The Prison Notebooks Vol. 1-3 by Gramsci

The content is rather scattered as it’s a collection of his partial writings and is not one body of work. He wrote this in prison being monitored by fascist prison guards. But there is a critical point that is brought up, that being his concept of cultural hegemony. Which, is “the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the culture of that society” – Wikipedia. This is tied to the concept of Marxist dialectical materialism. Which is generally the idea that history is controlled by a superstructure, or the government and culture. Which upholds the economic base of capitalism. Hegemony is how the capitalist class creates the ‘norm’ of capitalism and which is also an early Marxist explanation of the rise of fascism.

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Leftist Theory, For Beginners

This is a simple list of beginner leftist political theory. I would actually start with the youngest of these works, Capitalist Realism than to go to the oldest ones by Marx. The rest just talk about different ideologies in leftism. So you can kind of pick and chose who you want to read. 3 are Marxist after Marx, 4 are Anarchist, and 5 are Syndicalists.

So my recommendation list’s order is:

1. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher

2. Wage, Labour, and Capital AND Value, Price, and Profit by Karl Marx

3. State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin AND Reform or Revolution by Rosa Luxemburg

4. Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman AND Mutual Aid by Peter Kropotkin

5. Anarcho-Syndicalism Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker AND Socialist Reconstruction of Society by Daniel De Leon

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The Cost of Privatization

The Cost of Privatization

July 29, 2018

Architecture of Odessa

World News /29 Jul 2018


In 1762, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his treatise The Social Contract, “The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men!” Today, more than two centuries after they were first penned, Rousseau’s words ring in the air of a privatized world. Faced with that world, looking to the states of the former Soviet Union can help us understand what privatization truly means for a nation — and why Rousseau opposed it.

Since the fall of the USSR, Ukraine has been the principle case study for westerners looking to understand the realities of transitioning out of the communist world. Already in 1993, Central European University Press had published John Earle’s report: “The Privatization process in Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic States.” As his paper reflects, it was widely believed that Ukraine would lead the post-communist world in “modernizing” its economic and political systems. Further, the assumption was that marketization would be a primary force in the democratization of Ukraine — an assumption largely founded in liberal philosophies which tie liberty to property.

John Earle in particular argued in his report that the privatization process would undermine party elites, as the leveling of economic power would surely topple their state sponsored oligarchy. Though the sheer magnitude of corruption in Ukraine was recognized at the time, it was overlooked in favor of this narrative — that privatization was liberaliziation. Even after then-president Kuchma allegedly ordered the killing of Georgiy Gongadze, an anti-establishment reporter who was covering corruption during privatization, the West largely ignored the incident and remained focused on questions like “Does privatization raise productivity?

In spite of the slew of pro-western and globalist perspectives on privatization, contemporary researches did achieve some scholarship on its harms. In 1995, The National Council for Soviet and East European Research put together a report cynically titled, “PRIVATIZATION AND CRIME: THE POST-SOVIET EXPERIENCE.” The report summarized: “The old bureaucrats dominate much of the privatization process, for example, often deciding who gets what at what price. Whereas the Party elite only enjoyed control of the state’s resources, they can now appropriate the state’s property.”

This story, of privatization used to simply subvert state resources and enrich individual elites, was ubiquitous throughout Ukraine. However, in spite of Ukraine’s long running and deep ties to Russia, this privatization process was used to pad the wallets of oligarchs worldwide. The same report later notes, “Ukrainian oil reserves were embezzled and sold at market prices. Most of this money was not returned to the former USSR but placed on deposit in foreign bank accounts.” Just one year after this report was published, its warnings read as prophetic. Radio Free Europe reported in May of 1996 that Ukraine’s largest auto plant was set to be privatized. This example is especially poignant, as even its legal framework was built to the benefit of existing elites: “41 percent of the shares will be offered to Ukrainian investment companies and joint ventures; 12 percent will be offered to foreign buyers; and Ukrainian citizens will be able to purchase five percent of the plant with privatization vouchers.”

This was the largest auto plant in the country. It produced 60,000 vehicles every year and employed thousands. And yet, citizens were only allowed 5 percent ownership. As comforting as Earle’s supposition may have been, the evidence pointed to privatization by the oligarch and for the oligarch. Far from the first step to liberal democracy, it merely entrenched and expanded the power of existing elites. It should be no surprise that both President Poroshenko and former President Yanukovych were captains of industry well before they became politicians.

