things may be combined in a causal process for the production of consumption goods, take possession of things capable of being so combined, and treat them as goods of higher order, they will obtain consumption goods that are as truly the results of natural processes as the consumption goods of a primitive collecting economy, but the available quantities of these goods will no longer be independent of the wishes and needs of men. Instead, the quantities of consumption goods will be determined by a process that is in the power of men and is regulated by human purposes within the limits set by natural laws. (Menger 73)

Division of labour within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, that are but parts of a mechanism that belongs to him. The division of labour within the society brings into contact independent commodity-producers, who acknowledge no other authority but that of competition, of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their mutual interests; just as in the animal kingdom, the bellum omnium contra omnes [war of all against all – Hobbes] more or less preserves the conditions of existence of every species.

The same bourgeois mind which praises division of labour in the workshop, life-long annexation of the labourer to a partial operation, and his complete subjection to capital, as being an organisation of labour that increases its productiveness – that same bourgeois mind denounces with equal vigour every conscious attempt to socially control and regulate the process of production, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of property, freedom and unrestricted play for the bent of the individual capitalist. It is very characteristic that the enthusiastic apologists of the factory system have nothing more damning to urge against a general organisation of the labour of society, than that it would turn all society into one immense factory. (Marx 246-247)

  • Menger concedes that the division of labour may play a decisive role in primitive economies; regardless, he holds that a capitalist economy is primarily developed and driven by people's wants, not by the division of the labor. In other words, economic power is to be found in mass consumption.
  • Marx interprets the division of labour as evidence of power in production. The division acts as a countermeasure against the decisive part labour as a whole plays in the direction and maintenance of economy.

Nature of Value

The majority of Menger's book seems to be a response to classical economists, more specifically Smith; before we proceed, it is important to understand exactly what Menger is refuting here.

Within Smith's economic theory, we see the concept of a “real price”, a production-side measure of the value any economic good has in exchange.

The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What everything is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people. What is bought with money or with goods is purchased by labour as much as what we acquire by the toil of our own body. That money or those goods indeed save us this toil. They contain the value of a certain quantity of labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity. (Smith 28)

Menger sharply disagrees here, saying that an investigation of price is fundamentally a dead-end.

However much prices, or in other words, the quantities of goods actually exchanged, may impress themselves on our senses, and on this account form the usual object of scientific investigation, they are by no means the most fundamental feature of the economic phenomenon of exchange. This central feature lies rather in the better provision two persons can make for the satisfaction of their needs by means of trade...

Prices are only incidental manifestations of these activities, symptoms of an economic equilibrium between the economies of individuals...

But since prices are the only phenomena of the process that are directly perceptible, since their magnitudes can be measured exactly, and since daily living brings them unceasingly before our eyes, it was easy to commit the error of regarding the magnitude of price as the essential feature of an exchange, and as a result of this mistake, to commit the further error of regarding the quantities of goods in an exchange as equivalents. The result was incalculable damage to our science since writers in the field of price theory lost themselves in attempts to solve the problem of discovering the causes of an alleged equality between two quantities of goods. (Menger 191)

Menger is right in that there are problems present within the classical concept of value, but as we will see repeatedly throughout this section, while Menger is able to challenge the objective measures of value present in the theory of “natural price”, he fails to challenge the objective relations of value that fundamentally underlie it.

Take for example, the “incalculable damage” created by the notion of equivalents. The equivalence Menger speaks of is undeniably a quantitative equivalence, as evidenced by his mention of “an alleged equality between two quantities”.

And to that extent, it does an adequate job refuting the notion of equivalent measure; an example of an equivalent measure being “ten yards of linen is worth the same as one coat”. However, it is not sufficient enough to wholesale reject the notion of an equivalent relation itself, which Marx presents without affirming the idea of an equivalent measure:

When one commodity, such as a coat, serves as the equivalent of another, such as linen, and coats consequently acquire the characteristic property of being directly exchangeable with linen, we are far from knowing in what proportion the two are exchangeable. The value of the linen being given in magnitude, that proportion depends on the value of the coat. Whether the coat serves as the equivalent and the linen as relative value, or the linen as the equivalent and the coat as relative value, the magnitude of the coat’s value is determined, independently of its value form, by the labour time necessary for its production. But whenever the coat assumes in the equation of value, the position of equivalent, its value acquires no quantitative expression; on the contrary, the commodity coat now figures only as a definite quantity of some article.

For instance, 40 yards of linen are worth – what? 2 coats. Because the commodity coat here plays the part of equivalent, because the use-value coat, as opposed to the linen, figures as an embodiment of value, therefore a definite number of coats suffices to express the definite quantity of value in the linen. Two coats may therefore express the quantity of value of 40 yards of linen, but they can never express the quantity of their own value. A superficial observation of this fact, namely, that in the equation of value, the equivalent figures exclusively as a simple quantity of some article, of some use value, has misled Bailey, as also many others, both before and after him, into seeing, in the expression of value, merely a quantitative relation. The truth being, that when a commodity acts as equivalent, no quantitative determination of its value is expressed. (Marx 38)

Marx affirms this notion of qualitative equivalence even while he is criticizing Smith on the very same front Menger was, filling a space left open by Menger failing to consider this distinction:

On the surface of bourgeois society the wage of the labourer appears as the price of labour, a certain quantity of money that is paid for a certain quantity of labour. Thus people speak of the value of labour and call its expression in money its necessary or natural price... But what is the value of a commodity? The objective form of the social labour expended in its production. And how do we measure the quantity of this value? By the quantity of the labour contained in it. How then is the value, e.g., of a 12 hour working-day to be determined? By the 12 working-hours contained in a working day of 12 hours, which is an absurd tautology...

...Classical Political Economy borrowed from every-day life the category “price of labour” without further criticism, and then simply asked the question, how is this price determined? It soon recognized that the change in the relations of demand and supply explained in regard to the price of labour, as of all other commodities, nothing except its changes i.e., the oscillations of the market-price above or below a certain mean. If demand and supply balance, the oscillation of prices ceases, all other conditions remaining the same. But then demand and supply also cease to explain anything...

... This price which always finally predominates over the accidental market-prices of labour and regulates them, this “necessary price” (Physiocrats) or “natural price” of labour (Adam Smith) can, as with all other commodities, be nothing else than its value expressed in money. In this way Political Economy expected to penetrate athwart the accidental prices of labour, to the value of labour. As with other commodities, this value was determined by the cost of production. But what is the cost of production – of the labourer, i.e., the cost of producing or reproducing the labourer himself? This question unconsciously substituted itself in Political Economy for the original one; for the search after the cost of production of labour as such turned in a circle and never left the spot.

Throughout this whole passage Marx does not deny that there is a relation between labour and value, but rather instead targets Smith's quantitative equivalence on the grounds of it being a tautology. Taking that into context, it makes sense why Menger would call such a thing into notion; without any further investigation, it simply appears to be little more than an axiom.

Briefly Addressing Menger's Criticisms of the LTV


However, Menger still was aware of Marx and wrote briefly on his own criticisms of the LTV, so we will slightly digress here to respond to these:

There is no necessary and direct connection between the value of a good and whether, or in what quantities, labor and other goods of higher order were applied to its production. A non-economic good (a quantity of timber in a virgin forest, for example) does not attain value for men since large quantities of labor or other economic goods were not applied to its production. Whether a diamond was found accidentally or was obtained from a diamond pit with the employment of a thousand days of labor is completely irrelevant for its value. In general, no one in practical life asks for the history of the origin of a good in estimating its value, but considers solely the services that the good will render him and which he would have to forgo if he did not have it at his command...The quantities of labor or of other means of production applied to its production cannot, therefore, be the determining factor in the value of a good. Comparison of the value of a good with the value of the means of production employed in its production does, of course, show whether and to what extent its production, an act of past human activity, was appropriate or economic. But the quantities of goods employed in the production of a good have neither a necessary nor a directly determining influence on its value.(Menger 146)

For those unaware, what Menger is referring to is the diamond-water paradox, a basic dilemma most value theories have to account for. Smith describes it as such:

The things which have the greatest value in use have frequently little or no value in exchange; and, on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in exchange have frequently little or no value in use. Nothing is more useful than water: but it will purchase scarce any thing; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it. (Smith 26)

The LTV's most basic explanation for this phenomenon is that there is more labor involved in locating and extracting a diamond than there is with water. I'd argue this is an accurate, but still rather simple explanation. Menger's response to this is that individual variations within the labour-time can completely skew the value. This is a glaring misinterpretation, one which Marx preemptively counters:

Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskillful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. (Marx 29)

While Marx is referring to the extension of labour-time, we can still apply the same logic in reverse. The fact a diamond is stumbled upon by accident does not reflect on the socially-necessary labour-time as a whole, just like how taking an absurdly long time to weave a coat does not reflect on overall exchange value of coats in general.

Equally untenable is the opinion that the determining factor in the value of goods is the quantity of labor or other means of production that are necessary for their reproduction. A large number of goods cannot be reproduced (antiques, and paintings by old masters, for instance) and thus, in a number of cases, we can observe value but no possibility of reproduction. For this reason, any factor connected with reproduction cannot be the determining principle of value in general. Experience, moreover, shows that the value of the means of production necessary for the reproduction of many goods (old-fashioned clothes and obsolete machines, for instance) is sometimes considerably higher and sometimes lower than the value of the products themselves. (Menger 147)

Another point Menger raises is on the prices of non-reproducible goods, such as antiques. However, once again Menger misses the point here too. It is precisely because these goods cannot be reproduced, and are not being produced that gives the commodity a different character, and thus a different expression of value.

This isn't something Marx simply overlooked; he acknowledges that commodities can circulate in different ways, but only one type of circulation is capable of generating capital.

What, however, first and foremost distinguishes the circuit C-M-C from the circuit M-C-M, is the inverted order of succession of the two phases. The simple circulation of commodities begins with a sale and ends with a purchase, while the circulation of money as capital begins with a purchase and ends with a sale. In the one case both the starting-point and the goal are commodities, in the other they are money. In the first form the movement is brought about by the intervention of money, in the second by that of a commodity...

The circuit C-M-C starts with one commodity, and finishes with another, which falls out of circulation and into consumption. Consumption, the satisfaction of wants, in one word, use-value, is its end and aim. The circuit M-C-M, on the contrary, commences with money and ends with money. Its leading motive, and the goal that attracts it, is therefore mere exchange-value. In the simple circulation of commodities, the two extremes of the circuit have the same economic form. They are both commodities, and commodities of equal value. But they are also use-values differing in their qualities, as, for example, corn and clothes...

