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Archive for February, 2013

Iraq’s Fragmentation and the Turkish Overreach-Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on Iraq’s Fragmentation and the Turkish Overreach-Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR


Through modern history Kurdish nationalism has constantly posed challenges to Iraqi national unity but it has assumed a criticality lately. The process of defining the regional autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan, which began in the early 1990s when the US-led «no-fly zone» was imposed on Iraq by the western powers in league with Turkey in the aftermath of the Gulf War, has led inexorably to its natural conclusion – the de facto independence of Kurdistan as a political entity.

But then, Kurdish national question is not a mere Iraqi matter, since only 4-5 million ethnic Kurds as such live inside the territorial boundaries of Iraq out of a total Kurdish population estimated variously at around 25 million, the bulk of whom live in the southeastern and eastern parts of Anatolia, and the rest in Iran or Syria.

Apart from the emergence of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, the civil war in Syria is also undermining Iraq’s unity as the balance of power between the Sunni and Shia communities begins to change. Patrick Cockburn, author and longtime observer of Iraqi politics, wrote recently in Britain’s Independent newspaper that the Sunni minority in Iraq, which has lost power in Baghdad and is increasingly embittered and angry at the discrimination against it by a hostile state, «is emboldened by the uprising of the Syrian Sunni, as well as growing sense that the political tide in the Middle East is turning against the Shia and in favor of the Sunni».

Yet, neither the Shia religious authorities in Najaf – the Marji’yyah – nor the nationalist religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr wants the sectarian card to be played in Iraqi politics by appealing to Shia solidarity. Paradoxically, the Shias of southern Iraq have become stakeholders in upholding the banner of Iraqi nationalism today. All the same, the Sunni community in Iraq is largely united. The government in Baghdad alleges that the Sunni protests are orchestrated by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. There could be an element of truth here, but, equally, the bitterness among the Sunnis of Iraq over the discrimination runs deep. Thus, as Cockburn points out, the government in Baghdad led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki «has military superiority but not dominance in Iraq, fully controlling only about half the country. It has no authority in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s three provinces or in the Kurdish-held disputed territories further south. Its authority is contested in the Sunni majority provinces and cities in western and central Iraq».

Meanwhile, enter Big Oil. The international oil companies have been migrating from southern Iraq to the northern Kurdistan region despite fierce opposition from Baghdad to the outside world’s direct dealings with the government in Erbil headed by Massoud Barzani. ExxonMobil (United States), Chevron (United States), British Petroleum (UK), Total (France), Gazprom Neft (Russia) – they are all in the game, taking advantage of the liberal terms offered by Barzani while granting exploration rights in Kurdistan’s fabulous oil reserves. However, the towering presence in Erbil today is of Turkey. Ankara and Erbil are apparently finalizing the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from Kurdistan to Turkish export terminals on the Mediterranean, bypassing Baghdad’s state pipeline network to Turkey.

Turkey hopes to kill many birds with this single shot of the arrow from its bow.  Evidently, Turkey, which is a net importer of energy, hopes to cut down its heavy dependence on Russian and Iranian supplies by dipping into the Kurdistan’s massive reserves, while at the same time projecting itself as an «energy hub» linking the energy producing countries of the Middle East with the European market. In 2011 Turkey met 60% of its gas requirements through imports from Iran and around 20% from Russia. In addition, the United States Energy Information Administration estimates that Turkey has been importing about half of its crude oil from Iran. Ankara views this state of affairs as an unhealthy level of dependency on two countries with which Turkey’s relations have become problematic lately. Apart from the blatant Turkish interference in Syria, Ankara’s decision to deploy the US missile defence system has annoyed Moscow and Tehran.

In political terms, Ankara is offering a vital lifeline to Kurdistan, which is land-locked and whose economic viability as a separate entity independent of Baghdad’s control depends solely on its access to the world energy market. But Turks seldom give away anything for the sake of mere friendship and goodwill. In this case, they expect a solid helping hand from Barzani to finesse the separatist Turkish Kurds who take shelter in his fiefdom of Kurdistan, and prompt them to come to the negotiating table.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making a renewed attempt to win Kurdish support for the constitutional changes his government is seeking. Erdogan is offering a measure of autonomy for the Kurds in lieu of their support for his main agenda, which is to create an executive presidency (which he himself probably covets). On Thursday, Erdogan approved a list of pro-Kurdish politicians to visit the militant leader Abdullah Ocalan who is interned in the Imrali Island near Istanbul. There is growing speculation that Erdogan is inching toward striking a deal with Ocalan. On the other hand, Ankara expects Barzani to coax the Syrian Kurds to rally behind with the opposition in Syria pressing for «regime change» in Damascus.

But in Ankara’s estimation, the glue that really binds Barzani to it lies in the burgeoning business ties between Turkey and Kurdistan. Put differently, Ankara is offering to Erbil the honeypot of vastly increased revenues from oil exports through Turkey from northern Iraq and flourishing Turkish trade and investments in Kurdistan. The indications are that Kurdistan is inching toward replacing Germany as Turkey’s number one trading partner. More than 1000 Turkish companies are currently operating in Kurdistan. Clearly, Turkey hopes that in the fullness of time, its much bigger economy would integrate and assimilate Kurdistan. Thus, the earlier mood of angst in the Turkish mind about the emergence of Kurdistan in northern Iraq has given way to one of optimism about new opportunities for Turkish regional expansion.

In terms of its regional agenda also, Ankara sees a convergence of interests with Kurdistan. Simply put, Turkish regional policies are increasingly feeding into the Shia-Sunni tensions fostered by Saudi Arabia and Qatar across the Middle East. Thus, Ankara openly encourages the Sunni Iraqi aspirations, which militate against the Shia empowerment in that country. Ankara’s refusal to extradite Tariq al-Hashemi, former Iraqi vice president who was charged with running death squads and sentenced to death in absentia in 2012 can be seen in this light. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has gone to the extent of alleging that Ankara has made a deal with Kurdistan «aimed at dividing Iraq».

To be sure, Iraq is also becoming a turf where Turkey’s rivalries with Iran are playing out and Ankara resents the Baghdad-Tehran axis supporting the Syrian regime. (On Tuesday Iraqi cabinet approved Tehran’s proposal to construct a 1500-kilometre natural gas pipeline connecting Iran’s giant South Pars fields to Syria and other export markets via Iraqi territory)…

Thus, Ankara estimates that in every sense it stands to gain from the weakening of Baghdad’s authority and effective control over the Iraqi territories. Baghdad has hit back by blocking the Turkish national energy firm TPAO from bidding for a lucrative oil exploration contract in southern Iraq but Ankara is undeterred. But Ankara has begun cutting its losses in an atrophied relationship with Baghdad. The Baghdad-controlled oil pipeline to Turkey is operating way below its capacity of 70 million tonnes annually.

Significantly, the United States has distanced itself from the manner in which Ankara is pushing the envelope in Kurdistan. This was evident in the recent public warning administered to Ankara by the US ambassador Francis Ricciardone who waved the red flag at Turkey’s dalliance with Kurdistan. Ricciardone said, inter alia, «Turkey and Iraq have no choice but to pursue strong ties if they want to optimize the use of Iraq’s resources and export them via Turkey. If Turkey and Iraq fail to optimize their economic ties, the failure could be worse than that. There could be a more violent conflict in Iraq and [the chances of] disintegration of Iraq could be [strengthened]». He added ominously, «And that would not be good for Turkey, the United States, or anybody in the region».

Of course, at the end of the day, the trust deficit between Barzani and Ankara, which is a legacy of the violent history of the region, cannot evaporate overnight. Also, Barzani is fighting for his turf, as new political forces are raising their head in the Kurdistan region and increasingly challenging his and his family’s leadership role. Ata any rate, his bonhomie with the Turks will not go down well with the Kurdish «peshmerga» and Barzani would know he is actually skating on thin ice. Moreover, the recent illness of Jalal Talabani (Iraqi president) also puts strains on the unity between the Kurdish Democratic Party [KDP] and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] and Turkish-Iranian rivalries could further fracture Kurdish unity. A period of intra-Kurdish violence seems to lie ahead.

Barzani is not new to eddies of regional politics. He knows Bashar al-Assad is still ensconced in power and Erdogan’s doomsday predictions for the Syrian regime turned out to be vacuous posturing. The reluctance on the part of the Barack Obama administration to come to the aid of the Syrian rebels militarily is apparent to him. All factors taken into consideration, Barzani is savvy enough to realize the fallacy of keeping all his eggs in the Turkish basket.

How to Save Syria From al Qaeda-Leslie H. Gelb

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on How to Save Syria From al Qaeda-Leslie H. Gelb


A Syrian girl walks along a street with the pre-Baath Syrian flag, now adopted by the Free Syrian Army, across her shoulders in the city of Aleppo on February 13, 2013. (Bruno Gallado/AFP/Getty)

The aim now in Syria can’t be just to help the rebels and get rid of Assad; it must be to prevent al Qaeda’s extremist cohorts from grabbing power.
Tactically, President Obama is operating true to form in Syria; he’s wisely avoiding ever-creeping military measures on behalf of rebels, many of whom might well turn out to be even worse than the already viperous President Assad. But also typically, the Obama team seems to be without a longer-term strategy that explicitly and relentlessly locks into the real emerging threat within Syria—al Qaeda and its devious affiliates. This strategy would go way beyond simply dumping a nasty dictator or pressing for illusory deals between Assad and a Turkey-based rebel group devoid of meaningful power. Meantime, Syrians still drown in bloodletting, chaos, and refugees, while the Assad side weakens only by endless inches.

A Syrian girl walks along a street with the pre-Baath Syrian flag, now adopted by the Free Syrian Army, across her shoulders in the city of Aleppo on February 13, 2013. (Bruno Gallado/AFP/Getty)

The real dangers in Syria today come less from Assad, or even Iran, and much more from increasingly potent Sunni extremist fighters. If the “rebels” win, as matters now stand, jihadis likely would be the real victors. They’d swiftly create a terrorist state to menace Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. U.S. strategy must be constructed to blunt that nightmare.

Stopping jihadis from taking over Syria could represent the only common goal between Syria’s ruling Alawites and the secular Sunni rebels. Shiite-related Alawites rightly fear an al Qaeda–like triumph in Syria as the worst possible outcome. There can be no doubt in their minds that Sunni extremists would make the mass killing of Alawites their No. 1 priority. The secular leaders of the Syrian rebels, clustered in the exile group known as the Syrian National Council, also must worry about the extremist threat they themselves would face if the Assad government fell now. Remember, most Syrian Sunnis don’t have a history of religious radicalism. They don’t want rule by Sharia any more than the Alawites do.

