Fictitious Capital For Beginners: Imperialism, 'Anti-Imperialism', and the Continuing Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg

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sphinx
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Aug 27 2007 05:21
Fictitious Capital For Beginners: Imperialism, 'Anti-Imperialism', and the Continuing Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg
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Fictitious Capital For Beginners: Imperialism, 'Anti-Imperialism', and the Continuing Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg Editorial content | Articles

By Loren Goldner

The liquidity crisis currently wiping billions off global stock markets is just the tip of a very big iceberg. Beneath the credit crunch and incipient insolvency crisis lie the economic and political crisis of the USA’s global reign, claims Loren Goldner. But will this mean global depression, wars and intensified authoritarianism, or a renewed opportunity for communism? Goldner returns to the theories of Marx and Luxemburg to examine today's financial and military imperialism, and its left wing ‘anti-imperialist’ mirror

In February of this year the Chinese stock market, which had long been suspected of being in a runaway bubble phase, took a plunge. In the following days that tremor was felt in stock markets around the world. China in recent months has reached the ‘shoe shine boy’ phase of popular stock speculation (a major American investor famously decided to get out of the stock market just before the 1929 crash when a shoeshine boy gave him advice on stocks), and after the (not so welcome) correction, the Chinese market resumed its upward rush to new highs, followed with relief by investors everywhere.

With the slightest historical perspective, we can see that the world shock set off by such a hiccup in a still relatively small market (in terms of what savvy people call ‘total market capitalisation’) is something quite new, unthinkable only a few years ago. China’s stock market can have such an impact because people are aware that any pause, not to say downturn in the country’s economic boom (averaging over 10 percent GDP growth for years on end, whereas Britain in its 19th century heyday was considered quite impressive at 3 or 4 percent) could bring the contemporary worldwide financial euphoria to an end. Increasingly insiders and pundits talk openly of the ‘when, not if’ of a global downturn, or even (for some) cataclysm.

http://www.metamute.org/en/Fictitious-Capital-For-Beginners

Haven't finished reading this just yet but it seems to be at least as good as the interview Goldner did with KPFK awhile back.

Mike Harman
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Aug 27 2007 06:48

Pretty good. I'm not totally sure about the fictitious capital stuff (it makes sense here, less so in Fictitious Capital and the Transition to Communism), but Goldner's emphasis on trying to analyse the concrete processes going on marks him out quite significantly from a lot of others. You got a link to the KPFK interview?

si
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Aug 27 2007 07:24

I already read this a few days ago. It's really solid, and convincing to this layperson - it makes me realise (once again) how important it is for me to study, at some point, (critique of) political economy... got to get this fucking degree out the way first though.

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Aug 27 2007 08:17

Loren Goldner on Bonnie Faulkner's KPFA (broadcast in Berkeley; interview by phone with Loren in Seoul, South Korea) show called "Guns and Butter" on Wednesday, April 4, 2007:

http://kpfa.org/archives/index.php?arch=19534

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Aug 27 2007 08:41

Interesting. I've just been looking at Goldner's original articles on fictitious capital and they contain much that is relevant to today's debt-fuelled economy. His willingness to take Rosa Luxemburg seriously can only be welcomed. I will come back to this when I have time to look at the new text.

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Aug 28 2007 12:02

A stimulating article. Takes the discussion about the economic crisis back to where it should be located after all the distortions of Marx served up by the various forms of 'autonomism', for whom any analysis of the inner contradictions of the system is a form of 'objectivism'. Marx spent all the energy he did on examining these contradictions because he wanted to show that capitalism, like previous modes of production, had objective limits, that it was not an eternal system.

Luxemburg continued this approach and her work has been shamefully sidelined for a very long time. Thus I welcome Loren's attempt to investigate how her analysis helps us to understand the crisis of the system today. When Luxemburg wrote The Accumulation of Capital, she recognised that although capitalism had still a long way to go before it had eliminated all the non-capitalist forms of economy on which its expansion paradoxically depended, in terms of value these markets had shrunk to the point where the capitalist world economy was entering into a period of catastrophe (a diagnosis fully confirmed by the events of the 20th century).

