John Francis Bray

Lionel Walden Tutt'Art@ (44)

Back in early part of the summer I finally got around to looking into one of the so-called Ricardian socialists whom I was unfamiliar with – John Francis Bray. As it turns out, Bray’s status as a Ricardian socialist is disputed: unlike Thomas Hodgskin, John Gray, and others who suggested that a socialist society would naturally result from the proper application of laissez-faire principles (the sort of argument you later find in the writings of Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson, or at least in his early phase), Bray seemed less interested in the cultivation of the free market as the cure to society’s ails, and more so in a very idiosyncratic solution that drew from, but broke with, the organizing principles of early capitalism. Bray’s socialism was a kind of joint-stock socialism, something I find deeply humorous (and intriguing!) given the high premium placed upon this kind of corporate form in the writings of Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land.

Bray’s ideas were incubated during his time associated with Chartism, a working class reformist movement that emerged in Great Britain during the 1830s. He had been connected with the Chartist faction in Leeds that was centered around Feargus O’Connor and his newspaper, The Northern Star, which essentially served as the organ for O’Connor’s “Land Plan”. The Chartist movement had initially been catalyzed by the Reform Act of 1832 and the subsequent Poor Laws of 1834; the latter legislation had intended to eliminate various relief programs for the impoverished, while the former reinforced the requirement of land ownership for voting rights. O’Connor’s Land Plan aimed to remedy this state of affairs through peasant land ownership: 4 acres of land to working people and to the unemployed. The effect, O’Connor reasoned, would be three-fold: 1) it would bring those who had been barred from voting into the legislative mix, 2) it would lessen the dependency of the worker on the capitalist, and 3) it would shrink the numbers of what Marx would later describe as the ‘industrial reserve army of the unemployed’, which would in turn increase the bargaining power of those employed.

In order to finance and organize the venture, the National Land Company was established. Initially proposed as a “friendly society” – an economically-oriented mutual aid association – the company was formally launched as a joint stock corporation. Unsurprisingly, O’Connor’s plan was to ultimately be, for quite a few reasons, a dismal failure (check out this wikipedia list of flaws in the scheme for a good overview).

It’s hard to determine if the National Land Company and its joint-stock organization was indebted in any way to Bray. He had developed his ideas in essays in the Northern Star and in speeches given to Leeds’ Chartists – but the actual content of his vision was sweeping and comprehensive, in contrast to O’Connor’s piecemeal reformism. As the quote in the tweet above shows, Bray anticipated that the joint-stock model would operate beyond the division of the political and economic, with all production coming together through the joint-stock corporations and series of “alliances” between them that would be managed by trade boards. This transformation would be vast, as he described in his book Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedies:

Without, for the present, entering into a consideration of the possibility of effecting this change, let it for a moment be supposed that the whole five millions of the adult producers in the United Kingdom are formed into a number of joint-stock companies, containing from 100 to 1000 men each, according to locality and circumstance – that each of these companies is comprised of men of one trade, or confines its particular attention to the production or distribution of particular commodities – that these companies have in use, by hire and purchase, the land and fixed capital of the country – that they are set in motion and kept in motion by a circulating bank-note capital equivalent to £100 for each associated member of the community, which, taking into account the women and children connected together with the five million of producers, will comprise altogether, about twenty millions of individuals, and a capital of thousands pounds sterling. Supposing the productive classes of the United Kingdom to be thus associated together, for the production and distribution of wealth – that they trade together with a floating capital of £2,000,000,000 – that all their affairs are conducted through the instrumentality of general and local boards of trade, comprised of the most able and business-like men that can be found – that the members of the companies, after the manner of the present system, are paid weekly wages for their labour – what there is now accomplished in respect to production and distribution, either by joint-stock companies or individual capitalists, which could not likewise be accomplished by the productive classes thus associated?

These ideas were also partially influenced by the theories of the British Ricardian socialist John Gray, who was both an associate of the Chartist movement and of the various co-operative movements inspired by the efforts of Robert Owen. The circuit of influence here is important, because it is in this relationship that Marx glimpsed what he perceived to be the infrastructure of Proudhon’s thought, which he subjected to critique in The Poverty of Philosophy. “How deeply this utopia”, wrote Engels in his preface to the German edition of the work, “has struck roots in the way of thinking of the modern petty bourgeois – real or ideal – is proved by the fact that it was systematically developed by John Gray back in 1831”. Marx, meanwhile, declared in the second chapter of the critique to “have discovered in him [Bray] the key to the past, present and future works of M. Proudhon”.

Indeed, it’s easy to see in the efforts of people like Bray and Gray both the kind of crank reformism criticized by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, and – particularly in Bray’s joint-stock socialist model – something close to Proudhon’s ‘agro-industrial federation’ that, for him, would constitute the proper organization of industry after it had been transferred out of the hands of propertied and moneyed classes and into those of freely associating workers. Yet despite this, Bray’s influence appears to have lingered, not only within the American labor movement with which he later became actively involved in after immigrating to the continent, but with certain Marxists as well. Case in point was Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue, who had the following to say in a 1897 essay titled “Socialism in France from 1876 to 1896”:

…they [bourgeois reformers during the Congress of 1876] proposed to avoid the rocks of socialism by advocating such methods of ameliorating the lot of the workers as co-operative production, mutual credit, and people’s banks. They trotted out again all those small shopkeeper’s utopias which Proudhon advocated before 1848. The institutions that the Congress of 1876 wished to establish were the equitable labor exchanges, which had started at Bray’s instigation in the year 1840, in London, Sheffield, Leeds, and other towns, and which, after absorbing vast capital, had gone bankrupt under scandalous circumstance. But Bray, in his remarkable work, “Labor’s Wrongs and Labor’s Remedy” (Leeds, 1839), had at least refrained from calling these exchanges a solution to the social problem. They might be that to Proudhon; to Bray they were only a means of smoothing over the transition from the capitalist to the communist regime.

