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Critique of the Left

What is wrong with free money?

Proposals for a Universal Basic Income or Citizen Income and variants thereof enjoy sympathy from different camps: from conservatives like Richard Nixon1, from libertarians who consider themselves disciples of the free market2, from liberals like Martin Wolf3, from social democrats like Paul Krugman4 and from people who consider themselves Marxists5.

However, what each of these proponents actually mean and want with a Universal Basic Income is wildly divergent. Centrally, the Marxists want an end to the “compulsion to work”, liberals and libertarians rather want to provide “incentives to work”.

Yet, despite these differing and at times opposing aims, these proposals share more than just a name: they share wrong premises about the capitalist mode of production and the state which watches over it.

In the following we want to first critique these shared wrong premises about productivity, the welfare state and the budget. Then, we draw out the contradiction of some left-wing supporters who, on the one hand, insist on unity with libertarian, liberal and social democratic Universal Basic Income proposals in order to acquire a whiff of seriousness and, on the other hand, continuously deny this unity.

Thesis on the swing to the right in Europe

On the occasion of an international antifascist conference in Berlin we would like to present a few brief points on the recent rise of fascism in Europe.

In every democratic nation there are fascist political parties. Sometimes, they don’t have a lot of impact for a long time, but they do exist nevertheless. Fascists are people who are politically organised on the common ground that they see their own nation sold out by their own government. Sold out, because that very government allegedly governed their people in a wrong way, meaning they would admit “the wrong” people and would govern “our own” too laxly, which would undermine motivation and decency. Wherever governments strengthen the dependency on other countries by making trade agreements or forming political alliances because they count on a positive outcome for their nation, it’s the fascists who smell a sellout of the homeland.

This standpoint of fascists is kept alive and even strengthened by democratic parties. Every democratic party finds it reasonable to be sceptical about „foreigners“. Even where some might aim for a liberalisation of immigration law or for making naturalisation easier, it would still be stressed that this process should definitely depend on successful “integration” of these foreigners. It is taken for granted that foreigners always lack real patriotism – the one natives know before they are out of diapers. Every democratic party finds a lack of morale in the people, no matter if the occasion is a debate over fiscal evasion or on benefit scroungers. Every democratic party stresses that it only acts for the national common good when it, for example, signs an international treaty. Stressing that also means to hint at the other side of the medal: in any international business one's own national interests are at risk of being undermined by other nation-states. This is a prime subject of debate in parliamentary democracy: each party blames the others to have failed with regard to furthering the national interest or to even have thrown back the whole country by misgovernment. All those standpoints exist in every democracy. Fascists seize and radicalise them.

Liberté, Égalité and such matters

Democratic states grant their subjects freedom and equality. Those with a unified and written constitution do so in the first few paragraphs of those documents to underline the importance of these guarantees.1 Or in the words of the declaration of intent of the world’s most successful capitalist states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”2 Their subjects generally thank them by making good use of these guarantees and by judging the world around them in terms of these ideals. Most praise the capitalist sovereign for services rendered while some (also) detect a lack of freedom and equality in its exercise of power.

One is hard pressed to find a political tendency, which does not appeal to (at least either) freedom or equality.3 The BNP outright calls its newsletter “The Voice of Freedom”, Tories accuse Labour of putting social equality before economic freedom, Liberal Democrats declare their identity with freedom by name, Labour attempts the delicate task of balancing freedom and equality, and there is a Trotskyist organisation dedicated to achieving freedom for workers – the Alliance for Workers Liberty. Anti-racist and feminist campaigners rally against (racist and sexist) inequality4 and even the international communisation journal Sic, who are not very fond of this society, asserts that “no equality can come from the use of a means whose very existence is based on inequality”.5

Hence, there is a bit of a dissonance between, on the one hand, freedom and equality being the central ideals of this society and, on the other hand, central standpoints for those who want to get rid of it. What allows this is the critically-minded assertion that in this society freedom and equality are either not fully realised or that in this society they are a sham.6

We disagree. Our argument has two parts, one on freedom and one on equality. In each we discuss what it means when states guarantee their subjects freedom and equality. In summary, our claim is that in this society indeed particular forms of freedom and equality are realised, which cannot be brushed aside. Instead, these are the forms in which (economic) exploitation and (political) domination happen. The critique of domination and exploitation must hence take on this freedom and equality.