U.S. strategy must focus on building this common ground. Washington should want to ensure that neither its European nor its regional allies gave arms to groups suspected of being even slightly jihadi in nature. In particular, our Arab friends already sending arms must err even further on the side of great caution. Such restraint on our part would show the Alawites we care about their safety, a critical signal. Our negotiating efforts would follow along similar lines: yes, Assad would have to go. Yes, secular rebel leaders and the remaining Alawite leaders would agree to freeze the jihadis out of negotiations and governmental power. And yes, both secular Sunni and Alawite leaders would agree to share governmental power and to protect their own respective communities for the indefinite future. It’s not pretty or easy, but it is common ground.

Apart from saving lives, we haven’t given either side a good argument for making peace.
There are two good reasons to try this strategy, however messy it may be. First, it zooms right in on what most worries the United States and its principal allies neighboring Syria—namely, the prospect of Syria becoming an al Qaeda den. The terrorists would have a ready-made storehouse of modern armaments, i.e., chemical weapons and sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles and radars. Washington is well aware of the dangers but focused not nearly enough on prevention.

Second, the anti-jihadi strategy just makes more practical sense than the policy ideas now dominating public debate. One favorite is that the U.S. should be promoting negotiations between the rebels and the government. But rebel leaders in Turkey are nearly powerless and with little control of the fighting rebels inside Syria. Of equal importance, there’s nothing on the negotiating table now to sway the Alawites to ditch Assad. Apart from saving lives, we haven’t given either side a good argument for making peace—and obviously, neither side is too concerned with saving lives right now or they would have stopped killing each other long ago. The negotiating track hasn’t worked and won’t—unless we get the Alawites and secular Sunnis to focus on common political interests. The U.N. can keep sending representatives to talk to the rivals, and Secretary of State John Kerry can visit the neighborhood. Alas, none of this will amount to a hill of beans.

A Syrian man walks amid debris of a destroyed building at the Jabal Badero neighborhood of Aleppo on February 20, 2013. (Bruno Gallardo/EPA, via Landov)

The other “solution” gaining ground, especially here in the United States, is for the U.S. to arm the rebels for military victory. That’s much easier said than done; advocates need only stop and imagine our limitations in being able to distinguish between good and bad rebels. Arabs all look alike to Americans, even to CIA operatives. Only ignoramuses don’t fret about arms falling into the wrong hands. Proponents of arming the rebels might also note a telling fact—namely, that those Arab states already arming rebels, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, have limited their own distributions. They realize that even if they know the rebels better than Americans do, they don’t know them well enough to give them sophisticated arms. So, if those who know the rebels best can’t figure out whom to arm, and with what, how can Americans do better?

A key dimension to an anti-jihadi strategy for the U.S. and its regional allies would be to help the secular rebels better compete for the hearts and minds of the Syrian people. Right now, jihadis are gaining popularity, as they often have elsewhere, by providing goods and services to the needy and by shunning corruption, at least for the moment. We have to convince the secular rebels to do as much and, if they demonstrate that they can deliver, give them the economic wherewithal to compete. Of course, our other humanitarian aid programs in Syria and border areas should continue and even increase. And indeed, we should make clear to the Syrians that we and their Arab brethren would make a major effort at economic reconstruction in Syria should the secular rebels and the Alawites forge a political compromise excluding the jihadis.

One further word about arming “the freedom fighters”: no one has come close to making a convincing case that doing so, even apart from mistakenly arming bad guys, would result in ending the war sooner or reducing killings. Rather, the pattern has been the more lethal the rebels’ effort, the more violent Assad’s forces. And if the past is prologue, and more arms proved insufficient, advocates of arming the rebels would soon argue for direct U.S. intervention.

The only strategy that stands a chance—and not even necessarily a very good one—is for the United States, the post-Assad Alawites, and the secular Syrian Sunnis to focus relentlessly on the common goal: stopping the victory of Islamic extremists.


Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins, 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.


The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession-Andrew Kliman

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession-Andrew Kliman


The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession
Pluto Press, London, 2011. 256pp., £16 pb

Reviewed by Matthew Wood


Matthew Wood is a philosophy postgraduate with an interest in Marxism. He finished his MA at Birkbeck College where he wrote his thesis on G.A. Cohen, Marx and the self-ownership thesis.
ReviewThe Failure of Capitalist Production is an attempt by the American Marxist economist Andrew Kliman to trace the cause(s) of the ‘great recession’ that has gripped the world economy since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. For Kliman, it is with reference to Marx’s Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit (LTFRP) that the current crisis is explicable.

The LTFRP is developed by Marx in volume three of Capital. The law comes out of the Labour Theory of Value and labour’s unique position (as opposed to capital) of being productive of value. As industry develops, and machines constitute a rising proportion relative to human labour in the total capital, ‘the rate of surplus-value, with the level of exploitation of labour remaining the same or even rising, is expressed in a steadily falling rate of profit’ (Marx, Capital Vol. III, Chapter 14). Part Three of the book is dedicated to the Law, and it is important to note that Marx devotes a lot of space to enumerating the ‘countervailing factors’ to the full expression of the Law. Nevertheless, the Law is an important part of Marx’s analysis of capitalism.

Kliman sees his view as controversial because it flies in the face of the received wisdom of the ‘neoliberal’ school of Marxist economists, who, Kliman says, argue that capitalism restored its profitability through economic and political reforms in the 1980s. For these thinkers, Kliman says, the crisis is ‘irreducibly financial’ (6), and is therefore not a crisis of capitalism at all, but instead one of a specific kind of deregulated or ‘irresponsible’ capitalism. Such a critique, Kliman is correct to point out, does not amount to a critique of capitalism at all and is very similar to calls for a more ‘humane’ or ‘responsible’ capitalism.

The Failure of Capitalist Production is, in Kliman’s words, an ‘empirical analysis, not a theoretical work’ (9). This means that the author is purporting to offer an objective argument which only looks at the relevant statistical data. Of course, the question of what is relevant is something that Kliman’s opponents take issue with.

There are a number of limitations to this book, some of which Kliman is aware of. Firstly, even if we accept Kliman’s central contention – that the rate of profit has fallen and that this is the main cause of the current crisis – Kliman’s data is only for the USA and at best, similar conclusions may be correct for parts of Western Europe. Here we come across one of the weaknesses of the book – its ignorance of real developments in human society and between societies in the period in question. For example, there is no discussion of globalisation, and Kliman argues for excluding China from the global growth rate because it is an anomaly (53). Furthermore there is no analysis of the collapse of the USSR, which is dismissed as just another form of capitalism anyway, or of how the opening of that market may have acted as a countertendency to the fall in the rate of profit, or how the restoration of capitalism in the USSR precipitated a massive contraction in the Soviet economy.

Kliman states that `U.S. workers are not being paid less in real terms than they were paid decades ago. Their real pay has risen. And their share of the nation’s income has not fallen. It is higher now than it was in 1960, and it has been stable since 1970.’ (6)

We also learn that wages have been replaced by non-wage benefits such as healthcare, education and perhaps credit cards. Kliman maintains this in the face of even mainstream economists’ acceptance of the growth of inequality, the language of the 99%, and the decline in things like trade union membership, labour rights, the growth of underemployment and casualization. Again, even if we accept the extremely dubious claim that American workers had, until the crash of 2007, never had it so good, we should, as Marxists, understand that the economy is global, and that the vast majority of the global proletariat do not have access to such luxuries as welfare, consumer credit, hire purchase or ‘sub-prime’ mortgages.

A quick internet search for ‘labour share of income USA’ also pulls up a lot of articles from mainstream economists who recognise the existence of this trend. In a recent New York Times article, Paul Krugman has even belatedly become aware of it. I bring this up just to show that it is not just the ‘conventional left’ who are aware of labour’s worsening position relative to capital in the past thirty years.

Kliman’s measure of profit is also somewhat dubious. Kliman calls it the ‘property-income’ rate of profit and says it is:

much closer to what Marx meant by “surplus value”. It counts as profit all of the output (net value added) of corporations that their employees do not receive. In addition to the before-tax profits of corporations, it includes the moneys spent to make interest payments and transfer payments (fines, court settlements, gift contributions, and so on), to pay sales and property taxes, and other minor items (75-6).

But the problem with this measure is that it includes Kliman’s aforementioned ‘social wage’ that the state pays to the worker under the heading ‘profit’. The cost of doing business, tax, court fees, patent applications and so on, all come under profit. It is highly unlikely that the capitalist class sees it this way. In Britain, the incessant bleating of the employers’ federation, the CBI, suggests that anything that does not show up as a credit in a business’s bank account must instead be a debit.

Of course, Marxists have a theory of the capitalist state – that it is ‘the executive committee of the bourgeoisie’ – but the fact that the state under capitalism acts to support the bourgeoisie does not mean that it is identical with it. To be sure, capitalists can be a short-sighted bunch, and it is often in their own interests that the state administers their business – if it wasn’t for the state, they would produce their own gravediggers in a much shorter period of time. However the state also provides things for workers that have been won through class struggle. There is no mention of class struggle, or the changing political power of the working class throughout Kliman’s book.

The biggest problem with Kliman’s work is what he sees as its strength – its ‘empirical’ non-theoretical nature. The LTFRP seems to be a good account of the development of capitalism. Although it is debateable whether or not the rate of profit continued to fall or recovered after the 1970s (and Kliman has made an interesting contribution to the argument here), the fact that post-war capitalism is in a slow decline is unarguable. The cause of the current crisis being the exhaustion of all suitable markets and availability for capitalism to turn a profit, even at a rate relatively meagre when compared to the halcyon days of the nineteenth century. If a new opportunity opened up for world capitalism would capital turn its nose up if the rate of profit was too low? One suspects that instead capitalists would jump at the chance of a new avenue for expansion: a new market, the chance to accumulate more capital, to develop new technologies, perhaps a new territory to alleviate the pressure cooker of class struggle spreading through the world – these would all represent a new lease of life for capital, even at a relatively low rate of profit.

Throughout history, there have been cases like this. Did the Robber Barons sniff at the railroad? Why did British textiles capitalists bother to reinvest in greater productive capacity? Of course there was the imperative pressure of competition, but it is still noteworthy that capitalism expanded with all its productive might when it could, when new opportunities presented themselves, or were conceded at the barrel of a gun.

When Marx propounds the LTFRP in volume three of Capital, he also points out that ‘the more productiveness develops, the more it finds itself at variance with the narrow basis on which the conditions of consumption rest’ (Marx, Capital Vol. III, Chapter 15). Later in the same book Marx writes that `The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.’ (Marx, Capital Vol. III, Chapter 30)

Kliman opposes himself to the quasi-Keynesian underconsumptionism of Paul Sweezy, but Sweezy’s view does not stand up to much criticism, and it is capitalism’s tendency towards overproduction (not underconsumption) that many Marxists point to as the general predictor of capitalist crisis. This view – which does not position itself as the magic formula for predicting crisis – is not seriously considered by Kliman, and it should be. It is in overproduction – the tendency to push beyond the limits of the market – that Marx locates the basic contradiction of capitalism.