The circuit C-M-C starts with one commodity, and finishes with another, which falls out of circulation and into consumption. Consumption, the satisfaction of wants, in one word, use-value, is its end and aim. The circuit M-C-M, on the contrary, commences with money and ends with money. Its leading motive, and the goal that attracts it, is therefore mere exchange-value. (Marx 105-106)

Let us say we're working with an antique watch. When this watch was initially produced, it was produced through an M-C-M circuit. It was produced with capital, and then sold for money to be put towards capital once more. As a result, the character of circuit also effects the character of its value.

In simple circulation, C-M-C, the value of commodities attained at the most a form independent of their use-values, i.e., the form of money; but that same value now in the circulation M-C-M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, passing through a life-process of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes and casts off in turn. Nay, more: instead of simply representing the relations of commodities, it enters now, so to say, into private relations with itself. It differentiates itself as original value from itself as surplus-value; as the father differentiates himself from himself qua the son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the surplus-value of £10 does the £100 originally advanced become capital, and so soon as this takes place, so soon as the son, and by the son, the father, is begotten, so soon does their difference vanish, and they again become one, £110.

Value therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital. It comes out of circulation, enters into it again, preserves and multiplies itself within its circuit, comes back out of it with expanded bulk, and begins the same round ever afresh. (Marx 107-108)

Assuming the watch (purely considered in the form of an antique) has no labor expended on it, we see that it can only exist in the C-M-C circuit. One sells the watch, but the watch cannot be reproduced. Once the money is put towards the purchase of another commodity, the cycle terminates: this is not a capitalist relation, and it is to be expected the value holds a different character.

If one wishes to make a business that sells antiques, there must be at least some level of labor involved (discovery, restoration, delivery, etc.). It is only this labor that is able to give said antique a character that can exist within an M-C-M circuit.


Returning to the topic of exchange value, Menger dedicates a good portion of the book to the elephant in the room here: the existence of money. If we were talking purely in terms of a barter, then sure, Menger could stop with that passage alone. However, this is not the case, as money exists as visible evidence of some objective relation between goods.

“To express the exchange value of a particular good, it is evidently sufficient to state the quantity of another known commodity that is regarded as its equivalent. From this it can be seen that all kinds of goods that can be objects of trade are measured, so to speak, against one another, and that any one of them can serve as a yardstick for all the others.” Similar thoughts have been expressed by almost all other economists who come, like Turgot in the course of his famous essay on the origin and distribution of national wealth, to the conclusion that money, among all possible “measures of exchange value,” is the most suitable and hence also the most common.

The only defect of this measure is said to lie in the fact that the value of money is not fixed, but changeable, and that money therefore provides a reliable measure of “exchange value” for any given moment but not for different points in time. In my discussion of price theory, however, I have shown that equivalents of goods in the objective sense of the term cannot be observed anywhere in the economy of men (p. 193), and that the entire theory that presents money as the “measure of the exchange value” of goods disintegrates into nothingness, since the basis of the theory is a fiction, an error. (Menger 274)

Menger reconciles this with his previous claim by stating that money is not a measure of exchange value, but rather instead an approximation for the exchange-value of a commodity for a given moment. However, there is still a few things this fails to answer:

Under conditions of developed trade, the only commodity in which all others can be evaluated without roundabout procedures is money. Wherever barter in the narrow sense of the term disappears, and only sums of money (for the most part) actually appear as prices of the various commodities, a reliable basis for valuation in any but monetary terms is lacking. The valuation of grain or wool, for example, is relatively simple in terms of money. But the valuation of wool in terms of grain, or of grain in terms of wool, involves greater difficulties, if for no other reason than because a direct exchange of these two goods never takes place, or only in the rarest exceptional cases, with the result that the foundation for such a valuation, the respective effective prices, is wanting. A valuation of this kind is therefore usually only possible on the basis of a computation involving, as a prerequisite, the prior valuation of the two goods in terms of money. (Menger 275)

How does disproving a quantitative equality between goods necessarily disprove money's role as a measure of value? The function itself still stands as a relation, it does not require that there is some sort of transcendent number each good is assigned, the only thing that is necessary is qualitative equality.

The first chief function of money is to supply commodities with the material for the expression of their values, or to represent their values as magnitudes of the same denomination, qualitatively equal, and quantitatively comparable. It thus serves as a universal measure of value. And only by virtue of this function does gold, the equivalent commodity par excellence, become money. It is not money that renders commodities commensurable. Just the contrary. It is because all commodities, as values, are realised human labour, and therefore commensurable, that their values can be measured by one and the same special commodity, and the latter be converted into the common measure of their values, i.e., into money. Money as a measure of value, is the phenomenal form that must of necessity be assumed by that measure of value which is immanent in commodities, labour-time. (Marx 67)

And then that brings us to the question of, what value is money representing? Yes, the value of money cannot be expressed by itself, but money is merely a representation of a relation; there's something else which has to link these goods. Before we can delve into the quantitative equivalence Menger seems preoccupied with, we first have to make sure a relation can exist.

In order to discover how the elementary expression of the value of a commodity lies hidden in the value relation of two commodities, we must, in the first place, consider the latter entirely apart from its quantitative aspect. The usual mode of procedure is generally the reverse, and in the value relation nothing is seen but the proportion between definite quantities of two different sorts of commodities that are considered equal to each other. It is apt to be forgotten that the magnitudes of different things can be compared quantitatively, only when those magnitudes are expressed in terms of the same unit. It is only as expressions of such a unit that they are of the same denomination, and therefore commensurable. (Marx 35)

The emphasis on objective relations is more than just a semantic dispute: once we acknowledge said objectivity, value can no longer exist as a subjective phenomenon, but rather instead a relative one.

Whether 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or = 20 coats or = x coats – that is, whether a given quantity of linen is worth few or many coats, every such statement implies that the linen and coats, as magnitudes of value, are expressions of the same unit, things of the same kind. Linen = coat is the basis of the equation. But the two commodities whose identity of quality is thus assumed, do not play the same part.

It is only the value of the linen that is expressed. And how? By its reference to the coat as its equivalent, as something that can be exchanged for it. In this relation the coat is the mode of existence of value, is value embodied, for only as such is it the same as the linen. On the other hand, the linen’s own value comes to the front, receives independent expression, for it is only as being value that it is comparable with the coat as a thing of equal value, or exchangeable with the coat. (Marx 35)

When dealing in relative terms, everything that is brought into the relation becomes related to everything else, whether directly or indirectly. When Menger points out that grain and wool cannot be related due to there never being a direct relation, he neglects the transitive properties of said relations. Wool is related to grain, but it is through an intermediary (in this case, money) that they become indirectly related.

The linen, by virtue of the form of its value, now stands in a social relation, no longer with only one other kind of commodity, but with the whole world of commodities. As a commodity, it is a citizen of that world. At the same time, the interminable series of value equations implies, that as regards the value of a commodity, it is a matter of indifference under what particular form, or kind, of use value it appears. In the first form, 20 yds of linen = 1 coat, it might, for ought that otherwise appears, be pure accident, that these two commodities are exchangeable in definite quantities. In the second form, on the contrary, we perceive at once the background that determines, and is essentially different from, this accidental appearance. The value of the linen remains unaltered in magnitude, whether expressed in coats, coffee, or iron, or in numberless different commodities, the property of as many different owners. The accidental relation between two individual commodity-owners disappears. It becomes plain, that it is not the exchange of commodities which regulates the magnitude of their value; but, on the contrary, that it is the magnitude of their value which controls their exchange proportions. (Marx 42)

Despite him insisiting in the aforementioned quote (Menger 146) nature/measure of value being entirely subjective, we see himself admit that it is primarily relative. This is incredibly important because assuming relativity as opposed to subjectivity leaves us with a completely different understanding of how economics can and should be approached.

Wherever men live, and whatever level of civilization they occupy, we can observe how economizing individuals weigh the relative importance of satisfaction of their various needs in general, how they weigh especially the relative importance of the separate acts leading to the more or less complete satisfaction of each need, and how they are finally guided by the results of this comparison into activities directed tothe fullest possible satisfaction of their needs. (Menger 128)

When we ask ourselves what this objective relation is, the same relation that money represents, this “relative theory of value” finally becomes the “labour theory of value”.

If then, we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But even the product of labour itself has undergone a change in our hands. If we make abstraction from its use value, we make abstraction at the same time from the material elements and shapes that make the product a use value; we see in it no longer a table, a house, yarn, or any other useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put out of sight. Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract. (Marx 28)

The one thing that ties together all commodities is the fact that they all employ some level of human labour. This common characteristic acts as the true equivalent by which the exchange-value of all commodities are realized. Taking all of this into account, we can answer to Menger's challenge here:

In my discussion of price theory, however, I have shown that equivalents of goods in the objective sense of the term cannot be observed anywhere in the economy of men (p. 193), and that the entire theory that presents money as the “measure of the exchange value” of goods disintegrates into nothingness, since the basis of the theory is a fiction, an error.

When a hundred weight of wool of given quality is sold in a particular transaction on a wool market for 103 florins, it is often found that transactions are taking place at higher and at lower prices on the same market and at the same time, at 104, 103 ½, and at 102 and 102½ florins, for example. Often too, while the buyers on the market declare themselves ready to “take” at 101 florins, the sellers simultaneously declare that they are willing to “offer” only at 105 florins. What, in such a case, is the “exchange value” of wool? Or, to state the same question in an inverse fashion, what quantity of wool is the“exchange value” of 100 florins, for example?

But a particular quantity of wool and a particular quantity of money(or any other commodity) that can mutually be exchanged for each other—that are equivalents in the objective sense of the term—can nowhere be observed for they do not exist. There can thus be no question of a measure of these equivalents (a measure of “exchange value”). (Menger 273)

There are a few things he does which may throw us off here:

  • When Marx refers to money as a “measure of value”, he does not mean “price = exchange value”. Instead what it refers to is that price is an expression of exchange value. We'll detail this distinction later.

  • Menger gives us definite numbers here, but there still is not nearly enough information to make a quantitative judgement, despite the question goading the reader into attempting such.

  • The questions and information given are already written in a fashion restricted to Menger's economic framework. Both the scope and the factors he implies govern exchange value are all very much lined up in a fashion that is compatible with his theory.

Regardless, let us attempt to answer his questions to the best of our ability.

