Friday, August 12, 2005

On Private Property

“Political economy confuses on principle two very different kinds of private property, of which one rests on the producers' own labor, the other on the employment of the labor of others. It forgets that the latter not only is the direct antithesis of the former, but absolutely grows on its tomb only.” (Karl Marx, Capital I, Chp 33)


Before dealing with the main issue, I'd like to touch on more particular one as a contribution to the recent discussions on Islamism, not from the European perspective where Muslims are one of the poorest sections of society and suffering from Islamaphobia (a branch of capitalist fascism), but from the geopolitical perspective where Islam is becoming the religion of capitalist class. In countries like Turkey and Malaysia, where majority of the populace are Muslims and economy is dominated by the forces of the “free” market, a free-style interpretation of Islam functions as a useful tool for establishing an alternative “Spirit of Capitalism”.

The most troubling question for contemporary Islamists is how to reconcile the Quran's persistent emphasizing on the sacredness of property rights and the property relations of a specific mode of production, whose ethos and tyrannical master (United States) are regarded as the Big Devil by them. Although they tend to dodge from this kind of insignificant mundane discussions, any evasive answer of this question will give us a clue about the coherence of Islamist claim for a fair world. Islamism's main assertion is that Islam provides a complete world outlook which embraces the every aspect of life. So, Islamism should not only a struggle about spiritual values and ways of life, but also a struggle for a different production relations which will underlie these spiritual values. (Naturally, I don't think that any value can exist isolated from the material life). I would like to quote from Ayatullah Baqir As-Sadr to reflect the general attitude of Islamists:

"Anyhow Islam does not allow the capitalist to charge interest, but allows the mill-owner to let his mill, because this policy is consistent with its theory of distribution. As such is there any valid reason why capitalism and communism are called schools of economics and Islam is quite different from the theories of capitalism and Marxism, and as such should be regarded as a third school of economics along with them." (

I appreciate As-Sadr's desperate attempt to introduce Islam as “third school of economics” and his success in distinguishing this “school” from which he arbitrary called socialism, communism or Marxism (by the way, is Marxism really a school of economics?). But I have to admit that he has not convince me about fundamental difference between capitalism and Islam as a school of economics invented to pamper the new social class springing up from the bosom of capitalism: GOD-FEARING CAPITALIST MUSLIMS.

As in the passage that I quoted, As-Sadr and other foxy Islamist intellectuals tend to sperate the capitalist who charges interest from the capitalist who employs the labour of others (mill-owner eg.) and thus, who grows on the tomb of the private property which “rests on the producers' own labor”. So, according to the tenets of this school, Islam does not allow the exploitation of loaned money by interests, but allows the exploitation of worker by allowing the mill-owner's appetite for absorbing unpaid labour, surplus-product and surplus-value. At this point we have to ask: “What is interest?” or “Is there any relation between interest and surplus value?”

Interest is one of the means of distribution of surplus-value like profit, rent, taxation, etc. In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx indicates the crucial fault of economists: “All economists share the error of examining surplus-value not as such, in its pure form, but in the particular forms of profit and rent”. On the one hand, the free-style interpretation of Islam as a “school of economics” forbids a particular form of surplus-value (interest), but on the other hand, encourages the process of development of its pure form. So, the greatest theoretical achievement of Islam as a guide for God-fearing Capitalist Muslims is the most sensitive surgical operation that removes only a form of the exploitation without hurting the pure form of the exploitation.