The Failure of Capitalist Production does have its strong points: in particular the chapter on the 1970s, not the 1980s, as starting point of the current crisis is a good counter to the ‘neoliberal’ argument, but even Kliman’s own graphs don’t obviously support his conclusion that the U.S. economy was stagnating from the 1970s onwards. For example, Figure 4.4 ‘Growth Rate of Industrial Production U.S. (percentage change during prior decade)’ (55) shows that the growth rate recovered in the mid to late 1980s and never hit the depths of the 1981 recession. Whilst Kliman clearly shows that there has been a long term decline in the rate of profit since the end of World War Two, The Failure of Capitalist Production doesn’t convincingly show that there was a rebound in the 1980s and 90s – even if this rebound wasn’t sustained (is any capitalist rebound ‘sustained’ anyway?).

Overall, The Failure of Capitalist Production puts forward an interesting thesis which makes a real contribution to our understanding of the crisis, not least in its collection and interpretation of data for the U.S. economy. However, it does not offer compelling arguments for the reader to accept its rather extraordinary conclusion – that capitalist production has failed because of the LTFRP. The reason for the limitations of The Failure of Capitalist Production is, I think, due to its tendency to abstract from the real world which includes countervailing tendencies in politics, international relations, globalisation, the collapse of the USSR, and the contortions that capitalism performs in order to overcome its own barriers, but which return in the shape of greater crises.


The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China-John Bellamy Foster and Robert Waterman McChesney

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China-John Bellamy Foster and Robert Waterman McChesney


The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China
Monthly Review Press, New York, 2012. 227pp., $24.95 hb

Reviewed by Hans G. Despain


Hans G. Despain is Professor of Economics and Department Chair at Nichols College, Massachusetts. His work has been published in numerous professional economic and philosophical journals. He has more than 50 articles published in the popular press in an effort to bring political economy and radical philosophy to a wider audience (hans.despain@nichols.edu)
ReviewThis is a most remarkable and important book. It is political economy at its best. It offers a sophisticated explanation of the socio-economic crisis facing the global and domestic economies. The authors further argue that the socio-economic crisis cannot be resolved without a total transformation away from the oligopolistic capitalistic system.

The work of Foster and McChesney can be embraced by all heterodox political economy traditions. Their basic premise begins with Marxian political economy, combine with insights from Veblen, Galbraith, and Post-Keynesian ideas consistent with Hyman Minsky and modern monetary theory, feminist and environmental ideas, and a profound understanding of issues of labor. As impressive is their synthesis of heterodox political economy, their greatest achievement is their ability to illuminate the internal contradictions of contemporary oligopolistic finance capitalism.

The book consists of six well-integrated chapters. Chapter One explains the theory of monopoly capital and stagnation as developed by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy. Chapter Two argues that finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) has grown in importance and is now the primary form of monopoly capital dominating global economies. Chapter Three demonstrates that concentration and centralization have increased during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Moreover, since 1975 the importance of multinational corporations and information technology has soared. Chapter Four explores the “internationalization” of monopoly capital and the global exportation of stagnation. Chapter Five demonstrates there is now a “global reserve army of labor” which has strengthened the position of multinational corporations and weakened the position of workers worldwide. Finally in Chapter Six the authors contend that China will not be the source of global recovery, but rather of global stagnation. The internal contradictions of the Chinese economy and the “superexploitation” of the Chinese workers by both multinational and Chinese corporations are sure to soon generate severe stagnation and the possibility of a global recession.

Each chapter can be read independently, each is full of insights. Taken together they tell a most remarkable story: namely, that contemporary capitalism will not successfully recover. Stagnation is the future of the global economy. Inequality will continue to rise and tens of millions will remain chronically unemployed.

This historical account and explanation of the contemporary economic quagmire begins with the theory of monopoly capital as developed by Baran and Sweezy, who in turn drew directly and heavily from Marx. The basics are quite simple, although paradoxical: competition generates a lack of competition. Through market and marketing competition, the giant corporations come to dominate the economic landscape. Galbraithian corporate “planning” and market control exemplifies the behavior of giant corporations and the governing mode of system management. The most efficient firms reinvesting profits successfully in the accumulation process is what Marx called the concentration of capital. Acquisition of competitors and vertical mergers for purposes of economies of scale and scope is the centralization of capital. The historical outcome of market competition is the oligopolization of industry, or monopoly capital.

Monopoly capital is a form of industrial institutional organization extraordinarily capable of generating profits. The oligopolistic corporate hegemony of monopoly capitalism benefits from economies of scales and scope, massive marketing and branding, political lobbying, absence of efficaciously organized labor, and tacit collusion with so-called competitors. Successful oligopolistic corporate hegemony fabricates enormous sales, engineering massive revenues, and behemoth profits. But profits become the Achilles’ heel for the system. Full surplus reinvestment in expanded reproduction becomes all but impossible. Monopoly capitalism becomes so productive, corporations so enormous, and profits so great, that there is literally a lack of reinvestment opportunities to absorb the surplus value created. Thus, at the macroeconomic level, stagnation manifests as the normal state.

Except at the margin of the “sales effort” General Motors cannot get more cars in American garages. Coca Cola cannot get more Coke into American refrigerators. McDonalds cannot get any more Big Macs into the bellies of Americans. No more cars, no more cola, no more Big Macs are needed. Thus, four main strategies to increase profits emerge: 1) compete at the margin for market share; 2) conglomerate, by reinvesting profits in other industries (e.g., Coca Cola’s acquisition of Columbia pictures); 3) financialization of the company’s profits, by either forming a financial arm within the conglomeration (e.g. GM and GMAC), or hire a financial institution such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, etc. to financialize the enterprise’s profits; 4) expand overseas.

Each of these has internal limits. Competing for market share is limited by industry saturation and the high cost of competitive advertising. The limit of conglomeration is the management of the entire operation and centralization of capital beyond economies of scale and scope. Thus, giant corporations turn to financialization and expansion overseas. The limits here are crucial. Even with the creation of a subsidiary banking arm or hiring a financial institution to manage a portfolio of investments, there are too few investment projects to absorb all the successful production, sales, and the behemoth profits of giant corporations.

This is not immediately obvious, because money does get invested. However, it is important to understand that invested capital is not necessarily investment into productive enterprises as much as it is pure speculation for financial gain from the difference of purchase price and sales price of a financial asset. In Marxian terms it is the removal of production from the monetary circuit: i.e., M – C … (P) … C´ – M´ is reduced to M – M´ (54). It is a Keynesian nightmare when capitalist enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. Otherwise, it is none other than the `Minsky moment’ (the moment of financial collapse). However, for monopoly capital theorists, the notion of a “moment” is highly misleading. Rather, the financial crisis that constitutes a Minsky moment is merely the logical endpoint of the normal state of stagnation. However, the normal state of stagnation is well-hidden behind illusions. These illusions are the hustle, bustle and commotion of FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate). In 2007 borrowing in the U.S. economy had risen by 400 percent since 1978; real profits in the FIRE industries exploded by 800 percent. In the 1980s the FIRE portion of national income was 35 percent, in recent years it is well over 90 percent (17). Earnings from the production process and sales effort have diminished in importance and the role of capital gains has become increasingly important. In short, there are too few viable investment projects to absorb the massive profits generated by oligopolistic finance capitalism, bubbles are generated turning financial markets into casinos and the real economy is destabilized.

There have been fifteen major financial bubble explosions since 1970. “Not only have financial crises become endemic, they have also been growing in scale and global impact” (43). Foster and McChesney endorse the Post-Keynesian theories of money and financial instability. However, the theories of monopoly capitalism and stagnation have Foster and McChesney far less sanguine concerning issues of successful job programs, full-employment and economic stabilization from properly managed fiscal policy as advocated by Post-Keynesian theorists.

Neo-liberal policy has kept business and corporate taxes soft, interest rates low, and un(der)employment sufficiently high. Neo-liberal policy has increased profits, fed financialization, and further destabilized the normal state of low growth stagnation into a series of ever growing financial bubbles, bursts, and economic pathologies of inflation, un(der)employment, debt creation, debt deflation, and severe income inequality.

The growth of multinational monopoly capital has globalized the concentration and centralization of capital and spread stagnation as the normal state worldwide (122). The financial speculation has been extended to the global sphere with seriously inadequate global economic institutions to contain the economic carnage. The internationalization of the giant American corporation has skyrocketed the amount of foreign assets, foreign sales (107, table 4.1), and foreign employment (146, chart 5.2) of American multinational corporations.

The giant corporations turn to the foreign markets for real productive expansion outlets. They have relied on neo-liberal policy to pry open markets. Foster and McChesney point out that contradictions abound throughout the global economy, most spectacularly exemplified by the increasing inequality, superexploitation of global working classes, and the impoverishment of billions.

China illustrates these contradictions, and is a likely source of global instability. China has implemented neo-liberalism to a significant extent and allowed capital mobility to attract foreign capital. The result is an economy with national income constituted by nearly 50 percent investment spending and just over 30 percent consumption expenditures. This overinvestment has generated new capital stock, but overcapacity. Nouriel Roubini describes the Chinese overcapacity well: “sleek but empty airports and bullet trains” and “highways to nowhere, thousands of colossal new central and provincial government buildings, ghost towns, and brand-new aluminum smelters kept closed to prevent global prices from plunging” (161). This overcapacity is characteristic of industry after Chinese industry. New Capital lies idle. Investment projects fail to realize profits. China is overly reliant on exports, causing worries of a slump and international contagion within the global supply chains. Cronyism is endemic, with 90 percent of the richest 20,000 Chinese “related to senior government or Communist Party officials.” Superexploition of Chinese workers in the form of long hours, low wages, the absence of benefits and leisure has led to incidences of mass protest throughout China.

Neo-liberalism is not a new competitive phase of capitalism diminishing the importance of the nation state. Rather it is merely the political arm of the hegemonic oligopolistic enterprises, constituting a new form of imperialism (152-4). The result is Veblenesque predation (via neo-liberalism) and Marxian “superexploitation” (via oligopolistic hegemony) now dominating the global economy.

No fiscal policy or monetary management can completely eradicate the problems of stagnation, financial instability, predation, and superexploitation. The only solution is a systemic transformation; a democratization of the corporate workplace and institutional development toward socialism.

