Three forms of slavery: chattel slavery, serfdom, and wage-slavery

 

 

Philosophers often use thought-experiments for the clarification and testing of theories. For example, to clarify and justify the present political institutions, philosophers appeal to a Social Contract. This is an imaginary agreement among an imaginary group of people with imaginary traits. Several years ago John Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice appealing to such a Social Contract.

A thought experiment is a species of hypothetical reasoning. It is the testing of a hypothesis under imaginary circumstances.

I propose to use a thought experiment concerning two individuals on an island, whom I will call Robinson Crusoe and Friday. And my task is to characterize the economic-political systems of slavery, feudalism, and capitalism as a relation between two individuals.

Slavery will exist if Crusoe forces Friday to do anything he wants him to do. Friday will fish, hunt, and gather plants. He will bring them to Crusoe and prepare and cook these things for him. He will build for Crusoe a hut, he will fetch water, and he will wipe Crusoe’s butt. Crusoe, in turn, will allow Friday to feed on the scraps which are left over. If Friday misbehaves, he will be punished by the whim of Crusoe.

Feudalism will exist if Crusoe lets Friday fend for himself on the island, i.e., Friday may build himself a shelter and keep a store of food for himself, provided that Friday brings to Crusoe a certain quantity of food, and does a certain amount of labor.  Crusoe will set up some form of punishment for non-compliance.

The creation of a capitalist situation on the island is initially puzzling to formulate because of mistaken definitions of what capitalism is.  A useful way of giving a definition is through the method of genus and difference. Capitalism is in the genus of trade: it is a market economy. But trade is just barter with or without money, and is well nigh universal.  It existed under slavery and under feudalism.

So called anarcho-capitalists say that capitalism is free trade under conditions of private property.  How will that be modeled in the Crusoe-Friday scenario? We can suppose that Crusoe and Friday have divided between themselves the island in half.  They do not trespass on each other, and periodically trade.  Crusoe is good at fishing, while Friday is good at gathering coconuts. There is an agreed division of labor and trade. This satisfies the anarcho-capitalist’s definition, but it is not the capitalism which socialists were objecting to. What is missing? Wage-labor.  So if there is to be “voluntary” labor by Friday for Crusoe, what possibly can induce Friday to work for Crusoe, given that they possess equal shares of the island?

One scenario is this. Crusoe has a rifle and there are feral pigs on the island. Using the rifle, it is easy to kill pigs. So, Crusoe makes a deal with Friday, allowing Friday to do all the pig hunting for the two of them.  As a result, Crusoe has leisure, while Friday does the work of hunting.

This, however, does not model historical capitalism. Why? Because under present day conditions of capitalism, if Friday does not enter into this agreement as a worker, he will become homeless and risk starvation. How can such a situation be modeled on the island? I can think of only one scenario. Crusoe claims the whole island as his private possession, and Friday is welcome on the island on the condition that he will work for Crusoe. What is the alternative for Friday if he refuses? He is compelled to leave the island in whatever way he can manage, and risk the perils of the sea.  Alternatively, Friday can, of course, trespass without Crusoe’s permission; but if caught, there will be punishment.

So, Friday is forced into working for Crusoe because he does not have free  access to subsistence land on the island.  This, as I see it, is the difference which must be added to the genus of trade in order to define capitalism per genus and differentia.

Why I have no strategy for bringing about significant changes

In my last blog I said that I have no strategy for realizing my ideals. Here I want to explain why I said this. A government can be changed either peacefully or violently. First to do either, there must exist some group of people who want a change. Next that group of people must get organized. Well, historically this happened in the United States in 1861 in the South which formed the Confederate States which seceded from the Union. The “decider” — President Abraham Lincoln — did not allow this to happen. And as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he decided to “quell this rebellion.” Formally, this was not a civil war, but a domestic insurrection. Perhaps some other person as President would have allowed the secession to take place. As example, the Soviet Union dissolved peacefully under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

So, one way to get out of a bad government is by secession. But it depends on who is the “decider” whether this will be allowed. Most countries (especially under monarchs or dictators) are imperialistic; trying to gain and to control more and more territory, as is documented by the endless wars in recorded history. And colonies are let go only after much fighting. We have the example of the British colonies in America rebelling and seceding from England; or India getting independence from England.

Any domestic rebellion in the United States would be immediately crushed by the overwhelming force of the police and the military. Good examples of this are the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. In both cases federal troops were used to pacify the situation. The former by orders of President Hayes; the latter by orders of President Cleveland.