The chief misapprehension grows out of a reversed chronological process of production in which the human seems to produce goods while producing social relations. This is a sort of philosophy claiming that categories precede things. But, these forms of thought are only valid in historically determined forms of material life. For instance, Quran, inspired in a society which was founded upon slavery, neither condemns slavery nor encourages masters to set free their slaves as asserted by Muslim theologians who stay in offside in the penalty area of a definite mode of production which does not regard slavery as a profitable tactical formation anymore. Quran confirms the right of owning a slave as an economic need, which must be abandoned as a penance to purify from some transgressions (killing a brother by accident e.g) like abandoning physical needs by fast: “It is not for a believer to kill a believer unless (it be) by mistake. He who hath killed a believer by mistake must set free a believing slave, and pay the blood-money to the family of the slain, unless they remit it as a charity... And whoso hath not the wherewithal must fast two consecutive months” (Quran, Women, 92; Translated by Pickthal). But, In the age of Liberalism, none of Muslims demand a right of private property over slave labour by leaning on verses which were valid only in an ancient mode of production. So, If we were living in an socialist society where “interest” does not exist as well as “slave labour”, it would be pointless to discuss what Quran says about interest or a definite form of private property. (“If I abolish wage labor, then naturally I abolish its laws also, whether they are of "iron" or sponge”; Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme). If you want to abolish the iron laws of interest (!) to avoid ill-gotten profits, you have to abolish the source of profit: The private property which rests on the employment of the labor of others. And if you want to criticize the imperialism of U.S properly, you have to begin with criticizing CAPITAL whose existence would have similar effects in the hands of Muslims: necessity of realization of surplus-value by finding overseas markets since the native workers cannot buy back all the value that they produce, the capitalists in overseas countries who naturally want the same thing and the usage of the means of military or cultural intervention to solve this contradiction as U.S have put into practice successfully. So, there is no meaning in criticizing imperialistic cruelty of U.S if you are allowing the mill owner to let his mill.
Muslims have to find a way to a socialist interpretation of Quran if they really want to remove the halter on our neck. Other attempts (like As-Sadr's) will serve to replace the hand which holds the halter.


In the spring of 2004, liberal democrats of the world (like the mill owners of the North who united against the slave owners of the South) united to celebrate the final salvation of Chinese workers from the grasp of the red torment: National People's Congress has put clauses concerning private property rights into the constitution (Remember Jean Baptiste Say's claim about the necessary contribution of laws to legitimate the inheritance of capital, even if it is not thought as a fruit of theft). We have been told that China has abandoned one of key pillars of communism (monopoly of state owned property) and alternated it with “a citizen's lawful private property is inviolable” or non-state owned property, supposedly which broadens the horizon of dispossessed workers and landless peasants. We rejoiced in the name of this ill-starred mass about qualifying to own private houses, wide-screen televisions, home theaters, bluetoothed cell-phones, computerized cars or wives (maybe they were sharing wives as they were sharing these useful stuff) etc... We should aware that “a citizen's lawful private property” has no concern for the right to own furnishings or belongings if we are not illiterate on economic theories. This phrase points out the lawful employment of one's labour (which should be taken as one of the most unlawful or harmful action of human) by lawful entrepreneurs and prominent members of The Communist Party who have managed to accumulate financial capital or bribe incomes provided by multinationals to serve as a premise of accumulation of capital throughout privatization or a kind of market socialism process in last two decades.

For some reason or other, when I coincide with pragmatic amendments on texts, I always remember the piggish transformation of Animal Farm's The Seven Commandments which practiced by playing on words. One night a hidden pig hand adds two words to the command “No animal shall drink alcohol” and the new command appears in the morning as: “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess”. This is exactly what National People's Congress has done in China. They have added a pragmatic meaning in old-fashioned communist command: “No human shall own another human's labour to excess”... In 1988, constitution was amended to allow private property formally as a supplement to the public sector. In 1993, the concept of “socialist market economy” was introduced to pave the way for capitalist exploitation. In 1999, private sector has been declared as an essential part of socialist market economy (See; CHINA: Constitution Change to Promote Private Property, Green Left Weekly, March 10, 2004, Eva Chang)... One night Beijing declared that only the “small and medium-sized state firms” would be privatized. At the morning its decided that it would be more beneficial to privatize everything except firms of “strategic importance”. And tomorrow they will probably wake up under the dawn on which the fallowing inference is written: THERE IS NO STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE.

There is no strategic importance. Everything seems rolling in Wittgensteinian world limited with the boundaries of language. A strange feeling reveals as the social transformations or revolutions can only be executed in textual world. But as we have seen in the appearance process of wholesale Chinese labour in the global market or the appearance of human objects in animal farm, new concepts penetrate the human brain when the human body begins to promenade among new things. So, the hypocritical permutations or brand new concepts in Beijing’s political discourse are not indicate which ought to be realized in social life. Basically, this is the struggle of political thought (or the ideas of ruling class) which strives to regulate its discourse according to the transformation in the non-textual world, has been undertaken by its actors. Thus, our main concern should not be investigating possible aftermaths of textual changes in social life. Because in the one dimensional textual space, inferences predate premises.