The ‘equitable labor exchanges’ alluded to here were, as Rosa Luxemburg summed up succinctly, “so-called ‘bazaars’… [where] goods were bought and sold to be exchanged without the intervention of money, strictly in accordance with the labor-time they contained” (and thus were akin to Josiah Warren’s Cincinnati, Ohio-based “Time Store”, which ran successfully between 1827 and 1830). One might wonder, too, whether or not the joint-stock concept falls under this criteria as well – as mentioned above, it receives its full elucidation in “Labor’s Worings and Labor’s Remedy”, right alongside the debuting of the equitable labor exchange system. LaFargue is silent on the question, but something of an answer might very well be found in Marx’s own comments, found in the Critique of the Gotha Program, on proletarian self-activity and the transition to communism might look like. Three key points:

1. The ability of the proletariat to develop co-operative societies:

That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not proteges either of the governments or of the bourgeois.

2. The persistence of the bourgeois system of rights:

…equal right here is still in principle — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case. In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

3. The persistence of key elements of the capitalist mode of production that will regulate labor-time and the activities carried out in that time:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor.

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Post-Autonomist Questions

lionel-walden-cardiff-steelworks-at-night-1893-copy

Whilst thumbing through Hardt and Negri’s tome Empire this morning, I came across this interesting footnote (#26 for the chapter titled “Postmodernization”):

A number of Italian scholars read the decentralization of network production
in the small and medium-sized enterprises of northern Italy as an
opportunity to create new circuits of autonomous labor. See Sergio Bologna
and Andrea Fumagalli, eds., Il lavoro autonomo di seconda generazione: scenari
del postfordismo in Italia (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1997).

Sergio Bologna, like Negri, is a veteran of the nebulous Autonomia movement of Italy in the 60s and 70s. His best known work – outside of Italy, at least – was his 1977 text “The Tribe of Moles“, an examination of class composition in late-Fordist Italy and of how the ‘autonomous class’ developed within it. While personally quite close with Negri (a biography at the end of an interesting interview notes that the two were among the primary founders of Potere Operaio in 1969, had both worked in the same history department of Padua University in the early 1970s, and together edited a series on Marxist theory in 1972), the two underwent a theoretical divergence in the dawn of the New Economy of the 1990s. Negri would develop his theory of the immaterial laborer as the key social subject of the post-Fordist epoch, while Bologna would look to the “autonomous worker”.

There are deep similarities between these two approaches. On the one hand, Negri’s immaterial labor encompasses the capture and commoditization of affective, cognitive, and creative activities, and emphasizes the role of the internet and industrial autonomation in engendering this transformation. On the other, Bologna’s autonomous labor is akin to what we today might refer to as ‘precarious labor’ or the ‘gig economy’ – the great mass of would-be proletarians, shut-out from yesteryear’s world of Fordist industrial production, forced into part-time, temporary, situation-based work. For Bologna, however, such things compose what he calls the second generation of autonomous labor, in contrast to the first generation of independent artisans, merchants, and assorted professionals (doctors, lawyers, so on and so forth).

Sadly, I’ve yet find a translation of Il lavoro autonomo di seconda generazione: scenari del postfordismo in Italia, much less a pdf in Italian (plz drop a link in the comments if you have one!), but the description given by Hardt and Negri here – that the work offers the decentralized production in Northern Italy as a means of transforming the conditions of the autonomous laborer – is intriguing, especially in light of this recent post of just the other day. The area they are describing is Emilia-Romagna, an administrative region known for its robust industrial economy based on small-to-medium sized enterprises, flexible specialization, craft production, pull-based commercial dynamics, and worker co-operatives. Manuel Delanda has juxtaposed this region the top-heavy Fordism of American-style automobile production, while distributists have found in it as evidence for the durability of their socio-economic proposals. An interesting report cited by Kevin Carson (who elsewhere has referred to Emilia-Romagna, alongside Shenzhen’s Shanzai manufacturing, as a “model for the economic future”) has this to say about the organizational tendencies governing the region:

There are 90,000 manufacturing enterprises in the region, surely one of the highest densities per capita in the world! Small, medium, enterprises (SME’s) predominate. One person in twelve is self-employed or owns a small business. In recent years the region has produced the highest GDP per capita in the country, and it now ranks with the ten best in Europe…2/3 of the citizens of Bologna belong to a co-op…45% of the GDP is produced by co-ops…(and) 85% of the social services in Bologna are delivered by co-ops… Some of Emilia Romagna’s manufacturing companies that are world class high performance companies are cooperatives. Other private companies and cooperatives work together in flexible networks that combine a number of smaller firms into joint projects. And government has played a powerfully positive role in creating sector-based service centers that assist smaller companies in being competitive in the global economy… “Social Cooperatives” provide various services to the mentally and physically disabled—“privatizing” what historically were state services but to cooperatives that are frequently preferred by professionals because they permit creativity and the delivery of high quality services and work experience for the disabled….

Not everybody is as jazzed on Emilia-Romagna as the above, but nonetheless the convergence of so many different radical perspectives on a particular organization of production and exchange – that is, small-to-medium sized enterprises based on the miniaturization and localization of production technologies and rapid-response to demand – is noteworthy in itself.

(Anti)Markets

Screenshot from 2018-04-07 23-13-59

There are many advantages to political decentralization as a structural limitation on government power. Imagine a country the size of the United States, but consisting of only five states. Now imagine the same region containing 500 states. All other things being equal, the second situation is likely to be much more hospitable to freedom than the first. The smaller the political unit, the greater the influence an individual citizen can have in politics, thus decreasing the lobbying advantage that concentrated special interests have over the diffuse general public. Further, as the number of available alternative political jurisdictions increases, the citizen’s exit option becomes more powerful. The freedom to leave one state is small comfort if there are only a handful of others nearby to go to; but with many states, the odds of finding a satisfactory destination are much better.