My point is that it is impossible to do anything in the United States against the will of the President. Why? Because he is in charge of soldiers who will carry out his orders. Remember, people will do almost anything for money, that is, do their “job.” And neither policemen nor soldiers are exceptions.

Ok, so what is the peaceful strategy for changing the government or its policies? All the “deciders” in government are elected officials. The rest of the civil servants do the will of these elected “deciders”, except for the Supreme Court whose members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and who can be removed only by impeachment.

Changing the government under the US Constitution would require an Amendment to the Constitution, something which is extremely difficult to do. So, the only practical strategy is to elect trustworthy and benevolent politicians. Good luck!

Given that the United States has Mass or Macro Democracy, by which I mean that thousands or millions of people vote to elect a candidate. And in order to persuade the voters to vote for a candidate, it requires lots of advertisement. And advertisement costs lots of money. And the higher the office, the more money required. [e.g., in the 2020 presidential race, Donald Trump and Joe Biden together spent $1.3 billion.] So only either the wealthy, or the friends of the wealthy get elected. Therefore, the government of the United States is controlled by the wealthy. There are exceptions, but so what? It only gives the illusion of the possibility of change for the better.

I think it was the Presidency of Barack Obama which created the greatest disillusionment in American people for their government. Here was a black pied piper promising change, but who led us lemmings over the cliff.

Chris Hedges “The Legacy Of Barack Obama Has Been The Near Collapse Of The Left!”

Given the above considerations, leaves me with no acceptable strategies for any political changes.

Jimmy Dore criticizes Noam Chomsky over “voting for the lesser of two evils”

What does one do if both candidates for President are equally terribly evil, and voting is an exercise in futility?

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My reaction:

I have ideals, but no strategy for achieving them.

After listening to Jimmy Dore criticizing Noam Chomsky for urging people to vote for the lesser of two evils, showing a video of David Graeber pointing out that both liberals and conservatives are serving the same corporate interests (– a position I agree with), and listening to Jimmy Dore urging direct action and the need to establish a third political party, I reflected on “what is to be done?”

I have social and political ideals, but I have no strategy for realizing any of them. Why? Because even if I or anyone did have strategies, these would have to be communicated to others. And this is where I am at present — trying to communicate my ideals to others via the Internet.

The result? I presently have a large audience of subscribers. But I have no idea to what extent I am getting an agreement or even a hearing. My pessimism is reinforced by the fact that such outstanding figures and proliferate writers as Bertrand Russell or Noam Chomsky are barely known by the literate masses or even scholars. In other words, public intellectuals — just like mass protests — have little if any impact on the deeds of government.

Revolutions — when they occur — are the result of intolerable conditions. So, people like Karl Marx and presently Richard Wolff (a Marxist economist), see the misery caused by capitalism and predict mass protests. But what will be the results of such protests or insurrections nobody can predict.

Ukraine is in a pickle

To be in a pickle means to be in a very difficult situation.

In my view, the number one problem is that in Ukraine there are two nationalities. Those in the North and West are Ukrainian speakers; those in the South and East are Russian speakers. I suppose this would be tolerable if Ukraine were a federated State like Switzerland with two distinct linguistic groups, but it is not; it is a centralized hierarchival State. Moreover, most citizens of Ukraine are bi-lingual. The tension is over domination and discrimination.


The second problem is irrendentism. Ukraine’s neighbor on the East is Russia. This means that like Hitler who annexed the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Germany because this was the area of Czechoslovakia where the dominant language was German; so likewise, Putin annexed Crimea to Russia, and is fermenting trouble in the Donbass region of Ukraine. To add to this situation is the fact that these Russian speaking regions want to be part of Russia. They eagerly accept Russian passports.

The third problem is that both Ukraine and Russia have bad forms of government. I consider placing power in a single individual to be a form of dictatorship, as did the ancient republican Romans and Spartans. Rome placed power in two consuls who had veto power over each other. Sparta had two kings and five ephors checking them. Thus, power was spread as it is in Switzerland today between seven members of the Federal Council. In Russia there is the “dictator” Putin, while in Ukraine there is President Zelensky with a dubious linguistic standing and sympathies. In any case, both countries are subject to the whims of these individuals.

