Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Beats Me"

"It's really difficult for me to understand why American imperialism would risk a sharp spike in oil prices given the state of the the global economy"

So says Louis Proyect, owner and operator of the Marxmail listserv, film critic ordinaire, and self proclaimed unrepentant Marxist.

Yep, it puzzles an inveterate Marxist[not to be confused with invertebrate Marxist].  It perplexes our aging Fidelista.  It beats the hell out of him.....

As if...

1. the US bourgeoisie gives a rat's ass about the state of the world economy when the only world and the only economy it knows is the economy of aggrandizement, exploitation, appropriation, accumulation-- even if, especially when that aggrandizement, that accumulation requires the liquidation of assets.
As if...
2. the bourgeoisie anywhere always act rationally.
As if...
3. that rationality should somehow conform to what an "inveterate Marxist" thinks should be the rationality of capitalism.
As if...
4. the violent fluctuations in the price of oil is not exactly how capital has channeled, allocated, distributed profit among its constituent enterprises.
As if...
5. those fluctuations aren't exactly the way capital has transferred, expanded, and liquidated wealth over the past 35 years.
As if...
6. the 1979-1980 spike in oil prices did not inaugurate the double-dip recession of the early 1980s, suspending for a bit the massive generalized overproduction of capital.
As if...
7. the double recession was not fundamental to capital's assault on the living standards of workers everywhere.
As if...
8. that price spike did not feed US finance capital as petro-dollars recycled through the US banking system.
As if...
9. this particular overproduction of petroleum as a commodity did not resurface as general overproduction through the recycling of petro-dollars.
As if...
9. the general overproduction did not lead to the price break of oil in the mid 1980s, with the subsequent devastation of Mexico, the Soviet Union, the US Savings and Loan industry, and housing markets.
As if...
10. the invasion of Iraq in 1991 was not undertaken to force Iraq's production off the world market, just as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait had been launched to force Kuwait's production off the markets.
As if...
11. the price boosts provided by the war and the coincident "instability" was not short-lived, soon overwhelmed and undermined by the technical advances in locating and recovering reserves.
As if...
12. the decline in global lifting and finding costs coupled with the increased capital expansion had not, once again as always, engendered overproduction, depressing once again as always the market price, the rate of return on investment; leading to the dramatic price break of 1998 when oil prices dropped below $10 per barrel.
As if...
13. the 1998 collapse did not, once again as always, lead to cries of outrage and pain by our oil bourgeoisie about Iraq's increased production.
As if...
14. OPEC had not, once again as always, heard the cries of its most unsilent partner and had not intervened once again as always with production cuts.
As if...
15. the intervention of OPEC did not once again signal an end, but not the end, to a period of capital expansion, to accumulation by increased capitalization, and the approach, once again, of economic contraction.
 As if...
16. the economic contraction, the subsequent re-invasion of Iraq, the oil price spikes did not, once again as always, redistribute profit so that the profit channeled to the oil companies was proportionate to the size of the capital invested in oil production. 
As if...
17. reestablishing the proportionality of profit to the size of the capital was not inherent in and a refraction of capital's tendency to equalize profit rates over time.
As if...
18. equalizing profit rates did not transform a particular overproduction into general social overproduction; did not signify the overproduction of oil as capital;  did not signify that the means of producing oil, regardless of the intensity of the exploitation of labor and because of the intensity of exploitation of labor in the production process, could NOT exploit labor intensely enough to maintain the value-ization process, enough to maintain accumulation.
As if...
19. overproduction is not once again as always behind capital's drive to force Iranian production from the market, and better yet for the bourgeoisie, destroy Iran's productive capacity.

As if...
20. the United States has not reduced its oil imports by approximately 18% in the last 5 years; expanded its domestic onshore production, and increased its total hydrocarbon fuel exports so that exports exceeded imports.
As if...
21. US crude oil production in 2010 had not increased 10% from its 2007 level; the US Energy Information Agency was not projecting an increase in domestic production to 6.7 million barrels per day by 2020 based on the exploitation of "tight oil" [shale formation] supplies.
As if...
22. excess capacity in the global oil industry was not 4 million barrels per day.
As if...
23. between 2007 and 2012 US daily consumption of oil had not declined by 1.5 million barrels per day.
As if...
24. the history of the world we've been living in for 40 years isn't the history of overproduction.

