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Whither America? Responses to My Critics

I wish to thank the IN editors for posting Whither America?, and all the participants in this discussion for the consideration afforded me in both reading and commenting on the article.

I have grouped my responses to the questions and problems raised by the participations by issue with the exception of the TPTG comrades and the IN editors. I have offered both a separate response.

Capitalist Dynamics

I welcome David Ranney’s elaboration concerning foreign currency reserves and the historical account of the postwar development with which it was intertwined. In criticizing my allegedly narrow focus on the petro-dollar deal and technological dynamism in ongoing loss of dollar suzerainty, I would merely ask him to reflect on the “many more developments” which “included technologies” he cites… At this moment were not autos a leading, if not the leading, sector in the world economy and were not just-in-time inventories, just-in-sequence deliveries, “lean production,” etc., all permitting the dispersal of manufacturing worldwide and thus the formation of global supply chains, instantiations of that technological dynamic? And, as a condition of those supply chains, the developments that made Rotterdam a completely automated port, that permit containers to be offloaded from ships at Long Beach and placed on railroad flatbeds that carry them tens of miles inland (before being broken down for tractor trail transport eastward) without human (i.e., worker) intervention also an expression of the same technological dynamic?

I accept David’s remarks on debt, specifically the role of derivatives he alludes to without ever using the term. I do believe I stated a perspective on the importance of paper claims to real wealth (i.e., “Trump understands nothing of the financialization and rentierization of the United States economy, nothing of the fictitious accumulation of multitudinous and unsatisfiable paper claims to real wealth.”) I also did remark that, “The bourgeoisie, of course, recognized this profitability decline. It is from this moment, and this recognition, that we can date a shift away from investment in basic industry (production of the means of production, production of their inputs, production of consumer durables) toward the finance, entertainment and real estate sectors, which phenomenally at least appeared vastly more profitable.” However, if I did not make it clear that I think the generation of those fictitious claims (vastly expanded by at least three central bank rounds of “quantitative easing” and not just in the United States, but in Japan and Europe also) are ways of coping with the inability to valorize capital, largely on an industrial basis (and ways which in the end will simply deepen crisis), then I regret not having done so.

I shall return to capitalist dynamics below.

Reactionary Class Bloc

I wish to thank Don Hamerquist for the seriousness with which he examines the essay in question, his acute analysis and his criticisms, some of which I accept. I would like to consider just two issues he raises since taken together they underpin his analyses of my manifold alleged inconsistencies. The first is the question of a “bloc,” and what I think is at issue here. The second is his reference to, and partial elaboration of, what he calls “transnational capitalism,” something on which I cannot bring myself to see eye to eye with him. Again, I shall return that discussion later.

Don writes, “the class fragments that constitute Trump’s political base of the moment constitute an extremely unstable asymmetric coalition of various class fractions that don’t merit being termed a ‘bloc of classes.’ ” I’ll accept the criticism, that is I accept this bloc consists of “class fragments,” what I have already referred to as layers and, more stably, (class) strata. A “bloc” of classes, “class fragments,” call it what you will. Substantively I concede nothing for the characterization does not impinge socially on who these groups are and politically what they represent. I’ll grant that the political base of the current Executive is an unstable and asymmetric coalition. I would simply note I am neither concerned with Trump nor that coalition with a view to whatever part he and it plays in bourgeois politics. (While the penultimate paragraph concluding Part II and the subtitle of my Conclusion, “The Drift toward Renewed Imperialist World War Becomes the Tendential Direction of Capitalist Development,” and its content as well should have made my concerns transparent, they in fact may not have. In reviewing the entire set of responses, with hindsight I can safely say it would have been better had I stated this concern even more forcefully and on more than one occasion.) Further, Hamerquist states, “This base is riddled with contradictions and conflicts that don’t provide Trump a free hand on trade policy or any other issue.” Quite frankly, this is nonsense. The support that base provides, or at least its core evangelical Christian and precarious middling layers provide, is more than enough to grant that free hand for it transpires within the context of the American presidential system, which, because that system grants the Executive vast powers in this regard (say, as opposed to those of a premier in a parliamentary system), permits this president, and in principle any president, to pursuit those tariffs with little or no regard to domestic opposition. The only real opposition the United States Executive meets is abroad, e.g., the Europeans, the Chinese, whereas smaller powers, the Mexicans and Canadians cave, as indeed they have. Finally, in regard to tariffs, Hamerquist recalls large capitalist farmers who have been paraded out in the bourgeois media, and their responses, some of which have (I’ll go Hamerquist better here) openly opposed the tariffs. I merely ask Don if this opposition has had any effect on lifting those tariffs. To answer the question is the recognize Hamerquist is simply mistaken. If the reader requires evidence, I suggest Reuters and Bloomberg both of which have printed a number of pieces since mid-November 2018 describing capitalist farmer responses and, tacitly, their negligible impact. Still, as I indicated in the essay, tariffs may not last; and, as I also stated, de-dollarization is the more important determinant. If Don is so troubled by my framework of analysis of the United States trajectory within the world system of social relations, he might have challenged the significance I assign to de-dollarization. He did not. I suspect any attempt to do would collapse on itself.

Hamerquist examines the so-called bloc in its more or less formal aspects; others, Matthew Lyons and Ross Wolfe [and the IN editors], evince concern about its ideological coherency.

I have no problems with Matthew’s analysis of the so-called alt-right, particularly since he presents valuable insight into rightwing behavior. Moreover, I would not deny the obvious, the reality, as Matthew concisely states, of “fierce disagreements that have riven the United States right for decades” (which is one, among others, of the reasons I make no effort to suggest what the specific ideological color this neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist “bloc” will assume in a major class confrontation, other than objectively effective opposition to any coalescing proletarian forces, I don’t pretend to know.) I do, however, think that he, like Ross Wolfe [and the IN editors], draws illicit conclusions. Those conclusions rest on an assumption. To paraphrase and formalize an old Trotskyist position, the crisis of (proletarian) humanity is a crisis of leadership. [Knowingly or unknowingly, this assumption appears operative in the thinking of the IN editors and their New York periphery.] It is very mistaken and, if pursued practically, dangerous.

There has an enormous cultural shift which has been ongoing since the late 1970s. Layer upon layer of the popular masses, entire strata, have been left behind in the wake of an immense rationalization of capitalism, as the weight of its global structure, vastly enhanced, is increasingly and dramatically felt at each and every site of production and consumption across the world. It has been felt particularly in all the oldest centers of capitalist development, in Britain and the Netherlands, France and Italy, Germany and Austria, Denmark and Sweden as well as in the United States. The neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist “bloc” in the United States is one significant consequence of this shift. It is this “bloc” that has pushed Donald Trump onto center stage. And, whether it is Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Mario Matarella or someone else, it remains the “bloc” itself, and in relation to the emerging proletarian core the shape it tends toward, that is at issue and not, for instance, “elements that comprise the Trump coalition” as they figure in the differences between Republican and Democratic parties in the United States and their role and function within the bourgeois polity. (The difference here is between Hegel and Marx and scientific empiricism. A full statement of what I intend is presented in the final paragraph of the section on TPTG.)

So, what then is problematic with position of Matthew, Ross, [the IN editors] and even Hamerquist’s more formalized one? In respect to the foregoing, a sole concern with a very small, actually tiny, rabid minority and their internal disputes misses the entire framework in which these disputes transpire. It is a question of overlooking the proverbial forest with its dense undergrowth spreading out in every direction for miles and miles, missing it for a few old, large trees. That entire mass is illiberal, fanatically intolerant and authoritarian, xenophobic and ultra-nationalistic, and rabidly anti-proletarian. As I suggested to John Garvey last summer, Matthew’s analysis is “hung in the air” (it’s a military metaphor), that is it’s ungrounded, detached from the primary social formation; in singling out a mere moment from this total social class context, fixing on it in isolation, one pursue abstractions: The assertion that a more “refined” analysis (Ross Wolfe’s characterization) demonstrates serious division within the alt-right camp is a formula for passivity. It fails to apprehend what is at issue and what is at stake. At the crisis deepens, and the pressures emanating from its central dynamics bear down on that “bloc of classes” or “class fragments,” it will increasingly expand and take the shape of a reactionary, fanatically godly chauvinist mass, and you can be certain without an adequate response these same masses, increasingly desperate, will push forward individuals with ideas and prescriptions far more dangerous than those of Trump.

