Volatility

August 19, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 3)

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A capitalist class is in theory (even Marxist theory) creative, constructive, innovative, for a period. Then it reaches its decadent/malevolent stage and becomes purely predatory and parasitic. Colonialism and imperialism always displayed this decadent and malevolent predation and parasitism from the outset. This is part of why almost from day one critics in the home countries feared an eventual boomerang effect on the polities and economies at home. This predicted corrosion of minds and brutalization of practices, the ruling class becoming a mere stupid thug, by turns incompetent, half-assed, and vicious, has indeed come true, although the oil surplus postponed its full advent.
 
A flip side of this, as described by Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, is how the native ruling classes of countries recently liberated from colonization remain fully beholden to the Western capitalist class. Having known nothing but the most stupid and inefficient exploitation, the “national bourgeoisie” is itself nothing but a gang of uncreative, unproductive thugs engaging in conspicuous consumption.
 

The national bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries should not be combated because it threatens to curb the overall, harmonious development of the nation. It must be resolutely opposed because it serves literally no purpose. Mediocre in its winnings, in its achievements and its thinking, this bourgeoisie attempts to mask its mediocrity by ostentatious projects for individual prestige, chromium-plated American cars, vacations on the French Riviera and weekends in neon-lit nightclubs.

 
The comparison with the post-capitalist, purely globalist worthless thug-and-slave decadence of Dubai is clear. And this is where we’re headed everywhere.
 
What would happen when Western exploitation had reached the limits of what it could extract around the world, through direct imperialism, post-colonial exploitation in the form of globalization, and the neocon attempt to revive a more direct imperial extraction regime? And what would happen when the exploiters reach the full colonial level of exploitation within their own Western countries? We’d have the full decadence and malevolence of the colonial extraction regime on every economic, political, and cultural level. The same worthless stupidity and brutality, the same barbarism which is even more profound than what even Fanon still considered a bad interlude on the way toward a progressive future.
 
Today we know the full scale of post-civilizational barbarism, as capitalism reaches its twin final limits of Peak Oil and the physical/socioeconomic limits of the Earth itself. Where can it go from here? Nowhere – it can only temporarily zombify and cannibalize itself, and then collapse. In the meantime its unproductive and vicious character will go from bad to worse, and it will do all it can to corrupt all of humanity with its own absolute cultural disease. Part of our task, we lumpenproles relative to their measure, is to refuse this “honor”, resist this Sodomite corruption, and assert our core humanity.
 
Meanwhile, part of this corruption is the system’s attempt, including and especially by the “better elites” for whom our good liberals so desperately yearn, to prop up the zombies of consumer debt and the “ownership society”. Even after all that’s happened, they have good prospects in their attempt to restore the self-destructive faith in the mortgage system, to even further indenture the pseudo-middle class and hasten its liquidation.
 
To be clear, the mortgage regime was context-specific to the heyday of the oil surplus and then to the exponential debt scam of neoliberalism. Neither applies any longer, so it follows that the mortgage regime is unsustainable. (And after you destroy everyone’s jobs, who’s supposed to be able to afford these mortgages?) If people are going to continue to inhabit the land at all on any basis other than as debt serfs, we’ll need a whole new dispensation. We have to abolish bank control over the land. But this restored serfdom is, of course, the system’s real goal.
 
What would be the economic basis for the continuation of the mortgage regime? What was ever its productive basis? As I said, it was never built on any economic productivity whatsoever, but merely on the oil surplus, debt, and sand.
 
To put it in terms from Russian history, it’s like we’ve gone through the entire process of Stolypin’s reform plan (to build a peasant middle class by giving a portion of them a stake in the land). We’re now being spit out the other side – the system which went to so much trouble to build a middle class bulwark against revolution is now assiduously demolishing that bulwark and liquidating that middle class.
 