That Proyect is puzzled, confused,  is understandable since Proyect has been flogging  neo-Malthusian, apocalyptic, peak [snake] oil theories for at least a decade.

That Proyect doesn't understand a bit of what he claims to understand, "Marxism," that is to say Marx's critique of capitalist production, is one thing and a very small thing.  Personally, I have nothing against Mr. Proyect, and if he weren't such a sanctimonious, self-righteous jerk, I'd probably leave his name out of this completely.

That not a one of Proyect's "Marxmailers"-- not a single mother's son or daughter, not a single so-called Marxist, Trotskyist, Luxemburgist, anti-Leninist, anarchist, Fidelista, Chavezista, Moralesismo-er,  not a single one of the professed, professional, and professorial Marxists who occupy the chat room in Proyect's digital retirement home--challenged their host's confusion, sought to enlighten the chat-room moderator is another sad thing altogether.

The point isn't whether or not US production meets, exceeds, or falls short of the US EIA projections and estimates.  The point isn't whether global oil supplies are sufficient for 50 or 100 years.

The point is that the production of oil, the increases and declines in production, the increases and declines in prices, the actions and "rationality" of the oil capitalists will be determined by the economics of capitalism, by the social organization of labor that determines accumulation.   Oil production conforms to the needs of capitalist accumulation even when, especially when, those needs and that accumulation are difficult for Marxists to understand.

And you can take that to the bank.  Or the movies.

S.Artesian    February 23, 2012 

Sunday, February 05, 2012


Facets of Value, 2

Marx provides a critical, historical exposition in his notes, draft, essay The Production Process of Capital, “Relative Surplus Value,” in volume 30 of the Collected Works [International Publishers, 1988] pages 294-299.

Marx begins:

“What is need first, therefore, is not an increase in population, but an increase in the purely industrial population, or a different distribution of the population. The first condition for this is that the population directly employed in the production of the means of subsistence, in agriculture, be diminished, that people be separated from the land, from mother earth, and that they be thereby set free [FREE HANDS, as Steuart says), mobilised. The separation from agriculture of the kinds of work bound up with it, and the—progressive—limitation of agriculture to fewer hands, is the main condition for the division of labour and for manufacture in general, if it is to emerge not in individual cases, at isolated points, but playing a predominant role. All this belongs to accumulation.”

So here we have it, and it being the beginning of the differentiation of capitalist manufacture from that of earlier, non-predominant forms of commodity production, of earlier deployments of wage-labor. “The first condition for this is...that people be SEPARATED from the land and thereby set FREE..”

That is to say, mobilized, as “free hands”-- hands not necessary for supplying the means of subsistence.

And there we have it, it being what constitutes “freedom” in the bourgeois order, that which defines “free labor”-- dispossessed, separated, detached, without use to the “free laborer” save its value as a means of exchange for the means of subsistence.

Marx goes on to describe the conditions that must accompany the adoption of the division of labor--
concentration of workers;
concentration of the instruments of labor;
increase in raw material.

And all of this is the formation of the social relation of production, of the opposition, the antagonism of labor to the conditions of labor, since this takes place under, within, through and by the extension of private property.

Marx continues:

In absolute terms, therefore, nothing is required for manufacture, i.e. for the workshop based on the division of labour, but a change in the distribution of the different constituents of capital, concentration instead of dispersal. As long as they are dispersed, these conditions of labour do not yet exist as capital, although they do exist as material constituents of capital, in the same way as the working part of the population exists, although not yet in the quality of wage labourers or proletarians.”

This is pretty remarkable: “As long as they are dispersed these conditions of labour do not yet exist as capital, although they do exist as material constituents of capital, in the same way as the working part of the population exists, although not yet in the quality of wage labourers or proletarians.”

And what constitutes that quality? The social organization, the transformation of the isolated methods of labor into the basis for social production. That basis is, of course, the production of and for exchange value. The working population working for wages in dispersed, isolated, not predominant forms does not yet have the quality-- that social quality, that quality of, and as, a class.

