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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Capital from the point of view of Revolution


Take! Take! Take! Take! Take! Take! Take! Take!

In number 206 of Dawn, Nietzsche addresses the worker problem under the heading of three “phooeys”:

The impossible estate [Stand] – Poor, joyous [froehlich] and independent! – all of that together is possible; poor, joyous and slave! – that is also possible – and I don’t know what I could tell the laborers of factory slavery better than: given, that you do not feel that it is generally a scandal to be exploited to such a degree, as it were, as a screw of a machine and something like a stopgap of human ingenuity! Phooey! [Pfui] to believe, that through higher pay the essence of your misery, I mean, your impersonal enslavement, will be lifted! Phooey! To let yourself be persuaded that the scandal of slavery can be made a virtue through an increase in this impersonality within the mechanical enterprise of a new society! Phooey!to have a price for which one becomes no longer a person, but a screw! Are you co-conspirators [Mitverschworenen] in the present folly of nations which, before all else, wants to produce as much as possible and get as rich as possible!”

The Dawn was written in 1881, at a time when, as the British quarterly review put it that year, “some Social Democrats have deserted Lassalle’s standard and openly gone over as State Socialists to Bismarck as their leader. Both the so-called “Christian socialists” and the “State Socialistts” calim for the new programme of Bismarck that it has effected the commencement of a separation of the reasonable portion of the Social Democrats from their revolutionary dreams and associations.” [Vol. 75, 443]

Nietzsche’s contempt for Bismarck’s combination of strategic aggression abroad and social insurance at home permeates his writing, and makes him difficult to locate on any map of modern politics – like de Maitre, but for different reasons, he sets himself against the entire project of political modernity, which Bismarck’s politics prefigure.

Given this nihilistic political position, what is Nietzsche’s solution to a problem of Gogolian dimensions – that is, the transformation of man into screw?

After leaping to another metaphor – that of the pied piper of Hamelin, or ‘pipers’ – as Nietzsche conceives of the socialists – who make the workers warm [brünstig – literally, put them in heat] with wild hopes of the day of the ‘bestia triumphans’ – against this Nietzsche has some advice:

Against this each should think to himself: “rather to wander out to become Lords in wild and fresh areas of the globe, and to become lord firstly over myself; to change places so long as any kind of sign of slavery still marks me [Zeichen von Sklaverei mir winkt]; to not avoid adventure and war, and in the worst cases hold myself prepared for death: only to no longer this indecent servitude, only no longer this becoming acidic and poisonous and conspiratorial.” This would be the right idea: the laborer in Europe should make themselves advocates as an estate for a human impossibility, and not only, as mostly happens, declare themselves as something hard and pointlessly instituted; they should lead an age of great swarming out in the European beehive, as has never yet been experiences, and through this act of freedom in the great style protest against the machine, Capital and the current threat of suffrage, to have to become either the slave of the state or slave of the overthrow party. Let Europe be lightened by a quarter of its population: it and they will be lighter at heart! In the distance, only, by the employments of the swarming colonists, there will emerge recognizable features, how much good reason and cleverness, how much healthy mistrust of mother Europe has been inherited by its sons – these sons which could not longer bear to stay in the proximity of the dull old woman… [My translations]

Nietzsche’s advice, of course, takes no account of the populations that might be living in those ‘fresh’ places of the earth. On the other hand, this is no call for state imperialism. In fact, as Nietzsche well knew, that swarming out was going on already.

Which leads us back to the limit of the bearable in Marx. In the wake of the failure of 1848, there was a massive immigration of Germans to America. From 1852 until the Civil War, nine hundred thousand Germans immigrated – and after the Civil War until the 1890s, there was a remarkable influx of between 100-200 thousand per year on average. Of course, in the wake of the Irish famine, the flow of Irish also increased – although of course the Irish also emigrated to England – with the numbers averaging between 70-100,000 from the much smaller population of Ireland. And so it goes. According to Raddatz, Marx’s pathographer – to use Joyce Carol Oate’s term for biographers who present themselves as hanging judges – Marx exchanged letters with the Burgomeister of Trier, his home town, in 1845, in which he claimed to be planning to emigrate to America – which, in Marx’s case, was only a ruse to get the Prussian spies off his back.

The 19th century was a time of the great movement of the peoples – one could even say that the choice, in Europe, seemed to be that between revolution and emigration. As I’ve tried to show, the concepts Marx is dealing with in the forties – alienation, universal history, ideology – all converge on revolution –the dynamic force in history. But revolution doesn’t automatically arise out of oppression. It works to make history in as much as it disturbs history’s ‘manorial’ process – the inheritance – the passing down - of the “historically created relation to nature and the individual” of one generation to the next – which plays a part in the general rule in The German ideology. That massive inheritance – in Edmund Burke’s words, traditional society – has a tendency to get out of synch with the real social conditions that arise in these generation, where the sum of the forces of production tend to transform quantitative change into qualitative change.

All of which give us the general outline of a problem that is eclipsed, in the Communist Manifesto, by the broad historical sweep, and the listing of proletariat grievances. As we’ve pointed out, the basis for the worker’s ‘uniting’ requires that we retain the notion of alienation, even if it is translated into the analysis of the exploitation at the root of the capitalist valorization process. Still, victimization is not enough. Marx’s writings in the forties treat the working class mainly in terms of its lack of property (they have nothing to lose but their chains). A world historical lack – as Marx well knows – does not the overthrow of a system make.

We pair socialism or communism so naturally with the working class that we don’t notice, as Kautsky did, that this synthesis was forged by Marx.

Thus – in my view, there’s no epistemological break in Marx’s work, but rather the creation of a research problem that the economic works address, always with revolution – rather than any model, including that of labor value economics – as the central truth-maker. It is in relation to revolution that Marx writes Capital. To use notions that fill out this problematic ground in Capital itself is unnecessary – what Marx wants to do is see if these notions can be derived from the analysis of Capital, rather than imposed from without. Marx, the insider from the outside.

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