There is one more point here. Matthew Lyons indicates that I conflate “neo-liberalism” with “neo-Right.” In fact, I do hold that neo-liberal and neo-Right programs largely did coincide at their origins, with both originating in roughly the same time frame. Differences develop later. But the manifest sense of the entire present is not oriented to whether nationalism is counterposed to neo-liberal “globalism” (of course it is); but more to my point, the layers and class strata who bear these seemingly opposed ideological positions are not capable of transforming the logic of capital, only accelerating realization of its tendential direction. (Just so there’s no further misunderstanding, they are seemingly, and thus falsely, opposed from a revolutionary communist perspective.)


In a glaringly arrant reading of the text, Ross Wolfe states that I am “extremely naive” with a view to my expectations of “white” workers. Pray tell, where did I say what he is suggesting? The “self-consciously ‘whites’ who will ‘age up’ and,” in so doing, “no longer be significant for the class relation” are precisely those who currently are in their fifties and sixties. Is this not clear? Or did I not say in the sentence immediately preceding this one that, “’Whiteness’ cannot and will not be abandoned by those who are its bearers”? Did I not expressly cite Gordon Long stating that proletarianized millennials, half of them people of color, will form seventy-five percent of the workforce by 2026? And though Long, corrected identified by Gui Destiche, is a bourgeois empirical analysis and statistician, I have not read any response that questions his assessment. So the issue is not the “white” working class as it is currently constituted; rather it is, at least with Wolfe, millennials. He cites no evidence which casts doubt on my position, and none which supports his own, i.e., he, and Matthew Lyons, merely restates an evidentially unmediated theory, in other words, both merely state a prejudice. There are three strands of evidence I can educe; first, that which was referenced in the article itself, namely, that visually provided by the media spectacle; second, my own experience which, obviously is limited, but I would immediately add transpires in a region which is a hotbed of rabid xenophobic fear of (of course it’s a ferociously racist reaction to) immigration, especially Spanish speakers. My experience is that millennials so-called, particularly those who are important for this discussion—those already proletarianized, are, as I indicated in the article, simply not subject to racialized determination; and third, the bulk of analysis, some of it polling, dealing with this issue I believe supports my view. One, very recent, is quite revealing in this respect since it addresses precisely the issues raised here.

Matthew Lyons also contests my account of “whiteness.” He states, “D’Aalst describes race as an ‘imaginary social relation’ that is shaped by ‘institutions’ but is essentially a form of false consciousness without material foundations.” Where exactly did I say without “material foundations”? (The term functions as an ideological sledgehammer to divert serious discussion. Tell me, Ross and Matthew what is “materiality”?) And I never said it is a form of “false consciousness” since precognitive affects function at a much deeper level. So what constitutes those “material foundations”? The “higher wages along with exemption from really difficult, backbreaking work” which “de-industrialization has largely destroyed”? (I am quoting myself.) Again I’ll repeat the citation from a recent IN discussion, “If I understand you, you are saying that the material basis of whiteness has largely disappeared (I assume you are speaking tendentially, not absolutely), leaving working-class whites like amputees, scratching at the place where the limb used to be.” Matthew, think this through. You’re not addressing the crucial issue: If the formation of white layers of the United States working class are no longer (and never simply have been) strictly shaped “materially,” what else is in play here? And, for that matter, how do institutional determinations differ from “material” ones? Though I suspect you will not find this very satisfying, it was my mistake to counterpose “material” determinants to institutional ones: In point of fact for capitalism, institutional determinations subsume “material” ones at least in a formal sense, that is with respect to those activities in and through which society is basically organized. Though historically considered primary, work (waged labor) is an institution, just as are education, family, religion, the military, the home and rental markets, today perhaps certain venues of consumption, and above all those “material adjuncts” (Engels) of coercion and repression (policing, taken together the judiciary and the courts and the prosecutorial system, prisons); formed in the repeated daily practice of men and women, all are complexes of congealed social relations that, dialectically, form those individuals even as they, as their bearers, sustain them. Some institutions shape consciousness generally, that is we all (or almost all) participate in, directly and immediately living through, them. Thus, the family, education, work. Some shape consciousness specifically, that is we do not all directly participate in them, their impacts vary from class to class and within, relationally speaking, classes from stratum to stratum. Thus, the military, the housing market in relation to banks (I’ve in mind “redlining”), those material adjuncts of coercion and repression. These institutions in particular are animated by racial animosity, thereby truncating the life trajectories and life chances of large social strata (blacks, people of color generally), while that animus is naturalized, thus invisible, to other strata (particularly those in the population without regard to class who identify themselves as “white”)…

I’m the one who is “confused,” yet no one has offered a statement of precisely what “race” is. (No one but myself. Distilling Will Barnes’ analysis, I have characterized it as an “imaginary social relation.”) To say the least, it strikes me as odd that no one appears to be able to say what it is. Why? Who’s “confused”? I suspect that in stating what it is, whoever does so will find it much more difficult to consistently contest my characterization. I am looking for a taker to prove me wrong. Until someone coherently offer an alternative, in this discussion at least, race as an imaginary social relation stands.1

Return to the question of material privilege.

If work, as a complex of congealed social relations (as an institution), does not carry the same weight it may have in the past (which is what Barksdale says, or Barksdale and Ignatiev are saying), then how is practical consciousness (i.e., behavior) formed? Or, as you might prefer, if white racism simply cannot be accounted for solely in terms of that (vaulted yet undefined) “material basis,” how does one account for its persistence?

There are two points I am making here.

I am arguing that as work as determinant of practical consciousness weakens, we get a glimpse of another array of determinations; they don’t supplant work but are operative also (and have been all along). And the more the significance of work as a determination declines in our accounts of white racism (as de-industrialization destroys the advantages white workers enjoy relative to black workers and other workers of color), other institutions (shaping us as our very activity sustains them) come to the form, amongst them, e.g., education (or its absence), religion, which have been particularly significant for consciousness in its precognitive dimensions (the crucial dimension of what Dubois called the “psychological wage”), precisely those affective, arcane fears, anxieties, fantasies and sham facts that you disparate, come increasingly to the fore.

I am also arguing that in this context reference to “material foundations” is indefensible dogmatism: Materiality detached from its institutional form has no explanatory value; split materiality off from its institutional form and the human activity which sustains it and your explanation references an untenable metaphysical construct (which is the significance of Marx’s critical remarks on Feuerbach). This may not be intuitively obvious; if so, then I will on request offer a more detailed, discursive explanation.

Consciousness of Class

This section has been drafted specifically in response to the IN editors, which came to me very late, long after everyone else had responded. (Thus, throughout this text, I have simply bracketed “IN editors” where, in my response to criticisms, including them appears appropriate.) The editors’ response has, very subtly, a philosophically theoretical flavor, something which in everything else here I have written I’ve attempted to avoid. In this section, however, an adequate response requires in part I engage in just such remarks. I add the IN editors’ criticism strikes me as coherent and challenging, and at the same time often exhibits polemical decontextualizations and disparaging misconstructions. I relish the opportunity to respond…

Hegel, indeed! But a Hegel read “materialistically” starting from Grunlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, §§182–208. Below (i.e., the last paragraph of the following section entitled TPTG) you will discover just how far I am willing to push this reading.

The IN editors appear intent on a defense of Marx. I really do not think that anyone can make a reasonable argument that the significance of Whither America? revolves around Marx. And I do not see myself as an anti-Marx, unorthodox certainly; but okay I’ll play, we can do a little Marx:

Of course, “Consciousness is constitutive of class.” What makes the IN editors think determination is singular? Class is invariably, or so it seems, complexly mediated. In a passage concerning the conservative French peasantry Marx (Der achtzehnte Brumaire) specifies a mode of living and a community of interest that opposes one class to others, and within that community interaction, political organization and a national bond (which in the epoch of real domination I would forgo as a determinant). In the very next paragraph, however, he also refers to assimilated historical tradition, belief and hope borne by the same peasantry vis-a-vis Louis Napoleon; and he speaks about these precognitive aspects of consciousness as determinants of the peasants as a class (just as they also are determinants of race), obviously though not as a revolutionary class. Could this be any clearer? “Idealism,” no doubt about it.