I think it is very easy to, and that we often do, overlook the importance of the division of labor, and the importance of Marx's explorations of the division of labor, to both the development of modern capitalism as distinct from its predecessors and Marx's critique thereof.

Marx says:

Once the commodity becomes the general form of production, or production takes place on the basis of exchange value...the production of each individual becomes one-sided, whereas his needs are many-sided....The whole range of the objective conditions which are required for the production of a single commodity, such as the raw materials, instruments, matieres instrumentales, enter into the production of that commodity as commodities are conditioned by the sale and purchase of these elementary constituents of the commodity which have been produced independently of each other....[]this takes place the more the commodity become the general elementary form of wealth, i.e. the more production ceases to be for the individual the direct creation of his own means of subsistence, and becomes TRADE, as Steuart says, with the commodity therefore ceasing to be the form of the part of the individual's needs, i.e. the part which is superfluous and therefore saleable for the individual. Here the production of commodities still rests on the foundation of a production the main product of which does not become a commodity. It is not yet a situation where subsistence itself depends on sale; where the producer, unless he produces a commodity, produces nothing at all;...”

That quality, that social, general form of the commodity is production for exchange value. It is value not just as a quantity, a measure, but as a quality, a need in and of itself, and upon which all other needs are dependent socially, contingent socially, dependent socially.


...that what is decisive for the producer is no longer the use value of the product but its exchange value alone, the use value being only the vehicle of the exchange value for him; that he must in fact produce not merely a particular product, but money. This prerequisite, that the product is universally produced as a commodity, hence is mediated by the conditions of its own production as commodities, by circulation, into which they enter, implies and all embracing division of social labour [emphasis added], or in other words, the separation of the various mutually conditioning and complementary labours into independent branches of labour only brought into contact with each other through the circulation of commodities, or through sale and purchase. Or, it is identical with this situation, since for products to confront each other generally as commodities presupposes a mutual confronting of the activities producing them....This way of viewing things is therefore historically important....”

Indeed, historically important, for in fact we are no longer viewing things, we view relations. We are viewing objects of production as expressions of the social organization of labor, but a social organization that is “incomplete,” “stunted,” “circumscribed” by...the relation that the social labor in the branches of production are only brought into contact with each other through the circulation of commodities, through sale and purchase. Social labor thus is expressed only as a market relation, use for exchange, exchange for use, not as social labor for, by the needs of social labor; not as, for, and by the need of the individual. Social labor is thus, upon establishing its own universality, does so only it its alienation, in its expression as a market value. Value, meanwhile, having survived for so long without the social quality of value, without the all powerful power of the inter-mediation of human relations, now steps forward as the reason of existence.

"The use value is only the vehicle for the exchange value," and so it is, so it becomes, with the human labor process when circumscribed by the valuation process. The use value, the ability of human, social labor to provide for the needs of one and all becomes but the vehicle for the exchange value. Labor becomes a beast, and a burden. The laborer becomes his or her own donkey; his or her use value is only a vehicle for its value in exchange.

Marx's ability to trace the “genealogy” of value, to apprehend value as the abstract substance of exchange, is the product of his apprehension of the singular triumph of modern capitalism, of its division of labor in creating in quantity, and thus making manifest, the alienated quality which value expresses universally-- time.

Time is everything; man is nothing, at most time's carcass,” Marx writes. He wasn't kidding. Capitalism, capitalism as the predominant mode of production is the disposition over time. It's wealth is the appropriation of the time of others.

Capitalism creates, demands, reproduces, expropriates, abstract labor; labor not in its essence, but in its alienated essence, as a loss of time. How often have we heard that the “value of the commodity is the socially necessary labor time for its reproduction”? Countless times? And countless times that definition has been incorrect, incomplete, lacking the quality that makes value a limit, an obstruction; that makes value obsolete, destructive, antithetical to human emancipation. The value of the commodity is the expropriated, alienated, dispossessed, aggrandized, useless, labor time necessary for its reproduction. 

February 5, 2012
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