A Nameless Blog

I make various projects regarding technology, politics, media, and philosophy. If you wish to stay updated, follow me on Mastodon.

Open Edutainment

If you would like your content to be featured, check out this guide to get started. If you have any questions or would like to submit your account, please DM me on either Mastodon or Twitter.

Something I've picked up on during my time in the Fediverse is that PeerTube's design seems to mesh incredibly well with the concept of themed instances. By the term “themed instances”, I'm referring to individual instances which only allow uploads pertaining to a specific genre or niche of video.

Some of the reasons I suspect this is the case are:

  • As someone who moderates an instance, I can say from first-hand experience that PeerTube has a serious spam problem. Whether it be advertisements, people ripping movies, or generally low-quality uploads, if you're not strict with curation, it ends up flooding the feed. For the average viewer, this is a turn-off, as they want to be able to use PeerTube to find creators.
  • The narrower scope means that content creators don't have to compete for attention with the spam, and will usually get more reception on their videos. This is important, because it encourages creators to keep uploading to a site which has a fraction of the users as YouTube.
  • For administrators of more generally-themed instances, these sort of themed instances prove to be more reliable in the quality of their content output. If I were to run a catch-all PeerTube community and began following a bunch of these themed instances via federation, what I would have at the end is a very clean and engaging content feed to serve my audience.

If we want PeerTube to succeed, we need a reliable content stream; this means we need to be able to recruit creators and then make sure those creators' content gets to an audience as efficiently as possible. The spaces in which we allow people to upload play a huge role in this.

Once we have developed a welcoming space, we can scout out smaller creators (usually by looking through Discords/subreddits where people are known to advertise, then DMing them) who show potential in the content they're uploading, and use the instance theme as a wedge issue to convince them to mirror their uploads.

What I have seen from personal experience, and what I hope to make clear throughout the course of this review is that this strategy works. It's just a matter of people willing to take the first step and carry it out.

What is TILvids?

We're going to be focusing on how instance administrators can develop the aforementioned space; in this regard, TILvids seems to be a shining example.

I first discovered TILvids after someone boosted them on my Mastodon feed. I was curious and decided to look further; immediately upon opening the site, I was greeted with an aesthetically pleasing yet distinct theme, handy links on the sidebar, and a diverse content pool. It was then I decided that this was going to be the focus of the next issue.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let's answer the most obvious question. TILvids is a PeerTube instance dedicated to educational-informational content (if you need a YouTube parallel, think Vsauce or Game Theory).

Here are the stats as of writing this:

Some things to note about the instance itself:

  • Registration is open, however uploading is invite-only. My best guess is that this is a quality-control measure.
  • There is support for mobile through an app called NewPipe. A three-minute video tutorial is provided explaining how to set it up.
  • Federation with other instances seems to be outright disabled.
  • The site runs on donations, and encourages content creators to promote their own monetization methods.
  • PeerTube's new live-streaming feature is enabled. Whether or not it's actually used I can't say for sure.
  • Currently the site is being managed by one person, but said person has expressed the desire to make it into a larger community. If you are interested in helping out (reaching out to creators, helping on social media, running channels), send a DM to the Mastodon account linked at the bottom of this article.

Onto the content itself, this is actually an incredibly impressive mix of stuff. I spent some time scrolling around the feed and the most promising channels I've seen so far are FermiLabs, The Science Of, and Illustrate to Educate, all of whom could probably warrant their own issue of Fediverse Spotlight if I had the time. This is an actual community with multiple regular uploaders who provide a solid array of content.

If you want to search for content (this goes for any instance), I recommend browsing both the Trending and Local Videos tab.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • TILvids is probably the best-looking instance I've seen to date. It's clear serious thought was put into the presentation of the site, a factor which seems to be severely underrated in the Fediverse. The colors are restrained, consistent, and visually appealing.
  • On the topic of presentation, the tutorial videos. They're easy to find, well-edited, and cover the basics of the instance without wasting too much time. More instance administrators should make use of the sidebar.
  • The instance has 0 following and 0 followers. I tested to see if following was outright disabled, but it seems like it's set to request-only (which I assume are always declined). I can completely understand why they do not follow other instances, however not accepting followers seems like a major missed opportunity. TILvids has a lot that can be contributed to the larger Fediverse ecosystem, and I fail to see a reason why they wouldn't.
  • Half the videos are tech-related which is a bit disappointing, considering how much tech stuff is already all over PeerTube. However, I should stress this is a relative nitpick, considering how absolutely excellent this content pool is apart from that.
  • Levels of community interaction are good by PeerTube standards. I clicked through about ten videos, the majority of them had at least one like, and about a third have comments, although its by the same two users. Pushing for higher levels of interaction isn't easy, but is probably a good next step.

Interview with the Administrator:

What gave you the idea to start TILvids?

I started TILvids after being a creator on YouTube for a very long time (at least a decade). While initially I loved YouTube as a creator, over time it became less about sharing great videos and more about trying to figure out how to daily use YouTube's algorithm to get views. This has caused a dramatic shift in the type of content that gets created on the site, leading to very stale, derivative content.

At the same time, I've become much more interested in data-privacy. People shouldn't have to give up their private data just to use web services. There are so many great options out there now, including Linux, Firefox, Nextcloud, etc. but there wasn't much in the way of online video. I found the PeerTube project and thought there was huge potential there. Unfortunately, many instances are full of conspiracy-theory garbage, NSFW content, and pirated content.

With that in mind, I decided to take my love of edutainment content, mixed with the potential of PeerTube, and sprinkled with a bit of the Netflix content model (i.e. curated content) and out of that came TILvids. It's definitely an experiment, and one that I've been tweaking for the last 6 months, and will continue to adjust it based on community feedback!

How did you go about finding and convincing creators to bring their stuff to PeerTube?

This has been probably the most time-consuming and challenging aspect of TILvids, convincing creators to give it a shot. People make videos to be seen, and without a large community, that's not going to happen. The first few weeks of TILvids were full of adding my own content, finding public domain/creative commons content, etc.

As time has gone on, it's gotten a bit easier to get people to take a chance on sharing their content with the TILvids community. We have a lot of open-source/open-web supporters making content about that, because there's obviously a natural connection there. I also do a lot of searching around sites like Reddit to find creators that are struggling to build an audience, despite having quality content! I love finding creators like this, because it's a great way to help them build an audience, without having to give-in to the YouTube algorithm!

What's your favorite channel on the site?

Who is your favorite child?! This is a very hard question to answer, because almost every channel on TILvids is a result of me looking for content that I enjoy. I'm a huge Linux fan, so I love watching content from TheLinuxExperiment, PizzaLovingNerd, GeoTechDigital, etc. AthenaProductions has really cool mythology, Vex0r and TheAtticDwellers have great retro stuff...like I said, I can't really answer this question easily!

TILvids is also the official PeerTube instance for the Pine64 community, which I think is lovely because I'm a huge fan of that project. I would love for TILvids to be the home for other open-source/open-web community projects, so if you are one of those projects looking for an online video home that respects user privacy and open-source, hit us up!

Is there any advice you could give to new instance administrators on how to grow their community?

This is an interesting question, and it really depends on your goals for the community. Some instances just want to be a mirror for the larger PeerTube ecosystem, and if that's your goal, then it's just spinning up an instance and connecting.

On the other hand, if you want to use PeerTube to model something like TILvids, you first need to decide what content you want to focus around. TILvids focuses on edutainment, so any creator that wants to share content has to fit into that lens. By putting a tighter focus on what type of content you want to build the community around, it makes it much easier to seek out creators and rally the community around that focus.