(The suburban middle class was a variation on Stolypin. Instead of a peasant middle class, we had an employee middle class. Any nascent farmer middle class was forestalled and ruled out long ago. The middle class of workers and flunkeys would be liquidated all the more easily in the end, as it has no landbase. Suburbia by design never had a chance of establishing a landbase. On the contrary, even as it astroturfs the shallow ideology of “home ownership” and “having land”, it eradicates all sense of the land, all ability to use it constructively, all responsibility and loyalty to it. This is part of how we’re all lumpenproles now. Even the suburban peasantry which still nominally “owns” its own plots is really vagrant and rootless at heart already. This is the atomization capitalism always sought to bring about even in the heart of the “ownership society”. The atoms will feel even more unanchored as that other ownership bastion, pensions public and private, are revoked.)
 
So if the question is, how can we make America productive, to want to zombify the ownership society is non-responsive. Since the inefficient, unproductive, criminal nature of the economic dispensation is obvious, it follows that to be non-responsive to the question is implicitly to support the status quo finance tyranny. So to want to restore faith in mortgages is to answer the question of American productivity and prosperity as such in this way: “I don’t want America to be productive or prosperous, ever.”
 
How about this: Mortgage holders should jubilate the debt, stop paying, stay in the house, keep paying property taxes (for now), become intensely involved in the community, especially working for economic and political relocalization, based upon Food Sovereignty.
 
Food Sovereignty in turn implies the abolition of land propertarianism. Land ownership is obviously illegitimate on the rational and moral levels. We can add that agronomy has proven that smallholder organic agriculture outproduces corporate monoculture, and that this difference will become extreme as Peak Oil and energy descent set in. So if we plan to continue to eat, we’ll need to transform our food production system to smallholder agroecology.
 
But this won’t be possible where the land is hoarded by corporate and wealthy parasites. If we want to prosper we need to restitute the land to those who will work it on autonomous and cooperative stewardship bases. (This is no descent from some fancied “higher” middle class existence. On the contrary, agroecology is highly skilled work.)
 
So land propertarianism is not only morally and rationally invalid, but doesn’t work on a practical level either, for this definition of “work”: The people have food to eat, and from there achieve democratic prosperity.
 
The hardest part of the moral transformation I’ve often touched upon but not yet systematically discussed will be to propagate among the still-clinging middle class the truth that their “ownership” is a mirage, that if they keep clinging to that illusion they’ll end up losing it all, while if they give up the propertarian delusion they’ll get back far more in return, stewardship and productive use of all the land, toward a vastly more prosperous future than that we know today. It’s like a handful of sand. Hold it gently, and it stays in the hand. Try to squeeze, and it all runs through your fingers.
 
I’ll add the four principles and imperatives of co-production: First, we are all worthy human beings, our work our most precious asset. Any economic system not based upon this truth is illegitimate. Second, we must revalue our work, recognize it as our worth and as our core humanity. To block us from our work is to block us from ourselves. This is nothing but a crime and must be dealt with as such.
 
(Part of this revaluation will be organizing the core economy outside and against the market. I’ve written extensively about co-production and time banking. Another phenomenon is the unionization of so-called “informal economy” workers.
 

Ironically, she recalls three decades later, I first glimpsed the vastness of the informal sector while working for the formal sector.
Over the next thirty years, SEWA became a cluster of three types of membership-based organizations of the poor: first, a union—by 2004, the largest primary union in India—of a variety of informal trades—rag pickers, home-based chindi and garment stitchers, bidi rollers, vegetable vendors—bargaining with buyers, contractors and municipal authorities over piece-rates and pavement space; second, a coalition of dozens of producer co-operatives, producing shirt fabrics, recycling waste paper and cleaning offices; and third, several institutions of mutual assistance and protection, including a SEWA bank and health cooperatives, organized around midwives who were themselves part of the informal sector.

A key part of its history has been a struggle over representation. When someone asks me what the most difficult part of SEWA’s journey has been, Bhatt writes,

“I can answer without hesitation: removing conceptual blocks. Some of our biggest battles have been over contesting preset ideas and attitudes of officials, bureaucrats, experts and academics. Definitions are part of that battle. The Registrar of Trade Unions would not consider us ‘workers’; hence we could not register as a ‘trade union’. The hard-working chindi workers, embroiderers, cart pullers, rag pickers, midwives and forest-produce gatherers can contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product, but heaven forbid that they be acknowledged as workers! Without an employer, you cannot be classified as a worker, and since you are not a worker, you cannot form a trade union. Our struggle to be recognized as a national trade union continues.”