The IN editors’ response in respect to consciousness of class is contradictory; to one side, I stand accused of “idealism,” of an idealistic construction of consciousness; and, to the other, the editors, as I already have, do enumerate a series of institutions, which makes the “materialism” significantly broader than, for instance, Matthew Lyons’ or least his in his response to the article in question. The editors state, “The police, the courts, the prisons, the schools and colleges, the public housing authorities, the real estate markets within cities and metropolitan areas, and the informal labor markets are all interwoven to produce systemic disadvantage for blacks and advantage for ‘whites.’ ” Good, but not good enough. Since I’m being charges with offenses in the litany of crimes against Marxism (specifically, “idealism,” then without due homage to Marx’s concept of nature in the Manuskripte), it is this that saves you, but only in part, from reaching back (like Lyons and Wolfe) to 18th century materialism, bourgeois materialism. But only in part:

Your concept of institution lacks “foundations,” i.e., it is not mediated by activity, and the experience that is lived through in such doings, and thus you would be hard pressed to account for the consciousness (actually you could not do so coherently, which means, to put it bluntly, you could not even account for this exchange), and those institutions, that rise from that activity. Nowhere do you do so, or even suggest the necessity of so doing. If it looks and smells metaphysical… I’ve read enough of both authors to understand that each knows better than to coquette with bourgeois materialism. This is curious.

But there is more… in the way of bad polemic. If Hamerquist is disingenuous in conveniently finding significant fascist tendencies among insignificant groups when he denies they exist among his fabled “class fragments” (This remark refers to a later section. I apologize for a reference which pertains to something not yet stated. I can only plea this section has been written last because the IN editors response came to me seventeen days after all others), the IN editors criticism, “He says nothing about which institutions he has in mind, how they are constructed or how they are maintained,” reads like an attempt to out-Hamerquist Hamerquist, i.e., it is twice disingenuous.

First, in the article itself I specified four institutions, three of which are part of our historical present, work (waged work), the family and education, and one which belongs to the historical past, slave labor. In fact, I have much to say about how one of these is constructed (education), and negatively, something other another (work). What I say is that its impact in shaping awareness has diminished, which is not different from what the author(s), Barksdale (and Ignatiev) state (which, given the institutional enumeration and what is later stated, is not at issue between the IN editors and myself).

Second, I re-cite the IN editors, “He says nothing about which institutions he has in mind…” As we’ve seen, not so, but more to the point. This is over the top: Having enumerated specific institutions (not just the ones the IN editors have in mind), they demand a more detailed, worked-out explanation. What, comrades, would have me do, write and submit a book?

There are other criticisms which I consider not merely unwarranted, but based on intentional, decontextualized misreading. (Another word would be obfuscation.) I’ll cite just one more. The IN editors find, “Profitability is a curious word choice,” and then go on to assimilate the statement to a social-democratic perspective. I suppose, perhaps wrongly (but what other intent could be operative?), to discredit the entire standpoint of which these remarks form a part as a “fantasy” and “magical incantation.” This is linked, at least logically (though the linkage is not at all clear in the IN editors’ response), to an “uncritically mechanical understanding of the effects of immiseration on consciousness.”

No, my apprehension of the deleterious effects of immiseration on awareness is neither uncritical nor “mechanical” (another term in the lexicon of polemically obtuse Marxism): I specify an interrelated array of determinations, existentially frustrated expectation, proletarianization and precarity, and very deep debt which form the contours of a “whole situation” that “itself has and will increasingly become a formula for lived and experienced immiseration” … Find me a better, more concise formulation of the concept of immiseration… and then I situate this lived and experienced immiseration with the context of a crisis, the domestic repercussions of climactic de-dollarization (rapid rampant inflation, shortages as global supply chains break down). It is in this context that awareness is flooded with insights, constituting a transformation in which “bourgeois democratic and electoral illusions” fall away and novel, mass organizations form issuing in an open challenge to capital. Mediated by looming renewal of interimperialist world war and the existential threat of an accelerating abruptly changing climate, confronting a coalescing neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist bloc it is the unrelenting, increasing pressure of crisis which forces a revolutionary reorganization of awareness, and it those sensibilities (which embrace “tolerance and equality” and exhibit “ecological sensitivity”) that compel it to move in the direction of revolutionary opposition. (There was a time when one of the authors spoke quite differently of developments such as these, in part because they provided a context for his own reflections on the dynamic of party and class vanguards, “magical incantation” which took him less than less than three paragraphs to elaborate, a “fantasy” set down in far, far more than 27 pages.)

Constituted in a revolutionary situation, I consider this an abbreviated statement of the dialectic of freedom and necessity in the best traditions of Marx and Hegel. (For more, see the remarks addressing Bruno Astarian’s criticism in the section, “Capitalist Dynamics, Again,” below.) It may all be fantasy to you, the IN editors; for me, the real possibility of revolutionary breakthrough is grounded in the tendential direction of capitalist development. There is a lengthy elaboration in the same section, just referred. But come back to the issue of profitability.

It is clear, to me at least, that a critique of the absolute primacy of profitability over need fully transcends social democratic pretensions and intent. Why? Because in its prescriptions such critique does not permit the exploitation of wage labor in the provision of needs to be smuggled in through some back door. However, that was not what I had foremost in mind when I penned the passage. What I actually refer to is, “withering critique of the primacy of profitability over need, of ruling class imperatives and bureaucratic administrators over the development of community-mediated individual competencies, of direct democracy over all form of representation above all over capital’s police despotic dictatorship, and of the inanity and deleterious character of capital’s media spectacle will increasingly receive a hearing.” I.e., I start from what is immediately apparent in a revolutionary situation, what is given, and from the standpoint of the concrete and totalizing critique of capital what is phenomenal, and I state, this is a point of departure for critique which is essential (yes, in the Hegelian sense), for “such a critique will become increasingly meaningful, concrete and real” as it, or if it, reaches “all the way back to abstract labor and the value-form.” So, John and Loren, does that strike you as social-democratic? If so, how so?

In this context, on the face of it there is manifestly a valid criticism, namely, I do not consider the other “components” of a revolutionary bloc. This is not, and was not, the task undertaken in the essay. My warrant was to identify an emerging revolutionary core. I did so. But, yes, I fully agree, “The individuals in those groups are self-thinking and self-acting and we should not assume very much at all of what they might do.” However, the assumption is not “problematic” in the manner the IN editors suggest. That is, it is not a question of a bunch of white kids reaching out to blacks and Spanish speaking workers from whom they are walled off. Besides the obvious fact that the largest numbers of them will no long be “kids,” nearly half of this potential revolutionary core itself will be made of blacks, Spanish speaking workers, and other ethnicities. I am not arguing for passivity here, but linkages between the emerging revolutionary core and the broader ethnic communities, above all their working class layers, are already present.

The immediately foregoing neatly dovetails with the fact that the IN editors appear particularly disturbed by what they take to be a cocksure attitude animating the essay. Thus, we have, “What might have helped D’Aalst’s arguments would have been an expression of tentativeness about the certainty with which he advanced them” (in other words, a little humility comrade), followed by, “We shall see.” Is this voice of wisdom? No, I don’t think so… It is, I suggest, the source of the rather brisk (I’m being polite) manner in which they carve up the text in, what I above referred to as, disparaging misconstructions. For the record, I expressly state my underlying attitude in my response to Guillaume Destiche in the section, “Problems of Revolutionary Communists,” below. That attitude is not tepid, but then again it is also not cavalier.

There is one other point, though. It refers to my role as a demonic anti-Marx.

I doubt very, very much that one can make a case that Marx’s 1844 manuscripts provide a basis for considerations of nature in its otherness, autonomy, and self-organizing cohesiveness, either nature as atemporal becoming and unlimited being (natura naturans) or earthly nature (naturata naturans) as a limited expression of nature as that totality. These writings strike me as romantic in both the prosaic and precise historical sense. They express an attitude, little more. They certainly do not rise to the level of the systematic reflections of the young Schelling (Einleitung zu seinem Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie, 1797). To once more make a contentless accusation of “idealism” would entirely miss the significance of this work in relation to our understanding of and practice in nature.

There is indications of the IN editor’s intent to cite a passage from Marx’s 1844 manuscripts, though it is missing in the response text forwarded to me. That’s probably for the better: For every passage you, the editors, can so cite, I will find one that bears all the marks of what I’ve suggested. For the better? I have no intent of getting in to a war of citations, for, as I said, the essay in question is not about Marx.

Finally, I think one can pursue this effort (considerations of nature) for more effectively starting from a rigorously critical appropriation of contemporary sciences of climate change, ending by integrating that appropriation into a historical, materialist and dialectical concept of nature, and by this I do not intend Marcuse or Bloch.


While I thank the TPTG comrades for their contribution, and while their past work displays analytic insight and genuinely principled criticism (above all, their confrontation with Aufheben over the relation of revolutionaries to cops and the state generally), I regret to say their response does not rise to the level of that past work.