You also have to put in a LOT of work outside of just running the site. Every single day I find a video to feature as a “TILvids video of the day”. I promote that on Reddit, Mastodon, Twitter, Lemmy, etc. At the same time, I'm having to reach out to creators to see if they'll share their content on the site, manage channels for some of them, work to get community donations, deal with issues on the site, etc. I also try to make my own content when I have time! So definitely, you have to be willing to put in probably 20-30 hours a week, which for most people will be in their spare time. You have to really enjoy what you're building, or you'll get burned out quickly!

Thanks for the great questions, and for spreading the word about TILvids! Hopefully folks that enjoy edutainment content will stop by and join us!

In addition to the featured instance, the TILvids community can be found on Lemmy while the instance's administrator have a Mastodon account for updates and communication.

Last updated: 2/18/2021

Note: This essay is a work in progress.

Thesis: There exists an overlooked affinity between the work of Jacques Ellul and post-1968 communist thought. Once a synthesis is performed, it provides a stronger theoretical backing for his theories of technique and revolution while providing an answer to holes in ultra-left theory.

Many people (including himself) characterize Jacques Ellul as an anti-communist. While there is some element of truth to this, the relationship is more complicated than commonly believed. If anything, it seems as if Ellul was rather prescient with identifying flaws in the Orthodox Marxist paradigm, critiques which would only start to gain ground with the “return to Marx”.

In order to make this case, I will be examining Ellul's works one-by-one and reflecting on their implications for this synthesis.

Jesus and Marx (section in progress)

One of the biggest issues with articulating something like this is that any mention of a relationship between Christianity and communism immediately brings to mind clichés like “Jesus sided with the poor, so should we”. In order to demonstrate what sets apart this synthesis from the countless made before me, it's best to start with this book. That's because while it is presented as a critique of the exact sort of project I'm undertaking, I found myself agreeing with a lot of the points Ellul made.

Before we dig any deeper, first it's important to place this work within context. The bulk of Ellul's work is written during the late 20th century, with this one being originally written in 1988. The New Left was in vogue, and as a politically-inclined French academic, Ellul was in quite possibly the best possible position to be exposed to this milieu.

In the specific domain of the French intellectual world, moreover, you can be taken seriously only if you take a position within or with respect to Marxism. Obviously you are uninteresting and none of your ideas has any weight or meaning unless you participate in one of the current exercises: new interpretation of Marx; application of Marx's method to new areas; analysis of political phenomena by means of latent Marxism; opposition to Stalinism in the name of Marx; reinterpretation of forgotten texts; discovery of the Marxism contrary to Marx; an ex-Stalinist explains his repentance; conversions from Marxism to Christianity; attempt to synthesize everything in Marxist thought, etc. (Ellul 1988, 24)

This is best represented with anecdote he cites, in which a Maoist sends him a letter:

Long ago I wrote an article trying to show the fundamental contradiction between Christianity and Communism. I received a long letter from a fine, devoted Protestant from southern France who believed I was utterly mistaken. He found an extraordinary harmony between the Communist and Christian ethic. The Communist ethic, including its tactics and strategy, expressed precisely what was being lived out in Christianity. What proof did he offer? He recommended I read the essential book by Liu Ch'ao-Chi, How to Be a Good Communist. Unfortunately, this devoted Protestant was writing early in 1966, a few months before the cultural revolution, in which Liu became public enemy number one, and his book was considered to be nothing but error! (Ellul 1988, 36)

And that shines light on what the real target seems to be throughout the book: the “Christian-communists” of his time. Neo-Marxist intellectuals, Maoist partisans, and those parroting vague and shallow “liberation theologies”. What these groups share in common was that Christ was viewed as an accessory to rather than the foundation of their thought.


In exactly the same manner, Marxist-materialist theology develops. A person sees no reason to avoid elaborating a theology on the basis of Marxism; it would provide us at last with a theology we can take seriously, since it would be scientific for the first time. “Why not do a Marxist-materialist analysis of the Scriptures? As serious intellectuals, how can we neglect this opportunity to have a different theological point of view? We have to look at all points of view and make use of all the evidence.”

This attitude betrays dilettantism rather than intellectual responsibility, since it finds everything fascinating. Kierkegaard placed such “seriousness” in his lowest category: “interesting” – the opposite of serious. After all, many other theological points of view might also be “interesting” – the devil's, for example! (Ellul 1988, 26-27)


We move, then, from a concealed Christianity to a socialism into which this Christianity is insinuated. At this point proponents claim to have found within this socialism a renewed Christianity and the possibility of wedding the two. Likewise, everything is reduced to a historical political praxis, and the discovery of the truth about Jesus is based on this practice. Thus those who believe in “heaven” and those who do not find their common denominator in praxis. The expression “believe in heaven” turns out to be convenient for those who do not believe in it, since such belief means nothing to them. Casalis's use of the term implies that such belief means nothing to him either.

When this praxis is further equated with the force behind history, one can indeed claim that “every meal taken while sharing historical responsibilities and fellowship has ... eucharistic value; it is a celebration of struggle and hope, in which Christians and non-Christians together do the truth and can be regarded as disciples united in messianic practice” (p. 168). Such a statement dismisses Jesus' “I am the Truth,” with a “No, those who practice politics do the truth.” (Ellul 1988, 140-141)

Liberation Theology

Liberation theologies unfortunately perpetuate the characteristics of the most despicable traditional theologies! For one thing, they remain amazingly abstract, in spite of their concrete appearance. Their abstraction consists of not asking the decisive concrete question (“liberation for whose benefit?”). In the same way the bourgeois theologies of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were abstract. Yet they appeared concrete, since they all led to such a practical moral code! In exactly the same way our liberation theologies lead to political strategies and tactics for liberation! Today liberation theologies are abstract in that they fail to question socialist or Communist dictatorships where a tiny minority exercises power over a people more enslaved than ever. (Ellul 1988, 59)

The pattern recurring throughout this book is that Ellul seems to be more critical of Marxists as opposed to Marx himself. To him, Marx was one of many influences he drew from, with various ideas he either incorporated or condemned.

What is left of Marx in our day? Nothing. I say “nothing” even though I take Marxists themselves into account. What do they think of Marx's political economy? It has been quietly swept into a corner; it contains so many errors, ill-conceived explanations, and false predictions that Marxists generally prefer not to mention Marx's political economy in concrete terms... And Marx's strategy? Why, Communism was supposed to come to life in the most economically developed country, where capitalism had reached its greatest potential. In our day we have changed all this, now Communism can come to life in the most poverty-stricken countries. But this is profoundly anti-Marxist; even the most convoluted explanation fails to harmonize the two notions.

What remains, then, are scattered pieces of Marx's thought; Marxists clutch at these, as if by themselves they could have some obscure meaning: class struggle, prevailing ideology, relations of production, etc. Certain quotations of Marx are especially useful-profound phrases that get applied to everything, and that can be interpreted however one likes! As a result, some people marvel: how miraculous that after the end of Stalinism, there are dozens of Marxisms to choose from! Althusser's is unlike Daix's; A. Gramsci surfaces, but differs from Mao. You have a whole gamut of Marxisms to choose from, depending on your size, your ideas, and your place in society. Wonderful how our freedom has progressed! Unfortunately, Marx's thought is utterly gutted as a result: it lies lifeless and incoherent. (Ellul 1988, 15)

Ellul is overly quick to dismiss Marx's political economy here, but the statement reflects a cultural sentiment which proved to be a stumbling block for the very type of Marxist he is critiquing. The important takeaway here is the fact that he acknowledges the dissonance between Marx and Marxists. Despite Ellul's focus being on exposing incoherency in a theological sense, he also clearly understands that it remains a shallow expression of socialism too.