  1. What has not changed is that the exchange-value of a commodity is governed by the amount of labour embodied within it, and this applies applies to the wool just as much as it does anything else.
    1. The buyers and sellers may have differing prices, but eventually they must come to an agreement. The variation in prices for each exchange don't necessarily disprove the relation itself, as surplus value is flexible.
    2. Notice how the negotiated price only goes so far; flexible as surplus value is, if it approaches zero, the reproduction of such a commodity would be unsustainable. Because of this, the price is primarily governed by the forces of production, not consumption.
    3. Taking a step back, we should ask ourselves the following: why are both the sellers and the buyers entering with the expectation of a price around 100 florins? It's because the exchange value is most likely reflected somewhere around that ballpark. The gravitation of price has to come back to some common factor, which is the labour embodied within each quantity of wool.
  2. The exchange value of 100 florins cannot be expressed in terms of itself without falling into tautology. It is the equivalent in this scenario.
  3. Just because the quantitative expression of value does not remain constant across all scenarios does not mean said value does not exist.

Following further research, I found that this point was actually echoed by Ernest Mandel[2] (albeit in more elegant terms):

The special nature of the neoclassical school is further emphasised by the fact that it was for a long time unable to determine the marginal value of capital goods. In the end it managed to do this only by introducing, with Böhm-Bawerk, the notion of a “roundaboutness” of production which becomes more and more intensified as capital goods increasingly enter into the process. a “roundaboutness” which has to be “paid for”. It is, moreover, unable to explain how, from the clash of millions of different individual “needs” there emerge not only uniform prices, but prices which remain stable over long periods, even under perfect conditions of free competition. Rather than an explanation of constants, and of the basic evolution of economic life, the “marginal” technique provides at best an explanation of ephemeral, short-term variations. It is significant that in Walras’s fundamental work he starts from the example of sellers and buyers “inclined to go in for bidding”, that is, to stock-exchange speculators.

Marginalism and Isolated Exchanges

Arguably, Menger's number one contribution to mainstream economics is the concept of marginalism, so it is probably worth touching on.

Marginalism analyzes economic decisions on a unit-by-unit basis: a transaction involving X quantity of a good should not be understood as one decision, but rather instead a set of X decisions, as the cost/benefit for each successive purchase is not necessarily identical.

We see now, in addition, that the satisfaction of any one specific need has, up to a certain degree of completeness, relatively the highest importance, and that further satisfaction has a progressively smaller importance, until eventually a stage is reached at which a more complete satisfaction of that particular need is a matter of indifference. Ultimately a stage occurs at which every act having the external appearance of a satisfaction of this need not only has no further importance to the consumer but is rather a burden and a pain. (Menger 124)

He then applies this principle to provide a solution to the aforementioned diamond-water paradox:

If we ask, for example, why a pound of drinking water has no value whatsoever to us under ordinary circumstances, while a minute fraction of a pound of gold or diamonds generally exhibits a very high value, the answer is as follows: Diamonds and gold are so rare that all the diamonds available to mankind could be kept ina chest and all the gold in a single large room, as a simple calculation will show. Drinking water, on the other hand, is found in such large quantities on the earth that a reservoir can hardly be imagined large enough to hold it all...

All this holds only for the ordinary circumstances of life, when drinking water is available to us in copious quantities and gold and diamonds in very small quantities. In the desert, however, where the life of a traveller is often dependent on a drink of water, it can by all means be imagined that more important satisfactions depend, for an individual, on a pound of water than on even a pound of gold. In such a case, the value of a pound of water would consequently be greater, for the individual concerned, than the value of a pound of gold. (Menger 140-141)

And looking at this hypothetical alongside many others he illustrates, we begin to see why marginalism left such an impact. It is an incredibly adequate explanation of various types of elementary exchanges. It is through these scenarios that Menger is able to both characterize and demonstrate economic behavior.

In the previous section, I directed attention to the fact that price formation and the distribution of goods conform to definite laws by first considering the simplest possible case in which an exchange of goods takes place between two economizing individuals who are not influenced by the economic activity of other persons. This case, which could be termed isolated exchange, is the most common form of human trade in the early stages of the development of civilization. (Menger 197)

In our case of marginalism, Menger provides this principle of bottom-up reasoning as means of illustration:

Economizing individuals do not use the quantities of goods available to them without regard to differences in quality when these exist. A farmer who has grain of different grades at his disposal does not, for example, use the worst grade for seeding, grain of medium quality as cattle feed, and the best for food and the production of beverages. Nor does he use the grains of different grades indiscriminately for one purpose or another. Rather, with a view to his requirements, he employs the best grade for seeding, the best that remains for food and beverages, and the grain of poorest quality for fattening cattle. (Menger 144)

Suppose that A, an American frontiersman, owns several horses but no cow, while B, his neighbor, has a number of cows but no horses. Provided that A has requirements for milk and milk products and B for draft animals, it is easy to see that a basis for exchange operations is present. But no one will maintain that the exchange of one of A’s horses, for example, for one of B’s cows would necessarily exhaust the existing basis for economic exchange operations between A and B with respect to these goods. It is equally certain, however, that a basis need not necessarily exist for exchange of the total quantities they possess. A who owns (for example) six horses may be able to satisfy his needs better if he exchanges one, or two, or perhaps even three, of his horses for B’s cows. But from this it does not necessarily follow that he would derive an economic gain from the exchange transaction if he were to barter all his horses for all of B’s cows. Although the initial economic situation provides a basis for economic exchange operations between A and B, of carrying the exchange too far might be that the needs of the two contracting parties would be less well provided for than before the exchange. (Menger 181-182)

It is because marginalism is so rooted in this intense atomization, it fails to tackle more fundamental economic questions. Sure, the concept of marginal utility helps expand upon the deviations of supply and demand, but it still ends up anchored to the presuppositions associated with it.

As Marx states in Capital's third volume, “The real difficulty in formulating the general definition of supply and demand is that it seems to take on the appearance of a tautology.”

Market Prices and Market Values

Further, in the study of money it had been assumed that the commodities are sold at their values because there was absolutely no reason to consider prices divergent from values, it being merely a matter of changes of form which commodities undergo in their transformation into money and their reconversion from money into commodities. As soon as a commodity has been sold and a new commodity bought with the receipts, we have before us the entire metamorphosis, and to this process as such it is immaterial whether the price of the commodity lies above or below its value. The value of the commodity remains important as a basis, because the concept of money cannot be developed on any other foundation, and price, in its general meaning, is but value in the form of money.

Demand and supply imply the conversion of value into market-value, and so far as they proceed on a capitalist basis, so far as the commodities are products of capital, they are based on capitalist production processes, i.e., on quite different relationships than the mere purchase and sale of goods. Here it is not a question of the formal conversion of the value of commodities into prices, i.e., not of a mere change of form. It is a question of definite deviations in quantity of the market-prices from the market-values, and, further, from the prices of production. In simple purchase and sale it suffices to have the producers of commodities as such counterposed to one another. In further analysis supply and demand presuppose the existence of different classes and sections of classes which divide the total revenue of a society and consume it among themselves as revenue, and, therefore, make up the demand created by revenue. While on the other hand it requires an insight into the over-all structure of the capitalist production process for an understanding of the supply and demand created among themselves by producers as such. (Capital Vol. 3 Section 2, Chapter 10)

On Demand

It would seem, then, that there is on the side of demand a certain magnitude of definite social wants which require for their satisfaction a definite quantity of a commodity on the market. But quantitatively, the definite social wants are very elastic and changing. Their fixedness is only apparent. If the means of subsistence were cheaper, or money-wages higher, the labourers would buy more of them, and a greater social need would arise for them, leaving aside the paupers, etc., whose demand is even below the narrowest limits of their physical wants.

On the other hand, if cotton were cheaper, for example, the capitalists' demand for it would increase, more additional capital would be thrown into the cotton industry, etc. We must never forget that the demand for productive consumption is, under our assumption, a demand of the capitalist, whose essential purpose is the production of surplus-value, so that he produces a particular commodity to this sole end... But this does exert a considerable influence on the kind of buyer the capitalist is. His demand for cotton is substantially modified by the fact that it disguises his real need for making profit.

The limits within which the need for commodities in the market, the demand, differs quantitatively from the actual social need, naturally vary considerably for different commodities; what I mean is the difference between the demanded quantity of commodities and the quantity which would have been in demand at other money-prices or other money or living conditions of the buyers. (Capital Vol. 3 Section 2, Chapter 10)

On The Intersection of Supply and Demand [section in-progress]

If supply equals demand, they cease to act, and for this very reason commodities are sold at their market-values. Whenever two forces operate equally in opposite directions, they balance one another, exert no outside influence, and any phenomena taking place in these circumstances must be explained by causes other than the effect of these two forces. If supply and demand balance one another, they cease to explain anything, do not affect market-values, and therefore leave us so much more in the dark about the reasons why the market-value is expressed in just this sum of money and no other. It is evident that the real inner laws of capitalist production cannot be explained by the interaction of supply and demand (quite aside from a deeper analysis of these two social motive forces, which would be out of place here), because these laws cannot be observed in their pure state, until supply and demand cease to act, i.e., are equated. In reality, supply and demand never coincide, or, if they do, it is by mere accident, hence scientifically = 0, and to be regarded as not having occurred.

But political economy assumes that supply and demand coincide with one another. Why? To be able to study phenomena in their fundamental relations, in the form corresponding to their conception, that is, is to study them independent of the appearances caused by the movement of supply and demand.

On the one hand, the relation of demand and supply, therefore, only explains the deviations of market-prices from market-values. On the other, it explains the tendency to eliminate these deviations, i.e., to eliminate the effect of the relation of demand and supply. (Capital Vol. 3 Section 2, Chapter 10)

These questions regarding supply and demand are less visible when considered purely on the microeconomic scale, as Menger does; the isolated exchanges he cites hold an inherent blind spot to these problems. When you're considering a hypothetical, embedded into it are various assumptions about the conditions that form it.

This is not to say that hypotheticals are necessarily misleading (after all, Marx uses them too), but rather instead, this blind spot has to be taken into consideration when drawing conclusions:

Do not let us go back to a fictitious primordial condition as the political economist does, when he tries to explain. Such a primordial condition explains nothing; it merely pushes the question away into a grey nebulous distance. The economist assumes in the form of a fact, of an event, what he is supposed to deduce – namely, the necessary relationship between two things – between, for example, division of labor and exchange. Thus the theologian explains the origin of evil by the fall of Man – that is, he assumes as a fact, in historical form, what has to be explained.