Having asked John Garvey to issue them an invitation (both as a potential check against the possibility my discussion was too US-centered and to query whether these comrades thought I over dramatize both potential conflict and its political resolution), I nonetheless appreciate their participation.

TPTG engages in a well-documented and tightly argued, detailed social and historical account of a period in recent US history defined by, for lack of a better term, de-industrialization. The parameters of the period are, in turn, themselves defined by the struggle of classes and the balance of class forces thereby achieved. It is strictly on this foundation from which their criticisms of Whither America? rise. Permit me to examine those criticisms.

First, TPTG writes, “Floris’s argument that ‘large capitalist concerns no longer accepted the social wage and supported the social welfare state’ is insufficient in order to describe the crisis of the capitalist state itself” and since it was never intended to function as an exclusive explanation, I fully accept this.

Two conclusions follow according to TPTG, (a) the “text underestimates the role of the capitalist welfare state as the most powerful agent of capitalist activity and at the same time the mediator of class struggles and it fails to present it as the irreversible historical result of the post-war class compromise on western democracies until nowadays”; and (b) “instead of presenting neoliberalism as a capitalist strategy of both political forms of capital in US politics (Republicans/Democrats, right-wing/liberal), as political forms of capital faced with the crisis, in the text it is only the ‘Neo-Right’ that it is identified with the neoliberal program.” In the case of (b), the text does allow this conclusion, and I consider that a grievous shortcoming for it is not my position; that is, I agree that neo-liberalism is a strategy pursued by both political parties of capital. In the case of (a), however, I disagree: To assert the welfare state is the “most powerful agent of capitalist activity” is to take a very narrow view of class struggle; at least in the thirty-five years prior to neo-liberal ascendancy in the state (with Reagan’s capture of the position of Executive), and in my view, down to the defeat of Stanley workers in 1996 and perhaps beyond, it the official labor movement, the unions led by the AFL-CIO which were effectively that “most powerful agent.” There are two points here worth making. First, the United States at least, the “postwar compromise” arises far earlier than the welfare state. It begins, as TPTG correctly notes, from Keynesianism. But I understand it differently, in terms of the incorporation of the wage into capitalist dynamics as the bourgeoisie understood them, so to speak as the “motor” of capitalist development, in other words, in terms of an attempt to integrate workers into a consumerist project driving demand.2 So, developed through official union leadership efforts to purge themselves of socialists and “reds” in the war’s immediate aftermath, the historical compromise in the United States consisted in a trade-off of organized forms of shopfloor power at the point of production for the wages and benefits necessary to sustain that project. In the first case, that compromise entailed continuous efforts by the union leadership to suppress worker struggle as became undeniably manifest in the explosive cycle of struggles, 1964–1978. The second point is this: A massive expansion of the social wage in the programmatic sense was not inaugurated until the mid-sixties; it should be dated from the national legislation achieved as a product of black struggles with passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and establishment of Medicare in 1965.

Second, TPTG states, “But if neither the content of neoliberalism can be attributed exclusively to the Neo-Right’s program, as the text claims, nor its origin dates back in Reagan era, then a disproportionately long analysis of the New Right is hardly necessary, if not confusing.” Again, I disagree. The validity of this assertion rests strictly on the type of analysis TPTG has undertaken. Internally consistent, it nonetheless exhibits the limitation of analyses of this kind, i.e., a period-specific, detailed socio-historical analysis centered on class struggle. That limitation consists in a failure to incorporate “structural” features of capitalism, that is it consists in a neglect of overall capitalist dynamics. (I return to this in the following section.) While analysis of the sort I pursue certainly is not incompatible with the kind TPTG engages in, in not incorporating the type of analysis I pursue the TPTG comrades are unable to apprehend the significance of that “disproportionately long analysis” of the neo-Right. Within the context of those dynamics, i.e., the increasing pressure as capitalist crisis bears down on this neo-Right, increasing neo-fascist “bloc,” that import lies in its role and function in accelerating the onset of a major class confrontation.

Third, TPTG writes, “The long history of neoliberalism from the 1970s up till now had its ups and downs. It was not an even historical process culminating in Trump, as Floris suggests,” and returns to its detailed analysis, partly in an effect to substantiate this assertion.

No one, certainly not I, would deny that the neo-liberal history has been uneven; and, prove me wrong, I did not suggest that this historical process reaches its apex in Trump; to the contrary, with some of my other critics I am far more inclined to see tension, at least on the surface, between Trump and neo-liberals housed in both parties of capital. But once again, it is not Trump who is the issue (or, he is, only if one operates on the terrain of the bourgeois polity); rather, he is, as indicated in concluding the penultimate paragraph in “Reactionary Class Bloc” above, symptomatic.

Fourth, TPTG sets forth the hypothesis that “the importance of the 9/11 events” is to be placed in the framework “of a strategy of a dramatic transformation of class relations and temporary reversal of the profitability crisis”; and in a footnote the comrades add the concept of a “deep state” is redundant, since “bourgeois democracy does not exclude temporary or long-drawn ‘states of exception’ or ‘states of emergency,’ as the violent transformation of class relations in Greece in recent years has proved.” Here TPTG veers into sociological (i.e., bourgeois) territory invoking a functionalist and reductionist analysis to justify its position. Not all phenomena in social life can be immediately explicated in terms of class struggle. Though the mediations are more complex, the so-called war on terrorism and those events TPTG refers to originated as legitimizations for a ruling class factional project of the renewal of US global dominance. (This project was borne by neo-conservatives, a term which is used interchangeably with neo-liberal with the terminological difference indicating this specific factional center of capital in question is housed in the Republican party.)

Like Ross Wolfe and Matthew Lyons, here I think TPTG is in over its head (though not for the same reasons). I would like to offer all of you the possibility of illuminating yourselves. Though there is a veritable cottage industry, two very good works, the respective authors’ politics notwithstanding, are David Ray Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor and Webster Tarpley’s 9/11 Synthetic Terror. (Matthew [and John] you want evidence, well this would form an excellent point of departure. Ross [and Loren], it would be a small victory if you would even consider the evidence.) But enough: As I indicate below in “Problems of Revolutionary Communism” (first part), I will not pursue this issue further.

There is one other point here, posed interrogatively it is, just how long does a “long-drawn” state of exception or emergency last before parliamentary or democratic forms of bourgeois rule becomes something distinctively other? In US history, the American Civil War found Lincoln deploying certain “unconstitutional” measures episodically; in April/May 1861 he garrisoned federal troops on the city of Baltimore; in May (same year), he appropriated funds without Congressional authorization; and in autumn 1861 he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, had arrests made, individuals were imprisoned without charges, trial and legal consultation all in Baltimore again; then, in two elections, November 1862 in Delaware and Tennessee, he had troops stationed at the polls, and in August 1864, he declared martial law in Kentucky where Democratic party politicians were arrested and troops were stationed at the polls; finally, in November 1864, he had the New York national guard removed from and Union troops stationed at polling places. After 1864, the course of American “democracy” was resumed. This was the most sustained use of a state of exception in US history, all localized, all episodic; on the other hand, there are competent legal scholars who argue the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act effectively supplants the United States Constitution (effectively because in bourgeois jurisprudence the supercession of fundamental law by statuary law is absurd). How long has that been, nearly eighteen years? While your respect for the illusorily bourgeois democratic character of the American social formation (”what the ‘deep state’ did was in no way incongruent with the Bush Administration’s operations, i.e. with the policy of a democratically elected president”) is touching, it is misguided and mistaken.

(Egregiously mistaken. In the representative sense, the United States Senate, and each and all of the senates in those states with bicameral legislatures, the Supreme Court and the Electoral College are not democratic institutions. While there is little to regret here, the 2000 national election was won by Bush in the Electoral College by a margin which the Florida delegation of electors provided, and this only after a Supreme Court justice stepped in to halt both a count of all absentee ballots and a recount in the state, and that only after nativists, racists and state troopers had blocked, intimidated and threatened tens of thousands of blacks, turning them away at polling sites in Broward and Miami Dade counties, and this only after the president-to-be’s brother had as Florida governor already issued an executive order disenfranchising several hundred thousand, mostly black potential voters as one-time felons, felons who had completed their sentences in the United States capitalist prison hell holes, any one of which had it not occurred would have shifted the electoral victory to Bush’s opponent).