Foster and McChesney demonstrate the theories of monopoly capital, stagnation, financialization and neo-liberalism are remarkably well-suited to explain the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. They well argue that another collapse is imminent, because the internal contradictions generating the quadruple (socio-economic, political, environmental, and existential/personal) crises are an integral part of the ontological constitution of capitalism. Their synthesis of the Institutionalist, Post-Keynesian, Feminist, Green, and pro-Labor traditions is remarkable. Nonetheless the real strength of this theory is in its Marxian philosophical roots.

Monopoly Capital underscores the concentration and centralization processes. But those of us who understand Marx realize this is merely the tip of the social-theoretical iceberg. The predation and superexploitation, along with the achievements of giant corporations in the economies of scale and scope, are the processes of increasing relative surplus-value and absolute surplus-value respectively. In turn this pivots on the money fetishism, which is merely the most glaring form of commodity fetishism, whereby human beings take on the properties of commodities, and commodities are bestowed with human properties: e.g., in the belief that ‘money moves mountains’ (i.e., gets things done), for it is not money that ‘moves mountains,’ but people. Once the inversion has taken place in people’s minds, however, they act as if money moves mountains, and it is this inversion of reality in the form money fetishism that is the real basis of financial bubbles and recessions.

It is not just that Foster and McChesney have synthesized heterodox traditions of political economy, they have based their synthesis on Marxian economics which can be developed into a deep and penetrating philosophical understanding of the internal contradictions of hegemonic oligopolistic finance capital, and establish that the only alternative to the quadruple crisis generating system is complete transformation, in a word Socialism.


The economics of corruption -Lal khan

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on The economics of corruption -Lal khan

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‘The world has 50-60 active tax havens, with over $21 trillion invested virtually tax-free and over 30% of global foreign direct investment is booked through these tax havens’

The political debate in the ruling elite is marked by the corruption discourse. It is dubbed as the most serious threat to the system while its eradication is portrayed as the recipe for the social and economic salvation of this country.

The most vociferous anti-corruption leaders, ironically, are an integral part of the military-civilian- bureaucratic elite. Most of them are themselves notorious for their corrupt practises. However, hardly anybody talks about corruption’s social, economic, and political root-causes. The most crude explanation is the personalisation of the issue, thus, limiting it to the conduct and role of individuals.

Firstly, corruption is not the cause of the prevalent socio-economic crisis. It is a symptom of the diseased capitalism that needs and breeds this curse. It is the inevitable by-product. And corruption is not just a Pakistani phenomenon. Wherever capitalism exists, one has corruption, prostitution and crime as its essential components.

Corruption has rapidly soared in China ever since the process of the restoration of capitalism began under Deng Xiao Ping in the late 1970’s. According to an official report, Indian capitalists have stashed away 1.4 trillion dollars in Swiss and other off-shore financial heavens. This huge amount is made out of tax evasion and other corrupt practises popular among India’s national bourgeoisie. The Economist in its recent issue says, “the world has 50-60 active tax havens, with over $21 trillion invested virtually tax-free and over 30% of global foreign direct investment is booked through these tax havens and it does not stop here as domestic investment is routed offshore to qualify for tax breaks reserved for foreign investors. Some suspect this accounts for a sizeable portion of ‘foreign’ investment in India and China. This is also the case in America, whose companies face one of the rich world’s highest corporate-taxes, also has some of the most energetic tax avoiders.”

There is not a single capitalist country on this planet that can claim to be corruption-free. The multinational corporations set aside huge sums of money in their budgets as kick-backs for the civil-military elites with whom deals are struck. The biggest culprits are rulers of the neo-colonial states, the military-industrial complex and the oil industry. These corporations also bribe the parliamentarians, political parties, bureaucrats [ i.e. policy makers of all hue].

The financial sharks invest heavily in elections campaigns to get their favourite politicians elected. These elected politicians, once in command, arrange bailouts, contracts and other such economic privileges. The 2012 presidential race, for instance, was the most expensive in US history. It was worth $6 billion.

With the economy in crisis, corruption and black economy assume even bigger role. Economists at Paris School of Economics and Global Financial Integrity have highlighted in recent studies that the elites of 139 low-middle-income countries have paocketed up to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded wealth offshore and this turns some of them from big debtors into creditors. “Developing countries as a whole don’t face a debt problem, but a huge offshore tax-evasion and money-laundering problem”.

In Pakistan, the black economy has been expanding robustly. From about five percent, in the mid- seventies, it has soared to about seventy percent of the total economy now. Presently, the formal or the official economy is growing at the rate of less than three percent while the growth rate for the black economy is estimated to be nine percent. It is like a tumour outgrowing the body itself. This black economy consists of drug trade, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, counterfeiting, smuggling, illegal logging, software and music piracy so on and so forth.

This black economy has had severe ramifications for politics, state and society. Terrorism and violent crime are two vivid aspects. Also, it has pitched various factions of the ruling class against each other.

Paradoxically, corruption and black economy have been pivotal to offer country’s economy a breathing space. Due to the burgeoning crisis of the formal economy, Pakistan has been increasingly relying on this corruption. With ever-increasing military expenditure and debt retirement, there is hardly anything left to spend on the social and infrastructural sectors. Austerity and price hike, leading to a decline in the buying power, have caused contraction of the market. It is the black market consumption which nudges the economic cycle ahead.

This sector apart from being a cushion for the formal economy is accountable for 73.8 percent of the total employment in the country. Characteristically its investments are in short term sectors like the real estate, transport, health, education and other service sectors. It is shielded by the religious fundamentalist, several political parties, sectarian and nationalist chauvinist setups, sections of the state and outright criminal mafias. 

The politicians claiming to end corruption are either too naive or unashamedly deceiving the people. If corruption is eradicated, present economic facade will crumble down. Pakistan’s capitalism is in its terminal decay. The way a junkie is dependent on his fix, this decaying system is totally dependent on the informal economy. It is simply not possible to revive or recreate a healthy capitalist economy in this country. With little or no chance of the recovery of world capitalism in the near future, hopes of boasting Pakistani exports, attracting any foreign investment or industrial growth are almost dashed.

The debt continues to pile up. In the last five years, the incumbent coalition democratic regime has acquired more foreign and domestic loans than the ones acquired in the preceding sixty years. Any party in power, in this system, would have done the same. With about two percent of the population paying taxes, declining exports and record deficits, the economy cannot run on the foreign remittances alone. Pakistan’s economic future is bleak to say the least. It is not a question of interpreting or predicting the system; the point is to change it. 

 Lal Khan is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at ptudc@hotmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it 

Nationhood and the multitude: a new form of political subject? -Jamie Mackay

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on Nationhood and the multitude: a new form of political subject? -Jamie Mackay


In the frantic search to find an agreed name for emerging forms of collective agency, ‘the nation’ is frequently presented as an outdated inconvenience. This hasty generalisation fails to acknowledge the term’s continuing role in propping-up ‘invisible’ forms of state domination and, more importantly, its potential function as part of a critical biopolitics.  
Tomás Saraceno “Galaxies Forming Along Filaments, Like Droplets Along the Strands of a Spider’s Web” . Photo: Angel Flores Jr

In a recent article for OurKingdom’s ‘Re-birth of the nation’ series, Greg Sharzer produced a compelling challenge to the notion of a post-industrial “return to the land”, arguing that such measures frequently serve only as an ‘accommodation’ of the violence of capital. Localism, so he argues, looks to the margins to retreat from austerity and alienation, aligning itself, in the process, with an inevitable cycle of ethical, political and strategic failures. ‘Revolutionary socialism’ on the other hand attempts to unpack the economic contradictions and reveal human contingencies at the very heart of capitalism that structure such separations. While it might be apt as a technique of disruption, the former will never develop the agency to challenge power because it fails to harness the empowerment and educating potential of revolutionary class struggle. Citing this ‘class consciousness’ as a primary vehicle for social transformation, his argument concludes with a call for more integrated forms of urban protest and industrial action to combat the flexibility of neoliberal capitalism: “[a]gainst the globalized age of austerity, we will create our own globalized age of resistance”.

Of course, it is clear that it is not always the case – or essential to its definition – that local forms of organisation be understood as merely accommodating; rather, as Sharzer himself suggests, that they repeatedly fail to address fundamental questions regarding the base operations of property and capital. The concept of a non-local group, even in cyberspace, is, of course, impossible to imagine. His own example of ‘globalised resistance’, the European strikes last November, was the result of coordinated groups of locally organized workers, and, while emotive at the level of spectacle, such activities could hardly be described as revolutionary in praxis against the contemporary mechanisms of post-Fordist control. Certainly a vital corrective is required if Sharzer’s thesis is to be deployed as a vehicle for clarifying debate: that it is only when the channels of communication between such groups ‘devolve’ into being localist that the potential for resistance is dampened. In these terms, the ongoing tension between ‘accommodation’ and ‘resistance’ is not just tied to the intentionality of class struggle, but profoundly expressed in how groups interact though media, culture and technology.

More importantly, then, for those ‘returning to the land’, or indeed for Sharzer’s ‘revolutionary socialists’, is the question of when localism is rendered merely accommodating and what conditions of communication enable it to transcend into something larger; perhaps even global. Indeed is there anything intrinsically wrong with ‘returning’ to the land? In declining economies such as Italy, where there is much vacant farmland and mass unemployment, this small but viable counter-migration seems in itself a radical starting point from which to challenge the competitiveness of an increasingly disenfranchised urban life. The gap between this retreat and its solidification into struggle, and where Sharzer’s article is at its most provocative, is best understood by a question he notably evades: why must this movement be confined to the narrative of ‘return’? Despite considerable gains along the way – Sharzer is certainly correct that we shouldn’t be so quick to give up our schools, hospitals and factories – by not confronting this schism he fails to overcome the same problem that his supposedly docile subjects are so adamant to ignore: how can local – and national – struggles be made global?

Publics or Multitude?
Liliana Porter ‘Fragment of a Crowd’

Attempting to sketch the outlines of such a mode of resistance requires the situation of new forms of subjectivity and imagination within a ‘working definition’ of social substance. As a preliminary step in responding to the imperative within Sharzer’s article, the question might be reasonably proposed: what do we mean by ‘political actor’? Are we dealing with crowds, with corporations, with states? Do individuals have political agency? Do horizontal networks overcome vertical hierarchies? One of the most convincing starting points, proposed in parallel to these conventional examples, can be found in Negri and Hardt’s idiosyncratic use of the term ‘multitude’, which (borrowed from Spinoza’s notion that “fear of the masses” [is] the principal brake on the power of the sovereign or state”) is used in their work to signify the emotional basis upon which the evolution of global counter-power might be enacted. It is understood first therefore – though not primarily – as a collective act of resistance. A resistance comprised of bodies.