We proceed from an actual economic fact. (1844 Manuscripts)

Yet, Menger seems to neglect this quite a bit:

Economizing Individuals [section in-progress]

At the center of Menger's thought, continuously echoed throughout his work, is the idea of the economizing individual. It is through the economizing behavior of various people that the rest of his theory comes together. He defines the economizing individual as such:

Economizing individuals strive to better their economic positions as much as possible. To this end they engage in economic activity in general. And to this end also, whenever it can be attained by means of trade, they exchange goods. (Menger 191)

Menger himself acknowledges this, using this concept to fill the void left behind by his rejection of price theory:

However much prices, or in other words, the quantities of goods actually exchanged, may impress themselves on our senses, and on this account form the usual object of scientific investigation, they are by no means the most fundamental feature of the economic phenomenon of exchange. This central feature lies rather in the better provision two persons can make for the satisfaction of their needs by means of trade...

If the locks between two still bodies of water at different levels are opened, the surface will become ruffled with waves that will gradually subside until the water is still once more. The waves are only symptoms of the operation of the forces we call gravity and friction. The prices of goods, which are symptoms of an economic equilibrium in the distribution of possessions between the economies of individuals, resemble these waves. The force that drives them to the surface is the ultimate and general cause of all economic activity, the endeavor of men to satisfy their needs as completely as possible, to better their economic positions. (Menger 191-192)

Consumer Sovereignty [section to-do]

1: https://mises.org/library/ludwig-von-mises-scholar-who-would-not-compromise

2: https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/works/marxist-economic-theory/marginalists.htm

itch.io was doing a bundle of various games, and I picked up Minit since I've been eyeing it for a while. Officially, there is a Linux port, but I ran into a few difficulties with getting it to run properly on Ubuntu 19.10.

If you're running a different distro or trying this with a different game, please comment and I'll add any variations to the guide.

  1. This is specific to Ubuntu versions 19 and newer, but the game relies on an older version of libssl/libcrypto (1.0.0). If your libssl is 1.1 or newer, you won't be able to run the game.
  2. Those with AMD GPUs experience segfaulting whenever loading any GameMaker game.
  3. The game runs at a resolution of 320x240 by default (this may be because I'm running i3wm, might be different with floating window managers).

The following are the solutions I employed to get it to run properly.

Getting the Correct LibSSL Version

We're going to have to download LibSSL 1.0.0, which, if you're on a Debian-based system you can do here. Make sure to download the LibSSL file for i386, as 64-bit won't work with the game.

Open the DEB file with an archive manager, and navigate to /data.tar.xz/usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/. Extract the contents of that folder into the same folder your regular LibSSL version is (on Ubuntu it should be /usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu).

Keep this in mind for the final step, but we will have to set an environment variable each time we launch the program, the argument being:

LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu (set the path to wherever you extracted the earlier contents)

Fix for AMD GPUs

According to a Reddit thread, other GameMaker games (Undertale) are known to crash on AMD GPUs. Luckily, OP found a fix.

We'll have to include another environment variable in our run command:

AMD_DEBUG=check_vm

A few things that may be worth noting:

  • This failed to work until I capitalized the word “debug”. If it isn't working, make sure it's capitalized.
  • Older AMD drivers use R600_DEBUG instead of AMD_DEBUG. Try it if you're having compatibility issues, but be warned, the R600 option is significantly slower, so its advised anyone with a modern AMD card use the AMD_DEBUG option.

Setting Fullscreen on Start

Below is my screen when the game launches:

As you can see, the actual game window itself is very small (bottom-left corner). If you run into an issue too, open up to minit/assets/options.ini.

Add the following setting in the file to make it launch in fullscreen (and adjust to your window resolution): fullscreen=1

Putting It All Together

  • Create a .desktop file; I named mine Minit.Desktop.
  • Fill in the .desktop file as per the following template, adjusting the contents to whatever game and system you're running.
[Desktop Entry]
Name=Minit
Exec=exec AMD_DEBUG=check_vm LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu ./runner
Icon=Minit
Type=Application

To launch this file you can either move it to ~/.local/share/applications or add it into Steam as a non-Steam game.

As laid out in February's update, I've begun work on the questions which filter leaves to branches. As of writing this piece, I am currently working on the filtering for the Proprietarian leaf, which includes the following branches:

  • Classical Liberal
  • Neoliberal
  • Anarchocapitalist
  • Mutualist

Of course, this process requires me to think carefully and thoroughly about the definitions and distinctions between each branch, and I was reminded of a decision I made a little while back (also February, actually). Since I use these posts to explain design choices that may be controversial, I figured it was worth doing the same here. In addition, it will also help shine light into my thought process when deciding which branch corresponds to which leaf.

For the sake of expedience, I will be explaining this in question/answer format as opposed to paragraphs as I normally do.

Placement of Mutualism

The specific decision I'm referring to was the choice to place Mutualism under the Proprietarian leaf.

Why is that controversial?

Mutualism is a form of left-wing anarchism, and historically there has been a divide between those considered left-wing anarchists/libertarians and the right-wing anarchists/libertarians. Considering the other three branches are very much right-libertarian, this may seem like a rather odd choice.

Here's an excerpt from the Anarchist F.A.Q which does a pretty good job of showcasing the animosity:

Thus the “anarcho”-capitalist and the anarchist have different starting positions and opposite ends in mind. Their claims to being anarchists are bogus simply because they reject so much of the anarchist tradition as to make what little they do pay lip-service to non-anarchist in theory and practice. Little wonder Peter Marshall said that “few anarchists would accept the 'anarcho-capitalists' into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice.” As such, “anarcho”-capitalists, “even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists.” [Demanding the Impossible, p. 565]

It is important to note however, that the Anarchist F.A.Q. is written by social anarchists, not individualist/market anarchists. There are even two sections dedicated to providing the social anarchist rejection of individualist anarchism.

While praised for its detail in other areas, its handling of this subject has come under fire quite a bit.

Why didn't you place it under anarchism?

This might seem like the obvious thing to do, however what stopped me at first (and prompted me to do more reading) was that such a placement would end up contradicting the model.

At the core of the dichotomy (the canopy), we have an intersection of focus and approach. In other words, one's understanding of the world and what said person decides to do with it.

Referring to the Anarchist F.A.Q once again, we begin to get an idea of what the “focus” of the anarchist leaf would be:

Anarchists are anti-authoritarians because they believe that no human being should dominate another. Anarchists, in L. Susan Brown's words, “believe in the inherent dignity and worth of the human individual.” [The Politics of Individualism, p. 107] Domination is inherently degrading and demeaning, since it submerges the will and judgement of the dominated to the will and judgement of the dominators, thus destroying the dignity and self-respect that comes only from personal autonomy. Moreover, domination makes possible and generally leads to exploitation, which is the root of inequality, poverty, and social breakdown. In other words, then, the essence of anarchism (to express it positively) is free co-operation between equals to maximise their liberty and individuality.

Key words (such as dominate, individual, autonomy, authoritarian, liberty, etc.) clue us in that anarchism is politically focused in the sense that issues of coercion, state, and rule seem to be at its very core.

Of course these issues are raised by mutualists, and quite often, but the important thing to note here is that those issues are not foundational to the mutualist analysis.

What is fundamental to the mutualist analysis, however, is of an economic/material nature. This passage from Proudhon's What is Property? makes this very clear:

If, then, the State takes more from me, let it give me more in return, or cease to talk of equality of rights; for otherwise, society is established, not to defend property, but to destroy it. The State, through the proportional tax, becomes the chief of robbers; the State sets the example of systematic pillage: the State should be brought to the bar of justice at the head of those hideous brigands, that execrable mob which it now kills from motives of professional jealousy.

But, they say, the courts and the police force are established to restrain this mob; government is a company, not exactly for insurance, for it does not insure, but for vengeance and repression. The premium which this company exacts, the tax, is divided in proportion to property; that is, in proportion to the trouble which each piece of property occasions the avengers and repressers paid by the government.

This is any thing but the absolute and inalienable right of property. Under this system the poor and the rich distrust, and make war upon, each other. But what is the object of the war? Property. So that property is necessarily accompanied by war upon property. The liberty and security of the rich do not suffer from the liberty and security of the poor; far from that, they mutually strengthen and sustain each other. The rich man's right of property, on the contrary, has to be continually defended against the poor man's desire for property. What a contradiction!

A quick summary for those who didn't want to read all that: Proudhon is saying everything comes back to property, the state acts in the interests of property, and it is property that divides the oppressor from the oppressed.

I consider this focus on property foundational as it is what underpins the rest of his analysis, it is central to mutualism.

Why not place it under communism?

The next place one may consider is to put it in the communist branch, after all, as we've established, mutualism is economically focused.

You could point to a few similarities, (namely the belief in the LTV and the abolition of private property) but ultimately, those are mostly superficial.

While both hold foundations that are economic in nature, there's a difference in how that perspective is approached. Mutualism specifically targets the concept of property itself, while communism is mroe generally anti-economic.

This leads to differences such as mutualists supporting currency, markets, and the dedicated production of commodities. And even if we define communism as labor-focused, it's important to note that the LTV is by no means central to mutualism; it's not at all unusual to see a mutualist that abides by the STV.

Despite mutualists being considered socialists, they most definitely are not communists, as Proudhon can attest to:

Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised: physical and mental force; force of events, chance, fortune; force of accumulated property, &c. In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain; for, although it may be the duty of the strong to aid the weak, they prefer to do it out of generosity, — they never will endure a comparison. Give them equal opportunities of labor, and equal wages, but never allow their jealousy to be awakened by mutual suspicion of unfaithfulness in the performance of the common task.

Aren't mutualists anti-property? Can you really call them “proprietarians”?

It's reductionist to say mutualists are outright anti-property. As anarchist historian Colin Ward points out, Proudhon assigned a double-meaning to the word property:

He became famous in 1840 by virtue of an essay that declared that ‘Property is Theft’, but he also claimed that ‘Property is Freedom’. He saw no contradiction between these two slogans, since he thought it obvious that the first related to the landowner and capitalist whose ownership derived from conquest or exploitation and was sustained only through the state, its property laws, police, and army; while the second was concerned with the peasant or artisan family with an obvious natural right to a home, to the land it could cultivate, and to the tools of a trade, but not to ownership or control of the homes, land, or livelihood of others. (Anarchism, a Very Short Introduction, 2004)

In this sense, mutualism is in favor of property, but specifically the forms of property it considers valid. Proudhon considers the “invalid property” to be theft because it comes into conflict with the legitimate forms of property.