Fifth, TPTG writes, “we view Trump more as an expression of the predicament capital finds itself in and of working-class frustration than as the ‘deepening’ or the ‘culmination’ of a neo-Right, political culture, nascently neo-liberal and, today, more or less openly neo-fascist.” In a mediated way, so do I; there is no contradiction here; that is, the neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist “bloc” which supports Trump itself has historically arisen as a social class expression of that “predicament” (a “bloc” which, by the way, my analysis shows that to this moment is anything but a “homogeneous[ly] strengthened neo-Right”). You are too quick and too anxious to criticize, comrades, for this is what your analysis also indicates, Trump’s “’anti-establishment’ stance… during his campaign… and his populist narrative indicate a deep crisis within the political forms of mediation in US politics.” This is, or should be, elementary; after all, insofar as masses of people have been involved that political mediation has been electoral, and it is that “bloc” or those “class fragments” who elected Trump. And, while “deepening” suggests a process that is not completed (unlike “culmination”), for the record I employ the term “culmination” just once in the entire text, and that deployment is expressly in reference to Bannon, Malpass and the potential of civil war, not in reference to that neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist “bloc.”

Sixth, TPTG states, “Even more certain is that there can be no historical analogy with fascism.” This is a misapprehension of intent, which obviously is forgivable, and a misleading of the text, which is not.

There are two passages here from which the issue can be raised. Early on, I parenthetically refer to “the ‘Freedom’ Caucus in the House whose reverence for the Constitution is counterrevolutionary, the legal basis for its racism, and who is the historical analogue to the ultra-nationalist militarists, monarchists and fascists outside European parliaments in the immediate postwar period” (emphasis added). Note, first, that I am referring to the postwar period, not the prewar one where analogical considerations with Nazi Germany would arise; note, second, I am not comparing fascism as a societal phenomenon, total cultural fact, whatever, I am not comparing capitalist national states but individuals and groups of individuals. What I had actually had in mind here was a contrast, in postwar Europe counterrevolutionaries were swept up into the CIA financed Operation Gladio and by and large functioned extra-parliamentarily and, on important occasions, terroristically (both of which one might expect); but in the United States counterrevolutionary forces are domiciled in the state, in its representative body no less.

The second passage occurs in the Conclusion to the essay. It concerns a historically constituted pattern of events that led from trade wars to shooting wars to a world war. In this context, I mention the formation of two large geographical blocs dominated by Japan and Germany, respectively. I do not expressly compare Nazi Germany and the contemporary United States; instead, I indicate what is at issue is a pattern of events: They involve “tariffs retaliation… still higher duties on specific products or products categories, differential evaluations, exchange restrictions, and preferential treatment of domestic products,” which “led to capital controls, blocked accounts and currency devaluations,” eventually devolving into “trade blocs” whose inadequacy from the standpoint of Germany and Japan led to “territorial aggrandizement.” It is a pattern of economic and commercial behavior of national states, policies and behavior not societal determinants, a pattern which I hold, in penning the essay and now, is at an early stage similar to our situation today; it is not a characterization of “’structural similarities’ between the neo-liberal US state and the Nazi state.”

Seventh, citing increasingly interconnected “local regimes of accumulation,” TPTG suggests that contemporarily we are witnessing inter-imperialist “simultaneous competition and cooperation.” Well, yes, if the cooperation is a function of normal cross border exchange relations, but no because trade relations today fall outside the norm established with Bretton-Woods (1944) and continuing, long after its demise, nearly down to the present day; moreover, the tendential direction in which those relations are moving indicate the emerging primacy of inter-imperialist conflict. This was one of the central points in the essay, and, thus, I once again register my disagreement with TPTG. In the regard, it is stated, Trump’s tariff policy, “focusing on bilateral agreements that would largely favor the US, seem to have been halted by temporary agreements with [the] EU and Canada, while, and this is equally important, such protectionist policies may be beneficial to all trading sides, to a certain degree at least.” It appears, to me at least, that TPTG is engaged in a fiat construction of a reality which fits its perspective. Tell it to the EU, specifically, the Germans: US tariffs on steel, aluminum and auto parts remain in place; BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen Group car sales in the United States are all off from 3 percent to 6 percent year (2018) over year (2017); the trade agreement with the Canadians, as well as the Mexicans, was bilateral. (NAFTA effectively no longer exists.) The Canadians were forced to open their dairy farming market, once internally protected, to US capitalist farmers, and they also gave up a system of regulations that shielded their pharmaceuticals. Both were done to avoid tariffs on (primarily GM) autos produced in Canada. This is hardly a matter of “protectionist policies” being “beneficial to all trading sides,” which, in my judgment, is an absurd assessment.3

Eighth, TPTG censors my “dystopian science fiction, apocalyptic totalitarian scenarios” as the text ends for two reasons; first, because it is not productive and ungrounded, i.e., it is not attuned to “the real movement of our times” (emphasis in original) and, second, because “proletarian organization seems to have no influence whatsoever” over such a “hypothetical series of events.” I do believe this answers the query (posed to John Garvey) at the outset of this section of my response, “whether these comrades (TPTG) thought I over dramatize both potential conflict and its political resolution.” Instead of considering this question separately, I think this part of my response (to the question of potential conflict and its political resolution) can just as adequately be put forth by setting it in the context of a reply to Don Hamerquist (and Bruno Astarian) in the next section. The other part of that response will come in the final section. At this moment I will simply state the following: The only “apocalyptic scenarios” I offer are firmly grounded on a critical assessment of the bourgeois science of climate. For a group that is essentially clueless with respect to theorizations of climate and prefers to stick its head in the sand, it is stupendously brazen to characterize those “scenarios” as a “hypothetical series of events,” a position that puts it in the camp of the current US Executive and those domestic and international capitals tied directly and immediately to the hydrocarbon economy.

This leaves TPTG’s Theoretical Postscript.

Begin, if you will, with the statement, “currency issues and trade-currency wars are mystified forms of appearance of problems that arise with the relations of production, i.e., within the relations of exploitation.” Yes, those problems do arise in production. But the spheres of production and circulation are necessarily linked: Existing globally, capitalism is a system of social relations, and starting from the inability of individual capitals to valorize themselves as larger individual capitals (i.e., to extract adequate surplus value necessary to augment themselves, to expand their reproduction), within this total system the locus of this problem shifts. (I’ll examine how in the next section.) The problem is not phenomenal as TPTG appears to suggest.

Permit me to approach this differently. “Competition… between companies or even national capitals is not the essence of capitalism.” Yes, but competition is essential to capitalism. The critique of capital does not begin with relations of exploitation as they form in production, it begins with the commodity in order to exhibit that concrete waged labor (workers’ affects, sensibilities, corporeality and experience) are objectified and materialized in a quantified temporal form, as value. The relations of exploitation are formed in and through this process of abstraction, that is, they are accomplished through speedups, imposition of production norms, subjugation to machine rhythms, harassment and in other ways. It is done in order that a capitalist can produce commodities at a competitive advantage by lowering the social necessary labor time embodied in those commodities to achieve a competitive advantage within an industry, within an industrial sector, within the global economy; and that is done in order that the capitalist can sell the commodities to realize that value and return it to her or him as a surplus of value in the phenomenal form of profitability. Realization is not at all times and in all places simply given, which is another way of speaking, again phenomenally, of a crisis of overproduction and, driven by crisis, the responses that capitalists pursue may devolve on to trade wars. I’ll take this up in more detail in the next section, for all I wish to stress here is the inseparability of production and exchange.

There is one further point, though.

TPTG disparagingly refer to “the obsession of anti-imperialists (whether left or liberal) with inter-capitalist conflict,” and while it does not go so far as to speak of “global capital” or “transnational capitalism,” it is, for this group, a question of “conceal[ing] the real contents of this conflict: The joint domination of many capitals over the undisciplined labor powers,” which again presupposes the unity of capitals in the face of their own internal antagonisms and contradictions. (Once more, I will return to this immediately below.) While I doubt a personal affront was intended, I would like to note the following:

In the traditions with which I am most familiar, especially in their contemporary forms… they are left communist… the term “anti-imperialist” is a nasty one. It designates those who hold Marxism is a theory of the development of productive forces, a view most frequently associated with radicalized bourgeois intellectuals of the capitalist periphery. It has its political axis in support for national liberation struggles (with their usual anti-proletarian content), groups such as Hamas or, in the now distant past, the Stalinist CPs in the same periphery prior to their assumption of power (e.g., in Vietnam). I do not think there is anything in Whither America? which permits such a judgment.