Significantly, this opposition is not external to capitalism (as in Sharzer’s localists) but neither is it the result of confronting inner contradictions (as in ‘revolutionary socialism’). Developing this latter tradition, it endeavors to exploit an alternative ‘positive’ potentiality within capitalism’s own (in)visible occupation of the common:

“Specters of the common appear throughout capitalist society, even if in veiled and mystified forms. Despite its ideological aversion, capital cannot do without the common, and today in increasingly explicit ways” (153)

For the capitalist classes in post-industrial society, Spinoza’s sovereign ‘fear’ of the masses has developed from the necessity of using force alone. While police lines and barricades continue to block off streets and squares in moments of collective congregation (such as those in which Sharzer is interested), global power has simultaneously recognised the need to construct illusory publics, as a means of pacifying and ordering what may then continue to be framed as free and (paradoxically) ‘predictable’ consumers. Where previously the workers’ struggle entailed labour’s direct acknowledgement of surplus value, in the age of biopolitical control – when most work is conducted in offices, in transit, or even from home – capitalism’s own counter-revolution has enabled it to claim the hard fought victories of the (homogenised) working class as the symbols of its own benevolence.

‘The multitude’ emerges from this space between the myth of the free capitalist public and the history of struggle for direct democracy as a collective call for self-determination: sometimes heard, sometimes read, sometimes felt, often wasted. As such it might be observable in either the ‘retreat to the land’ or amongst the participants of large-scale industrial action (though it remains anti-essentialist and cannot be attributed as the product of either). Recognising the deterritorialised production of this space, and in an unconscious effort to undermine this tide of evasiveness, states and their satellite lobbyists increasingly turn themselves to the language of evasion – of pluralisation, multiculturalism and hybridisation – in an effort to distribute and conserve their model of sovereignty. As is readily apparent when such proposals are compared with ‘the multitude’, however, it is nonetheless the capitalist class that profits most from this enforced liberalisation (‘choice’ is the most coveted word in subscription TV ads for a reason).

On the contrary, by maintaining a singularity that is itself able to convey the movement and uncontainability of plurality – beyond any one identity – Negri and Hardt’s multitude thus proposes a second and fundamental break from the capitalist understanding of ‘publics’; one that purports to stem from the capacity of groups of individuals to act outside of a centralised sovereignty:

“Like ‘the people,’ the multitude is the result of a process of political constitution, although, whereas the people is formed as a unity by a hegemonic power standing above the plural social field, the multitude is formed through articulations on the plane of immanence without hegemony” (169)

The language here is meandering yet evocative: ‘articulations’ recalling the passionate singularity of musical performance; ‘plane’ an endlessly open expanse of space and time. The unifying sensation is the expansion of horizons, a mitosis fit for the birth of a subject whose actions as a gender, as a race, as a class are all intersected into the common-wealth of a constantly renewing substance. The burning desire to ‘smash!’ capitalism is herein reduced to a labyrinth of broken mirrors, replaced by the complex interaction of these overlapping identities that instead work to subvert outdated assumptions about identity. It is important to note that Sharzer’s stern-faced opposition between ‘localism’ and ‘resistance’ likewise fails to acknowledge the unusual texture of this argument, its opposition of terms bringing with it a concrete objectivity far removed from the multitude’s objective movement. By contrast (though again perhaps best understood in violent opposition to the self-commodification of pay-per-view TV) ‘the multitude’ searches less for a consensual anti-capitalism than for the possibility of constructing a new universality, from the power (and not the sum) of its elements.
‘Painting as Multitide’: a series by Doria

A third adverbial prefix to the multitude, and key to eradicating the thankless task of searching for it as something qualitatively ‘present’ or ‘absent’ in such a priori figures as ‘the working class’, is the clarification: “not a spontaneous political subject but a project of political organisation” (169). To search for its agency in any hypothetical combination of individuals, parties and states is to ask the wrong question; the multitude is an always possible condition of existence rather than a finished product. The demand made by ‘multitudinous’ being is to recognise that historically all of these bodies have been shaped according to a certain understanding of identity that can be moved beyond; perhaps evading the grip of capitalism in the process. While it is frequently searched for as something constructed, the ‘multitude’ might likewise be understood as a reduction: as what is left over when anti-hegemonic forms of power demonstrate their capacity to organize:

“This is a peculiar kind of making […] insofar as there is no maker that stands behind the process. Through the production of subjectivity, the multitude is itself author of its perpetual becoming other, an uninterrupted process of collective self-transformation” (173)

Understanding this ‘collective self-tranformation’ as entailing a certain mode of communication, subsequently reveals the ‘multitude’ as one potential name for a new model of democracy, not grounded in the Habermasian yearning for equilibrium but in the uneven structures of dissent and conversation. Crucially, therefore, it is ‘free discussion’ (in both its positive and negative senses) that enables the multitude to reveal as an agency at all. As they clarify: “democratic decision making transforms the parallel struggles of identities into an insurrectional intersection, a revolutionary event that composes […] singularities into a multitude” (349). By respecting and participating in this process, which as a result of its ‘second break’ cannot be reduced to the logic of ‘majority’, the emphasis is taken away from the ‘individual voter’, manipulable and predictable by behaviourism and Game theory, and replaced instead by a revolution at the level of substance in which ‘the electorate’ is replaced by a nature that is universal, singular and unpredictable.

The above solution as framed by Negri and Hardt is left – like any such proposal of ‘new nature’ – as something at best latent, at worst, non-existent. While self-professedly anti-dialectical, the argument struggles to overcome the stock-trade arguments against Hegelian idealism: If the multitude is a ‘process-of-becoming-other’ and never observable as an object, what might this transformation look like and from where might it begin? If not everyone thinks ‘multitudinously’, what to do with the leftovers? Why should we posit the existence of the multitude at all? Does this act not itself require an almost transcendental faith? Why would the multitude intrinsically emerge as a good thing? Sharzer’s analysis again provides a useful materialist anchor for tying this abstract speculation to the desperate need for long-term solutions to austerity. If localism is unable to formulate resistance by allowing capitalism to force a split from the history of labour struggle, then such theoretical reflexes seem equally unable to establish agency if all they achieve is to deepen the sensation of absence. Yet the potential of the multitude as an imaginative stimulus for recasting how we imagine citizenship and, beyond this, political activity is already being seen in residual forms in Occupy, the Arab Spring and, most controversially, in Anonymous. The question of how these examples were and are able to imagine themselves and their inter-relations is an open one, but one lesson that is rapidly being learnt from their early history is that simply changing the name of the struggle cannot be seen as an easy substitute for engaging with fundamental and long fought over questions surrounding the language of democracy.

The biopolitics of nationhood
‘City Recorder’: a series by Alasdair Gray

Despite its unclear relationship with the actual emergence of these new forms of ‘struggle’, there remains something exciting and potentially transformative in Negri and Hardt’s detailed account of de-centered power, that may help the radical left to go beyond SWP arguments about commitment and move towards a genuinely post-capitalist subjectivity. What is clear is that whatever this process is to be called there is a hefty and active cultural task to be synchronized simultaneously in different ways across ‘publics’ if ‘non-hegemonic structure’ is to be realised as something valuable and lived. The articles in this series have already demonstrated in a variety of ways, the continuing relevance of nationhood as a component in fashioning identity, in self-expression, in art and in the everyday struggle to assert community. Others have contrasted this with the continuing power of state-nationalism and the mechanisms by which its operations are obscured in plain site. The fact remains that for the duration of what might now be called ‘modernity’ the nation-state was the primary focus of political thought, the construction of ideology and subsequently the production of subjectivity. It was and is at the centre of institutional contestation in imperial centres and key to anti-colonial struggles around the world. With this in mind, what could be more relevant than nationhood as an irresolvable struggle from where the multitude might be able to emerge and develop politically? Negri and Hardt briefly acknowledge this possibility in their 2009 study, Commonwealth:

“Nationalism can never fully escape fundamentalism, but that should not blind us to the fact that, particularly in the context of national liberation struggles, nationalism’s intense focus on bodies suggests biopolitical practices that, if oriented differently, can be extraordinarily powerful” (37)

Given the weight of this considerable concession it is telling that the argument is subsequently left so vitally underdeveloped. Even by its own terms – the multitude is conceived as “a process of political constitution” – and as such the concept of nationhood, the historic site in which contemporary ‘biopolitical practices’ continue to function, seems the logical starting point from which a critical subjectivity could be developed. Their premise remains unclear: why should nationhood be understood as intrinsically tied to hegemonic notions of identity? In eventually abandoning this ‘orientation’ argument outright, and enabling them to avoid answering this question, it is Negri and Hardt who ironically retreat to ‘fundamentalist’ language akin to ‘nationalism’ in their eventual command: “the multitude must flee the family, the corporation, and the nation but at the same time build on the promises of the common they mobilise” (164). While admirably long-sighted, the tone is clearly bogged down by a desire to make this radical proposal run before it has even learnt to walk. In a moment of fantastic optimism this carefully crafted manual of anti-hegemonic thought appears – and all too familiarly – in the language of a narcissistic activist pocket-book. Here, the evolution of the ‘multitude’ seems to lose an important opportunity to move beyond abstraction; the most promising identification of a way to move the concept forward left behind as a false lead.

It is worth recalling that Spinoza’s original use of the term situated ‘the multitude’ within the antagonism of nation and state in the sphere of ‘domestic’ politics: “Every ruler has more to fear from his own citizens […] than from any foreign enemy”. As such it seems similarly vital to recognise the changing parameters of national experience as an important componant to understanding the contemporary ‘multitude’. Maintaining the potential of ‘the multitude’ to deconstruct power, then, it is my view that any such attempts to revitalise the term would gain much by engaging with the arguments of figures such as Paul James and Tom Nairn, both of whom have developed vital and urgent diagnoses of the processes by which constitutional and sovereign contestations have shaped the history of modernity. While the overexcited Negri and Hardt in command-mode are reluctant to engage further with this line of argument, their otherwise discursive description of the multitude cannot within its own parameters deny this experiment: in Spinoza’s own terms revolution is not a question of either / or, but of how to work on limits.