Privatization in Ukraine resulted not only in small scale corruption and inefficiency, but systemic stratification in the economy itself. In 2012, the European Sociological Review published an article tellingly titled, “New Inequalities Through Privatization and Marketization? An Analysis of Labour Market Entry of Higher Education Graduates in Poland and Ukraine,” which suggests Ukraine’s privatization of tertiary education especially stratified the population and stifled the economy, resulting in low university attendance among blue collar students. Further, the study noted, “the share of graduates from private HEI quadrupled in Ukraine from 2.8 percent in 2001– 2003 to 12.8 percent in 2004–2006. Whereas privatization is already widespread in Poland at the beginning of the millennium (17 percent in 2001–2003), marketization is a more predominant phenomenon in Ukraine, where 38.8 percent of graduates paid fees at public universities during the period 2004–2006.”

What this shows is that the privatization of Ukrainian universities directly contributed to class divides in education. The formation of private universities split the population between those who could afford tuition and those left with decaying public universities as their only option. This divide left Ukraine less prepared than its neighbors for an increasingly service-based global economy, as fewer and fewer Ukrainians received quality higher education.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in March of 2012 the Carnegie Institute published an article outlining Ukraine’s lackluster growth after the Soviet Era. The article was titled, “The Underachiever: Ukraine’s Economy Since 1991.” However, this piece also highlights the flaws in the Western understanding of privatization’s real effects. Rather than centering the causes of Ukraine’s civil and economic stagnation around its relatively rapid privatization, Sutela argues, “As nation building came to dominate the first years following Ukraine’s independence, politics were in continued turmoil and centered around jockeying for power. Economics therefore suffered.” Here we see political “turmoil” named as the cause of economic decline — a conclusion that both fails to account for the effect privatization had in catalyzing and entrenching those political disputes, and willfully ignores how privatization caused much of that stagnation and decline.

So it is clear that privatization in Ukraine did little to provide the freedom and liberalization that Western neoliberals had promised. Instead, it merely entrenched the power of a few elites, and stratified and already desperate people. Though that reality confounded western predictions and liberal hopes, to Rousseau, the evils of property have always been, and will always remain the natural conclusion.

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Seize the Means of Distribution

Seize the Means of Distribution

Matthew Barad

Aug 12 2019

Capital in the Age of Technology

For all of human history, a person’s relationship to the means of production defined their social, political, and economic status. In the industrial age this truth was made more obvious than ever before. Because one class controlled the factories and owned the fields, they could dictate the conditions of labor and profit from its fruits. Laborers needed these “means of production” to produce goods, so they had no choice but to alienate themselves from their products and accept less than the value they produced as compensation.

To the seasoned Marxists among my readers, I apologize for the quick and incomplete review. However, in order to understand how this dynamic shifted with modernity, we need to understand this basic historical precedent. For three centuries, the control of capital has allowed one class to exploit another. Though that simple fact has not changed, its form is continuously evolving.

Today, the material conditions of the global north vary drastically from their industrial roots. Industrial production has slowed, and most workers now provide services rather than products. Nowhere is this shift more visible than in the realm of technology. In this brave new world, the means of production cannot be easily contained. Every person with a computer is capable of coding. Open source and free development software means nearly everyone has a means of production.

In order to account for this development, capitalists have been forced to shift their mechanisms of control — and have done so with great success. 6 of the world’s largest 20 corporations are tech and software firms. For an industry that has only existed on a consumer scale for just over 30 years, this constitutes incredible growth. However, this was not achieved through control of factories, but instead through the domination of intellectual property, advertisement, and most essentially, the means of distribution.

Apple, for example, is keenly aware that its software empire is under constant threat from third party coders. Everything from its operating systems to individual applications could potentially be out-compete by aspiring coders. Their solution has been two fold — coopt developers when possible, and when all else fails, force them out of the market altogether. Compared to Android OS, IOS is draconian. Its monthly updates thwart attempts at jailbreaking. It forbids apps outside of the Apple store from competing on its platform without those jailbreaks. And crucially Apple charges a steep fee for developers to access its marketplace.