There are several issues that separate us, and I’ll simply restate the one which I think is most important:

Above, I characterized the TPTG response as period-specific, detailed socio-historical and centered on class struggle. The problem here is in an examination of the historical present this sort of analysis never gets and cannot get beyond the current conjuncture. It obliterates the difference between class potential for revolutionary transformation immanent to the current configuration of social relations and the simple givenness of those relations. Centered exclusively on the struggle between proletarians and capital, it is tidally locked in that historical present without regard for future possibilities immanent to this present, without regard to the concatenation of struggles, relations, events and processes that imply a direction in which the current situation, with all the determinants embedded in, is moving. The historical present in its facticity, even class struggle as currently constituted, is not “real movement,” rather it, that “real movement,” is the immanent potential incarnate in a social class stratum (a youthful, immiserated proletarian) for historically effective action that mounts a genuine challenge to capital; taken together those determinants, which include trade wars, climate change and whatever lies beyond them, form the contours of the tendential direction within which “real movement” occurs.

Capitalist Dynamics, Again

I’ll begin with Don Hamerquist.

He states, “Overwhelmingly the transnational capitalist elites see these developments as major destabilizing threats, and not, as the essay suggests, as a welcome facilitation of a path towards a fascist future.” This is, quite simply, a misreading. Nowhere do I state expressly or even tacitly that these developments are welcomed by various ruling class factions; to the contrary, what I state is there is a logic that operates in capitalism, and it tendentially drives development whether or not those factions embrace it.

As one who over the years has held Marxism at arm’s length, I am in all honestly stunned to suggest this, but I find myself thinking that nearly all of the participants, TPTG exemplarily, simply are not Marxist enough, i.e., for whatever reason they do not accept that a dynamic and a logic operates in capitalism that shapes its tendential direction of development; in a classical formulation, it does this as long as a proletariat does not marshal a revolutionary challenge to the system of social relations.4 (Like Gui Destiche, I too think this is for the most part a lingering, pernicious effect of post-modernist thinking.) What I am aiming at here (i.e., in this specific response) is a general statement of a position, one which flies on the face of constructs such as “transnational capitalism.” Thus, Hamerquist’s assertion that, “the essay misses entirely the process by which the reactionary populist opposition to current capitalist power is being used by the currently dominant sectors of capital to develop a renovated approach to their hegemony” is, candidly speaking, simply not germane to the considerations I have been making, and entirely underestimates the limits any ruling class cooptation and renovation run up against. I would like to fold this into a response to another question. Their connectedness will, I hope, become clear.

In his polite refusal to participate, Bruno Astarian offered, tacitly at least, a criticism of huge import to the article in question. He states, Whither America? “poses the problem of American capitals as the nucleus of a world system which no longer permits us to speak of national capitalism, probably even in the US.”

In a general way, there are two features of the world system of social relations we call capitalism I would affirm. First, it is unitary, but in a contradictory fashion. I’ll spell just how in the following. Second, whether considered logically, socially or historically that major class confrontation on the horizon in the United States will have ramifications, amplifications, and precedences elsewhere in the world. In fact, a fundamental feature of this confrontation will be global simultaneity; it won’t occur without this country, and others, convulsed by strikes, antiwar strikes, strikes for wages, actions against supervisors, for a return to democratic norms in the state, against the regime in power, some against the state itself (and if anyone thinks that this is no longer possible in the United States, well the sickouts by TSA workers and especially air traffic controllers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington putting an end to Trump’s “partial government shutdown” suggests otherwise); not only will any chance of success find us reaching out and linking up beyond international borders, without respect to what we intend or pursue, other proletarians will ensure this confrontation will spill over those borders.

There is, then, that first feature, the question of what is at issue between Astarian and myself, and all those who refuse to acknowledge a logic and dynamic in capitalism. While I am sympathetic to Astarian’s concept of communism first put forth Le communisme—Tentative de définition, this is a huge issue, and the differences between him, Hamerquist and TPTG and myself with respect to that issue are profound.

Capitalism is inseparable from its historical formation and development. You need to go back a little over a century (starting circa 1870) and pick up that thread of its development there: Historically (and logically also), competition between capitals leads inescapably to concentration and centralization of production and the means of production. In Germany, this was called cartelization; in the United States, trustification. Referring to real social and historical phenomena, these characterizations were based on, unfolding just as unavoidably, increasing technological inputs to the labor processes, and thus tremendous productivity increases. Competition, then, leads inexorably to overproduction and asset deflation. The entire last three decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a series of depressions in agriculture (phenomenally a consequent of global overproduction of wheat). In the United States at least, there were three depressions, 1873–1876, 1884–1886, 1892–1995. There were worker and peasant (or farmer) responses as well. Again, in the United States there were large-scale effectively national responses, a metalworking railroad proletariat strike along the Baltimore & Ohio, the working class socialist and anarchist movement which culminated in the Haymarket events, and the Pullman strike. In other words, capitalists were pushed to the wall by the growing militancy, organization and consciousness of workers, themselves driven on by the crushing brutality of absolute surplus value extraction. Yet those capitalists dominated the state at the national level.

Overcapacity, overproduction, falling profit rates, capital surfeit, worker (and peasant or farmer) militancy issuing in a political challenge to capital. Hegemonizing those states, capitalist attempted to overcome these contradictions in the domestic or national economy at the level of the world. Imperialism appeared on the world stage.

Imperialist activity is organized largely through national states. Recall the antagonistic nature of competing capitals; logically, and in real history, they require a state. It’s the political space in which inter-capitalist competition is (temporarily) resolved; it’s where their unity (hierarchical to be sure) is laboriously forged, legislatively, executively, administratively. It is within the institutional framework of the state that it is permissible to speak of “capitalist unity,” and from the standpoint of inter-imperialist rivalries as they form, this arduously forged unity effectively amounts to the construction of national capitals in order to defend them. These are capitals which each ruling class decides are necessary to maintain and advance their existence as capitals, the state which they act through, and their place and role in the global division of labor, which in other words they deem necessary to the existence and expanded reproduction of their capitals, but objectively to the order of capital itself. At the level of the world, states are stand-ins for, represent and advance the interests of, national capitals.

As imperialist activity has unfolded, it has led ruling class layers (those hegemonizing the state) to defend their most important capitalist firms and national industries in this, the global arena. In a general crisis of the system of social relations, and this is what I have been discussing, capitalism does not exhibit itself as a unitary phenomenon, as, for example, “transnational capitalism” or “global capitalism”; instead, the logic of capital compels it to fissure (liquidity increasingly freezes up, production sites are shuttered and supply chains become unreliable, trade levels plummet) along the lines of its older component parts, national states, it breaks up into antagonist capitals operating at the level of the world, into states acting as national capitals, trade blocs form and tend toward confrontation and war, without that logic even disappearing, all the while that logic operates on those components or states as national capitals.

Of course, we know that workers as migrants cross national borders; that large capitals often operate in any number of countries. And, above all, we can certainly speak legitimately of certain categories of capitalists which seem to operate independently of the state, and which seem to shape capital’s movement at the level of the world. By and large, these capitalists are situated in finance. In an abstract sense, they also seem to possess a “community of interest”; this community, however, does not rise to the level of consciousness. At best, their decisions concerning higher order abstractions (equities, bonds, currencies, their markets) which the movement of capital has given rise to are made only by men and women who in making these decisions function strictly as personifications of capital, its logic. Indeed, states come into conflict with this logic; just, as starting from competition among antagonist capitals, that logic has given rise to the bourgeois state itself.

States deploy whatever means, economic, diplomatic and military being most common, to defend those capitals. As a national executive sitting atop the state, this is what Trump is doing with his sanctions on aluminum, steel and auto parts; what Putin and Merkel are doing in signing a contractual agreement for construction of the underwater Baltic natural gas pipeline; or what Xi does not only in signing but in financially underwriting the agreement with the Pakistani leadership over creation of a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

In exerting these means (economic, diplomatic, etc.) the state has injected itself into the circuits of capital; and states have done this for a long time, in subsidizing or, alternately, setting floors on the prices of agricultural commodities or fuels, in regulating banks, in bailing out failing manufacturing firms, etc. In injecting themselves into those circuits they impart new imperatives (those of states as national capitals) to those circuits, imperatives which express socially and historical formed ruling class interest and ideology such a rabid nationalism or revanchism. These imperatives become structural moments of imperialist activity shaping it just as capital export, international loans, resources acquisition or cheap labor shape it.

This is the situation we have arrived at today; it is from a specific analysis of it that the tendential direction of capitalist development can be comprehended, a direction driven precisely by that inability to adequate exploit labor power to valorize existing capitals, a direction which tends toward global (interimperialist) conflict; a direction from which the points of leveraging the abolition of capitalism can be grasped.

