Tuesday, January 29, 2013

ὁ τόκος/ἡ βία

David Graeber writes in Debt: The First 5,000 Years:

"The story of the origins of capitalism, then, is not the story of the gradual destruction of traditional communities by the impersonal power of the market. It is, rather, the story of how an economy of credit was converted into an economy of interest; of the gradual transformation of moral networks by the intrusion of the impersonal -- and often vindictive -- power of the state." (pg 332)
Definitions of words tend to get morphed, and the word "capitalism" is no exception. What people today will tell you means "free enterprise" was originally a term coined by socialists to denounce the system of exploitation and monopoly. As far as I'm concerned, capitalism should be thought of as a usury-based economy, usury being an all-incompasing term for a fee on a borrowed good. Your boss does not pay you; you pay the boss for renting the means of production with the product of your labor. Rent to landlords as well as capitalists' profits stolen from labor should also be considered as be forms of usury.

Capitalism is not just a commodity market system, a system of wages, or a "right" of increase; it is the systematic extraction of increase from labor through exploitative property. The boss who steals the product of labor, the creditor who syphons off what you have produced by way of interest payments, the landlord who take as much as he can from you without producing anything himself do not rule on their titles alone, but on their constant acts of extortion. No one can have a reciprocal relationship with a ruling authority, be it a politician, a landlord, a boss, or anyone who takes more than what has been given them. When right-libertarians claim that exploitation wouldn't mean anything if there was no government granting privilege, they fail to see the inequality that exists inherently as a result of such a system based on such actions. This sort of institutionalized parasitism will always end with the parasites being on top.

The system of increase is purely based on domination. Already we see domination move beyond the act of theft into a public mindset that legitimizes it as it has been conditioned to accept it. The forms of authority and the like become symbolic. Just like consumer culture, which breeds on the domination of the commodity-form, there is a culture of extortion that has emerged.

Justification must precede the right. In a just society, demanding more than for what one gives would no longer be taken as a fact of nature but something that must justify its legitimacy to go on. All of us are individuals, yet all of us hold characteristics in common; we are both part of nature, yet each of us must possess our own unique nature. The self and what it owns are both unique and shared, but as an unresolvable contradiction, the individual self must constantly justify the context in which it owns things exclusively and what it owns in common with others, so that both the individual and the collective may continue to develop. That is why one's right to property, whether it is shared or solely theirs, must be justified between individuals as such in order for justice to be realized and freedom to exist for all. As well, it is only when we become committed to justice, and reorganize our institutions according to such, will we rid ourselves of this awful system. Technology in itself won't do it. Running away from everything won't do it. Asking the governing state to temporarily "save" us won't do it. We have to think of what kinds of values we want our system to embody.

The libertarian (including left-libertarian) means of dealing with this are also faulty, namely the claim that a free(d) market is the necessary prerequisite for justice, since - according to them - open competition will drive down rents and profits to a near low. I myself used to promote this notion about a year and a half ago, now I think it's completely dubious. The market itself, no matter how open or competitive it is, will not end this exploitation and domination by usury; nor will it bring about justice. The whole idea requires the market to be in equilibrium, which it can never be, and assumes certain behaviors from producers (such as the notion that consumers will always gravitate towards the cheapest commodities, or that commodities in a market free from state-granted privilege will be completely absent of the hyperreal and that commodities will only symbolize what they are in reality - for example, shampoo at the drugstore will just be shampoo and not a symbolic representation of "perfect hair"). I find that free market anti-capitalists also tend to confuse equity with scale; an exchange between a consumer and a small producer - even if free of all regulations and taxes - is not necessarily an honest one. Take Bitcoin for example: it is toted as being "revolutionary" because it is a "stateless currency", however, if it functions identical to the currencies of capitalism (be it gold, silver, or "Federal Reserve notes") it is just the same. If there is interest on it, even at a small percentage, it is not behaving as an object of liberation but merely as an object that imitates the dominant system, even if that imitation is somehow lesser than what we experience every day in the capitalist economy. I will write a more in-depth critique of this notion, especially its connection to agorism and agorist tactics (i.e. merely "crashing the system" without an entirely different system to replace it), later on.