For anti-capitalism today, it would certainly be desirable to challenge the neoliberal slide between ‘privatisation’ and ‘monopoly’ while maintaining at least one horizon of ‘multitude’ with which to confront the abuse of ‘common spaces’, ‘freedoms’ and ‘publics’ by state-nationalism and corporate power. At its most reflexive, the possibility of the left wielding both arguments and revealing the relationship between the two would help to dymystify further the shadowy world of lobbying and the dark side of spectacular and even ‘globalised’ nationalisms. Michael Gardiner succinctly defines the type of national space from which this may emerge in his assertion that “[a]lternative sovereignties arise via the national, but this does not makes them nationalist as an end in itself, or the question confined to one region”. The implication of this argument, of course, has further implications for how we might position the multitude within class, gender, racial and generational struggles as a means of going beyond them. At the same time, however, it should be recognised that resistance may still obtain crucial forms as a result of what in practice may be public and hegemonic / consensus decisions. Instead, it needs to be consciously acknowledged that it is possible to oppose the marketised appropriation of ‘the common’, through the insistence of ‘public’ ownership while further developing the anti-capitalist multitude in the process.
Laura Oldfield ‘Savage Messiah’

In Italy, for example, where according to the latest census 85% use the television as the primary source of information, there is sore need of a specific institutional struggle against Berlusconi’s monopoly of this media form. Bifo Beradi’s Telestreet project is exemplary of this hybridised struggle that is trying to go beyond itself: a movement which is both necessarily-national while a constituent part of a new subjectivity. Or in Greece, where the participation of entire families in ‘occupations’ and ‘rent strikes’ has positioned squatting (one potentially ‘localist’ action in Greg Sharzer’s schema), as part of a national and universal struggle. In the UK the opportunity of the Scottish referendum must be understood not as the forcing of a win/lose choice motivated by stereotypes and bile but as a chance to challenge engrained forms of sovereignty and stimulate new forms of democratic engagement.

Using the resources of both nationhood and multitude, the challenges opened up by all of these crucial debates is to tackle global forms of power that are themselves so shamefully old and so dazzlingly new. Meanwhile, if the multitude itself is to become anything other than the fantasy of a self-loathing Marxist vanguard and contribute to the democratic potential of this crisis, its usage must be situated within a historical narrative in which nationhood remains a vitally contested term for establishing ideological and constitutional change.

This article is part of the series, Re-birth of the nation? Challenging ‘global citizens’.


Negri, Antonio & Michael Hardt. Commonwealth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2009



China should take lead on North Korea-Joseph R DeTrani

Posted by admin On February - 26 - 2013 Comments Off on China should take lead on North Korea-Joseph R DeTrani


A decade ago, in April 2003, China hosted trilateral talks in Beijing between the US, North Korea and China. China intervened at that time because the situation on the Korean Peninsula was tense and deteriorating quickly. The current situation is potentially explosive; it requires China’s intervention.

Just before China’s intervention in 2003, North Korea in January that year withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the only country to withdraw from the NPT, and the Korea Energy Development Organization (KEDO) suspended shipment of heavy fuel oil to North Korea and ceased further work on the construction of two light water reactors there, pursuant to commitments made
in the 1994 Agreed Framework.

North Korea then threatened to abandon the 1953 Armistice Agreement ending the Korean War and in February permitted a North Korean jet fighter to enter South Korean airspace. In March, North Korea intercepted a US reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace and, one week later, fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan. In three months, the situation on the Korean Peninsula deteriorated quickly, all because the US accused North Korea of having a clandestine uranium enrichment program, which North Korea denied having. (North Korea in 2010 permitted a US scientist to tour a 2000 centrifuge state-of-the art uranium enrichment centrifuge facility at the nuclear site in Yongbyon).

China’s decision to intervene and host trilateral talks in 2003 was prudent and timely. The North Korean representative at these talks made some provocative statements, claiming that North Korea had nuclear weapons and was prepared to build more nuclear weapons and test them. It became clear to the US and China that the nuclear issue with North Korea had to be resolved. An agreement was reached to establish the six-party talks, with South Korea, Japan and Russia joining the US and North Korea, with China agreeing to host and chair these talks.

The first meeting of the was in August 2003. The last meeting of the six-party talk was in December 2008, when North Korea would not agree to a denuclearization verification protocol, pursuant to the September 19, 2005, Joint Statement that committed North Korea to comprehensive and verifiable denuclearization in exchange for security assurances, economic assistance, the eventual provision of a light water reactor (for civilian nuclear energy) and ultimate normalization of relations with the US.

During the September 2005 negotiations, which resulted in a successful Joint Statement, when the US would not agree to North Korea’s demand for light water reactors for civilian nuclear energy, China’s lead negotiator had late night meetings with the US and North Korea negotiators so as to resolve this issue, knowing that there was agreement on all other issues and that disagreement on the provision of a light water reactor was a deal-breaker and two weeks of intensive negotiations would again prove futile.

With China’s encouragement and support, the US, working with South Korea, Japan and Russia, eventually negotiated language with North Korea that resolved this issue and resulted, for the first time, in a Joint Statement that committed North Korea to complete and verifiable denuclearization. North Korea had insisted that it had a “sovereign right” to have civilian nuclear power. The US had insisted that North Korea’s clandestine uranium enrichment program dictated that North Korea could not be trusted with any type of nuclear program. The issue was formally resolved, after considerable discussion, with China mediating, when the US and North Korea agreed to language that stated:
When North Korea returns to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, we would discuss the provision of a light water reactor to North Korea (for civilian nuclear power).
The issue we now have with North Korea is not too dissimilar to the September 2005 impasse regarding light water reactors and civilian nuclear energy. North Korea now claims that it has a “sovereign right” to put a satellite in orbit, and that no country or international organization can deny it this sovereign right, despite two UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from launching any type of missile.

North Korea’s April 2012 missile launch resulted in international condemnation. Indeed, it was in breach of the February 29, 2012, Leap Day Agreement with the US that, in exchange for significant nutritional assistance, North Korea would implement a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests. North Korea’s indignant response to UN condemnation was that it had a “sovereign right” to put a satellite in orbit and, moreover, the April missile launch was in compliance with international protocols: transparent to the international community and registered with relevant UN organizations, with international monitors, journalists and diplomats invited to the launch.

North Korea’s apparent unhappiness with the UN and international community’s condemnation of their April 2012 missile launch apparently motivated it to launch another missile in December 2012, which this time succeeded in putting a satellite in orbit. The UN again condemned North Korea and imposed additional sanctions, with a third UN Security Council Resolution.

What followed this month was North Korea’s third nuclear test, considerably larger than two previous tests and an act of defiance to the US, China, the UN and the international community. Given the recent hostile and ugly rhetoric emanating from North Korea, it’s likely it will continue to escalate tension and move forward with additional missile launches and nuclear tests, aspiring to acquire a nuclear weapon that could be mated to a missile delivery system.

It’s time for China to intervene, to show leadership, and convene four-party talks soonest between the US, North Korea, South Korea and China. As China did in April 2003 when tension with North Korea was intense, Beijing should convene the talks as soon as possible to permit North Korea to discuss its so-called “sovereign right” to put a satellite in orbit, an issue that appears central to the recent escalation of tension. It would also permit the US to make the case that a so-called satellite launch is a convenient cover for an intercontinental ballistic missile launch.

A meeting of this type, convened by China, the only country North Korea may listen to at this time, will determine quickly if a negotiated settlement to the nuclear issues with North Korea, pursuant to the September 2005 Joint Statement, is achievable and the six-party talks process still viable.

Joseph R DeTrani, president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit organization, was the Special Envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea from 2003-2006. He was the ODNI North Korea Mission Manager from 2006-2010 and until January 2012, Director of the National Counterproliferation Center. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not representative of any US government department, agency or office.

(Copyright 2013 Joseph R DeTrani) 

Liberalism: A Counter-History-Domenico Losurdo

Posted by admin On February - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Liberalism: A Counter-History-Domenico Losurdo


Liberalism: A Counter-History
Translated by Gregory Elliott, Verso Books, London and New York, 2011. 384pp., £22 / $34.95 hb
Reviewed by Chris Byron


Chris Byron is a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of North Florida (c.byron@unf.edu).
ReviewLiberalism: A Counter History is Domenico Losurdo’s trenchant analysis of the question what is Liberalism in its historical development and who may we consider to be a Liberal? Without very serious reflection few people would contest that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Alexis de Tocqueville, to name but a few, are both Liberals, and worthy of the designation. Losurdo however demonstrates that the classical Liberals we learned about in school are in fact separated by huge gulfs in their philosophical views and political practice. Moreover, what frequently unites them in practice is more their tolerance and often cheerful willingness in implementing certain forms of severe oppression (e.g., indigenous genocides, slavery, work labor camps). At the end of Losurdo’s masterful condemnation, the theory of Liberalism, which we have come to take for granted, and the founders who we assume with equal certainty to be embodying some particular philosophy, are left with only the most tenuous of connections to any set of pristine principles regarding the Liberty of man.

Losurdo opens his work admitting that even posing his question is somewhat ‘embarrassing’; the knee-jerk response is that Liberalism has always been the philosophic-politico tradition concerned with the Liberty of the individual. Yet the dawn of Liberalism on either side of the Atlantic, as best expressed by the writings of Locke, Grotius, Franklin, and Smith, were conjoined to, and involved in, ‘a process of systematic expropriation and practical genocide first of the Irish and then of the Indians’, not to mention the rapid rise of ‘black enslavement and the black slave trade’ (20).This simultaneous birth, which in itself is a politico-historical contradiction, also has deep seated philosophical contradictions. Whereas Grotius ‘affirmed’ slavery ‘without the least reticence’, Locke’s ‘legitimation of slavery’ is only perceptible between the lines of his written works (26-7). Both are historically considered Liberals, but the connection is now more tenuous than first appeared. And as Losurdo’s shrewd analysis shows, slavery was not an institution that unfortunately was grandfathered into the birth of Liberalism, instead slavery engendered its maximum development based upon the success of Liberal revolutions.

A general theme is consistent throughout Losurdo’s book. Each chapter takes a historical moment (e.g., French Revolution, Glorious Revolution, San Domingo Revolution), and points out the contradiction between several elements: philosophy, political practices, and important thinkers of the time. Liberalism as a philosophy and political practice are then juxtaposed to the ideas of certain Liberal thinkers, leading to the usual conclusion that what is common to all is often some support of oppression and not personal Liberty. Isaiah Berlin, as Losurdo points out, gave us the strong dichotomy between Positive and Negative Liberty. No one would doubt that slaves and victims of genocide are not exercising Positive Liberty. Strangely though, even advocates of Negative Liberty are often themselves not capable of exercising it due to their own tyrannical legislation. For instance, a common theme in the Liberal tradition was tantamount to eugenic breeding, that is, Liberal’s thought that breeding with the oppressed was to mix the superior with the inferior race. As Benjamin Franklin said to a doctor ‘Half the Lives you save are not worth saving, as being useless; and almost the other Half ought not to be sav’d, as being mischievous’, he goes on to condemn the doctor for declaring war on the ‘Plan of Providence’ (115). As a result of such horrifying views, members of the higher classes that may desire to marry or educate those seen as ‘useless’ and ‘mischievous’ were denied their Negative Liberty by their class’s own standards. This attitude led to a snowballing effect of how a slave or servant could be treated legally, even when the owner of said slave desired to treat his ‘property’ differently than the law commanded (e.g., slave owners who were disbarred from teaching their slaves to read). If the slave is property, by the Liberal standard, then this is most assuredly an infringement upon Negative Liberty.

