“listen to Kurdish voices”

The longer YPJ/YPG defends Kobane (at this point maybe 50% of it), the more certain it becomes that even marginally better circumstances could have made a huge difference. I have not given up hope yet, but already too many people have died defending themselves and every value we should care about.

The reality is that revolutionaries were attacked from 3 sides by fascists with US weapons while the remaining side was guarded by fascists in Nato who prevented any assistance from reaching them.

It is unclear the Nato countries could have been pressured into getting more assistance to Kobane and/or forcing Turkey to open the border for help. Oftentimes, US interest would be completely opposed to leftist revolutionaries in the region. This was a time where some overlap in interests was possible and it was worth pressuring Nato countries to provide exactly what YPJ/YPG wanted.

The reality is that in this circumstance, some on the left opposed any assistance because of an abstract concern for “anti-imperialism.” Useless social democrats from the US presumed that their whiney complaints about US intervention would do more in the struggle against imperialism than armed revolutionaries on the ground, with traditions of resisting empire that go back centuries. Assholes thought this was a good time to tell jokes about David Graeber, or, mock the anti/non-statist egalitarian traditions and experiments in Kurdistan simply because he is excited about them. Complete fucking dooshbags worried that YPG/YPJ was not aware that assistance from the US (in the form of either weapons or bombs) would not necessarily be clean and tidy. Families that have lost all of their children to the fight for freedom and equality do not need lectures on the messiness of resistance from people whose fiercest combat experience comes from left twitter culture wars.

It is probably pointless to vent about this at this point. Still, I feel like venting (in part because other than hoping that my daughter quickly develops super powers I’m not sure what to do at this point). This has been passed around quite a bit, but I keep returning to it. From 4 Things to Learn from Kobane:

3. Listen to Kurdish Voices

The Western left often suffers from a debilitating and orientalist tendency to overstate the agency of the US and relegate communities and societies affected by intervention to passive actors, not worthy of considered analysis. Indeed, it is striking the number of anti-imperialist commentaries that rely less on the experiences and dynamics of Kurdish communities and more on rehashed critiques of the logic of Great Power predation. On the one hand, this can cause the left to duplicate caricatures of ‘ugly sectarianism’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ in ways that don’t seem too far off the arguments of Cameron and Obama (for some useful correctives see here and here).

On the other hand, it offers little consideration of the voices of Kurdish communities under attack since their intentions and actions simply don’t matter to opposing ‘imperialism at home’. The resultant politics can often be deleterious. We might wonder, for example, what the people of Kobanê would make of calls for ‘peaceful alternatives’ to war. This is especially important, since in Western Kurdistan (Northern Syria) Kurds are defending what is arguably the best hope for left politics in the region. Even the most cursory glance at the constitutional make-up and political achievements of Kurdish cantons would put most Western organisations to shame. Yet this week, while hunger strikes and solidarity demonstrations from Kurdish people were taking place in the UK and beyond, anti-war groups organised an entirely separate and potentially conflicting protest. The sooner the Western left abandons its penchant for reducing class to geopolitics, the sooner it can offer authentic solidarity to groups and communities that deserve and need it.

Seems like lesson fucking one in leftist politics. Listen to the oppressed. Listen to the oppressed that are resisting oppression. If your example of a political martyr is Cecily (no offense, glad she is free!), you really don’t get to tell Kurds that resistance can be messy. If your biggest political success is starting a “national conversation” on some shit, you really don’t get to mock everything Kurds have accomplished against incredible odds.

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arm kobane

I know some people in the region would not appreciate a Trotsky quote, but I know of nothing better than this:

Let us imagine that in the next European war the Belgian proletariat conquers power sooner than the proletariat of France. Undoubtedly Hitler will try to crush the proletarian Belgium. In order to cover up its own flank, the French bourgeois government might find itself compelled to help the Belgian workers’ government with arms. The Belgian Soviets of course reach for these arms with both hands. But actuated by the principle of defeatism, perhaps the French workers ought to block their bourgeoisie from shipping arms to proletarian Belgium? Only direct traitors or out-and-out idiots can reason thus.