The fourth problem is that despite signing the Budapest Memorandum (1994) [ signatories: Ukraine, Russia, Britain, United States], in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for a commitment to respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty, that guarantee has been broken by Russia under Putin by annexing Crimea and creating an ongoing Russian “hybrid” war in the Donbass. And the other signatories have reneged on their commitment to protect Ukraine.

Countries go to war because some individual decides to go to war

As I read political history, I am distracted from understanding what happened by such typical formulations as “Country X went to war with Country Y.” On some level of understanding this is true, but unenlightening. This is just as unenlightening as the recent report that Cornel West was denied tenure by Harvard. The more enlightening description of what happened is that Cornell West was denied the right to apply for tenure by the President of Harvard, Lawrence S. Bacow. And a still more enlightening account would probe into Bacow’s reasons. [ For an analogous case, see my analysis: Andrew Chrucky, “Norman Finkelstein, DePaul, and U.S. Academia: Reductio Ad Absurdum of Centralized Universities,” July 23, 2007]

My point is that when dealing with governed institutions — whatever their nature — it is a prevalent norm to describe these institution as if they were agents. But institutions are like tools or machines which require a particular human agent to use them. And what I am calling as “enlightened” description requires identifying the human agent who makes the machine operate, and it requires a further probing into that agent’s reasons for acting as he did.

Suppose you read in a newspaper that Jones was struck and killed by a car. OK, on one level this is a correct description. But if you want to get into a more enlightened description, you would want to know where and when this happened, what were the circumstances, and who was the driver. Was this an accident? What was the condition of the driver? Was this an intentional act? Deliberate?

I am proposing a similar sort of description for the actions of governments and countries. There is always some “decider” in the government (as President W. George Bush, Jr. described himself — accurately).

Let’s consider the infamous case of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Such an act requires the decision of the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces: the President of the United States. The responsible agent in this case was Harry S. Truman. And to get some enlightenment, we would need to understand his reasons.

Let’s consider another example. The fall of Constantinople in 1453. On one level, we can describe this event as a successful siege of Constantinople by the Turks. But on a more enlightening level, the siege was the decision of Sultan Mohammed II for whatever reasons.

What am I driving at? It is clear to me that great battles and wars are the decisions of powerful individuals. By “powerful,” I simply mean that they can get others to do what they want. They can use others as chess pawns for their ambitions. Who are these “pawns”? Soldiers and civilians!

Take any battle or war. On both sides, after the battle or war there are countless dead, disabled, sick and suffering. Consider the so-called American Civil War (1861-65). Wikipedia lists 616,222-1,000,000+ dead. Who was the decider who wanted to “preserve the union”? Abraham Lincoln!

Political history with its battles and wars, including the maintenance of internal “order,” is the history of megalomaniacs and other ambitious individuals who sacrifice the lives of countless others for their own profits and glory.

The lesson I draw from this reflection is that the principle of the separation of powers in government should include the separation of powers in the executive branch, as is done, for example, in Switzerland. Switzerland has a seven-member Federal Council; whereas everywhere else there is either a sole President, a Prime-Minister, or sometimes both.

Why I am not a Marxist

Richard Wolff, whom I admire, calls himself a “Marxist economist.” I find this puzzling and odd. Why?
Because calling oneself a Marxist, suggests that one is a disciple, just as calling oneself a Christian suggests that one is a follower of Christ. It also suggests that one has devoted a considerable time to the study of Marx or Christ. But having devoted a considerable time of study about a person and their teachings, does not imply that one agrees with these teachings. One could very well be a staunch critic. Let us distinguish the latter by calling such a person a Marx or Christ scholar, as contrasted with someone who believes that everthing that Marx wrote or everything that Christ preached is true and worthy of emulation. So, what is a “Marxist”? A Marx-scholar or a disciple?

Now, why is it that if one agrees with the findings of scientists such as Galileo, Kepler, or Newton, one does not call oneself either a Galilean, a Keplerian, or Newtonian, even though one agrees with some of their findings, and can even claim to be a scholar of these men?

Perhaps it has to do with the nature of their writing. Scientists want to find the truth about the universe, while religious figures, such as Christ, Abraham, Muhammad, Zoroasted, prescribe a way of life.

So the question becomes: was Marx a scientist, a prescriber, or both? And calling oneself a Marxist makes some sense if Marx offered prescriptions.

