Newsgroups: alt.anarchism,alt.politics,alt.politics.socialism,alt.politics.liberalism,alt.politics.communism
Subject: Re: Government is evil
From: Haines Brown <>
Message-ID: <>
Date: 26 Mar 2007 10:31:31 -0400

The distribution of capital

By Haines Brown, alt.politics.communism, 26 March 2007

James A. Donald <> writes:

> But, in fact, a large proportion of capital that is actually
> invested is in fact this sort of capital. By and large, stuff is
> not owned by enormously wealthy plutocrats, but rather by older
> successful middle class people.

If we fixate on the distribution of capital among its individual owners, we inevitably fail to grasp the dynamics of the capitalist system and as a result are unable to struggle against it. I would like to elaborate this point a bit in terms of a broader consideration of just how we start out to represent the system in thought.

One reason for my strong objection to a reduction of our conception of society to the sum of the characteristics of its individual members (such as now much productive capital they own) is that it makes authentic (i.e., grassroots) social change virtually impossible. We must understand the system as a whole in dynamic terms so that we grasp both its limits and its real potentials in order to act effectively in terms of it. A reductionism makes such action impossible. It makes real potentials at best mere inferences that can have no determinate relation with anything else. I believe we must adopt an (arguably) non-capitalist scientific view of things by employing what is known as “scientific realism”, even though there's a strange bias in U.S. culture against being scientific about anything. Let me illustrate this in terms of the current thread.

To reduce the capitalist system to an effect of greedy individuals gets us into trouble. For example, let us suppose that somehow all capital is equally distributed among the entire population. What then has changed? I’d insist that nothing has really changed, for we still have capitalism. The reason for this is often not clearly understood.

The basic issue is whether capital is owned privately or socially, not who owns it or how much individual capital owners happen to possess. Why is this? Because privately owned capital is subject to private interests, and private interests represent a reduction of the social whole to some (or in our hypothetical example here, the sum of all) of its parts. As a result, while the part (the individual) will presumably acquire more disposable wealth because of the redistribution of capital, society does not develop as a result of it. The reason is that social development does not reduce to the development of its individual members, but individual develop emerges from social development; social development is more than the sum of its parts. Social development is the condition of our individual development as human beings. This is expressed in working-class ideology by pointing out that we are essentially social beings; individuals articulate social development in unique ways.

Therefore, while a complete diffusion of the ownership of capital might increase everyone's disposable income (provide everyone with an additional small income from the realization of surplus value in the market), it does not contribute to our development as human beings, which is instead the effect of our social connections, not the money in our pocket. It is true that with money you can more readily enter into social relations, but if social development is impoverished, such connections, in the aggregate at least, do not gain you much. Private ownership of the means of production necessarily means the relative impoverishment of society, and the best capitalism can do is to provide workers with sufficient means for their social reproduction at the level required by the current state of economic production (the market value of labor; subsistence wages).

Only when this does not suffice is the capitalist state forced to attend to needs of the social whole, such as the road system, education, national defense, etc., and to the extent it does so, it opens greater room for individual development. But this necessarily remains a relatively small matter, for the primary demand upon surplus value is the enhancement of productivity in order to make the product competitive in the marketplace. If that fails to happen, it must forgo any investment in social development, and ultimately this means that labor is no longer productive. This is a major contradiction of the capitalist system: its development negates the conditions which had made it possible in the first place.

The argument I've sketched above turns out to be the same as that used to explain economic exploitation at the point of production. The capitalist purchases labor power in the labor market, where he pays a fair price for it as he does for the other factors of production (in principle, all's fair in the marketplace). Although production yields greater value than the sum of its input values (surplus value is what motivates production), the worker gets little of it. He is paid fairly for his labor input, but not paid (unless labor is economically or politically united) for the result of this input.

In the cases of both the private ownership of capital and of the wage system, we can only explain things by treating them as emergent processes in which the emergent whole is more than (has lower entropy than) the sum of its parts. I here resist as best I can any reductionist approach. A double reductionism is characteristic of capitalist ideology: it reduces the whole to its parts (social atomism), and it reduces the whole to empiria (empiricism). Both reductions cripple our understanding: it hides our social nature; it fails to explain the origin of surplus value; it entirely misses the dynamics of the capitalist system; it therefore makes impossible any critical action within it beyond spontaneity; and it fails to explain the exploitation of labor beyond the marginal case of sweated labor, which is not specific to capitalism.

> But in order to get that conclusion, you pretty much have to define
> “workers” as teenagers at McDonalds and illegal immigrants hanging
> around Home Depot looking for pickup work.
> If you include the middle class, most of the means of production
> *is* owned by middle class people, by people like you and me who
> live in the neighborhoods that you and I live in and drive the sort
> of cars that you and I drive.

Contrary to what you are doing here, my point is that we can't define a class as a bundle of empirical characteristics without betraying any critical understanding of capitalism. That is why in terms of working-class ideology, a class is not defined as a bundle of shared empirical characteristics, but in terms of peoples' causal relation to the source for their development (their “relation of production”, which is either the capitalist's private relation to capital or the worker's relation to his fellow workers and more broadly to all other people). One cannot hope to challenge the capitalist system if one adopts the capitalist reductionist ideology. It is worth noting as well that the problem of working-class consciousness here is placed in a broader context than just an advanced industrial economy. Social solidarity of any kind and in any situation is ultimately revolutionary within a capitalist framework.

In short, the point is not just who owns how much capital, but the private ownership per se of capital. This does not imply that I agree with the specific points of your second paragraph above, but there's little point in debating them when they represent a capitalist approach I find to be incapable of resolving such problems.

This has admittedly been a rather long and tedious theoretical contribution to the thread, but I hope that it helps move us to a critical understanding of the ontological world of capitalism within which there's no possible escape.