It is difficult to argue with anti-imperialism. Who wants to be a pro-imperialist? Unfortunately, it is also difficult to stomach what passes as “anti-imperalism.”

There are the inconsistencies. On one hand, imperial powers are all omniscient and omnipotent. Every action taken, whether it is bombing or supplying weapons, will always necessarily further cement imperial power. Everything that has happened has happened because that is exactly what the United States has wanted. Spain and France manipulated the slaves into ending slavery in Haiti. On the other, imperial powers are bumbling fools. Weapons given to one group end up in the hands of some “bad guy” other. Any ally will become an enemy. Some people are innocent of the inconsistency, sticking to one side of this coin, but as a discourse anti-imperialism likes to push both.

I don’t have the patience nor give enough of a shit to do anything other than kinda mock crude anti-imperialism here. The great relief is that at the end of almost-endless bickering over who and what to support, almost none of it matters. Few military decisions are made in response to left-twitter. Few guerilla movements fail due to merely tepid intellectual support from college town coffee shops.

It is unclear anything can be done unless you happen to have a gun and access to Kobane. (Sorry codepink, there are no non-military solutions here.)

There is, however, a (small?) chance that the question is not whether but when NATO will attempt to help defend Kobane from ISIS. In that case, international pressure may do something. The potential benefit of waiting is that the Turkish government may prefer to let the city be cleansed first. The cost of this strategy is the loss of legitimacy. This is something people can do something about. It should be made clear to the US, Turkey, and other allies that the world is watching and we are not fucking morons. If it just so happens that Turkish tanks begin to face the right way and bombing increases only after the massacres are completed, we will not accept this as a coincidence. Kurds within Turkey are pushing up the cost of the wait-and-take strategy at the cost of their own lives. (Given the electoral dominance of Turkey’s ruling party it is not clear internal legitimacy is a pressing issue.) Internationally the dangers of action are much less without necessarily being ineffective. A NATO country sets a BBC crew’s van on fire by shooting tear gas through the window from close distance and attacks Kurds attempting to cross the border to help stop a massacre as a IS flag waves in the background. At the same time Joe Biden, complete dooshbag, is apologizing to everyone in the region except Kurdish fighters, martyrs, and refugees. This is intolerable.

I’m having a hard time writing this. Seems fucking obvious. If the anti-imperialists are right and everything is just a complete imperialist con, and sending weapons to left wing fighters (in a region we are already in) so they can defend themselves from brutal fascists is actually a bad thing somehow, there is no downside to supporting military support. It might make you feel dirty, but it was going to happen anyhow. It is not like Obama is worried about Monthly Review retweets. If the crude anti-imperialists (“traitors and out-and-out idiots”) are wrong, there is a chance international pressure can save thousands of people.

I refer to this chance as potentially “small?” but I don’t think this is a coincidence. (As for the existence and extent of bombing near Kobane, that is a decision to be made by the people currently defending the city.)

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idle and unskillful (capital part 7)

“We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use value. But if we abstract from their use value, there remains their Value as defined above. Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value. The progress of our investigation will show that exchange value is the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest itself or be expressed. For the present, however, we have to consider the nature of value independently of this, its form.

A use value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or materialised in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article. The quantity of labour, however, is measured by its duration, and labour time in its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours.

Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskillful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.”