The debate over the homestead principle is a great example of this. Here we see an issue where both right-anarchists and left-anarchists are dealing in the same terms, but have come to completely different conclusions; it all comes back to the question of what makes something property.

To the right-libertarian, whoever originally mixed their labor with a natural resource (such as land) now owns that resource, while to a left-libertarian, whoever is currently mixing their labor with that resource owns it.

What we end up seeing is that the basic focus (property) and approach (to protect it) is still there, but there is simply a different interpretation of what that truly means.

And what we are beginning to see is that major thinkers such as Kevin Carson (a mutualist) and Murray Rothbard (an anarchocapitalist) have begun seriously engaging with each others' ideas. Sure, there is disagreements (rather large ones at that), but the important part is that there is engagement. Two fundamentally incompatible worldviews would not be able to engage like this because they would be dealing in completely different terms and assumptions.

Most right-libertarians are closet reactionaries, aren't they?

This is why I consciously rely on academic and historical sources for the project. Yes, self-proclaimed internet “anarcho-capitalists” like Stefan Molyneux have more in common with the far-right than anarchists, but the reality of the matter is that internet politics should never be taken seriously.

It's entertainment at best, and most of the “ideological lines” are almost entirely aesthetic in nature.

Then there's the issue that you can't really cite a source so amorphous as the general opinion of a group, no matter how apparent this seems.

Anyways, the whole point of this is to get people out of aesthetic meme politics and actually learning, so it'd be counterproductive to model it to accommodate this fact.

Despite not penning an update on the official timeline, I've spent the months of December and January mostly attempting to grind through the remaining results pages and getting together the sources. While it has progressively gotten more difficult as I'm forced to finish the pages I've put off for a while, I am really happy to say that I have finished 32 out of 34 of the results pages, along with their respective reading sources.

So as we near the end of this leg of the development process, I do want to discuss one more thing related to my design choices for this project: how I go about distributing the reading material suggested by the site.

The Fundamental Principle

Above all else, one of the key principles underlying this project is the absolute freedom of information. The assessment itself serves to deal with the more intellectual barriers to accessing information (such as the sifting of information), and it's the same principle that has led me to put just as much time into making the information itself accessible as much as I put into the website itself.

A lot of the works listed are primary sources, seminal texts and cornerstones in the political thought that makes up the world today. But it is not enough for the information to just exist if people are unable to find it; an integral part of learning is also the presentation of information, and this is where I feel I have to step in to ensure that the information is able to get to the person who is willing to take the step to learn about these subjects.

The main obstacle to achieving this is intellectual property and the commodification of information. It cannot be understated how quickly intellectual property is becoming a major industrial force: to get a full grasp of the industrial factors behind IP, I highly recommend reading this 2016 report by the USPTO.

For those too lazy to read, I'll give you a rundown of a few of the most interesting insights:

  • Currently trademark and copyright-intensive industries make up a combined 40.4% of the total United States GDP.
  • Businesses in the field of selling newspapers/periodicals/books have netted about $2.9 billion worth of exports in the year 2012.
  • Over the course of the Information Age, copyright-intensive industries have shown employment growth greatly outperforming other sectors, whether they be reliant on trademarks or no IP at all. (see below)
  • IP-intensive industries constitute about thirty percent of all employment nationwide.

Employment statistics

When we stop looking at the larger picture, even as individuals we can see the effects. Search up any of these books, and most of the time you'll either be redirected to the Amazon page to buy it, or if you're less lucky, asked to subscribe to an academic database to access it. Articles discussing said works typically link to store pages, and so do general directories.

And this is where the exclusive nature of intellectual property begins to rear its ugly head: through the constant encroaching of DRM and aggressive copyright enforcement, information is quickly being walled off. You may be a person who cannot afford to pay, a person in a country which is unable to access the work to due regional restrictions, or even a historian in the far future struggling to recover a cultural artifact due to its limited availability.

The internet is an absolutely powerful tool, with the ability to connect people and ideas in a way never thought possible before: this could mean learning a new skill, meeting people with completely different experiences than you, or using digital tools to create information of your own. But all of this depends upon the freedom of information.

It is because of this, I have made the effort not just to create a novel political model, but also use the opportunity to help ensure that information remains free from the industrial stranglehold that remains on it.

My Current Strategies

There are times where I am lucky and am able to get my hands on a standard PDF for a book. Online libraries which share this same goal, such as Archive.org, the Marxists Internet Archive, The Anarchist Library, and Project Gutenberg have been invaluable tools to ensure this project's completion. Currently the vast majority of the texts linked are standard PDFs, obtained through varying degrees of effort and looking.

However, no matter my determination, there are still places where I hit a roadblock: accessing digital copies can occasionally be outright impossible sometimes, especially with older and more obscure texts. As an alternative approach, I've worked on attempting to manually transcribe physical copies to LaTeX. While the results have come out very well, considering LaTeX is an incredibly versatile program, there still is the issue of how incredibly time-consuming it is.

If you would like to see a sample of this, I have already transcribed the first nine pages of The Futurist Cookbook. I may return to this approach, as I still believe it holds promise, but I think I will need something else for the time being.

Deciding on a Stopgap

I'm simply using this section to write down what is going through my head right now, even if the ideas themselves aren't completely thought over or fully formed. After all, the main reason I write these short commentaries on the creation process is usually to outline my thought process when faced with crossroads of design decisions. This is no exception.

As neat of a solution as transcribing books is, as I close in on the end of this stage of development, I have to be realistic with how I'm allocating my time. Simply giving the ISBN would probably be too confusing for the end-user, especially considering the point of this is for me to expedite the research process for them. I still hold strong to not linking to storepages, and I do not see myself backing down on that any time soon.

When deciding what to do next, I was faced with two options:

  • Link to a listing of used books, on a search engine such as eBay or AbeBooks.
  • Link to a search engine for public libraries and their stock, such as WorldCat.

I initially considered the first option, since while used books cost money, they aren't subject to industrial forces in the same way a new book is. There's a distinction which I think can be best explained by the concept of CMC/MCM circuits as laid out in Capital Volume I:

The simplest form of the circulation of commodities is C-M-C, the transformation of commodities into money, and the change of the money back again into commodities; or selling in order to buy. But alongside of this form we find another specifically different form: M-C-M, the transformation of money into commodities, and the change of commodities back again into money; or buying in order to sell. Money that circulates in the latter manner is thereby transformed into, becomes capital, and is already potentially capital.

What, however, first and foremost distinguishes the circuit C-M-C from the circuit M-C-M, is the inverted order of succession of the two phases. The simple circulation of commodities begins with a sale and ends with a purchase, while the circulation of money as capital begins with a purchase and ends with a sale. In the one case both the starting-point and the goal are commodities, in the other they are money. In the first form the movement is brought about by the intervention of money, in the second by that of a commodity.

In the circulation C-M-C, the money is in the end converted into a commodity, that serves as a use-value; it is spent once for all. In the inverted form, M-C-M, on the contrary, the buyer lays out money in order that, as a seller, he may recover money. By the purchase of his commodity he throws money into circulation, in order to withdraw it again by the sale of the same commodity. He lets the money go, but only with the sly intention of getting it back again. The money, therefore, is not spent, it is merely advanced.

In simpler terms, because a CMC circuit begins and ends with a good, it is unable to loop. The commodity sold in a CMC ends up being replaced by another commodity, preventing an industry from being able to form around this relation.

Selling a used book seems to mirror this, however, there is one issue. Something other than the book is industrialized, and that is the service associated with online reselling. Going to such an effort would be futile if you still found yourself promoting something else. But more importantly than that, online reselling still finds itself setting up geographic and financial barriers.

For now, I think it is best to link to a library database like WorldCat, but even that poses barriers, mainly in convenience and once again, geographic ability. It'll most definitely have to be a short-term solution, and I'm probably going to continue exploring ways to expedite the transcription process.

How You Can Help

Another key component of the internet is collaboration; people who have access to different resources and have different skills are able to work together towards a common goal.

If anyone is interested in helping me find references, I have posted my major dead-ends under the “Wanted Reference” tag on GitLab. I accompanied each issue with whatever leads I have found in my research, and if you are able to figure out how to acquire these missing pieces, please let me know.

The best way to contact me is through my Mastodon, if you have any ideas or questions.

Federation on The Go

Note: Once again, I apologize for the (this time much longer) hiatus. Quite a few months ago, I partnered with WeDistribute, a news-site that was acting as the official mouthpiece for Feneas. The original plan I had in mind was to continue on Fediverse Spotlight after I got both of the already-written articles ported to there. However, the chief editor has been less and less active as of late.

I hold no ill will or resentment, but I must begin resuming this project under the assumption that the site is abandoned; the fediverse is at a crucial stage in its development and I do not want to waste this opportunity to help it grow by indefinitely waiting.


What is FediLab?

This is the first time I'm reviewing an actual work of free-software rather than just free-culture, but as it is directly related to the fediverse, I think it makes a good place to start. There's a lot of mobile clients out there, but FediLab remains the only one I've seen which handles multiple services rather than being dedicated to just one.

Here's what you need to know about FediLab:

  • Fedilab currently supports six different federated services: PeerTube, Mastodon, PixelFed, Friendica, Pleroma, and GNU Social.
  • It is licensed under GPLv3, making it a true copyleft work rather than just simply permissive.
  • It is currently being maintained by a solo developer (Thomas) rather than a team; to Thomas' credit, he is incredibly active and responsive to community feedback.
    • As of writing this article:
      • The last update was one week ago. (Jan. 19, 2020)
      • The last bug report Thomas responded to was 9 hours ago. (Jan. 30, 2020)
      • The last issue Thomas has resolved was two weeks ago. (Jan. 14, 2020)
  • All in-app links to Twitter/YouTube are automatically replaced with Nitter and Invidious, open-source front-ends that strip out all telemetry from the aforementioned services.
  • The app's color scheme can be easily customized, exported, shared, and imported thanks to a simple and portable theming system.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • The most polarizing, yet unique choice is designing Fedilab to be one app for multiple services. Most mobile apps focus on one service, so this approach is definitely unique.
    • The execution is astonishingly good. This is a solo-effort by a developer who only asks for donations to cover server-costs. Then consider that this is fusing different types of services, each of which with self-hosted instances, and based on a platform that's very much in its infancy. The consistency, determination, and humility shown by Thomas is something I deeply respect, especially in the face of such a colossal challenge.
    • One of the strengths of this is that it helps play into the interconnectivity of the fediverse. Being able to quickly switch between PeerTube, Mastodon, and PixelFed is admittedly rather neat and is better for a quick daily catch-up.
    • On the flipside, having all of this in one app feels rather... distracting. As an end-user, I feel like its easier to focus when the environment I'm working in is dedicated to that specific task. As much as I appreciate Thomas' effort, I feel this undertaking conceptually would be a lot better as a suite of apps.
    • The app is huge, around 38MB. However, there is a Lite version which clocks around a much more reasonable 11MB.
  • Due to the sheer amount of moving parts, there's a noticeable amount of bugs here and there. To Thomas' credit, this project is an incredibly delicate balancing act and he's continued to patch them in an incredibly timely fashion.
  • Despite the wide variety of offered services, they all have a consistent UI that is clean, functional, and easy to pick up. Just today, I installed the update that integrated PixelFed support and I understood how to navigate it within less than a minute.
  • I very much appreciate the implementation of Nitter/Invidious; it highlights the open nature of the free-software community and how this sort of collaboration can manifest to give us creative solutions to simple problems like this.
  • I use a Blackberry 10 device as a daily driver, and the main reason I continue to use Fedilab is that it's maintained fantastic compatibility with older Android versions. This is incredibly important because BB10's Android emulator runs KitKat.