With that said, there are plenty of ways we can overcome this. Do the anarchist thing by creating new institutions and taking over the old so that any repeat of the usurious system of the past becomes unthinkable in the future. We can create interest-free mutual credit, squat buildings, hold rent strikes, and create cooperatives. Always keep our principles in-mind. Instead of trying to outcompete capitalist parasites in their own rigged game, we could transcend them. It should be said that the removal of capitalist profit, rent, and interest (usury) is not the revolutionary act; it is how we put together this dissolution on the basis of cooperation and federation that forms a revolution both economically and socially. The way in which we relate to each other when we exchange will progressively shape how we relate to each other elsewhere. After all, mutualism is just a gift culture.

Usury is domination. Rent is parasitism. Stop paying it.


  1. The libertarian (including left-libertarian) means of dealing with this are also faulty, namely the claim that a free(d) market is the necessary prerequisite for justice, since - according to them - open competition will drive down rents and profits to a near low. I myself used to promote this notion about a year and a half ago, now I think it's completely dubious.

    Wow. I'm speechless.

    1. It is dubious, because it implies lots of factors that are either unrealistic or extremely unlikely (i.e. that competition will always make prices go down or that scale economies don't matter, for example).

      I talk to my marxist-leninist friends quite often about these topics, because many of them are highly knowledgeable of economics. They've pointed out to me that economies of scale are a huge factor that many proponents of free markets tend to downplay or ignore. If the state were to disappear or remove itself completely from the market, it is highly unlikely that these larger companies would just dissolve or be quickly outcompeted, just because - statistically speaking - larger companies that are well-established tend to have an upper hand. So whenever the claim is made that new technology, especially 3D printing, will cause corporations to lose shitloads of money and assets in a free(d) market system, there's a pretty good reason to doubt it. (I'm going to make a post about the issue of whether or not technology will end wage slavery in the future, as soon as I'm finished with some other things and have completed reading Ellul's The Technological Society as a basis for what I'm writing.) Plus, there's just some markets that you couldn't downsize. Take mining for example. Even if all the producers of commodities are self-employed persons with 3D printers, they're still going to need raw materials to print shit with, and thus large-scale mining firms would remain. Breaking up larger mining companies into smaller ones would not only be unrealistic but incredibly damaging to the environment (could you imagine 50 different mining companies mining out all over the place?).

      The point is, placing the means of ending capitalism or any shitty system on something else (be it the state, market, or technology) makes it seem like we don't have the power in ourselves to do the shit needed to be done. "Let the market take care of it" is the language of the naive.

    2. Basically, unless we organize our collective power around the principle of justice, we will be fucked. A free(d) market won't naturally lead to a just or ethical society on its own.

    3. Oh, I'm in total agreement. I was speechless because I wasn't sure what to say in reaction to this particular revelation about your evolving worldview. Obviously I didn't want to say "I told you so." I was tempted to say "welcome to the anagorist movement," but I don't believe in "claiming" people for one's movement, although the tone of your follow-up seems almost intensely "anagorist" as I understand the term. (You apparently speak Greek; maybe you can set me straight on the terminology.) So I went with "speechless."

      FWIW, my own worldview took a sharp left turn shortly after graduation from college. :-) In my case that was way back in the late 1980's. It wasn't so much my mostly-failed school-to-work transition as the complete failure within the workforce to execute the contingent-to-gainful employment transition, which is to say, break out of the temp agency rut. That turned me against capitalism, but more specifically and centrally, against the idea of a market economy, which to me meant that not only is work a prerequisite for independence, solvency, even survival (I, like the Marxists, have no problem with this expectation) but that marketing (successfully selling oneself) was a prerequisite for work. I still haven't worked out how non-non-entitlement of work opportunity can be compatible with "voluntaryism" so at some point I concluded that narrowly-defined voluntaryism (and narrowly-defined coercion) can go fuck itself. Hobgoblinry for narrow definitions, like hobgoblinry for razor-sharp internal consistency (also a popular fixation among libertarians, including left-styled libertarians), is a refuge for small minds. I concluded that substantive voluntarism is impossible—there will be involuntary transactions or there will be involuntary unemployment—chalk it up to "intractable problems" such as entropy, I guess.