(Volume 1: Chapter 1)

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socially necessary and artificial scarcity

No, this isn’t another post about video game money, but it does start there.[1]

I think that the in-game currency that gets sold for real world money has more value (as in socially necessary abstract labor time) than the video games they exist in. I’m not prepared to give a number, but in my interpretation most of the revenue generated in the zero marginal cost industries is monopoly rent. The scarcity of WoW or SWTOR is purely artificial. It is the product of state-enforced monopoly rights and private monopolistic behavior. Ok, fine. Whether you agree with this or not, there is a bigger question. If a video game’s price is (almost) pure rent because they could reproduce another unit at (almost) no cost, why does the same logic not apply to the money in game? While it is true that the scarcity of video game money is also artificial, it is not artificial in the way the video game’s is. The artificial scarcity of video game money is a form of socially necessary artificial scarcity (try to read “scarcity” according to the dictionary definition and not in theory-laden neoclassical terms).

My argument has two basic parts. First, we can not think of money (even commodity money) as a commodity like any other. This goes without saying in the (heterodox) traditions of monetary analysis, but even the most firmly held principles can be forgotten. I’m not going to get into the history of this, but in my reading some of the problems associated with the development of a Marxian theory of money was an insufficient care for the uniqueness of money (in whatever form) . All the worry that theoretical solutions to the value of non-commodity money would throw value theory under the bus or signal a regression to a Smithian theory of value [2] is driven by the assumption that the value of money is like the value of commodities. I do not think it is. For money, it makes sense to think of the value it can command, provided we remember that other side of this coin is the amount of labor workers must provide (offer up to be commanded) in exchange for a unit of money.

Second, the socially necessary conditions of monetary production are influenced by the fact that money is exchange-value, not incidentally but by definition. When Marx writes of the love between money and commodities, he assumes a money commodity, but sees the two as existing at opposite poles.[3] Commodities are use-values “in reality.” Their value remains to be realized by money. Money is exchange-value “in reality.” Its use-value needs to be realized in the form of commodities. The concrete conditions of production of a standard commodity are determined by its use-value. Ice cream requires specific inputs and labor processes in order to satisfy whatever it is we want from it as a use-value. Artificially limiting the amount of ice cream in the economy might change its price, but not its value. Artificial shortages do not help ice cream be ice cream. Money is different. As exchange-value, first and foremost, its socially necessary conditions of production do depend on scarcity. Unlimited ice cream means more ice cream. Unlimited money ceases to be money.

Unlimited video games means more video games. Unlimited money in video games ceases to be money in the video game.

At this point, I am approaching dangerous territory. Without doubt, the artificial imposition of monetary constraints has very rarely been done in a socially just fashion. I am not trying to defend austerity. While I do take issue with the notion that money is purely or arbitrarily artificial [4], I’m not doing so from a monetarist-ish position. Let me return to Marx once more to clarify my perspective. (As usual, this is not done because Das Kapital is the source of all Truth. This is not exegesis. It is just intellectual honesty to cite people.) In Volume 3, Marx differentiates between two types of supervision. There is supervision that exists because complex social production is…complex. There is supervision that exists because of the exploitative class structure of the economy. They may have the same name and even be executed by the same person, by they are very different.[5]

I think the same can be said about money. If we are going to have money, that money will have some degree of social necessary scarcity. However, just like the degree of necessary supervision independent of the mode of production is not a justification for all supervision present in an exploitative economy, the character of monetary scarcity in a capitalist economy is not all socially necessary (in a mode of production independent sense). You could think of this quantitatively – maybe a less capitalist economy (however defined) could have looser monetary policy – but I think it is more interesting to think of it in terms of the relationship between class structure and monetary policy practices.

In short, it is not accidental that monetary policy does not (predominantly) take the form of helicopter drops in capitalist economies. Class biases in monetary policy are not incidental. Although conspiring happens they are also not simply conspiratorial. They have a function. In an economy where some people are incentivized with the promise of endless carrots, but most of the others are motivated with the threat of not enough carrots to get through the day, do not expect central bankers to spend much time passing out fresh produce to the exploited and marginalized.

[1] Much of what follows comes from my dissertation in one way or the other, but the impetus to revisit and reframe comes from a discussion with Mathieu Dufour. Obviously, he is not responsible for anything of the stupidity that may follow.