It is still important, as Loren tries to do, to look at how non-capitalist markets and sources of wealth contined to function for capitalism in this period, particularly in the phase after 1945. But it is even more decisive to understand the role played by various means of keeping the system going through 'artificial' means - above all state manipulation of the economy and the massive recourse to debt, to fictitious capital. So here again Loren's posing of the question of fictitious capital - already recognised by the Communist International in its analysis of the war economy which imperialism had engendered during the first world war - is central to understanding why the system has not already collapsed.

However, as I understand it, Loren has shifted emphasis away from the central preoccupation of Luxemburg's work - the problem of realisation, the inability of capital to find a market for all the value it produces within the spheres of capital and labour - towards the other main contradiction of the system, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. This seem to be the reason why he stresses the role of 'loot' in capital's relationship with the non-capitalist world. Looting certainly played a key role in its earliest phases (the period which I think is more accurately defined as that of primitive accumulation), and looting does help to compensate for declining profits, but it doesn't resolve the problem of realisation, which requires not just capital's ability to steal labour power and natural resources, but to locate new sources of effective demand, buyers outside the confines of the capital-labour relationship. Of course the very process of extending the market in this way tends to integrate these 'third buyers' into the capital-labour relationship, which ultimately restricts capital's ability to expand and intensifies the spiral of catastrophe.

I largely agree with the political conclusions Loren draws from his analysis - the crisis accelerates the tendency towars barbarism and war, and 'anti-imperialism' is part of the problem, not part of the solution, since it leads to the defence of the USA's imperialist rivals.

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Aug 28 2007 17:10

I'm going to have to go against the grain and say I don't think this article makes much sense.

Firstly, Goldner's concept of primitive accumulation is all-inclusive and includes a lot of different concepts in one term, which easily leads to confusion. He basically admits this in footnote 2, but he seems to think that you could invent a new term and that would solve the problem. But the problem would be reproduced, since he would still be including many different concepts in one term.

In any case, the definition itself is so vague as to be useless. Goldner defines "primitive accumulation" as "accumulation that violates the capitalist 'law of value', i.e. non-exchange of equivalents" (pg. 4). This is so broad that it would have to include (nearly) all exchange in capitalism, since exchange generally does not take place at values but at market prices which deviate from the relative values of commodities. The utility of such a vague and all-inclusive category is entirely unclear.

Goldner seems not to realize that this concept would necessarily include all exchange, and he speaks of typical examples of primitive accumulation as the draining of labor-power from the third world to the first world, the looting of the natural environment, the non-replacement of plant and infrastructure, and the payment of non-reproductive wages for workers. What is strange is that he chooses as examples some of the very few things which do not fall under his definition of "primitive accumulation".

The draining of labor-power from the third world to the first world does not at all "violate the capitalist 'law of value'" so long as the capitalists in the first world pay enough to reproduce the labor-power of the third world worker at the socially defined rate in the country in question. Whether or not this occurs probably varies according to industry, nation, and chance, but the issue of whether or not this exchange violates the law of value has no direct relation to where the labor-power comes from.

I am not saying that the transfer of labor-power from the third world to the first world is inconsequential, but to try to call this "primitive accumulation" with its connotations of cheating, etc., is a bad way to describe this phenomenon. It seems to me much simpler. In general a large portion of well-educated third world labor-power will not be able to find work in its home-country, or when it does wages will be relatively low because the socially defined standard of living in its home country is relatively low compared to the first world nations. Hence the value of labor-power is lower in the third world than in the first world. Laborers thus move, when they can, to a better market for their commodity (labor-power). No talk of "primitive accumulation" is necessary, only the theory of wages and the differences between wage levels in advanced and underdeveloped nations.