In addition, competition between states can serve as a check on state power, since if any state becomes too oppressive its citizens can vote with their feet. Also, decentralization softens the impact of government mistakes. If a single centralized government decides to implement some ill-conceived plan, everybody has to suffer. But with many states implementing different policies, a bad policy can be escaped, while a good policy can be imitated. (Here too, competition can serve as a discovery process.) – Roderick T. Long, “Virtual Cantons”

________________

As always, Xenogoth’s blog is a machine for inducing thoughts and productivity over here on this side of things. Their latest post concerns Rana Dasgupta’s recent article for the Guardian titled “The Demise of the Nation State”, the topic of which (as the very name indicates) should be well familiar now. “For increasing numbers of people,” Dasgupta writes, “our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future.” And yet solutions posed seems to be more of the same: avoid the fragmentation, shore up that which is dissolving, and keep on keepin’ on with progressive universalism. Xenogoth writes:

it’s universalism which is the problem here and its funneling progressivism into a single, unwavering straight line. Progressivism reveals itself to be political tunnelvision. When you’re political system starts to offer you the Kool Aid, progressivism becomes putting it down and heading for the exit. There are surely better paths on the outside.

Contra more radical (and perhaps dangerous) routes to the Outside, Dasgupta’s future-oriented politics revolves around three key elements: “global financial regulation”, “global flexible democracy”, and “new conceptions of citizenship”. Xenogoth points out that these are these continue to the drift into neoliberal globalization – and indeed, are these three things not the very idealistic summit of the global regime that has existed since the end of World War II? Empire, the Cathedral, capitalist realism, the Washington Consensus, what have you; it is the unity of regulated monopolistic competition in political economy and liberal democracy in the order of politics that serve as the twin pincers of the meta-system.

The first element will be met with inherent skepticism. After all, we’re told repeatedly that the between the crisis that brought a swift and brutal conclusion to the Fordist-Keynesianism that defined the immediate post-war period (beginning in 1968 and culminating in the Nixon Shock of 1972) and the inauguration of the so-called New Economy of the 1990s, a disastrous path of deregulatory behavior was undertaken, one that undermined the developed world’s industrial base, hollowed out civic institutions and the infrastructures of ‘modern democracy’, and sent us spiraling into cycles of crisis. But is this really the case?

In the United States, it is undeniable that there have been the neutering of regulations in certain areas – but this is only remains a part of the story. The cutting here and there – which has become major talking point for both the left and right, as objects of derision and praise, respectively – has served as the mask for a great explosion of regulatory activities. Take John Dawson and John Seater’s 2013 paper “Federal Regulation and Aggregate Economic Growth”, for instance. Looking at the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), which logs all regulations on the books in the US, Dawson and Seater discovered that its contents multiplied sixfold between 1949 and 2005, going from the (already significant 19,335 pages to a mind-boggling 134,261 pages). This already begins to overturn conventional wisdom on the left that consistent deregulation is the overarching trend in economic development over the last four to six decades – and Dawson and Seater can only pour more gasoline on this fire:

Periods of negative growth are infrequent, and, when they do occur, the absolute value of the growth rate is small. By far, the fastest percentage growth occurred in the early 1950s. High growth also occurred in the 1970s, even though there was extensive deregulation in transportation, telecommunications, and energy. Deregulation in that period was more than offset by increased regulation in other areas, notably pertaining to the environment and occupational safety, as Hopkins (1991) has noted. The Reagan administration of the 1980s promoted deregulation as a national priority, and growth in the number of CFR pages slowed in the early and late 1980s. Nevertheless, total pages decreased in only one year, 1985. The 1990s witnessed the largest reduction in pages of regulation in the history of the CFR, with three consecutive years of decline. This reduction coincides with the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” initiative that sought reduced regulation in general and a reduction in the number of pages in the CFR in particular. (Interestingly, the greatest percentage reduction in the CFR did not occur during either the Reagan or Clinton administrations but rather in the first year of the Kennedy administration, 1961.) There thus are several major segments in regulation’s time path, with corresponding breaks in trend (dates are approximate): (1) 1949 to 1960 (fast growth), (2) 1960 to 1972 (slow growth), (3) 1972 to 1981 (fast growth), (4) 1981 to 1985 (slow growth), (5) 1985 to 1993 (fast growth), and (6) 1993 to 2005 (slow growth).

There’s a similar lip-service paid to classical political economy and ideological obfuscation going on where “free trade” is concerned. While the right-wing (outside of its populist sector, of course) sounds the trumpets in the name of laissez-faire and the nationalist right and the left-of-center viciously denounce it, what goes in the West under the name of free trade is anything but. While agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and institutions like the WTO, the IMF, and the like seem to reduce this argument to an absurdity, there is an immense gulf between the sort of free trade advocated by classical political economists like David Ricardo – aaand Karl Marx – and these agreements reached by government negotiators.

Free trade would entail something very simple: the parties in question decide to mutually eliminate barriers, including but not limited to tariffs, to one another’s domestic market places. The contemporary agreement like NAFTA or the TPP, by contrast, consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of legal qualifications, special protections, and what are called “investor-state dispute settlements”. The result is an uneven playing field dominated by entrenched quasi-monopolistic corporations, protected by the state, who have suspended free trade for something profoundly different. Tariffs might have been avoided (until the looming US-China trade war, at least), but corporate protectionism reigns supreme.

A counterpoint might that this is precisely what free trade produces: concentration of power in a handful of corporate entities, who bend the legal apparatuses of the state to fix things their favor (such as implementing protectionist policies that further enforce their hegemony). It’s a good story, and one that makes clear who would be the bad guys and the bad systems (corporations! free trade!), and easy solutions (tightening the grip in advance on the exchange circuits before we get to this disastrous state of affairs). Unfortunately – or maybe not so unfortunately – it isn’t true, and one of the reasons has to do with the ubiquity of regulatory behavior. But more on that in a moment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. The despotic state was dependent on coding and territorialization of flows in a particular way; it had to, at all costs, ward off the progressive decoding and deterritorializing of flows – and to do this, it had to prevent the arrival of capital, that alien mutagen that draws power from annihilating the very limits and barriers that a socius needs to maintain organization. Hence the sheer apocalypticism of capital and the dread it instills – but the despotic state does not disappear in its dark arrival. It undergoes a transformation into the capitalist state, a unit of “anti-production” that is subordinated to the flux of capitalist deterritorialization.