Screenshots from F-Droid

Interview with Developer

1. Why did you create an all-in-one app as opposed to a dedicated one?

I published the first release of Fedilab on May 2017 (previously Mastalab) because I discovered the Fediverse through Mastodon few weeks ago. Then I discovered Peertube, and I wanted to keep the same logic of an app for the Fediverse. That's also why the app uses many portion of code for working with different social networks. Other supports came later with user suggestions. Also, managing several apps will be resourceful (different projects, publications with a lot of common code).

2. As a solo developer, do you ever see yourself burning out? Would you bring other people to work on the project?

Yes, sometimes it's hard to keep this motivation. That's why encouraging messages are really useful. I mostly do know every weaknesses of the app. I do care of messages that criticize the app because they help to point out most important issues. But I have the help of several people for translations and also someone helping me in background.

3. How has the community been at suggesting things and reporting issues? Have you noticed your communication with them having an effect on how you handle the project?

Fedilab is simply built with feedback. I added a lot of features that could have been suggested or things I wanted. I really do care about people suggestions. That's how the app grows up since its beginning.

4. Do you use your own app to browse the Fediverse? If so, how does it feel when you're using it?

Yes, I mainly only use it. My critics would be the same than others. It's slower and less smoothly than other apps. But, I can't switch because I do need extra in-app features. I planned to fix all that bugs to let new ones come.


FediLab also has an official Mastodon; if you would like to donate to help cover server costs, Thomas has set up a Paypal.me. The source code for FediLab, alongside all of the other apps he has developed can be found on his GitLab.

Disclaimer: I am in no way, shape or form officially affiliated with any of the projects/instances. I write/cover on this topic because I genuinely care for it.


As people become increasingly disillusioned with “conventional social media”, there's a lot of confusion among creators regarding alternatives for publishing their work.

There's been multiple attempts by vultures, usually involving crypto-currency in one way or another: these are often structured similar to Ponzi schemes and should be avoided at all costs.

However, past all of that, there is one initiative that holds promise for creators who are scared of copyright/censorship: the Fediverse.

What Is the Fediverse?

The Fediverse is a term used to refer to the ecosystem created by various interconnected instances to make one unified yet decentralized social media community.

All of these “instances” are individually hosted websites with their own rules and administration: however, they all run a common, open source application under the hood that links them all to each other.

This allows for the giant content pool of centralized social media without any of the centralized control. Don't like the rules of one instance? That's fine, just go to another one which you like more.

Due to the checks provided by federation/FOSS, the freedom often claimed by many isn't just a hollow promise. It's in place regardless of what the original creators decide to do years down the line.

Where do I publish/register?

The instance recommendations are subject to change at any time, for obvious reasons.

Registration seems to throw people off, but it's easy once you have a lead on where to look. Here's a quick guide.

Music/Podcasts

  • Best Service: FunkWhale
  • Recommended Instance: Official
  • Replaces: SoundCloud
  • Mobile App: Otter

Videos

  • Best Service: PeerTube
  • Recommended Instance: LinuxRocks
  • Replaces: YouTube
  • Mobile App: Thorium

Art/Photography

  • Best Service: PixelFed
  • Recommended Instance: Official
  • Replaces: YouTube
  • Mobile App: Thorium

Blogging/Writing

  • Best Service: Plume
  • Recommended Instance: Official
  • Replaces: Medium/WordPress

FAQ

Why should I care? A lot of the popular platforms have become quasi-monopolistic, and as a result it is no longer out of the ordinary for a creator to get screwed over. False copyright claims, sporadic removals/demonetization are incredibly common and difficult to appeal usually.

I'm not sure if I want to fully commit yet.

That's fine, you can still mirror your content over to these services. This will give you a backup incase something happens to your original account and also give you a chance to try out these services.

How will I get paid without ads/crypto?

Ad-revenue and crypto both have their issues to the point that anyone who expects to seriously get paid should not expect this to be a stable source of money.

At this point, independent creators are best off relying on donation platforms; here are a few options:

  • LiberaPay is a popular option with Fediverse creators, functioning similarly to Patreon but with a few key differences.
  • The traditional option is Patreon, a donation platform that works similarly to a subscription model for the people who wish to donate to you.
  • If you don't want a subscription or for some reason want additional privacy, setting up a Monero wallet is probably your best bet. The process is a bit more involved, so I wouldn't recommend it if you just want an easy way to get paid.

Our understanding of reactionary movements as a whole, both past and present, must take into consideration the historical context.


It must be remembered that reaction isn't limited to any historical movement; over time it constantly undergoes transformations in name, appearance, and manifestation.

Reaction, at its core, isn't an ideology or set of values, but rather instead a historical phenomenon. As the world undergoes major changes in its evolution, groups accustomed to the previous status quo find themselves at odds with the new order. This conflict gives rise to paranoid mobs, opportunistic hero-figures, and an attempt to re-establish what the reactionaries had lost.

It is because of this, the reactionary is a product of their time. In the broad sense of the term, “reaction” is inherently contextual. The reaction is innately tied to the action. Without understanding the historical background, one will struggle to get a clear picture of how the reaction is unfolding.

The goal of this essay is to get a picture of the modern reactionary, to understand exactly how reaction has evolved since nearly a century ago.

Rebuilding the Right

The dawn of the 20th century brought with it the Second Industrial Revolution, the fall of monarchy, and a nascent global market: in other words, liberal capitalism had matured and was proving to be a fatal threat to the monarchies of old. As the economic bar continuously rose, nationalism was proving to be more and more unsustainable.

Former imperial powerhouses had slowly, but surely witnessed their authority be chipped away by the new industrial order. A deadly combination of modernist philosophy and international trade was enough to put giants such as Spain, Prussia, and Japan on the defensive.

  • Historically, rulers depended on religious and hereditary claims to their throne; this was effective because information and written communication was left in the hands of the few at first. Because information was so horribly fragmented, very few were even remotely literate enough to take advantage of written language and sufficiently question this authority. For most of Europe, this came with the invention of the printing press and the rise of Protestant Christianity. The former would allow for written material to be reproduced and spread at incredible rates, whereas the latter would encourage the literacy needed to understand said written material.

  • The liberal rejection of economic autarky was no help either: the shift in production that accompanied the Industrial Revolution gave way to a new economy. An economy in which nations with different social structures, governments, and natural resources would collaborate to expand and accelerate production. The barometer for authority was changing, and the kings of old were being quickly pushed aside to make way for the barons of new.

Both of these were absolutely necessary occurrences in order to justify the change of production, and even each other to an extent. Thanks to the economic effects of the printing press, information was no longer contained, but rather instead privatized: this allowed people to reject static dogma in favor of adherence to flexible methodologies that were able to adapt and be shaped with changes in information. In turn, the pursuit of understanding and skepticism pushed people to transcend national borders in order to further the sphere of discussion and research.

Of course, this dealt a devastating blow to orthodox nationalism, people were able to look beyond their own surroundings and challenge the idea of their king and nation being the absolute truth. Revolutions sprung up all across Europe, and it became increasingly clear the capitalist mode of production was here to stay. And as the world closed in on the 20th century, it was becoming increasingly clear nationalists had to adapt if they wanted to maintain their relevance.

The narrative of the First World War recounts this: the Germans didn’t just lose, they lost in a slow, brutal, and humiliating fashion. The authority of the Kaiser was completely ridiculed on the public stage, and German nationalists, most prominently those in the military, faced a dilemma: this loss was powerful fodder for their political opponents, opponents who began building coalitions around the rejection of communitarianism. The nationalists knew they had to ally themselves with the growing fascist movement and embrace its innovations: namely Social Darwinism and palingenesis.

  • Social Darwinism, which fuses rigid hierarchy with modernist rhetoric. The idea of “might makes right” creates a self-evident justification for the ruling parties by exploiting one of modernism’s worst flaws: methodology isn’t safe from dogmatism either. Mass printed propaganda and excessive scientism comes together to create a cultish cognitive dissonance that has adherents simultaneously rejecting reason while parading themselves as the champions of it. The skepticism that stood at the core of the Enlightenment was not safe from subversion either, instead being utilized by demagogues to create a sense of paranoia against a grand conspiracy in which nobody can be trusted.

  • This eventually ties into palingenesis or the concept of national rebirth, by taking the defensive war of the fascists and turning it on its head. In palingenesis, the nation is under simultaneously under attack and realizing its true potential, meaning they are both perpetual victims and the revolutionary vanguard.

It’s simultaneously progressive and reactionary, protecting and celebrating what makes up the nation all while also inciting people to kickstart the process to create said nation. Irridentism, or the idea of reclaiming lost land plays into this too: it brings a fascist spin to foreign policy; starting wars and invading countries is no longer “globalism” but rather instead framed as the retaking of what rightfully belongs to the people.

When you piece all this together, you do begin to see that the theories of fascism fit reaction like a glove. The vacuum it filled arose out of industrialization, it relied on coalitions with the displaced aristocracies of old, and it's theories were adaptations to philosophical and industrial modernism.

The Fate of the Radical Right

There are notable breaks from the purely theoretical fascism once it is put into practice. I think one of the best ways to demonstrate this break is to look at its historical relationship with Christianity, for reasons that will soon be clear.