Reverse oppression carries over into other areas besides Negative Liberty. For instance, Losurdo presents in alarming detail the degree to which ‘white slavery’ was rampant in Liberal societies. During the process of colonization, stricter penal codes and forced labor camps grew in tandem. But the penal code, initially intended to force labor upon the colonized, began to reverberate back upon whites. Forced labor and indentured servitude, of both slaves and now whites, became staples of the economy of colonizing nations; both in conquering, and conquered, states. In an eerily Orwellian spin, Liberal’s tried to say that indentured servitude did not so much deny Liberty, as embody it. Since agreed upon contracts are a staple of Liberal society, and servant and master enter into a contractual relation, the servant is exercising Liberty, according to Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès: “in the way most opportune to him”. Moreover, the servant is “receiving more than what he gives up” (82). As with Negative Liberty, Liberals have jettisoned Positive Liberty amongst the white race too.

Liberals might be inclined to disregard Losurdo’s work as bombastic and hyperbolic, but they would be exercising poor judgment to do so. Although a few references are to the works of Marx and other critics of Liberalism, the primary sources of Losurdo’s works are historical documents, the writings of Liberals, and scholarly texts on Liberal history. This is not revisionist history, but history told from the point of view of those who are making it. Almost each page of Losurdo’s work contains at least half a dozen footnotes from either contemporary scholarly research or the works of Liberals from the period he is analyzing. Of course this has its downside too. The footnotes can be rather jarring when you are trying to determine if the just cited sentence came from an actual Liberal or a recent historian, and at times they can make you wonder how much of Losurdo’s work is unique, and not just repetition. Nonetheless, the constant reminder of the sheer number of sources Losurdo has used to drive home his thesis is constant testament to the labor embodied in Losurdo’s writing.

But hia thesis itself remains somewhat confusing. Losurdo is essentially posing a philosophical question: what is Liberalism and who can we say belongs to its ranks? But the answer he gives in each chapter is less a philosophical one than an intricate empirical analysis of historical facts. The book sits atop a fence between philosophy and history, without being enough of one (philosophy) and too much of the other (history). After all Losurdo is an accomplished scholar on Hegel and Marx, not to mention an accomplished philosopher, but primarily this book reads as history, with a pinch of unanswered philosophical questioning peppered throughout. Perhaps that is Losurdo’s point, the fluidity of the Liberal philosophy, and its representatives, leads to the impossibility of a solid conclusion regarding the primary question of his research. But that too is a rather philosophical position that requires more elaboration than Losurdo has given us.

Without detracting too much from Losurdo’s accomplishment, another criticism needs to be considered. The structure of the book is often erratic and confusing. A chapter might begin with a question e.g., who was a Liberal in the French Revolution, and end with a summary of Christian Radicalism during American Industrialization. The connection between the introduction, and the conclusion, is often tenuous. To name one more example, during the middle of a discussion regarding the French Revolution, an unexpected detour is taken into Bolivar’s campaigns throughout Latin America. The reader will thus learn copious amounts of history, but at the end of many chapters will be left wondering how to tie it all together. And in this regard, the condemnation of Liberalism can seem a little helter-skelter.

Nonetheless, Losurdo’s historical account is as horrifying as it is vigorous. Radicals and Socialists have long known that the birth pangs of Liberalism have been bloody, authoritarian and hypocritical. He has offered compelling research to attest to our suspicions and he leaves no room for serious rebuttal. If one still wants to declare themselves a Liberal after reading this, they have a serious hurdle to face: their own philosophies genesis. As Losurdo has demonstrated, Liberalism is not Liberty for the individual in the positive or negative sense; it began, and continues to be, a fluid ideological defense for those in power to justify their positions of power.


Capital as a Social Kind: Definitions and Transformations in the Critique of Political Economy-Howard Engelskirchen

Posted by admin On February - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Capital as a Social Kind: Definitions and Transformations in the Critique of Political Economy-Howard Engelskirchen


Capital as a Social Kind: Definitions and Transformations in the Critique of Political Economy
Routledge, Abingdon, 2011. 240pp., £80 hb

Reviewed by Bill Bowring

Bill Bowring studied philosophy at the University of Kent, became a human rights barrister, and now teaches international law and human rights at Birkbeck College, London. He is International Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. His The Degradation of the International Legal Order? The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics was published by Routledge in 2008
ReviewIn this new book Howard Engelskirchen presents an original analysis of the nature of capital, and a set of tasks for curing its ills. In an engaging interview at Left Forum 2011 in New York (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmln6NtDMGk), Engelskirchen succinctly defined “capital as a social kind” as being the intersection of the separation of workers from their means of production, and the separation of the enterprises from each other. Much of the book under review is the working out of this basic idea.

Engelskirchen is a veteran teacher of law and philosophy, and his book brings together a lifetime’s research and activism, under the banner of a militant commitment to scientific realism. Engelskirchen is also a serious scholar of Karl Marx, in English and in German, and this is especially evident in Chapter 4, “The concept of capital in the Grundrisse”, written for a forthcoming collection In Marx’ Laboratory. Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse. In part the book contains articles written between 2004 and 2008, but Engelskirchen draws together a wide range of themes in order to conclude with his precepts for “Winning the battle of democracy” (Chapter 7).

One key, therefore, to reading Engelskirchen’s sometimes dense text is to start at the end, with his “democratic tasks”, in what should be a “democracy battle clearing house, an electronic version of Lenin’s Iskra” (161). He prescribes five democratic tasks. First, “Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production as premise”; second, “Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production as a starting point of production”; third, “Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production in the labor process”; fourth, “Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production as result”, and fifth, “Overcoming the separation of units of production.”

These are not the battle cries most often heard on the radical left, but they share their source in the most important influence on Engelskirchen, the French Marxist economist and historian Charles Bettelheim (1913-2006). In fact, one passage is cited by Engelskirchen three times, twice in full, (25, 55 and 91). This is a passage to be found, with Bettelheim’s emphasis, on p. 77 of the 1975 English translation of Bettelheim’s Economic Calculation and Forms of Property.

The capitalist character of the enterprise … is due to the fact that its structure assumes the form of a double separation: the separation of workers from their means of production … and the separation of the enterprises from each other. This double separation forms the central characteristic of the capitalist mode of production, and it serves as a support for the totality of contradictions of this mode of production. 

However, if the Conclusion is dominated by the five Bettelheim-influenced tasks, the significance of treating capital as a social kind has almost disappeared. Engelskirchen refers four times (157 twice, 160, 163) to “overcoming” or “transforming” – twice each – capital “as a social kind”, but with no further exposition, especially as to how the phrase “as a social kind” adds anything at all.

How does Engelskirchen find his way to the notion of a “social kind”?

It would be surprising not to meet Roy Bhaskar in a work committed to scientific realism, and Engleskirchen refers several times to three works of the early Bhaskar: A Realist Theory of Science (1975), The Possibility of Naturalism (1979) and Reclaiming Reality (1989). But this book is not an exegesis of the early Bhaskar, though Engelskirchen acknowledges the inspiration of Bhaskar’s revolutionary challenge to social constructivism and philosophical idealism in general. It is noteworthy that Bhaskar is nowhere cited as having anything to say about “natural kinds” or “social kinds”.

A much stronger influence has been that of Engelkskirchen’s contemporary and close colleague, Robert Boyd (b.1942), the Susan Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University, to whom Engelskirchen owes his conception of “natural kinds”. Indeed, Boyd provides an enthusiastic introduction to the book under review, recommending Engelskirchen’s explication of Marxism as the way “to avoid a forced choice between positivism and postmodernism” in studying complex social phenomena, and as providing a “convincing alternative to relativist conceptions” of moral theory.

Drawing from an article published by Boyd in 1991, “Realism, Anti-Foundationalism, and the Enthusiasm for Natural Kinds”, Engelskirchen identifies three key features of “the central core conception of natural kinds” (42), and, he argues, of social kinds. First, Boyd argues that the definition of a kind must be arrived at a posteriori rather than by social convention. Second, the kind must be defined by properties which characterise a causal structure that exists independent of our theorising. Third, there must be a causal relation between the instantiation of the kind and the use of the kind term in reference. What are these “kinds”? They are “potent structures” which exist in the world, including the social world (38).

Any further puzzlement as to what is a “natural kind” is dispelled by the fact that water, as H2O, appear no less than eleven times through Engelskirchen’s text (8, 13, 23, 24, 36, 37, 40, 56, 87, 88, 89). On water’s first appearance Engelskirchen explains that “H2O refers to a molecular configuration that ultimately regulates our understanding of what water is and how it behaves.” (8) Engelskirchen also tells us that “H2O is the real definition of water” (24), and “the category H2O makes it possible for us to accommodate our explanations and practices to the causal reality water presents.” ( 56) This last assertion is to be found in Chapter Three “Separation and subordination. The real definition of capital as a social kind.” For Engelskirchen, “we look for the causal structure of capital, its most fundamental form of material organisation, the essential characteristics that explain what it is, how it persists as what it is, and how we can expect it to behave over time.”

At the very end of this complex chapter we find a section entitled “The real definition of capital” (82), which contains the formulation “capital is living labor in the process of production appropriated by objectified labour for the sake of increasing objectified labor.” In Chapter Four, already mentioned, we find that “value” and “the social relations of value” are social kinds; indeed value and capital are both social kinds “as material social relations” (101). “Commodity-producing labour” is also a social kind.

I mentioned that Engelskirchen is also a lawyer, and the most intriguing but for me least convincing chapter of his book is Chapter Five, “Value and contract formation”. What Engelskirchen wants to do is to show that “the explanation of a textbook rule of contract formation in Anglo-American law may be derived from Marx’s analysis of value.” (106) In this chapter he draws especially from Marxism and the Philosophy of Language which was published in 1929 by Valentin Volosinov (1895-1936 – in fact his name is incorrectly rendered in the translation used by Engelskirchen, it was Voloshinov). The reader may be initially puzzled by the fact that “Volosinov” appears after authors beginning with “W” in the Bibliography – one of the few errors in the book. Engelskirchen takes as the object of investigation in this chapter the legal doctrine of “consideration”, described by textbook writers as “a secret paradox of the common law” and “an unsolved mystery”. Mobilising Marx and “Volosinov” (for the proposition that a sign is a material thing), Engelskirchen believes he can show that “the puzzle stems from a failure to consider the way contract formation functions in the reproduction of value.” (122) The final sentence of the chapter is indeed startling: “A final point: if the argument just given explains a legal category not previously given coherent theoretical explanation, this in itself constitutes independent evidence for the scientific correctness of Marx’s analysis of value.” (123) This smacks of the posthumous miracle working of the type that gets you a sainthood in the Catholic church; but does Marx need independent evidence of this kind?

