(OPE-L) VFT Additional Note - Reply to Paul Zarembka

From: OPE-L Administrator (ope-admin@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 23 2004 - 09:50:11 EDT

Another message from Jurriaan.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: VFT Additional Note - Reply to Paul Zarembka
From: "andromeda246" <andromeda246@hetnet.nl>
Date: Fri, April 23, 2004 8:25 am


Paul Zarembka writes in reply to my statement that original accumulation
occurs continuously in the history of capitalist development that:

"I disagree.  Original or primitive accumulation should be a concept
reserved for the transition from feudalism to the initial establishment
of capitalism."

With due respect, I think this is either a scholasticist, subjective
interpretation of the topic, or a bit of poetry. If we approach the
topic with scientific objectivity and thorough legal scrutiny, we must
admit that  processes of dispossession and expropriation (and their
corollary, proletarianisation) occur continuously in the capitalist
system. In this sense my interpretation of the empirical facts is closer
to David Harvey's, that is to say, imperialism (generally defined as the
extension of the domination of the possessing classes over the dominated
classes within capitalist countries, combined with the
political-military, economic and cultural domination of other countries,
nations, peoples, regions and territories, i.e. the modus of the
expansion of the capitalist world market occuring through the separation
of producers from their original means of production by one means or
another, and their re-integration, sooner or later, into production as
wage & salary earners) is an intrinsic feature of capitalist
development, and is implicated in the very genesis of mercantile and
industrial capitalism.

This also means, incidentally, that crimes against property and crimes
against people are an intrinsic characteristic of capitalist development
which should be understood in terms of their historical specificity
visi-a-vis the development of bourgeois civil morality. Thus, for
example, where there exists no private ownership, there obviously also
cannot be any "crimes" against private ownership, i.e. the development,
extension and modification of the legal definition of property rights
co-determines the forms of criminality. I say "co-determines"
deliberately, because the perfect crime is a crime that is not a crime;
i.e. a crime either not recognised in law as criminal, or else endorsed
by the law, such that it is no a crime at all (even though immoral).

This means you don't have to be Dr. Fukuyama to understand that imoral
acts can occur, even although they are not official recognised as
criminal - that is precisely why bourgeois controversies focus on the
"limits of tolerance" practically compatible with private capital
accumulation and an orderly human life as such (see my PEN-L posts on
this). But these controversies often conveniently ignore forms of
"unofficial"exploitation because they threaten the moral justifications
which people have for their entitlement to the private wealth they own.
This is a very important point, because, through culture wars, as
Antonio Gramsci anticipated in his Prison Notebooks, it is possible to
introduce and extend the principles of a new egalitarian and libertarian
morality. We have to resist all sorts of immoral alienations of human
powers for the purpose of transforming them into a vendible commodity,
and the way we go about trading is morally important. If "proletarian
morality" means anything at all, its premiss is that people should be in
control of their own creativity and its results, so they can share it
for the communal good, rather than having it stolen or perverted for
ends alien to their purpose and aspiration.

It is true that Marx does say in his chapter in Capital Vol. 1 on "The
historical tendency of capitalist accumulation" that once a significant
expropriation of rural population has occurred, and a working class
dependent on waged labour for income has been formed, that the process
of dispossession which transforms an increase fraction of the population
into a stratified class of wage & salary earners can then continue, by
means of specifically capitalist competitive processes, which result in
the increasingly concentrated and centralised ownership of private
capital assets. Yet, original ("primitive") accumulation, which removes
obstacles to the expansion of the capitalist market, continues:

- within nations where the capitalist mode of production dominates:
remaining non-capitalist regions, spheres and people obtaining a
livelihood from non-capitalist modes of production which persist within
capitalist countries are dispossessed, by legal means (imposition of new
property rights without real consent), through driving them into debt,
by force etc.;
 - outside nations where the capitalist mode of
production dominates, as new territories and assets are conquered or
integrated into the capitalist market by this type of method.

Think here for example of:

(1) dispossession of employees in enterprises, in violation of the
exchange legally specified in their employment contracts and civil
rights, including spying on employees to steal intellectual property
from them;
 (2) dispossession of citizens through privatisation of
publicly owned assets and taxes which they gave no real mandate for; (3)
dispossession of peasants, craftsmen and petty-commodity producers in
so-called developing countries and former colonies;
 (4) continued
dispossession of indigenous populations in settler-capitalist societies
through the 20th century;
 (5) dispossession of workers and peasants in
post-capitalist societies reverting back to capitalism;
dispossession through direct imperialist violence, such as in Iraq and
 (7) dispossession of citizens in capitalist countries of
assets which, through new technological developments, can now be
privately appropriated and plundered, e.g. intellectual property and
unique behaviours.

