Online course in Marxian class analysis

The five economic systems defined in the first part of an online course in Marxist economics are different in the way the surplus is extracted from those doing the work.

Let me begin by defining “surplus”. In exploitative systems there is always a class of people who do not have to work. The reason they do not have to work is because they are able to live off the surplus of the work of others. In modern day capitalism we think of surplus as money that company directors receive in what is commonly known as profit. Although profit accounts for a part of the surplus, the surplus is also any money that is invested back into the company. The point is that what the class of people who live off the labour of others do with the surplus is not as important as the fact that it is only they and not the workers who produce that surplus, who can decide what to do with it. What the worker takes home after a days work is always less than he or she has produced, this is true in any exploitative system.

  1. Slavery: In slavery all of the surplus is taken from the slave by the master. The master then gives the slave a portion of this back. We often think of this portion as just enough to survive. However if the slave’s work produces an abundance of wealth and the master is kind enough to give the slaves a generous portion that is over and above the slave’s basic needs, the system would still be slavery as by definition the slave has no right to any of the wealth that is produced by his or her hands. No matter how big or small the amount given back to the slave may be, the slave must accept this, the only alternative would be to leave or to take action in forming a new way of organising the surplus which would result in another system that could no longer be called slavery.
  2. Feudalism: In the feudal system the serfs get to keep some of what they produce. The traditional European feudal system was organised so that the serfs would work 3 days a week on the piece of land assigned to them and then for the remaining 3 days (Sunday being a day of rest) they were required to work on the land of the lord. This meant that they were robbed of 3 days labour but whatever they managed to produce on the 3 days where they worked on their own patch, they were able to keep.
  3. Capitalism: The worker is given a wage which is always lower than what the worker produces. It is different from slavery in that the worker is free to use the wage as he or she likes. However if the wage is just enough to cover basic survival, what is the real difference between the two systems? Capitalism is different to feudalism in that the worker is not required to do 3 days work without pay (although this has been known to happen). However the amount that the worker produces in a week is always more than what they earn in wages. What if their wages were the equivalent of 3 days of labour, or even less? What then would be the difference between feudalism and capitalism?

*Systems of exploitation are no more or less exploitative than one another. They are only different in the way the deal is done between the exploiter and the exploited. In all three systems the surplus is given to the master, lord or capitalist who can do what they like with it.

*It is true that workers who are organised in trade unions can demand an increase in wages, however no matter how high that increase may be, it will never be more or equal to what they are worth, otherwise it would not be capitalism. Company directors and managers do not produce a surplus, their entire earnings are directly taken from the employees.

Non-exploitative systems (according to Marx.)

  1. The ancient class structure: The work is done by individuals who are free to use the surplus as they see fit. Individual traders and self-employed people could fit into this category. This system has existed for centuries, alongside other systems.
  2. Communism: A community of workers, uses the surplus as they wish. Marx does not mention anything about the state taking and distributing the surplus (as was done in the USSR and the other so-called examples of communism). The very reason why communism is not an exploitative system is because the people who do the work are the ones who decide communally what should be done with the products that they themselves do not consume. the link to see all 5 parts.

    My introduction relates only to the first video


Solutions to capitalist crisis- Richard Wolff

The American economist Richard Wolff brings Marxist ideas to life with clarity, simplicity and most importantly humour. He studied economics at some of the top universities in the US. He explains in his “occupy our future”talk how in all these years of studying economics the idea of questioning the capitalist system itself was unthinkable. He compares the taboo of not talking about the system to the way sex used to be taboo, concluding that we are better off now that we can talk about it.

Wolff praises the occupy movement, explaining that it has made a big impact on the way people think. The idea of the 99% and the 1% is now something that is being acknowledged. Although they may just be stating the obvious, it is one of those things that have gone unquestioned for many years. By exposing the inherent inequality that is generated by capitalism, we can begin to question the system itself and whether it is really the best that humanity can do it the 21st century.

In times of crisis, economists like Richard Wolff have found a new popularity among many who were previously hostile to his ideas. He now gets so many calls that he has to pick and choose where to speak and who to meet as it would be physically impossible to accept every invitation. According to Wolff the great depression of the 1930s (which was far worse than the current crisis) would not have been overcome if it wasn’t for the strength of the trade unions, socialist and communist ideas of the time. However he does not argue for another kind of new deal as such a deal is easily undone when the organisation of production remains unchanged.