The reader of this review might presently be wondering whether Engelskirchen has an opponent. The answer is that he does, although this is not immediately apparent. Engelskirchen is in fact arguing not against positivists or post-modernists at all, but against the “value-form theory” of Christopher Arthur and others, with its roots in Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value (1924) by Isaak Rubin (1886-1937) – not mentioned by Engelskirchen – and The Making of Marx’s ‘Capital’ (1967) by Roman Rosdolsky (1898-1967). Value-form theory is rather jauntily dismissed by Engelskirchen as follows: “But, in fact, while calling attention to the question of form, value-form theory has pretty systematically noticed only one-half of Marx’s critique of Ricardo, and this has muddied everything.” (31)

Later Engelskirchen offers a more sustained critique. According to him, the critical thing is that,

Value-form theorists have not understood the distinction presented at the beginning of Capital between value and its nature … In consequence, the value-form tradition tends to substitute theories of value’s forms of appearance for value’s constitutive form. In the event, an inversion occurs: value’s forms of appearance – exchange value and money – are called upon to play the role actually accomplished by value’s kind constitutive properties. At the limit because no sense can be made of the substantial content of value, value comes to be considered “pure form”. (45-6).

Engelskirchen continues

In his analysis of commodity exchange, Arthur treats value as an expression of “pure form”, abstracted from all materiality, which, by analogy with Hegel’s concept of pure Being, becomes the source of all subsequent development of the logic of Capital.

My take on Arthur is rather different; indeed this is not how Arthur states his case at all. In Arthur’s (2004, 11) words, Rubin ‘stresses that all the material and technical economic processes are accomplished within definite historically specific social forms. Things, such as commodities, are assigned a social role as mediators of production relations.’. For Arthur (2004, 157), ‘value is an unnatural form that clings, vampire-like, to labour, and feeds off it’. In order to explain the content he gives to this metaphor, Arthur draws from Roy Bhaskar’s 1993 notion of real negation or absence, as opposed to ‘ontological monovalence, the purely positive account of reality’. That is, if absenting is a real process, what has become absent through such a process leaves not simply ‘nothing’, but a ‘determinate nothing’ ‘structured by the specific process that brought it about’. Arthur analyses ‘the emergent properties of the determinate absence of use value’, that is, the alienation from human beings of the enjoyment of the products of their labour, in the bizarre world of capital. As Arthur puts it, ‘there is a void at the heart of capitalism … the circulation of commodities and money as seemingly material objects supports a world of pure form’. Arthur describes the lethal emptiness at the heart of capital:

If we treat value as the spiritual essence of the capitalist economy, its range of incarnations all centre on a single origin, namely money, the transubstantiated Eucharist of value; ‘the spectre’ is this hollow armour, at once mute metal and possessor of the magical power to make extremes embrace. The spirit is made metal and stalks among us. The spectre interpellates all commodities as its avatars, an uncanny identity of discernibles, a spectral phenomenology. This negative presence, posited thus, fills itself out through emptying them of all natural being, and forming for itself a spectral body, a body of spectres. In capitalism all is always ‘another thing’ than what it is. (2004, 167)

For this reviewer at least, value-form theory is much richer and more suggestive than the separations of Charles Bettelheim.


Lack of unity stalls Egypt’s youth revolution -Alaa Bayoumi

Posted by admin On February - 21 - 2013 Comments Off on Lack of unity stalls Egypt’s youth revolution -Alaa Bayoumi


Mohamed ElBaradei recently said the youth are divided on the goals of the revolution [AFP]
In a recent TV interview, Egypt’s prominent opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, captured the frustration felt by many revolutionary youth in his country.

“A large part of why we lost control over the revolution and our ability to fulfil its goals is the divisions that took place among the youth. Today, youth feel they have been robbed of their revolution,” ElBaradei said on February 12. “But, this is because they were divided. Every one of them [considered himself] a new Che Guevara. Everyone wanted to speak on TV.”

Two years after the revolution, youth leaders feel neglected, divided, and powerless. Only three youth leaders were elected to the People’s Assembly, the lower house of Egyptian parliament, which has since been dissolved.

The Revolution Youth Coalition (RYC), the main body coordinating between youth leaders in Egypt after the January 25 revolution, was dissolved last July; no other body has replaced it.

“All the political elite, including the Salvation Front (SF) [Egypt’s main opposition coalition] does not represent the youth,” Shady Al Ghazaly Harb, the founder of the Al Wai (Awareness) party and now a founding member of ElBaradei’s party, told Al Jazeera.

After the revolution

Al Wai was one of at least four parties established by young people active in the revolution. Others include Al Adel (Justice), the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), and Al Tayar Al Masry (the Egyptian Current), which was founded by former Muslim Brotherhood youth leaders.


Follow spotlight coverage of the struggling young democracy
Harb said Al Wai was established to “politically empower the youth” active in a campaign that supported ElBaradei as a presidential candidate to compete against Hosni Mubarak or his son, Jamal, in a pre-revolution election expected in late 2011.

The Popular Campaign to Nominate ElBaradei was one of the main protest movements that attracted youth activists before the revolution, but youth leaders have since split up into different parties. When ElBaradei announced the formation of new party Al Dostour last summer, many leaders of Al Wai – including Harb – left to join it instead.

Al Adel founder Mostafa Al Nagar, who won a seat in the dissolved People’s Assembly (PA), likewise deserted his party, citing obstacles like a lack of funding and inability to work as a group.

As for Al Tayar Al Masry, it has still not received official recognition as a party. “We have been busy with ongoing political problems in the country. We have not had a chance to build a real structure that can act as a political party,” Islam Lotfy, the party’s founder, told Al Jazeera.
Like many others, Lotfy’s party suffers from empty coffers. “We have no funding – just some donations from our members,” he said, adding that his party has no full-time staff other than a secretary and an office boy in its Cairo headquarters.

Ahmed Maher, the leader of April 6th – one of the main youth protest groups in Egypt – told Al Jazeera he works as a volunteer like the rest of the group’s activists and relies on its members’ dues, which are just 20 Egyptian pounds a month (less than $3). He says his group has 15,000-20,000 members across Egypt as well as hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Maher told Al JAzeera that his group has been stifled by regular crackdowns from various authorities, including the Mubarak regime, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, and President Morsi himself.

“We supported Morsi during the presidential campaign and were a reason behind his victory. The Muslim Brotherhood loved us at that time. But when disagreement started over the constitution, a campaign of distortion started against us,” Maher said.

Maher said he believes Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood did not fulfil their promises when it comes to encouraging youth participation in the government and appointing a non-partisan cabinet.

“The status of the youth inside the Muslim Brotherhood and the SF is the same. Youth have no role inside the Muslim Brotherhood and their status inside the SF might be slightly better. But the youth don’t lead.”

Did Egypt’s Youth Movement backfire?

The roots of division

Lotfy, the Al Tayar Al Masry leader, attributed the problems with the youth movement to a “political culture that favours the elderly”, a practice he said stems from the belief that older politicans are more qualified because they have more experience. He also criticised abusiness elite he says cares only for its narrow interests, which often favours big, existing parties.
While Abdul Rahman Mansour, the admin of “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook group, also cited the country’s older political elite as a “big problem”, he likewise blamed the youth itself.

“In general, all youth groups suffer from widespread confusion,” he said. “We are still suffering the same crisis we faced the day Mubarak stepped down.”

Israa Abdel Fatah, a leading female activist and a senior member of Al Dostour party, told Al Jazeera that the youth are a product of the Mubarak regime. “They did not come from a country that helps qualify youth. Mubarak’s regime chased away and killed leadership.”

But she also blames the youth for failing to unite after the revolution. “The Revolution Youth Coalition [RYC] was divided. Our goal was to bring down the regime. But we didn’t know what to do after that.”

The RYC – a coalition of nine youth groups that helped coordinate the 2011 protests that forced Mubarak to step down – was dismantled after Morsi took office.

Zayad El Elaimy, a youth leader had been elected to the dissolved PA, explained that the  “RYC was for bringing down the Mubarak regime, but it did not have a plan to build an alternative regime. The goal of the RYC ended on February 11, 2011.”

Still, youth leaders, such as Elaimy, Abdel Fatah, and Harb believe that some alternative forum with unifying capabilities is not far off. Between the three of them, they share similar views: they support the agenda of the NF to some extent, support ongoing protests movement, and are sceptical about including the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood in any future youth unity forum.

“The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood are part of the current regime. How can the opposition unite with current regime?” Abdel Fatah told Al Jazeera.

Lotfy, for his part, thinks the idea of uniting all pro-revolution youth in a joint body is “silly” because youth – like all groups in Egyptian society – are politicised and belong to different parties and ideologies.

Best way forward

Youth leaders are also divided on how to move foward. Nagar, Mansour, Maher, and Lotfy are taking a more cautious approach toward recent protests, believing that they must be used more carefully as a political opposition tool.

“Youth need to work more with the people. Limiting the revolution to protests is a mistake.” said Nagar.

Mansour agreed: “Protest movements alert society – they don’t rebuild the country.”

Egypt: The promises and perils of revolution

But these views don’t match those of Abdel Fatah, Harb, and El Elaimy, who all support ongoing protests to different degrees and believe the SF is not responding fast or strong enough to demands of protesting youth.

“The street is always ahead of the SF. It only follows what the youth say. Protests should continue as long as we have a government that neglects people’s demands,” said Abdel Fatah.

“The role of the SF is different from that of the youth,” explained El Elaimy. “The SF negotiates to reform the regime from inside. The youth want a new regime.”

Harb said he sees the youth are back in the street and ready to bring down Morsi’s regime. “There is hope of getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “I expect that we succeed in bringing down the regime in the next 3-4 months.”
Moahmed El Said Idries, the head of the revolution studies centre at Al Ahram research centre, told Al Jazeera he feels optimistic about the future of the current generation of youth activists in Egypt, predicting that current generation of youth leaders will lead most political parties in 2-3 years.

“They are a rejectionist generation and were only raised to reject the Mubarak regime. They were not given any formal political training or education in how to offer an a political alternative. Mubarak fought political education and activism at universities. Still, they triggered the revolution and transformed politics in Egypt.”

Source: Al Jazeera 

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