The logic of punishment in democratic states

Punishment in the public debate

Crime pays – especially in the public debate. These days, many seem to be concerned with how to best fight crime. The discussions are diverse: some are concerned whether the state’s actions against criminals are sufficient enough so that the citizens’ need for protection is met. Others consider the possibilities of legal punishment to be adequate but claim that the law has to be enforced more persistently. Then there is a minority claiming that strict punishment and too much imprisonment do not help in turning criminals into good and decent citizens.1 Especially the Left argues that only those who have problems, cause problems and demands more money for the reintegration of (former) criminals into society. If prison conditions constantly become worse because less money is spent on, e.g. education in prison and probation workers, then no wonder that imprisonment does not help make better people out of criminals and protect them from a relapse, is a common leftist argument.2

So, as divergent the debates on crime and approaches to fighting it may be, the need for punishment and for the state’s capacity to use force is common ground – from right to left.3 For some, for example, it may be evident that we would get nowhere without the protection of private property and/or freedom. Without punishment citizens and their rights would not be properly protected and justice would not prevail. Even if some would admit that harsher punishment does not help, the necessity for the state to punish in order for a society to work is hardly an issue. Sentences, which impose punishment on offenders, it is claimed, have a deterring effect which – as sad as it may be – is inevitable in order for communal life to work. In this view then without punishment, it is claimed, many people would not accept the “legal rules” essential to live harmoniously together and it would always be the more powerful people asserting their “right”. This would result in the “law of the jungle”. And this, obviously, would be harmful for anyone without the “muscle”. Punishment by the state and its systematic practice is necessary, it is argued, because it respects the people’s need for punishment. But, in a “civilised”, predictable and just way, i.e. there is no “cruel and unusual punishment”.4 And this, as those who hold this view conclude, is the only way to prevent boundless and arbitrary punishment, i.e. that people take the law into their own hands.

In the following, we want to critique this explanation for the necessity of state punishment and show that the crucial basis for the continued existence of crime is not to be found within people themselves. Instead, we argue that the fact that the state by law guarantees private property, freedom and equality is what continuously produces “good reasons” to break the law. Moreover, we question what the public and jurisprudence consensually claim to be criminal law’s purpose: that it saves people from harm and ensures their daily “peaceful coexistence”.

Does capital always aim to suppress wages?

What it means for wage to be a cost factor of capital – the logic of the profit rate

Occupy’s Process – On the politics of a-politics

In many respects the Occupy movement is similar to other protest movements in recent years. Just as anti-globalisation activists, social forums on all levels from the continent to the local area, or anti-war movements against any war waged by the US and its allies, the Occupy movement posits the ideals of this society (freedom, equality, justice) against its reality.1

A poor future

(This text is also available as a typeset PDF)

On October 20th the TUC will march for “a future that works” and against austerity. In a booklet1 the TUC analyses “what went wrong” and spells out what the future should look like. In general terms, the programme is no different from the 2011 march under the slogan “Jobs, Growth, Justice”.2 That is, the TUC effectively invites its supporters to the streets to demand a future of poverty for the sake of the British economy and state.3

Benefit envy without benefit

The government is undertaking a massive impoverishment programme, part of which is to cut housing benefits. In a (now not so) recent speech1, Cameron argued: “If you are a single parent living outside London, if you have four children and you’re renting a house on housing benefit, then you can claim almost £25,000 a year. That is more than the average take-home pay of a farm worker and a nursery nurse put together.” He added: “For literally millions, the passage to independence is several years living in their childhood bedroom as they save up to move out; while for many others, it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work.”2

Cameron presents us with farm workers, nursery nurses and “literally millions” who struggle to pay for housing. He also presents a simple solution to the problems they are facing: get housing benefits. In fact, under current legislation people in work whose earnings and other income are below a certain threshold (set by the state) are entitled to housing benefits, too. But let us assume for the sake of argument that Cameron’s bogeyman was real: The same solution still applied, if two people working full-time take home less than a single parent on out-of-work benefits. A rational choice could be to stop working and to have kids. As for the millions saving up for their mortgage: that does not seem to be a rational choice either – again, assuming for the sake of argument that Cameron’s picture was correct, which it is not – , if all you have to do is quit your job and get a flat provided by the state.

Kittens #3

We released the fourth issue of kittens – the English speaking journal of Gruppen gegen Kapital und Nation. It is available here as a PDF and around London.

Bitcoin - Finally, fair money?

In 2009 Satoshi Nakamoto invented a new electronic or virtual currency called Bitcoin, the design goal of which is to provide an equivalent of cash on the Internet.1 Rather than using banks or credit cards to buy stuff online, a Bitcoin user will install a piece of software, the Bitcoin client, on her computer and send Bitcoin directly to other users under a pseudonym.2 One simply enters into the software the pseudonym of t