The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization. Maybe it is across this tension wire that we must place something like the free trade agreement, or even the rates of regulation growth and occasional deregulation. Read this way, the free trade agreement would be series of measures taken to channel flows, to situate institutional entities and political blocs atop the slipstream of global marketization, without falling into them – which would bring the order to its very demise.

Is this not precisely an incredible compensatory mechanism, at one time aimed at global installation? Is this not a more accurate picture of what is splitting apart than most progressivist ideologues argue? And, by extension, does this not mean that the progressivist solution is ultimately to turn back the clock and complete the global installation?

________________

Braudel’s famous argument, implicit in Capitalism and Schizophrenia (this is the topic of a current in-progress work) and operationalized in full by Manuel Delanda, is that the market and capitalism must be made distinct from one another, and that capitalism must be thought as something oppositional to the market: an anti-market. The market – or micro-capitalism – is the realm of “economic life”; it is full of highly visible activities, the interchanges of commerce happening at rapid speeds, and variables profit rates attached to quickly shifting registers of price. “The market spells liberation, openness, access to another world”. Capitalism, by contrast, is defined large-scale centralization, bureaucracy, oligopoly, and decreased mobility in the price regime. Markets link themselves together in networks of “horizontal communication” between smaller firms and actors bound up in competitive behavior. Anti-markets are based around monopoly, and thus ward off the specter of competition.

We could say that, shifting into Deleuze and Guattari’s framework, the market/micro-capitalism corresponds the schizophrenizing, deterritorializing edge where capital rushes towards its ultimate limits, while the anti-market/capitalism side of the economic meshwork aligns with reterritorialization. Indeed, the capitalist state, identified by Deleuze and Guattari as composing a Katechonic mechanism for reterritorializing capital in order to avoid the end of things, is similarly found by Braudel as guarantor and protector of monopolistic entities. In the void of strong states, warding off occurs less and less, and the market emerges a norm; in the presence of them, it is capitalism that is business as usual.

I definitely hope to draw this argument out more in soon-to-be finished Vast Abrupt essay on SchizoMarketization and economic eschatology; in the meantime, however, I’d like to do something different and put forth the exceedingly questionable suggestion that the two of the ideological poles of economic governance in the US – Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism – can be roughly mapped to this schema of markets and antimarkets, in both their unity and opposition.

The Jeffersonian ideal moved power in a decentralizing direction, towards smaller and smaller, more localized levels; it opposed aristocracy and remained suspicious of mercantile, industrial and financial interests. The yeoman, an archetypal figure for small-scale, non-slaving owning farmers running the gamut from subsistence farmers to medium-range commercial entities, was the focal point of Jeffersonianism – making it a kind of populism that foreshadows many of the characteristics of certain libertarian factions in existence today.

Jeffersonianism seems to capture the ideological screen erected by the Washington establishment, but the order of business falls more under the purview of Hamiltonianism, with its emphasis on centralization of power, the supremacy of the Federal level above the local, and the creation of powerful and wealthy industrial and financial classes. The tenets of the “American School of Economics” (also known as the ‘National System’), developed in point-by-point opposition to those of classical liberalism, epitomize the Hamiltonian perspective. To quote from the wiki page, the three primary principles were:

  1. Protecting industry through selective high tariffs (1861 – 1932) and through subsidies (especially 1932-1970).
  2. Government investments in infrastructure creating targeted internal improvements (especially in transportation.
  3. A national bank with policies that promote the growth of productive enterprises rather than speculation.

If we’re to talk of the groundwork for the globalizing regime that is organized around transnational corporate protectionism, regulatory behavior, and liberal democracy, it is paramount not to mistake the Hamiltonian platform for free trade – especially given that the beginning of the globalization of this model corresponds with the arrival of US hegemony in the wake of the Second World War. It is an apparatus for producing monopolies – the dynamic generator of anti-market systems.

In 1888, well into the Hamiltonian era, Benjamin Tucker advocated what he described as an “unterrified Jeffersonianism” – a radical free market socialism that served as the “the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine; laissez faire the universal rule”. Blocking the path to this world were the four monopolies: “the money monopoly, the land monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent monopoly.” The money monopoly is the state’s exclusive right to establish and produce a medium for circulation, which effectively cut-off the ability for competition between currencies to take place, and alloted greater power to banks and other lending institutions. The land monopoly, meanwhile, is “the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation”, while the tariff monopoly needs little mention. The patent monopoly – which, up until recently, was the far more pressing obstruction to international free trade than tariffs – is the domination of ideas under the rubric of intellectual property laws.

To these Kevin Carson adds a fifth: the transportation monopoly, in which roads and other infrastructures are designed and paid for by the state. In both the land monopoly and the transportation monopoly, costs are externalized onto the taxpayer, either in the form of law enforcement or public works. While collective pooling of resources for a common goal is one thing, in the context of the monopoly system this means that businesses are automatically exempt from certain costs. Wal-Mart, for example, has its distribution infrastructure already established by the transportation system. Or, in another case, a landowner who must bear the costs of protecting ownership is going to own considerably less land due to that price tag.

For Tucker, examples such as these – and many others – point to how elimination of the monopolies would proceed from the elimination of the state that made them possible in the first place, and that their removal would clear the way for real competition to occur, the Braudelian market rising up to fill the void. With more competition comes lower costs, and without heavy regulatory burden the barriers to entry implode – which adds to more competition, and lower costs still. The effect would be less distance between market price and what the classical political economists called the “natural price” – the costs inputs that were expended in advance in order to initially bring something to the market.