The solution is in fact democracy. But democracy in the work place. It is almost absurd that many of us spend most of our lives in these places but we have very little control over what we produce, how we produce it and what happens to the money that doesn’t form a part of our wage packet.

About conspiracy theories in general

I remember when I first came across conspiracy theories. I was about 19 and I was working as a street fundraiser. This meant that I got the chance to speak to a wide range of people. There were a few that mentioned websites like “prison planet” and 9/11 truth. I remember one guy who enthusiastically told me about some of the content and to be honest I didn’t really understand what he was talking about and I thought he was quite crazy. He seemed to me at the time to be someone who was addicted to the Internet.

I then came across the 9/11 truth movement at anti-war demonstrations. As always, I listened to what they had to say and I took their leaflets. However at this point I wasn’t convinced. Then my sister developed the obsession. I say “obsession” because I’ve always felt that those who were sucked into this idea became one track minded as if 9/11 truth was the one thing that we should be talking about. I did some research on Wikipedia, but I still didn’t find myself any further to the truth!

Then finally, I got sucked in. I gave into the chronic drug users and Internet addicts who kept whispering in my ear the echo of “the illuminati”, “the masons” and of course the Rothschilds. I started reading up on all these ideas and watched the videos. It became a bit of an obsession at one point. No matter how much of that kind of material you view, there is always more. But for some reason, you never really find the “truth” that you seek. When I came across David Icke and some of the other celebrities of that genre it started to border on the ridiculous. A lot of the material seemed more like what you might find in a sci-fi novel than the work of a political scientist, historian or genuine investigative journalist. However, I didn’t abandon conspiracy theories at this point; instead I just decided that there are many things that we don’t know and continued to investigate the idea.

In the end, some useful research did come out of the whole obsession. I came across an article in Indymedia which, although the idea was heavily influenced by conspiracy theory websites, it led me to discover the large amount of influence the Rockefeller family has in US politics. I found this out by looking at websites which were not influenced by conspiracy. It was at this point that I began to realize how false, useless and divisive these theories really are.

There are some things that conspiracy theories have in common; despite the fact that they can be used to influence those on the left as well as those on the far right. Below are the main reasons why I am now against all conspiracy theories. In stating my reasons I will also outline some of the common themes, which make them all as one united force in the spread of misinformation.

1.) They never call for any kind of political action to solve these problems. There is never any genuine movement that they want you to join and they have no connection whatsoever to any known activist organization on the left. The only kind of action I have come across is something called “non-compliance”- this is the idea that you must stay at home and cut yourself off from the system; rather than do something constructive about the problems we face.

2.) There is never any real evidence to back up their claims. Despite some of the conspiracies giving an alternative version of history that goes back as far as the beginning of the 20th century (if not further), never has there been any discovery, whatsoever that confirms any of their ideas to be true. Their so called “evidence” is often constructed by the use of Illuminati symbols, which are so general that they could be applied to almost anything or anyone. There is a limit to the amount of shapes you can make out of a company logo. Why is it their logo that makes them evil and not their actions; which are plain for everyone to see?

3.) What difference would it make if it is true? If the problem really is that the rich and powerful have secret societies or is the problem that they have so much wealth and power while most of humanity are living in poverty? When we begin to talk about the Illuminati we stop talking about the real problems of an economic system called capitalism that sustains itself through greed, wars and the poverty that most of the world are subjected to so that the rich can get richer. What do we do about greedy billionaires who are not part of a secret society? Are they the good guys? In other words it encourages us to focus on the occult rather than what these individuals and companies are doing that is actually evil and we don’t need to look at conspiracy to find the evidence.

4.) They discredit genuine political struggle. There are CT websites which claim that the Arab Spring was a plan by the west to destabilize the region. Many have fallen for this idea. It has only served to divide the left and create support for crumbling dictators like Assad in Syria. The regime’s propaganda fits in with the likes of infowars. Thousands have been killed in Syria and the evidence is everywhere. It is possible to be against imperialism and support the revolution. There is plenty of information out there that is not the mainstream media or conspiracy. If we really believe in freedom and equality then we must be for the people and against the ruling elites, no matter how close or far they are from the west. Your enemy’s enemy is not always your friend, especially when they are an enemy of their own people.