Goldner's next example, "the looting of the natural environment", cannot be a violation of the law of value since no exchange is even conceivable. Nature is not a commodity-owner that capitalists steal from. It is simply there, and one can take from it free of charge. Whether or not capital's treatment of the environment is agreeable or not has nothing whatsoever to do with a violation of the law of value, since the law of value of necessity cannot apply to things that are not commodities.

As for "non-replacement of plant and infrastructure", this again is not an issue of the law of value. If a capitalist has enough profit to accumulate, and foresees the ability to make at least the average rate of profit in his/her industry in the future, s/he will reinvest and thus replace plant and infrastructure. If s/he doesn't, s/he won't. This has nothing to do with exchange per se, let alone the non-exchange of equivalents. It's no violation of the capitalist law of value that plant and infrastructure are frequently not replaced, it is a part of its normal operation.

The last example of worker's being paid non-reproductive wages does seem to be an issue of non-exchange of equivalents. But reducing it to non-exchange of equivalents seems to me to greatly limit our understanding of what is going on when wages are driven down below the customary cost of reproduction. The value of labor-power is not a fixed magnitude but is determined by historical circumstances, particularly class struggle. It is the cost of reproducing the worker as a particular sort of human being -- and what is considered the normal human being changes over time. What has been occurring for the last 30 or so years is a (successful) attempt to lower the socially defined standard of living and thus the wage that is considered acceptable. So it's not that worker's are being paid a less-than-fair wage, it's that the fair, average wage itself is being redefined at a lower level due to continuous working class defeats.

I'll post more in a little bit. These points don't address the main thrust of Loren's article, which I will get to later.

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Aug 29 2007 08:29

I tend to agree with a lot of these criticisms of Loren's use of the concept of primitive accumulation. It's not my understanding that Rosa used this term to describe the expansion of capital over the planet during the imperialist phase (ie from the last third of the 19th century on).
It's true as Loren points out that Preobrazhinsky talked about primitive socialist accumulation in the USSR in the 20s. Loren seems to interpret this as a code for the primitive accumulation of capital. But while there is no doubt that the industrialisation of the USSR under Stalin made copious use of peasant labour power and even to some extent of peasant markets, this process had the characteristics of accumulation in capitalism's decadent stage: state manipulation of the law of value and the frenzied development of a war economy. I would argue along similar lines about the development of China today: despite some apparent similarities to the early phase of capitalist industrialisation, this is a classic expression of what Marx in the Grundrisse calls "growth as decay".

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Aug 31 2007 13:55

I must read more about primitive accumulation but I tend to agree with the criticisms of Loren's description of it as a permanent feature of decadent capitalism and a cover all for every aspect of imperialist barbarism, of capitalism in decline. I don't know how primitive accumulation fits in with the development of state capitalism and extended credit which seem to be the main weapons of the bourgeoisie in staying the collapse of capitalism, in fact I don't think it is helpful to call it this.
I agree with Loren's support for Rosa against Lenin over the question of imperialism and Loren defends the analysis well in this very welcome text. The turn of last century showed that the major problem for capitalism was the restricted market and the first world war was the expression of this . That has remained the fundamental problem of capitalism and one that debt and credit can only temporarily "solve".

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Aug 31 2007 14:28

Michael Perelman's "The Invention of Capitalism" is focused on making the case that primitive accumulation is a permanent feature of capitalism.

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Aug 31 2007 14:51
si wrote:
I already read this a few days ago. It's really solid, and convincing to this layperson - it makes me realise (once again) how important it is for me to study, at some point, (critique of) political economy... got to get this fucking degree out the way first though.

Easier just to drop out. All the cool kids are doing it. Leaves you time to learn what actually interests you, rather than what's pushed down your throat, as long as you don't take too heady a job.

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Aug 31 2007 17:15

Hmm,

Quote:
It is still important, as Loren tries to do, to look at how non-capitalist markets and sources of wealth contined to function for capitalism in this period, particularly in the phase after 1945.