[2] In the Marxian tradition there have been two basic solutions to the value of non-commodity money. One possibility is to view non-commodity money as a simple representative of the value of commodity money – typically gold. In this case a ratio of paper money in circulation to some quantity of gold (typically the amount that would have been in circulation). Hilferding’s alternative solution is what he calls the “socially necessary value in circulation” (1981, p.47). Instead of linking the value of non-commodity money to a particular commodity, it is tied to the total value of

commodities in circulation. Cutler, Hindess, Hirst and Hussain (1978) argue that both of these solutions are inadequate. In their view, there is no real difference between using one commodity

and using all commodities. Both solutions calculate value in a way that changes the meaning of value itself along the lines of Smith’s command theory of value.

[3] “On the one hand, both sides of this opposition are commodities, hence themselves unities of use-value and value. But this unit of differences is expressed at two opposite poles, and at each pole in an opposite way. This is the alternating relation between the two poles: the commodity is in reality a use-value; its existence as a value appears only ideally, in its price, through which it is related to the real embodiment of its value, the gold…Inversely, the material of gold ranks only as the materialization of value, as money. It is therefore in reality exchange-value. Its use-value appears only ideally in the series of expressions of relative value within which it confronts all the other commodities as the totality of real embodiments of its utility.” (p.199)

[4] “Those at the very tip of our economic pyramid understand that fiat money is unlimited, but most everyone below believes it to be scarce. We live under austerity and debt. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The idea that we don’t have the “money” to supply essential public goods to everyone is a pernicious myth that can only be maintained so long as we remain ignorant of how money actually functions. But this myth is merely justification for power structures that are ultimately backed by guns and the vastly unequal distribution of our finite planet’s resources. Knowledge is no substitute for political power. It is merely somewhere to start.” (link)

[5] I sometimes make a similar point about teaching. Some of the disciplinary or supervisory activities a teacher engages in are due to the complicated nature of education. Even a student who is internally motivated to improve their reading or writing could (at times) benefit from having someone to impose deadlines. In college, I would sometimes take classes I liked, but there were other classes I chose because they taught me things I needed to be partially forced to learn. Some of the disciplinary or supervisory activities are due to the fact that some simply do not want to be in a class, attending due to external motivations like future income, parental demands, or party time.

(Edit: What follows looks atrocious. If anyone has jabref to blogdesk exporting tips, let me know. Otherwise, let it look atrocious.)

Cutler, A., Hindess, B., Hirst, P. & Hussain, A. Marx’s `Capital’ and Capitalism Today Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978, Vol. 2
Hilferding, R.
Finance capital : a study of the latest phase of capitalist development.
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981
Marx, K. Capital Vol. 2 Penguin Books, 1978.
Marx, K. Capital Vol. 3 Penguin Books, 1981.
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labor in the abstract (capital part 6)

“This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use value. Then one use value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity. Or, as old Barbon says,

“one sort of wares are as good as another, if the values be equal. There is no difference or distinction in things of equal value … An hundred pounds’ worth of lead or iron, is of as great value as one hundred pounds’ worth of silver or gold.”

As use values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use value.

If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But even the product of labour itself has undergone a change in our hands. If we make abstraction from its use value, we make abstraction at the same time from the material elements and shapes that make the product a use value; we see in it no longer a table, a house, yarn, or any other useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put out of sight. Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.”

(Volume 1: Chapter 1)

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area of the triangle (capital part 5)

Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third.

A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base multiplied by the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity.

(Volume 1: Chapter 1)

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something accidental (capital part 4)

“Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort, a relation constantly changing with time and place. Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms. Let us consider the matter a little more closely.

A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c. – in short, for other commodities in the most different proportions. Instead of one exchange value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many. But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold &c., each represents the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, &c., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange values of a given commodity express something equal; secondly, exchange value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.”

(Volume 1: Chapter 1)


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