To you in your academic position, all this this might be a bit of
poetry, but to many people, including myself, it's been not a joke, but
a miserable reality, because we have been plundered in the name of love,
in violation of the civil and human rights which we are supposed to
have, even to the extent of severe psychic distress, the loss of meaning
in our lives, such that a will to live is lost, and life itself often
doesn't even seem worth living anymore. I try to keep a sense of humour,
and I am not saying all this because I want to moralise, cry endlessly
about spilt milk or spilt blood, or claim that exploitation exists where
there is none (through a blinkered vision of reality), I am saying it
because we're talking real experience here, and if Marxists don't even
want to confront the empirical evidence scientifically in this sense
beyond concept mongering, I think the "critiques" are inadequate and
shallow, and that they don't really understand the potential for an
egalitarian, free society that exists in our time. In which case we
ought to stop talking about Marxism.

Our personal and private lives were interfered in without our explicit
consent for the purpose of private gain by others, indeed consent itself
was redefined through redefining access rights, to facilitate
exploitation by others. Motto's such as "love conquers all" or "all's
fair in love and war" are therefore doubled-edged; positively, they
could mean that love provides the understanding necessary to overcome
all immoral behaviour, but negatively, they could also mean that love
provides a convenient justification for plunder, precisely because love
evades a completely objective definition, such that "good intentions"
and "practicality" can serve as justifying apology for plunder,
elaborated with all sorts of ideas about how people really are, should
be etc. while the real power relations involved are ignored.

Personally, I have been lucky; because within a world population of 6.2
billion people, I am sociologically part of an educated elite (even if I
am financially broke at the moment and must find new means to survive)
and thus, even if I got plundered, then I still have real possibilities
of putting the past behind me, I can still give things to others, and
can make a decent life anyhow if I want, purely in virtue of the life
experiences and opportunities I have already had, and can have, in the
society in which I live. That is, the damage which I personally suffered
can be surmounted to a great extent, unless I am very unlucky, even
although some mental and physical damage as well as lost time is a
permanent scar, which blocks off some developmental possibilities.

In Iraq, for masses of people the scope of the damage is much more
severe and actually eternal, and you cannot blame them for feeling even
more angry and sad about it, than I do about my own experiences, and
less able to shake off their negative feelings. I have spoken of a
"holocaust" in Iraq - everybody knows the terrible effects of the Jewish
holocaust, but the enormous wrecking caused by bourgeois imperialism in
Iraq is morally no different. This kind of relativisation, which I think
a person of sound mind ought to make, doesn't excuse plunder of specific
individuals anyhow.

The whole problem of the "information age" is that all the undoubtedly
wonderful "new information and communication technologies" do not appear
out of nowhere, and do not take shape in a void, but rather they are
developed and extended within a given social framework, a given
community, which happens to be:

(1) structured into social classes trading on the basis of unequal
bargaining positions;
 (2) based on specific private ownership
(3) structured by relations of competition between citizens which foment
competition even where previously there was none, and thus contribute to
permanent war of a type of which mostly contributes to human development
only in inverted, self-negating and highly contradictory ways.

That is the framework within which people have to co-operate with each
other. In previous posts, I have emphasised that the capitalist
marketplace could not even exist without an extensive natural and
cultural substructure which involves a large amount of unpaid work and
the development of human skills and abilities which are not subject to
the cash nexus. To the extent that this natural and cultural
substructure represents a "commons", a "commonwealth" enabling us to
recognise ourselves and others as social, co-operative beings ("social
capital"), there is ample scope for more and newer forms of exploitation
through private appropriation and privatisation, which is not based on
any trade based on freely given and legally recognised consent, but
which instead relies on:

(1) exploiting a resource faster than anybody else can get to it,
utilising the weaker position of others in respect of their lack of
specific abilities in important areas,
 (3) privatisation (assertion of
private property rights) of physical and intellectual resources which
were previously part of the "commons".

In post-modernist discourses, this idea is expressed in all sorts of
complicated ways, but I am just expressing the essence of it in the
simplest, plainest terms. I cannot go into endless detail now because I
have pressing things to do.


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