I am not a Marx scholar; so my knowledge of what Marx wrote is limited. But I have read some of what Marx wrote as well as some of what Marx scholars have written. And my understanding is that Marx — on the basis of his analysis of the nature of capitalistic production — predicted that capitalism will self-destruct. And his prediction was based on an idealized version of capitalist production. But given that he did not include the various deviation from his model of capitalism, his prediction in the short-run did not occur, but it is still too early to say that even a modified version of capitalism will not self-destruct.

Richard Wolff, who calls himself a Marxist economist, is perpetually looking not only at the short-comings of capitalism, but also at its cruel repercussions on the environment and humanity. I too see the evil and injustice of capitalism, but I am also more cynical than either Wolff or Marx. I do not anticipate the self-destruction of capitalism, but the destruction of humanity as such.

Although I am not a Marxist either as a disciple or scholar, I find the truth about capitalism spelt out superbly in the last part of Capital I: Part III: The so-called Primitive Accumulation (pp.713-74).

In my own words: It is through conquest that the State arose giving rise to a class division between the rulers and the ruled. This took several forms. The rulers took tribute and taxation; the ruled became slaves, serfs, or free-laborers. And underlying all these relations was the fact that the rulers controlled access to land. [For some reason Richard Wolff focuses on the employer-employee relation, but refrains from examining how such a relation arose in the first place or how it is possible.]

Two films: “Manufacturing Consent” (1992), on the views of Noam Chomsky, and “Salt of the Earth” (1954), a movie recommended by Chomsky.


Below is part of Chomsky’s reaction to the film:

Noam Chomsky interviewed by various activists. Excerpted from Understanding Power, The New Press, 2002


. . .

CHOMSKY: It is, it’s completely missing the point. It’s simply not factually accurate, for one thing — because like I say, the real work is being done by people who are not known, that’s always been true in every popular movement in history. The people who are known are riding the crest of some wave. Now, you can ride the crest of the wave and try to use it to get power, which is the standard thing, or you can ride the crest of the wave because you’re helping people that way, which is another thing. But the point is, it’s the wave that matters — and that’s what people ought to understand. I don’t know how you get that across in a film.

Actually, come to think of it, there are some films that have done it. I mean, I don’t see a lot of visual stuff, so I’m not the best commentator, but I thought Salt of the Earth really did it. It was a long time ago, but at the time I thought that it was one of the really great movies — and of course it was killed, I think it was almost never shown.
WOMAN: Which one was that?
CHOMSKY: Salt of the Earth. It came out at the same time as On the Waterfront, which is a rotten movie. And On the Waterfront became a huge hit — because it was anti-union. See, On the Waterfront was part of a big campaign to destroy unions while pretending to be for, you know, Joe Sixpack. So On the Waterfront is about this Marlon Brando or somebody who stands up for the poor working man against the corrupt union boss. Okay, things like that exist, but that’s not unions — I mean, sure, there are plenty of union bosses who are crooked, but nowhere near as many as C.E.O.s who are crooked, or what have you. But since On the Waterfront combined that anti-union message with “standing up for the poor working man,” it became a huge hit. On the other hand, Salt of the Earth, which was an authentic and I thought very well-done story about a strike and the people involved in it, that was just flat killed, I don’t even think it was shown anywhere. I mean, you could see it at an art theater, I guess, but that was about it. I don’t know what those of you who know something about film would think of it, but I thought it was a really outstanding film.



Below is the film: Salt of the Earth (1954)


Commentaries on Salt of the Earth, see:
Herbert J. Biberman, Salt of the Earth; The Story of a Film (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965) [includes the screenplay by Michael Wilson];
James J. Lorence, The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999).

What is the difference between a Mercenary and a Paid Soldier?

“People view soldiers like wives and mercenaries as prostitutes, who turn love into a transaction. But every soldier has a little mercenary in him, and vice versa. Troops often reenlist for big bonuses, a transactional practice common in most militaries. For example, the U.S. Army sometimes offers up to $90,000 for Soldiers to reenlist, enough to make modern mercenaries salivate. The author has also seen mercenaries refuse jobs on political grounds. Some American-hired guns will never take money from Russia, China, Iran, or a terrorist group; America’s enemies are their enemies. The line between soldier and mercenary is fuzzy.” Sean McFate, Mercenaries and War: Understanding Private Armies Today, National Defense University Press, 2019.

Interview with Sean McFate about mercenaries

Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 2007.

Russian Mercenaries — The Wagner Group

Candace Rondeaux, Decoding the Wagner Group: Analyzing the Role of Private Military Security Contractors in Russian Proxy Warfare, 2019.