Principia Dialectica Commits Collective Suicide

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Angelus Novus
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May 22 2011 09:30
Noa Rodman wrote:
Bellofiore, like Heinrich, openly stated that Marx was wrong on money as commodity, so he argues for the need to follow Wicksell, Schumpeter and Keynes. It's also a tradition, though not a Marxist one.

Have you taken a peek at Die Wissenschaft vom Wert? Heinrich's main contention is that Marx's work, even his mature critique, contains two mutually incompatible theories of value, and sets out to demonstrate this on the basis of extensive quotations. Heinrich's position is to argue for one of those theories of value and discard the other one.

Now, I realize that for Marxists, the notion that Marx may not have been 100% consistent in everything he wrote and may even have *gasp* contradicted himself is an inconceivable horror, but for the rest of us, it's a question of finding what's useful in Marx's critique and not elevating him to the status of an infallible prophet.

FWIW, I'm agnostic on the "money-commodity" controversy. My homeboy Jura tells me that Dieter Wolf (another one of those insidious German value-form theorists) argues rather convincingly against Heinrich on this question, but I haven't had the time to dip into Wolf's work.

RedHughs wrote:
Speaking of Endnotes and PD in the same breath seems pretty ridiculous.

Um, you are aware that Endnotes, in their most recent issue, featured a very lengthy, in-depth, and favorable account of all those German, Capital-reading value-form theorists you profess to despise, right?

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May 22 2011 09:53

sorry, this may appear quite simple-minded, whats so controversial about money as a commodity? Money is not the same as Capital, so I can't see why it can't be a commodity (albeit a 'special' one).

Harrison
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May 22 2011 10:27

i'll chime in with Arbeiten here - isn't money merely a special commodity that mediates between other commodities?

Angelus Novus
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May 22 2011 11:21

Arbeiten and Harrison,

yeah, that's not what the controversy is about at all. It's basically concerning the question of whether money at all times must necessarily be embodied in a physical commodity like gold. The argument of many anti-substantialists is that the post-Bretton Woods world demonstrates rather convincingly that this is not the case.

So the argument is not whether or not money is a commodity in the logical sense: that's exactly what Marx's value-form analysis sets out to demonstrate. Rather, the argument is whether it is always the case that money must be ultimately tied to a physical commodity.

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Noa Rodman
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May 22 2011 13:43

Heinrich himself does not claim about money that there are two incompatible theories in Marx. He makes the stronger claim that Marx was wrong and not merely inconsistent (long quote, option-able read):

Heinrich wrote:
II. The Problem of the Money commodity

In his analysis of value form, Marx presupposed the necessity of a money commodity. In real exchange relations the money commodity must not be present, it can be substituted, as Marx already analyses in Chapter 3 of “Capital”. But the circulating signs, according to Marx, are substitutes of this special commodity, the money commodity. So the money commodity should be something like an anchor of the whole monetary system. Speaking on a theoretical level, Marx conceptualised his theory of money as if the existence of a money commodity (on the level of categories) would be absolutely necessary.

If this conceptualisation would be correct, we couldn’t understand the contemporary monetary system with Marxian categories, because this system doesn’t depend on a money commodity, neither legally (since the end of the Bretton Woods system), nor really (there is no special money commodity: that central banks possess gold is a historic relic and since years they try to get rid of it by selling small portions, which will not lead to a crash of the gold price).

Fortunately Marx’s conceptualisation is not correct. Not only in practice, also at the level of categories we don’t need to rely on a money-commodity. What Marx has demonstrated in value form analysis was the necessity of the money form (strictly speaking: the necessity of the general equivalent form). But he didn’t demonstrate, that the bearer of this form must be itself a commodity. He just presupposed, that this bearer is a commodity.

In the first chapter of the first edition of “Capital” we can find an important hint, why it is not necessary, that the bearer of the money-form must be a commodity. Chris Arthur already accentuated the relation of money and commodity as the relation of the universal to the particular. But Marx showed more: In the first edition, Marx made clear, that money is a very special universal: Money is an universal, which exists as an individual at the same level as the particular. He used an impressive picture for this: it is as if besides the concrete lions, tigers, birds and so on, also “the animal” is existing and walking around (MEGA II.5, p. 37).

Continuing this (what Marx didn’t do), we can conclude, that “the animal” cannot really exist as an individual besides the concrete lions, tigers etc. There must be “something”, which is accepted as “the animal”, which is a representation of “the animal”. “The animal” cannot exist as an individual, it can only be represented. It can be represented by a certain animal, the lion for example. Then the lion counts not only as lion but also as “the animal”. Or it can be represented by a plate with a big letter “A”.