When we look at the turn of the century, when fascism was still nascent and not tainted by tactical compromises, we see one of the first targets of this movement is Christianity and its “slave morality”.

Starting with Ragnar Redbeard, who provides us one of the earliest defenses of social Darwinism:

The world awaits the coming of mighty men of valor, great destroyers; destroyers of all that is vile, angels of death. We are sick unto nausea of the “good Lord Jesus,” terror-stricken under the executive of priest, mob and proconsul. We are tired to death of “Equality.” Gods are at a discount, devils are in demand. He who would rule the coming age must be hard, cruel, and deliberately intrepid, for softness assails not successfully the idols of the multitude. Those idols must be smashed into fragments, burnt into ashes, and that cannot be done by the gospel of love.

From there, we move into the Traditionalist school and various theoreticians who explicitly chose pagan/syncretic inspirations as a foundation for the esoteric. Most notorious of these is Julius Evola:

Christianity is at the root of the evil that has corrupted the West. This is the truth, and it does not admit uncertainty.

And at the culmination of all of this, we have the Italian Futurists, an artistic movement that openly and brazenly rejects reactionary nostalgia in favor of hypermodernity.

It is from Italy that we are flinging this to the world, our manifesto of burning and overwhelming violence, with which we today establish 'Futurism',for we intend to free this nation from its fetid cancer of professors, archaeologists, tour guides, and antiquarians.

Anyways, the reason I bring up Christianity specifically is because of Italy. Italy, while being a hotbed for this new movement, also happened to be home of the Catholic Church. It was unavoidable: if one wished for political success within that nation, especially among the right, the Catholic Church had to be appeased.

Redbeard, despite being the only non-Italian mentioned in this section, is able to predict the strategy the Italian fascists would employ to seize power:

Neither morals, laws, nor creeds are First Principles, but they may (probably) have their uses; just as guillotines, and gardeners’ hoes have THEIR uses. They may be convenient engines for the deletion of Lower Organisms, for extirpating individuals of infantile intellect. Indeed the secret object of all superstitions possibly is, to provide an ultra-rational sanction for fraudulent standards of Right and Wrong.

Before taking upon the responsibility of maintaining power, Mussolini himself publicly expressed his disdain for the Catholic Church:

As a young man, Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) had been a socialist atheist who referred to Catholic priests as “black germs” (Mussolini, 2004). When planning to get married, Mussolini chose a civil ceremony rather than being wed in a church. But his attitude about Catholicism changed dramatically when, in 1922, he was elected head of the Italian government.

But regardless of the intensity of the ideological differences, the gap had to be bridged somehow; the Catholic Church simply held too much power:

Even as early as 1920 he had observed that the pope represented “400 million men scattered the world over... a colossal force (Mussolini, 2004). Hence,he could not afford to anger the pope and the cardinals. Therefore, as the years advanced, he created ever stronger ties with the Vatican by requiring the display of a crucifix in every school classroom (1924, 1927), by his remarriage in a church ceremony (1925), and by his arranging the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The treaty recognized the Vatican as a sovereign state, accorded the pope the privileges of a head of state, and awarded the Roman Catholic Church a large sum of money as reparation for the treatment the church had suffered in 1870 when the Vatican’s control over the papal states was forcibly terminated.

Even the brazenly radical Marinetti quickly found himself having to capitulate to the Church to get anywhere:

Only Futurist artists, who for twenty years have addressed the complex matter of simultaneity, are able to express clearly, with suitable interpenetrations of time and space, the simultaneous dogmas of the Catholic faith, such as the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Conception and Christ’s Calvary.

If the preceding quotes haven't made it clear enough yet: the radical right was doomed from the start. They justified the appeal to reaction as part of political manipulation, but the power gap was simply too wide; the fascists found themselves having to constantly compromise and appease until their once-proud movement became an ideological Frankenstein.

It's this sort of desperate negotiation that showcases the internal contradictions: scientific yet anti-intellectual, elitist yet populist, strength-worshiping yet born out of weakness, nihilistic yet moralistic, the further and further it devolved, the more absurd it became.

Stripped down to its core, we see the “political religion” on full display: a desperate, emotional mess of cognitive dissonance and aesthetic fetishization.

History Repeats Itself

It's been nearly a century since Mussolini first took power, and it'd be a gross understatement to say that things have changed since then. With the Cold War and WWII scored away, international hegemony seemed to be centralizing under the West, especially in the 90s and 00s. As then-president Bush put it:

“A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known”.

This sentiment echoed throughout Fukuyama's The End of History and The Last Man, where he attempted to use Hegelian teleology to proclaim his era as the ultimate evolution in human history. While his claim was quickly contested in academic circles, the notion quickly found itself at home in public discourse. Things seemed to also look just as bright on the economic side; the Information Age brought with it massive technological leaps on par with the Industrial Revolution a century before it.

But as with said Industrial Era, such optimism proved itself to be incredibly naive. The collapse of the Soviet bloc and the intensification of economic imperialism has been the source of building tension, and the ground for a re-emergent reaction could be considered rather fertile, especially in countries who have been subject to Cold War hegemony: Russia, Philippines, Turkey, Iran, and Brazil.

What we are seeing now is another “reaction” if you will, this time to the new events that peppered the 20th century. Despite some common (and familiar) themes of anti-intellectualism and protectionism, it's still rather primitive ideologically; still having to rely on justification through vague populist appeals.

I think a good way to describe the present condition is to use a historical parallel: for the sake of simplicity I'll cite the Völkisch movement, but there's plenty of examples to go through if you so wish. As I've made clear throughout the essay, with the Industrial Revolution came upheaval, but it must be noted the upheaval wasn't instantaneous: Nazism (as per the German example we're using) did not come out of thin air. What preceded it throughout the 19th century was a vague, broadly populist, amorphous collection of reactionary sentiment.

A study of the latter type is certainly necessary, given that one of the consistent features of the völkisch movement was its diversity. As Roger Griffin has argued, a “striking feature of the sub-culture... was just how prolific and variegated it was... [T]he only denominator common to all was the myth of national rebirth.” In short, the völkisch movement contained a colorful, varied, and often bewildering range of religious beliefs.

The article cited here specifically deals with the issue of religion, however it is important to note that this level of variety can be seen in other aspects of the movement, which is why its often referred to as a subculture. And by the time it hit its boiling point, it found an ideology that was suited to its theme of national rebirth like a glove: fascism.

All of this is important because we can see that the sentiment predated the ideology; fascism was a manifestation, a vessel of the broader reaction. And while fascism was undeniably linked to reaction in the 20th century, we mustn't completely co-inflate the two. Just as we witnessed the fascists assert their novelty by breaking with the monarchists, we must be prepared to take an analysis of reaction that goes beyond fascism. As we discussed previously, fascism is uniquely born out of it's time, and as that time becomes history, so does its relevance as a tool of reaction.

Looking at the post-war works of the aformentioned Julius Evola, this “post-fascism” becomes immediately apparent:

What is called the Right in today’s Italy includes various monarchists, and especially those tendencies with a ‘‘nationalist’’ orientation that are committed to maintaining ideological ties with the preceding regime, that is, Fascism. What has so far been lacking in these tendencies is the necessary differentiation that could allow them to appear as representatives of an authentic Right. This belief is the result of thoughts we shall develop that are devoted to distinguishing the ideological contents of Fascism. Making these distinctions should have represented for this movement an essential theoretical and practical task, which instead has been overlooked.

And as history continued even past Evola's time, it became increasingly clear reaction was moving away from fascism. What we got instead were groups such as the French New Right, who distanced themselves from fascism, utilizing politics more characteristic of the era. The New Right, just like the New Left, shaped their strategy around the battlefield of late modernity; their visions of “archeofuturism” and “cultural identity” carried on through the following decades into what would become the alt-right.

Neo-Reaction


Referenced Works:

  • Redbeard, Ragnar. Might is Right, Or, the Survival of the Fittest. 5th ed. London: W.J. Robbins, 1910.
  • Evola, Julius, and John B. Morgan. 2013. Fascism viewed from the Right.
  • Thomas, R. Murray. Religion in Schools: Controversies Around the World. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2006.
  • Marinetti, F. T. 1983. Manifesto of futurism. [New Haven]: Yale Library Associates.
  • Koehne, Samuel. “Were the National Socialists a “Völkisch” Party? Paganism, Christianity, and the Nazi Christmas.” Central European History 47, no. 4 (2014): 760-90. www.jstor.org/stable/43965085.

Thesis: Capitalism must be understood as a wholly structural concept; in contrast to moralistic concepts, we cannot judge it by right/wrong, but rather instead look at its internal contradictions. It is not created/maintained by one person or a group of people, but rather instead, the result of countless abstract societal relations and understandings.


Quite arguably, the most important legacy left by Marx's work was the “science of socialism”. This move to rationalize the socialist movement, of course, would contrast heavily with the utopian tendencies of the socialists of his time.

For the utopians, socialist society was their logical starting point; their analysis of the world around them and the process of socialism had to be extrapolated from their vision. While this allowed for stretched imagination and expanded discussion, it was not something sustainably pursuable. There had to be a move forward towards something more concrete.

While there is debate over whether Marxism is technically a science or not, the sort of cold, objective attitude associated with science was definitely present. More specifically, the “science of socialism” usually refers to Marx's structural analysis of capitalist society itself; the utopians formulated their critique in relation to their ideal, while the critique of Marx had to begin with the negation of the present.

And following the fallout of the Cold War and the breakdown of Marxism-Leninism, we seem to have reverted back to a state that hasn't just rejected structural analysis, but has instead forgotten it. Unable to conceive anything outside of capital, social democrats, anarchists, and state socialists have found themselves all retreating back to the same view of socialism as a moral struggle; this is exactly why I feel it is necessary to restate the structuralism that is capitalism.

The Historical Basis of Economy

It's important to include a historical element to our analysis, not just for establishing precedent, but because history gives us a look into how production evolves and manifests. History isn't static, and limiting yourself to one frame of reference, whether it be past or present, prevents you from getting a fuller picture of the situation at hand.

This section is a relatively brief restatement of historical materialism, as a simple matter of laying foundation.

As materialist historiography dictates, we see history take upon different stages that gradually brought a dispersed humanity consisting of hunters and gatherers into a society based around industrialization.

While there is a lot to be said regarding the specifics of the various stages, I'd like to focus on the key insights we get here.