Problems of Revolutionary Communists

I will note (as I did in the text) I single one, just one, “conspiracy.”

With the exception of Don Hamerquist with whom I suspect an absorbing discussion might ensue, I recognize I’m not going to win any hearts and minds here. So two remarks, and I’m simply going to let it go.

First, with regard to events in New York City a little over seventeen years ago, Ross Wolfe’s response is typical of all those (a) whose understanding does not rise to the level of the most elementary physics, (b) who refuse to pursue evidence-based analysis, and (c) who have abandoned critical examination of sources. It is also typical of those who take capital’s media spectacular discourse as sacrosanct and never get beyond it.

Second, make what you will of the position I formulate here, especially with respect to something like a “deep state.” The conclusions I draw from it, specifically with respect to civil war, play a large role in anything which, I think, can be said about the future. (And, in this respect I patently disagree with Hamerquist concerning the role of “deep state” operatives in any future civil war, though, again, this is not the place to pursue that exchange.)

Then there is Guillaume Destiche and the issue of climate change.

I accept the criticisms, formal and substantive, in points 1, 2 and 3.

Point 5. I am quite comfortable with the timelines I suggest in anticipation of global recession tending toward renewed financial crisis. Initial signs of global contraction are already present, most importantly in banking, autos, airlines and domestic appliances; and it reaches back into production, particularly the most advanced technological sectors producing for international markets, especially industrial robotics, electric motors, and semiconductors. (See “Bottom Suddenly Falls Out of Demand in China in Many Sectors (19 January 2019). Until proven otherwise I will continue to uphold those timelines.

Point 4: Gui, je n’étais pas coquette. J’étais engagé dans une reconnaissance en force. Étais-je déçu? Non, mais en même temps oui. Indeed, I am disappointed that no one else undertook to wrestle with this question. That no one did points to a deeper malaise, as the case of TPTG illustrates. (I am curious. What did the TPTG comrades make of the wildfires that recently engulfed parts of Greece? Perhaps, instead of explaining why it is capitalism which created that situation in nature that produced the wildfires, why it is capitalism exacerbates the situation, and why only a revolution which abolishes capitalism offers the slightest chance of mitigating this situation, they as their text enjoins, ignored the wildfires because they were merely a “hypothetical series of events,” a product of fantasized “apocalyptical scenarios”? I’ll offer a date, summer 2026, at which time we can revisit all these issues and see who will be foolish enough to term them “hypothetical,” though they may well appear and be experienced as “apocalyptic.”)

Unlike other participants, Don Hamerquist does take a stand here, obliquely at least. It is regressive and backward, reinforcing capitalist domination. He asserts that, “There have been numerous manifestations of right-wing environmentalism, including some that are essentially eco-fascists; and there are significant fascist tendencies that use environmentalist arguments as a basis for an anti-capitalist politics.” This is disingenuous. While Hamerquist, like nearly every other participant in the discussion thinks I’ve overblown the danger of a neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist “bloc,” he nonetheless reveals to us the presence in society of “significant fascist tendencies” deploying “environmental arguments.” He is mistaken, badly, inverting the real situation. The most prevalent trend today is for states—the Philippines, United States and Brazil are the most rabid in unfolding it—to criminalize opposition to capital on ecological grounds as terrorist, and under the same rubric to bring all the power of the state down on climate activities and, as well, indigenous (some archaic) peoples for defense of their lands against logging capital specifically, and deforestation generally (e.g., as in planting monocultural palm plantations). Criminalization, of course, extends to extra-judicial murder.

The general lack of responses exhibit an array of tacit underlying attitudes that range from cynicism through despair to indifference. Of course, this is precisely what is disappointing; at any rate, unlike the cynics, the despairing and the indifferent, in the face of prolonged and intensifying crisis and neo-Right, increasingly neo-fascist reaction I am persuaded that, given its formation, sensibilities and awareness, the largest stratum of an emerging proletariat will be compelled to challenge capital. It is by no means a forgone conclusion that we can’t win that struggle. The only remaining question is whether the challenge comes too late in the face of exponentially accelerating change in climate. In this respect, my basic attitude is expressed in the citation with which these responses ends.

So I agree, Gui, geoengineering entails irreversible risks and improbably realizable gains, that in pursuing them, I add, will ramp up repression and regimentation; but they are what will be offered. We should understand that assuming those risks befits and benefits only those who seek to preserve capitalist civilization, not to mention existing Power. The most rabid supporters of geoengineering within the ruling class are those social groups which downplay or deny climate change, its causation and its efficacy. In contradictory contrast to their general stand, the Heartland, Hoover and Hudson Institutes all have optimistically embraced geoengineering as a practical cost-effective way of dealing with warming. How about Newt Gingrich, former House speaker and Republican Party president candidate? As far back as 2008, he said such methods present an “option to address global warming” thus advancing “scientific invention” and “American ingenuity.” This is a fantasy, the quick technofix which, it is believed, won’t impinge on capitalist development. An abysmally low level of understanding of climate means that its ongoing exponential change will leave many among us by and large dumbfounded and without an explanation, subject to enormous popular pressure, as fear, then panic sets in once the implications for the socially constructed sensuous-material substratum of daily life become increasingly clear. All those with productivists appetites, and who see in the material abundance produced by capitalism the foundations of communism will not have the stomach for what lies ahead.

Such support for geoengineering alone ought to raise suspicions of it. But there are important, sound reasons for not pursuing it, and much of it is already settled science. I’ll instantiate: The singular most important technique the deployment of which is mooted by those seeking that quick-fix pertains to deflection of incoming solar insolation (by injecting aerosols into the atmosphere). Proceed with it and failure or inability (due to cost, political upheaval) to keep the engineering project properly maintained and in good repair would expose the entire Earth with all its life forms including humans to a rapid, fatal rise in temperature; even a modicum of success would also entail ozone loss and of necessity alter or disrupt and significantly decrease rainfall patterns, most important of which would be the monsoons on which the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and East Africa all existentially depend; and any retention of sea ice or snow in the Arctic would be lost within a decade, indicating an indefinite reliance on blockage of solar insolation methods, meaning, among other things, geoengineering is a means for ruling class social groups to hold onto power, reinforcing their stranglehold over the petroleum and natural gas based global economy instead of abolishing them and it.

With a few outliers and a lot of hubbub in capital’s media spectacle notwithstanding, a consensus on geoengineering had been reached a number of years ago: It is not sound science (since there is no experimental verification methods in principle that can be deployed, or we might say, geoengineering would itself be a gigantic, global experimental), which at best will be useless and at worst will exacerbate existing problems. Above all, it is necessary to note that even with some success efforts to globally manage climate change will not return us to a prior condition of climate but introduce something new, something unintended and, given the incalculable feedbacks operating on any one aspect of the changing climate, something unwanted: The climate “doesn’t go backwards. It goes different. And we don’t even understand where that different state ends up.” (The speaker is Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the journal Science, in a Washington DC press conference introducing the National Academy of Sciences study critical of geoengineering, Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth (2015). McNutt, among the authors of the study, refused to use the term “geoengineering,” preferring instead “climate intervention.” She explained, “We…felt that ‘engineering’ implied a level of control that is illusory.”) As conventional as these captive scientists are, it is with them that proposals and discussions of “highly questionable, apocalyptic hypothetical series of events” originate. I am merely stating what is most often politely left unsaid.

In this respect, Gui has adequately captured my intent: Geoengineering is a litmus test: Any communist who advocates and pushes for it has gone over to the bourgeoisie.

There are two points here worth stating, then repeating again and again.

First, on Earth there have been only two stable regimes of climate over the past 700 million years; the one dry and cold (ice age), the other hot and wet (tropical). We are headed irreversibly toward the latter, but much more intensively perhaps than any hot regime which has ever existed: Within less than fifteen years, parts of the Earth (the land masses bordering the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa, the Ganges Plain, and coast East China from Binzhous and Yantai in the north to Shanghai and Hangzhou in the south, and from here inland and west to Hefei and from there south to Nanchang) will all be subject to wet bulb temperature equivalents in excess of 35º C/100 percent humidity. And this, mind you, will occur long before a hot regime of climate fully forms.