In short: At the level of value-form analysis it is not possible to determine the character of the concrete something, which is representing the universal as an individual. This something can be a commodity or a pure sign. So, a money commodity can exist, but its existence is not “necessary”.

At the level of credit theory, which Marx started to develop in volume 3 of “Capital” it is possible to demonstrate, that a monetary system based on a money commodity can only exist for a limited period of historical transition. Although Marx himself didn’t draw this conclusion, his approach to the credit system gives all the elements for this demonstration.

In the preface of the first edition of “Capital”, Marx made clear, that he didn’t want to analyse a special period of capitalist development, but capitalism itself. And at the end of volume 3 he formulated, that his aim is to present the “ideal average” of the “inner organization of the capitalist mode of production”. The money commodity however doesn’t belong to this “ideal average”. In this case Marx confounded a transitional attribute of the capitalist money system with its “ideal average”.

I'll check out Dieter Wolf, but on first sight he doesn't seem to be a value form theorist.

Angelus Novus
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May 22 2011 14:35
Noa Rodman wrote:
Heinrich himself does not claim about money that there are two incompatible theories in Marx.

Nope. What I said was that he claims there are two incompatible theories of value in Marx. You were the one making the general claim that value-form theorists make claims for Marx that Marx doesn't make. You still haven't demonstrated that. Not even in the money-commodity question: contesting that Marx was wrong on a certain point is different than attributing claims to Marx that he didn't make.

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I'll check out Dieter Wolf, but on first sight he doesn't seem to be a value form theorist.

Huh, that's news to...well, pretty much everyone who follows these debates. Ingo Elbe in particular leans very heavily on Dieter Wolf. I suspect you're just conveniently redefining "value-form theory" in a way that conforms to your predilections and prejudices, so that anyone who might coincidentally agree with you on a particular point gets excluded from the category.

Imagine: value-form theorists actually disagree with each other!

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May 22 2011 14:43

Right I get it, I was thinking when when I was reading Capital, 'what about post-Bretton Woods?' There again I didn't see this as a huge problem to the analysis of capitalism, its just the result of the historical contingency in which Marx is writing (it seemed to me at the time of reading). After all he admits in Capital that 'money', in its concrete form (as gold and silver objects) is capable of physical degradation and that capitalist accumulation is not the same as money accumulation (this would be hoarding, which is a phase in capitalism but not capitalism in toto).

But there again I am quite 'liberal' with my reading of Capital (I have a tendency to read texts socio-politically rather than economically, philosophically, etc) so I can admit that it is easy for me to be mistaken, and I do see Heirich's point. I guess I had never considered money as central in Capital. I should take the time to read more of this value-form theory....

Angelus Novus
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May 22 2011 14:46

BTW, only tangential to this discussion, but I think the prominence PD accords to the Nuremberg Wertkritiker has to do with the fact that they are basically agitational/propaganda sects, who don't just engage in esoteric discussions of value theory but who make overarching claims concerning political and historical questions, the role of the working-class, inner-left debates, current events, etc. like every other political sect, be it Situationist, anarchist, Trotksyist, Maoist, or Bordigist. It basically represents an adaptation and modification of the the late-60s/early-70s re-reading of Capital in Germany to the context of the political sect.

By contrast, the value-form and NML writings, with the exception of Heinrich's two popular introductory books, are primarily produced by and geared towards other Marx scholars: it's basically Marx philology at a rigorous academic level. Groups like Endnotes are sharp enough to tease out the political implications of a lot of the findings, but at its core it's basically a non-political discourse. So it also has a certain lack of appeal for a propaganda/agitational sect like Principia Dialectica. For their purposes, an intellectually sloppy but poetically written approach to value theory like Robert Kurz's serves a more immediate purpose. But for that very reason PD should also be more careful about hectoring other individuals or groups on the left for not having "read their Marx".

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Noa Rodman
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May 22 2011 16:17
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You were the one making the general claim that value-form theorists make claims for Marx that Marx doesn't make. You still haven't demonstrated that.

I didn't make that claim here. My comment was that Heinrich self-admittedly states that he departs from Marx, as I 'demonstrated' on the question of money.

RedHughs
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May 22 2011 21:33
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He makes the stronger claim that Marx was wrong and not merely inconsistent

Staying in the realm of "classical logic", let's assume that reality itself is consistent. Thus if someone makes two claims which are inconsistent with each other, one of those claims must also be inconsistent with reality, ie wrong. Thus inconsistency is a stronger claim than wrongness rather than the opposite.