SEWA rejected the rhetoric of the informal sector that dominated official discourse: dividing the economy into formal and informal sectors is artificial, Bhatt argues, it may make analysis easier, or facilitate administration, but it ultimately perpetuates poverty: to lump such a vast workforce into categories viewed as “marginal”, “informal”, “unorganized”, “peripheral”, “atypical”, or “the black economy” seemed absurd to me. Marginal and peripheral to what, I asked . . . In my eyes, they were simply “self-employed”. Indeed the women street vendors who were among the first to build SEWA called themselves traders.

 
There’s great potential here as well, if such labor organization is done on a democratic rather than capitalist basis.)
 
Third, we owe mutuality, honor, loyalty, reciprocity among ourselves. Our unemployability from the system point of view is itself an element of our honor. Fourth, trust, decency, community, democracy constitute our best and most constructive social assets.
 
Meanwhile our proper attitude toward the enemy can always be encompassed within the concept and practice, Work to Rule. We should have endless gift-giving virtue among our families, friends, and communities, and nothing at all for the system except under duress.
 
These are among the values which can help us rebuild our humanity even as the kleptocracy seeks to disintegrate us. There’s the spirit in which we can move forward. 
 
In the meantime, I’ll complete the answer to the question with which I opened. What happens when kleptocracy, itself a symptom of desperation (a parasite who’s in a good position doesn’t kill its host), reaches the limits of what’s a closed system after all? It collapses, that’s all. Our task is to prepare to carry ourselves through this collapse, preserve and defend all we can of ourselves and our preparations for a democratic future, resist all attempts to drag us down into this collapse, do what we can to hasten it, and seize any opportunities to assert democratic power as the collapse takes place.
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15 Comments

  1. For an extremely offensive alternative history, see this piece in the Atlantic.
    It explains everything that has happened in the past 30 years as entirely apolitical and unavoidable, and at the same time praiseworthy, because it will lead us into a “more meritocratic world”.. A few choice quotes:

    Ultimately, the evolution of the meritocracy itself appears to be at least partly responsible for the growing cultural gulf between highly educated Americans and the rest of society.
    …Removing bureaucratic obstacles to innovation is as important as pushing more public funds toward it.
    …Regulatory balance is always difficult in practice
    …It follows that with improvements in the K–12 school system, more-stable home environments, and widespread financial access to college, we eventually could move to a 50 percent college graduation rate overall.
    …a larger proportion of Americans may need to take work in occupations that have historically required little skill and paid low wages.
    … Even as we continue to strive to perfect the meritocracy, signs that things may be moving in the other direction are proliferating. The increasing segregation of Americans by education and income, and the widening cultural divide between families with college-educated parents and those without them, suggests that built-in advantages and disadvantages may be growing. And the concentration of wealth in relatively few hands opens the possibility that much of the next generation’s elite might achieve their status through inheritance, not hard or innovative work.

    Note especially how the author finishes the last paragraph. Aside from the hint that “we might be in for demotic uprisings”, he doesn’t think the problem is that the meritocrats are being ‘unreasonably exploitative’ (or however he would euphemistically call it), but he is afraid that, “in the future”, the meritocracy will disappear because people will inherit status.
    Aside from that it’s contradictory in many ways, especially when he notes “we need more education/degrees are worthless/Americans will have to start seeing jobs that “historically required little skill and paid low wages as their new goals to aspire to.

    Comment by Foppe — August 19, 2011 @ 5:52 am

    • “Meritocracy” is inherently a Big Lie, since by definition it occurs in an anti-democratic context.

      Using an English language definition of merit, those who merit the full disposal of what the economy produces are the workers who produce it. And those who merit full political power are the citizens themselves in whom sovereignty reposes.

      Only true democracy could ever be a true meritocracy. But in that case the term is redundant and superfluous.

