Sunday, March 2, 2014

State and Sarcasm

Libertarianism (or milk toast anarchism) seems like a lot of fun until the power goes out and folks can’t watch the Oscars. McCloskey argues that capital accumulation does not spur innovation. Furthermore, she states that the ultra-wealthy are not really a problem because—since none of this is a zero sum game—everyone else gets to come along for the ride and improve his or her conditions above that of primitive man in just a few scant centuries. McCloskey argued that we could take all the money from the 1% and improve everyone’s lot only by something like 8% once. But since this isn’t a zero sum game, wouldn’t this actually stir the industrial machinery, generating endless innovation and lifting our species to a new plane of consciousness? Comrades (I mean, Colleagues), it is time for us to storm the Winter Palace. Of course, we would find that the current incarnation of the Winter Palace is guarded by one of the most powerful and skilled military forces in history. Even more perniciously, we would have a tough time convincing our fellow proletariats that they would benefit from dismantling the entrenched mechanisms of capitalism altogether. Small benefits are trickled out to the masses in ways that make us ever more dependent and complicit. What I hear critiqued as socialism is actually augmented capitalism—capitalism augmented through bureaucratic processes.

Though Lenin is speaking of a different time and different circumstance, I hear echoes into the present: “Imperialism in particular—the era of banking capital, the era of gigantic capitalist monopolies, the era of the transformation of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly-capitalism—shows an unprecedented strengthening of the ‘state machinery’ and an unprecedented growth of its bureaucratic and military apparatus” (29). I don’t see any revolution in this country due to the military strength. We may well be on the cusp of a revolt, but it’s not based on some tea-party interpretation of reality. If it happens, I suggest that it will come as a total shock and that it will be nearly bloodless. What I am most interested in is the concept of bureaucracy. There was a time when bureaucracy was considered something unwieldy and irrational; when I hear the word bureaucracy, I think of the great film Brazil (1985). But I also think that technology has rendered some of the critiques in that film largely irrelevant in the last almost thirty years. Not only have I seen bureaucracy streamlined and tamed in more than one industry, but I have helped it happed. As a result of the readings this semester, when I hear something critiqued as socialism, I start to wonder if it is not in fact actually something in the service of the capitalist state. Obamacare comes to mind. This palliative measure (certainly a bureaucracy) is meant to suture the two Americas back together. There is nothing in this expansive law that materially addresses the disgusting profiteering of medicine. As opposed to recognizing this grotesque exploitation, it has been framed in terms of class struggle. Or, as Lenin might say, “to limit Marxism to the teaching of the class struggle means to curtail Marxism—to distort it, to reduce it to something which is acceptable to the bourgeoisie” (39).

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