Without reading Heinrich at all, just on the level of logic, if Heinrich believes Marx is consistent, he inherently believes he is also wrong somewhere. It seems like a natural step to point out, then, where Marx is wrong.

Further, the Heinrich paper Rodman links to begins with a discussion of multiple tendencies within Marx's thought. The next step is, "which is correct?"

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BTW, only tangential to this discussion, but I think the prominence PD accords to the Nuremberg Wertkritiker has to do with the fact that they are basically agitational/propaganda sects, who don't just engage in esoteric discussions of value theory but who make overarching claims concerning political and historical questions, the role of the working-class, inner-left debates, current events, etc. like every other political sect, be it Situationist, anarchist, Trotksyist, Maoist, or Bordigist. It basically represents an adaptation and modification of the the late-60s/early-70s re-reading of Capital in Germany to the context of the political sect.

By contrast, the value-form and NML writings, with the exception of Heinrich's two popular introductory books, are primarily produced by and geared towards other Marx scholars: it's basically Marx philology at a rigorous academic level. Groups like Endnotes are sharp enough to tease out the political implications of a lot of the findings, but at its core it's basically a non-political discourse. So it also has a certain lack of appeal for a propaganda/agitational sect like Principia Dialectica. For their purposes, an intellectually sloppy but poetically written approach to value theory like Robert Kurz's serves a more immediate purpose. But for that very reason PD should also be more careful about hectoring other individuals or groups on the left for not having "read their Marx".

Wow, I'm amazed to find AN's statement a quite lucid overview of the situation of present day (rather impoverished) "Theory And Practice". I'm happy to remain in "sect-land" myself, sampling whichever flavor of "Marx philology" seems useful. World-historical pronouncements can occasionally be useful, even if they're more often counter-productive, world-historically-speaking!

The thing about our Marx-philologists is that they seem to resemble the string-theorists in physics, who come up with interesting questions and ideas but aren't concerned with simple things like whether the real world has three dimensions ( I can't read anything useful in Postone but I very much like that "Moving Contradiction" position which Endnotes seems to get partially out of Postone, so he might be for something...).

Call me crazy but what I want from the land of sects (or philologist-land for that matter) is world-historical-pronouncements that are clear and usable enough to be appropriated by those outside either sect-world OR Marx-philologists world (and without the need for hand-holding or tea-leaf sort by either group). After all, we, well some of us, are aiming for a world-scale self-empowered community (world-scale power of councils or whatever). And relying on the pronouncement or "calculations" of either sects or philologists clearly won't cut-it for achieving this.

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May 24 2011 21:33
Noa Rodman wrote:
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You were the one making the general claim that value-form theorists make claims for Marx that Marx doesn't make. You still haven't demonstrated that.

I didn't make that claim here. My comment was that Heinrich self-admittedly states that he departs from Marx, as I 'demonstrated' on the question of money.

But he's clearly making the point that Marx IS evidently wrong that money cannot take the form of a fiat currency but that it doesn't matter because Marx is correct with regards to his monetary theory of value.

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May 24 2011 23:56

Heinrich claims not only inconsistency, but also the stronger claim that Marx was wrong:

Heinrich wrote:
But there is also a conceptual problem, which is not rooted in the shift to a “more popular form” and this is my second point: the money commodity.

George, 'it doesn't matter' in the sense that Heinrich believes a Wicksell is compatible with a Marx.

Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 08:10

Your post is a complete non sequitur. George already stated that Heinrich argues that Marx was wrong about a money commodity.

The claim of inconsistency by Heinrich has to do with something else entirely, the co-existence namely of a classical Ricardian embodied labour theory of value alongside Marx's value theory. Two separate issues.

The "it doesn't matter" by George relates to the fact that Heinrich states that Marx's theory of money and value is correct, but that in the case of the money-commodity, Marx mistakes a historical phenomenon in a specific capitalist society for a characteristic of all capitalisms.

BTW, unless you're engaged in theology, there's really no disputing that Heinrich is correct, unless empirical reality means absolutely nothing to you. Really existing capitalism has been doing just fine without a money commodity for about 40 years now.

The real controversy, I suppose, arises from whether or not one thinks that Marx's entire analysis hinges upon the existence of a money-commodity. Those who think it doesn't are saying that Marx was basically correct about everything else, and his mistake concerning the money-commodity is a minor detail. You, on the other hand, seem to think Marx is somehow discredited if this detail is wrong.

Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 08:14

P.S. Ingo Stützle's key essay on this controversy (in German only, sorry):

"The Question as to the Constitutive Relevance of the Money Commodity in Marx's Critique of Political Economy""

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May 25 2011 11:09

Could some of our German-reading comrades with familiarity with the material possibly clarify what the distinction is between the Neue Marx-Lektüre and Value Form school. Certain names (e.g. Backhaus, Heinrich?) seem to be mentioned under both topics, but it's not clear what the cross-over or differences are.

Sean68
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May 25 2011 13:09

What makes me despair about the libcom/trot/marxist milieu is this catch all categorisation of 'the proletariat' as the identical subject/object with a distinct and defined telos. Whatever criticisms people might have of him, one important contribution Moishe Postone's Time, Labour and Social Domination is that he blows this Lukacian dogma out of the water. The religious like worship a lot of people round here place upon 'the proletariat' is pathetic, - and at worst, it leads to totalitarian solutions.

There are one or two useful contributions to be made on the issue of labour time, value and the fetish, see the links below. Unfortunately, I have been seriously searching places like Libcom in vain for anything that attempts to come to terms with the new reality of the collapse of labour as mediating subject and I suspect I shouldn't hold my breath for anything useful to appear any time soon.

http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=949

http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=954

http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=957

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May 25 2011 14:59

i don't think many people here have a religious like view of the proletarian as teleological....

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May 25 2011 15:08
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BTW, unless you're engaged in theology, there's really no disputing that Heinrich is correct, unless empirical reality means absolutely nothing to you.

So you're no longer agnostic?

Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 15:49
Noa Rodman wrote:
So you're no longer agnostic?

I'm agnostic regarding the question of how important it is to Marx's theory. I'm completely unambiguous on the question of whether capitalism has existed for the past 40 years.

Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 15:54
ocelot wrote:
Could some of our German-reading comrades with familiarity with the material possibly clarify what the distinction is between the Neue Marx-Lektüre and Value Form school.

NML is the specifically German manifestation, "Value form" is the broader term that I guess encompasses Anglophones like Chris Arthur, Moishe Postone, Geert Reuten, Tony Smith, Robert Albritton, etc.

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Certain names (e.g. Backhaus, Heinrich?) seem to be mentioned under both topics, but it's not clear what the cross-over or differences are.

Individual theorists vary from each other, though I wouldn't say there are homogenous political camps with stringent lines. All these guys tend to disagree with each other on certain specifics, whle sharing a certain focus or orientation.

Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 19:15
Sean68 wrote:
Whatever criticisms people might have of him, one important contribution Moishe Postone's Time, Labour and Social Domination is that he blows this Lukacian dogma out of the water.

Yeah but honestly, Herbert Marcuse and Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs were revoking the proletariat's title of revolutionary subject as far back as the early 1960s. Stefan Breuer and Wolfgang Pohrt both did so explicitly using the language of value-theory back in the mid-1970s (and also making great use of the "real subsumption" terminology that Bordigists and Operaists are also so fond of, but drawing entirely negative conclusions).

Postone's main contribution is far more ambiguous and less impressive than you think. He makes some claims regarding how the category of "abstract labour" in Marx's critique should be understood. The jury of other Marx philologists is still out concerning whether or not his claims are entirely correct. In any case, it's not the mind-blowing, epoch-making, paradigm-shattering work you think it is.

I think it's good that you guys think other people should read Postone. I think I'd like your project better if you'd acknowledge that others have done and said similar things, if not the same things, as Postone before he himself did and that those people should be read too. Postone's merit is in tying together some previously existing threads of discussion for an English-speaking Marxist audience, and making a few claims of his own that are far more modest than his epigones would care to admit.

Rum Lad
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May 25 2011 16:34
Angelus Novus wrote:
Postone's merit is in tying together some previously existing threads of discussion for an English-speaking Marxist audience, and making a few claims of his own that are far more modest than his epigones would care to admit.

Quite ironic then that it would be the writings of Principia Dialectica that put me off the work of Postone for so long. I was suprised when I recently read 'Critique and Historical Transformation' that he was not the wayward fantasist/crank I thought he would be. I've only read that essay and I found it quite interesting albeit hardly revelatory.

Angelus Novus
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May 25 2011 17:34
Rum Lad wrote:
Quite ironic then that it would be the writings of Principia Dialectica that put me off the work of Postone for so long. I was suprised when I recently read 'Critique and Historical Transformation' that he was not the wayward fantasist/crank I thought he would be. I've only read that essay and I found it quite interesting albeit hardly revelatory.