It seems to me that China has only functioned to prop up present capitalism once its labor markets were made available to the capitalists. China did not have "loot" ready to be taken by capitalists. Rather, it had cheap labor which allowed the whole of capitalist production to expand. This has a somewhat similar result, since either way opening China provided capital with more time and profitability but the dynamics seem different.

As for markets, the United States seems to be the primary locus of demand for surplus goods. This nation finances its demand on credit and this seems to explain the willingness of the rest of world's central banks to continue financing its various bubbles.

Red

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Aug 31 2007 18:10
baboon wrote:
I must read more about primitive accumulation but I tend to agree with the criticisms of Loren's description of it as a permanent feature of decadent capitalism and a cover all for every aspect of imperialist barbarism, of capitalism in decline.

This is a complete obfuscation. If primitive accumulation was essential to the birth of capitalism, and it's early development, and has continued to be a permanent feature up to now, then we can say it's simply a permanent feature of capitalism. Whether it's "ascendant" or "descendant" or not is beside the point. To indicate any link at all, you'd have to show that there was a signficant quantitative and qualitative change primitive accumulation which could be described as a feature of "decadence" or "ascendance".

If anything, this article, or at least redhughs reading of it (i.e. that the over valuation of assets isn't new), suggests more that nothing has changed - that capital has simply continued to respond to the same contradictions and crises that have been present since it's inception.

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Aug 31 2007 18:20
MJ wrote:
Michael Perelman's "The Invention of Capitalism" is focused on making the case that primitive accumulation is a permanent feature of capitalism.

Michael Perelman's case for primitive accumulation as a "permanent feature of capitalism" is basically that state violence continues to exist past capitalism's birth.

This is no evidence for his point, since it's based on a complete misunderstanding of what "primitive accumulation" means in Marx's work. (re)Read the opening page to the part of Capital Vol. 1 on primitive accumulation. The whole question of primitive accumulation arises because Marx has already explained how surplus-value (the basis of profit) is produced once constant and variable capital are advanced. He also explains how this surplus-value which is produced is accumulated as more capital, which then produces more surplus-value, which is then accumulated, and so forth.

The question naturally arises as to how this process got started, since surplus-value seems to presuppose capital and capital seems to presuppose surplus-value. The answer is that original capital investments cannot have arisen out of the capitalist mode of production itself (because it did not yet exist), and through historical investigation Marx says that they were generated through various types of theft and conquest. Furthermore, in order for variable capital to purchase labor-power, labor-power had to be made free labor-power.

So that's it. "Primitive accumulation" is not synonymous with violence nor even state violence (although it of course was a violent process), nor even with dispossession since capital itself produces dispossession through the process of accumulation (one of the most fundamental points of Capital). To try to prove the existence of primitive accumulation by pointing to violence or imperialism is wrongheaded from the getgo.

This is not to deny that primitive accumulation could conceivably take place in certain areas of the world today. But it does seem unlikely to me for the most part. First of all, investment that takes place within certain areas that have not previously seen capital accumulation does not arise from those areas themselves, but rather from capitalist nations who invest in new nations. So the invested capital is accumulated surplus-value/profit rather than the initial wealth needed to create surplus-value/profit. It arose from capitalism itself rather than from non-capitalist modes of production. And secondly, even when labor is dispossessed this is frequently the result of capital's cheap products dispossessing independent manufacturers (probably agricultural laborers most often), who are then forced to enter into waged-laborer. Sometimes land is simply stolen by the state, and I suppose you can say this is something like "primitive accumulation", but it is nevertheless distinct, as the land is stolen not by a capitalism that is being birthed out of an earlier mode of production, but by an expanding capitalist state.

Mike

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Aug 31 2007 18:31

I agree with mikus here. Conflating primitive accumulation with the gigantic state-controlled programmes of Stalinism or today's China is not only ignoring the question of quantity vs quality, but also simply examining the surface appearance of the phenomenon. I think this strikes at the root of some forms of anarchism that tend to see things in universal, abstract terms rather than examining capitalism as a distinct mode of production.