The question is neither whether China has became the world's workshop nor whether China is becoming a competitive and quality manufacturer. Maybe James A. Dorn can give us a valuable hint by his shameless testimony: “As long as China controls the ownership of capital, including foreign exchange, people will be subject to exploitation” (Capital Freedom for China, Asian Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc). Mr. Dorn seems oversensitive to the exploitation of Chinese working class. I wish he was able to bear the same sympathy for their American or Turkish colleagues. Anyway, he is obviously aware of something which has been haunting the labour power of Chinese people for a long time: CAPITAL. Even if it is shepherd by state, private sector or caliphs of god, the exploitative and inhuman character of capital remains same. And contradictions of capital persistently reveals itself without respecting to socio-political qualities of its master. Accumulation of capital is possible by only metamorphosing its products to the form of commodities on the market and adding some of the surplus value (which is realized in exchange value) to capital which enables the circle of accumulation. Consequently, whether it is owned by the state or private guardians of vampires (Marx describes the dead labour within the components of capital as a vampire only lives by sucking the blood from living labor), whether it is exchanged on national market or foreign market or whether its masters are calling themselves as communists or liberals or nationalists or Muslims, capital continues to absorb humanity from our bodies.

It is obvious that, in the guise of market socialism, China's tremendous army of dirty cheap workers and more modest reserve of unemployed or underemployed army of workers are being plundered (probably the greatest barbarian rush in human history) by the privileged members of The Party, native capitalists and foreign capitalists by means of direct or financial investments. Following triumphs or defeats in the quarrels on the “freedom of capital” will be determined by the tug of war between these greedy competitors. So, when the yell of “FREEDOM TO CAPITAL!” is heard on the field (Remember Mel Gibson's heartbreaking yell in the final scene of Braveheart), one should pay attention to which side is raising up its voice. In the example of merciful Mr. Dorn, he is straightforwardly demanding the FASIONABLE liberation of Chinese people from the exploitation of state agents to redress them with the tighter jersey of his WST (Wall Street Tyrants) team. It is the single style voice of barbarians who has stepped up on the prolific soils of former state-centered economies. Ironically, residents of these lands were all wet when they were assuming private ownership of the means of production and human labour by employment is the antithesis of state owned property (Like Balkan peasants or Greek islanders of 15th and 16th century who supposed that the token compassion of Ottomans was the antithesis of the cruel exploitation of Western Europeans and local landlords... “The worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, The Soul of Man, Oscar Wilde). They were demanding a solution for the alienation which they experienced in (so-called) communism. They were demanding the removing of the distance between their labour and themselves. They have tried to cure the tiresome symptoms of state-driven uniformatization by capitalist individualism. They couldn't understand that the capitalist emphasize on the “free-market” is more related with standing an waiting on the labour market than the freedom to cruise in mega shopping centers. They have fancied about a peaceful life in the global marketplace (Desmond and Molly in the global marketplace, ob-la-di ob-la-da). But, they confused the capitalist's privileged freedom to exchange in labour market with their compulsory salesmanship. Their demands were completely contrary to the principles of capitalism. And suddenly, countless of well-educated Russian women have found themselves selling their bodies as sexual commodities willingly (under the menace of unsatisfied basic human needs) or unwillingly (under the menace of mafiatic organizations of human-body traders) to the ignorant Turkish Mr. Moneybags. Suddenly, countless of Chinese peasants have found themselves selling their blood and blood plasma (willingly or unwillingly) to the blood heads (a term which refers the free entrepreneurs of blood trade). They are now witnessing the concentration of capital: “Accumulation, where private property prevails, is the concentration of capital in the hands of a few, it is in general an inevitable consequence if capital is left to follow its natural course, and it is precisely through competition that the way is cleared for this natural disposition of capital” (Karl Marx, 1844 Manuscripts). Wicked nature of this accumulation reveals as an accumulation of “stored-up labour” to point where the connection between labour and human become invisible. At this point we can not talk about ethical principles of capitalist accumulation or well-intentioned utilization of capital because existence of ethics or intentions is affiliated with the existence of human. In a sense, “freedom to capital” is a proposal which intends to legitimate the accumulation of the thing unique to humankind or transmitting human energy to the most inhuman thing till it fattens enough to negate humanity and humankind weaken too much to recognize their essence.