For many... being socialist means denouncing apartheid, colonialism, and imperialism; siding with oppressed people, feminists, homosexuals, and the young against the old (all the while expressing teary-eyed concern for the elderly); pleading the cause of immigrant workers; struggling against requiring too fast a pace of industrial employees, and struggling for raising the minimum wage; attacking Israel's imperialism, etc. Socialism boils down to these matters, more or less. But we are not given any serious reflection. We can never know the basis of a given stance, or what direction it wants to take us. All we have are rather vague principles: siding with the oppressed and fighting for justice. (Ellul 1988, 53)

Once we understand who he is speaking to, it makes sense why the following rebuke ends up being the most damning in the book, because it strikes at the heart of the phenomenon:

Such Christians in our day have failed to realize that they conform to the unfortunately traditional Christian habit of always looking for a way to adapt Christianity to the dominant intellectual and sociological trend. The current commitment of Christians to “socialism-Marxism-Communism” testifies to what a degree this tendency has become the dominant ideology in our society.

Christians have always functioned in the same way: in a given society, a dissenting ideology comes on the scene. Christians fail to observe it. If the ideology grows, they begin to find it interesting, but they refrain from getting involved. If it becomes the dominant ideology (in which case it continues to dissent from the established reality!), the traditional ideology begins to decline seriously. At this point, when the dissenting ideology is certain to win out, Christians rush to get on the bandwagon, thus becoming “extremists.” These neophytes, full of courage and radicalism, try to demonstrate their extremism. But in reality, such “extremism” is nothing but a slavish following of the current sociological trend, often just when this ideology, having become dominant, enters its own crisis of decline. A certain number of Christians, of course, remain faithfully wedded to yesterday's ideology, or even to the one that preceded it. In this case, the Church becomes a battleground where conservatives struggle against progressives. (Ellul 1988, 13-14)

As a missionary religion, Christians lack closed cultural communities which would otherwise prevent assimilation. This leads to Christians being very quick to jump on political bandwagons and use their faith to retroactively justify it.

And this brings us to the actual criticisms Ellul has of Marxism itself. Going over some of the weaker ones before we get onto the real meat of the critique:

  • Ellul continually makes reference back to the horrors of the gulag and communist dictatorships as a talking point. The degeneration of Marxism into Stalinism is a topic that is a lot messier than Ellul assumes, but also one that has been beaten to death so I do not plan to discuss it in detail, beyond linking some further reading for those interested.
  • Ellul takes for granted the notion that history has proven Marx wrong, without going into much detail on how. Once again, this topic is more complicated than Ellul assumes. The bulk of Marx's critique of political economy still holds (once again, further reading). As for the stuff that doesn't, it's important to understand that the bulk of Marx's later works were inaccessible to the general public until the late sixties. These works revealed a completely new dimension of Marx's thought, alongside with the discarding of weaker elements within his earlier theory.

Autopsy of Revolution

Anarchy and Christianity

The Technological Society

Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes

Hope in Time of Abandonment


Ellul, Jacques. 1988. Jesus and Marx: from gospel to ideology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Last updated: 12/11/2020

Thesis: There is an underlying relationship between one's political goals and one's political methods. Applying this maxim we can deconstruct the essential components of social liberalism (i.e. SocDem) and gradualist socialism (i.e. DemSoc), and better understand why despite the similarities on paper, there remains so much tension between the two groups.

A consistent logic dictates that one's approach to electoral politics is dependent on exactly what their aims are. Understanding the connection between your aims and your tools is absolutely vital to effectively mobilizing. Depending on this factor, participation in electoral politics could prove essential, a net positive, inconsequential, or outright counter-intuitive.

However, the purpose of this piece will not be questioning whether or not electoralism is “useful”, as that's a rather moot question with no one single answer. There are plenty of anti-electoralist arguments that I could make which would be completely meaningless to a non-communist, that's just the nature of the topic. The purpose of this piece is to look at movements which have something to gain from electoral politics, and conduct an investigation into the implications for said movements.

For the purpose of making a coherent argument, I will be arguing from a possibilist lens, suspending my usual stances to make observations from a more relevant position. This thought experiment should hopefully dissect the logic underpinning reformist left-wing movements, and also explain why certain ones are more successful than others. This will also help explain the reasons underpinning conflicts within progressive/center-left circles, and help those on each side of the rift understand the other.

1. Social Democracy

Social democracy (in this context, what I am referring to is more accurately labeled social liberalism) is the left-wing movement most commonly associated with electoral politics. To define it succinctly, social democracy promotes the utilization of political institutions to keep market forces in check.

Neither hoping for capitalism's demise nor worshipping the market uncritically, [social democrats] argued that the market's anarchic and destructive powers could and should be fettered at the same time that its ability to produce unprecedented material bounty was exploited. They thus came to champion a real “third way” between laissez-faire liberalism and Soviet communism based on a belief that political forces must be able to triumph over economic ones. (Berman 2005, 12)

The definition alone should give you an idea of the central role parliaments play for social democrats, but let us elaborate further on exactly what this looks like.

To do this, we're going to defer to Kenneth Galbraith, an economist who has written extensively on the dynamic between market power and political power.

The first question is: what problems do market forces pose?

If there are only a handful of firms in the typical industry, and if they recognize their interdependence, as they must both for profit and for survival, then privately exercised economic power is less the exception than the rule in the economy. It is also of a piece with the power anciently associated with monopoly. This was the clear conclusion of the new ideas. And the fact of such power, once identified by the theory, could readily be verified by observation.

The executives of the United States Steel Corporation, the longtime price leaders in the steel industry, do have authority to raise and lower the prices they charge for their own steel. When they exercise that power the rest of the industry normally follows. The same executives make decisions on where to build new plants and how much plant to build, what to pay in dividends and, subject to a periodic trial of strength with the union, what wages to pay. They have latitude on all of these matters; they are not the automatons of market forces. These decisions also affect the wealth and income of hundreds of thousands of people. As with steel so with the great core of American industry. The new theory suggested the existence of such power; the eye confirmed it. (Galbraith 2002, 50-51)

1.1. Countervailing Power

The second question: what can be done to counter said market forces? Galbraith points to the democratic state as a venue for those without economic power to stand their ground, using what he calls “countervailing power”:

In fact, the support of countervailing power has become in modem times perhaps the major domestic peacetime function of the federal government. Labor sought and received it in the protection and assistance which the Wagner Act provided to union organization. Farmers sought and received It in the form of federal price supports to their markets — a direct subsidy of market power. Unorganized workers have sought and received it in the form of minimum wage legislation. The bituminous-coal mines sought and received it in the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act of 1935 and the National Bituminous Coal Act of 1937.' These measures, all designed to give a group a market power it did not have before, comprised the most important legislative acts of the New Deal. (Galbraith 2002, 136)

All of these examples were acts of concrete acts of legislation which could have only been realized due to civic participation. Union leaders had to lobby, citizens had to vote, and politicians had to draft up bills their peers would be willing to vote in favor of.

Galbraith's market is one based on agonism, not antagonism. Yes, there is competition between groups over control of policy, but the competition is underlined by a mutual understanding of the necessity of coexistence. Each group seeks to make “make capitalism work for them”, but still presumes capitalism as a given.