Second, the movement of capital and the behavior of groups of humans (real estate developers, industrial loggers, commercial mechanized ocean trawlers, large agricultural capitals, etc.) who have most internalized its, capital’s, logic, are simultaneously engaged in annihilating the vast majority of species life and known genera on Earth, and engaged in an enormous simplification of intricate, complex living networks, from ecological niches to whole biomes. No matter how sophisticated the technical design of built environment, a victorious revolution, above those who are its bearers, will not survive the world we inherit, if capital is permitted to remake it in its entirety: In which fauna and flora are extinguished, in which the air slowly poisons us, the water is undrinkable, and the heat unbearable. As things stand, the Earth’s climate is already beyond worst case scenarios.

So what is at stake here? Preservation of enough microbial, plant and animal life to make habitability possible; the possibility of free, genuinely human communities; and prevention of a vast methane release-based, hydrogen sulfate extinction followed by a runaway warming that boils over the oceans. (We should be so fortunate.) Continue burning fossil fuels in any form and you will abandon these possibilities. But it goes far, far beyond this. (Indeed Ross, Loren Goldner’s “program” was already long outdated at the moment he first posted it. When? 2005? Earlier?) You say none of this is Marxist. Call it whatever you wish, I don’t care; but there is no chance in today’s world of achieving any of what’s at stake short of a revolutionary transformation that brings into being a power, not based on but, actively constructed and sustained by the proletarians everywhere, at sites and locales around the world where each group of workers is situated. Un wa yusha wo tasuku.5

  1. At the end of the long passage I cited (in Whither America?) from Barnes’ Civil War and Revolution in America, he states, “Because racial concepts are socially as well as historically inseparably tied to social control (either for purposes of rule or the extraction of petty privileges), and because as such racial concepts are originally consciously generated (whatever their extent of materialization) while class originates in social practice as a relation between exploiter and exploited, the subjective drama of individuals, groups or classes can not only come to be dominated by racial concerns, but in such case subjectivity will necessarily be mystified, i.e., the class relation will not appear “in” cognitive awareness except obscurely and tangentially. Historically, then, race has come to be central within a societal totality for which class is primary, because it, race, exists as objectively necessary illusion, at once as real determination and as mystification” (Preface, Part IV, “The Meaning of ‘Race’ and Class: ‘Race’ and Class.” Emphasis in original). By “originally consciously generated” Barnes is referring to the historical genesis of race (in America) in a Virgina colony great planter strategy, legally embodied in statutory law, to maintain control over serviles in production developed in the long aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion. He calls that strategy, “drawing a color line along a fault line among the exploited” (Preface, Part V, “Racial Slavery as a Planter Strategy to Secure Rule.” Emphasis in original). The entire discussion is incisive and well worth revisiting.

  2. Keynesianism was “perfectly congruent with the reality within which workers were situated": Instead “of wages as a flexible variable that capital aims at depressing, especially during crisis, unions as interference in the otherwise self-regulatory character of the economy and the state as the immediate, direct guarantee of the system of social relations,” Keynesian policies promoted "an upward direction of wages providing the dynamic, internal demand that permits the system to expand, unions [are] welcomed as the mechanism to discipline labor within the framework of capitalist social relations and the state actively” interjects “itself into the circuits of capital to insure low levels of unemployment (high demand) through public expenditures… capital actively” seeks “to integrate workers, to ‘embourgeiosify’ them in and through consumption, through production of a mass culture of the spectacle.” Will Barnes, Community and Capital. St. Paul, 2001: §126i. Emphasis added.

  3. And, of course, there is China.

    China is the largest auto market in the world with 2018 sales of some 27.55 million vehicles, surpassing the next largest, the United States, by 40 percent. Automakers sold close to 45 million new vehicles in the two countries in 2018. In December in China those sales fell 13.9 percent, declining for the sixth straight month reversing 13 consecutive years (2005–2017) of increasing sales which began with a base figure of 4 million vehicles. ("China Auto Sales Plunge, Face First Annual Decline in 30 Years,” “Carmageddon for New Cars” and “China’s Consumers Rattle Global Automakers as Sales Plunge.” All at Wolf Street.) While autos employs nothing like the numbers of industrial workers as in the past (in 1931, Ford’s River Rouge with some 101,000 workers alone employed more workers than, taken together, all US capitals manufacturing autos in the United States do today), beyond Fordism autos remains central to global capitalist production. Those combined US/Chinese auto sales are monetarily valued at over $1.125 trillion. For GM and Volkswagen, China is their largest market in the world, and both have posted year over year sales losses there. In the case of GM that loss is the direct consequence of tariffs as Chinese retaliation has added to the cost of parts imported from the US. Globally entering a decline since July 2018, worsened by tariffs the auto sector is contracting as are other sectors in the world capitalist economy.

    Finally, there is Britain and the European Union.

    The possibility of a British departure from the EU customs union arises, all from the perspective of what future portends, from profound differences within the working class, from differences and conflicts among classes, and “across borders” (i.e., differences between classes and strata of Scotland and Northern Ireland vis-a-vis England). Politically the various differences have produced parliamentary stalemate over the so-called Brexit. If Britain leaves the EU without a negotiated settlement, the impact on trade with the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the Republic of Ireland will be enormous. A “no-deal Brexit” will push the whole of Europe into deep recession, will result in the downfall of May’s government and, whatever party or coalition of parties that follows on her, will led to a bilateral trade arrangement with the United States which, a disaster for the working classes of the Isles, will drive Britain into depression conditions.

  4. I drafted this footnote, and then thought long and hard about excluding it. Reading the TPTG response (which came in late) led me to recognize the necessity of its inclusion.

    The logic of capital is what renders society intelligible. In the epoch of capital’s real domination, that logic can be summarized as a movement which aims at production for production’s sake or, if you prefer, self-valorizing value. In the text above, this logic is manifested in the implacable compulsion to unrelentingly produce commodities embodying the least socially necessary labor time.

    This expression of that logic, i.e., the law of value, is essential and historically objective, but it is an outcome. That is to say, to really comprehend that logic we are required to refer it back to the activity in and through which it is formed. This activity is not proletarian; it is capitalist.

    For the most part, an individual capitalist rarely win for herself a monopoly in the sale of commodities. Patently, monopolies exist; yet they are not determinate for the system of social relations (capitalism): The mass of capitalists face competitive conditions when seeking to market their commodities. Setting aside conditions of product scarcity (which, at any rate is opposed to the actual tendency of capitalist development, product excess), capitalists must confront other capitalists who attempt to sell like if not altogether identical commodities. Thus, as a matter of course capitalists must match or better the price of their competitors. Fearing competitive ruin, capitalists are compelled to achieve a cost advantage in the production of their commodity. From this viewpoint, profitability is realized only if costs of production of a commodity are lower than the average in the industry in question. (Call that average socially necessary labor time embodied in a given commodity.) So capitalists are impelled by the desire to accumulate wealth in monetary form; simultaneously, they fear competitive ruin. Achieving the one and avoiding the other is contingent on lowering costs of production of their commodity below that of their competitors. But each and every capitalist as a capitalist is both motivated by the same desire and compelled by the same fear. Ineluctably the activity of capitalists as a group exercises an inescapable compulsion on each one, creating an objective necessity beyond the control of any individual capitalist. It is this objective necessity which we call the logic of capital.

    Because each and every capitalist seeks to push down production costs, the amount of socially necessary labor time embodied in each commodity over time declines as the mass of commodities produced increases. This decline too confronts each and every capitalist as an objective necessity, an event of a total societal production process simply and unavoidably beyond her control. And, yet, this decline is the objective outcome of each and every capitalist’s efforts to reduce production (particularly labor) costs. So, an objective compulsion extends further as each capitalist is compelled to produce more to compensate for declining prices. This all-around increase in production leads to an impasse, as some of the growing mass of commodities will not find buyers. Historically, the outcomes of a crisis of overproduction are depression, social unrest and war; nonetheless, from the perspective of capital’s critique the crisis of overproduction is intrinsic to, a necessary phase of, capitalist development. We recognize two general outcomes, both forms of crisis resolution: One is depression characterized by pervasive productive under-capacity and massive deflation, a tremendous devalorization of existing capital; the other is war the consequences of which are enormous destruction of capital in its various forms (including human life as labor power, industrial landscapes, circulating commodities). Replaced by others, those who bear these social relations may disappear in either event as forms of crisis resolution, but destruction of productive forces, and with them the achieved level of their development, allow the production process on the basis of which the whole system of social relations takes shape to begin again, effectively to renew itself. Synonymous with a renewal of expansion, what once more issues forth is precisely the logic of capital, the activity of competing capitalists from out of which forms that compelling objective necessity which subordinates each and every individual capitalist.

  5. It’s Japanese. Loosely translated, it means, “Fortune favors the undaunted."