5.) They sometimes serve the interests of the far right. It’s one thing to be anti-Israel, anti-Zionist or even pro-Palestinian. But quite another to be anti-Semitic. The whole Jewish conspiracy is much more than simply an attack on Israel or Zionism. A film about the Rothschild family that was made before the second world war, depicts the Jewish family who lives in the ghetto, pretending to be humble and poor, but in fact being extremely wealthy. I very much doubt that the Rothschilds ever lived anywhere other than a mansion. The film was Nazi propaganda which tried to show how all Jews were rich, greedy and tightfisted. There are many videos that portray this idea in the modern era. Sometimes blaming the Jews themselves for the holocaust and sometimes explaining why the Jews hate the Arabs. But always blaming the Jews for everything- rather than the kind US republicans, for example. Not making it any different from Nazi propaganda; because that’s exactly what it is. The current European far right tend to be more anti-Islam than anti-Jew these days. They have their own conspiracy theories that they follow along with their usual highly distorted version of history.

6.) They are never anti-capitalist but are often anti-communist and anti-socialist. They are not against socialism in the way that someone on the left may be, they say it’s a part of the Illuminati’s plan. The fact that Karl Marx and Trotsky were Jewish also help to feed this myth- “Fascism and communism are the same thing”. Without any kind of explanation.

7.) They help those in power by making us think that they are more powerful than they are, by making us think that everything in history was a set up, by making us think that revolutions are simply orchestrated by some powerful group. They serve to dis-empower the people, spread fear, divide people and make activists look like their crazy and don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

Does it mean something that I have a total of 7 points? Was it deliberate? No of course it wasn’t! Only a misinformed conspiracy theory follower would believe that and I hope you’re not one.

Syria through a Lens

An interesting and moving documentary. The documentary shows a number of short films and interviews of the Syrian filmmaker Bassel Shehadeh; who has unfortunnately been murdered by the Syrian government.
Interviews with Chompsky and other US activists discussing non-violence. A glimpse of the spirit of the Syrian revolution with clips of protesters singing (with translation). Bassel also gives an interview to “democracy now” about the situation in Homs where he is calling from.

Syrian left wing opposition

Even some on the left have fallen for the Assad propaganda and conspiracy theories circulating the web. Give me evidence that Al-qaeda are running the show. If the CIA are  funding the FSA then where is the evidence? Yesterday both the pro and anti Assad mainstream media critised the resistance for cutting off a media centre. Its clear that none of these multi-million media outlets are on the side of the poor and oppressed. Somehow the action against the media station was portrayed as an action against freedom of speech. I wish these Journalists with their cozy offices and comfy lives would put themselves in the position of those currently fighting a class war in Syria. I immediately viewed the attack as a victory for the revolution. In a country where a war of words is being used to divide the population in an attempt to stir up sectarian conflict in a country that is home to Sunnis, Shi’ats, Alawites, Kurds, Christians, as well as a significant number of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. Another report yesterday in Russia Today and the BBC shows rebels wearing Christian religious clothing and holding up a cross in a manner that suggests they are mocking Christians. It was a picture with two or three men who looked like they were having a laugh more than anything else. All of a sudden any action carried out by a Syrian is being used to criticise the movement. A video I came across yesterday on twitter suggests the opposite. A video of a group from the Free Syrian Army who are Christians and are making it clear that the revolution is not against Christians.

The revolutionary movement is now calling for the fall of the regime and does not yet have a fixed ideology. They are caught up in the current struggle more than anything else. However the Local coordination committees (LCC) have outlined their vision as one that demands human rights with any international interferance.

Furthermore this movement is clearly one of the poor who have suffered the worst effects of what the Syrian Marxist scholar Salama Kalieh calls Syria a “Rentier” system where the ruling Alawite families are running a Mafia style capitalism. Over the last ten years the gap between the rich and the poor increased as Neo-Liberal reforms were introduced. Salama explains in his interview that the socialists and communists were part of the uprising from day one. According to Salama Kaileh the crisis of the left is just as evident in Syria as it is in the western world; the communist party do not really understand communism and continue to remain loyal to the regime but that does not mean that all the party members have followed this stance; many of them have joined the revolution. Salama Kaileh is the kind of voice that the Syrian people need in this crucial time of struggle, please sign the petition to call for his release from Syrian prision.