To the SocDem, every action taken within the parliamentary sphere provides an opportunity to get the upper hand in negotiations. And to an extent, this is objectively true. As seen with the above examples cited by Galbraith, collective bargaining is a centerpiece of modern liberalism. Cutting deals and compromising is the name of the game, and it's all underlined by a conciliatory approach to politics. They mesh well with parliaments because they're willing to participate in good faith and trust other actors to do the same.

But it should be noted that collective bargaining is still bargaining; one can only get anything out of it if their demands are by definition negotiable. The process undeniably exists, but one has to have a use for it to take advantage of it. For the SocDems, this is no problem; the principle of countervailance holds that each legislative milestone marks a victory in and of itself. But, as we're going to see, this isn't always the case.

2. Democratic Socialism

On the other side of the coin we have democratic socialism. “Democratic socialism” has become a buzzword of sorts, but for the purpose of this, we're going to use this term (and DemSoc by extent) as a colloquial shorthand referring to what is more accurately labeled gradualist socialism.

One of the earliest and most influential examples of a gradualist movement was the Fabian Society, who defined their task as such:

In every field the characteristic Fabian policy has been that of permeation. In accordance with their doctrine of continuity the Fabians set out to develop existing institutions by permeating with this or that element of their doctrine those who had power to influence policy, e.g. the civil service, the political parties, the professions, the administration of business, and local govern-ment. It was part of their creed that no sharp line could be drawn between socialists and non-socialists and that many who would not call themselves socialists could be persuaded to help with particular reforms making for socialism. (Cole 1932)

The purpose of parliamentary action within this context would be to establish the preconditions of socialism. DemSocs view parliamentary action as a vehicle for accomplishing this by exploiting the democratic nature of said parliaments.

In Germany at present, Social Democracy's most effective means of asserting its demands, apart from propaganda by voice and pen, is the Reichstag (legislative) franchise. The influence of this franchise is so great that it has extended even to those bodies from which the working class is excluded by a property qualification or a system of class franchise; for even here the parties must pay attention to the Reichstag electors. If the Reichstag franchise were immune from attack, there might be some justification for treating the question of the franchise for the other bodies as relatively unimportant, though even then it would be a mistake to make light of it. But the Reichstag franchise is not secure at all Governments and government parties will certainly not take the decision to change it lightly, for they will be aware that such a step would inevitably cause hatred and bitterness amongst the mass of German workers, which they would show in a very uncomfortable way on suitable occasions. The socialist movement is too strong, and the political self-consciousness of the German workers is too highly developed, to be dealt with in a cavalier fashion. (Bernstein 1899, 184)

Expanding on this logic, Bernstein drafts three short-term goals for the socialist movement (176):

  1. Expanding democracy and providing resistance to reactionary institutions/movements
  2. Establishing immediate protections for workers
  3. Building up workers' cooperatives and other public institutions

What does this look like in practice? That's a question with a more complex answer than one might presume. “All democratic socialists agree on the need for a democratic alternative to capitalism. There is no consensus as yet as to what that alternative should look like.” (Schweickart 2007) This lack of a consensus can be attributed to many factors:

  • The social democratic project has for the most part been completed, the democratic socialist one has not.
  • There isn't the same type of unifying theory that Marxism has, leading to a lot of different opinions regarding the specifics.
  • The term itself is rather vaguely defined, with a lot of differing movements claiming the mantle.

However, history does provide some precedent which may allow us to piece things together; we've already touched on the work of the Fabians, but that's mostly theoretical. I'd say there's two other places to look, Leninism (dealing with the question of obtaining political power) and market socialism (dealing with the question of utilizing political power).

2.1. Obtaining Political Power

Leninism might seem like an odd (and a rather objectionable) parallel to draw, but there is a connection to be made regarding how both view parliaments as an instrument for obtaining political power:

Criticism, the most keen, ruthless and uncompromising criticism, should be directed, not against parliamentarianism or parliamentary activities, but against those leaders who are unable, and still more against those who are unwilling to utilise parliamentary elections and the parliamentary rostrum in a revolutionary and communist manner. Only such criticism combined, of course, with the dismissal of incapable leaders and their replacement by capable ones will constitute useful and fruitful revolutionary work that will simultaneously train the leaders to be worthy of the working class and of all working people, and train the masses to be able properly to understand the political situation and the often very complicated and intricate tasks that spring from that situation. (Lenin 1920)

The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old minimal demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old, partial, minimal demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism and this occurs at each step — the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old minimal program is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution. (Trotsky 1938)

Leninists held that while electoralism was far from sufficient, it still had its uses in laying the foundation for a revolutionary movement. Each electoral victory marked not a victory for the movement, but rather instead a tactical opportunity.

This is to be expected considering how incredibly influential Lenin was on the theory of left-wing political organization. However, one should not go too far in drawing comparisons. The Leninist programme of old was much more radical in its aims, because it originated in an era where labor unions and parliaments were not as thoroughly integrated into capitalism.

Whereas the Leninists were ultimately interested in the outright abolition of the capitalist mode of production, democratic socialists seem to be more focused on workplace democracy as their demand. This is only natural, considering that the tools available to modern electoral movements are moreso suited to that end, and will attract people interested in such ends. One need only look at the state of remaining Marxist-Leninist parties in western countries to see this.

What connects these two strategies is the attitude, not the content. Democratic socialists may not be interested in communist ends, but they maintain the same militant outlook towards parliamentary institutions. There's still an underlying narrative of class-war (albeit a non-Marxist one) and an essentially combative approach to politics. To the democratic socialist, there is an upper class which has interests diametrically and fundamentally opposed to that of the working class; for SocDems this is either not the case or less central to their outlook.

All this gives the class struggle another form. It works today more as a potential than as an active force, more by the knowledge of what it might be than by actual manifestation. Politically as well as economically it is fought by sections or divisions, and often in forms which are the reverse of what they ought to be according to the letter, so that it might appear as if it were not the social classes that contest with one another the control of legislation, but rather the legislators that fight for the satisfaction of the classes. But the class struggle is no less a reality because it has taken the shape of continuous barter and compromise. (Bernstein 1897)

Participation is conditional; cynicism regarding the existing institutions means democratic socialists don't have the same loyalty to the process that SocDems do. If the electoral route appears to be at a standstill, the democratic socialist has a lot less hesitation to give it up and seek other avenues.

Accompanying this attitude is an element of expectation. By definition, a gradualist puts serious stock into the idea of a socialist society that substantially differs from our own. This is an expectation, so there's a degree of confidence underlying it. Such an expectation isn't as central to social democracy. There might be an optimistic outlook regarding the mixed economy and the expansion of social spending and perhaps some entertaining of a distant vision of socialism, but this is a far cry from an expectation. Political decisions are made around this expectation (or lack thereof). If one takes the idea of a future co-operative society seriously, immediate victories are interpreted within the context of a larger process. On the other hand, taking said victories at face value means that each one holds more weight, and that there's a larger investment in the present as opposed to the future.

2.2. Utilizing Political Power

Rejecting Marxist theory and its more explicitly revolutionary implications, democratic socialists have to develop an alternative framework to work off of. Market socialism (and adjacent theories) have often provided DemSocs with a more concrete portrait of what their expectations are and how political power can be utilized to realize said expectations.

The marriage between these schools of thought is present across all sorts of thinkers both old and new. Cole and the Fabians often toyed with the idea of consumer and producer co-operatives, while modern market socialists such as Schweickart and Cockshott have often shown an affinity towards democratic socialism. Even the other main current among democratic socialists — participatory economics — still holds to those principles of decentralization and economic democracy.