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Aug 31 2007 19:57
Demogorgon303 wrote:
I think this strikes at the root of some forms of anarchism that tend to see things in universal, abstract terms rather than examining capitalism as a distinct mode of production.

Are you saying Perelman is an anarchist, or are you just using "anarchist" as a general pejorative?

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Aug 31 2007 21:34
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And secondly, even when labor is dispossessed this is frequently the result of capital's cheap products dispossessing independent manufacturers (probably agricultural laborers most often), who are then forced to enter into waged-laborer. Sometimes land is simply stolen by the state, and I suppose you can say this is something like "primitive accumulation", but it is nevertheless distinct, as the land is stolen not by a capitalism that is being birthed out of an earlier mode of production, but by an expanding capitalist state.

Well the massive scale forced evictions from famrs in China (mainly for construction I think) is creating a whole new lot of (homeless) wage labourers whilst simultaneously grabbing land. I really don't see a big difference between this and the enclosures based on that, although the information from China about the details of what's happening is quite slim.

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Aug 31 2007 21:40

The primitive accumulation that Marx described, as Mikus explained, took place in an epoch when feudal social relations were still dominant in Europe, albeit in a profound state of decay. China prior to the current 'boom' was not a pre-capitalist economy, but one dominated by capital. It's a huge difference. It seems to me Catch that you are arguing yourself into a completely static view of social reality.

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Aug 31 2007 22:29

And a cigar pre-1914 is incomparable to a cigar post-1914, capital being the sole ordering force of reality in a capitalist world.

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Aug 31 2007 23:41
MJ wrote:
And a cigar pre-1914 is incomparable to a cigar post-1914, capital being the sole ordering force of reality in a capitalist world.

I'm not sure what you're insinuating here, but comparing the concept of primitive accumulation to a cigar seems like a weak argument.

Furthermore, you haven't really defended yourself here but are just taking potshots. This is not very helpful.

More on Goldner and Luxemburg in a little bit.

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Aug 31 2007 23:49

Why do I need to "defend [my]self"?

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Aug 31 2007 23:50

BTW the ultimate meaning of something that happens shouldn't be defined in terms of something that happens after it.

mikus
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Sep 1 2007 00:01

You're right, you don't need to defend yourself. I mistakenly remembered you making some sort of argument about primitive accumulation. (Perhaps that's how I read your mention of Michael Perelman. Perhaps you brough his book up at random.) Then I have to ask: what are you trying to say in your posts?

"BTW the ultimate meaning of something that happens shouldn't be defined in terms of something that happens after it."

I don't know what you're insinuating here either. No one has claimed (as far as I know) that the "ultimate meaning" of the events referred to as "primitive accumulation" (dispossession of the peasantry, colonialism, the looting of gold and silver, etc.) have their "ultimate meaning" in something that occurred later (capitalism). There is no need for making a metaphysical claim of that sort. ("Ultimate meaning"? I am not a philosopher.) Certainly one of the functions of those activities was the (primitive) accumulation of capital. Maybe those historical events had other meanings too. In fact I'm sure they did. Namely the destruction of other cultures, the birth of new ethnicities, racism, etc. I don't see what any of this has to do with the claim about "primitive accumulation." The claim that these historical events served as a mechanism for the (primitive) accumulation of capital says absolutely nothing about any other potential meanings or functions of those events. One would have to make an additional proposition in that direction, which far as I know, no one did. (I know I didn't, and I know I wouldn't, since I don't believe anything of the sort.)

Think of it like this. You work a lot this month. You save a little extra money. A family member out of the country dies. You fly out of the country to the funeral.

You wouldn't have been able to go to the funeral if you had not saved the extra money. You later say: "The extra money I saved allowed me to fly out of the country."

No claim about "ultimate meaning" is made, nor is such a claim implied.

The same is the case with "primitive accumulation." Such activities did not necessarily end up in capitalism. (Just like no saving of extra money necessarily ended up in you flying out of the country.) They were necessary preconditions of it, however. (Just as you wouldn't have been able to fly out of the country if you had not saved up extra money.)

