Marxian Social Theory Part III


In the first mini-lecture in the series on Marx, I laid out the more positive features of capitalism as an economic system:

1. It is the most productive of all existing political economies
2. It is the most flexible of all....
3. It is the most creative...
4. It tends to destroy ancient structures of domination
5. It has created the best knowledge system and requires even better.
6. It requires more freedom in more domains of life than....

In the second of the series, I began to list the more negative features not made visible in the self-knowledge of capitalist theory. In the 3rd of the series, I will carry on with this critique; but do keep in mind the contradictory nature of this most dynamics economic system.

Part Three: Negativities [Con't]:

7. Capitalism tends to degrade the work process:

a. A technical division of labor is instituted in order to increase output; the assumption [arguable] is that the more specialized a worker becomes, the more expert and competent s/he becomes.

b. A Social division of labor is instituted in order to:

1) control the work process on management terms
2) control the nature of the good or service produced [by them selves, workers might not produce dangerous/polluting goods.
3) control the rate of capital investment...[workers might well decide to allocate more to wages than to profits and capital.
4) control the location of investment...[workers tend to retain capital investment in the home community...capitalists prefer to move to regions with lower labor costs, lower taxes, fewer restrictions and lower transport costs.

8. Capitalism requires ever expanding layers of unproductive workers:

a. managers to control unruly workers
b. public relations to colonize consciousness of workers, customers, voters and clergy.
c. Advertizing specialists to generate ever expanding layers of desire and demand.
d. lawyers to deal with criminal and civil suits.
e. salespersons to help dispose of 'surplus' production.
f. security guards to watch workers, customers, competitors and lower management...[upper management does not point private security at themselves or the corporation per se].

9. Capitalism tends to destroy community:

a. 'Universal Being' becomes reduced from tribe and extended family to the single individual and/or the corporation itself.
b. The stratification of wealth tends to create urban enclaves separate and often hostile to each other.
c. Investment decisions often require the abandonment of cities, towns and nations.
d. Common needs are abandoned as economic crisis lowers wages, the tax base and corporate giving.
e. Wealthy people flee to protected enclaves as amenities of the inner city deteriorate.

10. Capitalism tends to destroy the family:

1. Firms require workers to move from region to region leaving behind brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grand- parents, cousins and other members of extended family.
2. The structure of self becomes reduced to a highly privatized worker/consumer reluctant to share with either family or community.
3. Children become economic liabilities as childhood/education is expanded from puberty to age 20, 30 and beyond...and as the consciousness of children is colonized to demand more and more goods and services.
4. As real wages decline, more and more parents go to work for wage labor leaving young children alone in cities far from sibs, parents and grandparents.
5. Human sexuality becomes alienated from family and from gender as more and more advertizements invest sexual desire into cars, clothing, beverages and other commodities.

10. Capitalism tends to locate moral agency at the top levels of bureau, firm, state or other hierarchal form of social organi- zation. Workers, students, soldiers, patients, and inmates must surrender moral agency to rule, policy, regulation, commands, orders, or other administrative fiat.

Theories and measures of morality which focus upon the single individual thus distort and misplace moral responsibility for much of the mischief which accrues from corporate activity.

In Part 4 of this series, I will continue with a critique of capitalism but do keep in mind that, in a marxist philsophy of science, causality is much less deterministic than is taught by the critics of marxist theory [and by many of its proponents]. These are the 'tendential' laws of capitalism; not the inevitable results of every capitalist firm or political economy. In future mini-lectures, I will discuss those Parallel Economic Systems which mediate capitalism and change its causal tendencies drama- tically. TR Young

Mon, 18 Mar 96 07:00:35 EST
T R. Young

When one weighs the positive moments of a free market system and individual accumulations of wealth, status and power, along side of the more negative moments, one is forced to go outside the logics of the system to invent a political economy which retains some of the more helpful features while minimizing its more harmful effects.

In this sequel to the Sunday posting, I will conclude with the marxist critique of capitalism and try to give a fair appraisal of the Immiseration Thesis as we head into the 21st Century. From there I will go to a marxian theory of Alienation, on to an overview of Market Socialism and conclude this series with an overall appraisal of Marxian Social Theory.

The Immiseration thesis is particularly important to those who study social problems and the shape of social insitutions in that a basic tenet of marxian theory is that the political economy shapes both material and cultural patterns of social life. If that is true; and if the Immiseration Thesis has any significant truth value, then both social theory and social policy must include--along with feminist, Afro-American and other conflict theory--the impact of class on the fate and fortune of billions of people. On to the chase:

1. Capitalism tends to concentrate wealth...or the rich get richer and the poor get prison. This thesis in marxist theory holds that some portion of the 'surplus' value of labor extracted from the production and distribution of goods and services is used to eliminate competition and/or to expand market share. The story goes that dollar by dollar, pound by pound, mark by mark and yen by yen, rich firms gather the wealth into ever fewer firms. Big companies buy up or drive out small companies.

The data are impressive; Eitzen and his colleagues have listed the transformation of the market from dozens of firms in the same line to just a few: cereals, transport, steel, chemicals, pharma- ceuticals, electronics and electrical goods as well as retail outlets...the effects of Walmart on Main Street has been the topic of many articles and books. The list goes on.