Although unemployment (dismissal of human from the production process of himself or herself as social entity) is an imperative and consequence of the accumulation of capital, its essential contradiction resides at the starting point of the capitalist production process. A capitalist has to exchange a part of his primitive capital with labour power to begin production. This situation necessitates the existence of human who is wanting in private property over his own labour. In Turkey, we plainly witnessed this forced encounter of labour power with the “freedom of capital” at the beginning of 80's when multitude of Kurds (willingly or unwillingly) abandoned their lands for the fear of the gunfight between Turkish Army and PKK. So, for a “worker” and a capitalist, there is a formal freedom (if we don't count worker's obligation to exchange his labour power to maintain his life) of exchange at labour market. But, in the discussion of whole working and capitalist classes, it is not a matter of freedom anymore, it is a matter of life and death.

Mehmet Çagatay
August, 2005

Friday, August 05, 2005

Materialism vs Hyperreality

If the oppressed masses in hyperreality were rebellious, could we convince them that we were all innocent victims of the same simulation which had no origin?

In Paul Auster's book The Music Of Chance, there is a scene in which a character of the novel expresses his intention to built a very detailed model of his house. What interesting is, he also considers to built smaller models in the biggest one in an infinite row, which will accommodate his own models as constructor at the same time... For Baudrillard, hyperreality indicates the daily life in these model houses where there is no coexistensivity between the telescoped houses: “No more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models - and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times.”(*) Consequently, hyperrealism explores historical subjects from inside to outside and pretends not the see the reverse row in which men build not only the houses but even cities or countries. This approach could be caricaturized as: simulation does not make man, man does not make simulation but simulation makes simulation. Let us investigate how Baudrillard caricaturizes it too. Firstly, he quotes from Émile Littré to clarify the distinction between feigning and simulating: “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms”. Then he adapts this unobstructed determination to his philosophy with a cunning innovation: “Since the simulator produces "true" symptoms, is he or she ill or not? The simulator cannot be treated objectively either as ill, or as not ill”. I hope you have noticed the trick that metamorphoses the pronoun (someone) to a nonhuman noun (simulator). I have not chanced upon a dictionary which alludes the pronounish qualities of “simulation” for signing a human subject. Generally it is explained as a machine that simulates an environment. In other words, the eye-catching magic of Baudrillard's philosophy grounds on its quick alternation between regarding human as a rabbit and a hat. Men as prisoner in hyperreality are as lusty as Baudrillard himself. But when “he or she” takes charge of simulation machine, the sound of “his or her” pulses suddenly become inaudible through the uproar of machine.

I'd like to ask a very postmodern question: is simulation flat or round? If it is round that means one has access to reality or whatever exists out of its limits by INSISTENTLY moving ahead due one direction. Remember what happened when Truman Burbank sailed to the artificial horizon of the hypothetical world. If it is round, for example, we might reach New York-New York by moving persistently to east from Paris Las Vegas without violating the frontiers of Las Vegas. If it is round, no need to ask, “Am I there, when i here?” as regards the motto of Las Vegas: “When you're here, you're there”. Simulators provide sensational coordinate systems which work as tools for users to create their own sensational experiment map within the limits of a given system. So, asking whether your sensational coordinates are inside the coordinate system is an attack on possibilities of simulator. When a child who injured in a roller coaster accident in Disneyland asks, “Am I there, when i here?” from his bed in hospital, he or she begins to sail to the horizon of simulation. When a man (Karl Marx) asks the same question to the theories of political economy from the sensational coordinates of labour, he begins to circumvent the perceptions proceeded from the theoretical simulation machine.