      So by definition any kind of economic or political elitism is anti-merit and steals from those who rightfully merit something to give it to those who do not. So “meritocracy” is an Orwellian term, and anyone who goes around using it is certainly shilling for something vile.

      In this case, it’s a particularly maundering package of neoliberal nostrums. Wanting to double down on the busted “higher education” hand, implicitly telling people to keep shackling themselves to that most pernicious of debt indentures, is always a good indicator.

      Everything I’ve been trying to say in these Lumpenprole posts goes to renouncing the system measures (indeed, now I’m thinking I should have mentioned the “meritocracy” scam, but I don’t recall doing so) and starting from the soil with a new organic integration.

      But propaganda like this only tells people to try to conform better than others, and while most will be destroyed, maybe you can be saved. It’s not only a lie, it’s a vicious lie, intended to foster ever more vicious mindsets and behavior. If we’re all lumpenproles now, this ideology wants us to live up to the worst stereotypes of that appellation, rather than revalue and transcend it the way we can if we choose.

      To reply briefly to your comment in the other thread, the connection between the end of the fossil fuel age and Marxism is that Peak Oil cinches (if there were any doubt otherwise) that the classical Marxian confrontation between centralized industrial capitalism and a centralized industrial proletariat is not the form of the struggle we’re to be facing. In these posts here I was trying to describe, in vague lines so far, the form we actually are facing.

      Comment by Russ — August 19, 2011 @ 6:49 am

      • f there were any doubt otherwise) that the classical Marxian confrontation between centralized industrial capitalism and a centralized industrial proletariat is not the form of the struggle we’re to be facing

        Harvey also discussed that somewhere (perhaps in his course on Capital vol 1, but more likely in another lecture). He pointed out that Marx was familiar with the type of industrialization that happened in huge factories (such as happened in Manchester, iirc.), while he was either unfamiliar with, or ignored, other possible model of industrial organization. Such as, most prominently, the kind you see in Hong Kong, and parts of India, where tiny sweat shops are competing against each other for orders — capitalism without vertical integration across the production chain. This model is even more competitive, and allows for a much smaller chance that the workers will organize somehow, except via things akin to guilds, I guess. The big question there is how you can ensure quality, but perhaps that’s of less concern these days.

        Comment by Foppe — August 19, 2011 @ 7:19 am

      • The big question there is how you can ensure quality, but perhaps that’s of less concern these days.

        I keep meaning to see if I can find a Youtube excerpt from “The Untouchables”, the part where the thug tells the merchant, “It’s not supposed to be good, it’s supposed to be bought.” I think that says it all for where quality heads under corporatism.

        (I especially wanted to use that in one of my pieces on the health racket bailout/austerity bill, what Obama and Rahm might’ve said about the Stamp mandate to anyone objecting that it would be an expensive, worthless “policy” that wouldn’t actually pay for care, by design.)

        We can take that as the motto of every big corporation and interest by now.

        As far as how these dispersed workers can organize, that’s one of the questions I wanted to broach in this post, although I don’t have a clear answer yet.

        Comment by Russ — August 19, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

      • While I’m not sure how you could scale this up, a large part of today’s workers are doing retail and retail-related work; i.e., food distribution/truck drivers, restaurant workers, hospitality workers, (“illegal” cleaners). Trying to organize them is probably one of the more likely things that might work. The big problem is of course the high turnover, making organization much harder, but as a group these workers are very important for keeping the city running, even if they probably won’t believe it themselves.

        Comment by Foppe — August 20, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

      • This piece makes the case for anarcho-syndicalist organizing among these “casualized” workers.

        http://propertyistheft.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/the-revolutionary-general-strike-in-an-era-of-casualisation/

        The emphasis is on self-organization and direct action, since both the transitory nature of so many of these casualized workplaces (e.g. the high turnover and the short-termist attitude) as well as the advanced decrepitude of conventional unionism render conventional long-term organizing, and reformism in general, likely to be untenable.