Carson suggests an even radical transformation: the implosion of homogeneity in socio-cultural formation and politico-economic governance, and the rapid multiplication of other ways of life. Speaking from the left-libertarian perspective, he writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution that

…it’s extremely unlikely in my opinion that the collapse of centralized state and corporate power will be driven by,or that the post‐corporate state society that replaces it will be organized according to, any single libertarian ideology… although the kinds of communal institutions, mutual aid networks and primary social units
into which people coalesce may strike the typical right‐wing flavor of free market libertarian as “authoritarian” or “collectivist,” a society in which such institutions are the dominant form of organization is by no means necessarily a violation of the substantive values of self‐ownership and nonaggression… it seems to me that the libertarian concepts of self‐ownership and nonaggression are entirely consistent with a wide variety of voluntary social frameworks, while at the same time the practical application of those concepts would vary widely.

To exit from the globalist anti-market is to be propelled towards the strangeness of patchwork.

Speedy Mutualism

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How will it take to get from this

The
 conditions
 of 
physical
 production
 have,
 in
 fact,
experienced
 a 
transformation
 almost 
as 
great
 as 
that
 which
 digital 
technology
 has 
brought 
about 
on 
immaterial
 production.
 The
 “physical
 production
 sphere”
 itself 
has 
become
 far
 less 
capital-intensive. 
If
 the 
digital 
revolution
 has 
caused 
an 
implosion 
in 
the
 physical 
capital
 outlays
 required
 for
 the
 information
 industries,
 the
 revolution
 in
 garage
 and
 desktop
 production
 tools
 promises
 an
 analogous
 effect
 almost
 as
 great
 on
 many
 kinds
 of
 manufacturing.
 The
 radical
 reduction
 in
 the
 cost
 of
 machinery
 required
 for
 many
 kinds 
of 
manufacturing
 has
 eroded 
Stallman’s 
distinction 
between
 “free
 speech”
 and
 “free 
beer.”
 Or 
as 
Chris 
Anderson 
put 
it,
“Atoms
 would 
like 
to
 be
 free,
 too, 
but
 they’re 
not
 so 
pushy
 about
 it.” (Kevin Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, 220)

to this?

Soon, no doubt, there will be a 3D printer in every home and social robots may well be providing the vigilant company to the elderly who live alone. The present machines,” wrote Samuel Butler in The Book of Machines, “are to the future as the early Saurians to man. The largest of them will probably greatly diminish in size. Some of the lowest vertebrate attained a much greater bulk than has descended to their more highly organised living representatives, and in like manner a diminution in the size of machines has often attended their development and progress.” Technology is plotting its own evolution and the purely human advantage is becoming increasingly small. New fusions and adaptions between the organic and the near organic continue. Silicon, once sand, the second most common element built into the earth’s crust, carries deep with in it an ironic reminder of our own amphibious evolutionary past. Our roots, as cybernetic organisms, come from the same source. Though we are often blind to the machines that surround us – technology is the ocean within which we swim – these exchanges and interactions fuel us. As evolutionary beings, we are willing participants, hungry to transform.

In Shenzhen companies, factories and markets are adjusting to the new products and modes of manufacturing that they bring. A realization is dawning. The age of the copy is over. It is time to mutate. (Anna Greenspan and Suzanne Livingston, Future Mutation: Technology, Shanzai, and the Evolution of the Species)

Old Nick chimes in to fill some gaps and provide some speculation on the height on this tendency: the convergence of miniaturizing manufacturing technology towards a “self-replicating symbiotically assembled Universal Constructor“.

In the more short term, Dubai is several years into an initiative to make itself into the world’s preeminent 3-D printing hub, which has already seen the launch of a 3-D printing factory, the construction of a 2700 square-foot 3-D printed office building, and ambitious plans to 3-D print some 25% of its building construction by 2030. Meanwhile, the US’s Department of Defense Subcommittee on Emerging Threats allocated $13.2 billion of the $639.1 billion for investments in 3-D printing technology, aiming to begin the process of bringing usage of the printers up to “tactical level”. On cue, fears have begun to circulate that (alleged) already-occurring usage of 3-D printers by terrorist organizations will have radical implications for future battlespaces.

Great Politics (assorted notes)

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Convergent with the Proudhon’s anarchistic analysis of the primordial linkage between the State and war is Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory, as detailed by Hugo Drochon in his book Nietzsche’s Great Politics. To quote him at length:

In “The Greek State,” Nietzsche also takes issue with Wagner’s On State and Religion—another manuscript that Nietzsche read while in Tribschen—which the latter had recently composed at the behest of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. There Wagner accounts for the emergence of the state as from a Hobbesian “fear of violence,” which leads to a “contract whereby the units seek to save themselves from mutual violence, through a little practice of restraint.” While Nietzsche concurred that the state of nature was one of bellum omnium contra omnes (GSt, 170), he disagreed with the idea that the state arose through a contract. He instead saw the state as originating from a “conqueror with the iron hand,” who “suddenly, violently, and bloodily” takes control of a yet-unformed population and forces it into a hierarchical society (GSt, 168). [54]

[…]

In “The Greek State,” Nietzsche concurred with the Hobbesian view of the state of nature being a bellum omnium contra omnes. But he did not account for its birth in a contract. Instead, as we just saw, he located thebirth of the “cruel tool” of the state in the iron “conquerors.” Indeed, these conquerors are themselves, on Nietzsche’s account, the state. Yet the “ignominious” birth of the state is justified as a means to genius and culture. “Nature”—we see the influence of Romanticism on Nietzsche’s early thought here—had instilled in the conqueror the state-creating instinct so that she might achieve “her salvation in appearance in the mirror of genius.” The “dreadful” birth of the state, whose monuments include “devastated lands, ruined towns, savage men, consuming hatred of nations,” is justified by nature because it serves as a means to genius. “The state appears before it proudly and calmly: leading the magnificently blossoming woman, Greek society, by the hand” (GSt, 169).