Good point, hope PD takes it to heart.

Postone is a modestly respectable academic Marx philologist. However, in Germany various political sects revere him because of some interventionist texts he wrote in the 70s and 80s concerning anti-Semitism and then German nationalism. These sects (Anti-Germans in Freiburg and Berlin, "Wertkritiker" in Nuremberg) tried to claim Postone as part of some overarching worldview(s). PD's reception of Postone is filtered through this German reception, so a sort of doubly-mediated Postone reception. That explains PD's attempts to build him up into a sort of guru, basically.

P.S. I don't use the term "sect" in a pejorative sense, but in the neutral sense employed by Hal Draper for basically a small agitational or propaganda group cut off from a mass movement.

Sean68
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May 25 2011 19:42

Oh Rum Lad, you really are a card! When was the last time the 'solidarity federation' dipped their toe in the heady waters of political economy and said anything of any use other than 'down wiv the bourgeoisie boss class' etc etc, pray tell!?
You're a deconstructed trot, pal. Admit it. At least the SWP are well organised enough to have a big enough gene pool to distribute their stomach churning nob cheese, a little bit above the level of having a whip round to fund the next party barrel of McEwans Extra Strength

Admin warning: no flaming, no trolling, read the posting guidelines.

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May 25 2011 19:48
Angelus wrote:
BTW, unless you're engaged in theology, there's really no disputing that Heinrich is correct, unless empirical reality means absolutely nothing to you. Really existing capitalism has been doing just fine without a money commodity for about 40 years now.

Could you expand on this? The way I understand max's argument is something just has to be the independent form of value and whatever "material" this form takes is completely immaterial.

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May 25 2011 20:01

oh yeah remember Rum Lad, you can't have a political position if you don't engage in mind-boggingly boring marxist 'philology' (if the bible is anything to go by, this philologizing is set to last a very long time) and the heady waters [sic lulz!] of political economy!

Jesus christ Sean68, debate your philology by all means, but don't reduce it to snide remarks, calling people 'deconstructed trots' (what ever that is?, a Trotskite who reads Derrida? I dunno) and hitting out at Solfed. I don't think Solfed have ever claimed to be Postonistas of the sit around in the university cafeteria doing so called 'political economy' sort. don't get so irate and start slagging off organizations just because a few people don't like the work you produce on your little blogoscule.

Sean68
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May 25 2011 21:09

'I don't think Solfed have ever claimed to be Postonistas of the sit around in the university cafeteria doing so called 'political economy'

But seriously. Can someone please point me to any organisation associated with Libcom that 'does' political economy? Anyone out there who has had an original thought lately? I'm not trying to be funny, genuinely intrigued to see what I might have missed

Rum Lad
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May 25 2011 21:48
Sean68 wrote:
'I don't think Solfed have ever claimed to be Postonistas of the sit around in the university cafeteria doing so called 'political economy'

But seriously. Can someone please point me to any organisation associated with Libcom that 'does' political economy? Anyone out there who has had an original thought lately? I'm not trying to be funny, genuinely intrigued to see what I might have missed

I wasn't criticising your group as a card-carrying member of SolFed, that would be the most petty kind of partisanship. I was criticising your group as someone who is a keen student of Marx and interested in the associated literature. I'm undecided as to whether I agree with Postone that Capital is the subject as I don't feel like I'm familiar enough with all the various materials to make that decision. Yet the kind of sniping you exhibit illustrates exactly why I feel hostile to your organisation. I can't think of anything more Trottish than strict adherence to a position whilst denegrating all those that don't hold that position. Luckily, you're irrelevant.

Sean68
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May 25 2011 21:58

But you aren't answering my question, Rum Lad. Who, or what, has attempted to develop a critique of political economy that can seriously punch some weight? Anything short of that is really political paedophelia: drawing angry young people into decrepid and irrelevant organisations, burning them out on high-octane radical moralism -- possibly with the kudos of a criminal record for smashing up a Mcdonalds window on an anti-capitalist demonstrashun, then leaving them to whistle in the wind. Didn't someone once say you can't fight alienation with alienated means?

But vacuous moralising seems to be the main purpose of forums like Libcom. Again, I am not saying this just to be nasty: its just I really can't see the point -- maybe it functions as some use as an archive of historical documents from battles long since past, and now irrelevant -- but I wait upon words from the wise to put me right

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May 25 2011 22:10

Sean perhaps, rather than derail this thread, you should start a new thread with a clear title so some Solfed members can answer your 'genuine not being nasty intrigue'?