Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 27 October 2014


This is a prelude to the next piece which will be an unmissable study of the role of the State in economic theory. We ask our friends to watch out for what I think is a most instructive and enlightening study of the problem of the State in society.




“Property is theft.” – Proudhon, Philosophie de la Misere


“They say that patriotism

Is the last refuge

To which a scoundrel clings.

Steal a little and they

Throw you in jail,

Steal a lot and

They make you King,” – Bob Dylan in What’s a Sweetheart like You doing in a Dump like This.


Property, as we are learning increasingly now that it is concentrated in ever-fewer hands, is the exclusion of others from what are unavoidably “social” human resources. Resources or “use values” are “social” not in the sense that they are shared by “individuals” – by human beings understood as “atoms” – but rather in the sense that they affect single human beings in their very “being human” – just as the Ebola virus does not afflict “individuals” but attacks us as specimens of the one species. Marx’s discovery of the Doppelcharakter of production in capitalism, contrasting the “use value” of human production with its “exchange value” under capitalism, was meant to highlight the fact that “use values” point well beyond the uni-verse of “economics” with its “exchange value” toward the multi-verse of human values. That is why Marx thought Proudhon’s famous motto about “property” (more than just an aphorism encapsulating Rousseau’s thesis in De l’Inegalite’) was so worthy of approbation. Yet even though the notion of property is so obviously “legal” and requires of necessity the existence of a State apparatus to enforce it, even Marx could conceive in his own “critique of political economy” that it was possible to isolate the role of the State from that of “property” or “the market” or “the economy” as an object of “scientific” inquiry.


In what could only be the heightened perceptiveness of a poet, Bob Dylan instead brings together the existence of the State, of the “re-public” or “public thing”, which is shared by all “citizens”, which should be the acme of our sense of duty and devotion to it as the objectification of our social existence – hence of our “patriotism” – becomes in reality “the last refuge of scoundrels” who end up being made “kings” or members of Congress or Parliament because they own the most “property” and therefore “steal a lot”, whereas it is those with the least property – those who “steal a little” – who end up in jail! What this reveals is that only “scoundrels” have every right to be “patriotic” – because the rest of us have very little stake in the defence of the “public thing”, of the “republic”, and therefore of the State!


The twin crises of the Ebola virus and of the ISIS – two most virulent diseases that threaten our very humanity from opposite ends, the microscopic and the macroscopic -; these twin crises bring prepotently before our eyes what is the real “disease” of capitalist society: the utter and devastating impossibility of true “patriotism” for those living under the rule of the capitalist State. It is this collapse of the legitimacy of the capitalist State as “re-public” that requires imperiously a re-assessment of its role in economic theory so that we may elaborate a strategy of attack against a “machine”, an “apparatus” that grows more leaden and obsolescent, corrupt and corrosive with every passing hour – and that finally, as in Hong Kong right now, threatens our most basic needs for freedom and fulfilment or, as in Mexico with the obscene hecatomb of our student comrades at the hands of corrupt police and gangsters, threatens our very lives!

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