Re: [OPE] capitalism as an unnatural system

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Wed May 11 2011 - 01:40:44 EDT

Hi Paula,

Yes, capitalism is unnatural. but your author argues this by invoking a reactionary appeal, however well meaning -- if I read correctly he wants each person (all 7 plus billion presumably) to be secure in the autonomy of self-owned property so that they can each enter fair labor market exchange, he takes the family unit as the primary economy, he supposes competition and the market can be subject to convention ('the rules of the game'), treats money as a unit of account rather than a claim on the labor of others, etc. Once past the title, there's not much to work with here if we aspire to social arrangments that make our flourishing in nature natural in any real sense.

Plainly Marx thought capital unnatural. Addressing the thorny issue of whether capitalism is unjust, in Capital as a Social Kind I write: "Any organism fashions a goodness of fit between itself and its environment, but this is something capital neglects, not through omission, but because it realizes a different dynamic (133)" -- if we think of modes of production in such terms, then we think of them as ecological kinds. Capitalism fails as an ecological kind because it ignores the sustainable flourishing of human individuals in nature in favor of an unlimited increase in the value of things.

Also, the premise of capitalist production -- the separation of workers from the conditions of production -- is unnatural. One way of seeing this is by recalling Marx's rhetorical question in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts -- "What is life, but activity?" But if it is activity where we have our being, then a social structure that takes as its default option the separation of the living person from activity is unnatural.

Marx makes the point in Capital that nature does not produce people possessing nothing but their labor power -- the wage relation has no basis in natural history: "Nature produces beings connected to an environment that, if they endure, sustains them, and it is our social history that has produced a class of persons -- the overwhelming majority of humanity -- divorced from access to the means of support except by permission of another (Capital as a Social Kind 160)." I argue earlier how in analyzing pre-capitalist societies Marx "underscored the way the conditions of labor are presuppposed to the worker as belonging to her -- not belonging in the sense of owning, but prior to that, a sense of belonging the way my fingers belong to my hand (83)." That is, nature does not produce people possessing nothing but their labor power because the objective conditions of labor were, in Marx's phrase, "labor's inorganic body."

Labor today can recover this original (and natural) belonging to the body of nature only in association, and this is something very far from your author's imagination. What would it take for the laboring producer to find herself, like any other natural creature, actually once again joined to her conditions of survival -- and self-determinedly so? We're social animals and capital has made the means of production social. If forms of property are to ground our flourishing in nature, then these will be as the social property of associated workers. The possibility of a form of economy that could qualify as natural depends on the common and participative control by individual workers in democratic association with others over the conditions of production in the process of production.

We know something by what it is not. Your author calls capitalism unnatural, but we want to notice he offers no perspective to look past the barbarism we know.



  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Paula
  To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
  Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:13 PM
  Subject: [OPE] capitalism as an unnatural system



  ope mailing list

ope mailing list
Received on Wed May 11 01:41:04 2011

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue May 31 2011 - 00:00:02 EDT