Simulation, Platon's Cave, culture industry, consumption society, post-capitalism, mass society, turbo-capitalism, age of communication or whatever you call it, the only worthwhile way for criticizing a misperception is interrogation from outside to inside, contrary to the outdated concept of “immanent critique” (see Frankfurt School). The basic fault of the self-enlightened man's approach in Platon's Cave was his return to the cave after witnessing to material owners of interior shadows and his mislaid critique not from the material world but from the cave of shadows in order to replace the shadows with material realities within the Cave. In opposition to the widespread belief, Marx's critique of utopia is irrelevant with the stance of utopic glance which is accused for being beyond the present network of social relations. The real problem resides in its deprivation of connection with the strings of this network. Namely, the error of utopia is not associated with standing inside or outside. Its geopolitical absurdity is its critical approach from nowhere. Under the light of these identifications, I can claim without hesitation that Marx's critique of bourgeoisie society progresses clearly from outside to inside or from the material world to the cave of shadows (ideas) in order to pull out the shadows (ideas) to the material world. Remember Marx's and Engel's keen statement, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas" (German Ideology). They confront this ideas with the material realities of another class. This identification is just one of the starting points of their critique while Adorno's or Baudrillard's critique of capitalism tails off through the concepts of Culture Industry or Hyperreality. Their failure resides in their limited motion area in a sort of Platon's Cave and their satisfaction with the range of immanent critique.

Let's give a really simple example to illustrate the motion of effective critique. In the first volume of Capital, at the start of Chapter 10 (Working Day), Karl Marx suddenly proceeds to speak with the mouth of the labourer: “Suddenly the voice of the labourer, which had been stifled in the storm and stress of the process of production, rises”. I think this is one of the most seductive, the most touching as well as one of the most threatening monologues ever written. Firstly, he designates his location: He clearly stands outside of the realities of a specific production process because THE VOICE OF THE LABOURER is an alien tone in the stormy, noisy musical scale of capital. And the adverb “suddenly” hints its breaking in normative discourse of the voice of the capitalist. Then he demands the exact value of his commodity (labour-power) like every other seller, which suits the divine laws of exchange: “I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place. You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity”. Marx's innocentlike demand is so exceedingly impossible or unreal or beyond the coordinate system of capitalistic mode of production that it necessitates a revolution which will dismantle all the historical private property relations by precluding the unpaid labour power of slavery, the drudgery of feudalism and the surplus-value production of capitalism. Actually, he puts into practice what he promised as a young man in the 11th Thesis: changing the world, penetrating the artificial horizon. (At least, the mentioned monologue has had a big impact on the unreturnable transformation of my ethos). When Marx admits that it is impossible for the worker to negate the whole bourgeoisie without negating himself, he does not wail after the irremediable parasitic disease of the labourer but invites him to a metamorphosis from the object of parasites to the subject of revolution which enables him to negate the whole bourgeoisie. So, effective critique is not series of interpretations trying to catch its own tail. It provides the coordinate system of a different map instantly when one pricks up his or her ears towards the hardly visible voices of different sensational experiments through the totalitarianism of misperception. Marx leaves the Cave exactly at the moment when he discerns the voice the of labourer. After that, the aim of his critique has nothing to do with enabling this voice more audible inside the Cave. The thought of revolution already wanders around in his head to be realized in Hegelian sense, before his innocent demand, which is not a cause but a tool for revolution. His effective critique is an attack from outside to inside to materialize the collapse of the Cave... What a shame for the herd of philosophers to expect the collapse of the Cave by critique from inside which will probably conclude with their critical crush under the rocks of shadows.

Inside the Platon's cave, everyone seems on par with each other under the oppression of shadows: “But we are still in the same boat: none of our societies know how to manage their mourning for the real, for power, for the social itself, which is implicated in this same breakdown” (Baudrillard). Is our noble philosopher really in the same boat with the man who wallows in sea of poverty along the suburbs of Algiers? Or, I have to ask a painful question as a man who grown up in a petite bourgeoisie family in Turkey: Am I on the same boat with the bareheaded and barefoot Kurdish children? Our problem is not being in the same boat as Baudrillard claimed. We have to ask, “Why aren't we in the same boat sailing towards the artificial horizon?” Or, Are some of us actors of the show?

(*) All the quotes are from Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations.

Mehmet Çagatay
August, 2005