(By the way, Marx makes this distinction in a letter on Mikhailovsky, I believe, where he mentions that there have been other historical situations that were similar to the ones in Europe in the 16th-17th centuries, yet did not end up in the development in capitalism.)

Mike

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Sep 1 2007 02:00

Okay, more on Goldner's article.

I think there is a certain lack of seriousness with how he deals with both Luxemburg and Marx. The problems with his take on "primitive accumulation" were already discussed (although there are other problems in his treatment of Marx), so I'll move on to the problems with how he treats Luxemburg.

Loren makes a number of claims like the following:

1. "In her Accumulation of Capital (1913), a work much more grounded in Marx's problematic than Lenin's pamphlet, Luxemburg argued that imperialism expressed the continuing presence of what Marx had called 'primitive accumulation', a certain increment of 'loot' which capitalism required to compensate for a disequilibrium internally generated by its dynamic." (pg. 2)

2. "I have minor differences with Luxemburg..." (pg. 3)

3. "Whatever [Luxemburg's] minor flaws... she was absolutely right about the permanence of primitive acccumulation... in capitalism." (pg. 4)

4. "Thus I would 'correct' Luxemburg to the extent that the external relations of the 'pure system' are not so much about the sale of a surplus product on the model of the sale of industrial goods to independent farmers or peasants... as the more important circulation of an ever increasing fictitious bubble (fictitious capital) through international loans in exchange for whatever loot can be acquired from petty producers' labour power or from nature." (pg. 9)

5. "In her survey of the rise and fall of classical political economy from the Physiocrats to the Ricardian school, she points out that only a socialist (i.e. Marx) could solve the problem of the source of profit and of expanded reproduction." (pg. 7)

Throughout these passages Goldner acts as if his understanding of the main difficulty of accumulation (summarized in the 4th passage quoted) were merely a "minor difference" with Luxemburg. I think this is an extreme understatement. The vast majority of Luxemburg's book is devoted to an analysis of the sources of effective demand required for the expanded accumulation of capital. Her argument is that capitalism cannot itself generate this effective demand, but it comes through the transformation of non-commodity-producing countries into commodity-producing ones, and the transformation of commodity-producing countries into capitalist ones, so that the effective demand for the commodities produced by the capitalist world comes from outside of capitalism itself. The central problem discussed throughought the whole book is effective demand.

Goldner, on the other hand, focuses on the declining rate of profit and the difficulties of supplying all the claims on surplus-value. (What Goldner calls "fictitious capital.")

These are entirely different theories. There is no relation whatsoever between them, except for a certain attention to international loans. But international loans aren't even discussed by Luxemburg until around the 400th page of her book, appropriatedly entitled "International Loans". (The book, is about 450 pages long, mind you.) International loans are hardly the subject-matter of Luxemburg's book. The main subject-matter is the root cause of capital's tendency towards crisis, war and imperialism. Her explanation of this root cause is entirely different from Goldner's. To glance over the first 400 pages of Luxemburg's book and to treat the last 50 pages as the real subject-matter is absurd.

Furthermore, Luxemburg never claims that "primitive accumulation" is a permanent feature of capitalism. She is fairly clear that "primitive accumulation" is confined to the birth of capitalism out of the feudal mode of production. It is a bizarre and enduring myth that Luxemburg was one of those people who used the term "primitive accumulation" as a synonym for all forms of violence in capitalism. I'm not sure how this myth came about but there is no doubt that there is no basis for it in Luxemburg's own work. It is annoying to see this myth perpetuated in supposedly Luxemburgian text such as Goldner's.