The capitalists who own Apple are able to exploit developers in a manner which directly parallels the exploitation of 20th century factory labor. Because indie devs lack the capital for advertisement budgets and are not guaranteed access to Apple’s marketplace, they are forced to surrender a portion of the value they produce to a capitalist class. Though the means of production have become ubiquitous, the means of distribution have been seized.

This helps explain why so many popular apps are clones dedicated to microtransactions and devoid of content. In order to overcome the barriers to distribution while also making enough to live, developers must alienate themselves from the act of creation and dedicate themselves to menial cash-grabs. Just as the cobbler’s of Paris were replaced with desolate shoe factories, so is the indie-dev being replaced with soulless code-recyclers.

Though this shift in the mode of capitalist accumulation is most obvious in the world of technology, it extends well beyond it. Online marketplaces like Etsy and Ebay use their control of distribution and advertisement to steal labor value from small-time crafters. Amazon uses its market to extract wealth from self-published novelists. Uber and Lyft use their control of driving apps to extort wealth from drivers. These laborers are forced to rely on means of distribution which are owned by a capitalist class, so instead of receiving the full value of their products, they receive a fraction.

To return to the Marxist lens, this has ramifications for the labor theory of value as well. In Capital, Marx famously uses linen and coats to demonstrate how labor adds value to commodities. Though the need for clothing explains its value as a commodity, labor transforms low value linen into a product with a high use-value. In this example, ownership of industrial sewing machines allowed the capitalist class to exploit factory laborers. Without access to the machines, labor could not compete, and so they surrendered a portion of their wages to unproductive oligarchs.

Today, the means of distribution allow capitalists to similarly exploit wealth by leveraging their ownership, however the transfer of value is even more extreme with software than it was with footwear. Though industrial capitalists don’t do nearly enough work to justify the wealth they steal from labor, physical means of production do require continued investment. If the coat-making capitalist doesn’t buy linen, labor cannot create coats. However, Steam, Apple, Etsy, Uber, and Amazon can extract labor value without sending so much as a cent of material to the workers. Coders create value from electricity and intellect. Craftsmen buy their own supplies. Uber drivers pay for their own cars, their own gas, and rely on their own labor.

Controlling the means of distribution has the potential to be much more lucrative than the means of production, as workers are not only responsible for their own labor, but for their continued business expenses as well.

In this way, our modern capitalist class in more akin to landlords than industrial capitalists. Just as tenant wages are exploited by property owners in exchange for shelter, many modern service workers must surrender part of the value they create in exchange for digital distributive property. This is partly why the gig economy is so often compared to Feudalism. Without the guarantee of steady income, and without the bourgeoisie’s direct involvement in production, laborers in the gig economy are paying to access the means of distribution with no promise of future wealth.

If the “risk of investment” is meant to justify capital’s supremacy over labor, then the gig economy is entirely unjustifiable. Just as serfs were forced to give up the fruits of their labor to landowners, so too must developers surrender their code to online distributors. And just as serfs suffered all the risk in planting, so do Etsy crafters suffer all the risk in production.

Of course, the two aren’t identical — after all, serfs were promised food and protection. Today’s laborers are not.

As 21st century socialists, we have an obligation to apply and reapply Marxist frameworks to our ever-shifting economic landscape. This essay was not meant as an absolute conclusion so much as an initial effort. If we do not understand the economic and political relations which define the life of laborers today, socialists have no hope of building solidarity, much less building a better world.

To that end, let us recognize that western capitalists are quickly redefining themselves as owners of the means of distribution, rather than of production. If labor unites and seizes online marketplaces, or creates its own collective alternatives, we can free ourselves from this new tyranny, and reclaim our labor value.

Let us not be mesmerized by Capital’s parlor tricks or transmutations. Exploitation clings to life with the same grotesque tenacity today as it has for all our history. Be you writer, coder, crafter, driver, or entertainer, you are entitled to all you create. Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Addendum: Because there has been much confusion and debate concerning the scope of this piece, I want to clarify that it does not apply to the entirety of western economies. Most workers still deal directly with means of production. However, the direction of the economy towards ethereal tech jobs and gig-based labor is worth examining. It is tech jobs and gig labor that this piece describes best.

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