While Nietzsche’s genealogy of the state claims to be more realistic than the “fanciful,” in his own words, account of the social contract tradition, this does not imply that on his account the state cannot be justified. Of course there is a difference between normative and descriptive claims here: over the course of their writings, Hobbes and indeed Rousseau gave quite detailed accounts of the history of the state they understood to be at odds with the normative ideals they were recommending, and the social contract theorists are often thought of as having tailored their state of nature to justify the type of state they were advocating. But Nietzsche is here rejecting both their descriptive—how the state came into being—and normative claims—how the birth of the state can be justified.

The state, for Nietzsche, is justified because it opens up a space within which culture, through genius, can for the first time flourish. There are a number of elements to this claim. First, that the time and energy used to defend oneself in the “war of all against all” is redirected, within a pacified society, toward more artistic and cultural pursuits. Nietzsche explains that once states have been founded everywhere, the bellicose urge gets concentrated into “less frequent” yet altogether much stronger “bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning” of “dreadful clouds of war between nations.” Thus, much as it was for Hobbes, the “state of nature” gets transferred to the interstate level. In the meantime, however, the “concentrated effect of that bellum, turned inward, gives society time to germinate and turn green everywhere, so that it can let radiant blossoms of genius sprout forth as soon as warmer days come.” In other words, the energy that was used to simply stay alive in the individual war of all against all gets redirected, once encased in and protected by the new state, either collectively toward wars against other nations or, in the intermediary, toward satisfying a “new world of necessities”—namely, culture (GSt, 170).

The two interrelated justifications for the state—genius and culture— come together in the figure of the first genius—the military genius. Since the beasts of prey were organized on a “war footing,” the first type of state, even the “archetype” of the state, is the military state, and the first genius is a military genius. The first work of art is the state itself and its constitution; Nietzsche mentions the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus—a thought borrowed from Jacob Burckhardt. As a military state, the first state therefore divides itself into hierarchical military castes, and this “warlike society” necessarily takes the form of a pyramidal structure with a large slave-class bottom stratum (GSt, 172). [56-57]

As with all things, however, the state decays. For Nietzsche this appears in the time of the Kulturstaat, the modern state that treats its subjects as mere means to furthering the cause of “existing institutions”. “However loudly the state may proclaim its services to cultures, it furthers culture in order to further itself.” The state also loses what Nietzsche regarded as a sense of excitement regarding its function: mass bureaucracy and the dreary affairs of parliament tore from the governing institutions the “ancient Isis veil”. In an aphorism from Human, All Too Human, the cause of modern decline is highlighted: “modern democracy is the historical form of the state.”

Cue the transformation into what Drochon refers to as Nietzsche’s “postmodern state”:

Nietzsche concludes by proclaiming “with certainty” that “distrust of all government” will result from the “uselessness and destructiveness of these short-winded struggles,” and will “impel men to a quite novel resolve: the resolve to do away with the concept of the state, to abolish the distinction between public and private.” Instead, an “invention more suited to their purpose than the state was will gain victory over the state.” “Private companies” (Privatgesellschaften) will “step by step absorb the business of the state,” including those activities that are the “most resistant remainder of what was formerly the work of the government”: protecting “the private person from the private person.”

This marks another point of at least partial convergence with Proudhon, who also foresaw the unwinding of social and political relations into the hurried networks of economic exchange. He wrote in the General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century that

…if I could make a contract with all, as I can with some; if all could renew it among themselves, if each group of citizens, as a town, county, province, corporation, company, etc., formed by a like contract, and considered as a moral person, could thereafter, and always by a similar contract, agree with every and all other groups, it would be the same as if my own will were multiplied to infinity. I should be sure that the law thus made on all questions in the Republic, from millions of different initiatives, would never be anything but my law; and if this new order of things were called government, it would be my government.

Thus the principle of contract, far more than that of authority, would bring about the union of producers, centralize their forces, and assure the unity and solidarity of their interests.

The system of contracts, substituted for the system of laws, would constitute the true government of the man and of the citizen; the true sovereignty of the people, the Republic.

Speaking of state decay, demotic chaos and long-term political cycles, Peter Turchin has written a brief-but-interesting response to Tyler Cowen’s recent “No, Fascism Can’t Happen Here”. He ultimately reaches the same conclusion as Cowen via a different route, but his final note is telling: “In my opinion, the greatest danger for us today (and into the 2020s) is not the rise of a Hitler, but rather a Second American Civil War.” The 2020s thread is picked up elsewhere.

Also keeping up with the troubles is Chris Shaw on zombie politics, which moves from the fragmentation and conflict internal to the dominant political structures towards a Carsonian-informed look at potential leverages for Exit. In other words, ideas that move in the same waters as Nietzsche’s postmodern state and Proudhon’s contract government.

Anarchy

 

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Contrary to the impression given by the demands of socially-minded anarchists, anarchy is already existent and active. This principle does not emerge either from the ground posited by the ranks of the immediatists, the egoists, and general post-left milieu – that anarchy is actualized when we only act in a manner that coheres with the theoretical expectation of what such a (non)state entails. This articulation of anarchy is drab and despondently humanistic, pivoting itself on the power of a given agent to execute their will and desire. Anarchism is distributed along a pole marked by the so-called ‘social anarchists’, and the ‘post-left’ on the other. A common logic binds this pole: everything begins and ends with the human. Exteriority is shunted away, and even if something like it is posed (such as in the common appeals to flowery poetic chaos) it still remains locked into the interior realm of human experience.

Against the binding of the anarchist pole, another way: the realization of an anarchy that is fundamental and unconditional because it serves as the unground for the great struggles of power. To draw this out, consider the global hierarchy of sovereign powers, with its ebbs and flows, consolidations and breakdowns. If we were to begin diagramming these fluctuating arrangements over time, it would quickly become clear that there is no radiant institution that guarantees the stability and rights of the kingdoms beneath it. Not a sovereign of sovereigns, but an immense void: anarchy.