What market socialism has to offer to democratic socialists is the extension of and application of this “principle of democracy” towards the economy itself. This central promise satisfies the democratic, populist, socialist, utopian, and most importantly transitional sentiments found among these ideologues.

Market socialism is democratic because it attempts to promote the population having a larger stake in decisions. It appeals to socialists because its focus is primarily economic, offering solutions that are intended to help consumers and workers. It's populist in that the model rests on the assumption that the current organization of society is insufficiently democratic. It's utopian in that it provides a clear blueprint on how society should be organized, providing a rebuttal to arguments of unfeasibility. And its transitional in the sense that the development of it is predicated on the parallel building up of institutions, which legislation is capable of aiding.

At the center of this is the worker's cooperative, simultaneously the starting point and the goal of market socialism. For over a century now, democratic socialists of all stripes — from the early Fabians to modern YouTube sects — have developed a fascination with this concept. When discussing workplace democracy in practice, DemSocs often fall back on one of two examples: Spain's Mondragon Corporation and the planned decentralization of Yugoslavia's economy:

Quote #1 (Richard D. Wolff):

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits). As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs. One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers. Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker's salary (a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.) (Wolff 2012)

Quote #2 (Jacobin):

Yugoslav theorists developed a socialism that called for the withering away of the state' and the creation of society as a free association of producers. The first step was decentralization. In May 1949, the party-state ceded greater autonomy to local communal governments, whose power had been eroded since 1945. Slovene leader Edvard Kardelj explained that these reforms promoted the sense of the masses greater inclusion in the work of the state machinery from the lowest organs to the highest. Greater worker participation in the economic sphere soon accompanied this political decentralization. In June 1950, the National Assembly passed legislation introducing the self-management system. All enterprises would now have workers' councils consisting of 15 to 120 democratically elected representatives, restricted to two one-year terms. (Robertson 2017)

Quote #3 (Jacobin):

Despite sometimes brutal methods, Yugoslavia's de-Stalinization was productive, in the sense that it drove the party to rethink how society was organized. It led to the introduction of workers' self-management, social ownership, and workers' councils as the fundamental units of production and workers' democracy. Of course, very different kinds of self-management emerged in practice. (Balhorn 2020)

There's a lot to be said on exactly how excessively romanticized these ventures are, but that's a topic that's outside the scope of this piece. The important thing here to take note of is how democratic socialists view these efforts as relevant to their own project. In the first quote, we see how they conclude Mondragon (acting as a model for workplace democracy) is able to realize their goals. In the second and third ones, we see them draw a connection between government policy and this goal, providing an opening for them to rework it into a strategy more in line with the tactics they already use to influence a parliamentary government (as opposed to the SFR's primarily autocratic approach).

3. The Rift

In practice, what we see is that often times DemSocs and SocDems pursue the same policies: increased access to social services, higher taxes and nationalization of industries, a commitment to social justice, and so on.

So, what gives with the rift between the two factions? The rift has its true origins not in policy or ideology, but attitudes. This is why the divisions are most pronounced not during the process of legislation but rather instead in moments of messaging, where the direction political movements should take are being decided. The most obvious of these moments are elections, where coalitions are being built and platforms are being drafted.

SocDems typically advance a conciliatory approach towards politics, where they attempt to further their goals by working with and cutting deals with more mainstream political blocs. To the SocDem, their loss condition involves being locked out of participation in the negotiating table. DemSocs on the other hand focus on a combative approach, using their political toolbox with the purpose of increasing their leverage. For the democratic socialist, their loss condition involves losing the upper hand in negotiations, as the populist outlook views politics as a zero-sum battleground between the interests of the people and the interests of the elite.

Is this always the case? Not necessarily, one can be a combative SocDem and vice versa, but I do believe there is a reason each side gravitates towards their respective approaches. Namely, a historic one. In the early 20th century, most industrialized economies were rather laissez-faire and labour politics was still in a relative infancy. For the burgeoning social democratic movement, it was necessary to take power before the topic of negotiations could even come into question. However, the left would eventually get their parliamentary wins and would have to come to terms with the question of how to exercise their new-found influence.

3.1. Abstentionism and its Implications

Nowhere is this more clear than in the debate over the tactic of abstentionism, in which elected candidates would refuse to participate in the parliaments they served, as a matter of undermining their influence and asserting the power of the labour movement. This remained popular while social democrats were making rapid gains in parliaments, but was quickly met with hesitation when the wave began to subside.

Revolutionaries’ belief that trends would continue to move in their favour was enshrined in the policy of abstentionism. Social Democratic parties became the largest factions in parliaments, even if they remained in the minority; but those parties abstained from participating in government. They refused to rule alongside their enemies, choosing instead to wait patiently for their majority to arrive: “This policy of abstention implied enormous confidence in the future, a steadfast belief in the inevitable working-class majority and the ever-expanding power of socialism’s working-class support.” But that inevitability never came to pass...

On the right of the workers’ movement, the social democrats were compelled to face the facts. They were waiting for their time to come, but everywhere they hit ceilings in terms of voting percentages, often significantly below 51 percent. They decided that they needed to prepare for the long road ahead. That meant, in particular, holding their membership in check when the latter tried to jump the gun by risking the organisation’s gains too soon in a “test of strength”. Social democrats (and later, communist parties) were always motivated by this fear of the too soon. Instead of jumping the gun, they would bide their time and moderate their demands in alliance with other classes. In the past, social democratic parties had been strong enough to have a share in power but did not take it based on the policy of abstention. Now, they would begin to use the power they had: it was time to make compromises, to cut deals.

It was this compromising tendency that split the workers’ movement. To many workers, giving up on abstentionism and making alliances was a “betrayal”, signaling in particular the corroding influences of other classes (petit-bourgeois intellectuals), or of certain privileged, pro-imperialist sectors of the working class (the labour aristocracy). In fact, this turn within social democracy had more prosaic roots. In the first instance, it was the only way to give the voters something to celebrate, once voting percentages stopped rising so quickly. Second, and more importantly, once the social democrats could see that they couldn’t reach the crucial numerical majority on the basis of workers alone, it made sense that they would begin to look for voters elsewhere: socialists had to “choose between a party homogeneous in its class appeal, but sentenced to perpetual electoral defeats, and a party that struggles for electoral success at the cost of diluting its class character.” Increasingly, all social democratic parties chose the latter. (Endnotes Collective 2015)

And from here, the reason behind the hostility becomes clear. Both factions are electorally co-dependent but at the same time pose existential threats to each other. Since they can't separate, but also cannot cooperate, the only way for one faction to pursue its goals is the absolute subordination of the other. Let's go through the various scenarios:

  1. They remain completely independent from each other. Divided, both factions quickly find themselves unable to maintain a parliamentary coalition which even remotely resembles a plurality. They both remain entirely locked out of the political arena, triggering a loss condition for both.
  2. They cooperate on equal footing. This remains an option until a sufficient amount of power is actually taken, and the DemSocs wish to leverage said power in riskier ways. From there, this scenario spills into one of the other ones.
  3. The SocDems subordinate the DemSocs. This is a win for the former as they are able to manage a sufficient coalition to have a voice in legislation and maintain their influence over an extended period of time. However, this process of negotiation is perpetual, triggering a loss for DemSocs, whose fundamental goals necessitate an advancement of political power.
  4. The DemSocs subordinate the SocDems. The focus of the movement becomes advancing political power, which the DemSocs require. However, simultaneously, the zero-sum focus of such a task makes the negotiation pursued by SocDems near impossible.