However, if one takes only American workers and only the Golden Years of American Capitalism [1945-1975], the Embourgeoisement Thesis looks very good. These are the years that most academics came of age. These are the years in which federal funds for graduate study and vast expansion of the educational system led most economists, political scientists, historians, and yes, Socio- logists to select the Embourgeoisement Thesis as the better thesis. It well may be the case that, over the past 400 years of industrial capitalism, and over a more global view, the Embourgeoisement Thesis has important truth value. Compared to feudal, slave, and tribal economies of the 16th centuries, capitalism looks good. People are living longer; they are better educated; they live in better housing and they have a much wider. much more encompassing sense of self and society.

Yet the question remains: can we do better; can we extract the features more helpful to the human project without immiserating billions of people around the world in the doing? Since we have not yet reached the end of history, the question remains for your generation to consider.

2. Capitalism tends to despoil the land and pollute the atmosphere. In the effort to increase demand, production, and profits, cap- italist firms mine the ores, pump the petroleum and saturate the land with pesticides, fungicides, and growth hormones. In order to reduce costs, 'waste' materials are dumped into the rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. Noxious fumes and carbon di-oxides are let loose in the very air we breathe. Solid wastes are left for others to clear and clean. Pollution despoils the very environment upon which all life depends.

3. The Capitalist State tends to grow and grow. In order to solve the two major problems of a capitalist economy, more and more people and funds are removed from productive labor and from private hands and put into the state sector.

a. The Realization Problem. In order to help capitalist firms realize profit, the state guarantees markets and raw materials even if it means war with other capitalism nations. WWI and WWII as well as Desert Storm and a hundred other 'police' actions produced a huge and growing military economy. In order to help private firms realize profit, the state builds the roads, docks, railways, and airports; it builds and sub- sidizes power plants; it provides the streets, sewage, and police protection at public expense; it trains the workers and retrains the dis-employed.

b. The Legitimacy Problem. In order to maintain the legitimacy of capitalism and the capitalist state itself, more and more private funds are appropriated by the capitalist state to feed the hungry; house the homeless; heal the broken bodies and repair the wounded souls of those left behind in the ever increasing marginalized peoples. Both political neces- sity and bare human compassion require these expenses.

3. The Fiscal Crisis of the Capitalist State. Keynesian economic theory holds that the fiscal crisis of the capitalist economy recorded as kondratieff cycles, can be moderated by the capitalist state pumping money into the system in bad times and taking money out of the system in good times. Supply Side and Demand Side economics are the concepts used to argue who should get the money the state puts into the economy: capitalists or workers. Today the argument is who should pay back the monies borrowed by the state to pump money in: the answer is the Middle Classes; the poor don't have surplus funds and the rich need theirs for, it is said, to re-invest in high tech.

In the 1996 presidential campaign, the middle classes are rebelling against carrying the costs of capitalism. They want supply side help from the state and, in a mean-spirited and highly privatized morality, are willing to leave the surplus population to their own devices and desires.

The costs of managing the surplus population [surplus to the capitalist labor market...not surplus to the human project] mean that Welfare, prisons, and other total institutions proliferate.

All these contribute to the fiscal crisis; more and more spending along with a smaller and smaller tax base as well as a middle class upper working class tax rebellion encoded in the campaigns of Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Forbes, Mr. Dole and Mr. Keyes. Mr. Buchanan adds cultural warfare on the marginalized to his campaign as part of the prepatory psychological warfare to the dumping of the 'surplus' population.

4. Today the 3rd World which bears much of the costs of a globalized capitalist system:

a. Foods, raw materials, profits and skilled workers are imported to the richest capitalist countries from the 100 or so poorer capitalist and pre-capitalist countries.

b. Dangerous drugs and other products are sold abroad when consumer protection laws forbid the sale at home.

c. Corporations dump toxic wastes in the 3rd world and/or move polluting factories to 'friendly' countries.

d. Both the C.I.A. and the State Department try to subvert workers movements in the 3rd order to help American Capital obtain cheap labor...and move jobs from US cities.

e. The US Military and its 280 odd bases around the world maintain the false peace of global inequality in order to facilitate the movement of goods, employees, profits and raw materials --especially oil--to and from 3rd world countries. Tax payers in the USA, paralysed by appeals to these costs with small protest.

f. Corporate firms and secret agencies subvert the political process in a great many 3rd world countries. Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman have documented the US connection to 3rd World Fascism as have several defectors from the CIA.

There are, in the literature, a good deal more critique of capital- ism and, every day the literature expands as more and more insiders and progressive scholars study, report, and write about the real- politik of the global economy. This brief listing gives those of you who may not have marxist scholars on the faculty, some idea of what you would be learning if you had one or two.

In conclusion to this part on the Immiseration Thesis, I want to say, with Marx, that Capitalism has done much to help defeat the ancient enemies of human beings; drought, pestilence, famine, and the effects of natural promises to do more if it can be harnessed to the general good; if it can be made to carry its own costs; if a way to redistribute wealth is found which does not divide and degrade. Some would argue and I would not object too strongly, that it would not then be capitalist...but sometimes I think we are too much the prisoner of words and not yet wise enough to consider the varieties before us.

Next time, a look at Market Socialism and its effort to include the positive features of capitalism and contain its more negative effects...and thus build a better and more equitable society.


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