An articulation of anarchy as a transcendental force has been, in fact, a theoretical bedrock in the realist and neorealist schools of international relations. To quote from neorealist theorist Kenneth Waltz’s text Theory of International Politics:

Structural questions are questions about the arrangement of the parts of a system. The parts of domestic political systems stand in relations of super- and subordination. Some are entitled to command; others are required to obey. Domestic systems are centralized and hierarchic. The parts of the international-political system stand in relations of coordination. Formally, each is the equal of all the others. None is entitled to command; none is required to obey. International systems are decentralized and anarchic… The problem is this: how to conceive of an order without an orderer and of organizational effects where formal organization is lacking.

Despite being a far cry from the usual analysis offered by the contemporary anarchist, the IR definition of anarchy conforms very closely to way anarchism was defined by the first anarchist – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. For Proudhon, there was no contradiction between professing an adherence to an anarchist philosophy and spending time as a politician. A survey of his work betrays a deep fascination with state banking, constitutions, and federated sovereigns. This wasn’t an uncritical embrace of the state – Proudhon challenged the consolidation of dispersed territorial units, communities, and cities into larger European states – but it was a recognition that history unfolds through a dance of cascading variables that wage war against one another, find temporary balance, and break apart again. Adjusting his philosophical framework to Marx’s correct charge that his The System of Economical Contradictions had haply smeared together Kant and Hegel in posing that antimonies resolved into synthesis, Proudhon wrote that “THE ANTIMONY CANNOT BE RESOLVED; this is the fundamental flaw of the entire Hegelian philosophy. The two terms composing the antimony BALANCE either against each other, or against another antinomic term: which leads to the desired result. A balance is not a synthesis in the way Hegel understood it and as I had supposed like him.”

While it’s up for debate whether or Proudhon had a firm grasp of Hegelian philosophy, what’s important is how this framework framed his understanding of the political. Social power is a manifestation of “collective force”, which manifests in the form of the state. This is produced through the movement of antinomic opposition into the temporary alliance of balance which occurs not only internally to the state – convergence on concepts of justice and right – but externally as well, in the form of the balance of great powers across the international stage. The question, then, is the same that Waltz posed: how can order be produced without an orderer? For Proudhon, the engine of multi-scaled political self-organization is force and war:

The right of force, the right of war and the right of nations, defined and circumscribed as we have just done, supporting, implying and engendering each other, govern history. They are the secret providence that leads nations, makes and unmakes states, and, unifying force and law, drives civilization on to the safest and widest road. Through them, many things are explained that no ordinary law, historic system, or capricious evolutions of chance can account for.

War makes and breaks political equilibrium, Proudhon’s term for the balance of power. It engenders the political and also stands for its inevitable unmaking in the swirls of unending progress (understood here as the empty, abstract form of progress detached from normative particulars). It is, therefore, a force outside the state, the external regulator of the state’s activities: a swift and unpredictable force that takes the place of the absent sovereign of sovereigns. In other words, war and anarchy are for Proudhon – just as they are for IR realists – intimately entangled with one another. Bellum omnium conta omnes, the Hobbesian state of nature as the war of all against all, is affirmed, yet Proudhon’s thought converges with Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory in that state is sustained by this primordial conflict. It is not the antithesis of justice (which for Proudhon is nothing more that the production of balance), but its fount.

Nick Land turns Proudhon’s mutualism pitch-black with his political theology of meta-neocameralism:

The effective cyclic reproduction of power has an external criterion — survival. It is not open to any society or regime to decide for itself what works. Its inherent understanding of its own economics of power is a complex measurement, gauging a relation to the outside, whose consequences are life and death. Built into the idea of sovereign property from the start, therefore, is an accommodation to reality. Foundational to MNC [Meta-Neocameralism], at the very highest level of analysis, is the insight that power is checked primordially. On the Outside are wolves, serving as the scourge of Gnon. Even the greatest of all imaginable God-Kings — awesome Fnargl included — has ultimately to discover consequences, rather than inventing them. There is no principle more important than this.

In Proudhon’s mutualism, as with MNC, how one enters into relations with the outside – or anarchy – is directly relevant to the question of survival. Organization can strive to hold the anarchic at bay, or it can exhibit an openness to it. The cold entropic laws governing the decreased life spans of closed systems sends the former down a path of stagnation and death – yet the latter cannot be mistaken for any semblance of immortality and even long-term stability. It might be that this path leads to Bataille’s sovereign that is marked by total absence, or a cutting-up and unfolding of the sovereign body in a manner akin to Lyotard’s visceral body horror: “Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces…”

Do what thou wilt is the challenge that anarchy intones, but to accept it is to enter into a demon’s pact (the Anarch here becoming an anomalous agent, a Sorcerer). Freedom might be found stepping towards that threshold, but at the absolute risk of everything. Balance is precarious, and the threat of complete submersion whips and batters: “No sooner have we reached the condition or ground of our principle than we are hurled headlong beyond to the absolutely unconditioned, the ‘ground-less’ from which the ground itself emerged.” For Proudhon, this means that crowned anarchy topples royalist absolutism. If political organization is sustained, it must be one that goes in the opposite direction from the absolutist doctrine, that rides the waves of progress through that which will decay and dissolve . Such is the supreme law of anarchy:

This double movement, one of degeneration, the other of progress, that resolves itself in a unique constellation, also results from the definition of the principles, from their relative position and their roles: here again no ambiguity is possible, there is no room for arbitrariness. The fact is objectively evident and mathematically certain; this is what we will call a LAW.

ADDENDUM: it seems that Uri already covered much of the content in this post with his superb “Anarchist Transcendental Ontology”. A small sample of this highly recommended read:

at the edge, anarchist ontology seeks the un-ground of power – the realistic source, beyond all mere wishes, from which any ability to produce yields. it incrementally (or, progressively, in a strictly proudhonian sense) found the hints of such un-ground in variation-selection dynamics, or simply “war”.this scale-free framework, implexing itself throughout the universe’s evolution, gives rise and tide to all monarchs, presidents, tyrants and fatherlands.

anarchist ontology, thus, proceeds by breaking up whole into fractal fragments in competition – the only way any order can be produced. thus, it’s not only that the order of the social necessarily falls back on the competition among its individual components, but that the order within the individuals itself falls back on pre-individual components in competition. up above and down below, it’s individualities and collectivities.

