The Organic (de)Composition of Capital

S. Artesian

1.  Back in the day, some twenty and more years ago, during that golden era when capitalism was enjoying a modest little boon based on a convergence of new technologies, special enterprise zones, dispossession of millions of people from the rural and village economies of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, China; based on the extraordinary migration of those millions into those special enterprise zones or into the heart of the advanced capitalist economies; and based on the plain old flat out destruction of subsistence and non-value modes of production, from Africa to the former Soviet Union; back in those days, certain journalists, economists, politicians identified and confused the gaming and the stock marketing that accompanied those “good times” with the accumulation itself, tagging the system as “casino capitalism.”  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a toe-tagging of the system.

Of course, we know the #1 house rule for casinos; the house always has the advantage.  The casino is the odds-on favorite.

2.  That was then. This is now.  Now, capitalism in the US is represented by a man who actually lost money on the house; who went bankrupt owning casinos.  Wrecker capitalism has found its perfect chief loser; a man who couldn’t make money while owning a mint.

Now all that seemed so essential to accumulation– cheap migrant labor, borders porous if not invisible to the movement of goods and people, multinational and international trade agreements mediated by a world organization, multilateral defense pacts– are liabilities, boundaries, limitations obstacles, and most importantly, targets.

Shallow, brutal, dishonest, ignorant, incompetent, venal–these are not just descriptions of an individual or individuals; nor solely intrinsic characteristics of the bourgeois class; these are traits valorized by a mode of production that finds all the past monuments it has erected, its constitutions or Constitution, its statutes, and statues, of liberties, to be so much dead weight.  Except of course for the monuments honoring those leaders and followers of the slaveholders’ rebellion.  Those are the once and future heroes.   Next up for a presidential pardon and for a casting in bronze: John Wilkes Booth. Sic semper, capitalismus. 

3In its abstract, capitalism presents itself the partisan of equality.  It’s an equality of individuals as individual, never of classes, never of individuals as embedded in class relations.  It’s an equality of private property holders, with equality of opportunity representing the promise of private property holdings for all.  This is the inverted expression of capital’s organization of labor as sale-able, not as an ability  of human beings, but as a material substance, as property to be separated from those beings.

That separation is made possible, that is to say made social, in and by its measurement, time.

Equality, democracy, constitutions, bills of rights, the “four freedoms,”  are not social contracts.  They are advertising– advertising with shelf lives, “use by” and expiration dates.

In the concrete, of course, capitalism was and will always remain, the economics of privilege, of the entitlement of some at the expense, literally, of others.  Within this entitlement there is the pulverizing of small property and petty privilege to the advantage and in the service of big property and grand privilege.  It is the persistent threats to the stability of small property that triggers that indispensable companion and servant to the the economics of privilege, the politics of resentment.  Each, privilege and resentment, exists in the other, requires the other, is fed by the other.  Entitlement and resentment are the sum total of the bourgeoisie’s contribution to social psychology, the sum total of its political economy.  The accumulation of capital is the policy of resentment and politics of cruelty.

4.  It is delusional to deny the continuity of this regime with previous regimes, recent and not so recent.  We find the same coalition of billionaire hedge-fund psychopaths that financed Bushes 1 & 2, finance the current regime.  We find the same Koch Brothers are behind the same “organizations” that are selecting the ideologues for positions in the judiciary and the flunkies in the executive branch.  We find the same Republican party that has gerrymandered districts, that has attempted to prevent African-Americans from voting for 50 years, that has wrapped itself in Christian fundamentalism ever since Roe v. Wade is still out there gerrymandering, with the aid of the United States Supreme Court; still out there suppressing African-American votes; still wrapping the flag around the cross.

We find the same Democratic Party which can’t even play “good cop” to the Republican “bad cop,” is still playing “just as bad cop.”

We can find the same current of anti-intellectualism pervading politics throughout US history.

We can  find examples in the US of jingoism, racism, anti-migrant chauvinism.  Chinese Exclusion Act, anyone?  Support for the Spanish-American War, anyone?  Wildcat strikes during WW2 in Detroit against black workers being allowed on the production lines, anyone?

(Some of) The clowns are the same. The circus is the same.  Even the big top tent is the same.  So what’s the difference?  For one, the backdrops are different  For another, the acts; (some of) the acts are different.

5. It is fatal to miss the discontinuity, the break the current conditions represent with the “conservatism” or “neo-liberalism” of a Thatcher, a  Reagan, and/or their ideological soothsayers.  That these “new” expression originate in the same capitalism, in the same conflicts of capital, doesn’t mean that the accumulation of the conflicts don’t reflect a qualitative shift in the prospects,  and mechanisms required, for the accumulation of capital.

The backdrop:  The wave of reaction is not confined to the United States. It has flowed through Western, Central, and Eastern Europe, onto Asia, and Africa. the Netherlands  Britain, France, Austria Denmark,  Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Argentina, Chile, and more.

The backdrop:  The wave of reaction is both the product of and response to the austerity driven programs post-2007 and the impaired level of “recovery.”  In truth, the wave of reaction is both product and response to the failure of capitalist growth to “recover” from the recession of 2001.

The backdrop: GDP per capita growth rates since 2008 are about half that of previous recoveries.

The backdrop: Global GNI (gross national income) per capita, rates of growth and mass, have turned downward since 2014.

The backdrop: In the United States, median personnel income for those aged 55-69 years has remained at the year 2000 level, while for those aged 25-54 years, the median personnel income has declined since 2000.

6. Attacking labor internationally for 40 years; having, under the guise of a “war on terror,”  a “war on drugs,” a war for every circumstance, created a flood of refugees and migrants, capital flips the script on Proudhon’s assertion that “property is theft” and proclaims that migrant labor is a crime.  The suppression of all labor requires the  criminalization of the most vulnerable sectors of the class of laborers.

The act:  Hungary’s parliament passes a law making aiding a refugee a criminal offense.

The act:  Italy’s Minister of the Interior wants to take a “census” of Roma people to determine which ones are “legitimate” and which will be subject to deportation.

The act:  The head of the CSU (Christian Social Union) and the state government of Bavaria, and the premier of Austria call for an “axis of the willing from Berlin to Vienna to Rome” to stop migration.

The act:   Chaos rules at the southwestern border of the US as the Trump administration declares all those without legal authorization to remain in the US will be imprisoned.

7.  “What do forest fires, wood-eating beetles, and US President Donald Trump all have in common?” asks The Wall Street Journal.  The newspaper writes that the answer is they all raise the price of lumber for US home builders, but we know the real answer.  They all destroy value, use value and exchange value.  This global redevaluation begins this time around with the debasement of the mechanisms, and institutions designed to mediate, mitigate, and manage the conflicts the value producers have with each other.

June 29, 2017

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