        Comment by Russ — August 20, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

    • I see the Atlantic hasn’t improved any of late. The extent to which they’ve busied themselves over the last few years providing a venue for slobjobs of the kleptocracy is pretty incredible, I can’t imagine anyone with an ounce of self respect being able to work there, but there you go.

      Comment by paper mac — August 19, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  2. Russ, thanks — I thought that was pretty amazing for the Atlantic, too.

    Then, one of the FF writers submitted a piece suggesting that the only reason MSM would be giving ink to the raw food raids is because they’re distracting us from something more lethal to food freedom.

    In Are the raw milk raids to distract from something far more deadly to farming?, William Davis suggests that Animal ID (and, thus, Premises ID) is a bigger threat to our nation’s small and midsize farms.

    Interesting article you wrote, btw — some of it over my head, I have to admit.

    I’m not sure — but it seems you are advocating zero land ownership while promoting smallholder farms using agroecology principles. But, what would motivate people to practice agroecology if they feel no loyalty to the land they are working? Why go to the extra effort if the land isn’t yours and can thus be taken by someone stronger, or better armed, or with more numbers in their “gang”?

    I do agree with your conclusion that collapse is the natural endpoint for anything (species or system) that exceeds carrying capacity (or, that which exhausts the resources of the land base).

    As to species that exceed carrying capacity, what happens after the crash is population then again increases — so that on a graph population numbers then waver above and below the CC line.

    (Here’s a decent graph explaining that.)

    So, that makes me wonder if capitalism will likewise stay alive, but go thru boom and bust around the resources that are available. Even if a particular resource is exhausted, won’t capitalism simply find another (even slave trading, for example)?

    Comment by Rady — August 19, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    • Hi Rady, and thanks for the heads up on the other piece. While the government-corporate nexus is certainly plotting here, I’m not sure what it has to do with the PR flap over the Rawesome raid. If anything, I don’t know why they’d want to rile up alarm and the will to resist in general (which can easily be shifted from food issue to food issue, and anyway NAIS is already a hot-button issue – isn’t that why they had to put it on ice?), rather than lull people to sleep. And the “correct” corporate media line is always the Orwellian “food safety”.

      When I say no ownership I mean that it should be superseded by a stewardship/usufruct dispensation based on autonomous and cooperative working of the land. A family, a group, a community. would have full right to work as much land as they could handle for as long as they were willing. I think that would make for a far more stable communion with the land than the more often than not tenuous “ownership” which is really a struggle to service one’s debt to the bank.

      Just to use my example, my finances make possible a roughly 10′ by 20′ garden plot. If I could afford to “own” land, I’d certainly think of taking a shot at being a farmer. Even then I’d likely be on a shoestring.

      On the other hand, if the land was restituted for food production on a useful possession basis, where one’s good will to work is the only requirement, I’d become a farmer with no fear in the world but the weather (well, also rebuilding the soil if necessary, etc., but you get the drift).

      Under which of those circumstances would you think people would feel more securely on the land, more able to redeem our lost landbases?

      (BTW, reading the article you linked I noticed the fear that the banksters and the likes of Soros would buy up the farmland. I was saying, “that sure puts the notion of land ownership in the proper perspective.” So I found it bizarre that the article went on to say “property rights” were under assault, the same property rights that just a few paragraphs back were being represented as a vehicle of bank tyranny. If you want property in land to exist, then the banksters and the big corporations are certainly going to end up with every last acre in the end.)

      If you’re interested in reading more of my take on this, my food pieces are listed here.

      https://attempter.wordpress.com/series-on-food-sovereignty/

      (You’ve already seen some of them, and cross-posted a few.)

      As far as what shall succeed capitalism, I don’t say it’s impossible that other forms of economic domination will arise post-oil, just as they existed pre-oil. But I doubt this system will be able to simply evolve new forms of tyranny, unless the people really just roll over completely to let themselves be restored to serf status. I think it will collapse completely (not necessarily all at once, but eventually completely), and then if in the meantime we’ve evolved and been able to preserve a democratic relocalization movement, this movement will have a good chance of achieving a decentralized but expansive rebuilding along cooperative democratic lines, and this will be humanity’s chance to feed itself post-oil, to finally establish true democracy, and to forestall tyrannical and exploitative recrudescences.