Firstly, that the catalyst of this process is the introduction of trade into human relations. We can tell this for two reasons:

  • One, we see a coherent pattern arise when discussing historical progression, in that the evolution of production and society always precedes the evolution of society. Production itself is an extension of the relations of trade.
  • The trade relation is inherently axiomatic in that it presupposes all other social and material relation. Concepts of currency, ownership, industry, and value rely on this as a foundational justification for their existence.

So what exactly is the trade relation? I think the best way to explain it is to start by constructing a controlled environment; obviously there's going to be issues doing this empirically, so we'll have to rely on a hypothetical here.

Assume you are one of two people in a pre-civilization world. You have an excess of fruit you've picked, and the other person has an excess of crude knives they have crafted. For whatever reason, both of you want to eat some chopped fruit, so you decide to give him some of your fruit if he gives you some of his knives.

It's a rather basic example, which is why it's useful for a closer analysis. The first question each participant has to resolve is: how much fruit is worth how many knives? Intention is unimportant here; whether or not they are looking to make a fair deal or get a bargain, they still will need to make a mental judgement on this in order to decide.

Whatever answer they come up with determines the exchange value of each product. And once you begin creating more and more trade relations between different products, you create a relative system of value.

  1. Currency acts as a universal language of exchange-value, so to speak, aggregating all these trade relations into a numerical scale. As currency becomes the language of commodities, it becomes a necessity to survive: you accumulate currency by selling goods you produced, and industry is born out of many people producing and trading simultaneously.
  2. In order to ensure that a commodity can be produced steadily, industry takes control of resources that are essential to reproducing these commodities, control justified by claims of ownership, claims we call property.
  3. Because ownership is fundamentally exclusive in nature; there are going to be those who do not own property. What they do own, however, is their own productive capacity, their labor, which is a key component of transforming a raw resource into a commodity that can be traded.
  4. In order to convert that labor into the exchange-value necessary for survival, they negotiate with those who own property: they supply their labor to ensure the reproduction of the commodity being produced, and the property owner supplies them with just enough compensation to ensure they able to continue working and reproducing said labor.
  5. Ownership in name only doesn't do much; a person who rejects the claims could take whatever is being owned for themselves. So in order for the ownership to be protected and recognized, a state must be created, able to use force to maintain the validity of the claims of ownership.

Of course, there's a lot of concerning implications to this, but that's not the focus right now. Right now, above all else, what we are establishing is that, yes, all of this is interconnected and foundationally based upon the trade relation. I must stress this because before we can even get into criticizing structural economy, we have to first acknowledge that structural economy even exists.

The Necessity of Capitalism

So now, we have established economy as a structural process, but we still haven't talked about capitalism: after all, capitalism is not synonymous with economy but, rather instead, a stage of economy.

And in this sense, capitalism is a necessary evolution: it's an unsustainable and ultimately contradictory one, but it must be maintained it is necessary, not in the sense of “holding together the glue of society”, but rather instead necessary as the predecessor to communism.

It's an angle a lot of socialists seem to ignore, and the ones that don't usually misunderstand this as evidence supporting a gradual approach.

And I think its that conflation with reformism which tends to scare a lot of revolutionary socialists from acknowledging this fact. When we refer to communism as “seizing the means of production”, this has to be understood as an appropriation of it, not as the disowning of it. In simpler terms, there has to be production to seize before one can seize it.

And this truth reveals itself rather morbidly when we look at what capitalism has brought us.

  • English becoming a language of international communication required the ruthless destruction, erasure, and subjugation of countless communities and cultures.
  • Rail, telephone wiring, canals, and infrastructure required the central planning and the enslavement of countless in order to make sure things didn't just advance technologically, but also advanced in a coordinated fashion. It's much easier to build a new road than it is to build the entire interstate from scratch.

And it is precisely here we see Marxism break from moralism. Was any of this right? No, not in the slightest. Did the advances at all “redeem” or “justify” the countless atrocities in its wake? Absolutely not.

This analysis of capitalism is where Marxism immediately breaks from moralism; because capitalism is structural as opposed to humanistic. Yes, these actions have morality to them, but the morality has to be assigned in a non-structural context; those who do have to either reject Marx's approach, such as in the cases of the post-structuralists, or create a different structural interpretation as in the case of Federici.

The Structuralism of Class

One of the most glaring examples of this sort of structuralist/moralist divide can immediately be seen in the intense contrast between Marxist and “leftist” class analysis.

The common conception of class seems to be rich/poor, the haves and the have-nots. These are vague and relative terms, easily to project your own ideals onto. This is why politicians may be comfortable talking about the “one percent”, the “billionaire class”, or “the establishment”. It lacks any concreteness to be offensive. To the moralist, the billionaire has a duty to be a “responsible capitalist” and to fail to do so is a moral failing. It ultimately fails to do much beyond making people feel good and passing the buck to “the bad apples”.

The structural approach takes class in reference to its role in maintaining economy.

  • The proletariat is defined in clear and objective terms as the class of labor, key to the production of value. They do not own productive property, and they are forced to sell their labor to survive.
  • The bourgeois are defined as those who own the means of production, and thus own others' labor.

This distinction isn't meant to be one of good/bad or us versus them, but rather instead one that acknowledges the intense divisions and specializations of the whole productive process.

The proletariat isn't privileged for their moral superiority or their victimhood. Sure, they may resent the bourgeois, but that is due to the nature of class conflict; their interests remain diametrically opposed, and they only find freedom in the repression of the other. No, rather instead it is that as the class that is responsible for generating value, they alone are the only class inherently capable of putting an end to the capitalist structure.

Dangers of Humanizing Capitalism

And this humanization of capitalism is what tends to leave so many leftist tendencies and organizations stuck in the possibilist trap.

  • For the social democrats, they humanize the politicians, media figures, and brands whose ideology they deem “closer to the left”, regardless of if their actions match their words or not.
  • For the Marxist-Leninists, they humanize the states that take upon a communist aesthetic, despite their economies still maintaining the very same economic base as the countries they deem “the real capitalists”.
  • For the anarchists, they humanize unions and co-ops, even though “boss-less capitalism” is still subject to the repressive forces of economy itself.

To some of you, this sort of totalization in left-wing ideology might sound familiar, and that's because this criticism has been leveled before, most notably by the post-left. The Situationists, acting as a bridge between Marxism and this post-left current, echo this sentiment in their theory of the Spectacle.

The Situationists' seminal text, Society of The Spectacle, defines the Spectacle as the following:

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation. The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

I've gone through the trouble to bold the important parts here, read the full text if you wish, it's actually incredibly insightful. The whole book is a collection of theses, so the prose might be rather jarring. I'll try my best to restate exactly what is being said.

In the same way economy reduces all material relations to trade-relations, we witness a similar phenomenon occur as commodity begins to enter the realm of ideas. These social relations: our politics, our goals, our virtues, get reduced down to representation, or more specifically, imagery.

Taking this into context, we see the “human capitalism” for what it actually is. It's the incorporation, or more specifically, the recuperation of ideas into the totalitarian reign of the commodity.

This has already happened to the social democrats, it's happened to the Marxist-Leninists, and eventually even the anarchists.

It might be easy to shrug it off as a few idiots buying merch, and I most likely would've assumed the same, if there wasn't a fundamental connection.

  1. They start by humanizing individual structural entities; this is important because what the humanization does is that it fundamentally rejects capitalism as totalitarian. We know this because the idea of “good apples” and capitalist totality are mutually exclusive.
  2. All of these fields (geopolitics, electoral politics, industry) require either cooperation with the current hegemony or a sufficiently competitive counter-hegemony.
  3. Regardless of which strategy you take, you are eventually going to end up participating in the “game of capitalism” and in good faith, no less. Bad faith actors are crushed before they can centralize power, and by the time you do, your organization is too far in to consciously back out.
  4. Participating in the game means generating commodities, in this case, images. Unions need members, politicians need voters, and countries need a military. All of these, as you see in the above examples, require popular appeals, which can only be found by competing in the marketplace of spectacles.
  5. And as part of the marketplace of spectacles, you become just another face of the capitalist singularity.

Structuralism and Humanism

There's a reason I'm juxtaposing the terms humanism and structuralism with capitalism, and that's because there is a sect of Marxists who refer to themselves as “structural Marxists” in order to separate themselves from the “Marxist-humanists”.

It should be noted that the above discussion relating to capitalism is different from structuralism/humanism in the context of Marxism. Within Marxism, this refers to the debate between those who see the individual as subject to the structural and those who see the structural as subject to the individual.

To put it more simply, we've established capitalism as structural, but there still is the question of the individual, and whether or not the individual is capable of acting independently of the structure.

Arguments against the individual's agency usually cite the same social-relations we discussed earlier, which would be correct, if we were assuming capitalism itself is a totality. It is totalitarian, yes, but it is only totalitarian in the sense that it is converging on totality. It has not reached totality. For capitalism to have reached totality, it would have had to have transformed all relations into economic relations.

And this is where Marx's theory of alienation comes in. Alienation implies a dissonance; reification attempts to eliminate that dissonance. However, this proves more difficult than one may think; alienation isn't just man's dying breath, but rather instead evidence of an underlying contradiction, arguably the ultimate contradiction in capitalism. The contradiction of the workers' bond to their work and the economy's claims over everything. For the individual to have been totally recuperated, they would cease to become proletarians, for without alienation, they would remain just as exploited as a machine.

And this is where I do think the theory of the Spectacle outdoes Althusser's ideas of interpellation. Althusser attempts to demonstrate the subjection of the individual first by tying the terms “you/I” to a subjection, and then tying that subjection towards social structures itself. But in the process, he makes an incredible amount of assumptions and equivocates hard on the identity of the subjector. The concept is vaguely in the right direction, but its not concrete enough to carry the claims Althusser makes regarding humanism and the individual.

For Debord and the Situationists, the subjector was clear; it was representation through imagery. And this makes sense, because we can demonstrably see how symbolism is capable of turning abstract ideas into commodity. Flags and logos can be bought and sold, labels for people, movements, and ideas can be tossed around the same way one tosses a brand around.

And its through this understanding of how ideas become integrated into economy, that we get a clearer picture of alienation and how consciousness can come about. Because the individual's subjection requires their expression as an image, there are some avenues for self-autonomy. The Situationists experimented with the subversion of existing imagery to create a distance between the symbol and their actions.

And it proved incredibly effective in the age of liquid-modernity. Of course post-modernity has recuperated irony, but that is to be expected; the Situationists aren't meant to be a movement continuously clung onto for the rest of the time, but rather instead an example, that even during Althusser's time, it is possible to act independently of the structure.