Ultimately, the only possible outcomes are either mutual destruction or subordination. In that sense, this specific arena of politics is zero-sum (even if we assume politics as a whole isn't), which explains why emotions run higher between the two groups than between each group and much more ideologically different groups. It also explains why the tensions are so strong during elections, where said zero-sum game is being played.


Balhorn, Lauren. “How Yugoslavia's Partisans Built a New Socialist Society” Jacobin Magazine, June 13, 2020. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/06/yugoslavia-tito-market-socialism

Berman, Sheri, and Dieter Dettke. 2005. Understanding social democracy. Washington: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Washington Office.

Bernstein, Eduard. “Karl Marx and Social Reform.” In Progressive Review no. 7. Edited by Paul Fiewers. Marxist Internet Archive, 1897.

Bernstein, Eduard, and Henry Tudor. (1899) 2004. The preconditions of socialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cole, G.D.H., “Fabianism.” In Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. Edited by Edwin Seligman and Alvin Saunders Johnson. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. 2002. American capitalism: the concept of countervailing power. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Lenin, Vladmir Ilyich. “Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?” In Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. Marxists Internet Archive, 1920.

Robertson, James. “The Life and Death of Yugoslav Socialism” Jacobin Magazine, July 17, 2017. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/07/yugoslav-socialism-tito-self-management-serbia-balkans

Schweickart, David. “Democratic Socialism.” In Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, edited by Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn G. Herr, 446-448. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2007. doi: 10.4135/9781412956215.n250.

Trotsky, Leon. “The Transitional Program”. In The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. Marxists Internet Archive, 1938.

Wolff, Richard. “Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism: Mondragon shows the way” The Guardian, June 24, 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/alternative-capitalism-mondragon

Using Videos to Showcase FOSS Gaming

If you would like your content to be featured, check out this guide to get started. If you have any questions or would like to submit your account, please DM me on either Mastodon or Twitter.

What is Gaming With Werewolves?

Gaming With Werewolves is a video-game channel on PeerTube (which are still rather uncommon, surprisingly) with a focus on Linux and FOSS games.

Here's what you need to know about FediLab:

  • The channel is one of many run by a user known as chriswere, who is actually rather active on the PeerTube scene. As of writing this article:
    • He has continued a steady stream of contributions for almost two years. (since August 1, 2018)
    • The last video uploaded to this channel was one day ago. (July 14, 2020)
    • The last video he has ever uploaded to PeerTube was today. (July 15, 2020)
  • The focus of the channel seems to be left rather broad. While he has mentioned an interest in being able to show off FOSS games, he also covers general Linux titles and also other games.
  • The channel isn't entirely solo, occasionally, his friend HexDSL will join him to play a game.

Tomat0's Thoughts

  • I find the most interesting content on this channel to be the FOSS game reviews.

    • A lot of people are unaware of the amount and variety of FOSS games available, and as someone who is making this newsletter to help give exposure to another overlooked archive of content, I absolutely support this initiative to help promote FOSS gaming. It's a topic that's not very commonly covered, even outside of the Fediverse, and as a result it feels like a breath of fresh air.

    • Video is a great medium to convey this; let's plays are already a subculture on the internet, and being able to showcase gameplay footage gives us a preview in a way neither screenshots nor articles could. And since its all unified under one channel, if someone wants to keep up with the FOSS gaming scene, all they would have to do is follow this account.

    • When Chris is talking about the game, he often yield really interesting information, such as how Xonotic has changed since he last played it or how game jams give birth to a lot of smaller FOSS games. What he does discuss is often relevant to the game, such as level design, history, or general feel.

    However, he does have a habit of getting sucked into the game and going quiet, which makes the free-form style feel disjointed. The videos could probably be improved by mixing shorter “first impressions” footage and more scripted informational portions. Trimming down the videos' length to somewhere around five minutes might help with this too.

    • Chris makes sure to assist the creators by discussing where each game can be found, linking it, and sometimes even mentioning what it is licensed under.
  • The other content on his channel is rather varied. Everything gaming-related from video-essays to straight-up Let's Plays can be found.


  • I don't see an issue with this by itself , but I think a bit more can be done to distinguish each type of video.

    For one, PeerTube now has a playlists functionality which could be used to organize these videos. Also, corresponding the border color in each video's thumbnail to the series they belong to would help anyone quickly skimming the channel feed with being able to identify videos in the series they're looking for.

Interview with Developer

1. What keeps you coming back and uploading content to this channel?

For me, PeerTube has an underground quality which I'm very attracted to. Somewhere on the internet which is a little off the beaten track and outside the mainstream, but a wonderful place for those willing to seek it out. It's nice to find a platform that is still small enough to have a sense of genuine community, where you can build friendships, recognise people and get lost in its quirks.

2. What are some of your favorite FOSS games?

Minetest is definitely the one I spend the most time on. I enjoy building in creative mode and building all kinds of interesting buildings. The RTS game, Widelands is another gem I regularly enjoy. I really enjoyed strategy games from the late nineties and Widelands is great at scratching that particular itch. OpenTTD is another classic I can spend days of my life on. Other honourable mentions include OpenArena, Red Eclipse, Hedgewars and SuperTuxKart.

3. As a creator, what advantages do you get from PeerTube as a platform?

There are countless better coders and developers that me in the FOSS world. For me, making content for PeerTube is my way of contributing to a software ecosystem which fits my strengths.

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

I find that viewers and commenters have deeper and more thoughtful insights than on other platforms. That's not to say those people don't exist on other networks, but they often get drowned out by the general noise.

5. What is Bootleg Penguin? (Bonus Question)

An avant-garde, one-off, never-to-return podcast which explores the deeper, more thoughtful side to gaming on Linux.

ChrisWere can also be found on Mastodon and has a homepage which acts as a hub for all of his accounts. Donations are handled through cryptocurrency addresses which are listed on his homepage.

Last updated: 1/14/2021

Note: This essay is a work in progress. Sections 1 and 2 are complete. Section 3 is in progress. Sections 4 and 5 have yet to be started.

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 ideological 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)

I don't want to delve too deep into what “defines the left” as I've written on that before, in this context I'll be treating it solely as an intellectual milieu. The real focus of this piece is re-orienting the conversation around class-content, and further elaborating the communist class-theory in a fashion that answers to criticisms posed by Marx's contemporaries.

One of the major points of contention for said contemporaries was the question of whether or not Marxism fundamentally has a “tendency toward class or economic reductionism in Marxist typologies of historical forms of society” (Wright 1983).

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)

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? Is it even the duty of socialists to pursue such ends?

This essay will deal with evaluating common responses to this question from “the left”, explaining where they fall short, and finally providing an answer to this question that does not compromise the content of a revolutionary critique.

1. Class Romanticism

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.

1.1. Forming a “Proletarian Identity”

Marx's famous call was for workers of the world to unite. What made such a task seem feasible was a connection drawn between the development of productive forces under capitalism and the homogenizing of proletarians. Peasant revolts never broke out into revolution due to their interests residing with religious, ethnic, and other identities.

Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance – combination. Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist...

Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle. (Marx and Engels 1900, 195)

In practice, such a phenomenon was not nearly as cut-and-dry as Marxists presumed:

In reality, the homogenisation that seemed to be taking place in the factory was always partial. Workers became interchangeable parts in a giant machine; however, that machine turned out to be vastly complex. That in itself opened up many opportunities for pitting different groups against each other. In US auto plants, black workers were concentrated in the foundry, the dirtiest work. Southern Italians equally found themselves segregated from Northerners in the plants of Turin and Milan. Such segregation may appear inefficient, for employers, since it restricts the pool of potential workers for any given post. But as long as the relevant populations are large enough, employers are able to segment the labour market and drive down wages. If differential sets of interests among workers could be created by the internal divisions within the plant (as in Toyota-isation), so much the better. Capitalists were content for the labouring population to remain diverse and incommensurable in all sorts of ways, especially when it undermined workers’ organising efforts. (Endnotes Collective 2015, 129)

Faced with this reality, socialist parties had no choice but to artificially construct a class identity, centered around the ideal image of what a proletarian “should look like”:

How all this might be fashioned into a single working-class identity was the operative question for socialists. The rise of the urban working-class neighborhood was crucial to this project. Initially, lower-class loyalties were held within superordinate structures of deference and paternalism, often ordered by religion, and increasingly dominated by liberals. Across Europe, government policies and party actions regulated popular culture by interacting with the social histories of urbanization in ever more ramified ways. From the 1890s, states intervened with gathering intensity in the everyday lives of working people, assisted by new knowledges and professions and targeting social stability and the national health via powerful ideas of family. In the process, powerfully gendered images of the ideal working father and the responsible mother permeated the politics of class. Then socialist parties, too, began organizing working people into collective political agency beyond the neighborhood and workplace, with an impact on government, locally and municipally, in regions, and eventually the nation. All these processes helped shape class identities institutionally. (Eley 2002, 58)

While this picture may prove useful for propaganda, it ultimately is no substitute for a real class consciousness. Revolution can only be accomplished by the “self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority” (Manifesto), not just a specific subset of artisans.

In this double sense—in social structure and social understandings, as the social aggregation of wage-earning positions in industrial economies and as an organized political identity—the working class declined. This was a complex story. Perceptions of decline reflected the demise of one kind of working-class aggregate—the skilled or semiskilled male proletarians of the “old” industries and the electrochemical complex of the “second industrial revolution.” By stricter definitions of wage-labor, after all, working-class positions still increased. The declining peasantry, shopkeepers, tradesmen,and other self-employed more than replenished the wage-dependent labor force, likewise women’s entry into employment. Assumptions about working-class identity lagged behind actual changes in work and the continuing creation of new types of worker, as growth of the service sector and public employment made clear. (Eley 2002, 397)

The proletarian has been reduced from a class with an actual role in production to a primarily cultural and moral identity. This ideal worker would eventually find himself championed by movements more willing to indulge this fantasy.

Sections of workers—organized, skilled or semi-skilled, male—won unprecedented security, with not only full employment and rising real wages but a new shop floor self-respect...

Postwar industrial relations required a corporatist triangulation: labor won tangible economic benefits and political influence; capital won the space for a new accumulation strategy based on Fordism, meaning workplace deals combining high wages, productivity, and a modernized labor process, linked to consumer-driven growth; and the state won a new role overseeing this large-scale societal compromise. This corporatism was held together partly by national systems of consultation between government, employers, and unions and partly by Keynesianism’s ending of mass unemployment. It produced a system of “reformer managed capitalism.” This held a central place for organized labor, while bypassing socialism as such. (Eley 2002, 316)

Why is this an issue with regards to the workers' movement? Because class identification goes hand-in-hand with class consciousness. When socialists promote a “class” that the majority of proletarians are unable to identify with, they find themselves unable to reach the immense majority.

In this double sense—in social structure and social understandings, as the social aggregation of wage-earning positions in industrial economies and as an organized political identity—the working class declined. This was a complex story. Perceptions of decline reflected the demise of one kind of working-class aggregate—the skilled or semiskilled male proletarians of the “old” industries and the electrochemical complex of the “second industrial revolution.” By stricter definitions of wage-labor, after all, working-class positions still increased. The declining peasantry, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and other self-employed more than replenished the wage-dependent labor force, likewise women’s entry into employment. Assumptions about working-class identity lagged behind actual changes in work and the continuing creation of new types of worker, as growth of the service sector and public employment made clear. (Eley 2002, 397)

1.2. Blurred Lines

Some might handwave this as a white lie in order to attract people to the cause – something that can attract the “common man”, but then be explained in more detail later – but often it ends up spiraling out of control. Propaganda of any form has lasting psychological effects that are severely underestimated. We cannot expect a man to suspend his capacity to think critically and then wean him off of convenient falsehoods.

The individual has no chance to exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under any conditions. What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed.

What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed. In fact, we are dealing here with one of propaganda’s most durable effects: years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another; this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis-à-vis some event without a ready-made opinion, and obliged to judge it for himself. (Ellul 1965, 170)

The more you appeal to the irrational side of a man, the more prone he will be to irrational messaging in the future, or to put it in simpler terms: what you say now will come back to haunt you later down the road.

This is especially the case when talking about questions of class composition, because whatever message you put forth regarding class ends up shaping the body of the resulting movement. Nowhere is this more clear than with the syndicalists. Early syndicalists were some of the strongest proponents of class-romanticism. However, their neutered class-theory would end up paving the way for a movement more willing to submerge itself in the fantasy: Italian Fascism.

The war, he felt, had restored Italy's self-confidence by proving the country capable of serious things; now, at last, after centuries of indiscipline and disorganization, she would be able to get down to work, creating “the new miracle, that Italy of the labor aristocracy that can be the model of every other people that intends to endure” The new Italy would have an important new role in the world, not as a military-imperial power, but as the bearer of new productivist values: “The world needs the Italian; Italian is synonymous with worker; he is an organism of extraordinary energy, is resistant, adaptable, sober, thrifty; he is the poet of toil, the hero of excavations, the vanguard of the harvesters of the land, the essential raw material for the effort of continuing human progress.”' Orano clearly wanted to believe that the war itself had been the Italian revolution, but all his exaggeration and forced optimism indicate his sense that it would not be so easy to reap the harvest of the Italian war experience.

And despite Orano's inspiring images, of course, the end of the war soon led to the “biennio rosso” and the threat of socialist revolution. In response, the syndicalists finally began cutting themselves off from the old orthodoxy for good, condemning the working class, declaring the class struggle to be counterproductive, and calling for collaboration between the workers and productive sectors of the bourgeoisie. (Roberts 1979, 154-155)

Class struggle is not merely an issue of getting enough people to identify with socialism. Making your message more palatable for the sake of “the front” may work for electoral movements, but as Marxists such a choice only serves to foster false consciousness. How can one expect a proletarian to be aware of his situation while he is constantly misled on what a proletarian even is?

2. Socio-Economic 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.

2.1. 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.

2.2. 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.

2.3. 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.

2.4. 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)

2A. 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.

Last updated: 12/31/2020

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
  • Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic by Hitoshi Uchida

For the mainstream Christian, one of the most common talking points against communism typically revolve around the assumption that criticism of our society's division of labour must necessarily be a criticism against the very practice of labouring itself.

This is only compounded by reification, the process by which abstract social structures/concepts are presented as inherent to humanity or the logic of the universe itself. 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. What we currently see around us is only temporary, a conception of reality that'd seem alien to those that came before us and those that will come after us.