      Comment by Russ — August 19, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

      • “(BTW, reading the article you linked I noticed the fear that the banksters and the likes of Soros would buy up the farmland. I was saying, “that sure puts the notion of land ownership in the proper perspective.” So I found it bizarre that the article went on to say “property rights” were under assault, the same property rights that just a few paragraphs back were being represented as a vehicle of bank tyranny. If you want property in land to exist, then the banksters and the big corporations are certainly going to end up with every last acre in the end.)”

        Now, that’s a very interesting argument… and logical.

        I’ve been chewing on the idea of land ownership for awhile now and still haven’t resolved all of it yet.

        It’s true that deeds bring in the banks, but are all banks bad? What about S. Dakota’s? (Last I read it’s the only state not in default on loans.)

        I guess the whole issue goes back to who prints the money, who controls the money supply.

        While everyone has been decrying the debt-based monetary system under which we live, I read one piece that said that ALL money systems are debt-based.

        So even if we did print our own money, we’re getting back to the same system, in essence.

        Comment by Rady — August 19, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

      • Yes, money systems as we have them today are debt-based. In fact, private banks “create” money out of thin air to loan it out, and only afterward seek deposits to attain whatever reserve requirement they have. So the creation of money is really first and foremost the creation of debt.

        However, there’s different kinds of debt creation. One can seek to create as much debt as possible without reference to the quality of the debt or its basis in the true economy in order to maximize one’s own interest income, and expecting to be bailed out when all the loans go bad. That’s what happened with the subprime bubble and the Bailout. Or, in theory, one could issue debt but only as the real economy justifies, and primarily toward trying to foster real economic productivity. This latter can’t be done on a for-profit basis, which is why the more adventurous would-be reformers call for banks to be turned into public utilities. I don’t see any prospect that this fundamentally criminalized system would ever do that. Which is part of why I also don’t repose hope in money issued directly by the federal government, as so-called Modern (it’s not really new) Monetary Theory (MMT) calls for. I don’t think the system would ever do that (acing out the parasite private banks and perhaps abolishing the Fed), and even if it did it’s unlikely the money would be used in a democratic way. Even without Wall Street such a centralized government is still inherently unresponsive.

        No, I think we need to decentralize money/exchange, like all other aspects of our economies. If the economy is to be based on food, well natural markets there are predominantly local/regional, correct? The form of exchange needs to follow suit, and historically has.

        This piece discusses my ideas on this in greater detail.

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/lets-take-back-our-money/

        One promising alternative framework is time banking:

        https://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/time-banking/

        You’re referring to North Dakota’s state bank. That bank has a mandate completely different from that of the big banks and the Fed. In theory it’s supposed to help foster the productivity of the in-state economy (and it seems like it’s done a pretty good job in practice.) It never got involved with the casino gambling that big private banks did, and it worked throughout the years prior and during the crisis to strengthen the in-state economy. The result was that North Dakota’s in much better shape economically than most states. That’s why there are bills pending in many other states to establish state banks. (But so far it’s all a sham, as none of these bills have passed.) I think the expansion of state banks could be a good decentralizing step, especially if they started issuing their own currencies toward the goals enshrined for the ND bank.

        Here’s a good introductory piece on state banks:

        http://www.webofdebt.com/articles/growing_movement.php

        Comment by Russ — August 20, 2011 @ 12:58 am

  3. […] point of it, when by now we’re all the 99? That’s part of what I was getting at with my We’re All Lumpenproles Now and Corporate Tribalism ideas. I’ll be writing more about those, incorporating new insights […]

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  4. […] incipient or actual “lumpenproles”. (I’ve recently written more about this.) Our mindset, our actual circumstances, and the possible modes of resistance and revolution are […]

    Pingback by Underlying Ideology of the 99 « Volatility — October 12, 2011 @ 2:53 am

  5. […] us as post-workers, incipient or actual “lumpenproles”. (I’ve recently written more about this.) Our mindset, our actual circumstances, and the possible modes of resistance and revolution are […]

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