And lastly, regarding the 5th quote above. Goldner completely misses Luxemburg's point here. Luxemburg does not claim that "only a socialist (i.e. Marx) could solve the problem of the source of profit and of expanded reproduction." In fact, Luxemburg's entire work is a criticism of what she takes to be the limits of Marx's analysis of expanded reproduction at the end of Vol. 2 of Capital. She admits that Marx posed the question correctly (although I don't think she claimed that he was the first to do so, since she was also fairly fond of Sismondi and several other political economists who discussed the issue of effective demand -- but I may be wrong here), but her solution of the problem is not Marx's and she is completely honest about this. Goldner has reversed Luxemburg's whole point -- for Luxemburg, Marx did not "solve the problem of the source of profit and of expanded reproduction".

Mike

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Sep 1 2007 02:10

Yeah I'm not completely sold on Perelman's argument, I was responding directly to baboon saying "I must read more about primitive accumulation".

I do think there are interesting comparisons to make between the "primitive accumulation" that enabled the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat, the ongoing "accumulation that violates the capitalist ‘law of value’, i.e. non-exchange of equivalents" (Goldner's formulation) that exists alongside regular capitalist accumulation in the form of "housework" etc even during the supposed golden age of capitalism (by anyone's chronology), and some important processes that are happening now. If there are points of comparison should these all be termed "primitive accumulation"? I don't really care. But

Quote:
"Primitive accumulation" is not synonymous with violence nor even state violence (although it of course was a violent process),

This isn't what Perelman (etc) are saying, at least not how I read it. It isn't about the presence of "violence". I think they would say that most labor in a capitalist society performed in exchange for something other than a wage would be "primitive accumulation" whether or not "violence" is present.

Quote:
nor even with dispossession since capital itself produces dispossession through the process of accumulation (one of the most fundamental points of Capital).

I don't think anyone is saying it's simply about "dispossession".

If this thread continues I'd like to participate in it much more thoroughly, and while not half drunk and sorting my laundry. But I'm leaving in the morning for a weeklong job, where I probably won't have internet access. Bad timing -- don't think I'm withdrawing from the conversation.

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Sep 1 2007 02:30
MJ wrote:
mikus wrote:
"Primitive accumulation" is not synonymous with violence nor even state violence (although it of course was a violent process),

This isn't what Perelman (etc) are saying, at least not how I read it. It isn't about the presence of "violence". I think they would say that most labor in a capitalist society performed in exchange for something other than a wage would be "primitive accumulation" whether or not "violence" is present.

You are right, what I said was wrong. It's been a long time since I read Perelman's book. I don't think it changes my main point however. The existence of unfree labor during capitalism is irrelevant, given the definition of primitive accumulation I have advanced. (The concept was not invented by Marx, by the way. The phrase is specific to Marx but the concept was taken from Adam Smith and it was addressed by other classical political economists as well. Marx discusses Wakefield's take on primitive accumulation in the last chapter of Capital, for example. So I do think it is unnecessarily confusing to speak of primitive accumulation in a different sense than in which it was always meant.)

Quote:
Quote:
nor even with dispossession since capital itself produces dispossession through the process of accumulation (one of the most fundamental points of Capital).

I don't think anyone is saying it's simply about "dispossession".

Interesting. My impression is that this is how many people take it. I'll have to think about this a little more before I cite some specific examples. But the whole academic obsession with the so-called "enclosures" and its general association with "primitive accumulation" seems to be a good example of the conflation of primitive accumulation with dispossession. Werner Bonefeld, for example, seems to equate dispossession with primitive accumulation in some of his articles. Or at least he seems to think that dispossession is the main characteristic of primitive accumulation, even if he doesn't define primitive accumulation as dispossession.

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Sep 1 2007 07:59
mikus wrote:
Interesting. My impression is that this is how many people take it. I'll have to think about this a little more before I cite some specific examples. But the whole academic obsession with the so-called "enclosures" and its general association with "primitive accumulation" seems to be a good example of the conflation of primitive accumulation with dispossession. Werner Bonefeld, for example, seems to equate dispossession with primitive accumulation in some of his articles. Or at least he seems to think that dispossession is the main characteristic of primitive accumulation, even if he doesn't define primitive accumulation as dispossession.

the 'permanance of primitive accumulation' thesis seems to parallel the 'commonism' of nick dyer-witheford, massimo de angelis et al who pose struggle as the defence of commons against capital's permanent enclosures (iirc they see privatisation as enclosure, as if the state is outside of capital). i don't think that crowd references luxemburg at all though, they're more arguing out of the practice of the 'movement of movements' (disclaimer, i've only read a few of the essays on the commoner site, not de angelis' book).