Ruin and Freedom

Local-Servers

If Proudhon’s philosophy of progress can be summed up in just a few words, it would be this: things grow and things decay, and things grow again elsewhere. State decay, community decay, cultural decay, economic decay so on and so forth – this is the necessary movement for state growth, community growth cultural growth, economic growth, etc. etc. It will, however, never run backwards: what has inevitability decayed is barred from returning in its original form. Anticipating Deleuze and Guattari’s stunning observation (one brought into alignment the with non-linear movements of complex systems by Manuel DeLanda) that deterritorialization within an assemblage implies reterritorialization elsewhere – and vice-versa – by centuries, Proudhon delivers an understanding of progress fully stripped of the assumptions packed into it by modernity at its most hubristic.

One of the common critiques of U/ACC is that it doesn’t deal sufficiently with the question of collapse, that its assumptions align with the most Promethean of moderns in that it envisions, on the ‘other side’ of technoeconomic take-off, unending wealth, prosperity, and orgiastic delirium. Nothing could be further from the truth (except perhaps the last one, though the delirium in mind is hardly that of bourgeois decadence). Sites of techno-economic intensity will doubtlessly be characterized by self-reinforcing growth, which – until it hits the transcendental wall of hard singularity – will bleed through society in the form of higher standards of living, health, and happiness. But things decay, and grow elsewhere. The interior cost of this techno-economic feedback will be the consolidation of the human agent into the gears of the urban machine, but the exterior costs will be something completely different: ruin.

Jane Jacob’s argument concerning the relationship between urban development and rural zones, detailed in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, helps draw out the implications of this. For Jacobs, the focus of macro-economic analysis should be shifted from the scale of the nation-state to the city-unit, noting that the economic health of the city is not only a barometer of the nation’s economy, but actually takes lead in driving economic development. This takes place because the city tends to development into a self-reinforcing entity, bringing industry inwards toward itself in a manner which effectively transforms the urban zone into an immense vacuum that sucks constant and variable capital from the rural.

Combine this with the globalization of post-Fordist supply chains and the evolution of capital from its striated form to the smooth, it becomes clear which direction the progress of decay and growth is heading, at least in the current time. The rural – as well as various obsoleted urban zones killed by the thrasher of creative destruction – becomes dotted with what has been described as “sacrifice zones”. Driving across the United States and you’ll see more of these than you can count. Extrapolate how these conditions will look in ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years and the creeping ruin looms greater and greater. Collapse is actualized in these places, and does not contradict the fiery circuit of growth elsewhere. Or, to put it even more bluntly, collapse is the cost of unstoppable techno-economic acceleration. To paraphrase an old Trotskyite proverb: the system might be combined, but its development is completely and totally uneven.

Deep in the caves, Schwund pokes and prods Jacob’s theory of urban path dependency for weaknesses to exploit: “this sort of is due to centralized production modes, people move to the city because that’s where the jobs are and vice versa, but if I can sit in the desert writing code for killbots that get produced not in some factory but anywhere my company sets up a 3d printer, and I get everything I need droned to my doorstep by amazon there’s little reason to go anywhere.”

With shades of Kevin Carson, Schwund shines a light on another dimension of collapse: that ruin and a particular kind of freedom need not be antithetical. Out beyond the shimmering borders of the internally-individuating urban zone – and maybe serving a foreshadow of that zone’s own fate under the blade of capital – the sucked-dry bones of yesterday’s world may very well become a space teeming, swarming with strange things, a vast and broken laboratory incubating mutants of its own kind. Consider the following vision of the coming “drop-out economy”, one of the weirder (and more exciting, if a little overly optimistic) things to be written by an American conservative political commentator:

Imagine a future in which millions of families live off the grid, powering their homes and vehicles with dirt-cheap portable fuel cells. As industrial agriculture sputters under the strain of the spiraling costs of water, gasoline and fertilizer, networks of farmers using sophisticated techniques that combine cutting-edge green technologies with ancient Mayan know-how build an alternative food-distribution system. Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.

Rather than warehouse their children in factory schools invented to instill obedience in the future mill workers of America, bourgeois rebels will educate their kids in virtual schools tailored to different learning styles. Whereas only 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007, we can expect the number to explode in future years as distance education blows past the traditional variety in cost and quality. The cultural battle lines of our time, with red America pitted against blue, will be scrambled as Buddhist vegan militia members and evangelical anarchist squatters trade tips on how to build self-sufficient vertical farms from scrap-heap materials. To avoid the tax man, dozens if not hundreds of strongly encrypted digital currencies and barter schemes will crop up, leaving an underresourced IRS to play whack-a-mole with savvy libertarian “hacktivists.”

Work and life will be remixed, as old-style jobs, with long commutes and long hours spent staring at blinking computer screens, vanish thanks to ever increasing productivity levels. New jobs that we can scarcely imagine will take their place, only they’ll tend to be home-based, thus restoring life to bedroom suburbs that today are ghost towns from 9 to 5. Private homes will increasingly give way to cohousing communities, in which singles and nuclear families will build makeshift kinship networks in shared kitchens and common areas and on neighborhood-watch duty. Gated communities will grow larger and more elaborate, effectively seceding from their municipalities and pursuing their own visions of the good life. Whether this future sounds like a nightmare or a dream come true, it’s coming.

At the far horizon from this short-term vision is the time-tangling of modernity catching up with itself and plummeting to its apex: paleo-agorism and the cyborg nomad. “if it’s true as Land says, that reaction is never regressive enough and modernity is never advanced enough, what you get, at the point where circuit closes, at doom, is nomad cyborgs. a hunter-gatherer band formed by the most fiercely selected elements of technology.”