      But yeah, agorism is way too much of a leap of faith for me. Mergers can be a by-product of gaming the statist system, but so can "spin-offs." I'm agnostic as to whether economy of scale is real, or is a by-product of subsidy, or even whether it's desirable. I'd trust a large organization with genuinely cooperative governance over a small business (even a micro-enterprise) that is understood to be someone's private property. Also, I'm very bothered by the role of self employment and entrepreneurship in general in agorism and neo-mutualism. Self-employment for less than 100% of the population means an independence differential that inevitably means a freedom differential (assuming independence is a prerequisite for freedom) and, I would claim, a power differential. "But in a 'freed market' it will be a seller's market for labor." Riiiiiight. Another leap of faith.

    4. I'd trust a large organization with genuinely cooperative governance over a small business (even a micro-enterprise) that is understood to be someone's private property

      Agreed. That's another reason why I see federalism (self-managed and self-owned workers' federations to be exact) rather than just "self-employment" as the ideal setup. It makes far more sense. In Anarchist Catalonia, industries that weren't able to federate were faced with disasters (such as the textile industry) even when workers had control of the means of production. Certainly, history is no magic bullet, but we can turn to it for an example of what may happen if we try to repeat it. I would also argue that it makes more sense to have federations of workers serve as a counter-institution to capitalist institutions and the governing state rather than have everyone become self-employed small business owners. A lot of smaller businesses rely on the state just like larger companies do, and probably wouldn't be so keen on dismantling the governing state for that very reason.

      I will say though that I do find markets to be useful, and I don't see markets or market relations or contexts disappearing anytime soon. What I find problematic is when "the market" becomes the center of revolutionary praxis. It's suddenly no longer about creating a system that's much better than what we have now, but simply about trying to save "the market". I've heard many libertarians claim that "the market" is just "us", but in that case it seems outright silly to keep using "the market" rather than "society".

      I'm speaking from my own personal biases here, so forgive me, but I don't see much hope for agorism as it's being carried out right now. It's just an imitation of the old capitalist relations done on a smaller scale and faces many of the same problems the "white market" faces. For the record, what you're seeing as "neo-mutualism" from sites like C4SS (even though I still appreciate that site!) is quite different from what the original mutualists like Proudhon and his comrades advocated (they were not so interested in markets but in ethics; free exchange means nothing unless the exchange is equitable). This entire post was me advocating the latter.

      It's funny that you brought up your experience with temp work, because many people I know are working those kinds of jobs. Libertopia may have extremely low unemployment compared to the rest of the US, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that a good chunk of the young population is underemployed. A very good friend of mine works part-time (at a temp agency nonetheless) for less than $150 per week; she's still at her parents' house and can barely afford gas for her 11-year old car. I skimmed an article the other day which talked about how temp agencies were established mainly as a means of suppressing unions and thus attempts at workers' democracy and control. It sucks.

    5. I got the term "neo-mutualists" from No More Sunsets, which I only recently discovered. Are you aware of this blog? Apparently it's aware of you. I'm not sure if it's still operational.

      If this market is "us," what does that say about "us?" That each of us views our life as a sequence of transactions? So it would seem. How unimaginative and limiting.

    6. Yup, I'm perfectly aware of that blog. We communicated back when she posted regularly.

      If this market is "us," what does that say about "us?" That each of us views our life as a sequence of transactions?

      Good point. There's something to be said about the ideology that this way of thinking creates, where everything is looked at in relation to "the market". Or "the market" is just taken as a given, as if humans naturally organize into that kind of structure.

    7. It's funny, but when I really think about it I realize that I can't call myself a former marxist, because that would be the equivalent of trying to get spilled juice out of a swimming pool. Once it's in you, it's in you for good. I don't think I will ever see accumulation of non-labor income as legitimate.

  2. One question, what are your thoughts on flat service charges on loans? For example, the flat service charge would be for compensating the labor that goes into checking someone's credit, dealing with the paperwork, and administrating the functioning of the lending institution while also serving as an extraction fee carried by debtors to pay to savers to encourage saving and to discourage borrowing. That extra charge would also allow the lending institution to exist relatively unharmed when loans are defaulted on since the savers would not be screwed over due to those extra resources collected from other loans.

    1. I don't think loans should be charged at all. Money is not a good in itself but a measure of goods. Moneylending should be abolished as a career all together and I know we can organize credit much better (i.e. mutual credit systems).

    2. I don't know how this would go through, but I would like to see credit institutions function more like hacker spaces: user-owned and operated where resources are given to members for free. I'm going to look into that more since free credit is something I really want to do. The banks are the biggest criminals in today's capitalism by far, so countering their power with our own should be vital.