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MJ
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Sep 1 2007 12:16
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(iirc they see privatisation as enclosure, as if the state is outside of capital)

I don't think you recall this correctly at all -- most Commoner contributors definitely think the state is part of capital (their ideological roots are with Midnight Notes and with Bonefeld's side of the state derivation debate), and capable of enclosure. What a bizarre recollection.

They do complain about "privatization," but at this point in history, "privatization" is a transition that is often imposed by capital in order to create an opportunity for further commodification (and, in the case of privatizing industries, reconfigurations of the labor process in anticipation of speedup). Would you favor allowing such attacks on the basis that the state happens also to be part of capital?

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Sep 1 2007 13:17

I don't think "primitive accumulation" helps the point that Goldner wants to make. I don't think that as an explanation it describes capitalism's "looting". Self-cannibilsation, the feature of decadent capitalism, doesn't equate to primitive accumulation. The Third Reich's slogan of 'Export or Die' could only be at the expense of rivals and ultimately of capitalism overall, demonstrating the increasing irrationality of imperialism.
I am not sure also, but it's not impossible, that a new pole of accumulation could be posed around an Asian "bloc".Goldner's equasion of a possible Asian bloc taking over from the US, with the US takeover from Britain during the 1900s, is stretching possibilities too far. US imperialist domination over Britain was predicated on two world wars and the important fact that US soil was never invaded or attacked (except for Pearl Harbour - and there the attackers were invited in by the US administration). But I do agree with Goldner that the perspective for the US economy is that that befell Russian imperialism in the 80s and for exactly the same fundamental reasons - given, of course, the specificities of both regimes. Russia didn't collapse by dint of primitive accumulation, but because of its inability to compete on a saturated world market and it held its position as a military bloc only by means of its military domination and reach. And it was these factors that contributed to its downfall.
Goldner's text though is a breath of fresh air against both the supporters of "anti-imperialism", which he correctly describes as imperialist, and against those who see fictitious capital as a means of eternalising capitalism. It's a common theme on these threads that capitalism can go on for ever. He is correct to see in today's "financial turmoil" the seeds for further, deeper economic disasters.

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Sep 1 2007 13:59
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I am not sure also, but it's not impossible, that a new pole of accumulation could be posed around an Asian "bloc".Goldner's equasion of a possible Asian bloc taking over from the US, with the US takeover from Britain during the 1900s, is stretching possibilities too far.

IIRC this is one of the possible capitalist fixes pointed to in Arrighi and Silver's "Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System", and one of the more plausible ones. What Goldner is right about, though, is that many US capitalists operate on the assumption that capitalism will go on forever and therefore have adopted a long-term strategic orientation against the development of a new center in Asia.

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Sep 1 2007 15:39
MJ wrote:
I don't think you recall this correctly at all -- most Commoner contributors definitely think the state is part of capital (their ideological roots are with Midnight Notes and with Bonefeld's side of the state derivation debate), and capable of enclosure. What a bizarre recollection.

They do complain about "privatization," but at this point in history, "privatization" is a transition that is often imposed by capital in order to create an opportunity for further commodification (and, in the case of privatizing industries, reconfigurations of the labor process in anticipation of speedup). Would you favor allowing such attacks on the basis that the state happens also to be part of capital?

well my recollection is that (de angelis i think) described privatisation as enclosure of the common, making an analogy with the enclosures, the implication being what's being privatised is a 'common' i.e. outside capital somehow. may be misremembering though, or confusing it with something else.

obviously i don't support privatisation (or nationalisation for that matter) simply because it's a shift in the managment of capital, and how would that possibly follow anyway?confused