Make no mistake, this is not a statement of relativism. There is a universal, unchanging truth, but that truth is to be found in the invisible eternity, not the temporality in front of us. (2 Cor. 4:17-18, NKJV) In this sense, the eye of scrutiny does not undermine the objective truth, but rather instead reinforces it by divorcing it from the falsehoods we have appended over the years. Criticism is the watchdog of integrity: this is arguably the very principle which defines Protestantism. We are neither to add to nor subtract from the Law (Deut. 4:2, NKJV), yet Christian orthodoxy remains littered with these revisions which have built up over centuries of cultural assimilation.

The focus of this essay is going to be highlighting the “Protestant work-ethic” as a specifically historical-material, not a theological phenomenon. From there, I will attempt to re-formulate an answer to the question with much more radical implications.

Yes, there will be references to more explicitly Marxist concepts here, but this serves to complement, rather than supplant the Christian basis for the core ethical argument. Marxism proves to be most effective when its treated as a purely negative critique, a dissection and annulment of the logic underlying our current “world” rather than some sort of set of virtues to be upheld. When developing an argument like this, the actual assertions, the positive elements must remain essentially Christian.

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 conflated with Christian doctrine.

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, and distinguishing it from labour.

The line drawn between work and labour is generally ambiguous, so before we proceed we will have to reconcile this matter. For the purposes of this essay, labour is defined as any mental or physical activity conducted by a person onto an object as to either transform it into one of value (either use-value or exchange-value could apply here, depending on the context) or add to its value. As for the definition of work, we will have to take a more thorough investigation:

The first characteristic of work to discuss is that it is compulsory, not just in an internal sense (such as an animal being compulsed to forage for food by the logic of its biology), but also in an external sense. This distinction means that an activity can be considered “labour” or “productive” without it necessarily being “work” per se.

My minimum definition of work is forced labour, 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 1986, 6)

What exactly this external pressure looks like varies not just based on one's interpretation but also the environment in which work is being employed. Some may interpret their work as part of a religious obligation: one of the most blatant examples of this is Hindu concept of varna, a division of peoples into four groups often defined by their occupations. Even in Christianity, the concept of a “vocational calling” has been echoed by writers such as John Calvin.

The magistrate will execute his office with greater pleasure, the father of a family will confine himself to his duty with more satisfaction, and all, in their respective spheres of life, will bear and surmount the inconveniences, cares, disappointments, and anxieties which befall them, when they shall be persuaded that every individual has his burden laid upon him by God. Hence also will arise peculiar consolation, since there will be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed highly important in the sight of God. (Calvin 1536, 870)

Divine commands aside, there also exist more objective forms of coercion. A country which employs slavery or work-camps, the work is being compelled by the state and the threat of physical retaliation to those who refuse. For a country which operates under an industrialized market, the work is compelled by the logic of the market itself. There is nothing inherent about spinning wool for eight hours a day every day that results in one obtaining food; however, under the rules of mass exchange, it can indirectly be linked to one's survival. Marx echoes this last type of coercion in his 1844 Manuscripts:

What, then, constitutes the alienation of labor?

First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature;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 feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. 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, labor is shunned like the plague. (Marx 1844, 30)

Whether or not the compulsion in any of the above scenarios are justified or not is irrelevant to the current takeaways here: work is coerced, the coercion is external in nature, and that this compulsion dictates not just the existence of the worker but also the character of “work” itself.

Another characteristic which you might have picked up on in the previous paragraphs is that work is constituted by a vocational division. In the most basic sense, this could be something as simple as the varying roles in society Calvin and the Hindus assign people, or it could also refer to a more specific division of labor as implied in the example of wool-spinning.

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is quite possibly one the most well-known writing on economics, and provides a very thorough statement of what classical economists believed regarding various economic topics, including the division of labour.

One man draws out the wire; another straights it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some factories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small factory of this kind, where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day...

But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth, part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations. (Smith 1776, 8-9)

Using the example of a pin factory, Smith demonstrates the division of labour by associating each man with a task. Within the context of this larger factory, we see each man's work as defined by a specialized task. Each of these tasks only play one part in the production of the pin. No matter how skilled a worker becomes at drawing out the wire, it alone cannot produce the pin. Just like a machine, his training refines his skills towards being able to only perform one specialized task incredibly well: this renders him dependent on the factory as a whole to render his labour useful. This only intensifies as the firm grows and each worker's role in the production process becomes more and more narrow.

While Smith focuses on the effects this has on total productive efficiency and the factory system as a whole, Marx analyses the same phenomena from the perspective of the individual:

The accumulation of capital increases the division of labor, and the division of labor increases the number of workers. Conversely, the number of workers increases the division of labor, just as the division of labor increases the accumulation of capital. With this division of labor on the one hand and the accumulation of capital on the other, the worker becomes ever more exclusively dependent on labor, and on a particular, very one-sided, machine-like labor at that. Just as he is thus depressed spiritually and physically to the condition of a machine and from being a man becomes an abstract activity and a belly, so he also becomes ever more dependent on every fluctuation in market price, on the application of capital, and on the whim of the rich. Equally, the increase in the class of people wholly dependent on work intensifies competition among the workers, thus lowering their price. In the factory system this situation of the worker reaches its climax. (Marx 1844, 4)

The division of labour we see in this factory model is specific to the capitalist mode of production, and is magnitudes more intense than the vocational divisions to be found in pre-capitalist societies which still retained a concept of “work”. The stratification in our society is not just one of judges, doctors, and priests, but rather instead divided up by each step in the production process of a commodity. In addition, the increased efficiency and circular logic of capitalism ensures this fate remains a perpetual one.

This not just only alienates the worker from his product as many socialists love to harp on about, but also from the production-process itself. Man's relationship to his labour is not merely a pragmatic one, but also an essentially existential one too, it is through labour that one is given the opportunity to assert their humanity:

For labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man in the first place merely as a means of satisfying a need – the need to maintain physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species-character. Life itself appears only as a means to life.

The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity. It is just because of this that he is a species-being. Or it is only because he is a species-being that he is a conscious being, i.e., that his own life is an object for him. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship, so that it is just because man is a conscious being that he makes his life activity, his essential being, a mere means to his existence...

It is just in his work upon the objective world, therefore, that man really proves himself to be a species-being. This production is his active species-life. Through this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species-life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he sees himself in a world that he has created. In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him. (Marx 1844, 32)

The Dissolution of Work and Leisure (section incomplete)

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 this is to allude to the very first division: the separation of day and night.

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 labourers. 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 labour,” the increase of leisure, is in no way a liberation within labour, nor a liberation from the world shaped by this labour. None of the activity lost in labour 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.

The Dissolution of Work and Leisure (section incomplete)

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 this is to allude to the very first division: the separation of day and night.

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 labourers. 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 labour,” the increase of leisure, is in no way a liberation within labour, nor a liberation from the world shaped by this labour. None of the activity lost in labour 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, labourer, 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 labour 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]


Black, Bob. 1986. The abolition of work and other essays. Loompanics Unlimited, Port Townsend.

Calvin, John. Edited and translated by John Allen. (1536) 1812. Institutes of the Christian religion. Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia.

Debord, Guy. (1967) 2014. The society of the spectacle. Translated by Ken Knabb.

Marx, Karl. (1844) 1959. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Translated by Martin Milligan. Progress Publishers, Moscow.

Parson, Lucy. 1912. “The Eight-Hour Strike of 1886,” In Freedom, Equality and Solidarity, edited by Gale Ahrens, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr. 2003.

Smith, Adam. (1776) 2007. Edited by Salvio Marcelo Soares. An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. ΜεταLibri, Indianapolis.

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:


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]
Exec=exec AMD_DEBUG=check_vm LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu ./runner

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.