Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Late capitalism"

I remember noticing some of my lefty friends and family members using the expression starting a couple of years ago. Now, The Atlantic and the New Yorker are using it.

Here is an attempt to explain the term.
Rather, it was Marxist thinkers that came up with it to describe the industrialized economies they saw around them. A German economist named Werner Sombart seems to have been the first to use it around the turn of the 20th century, with a Marxist theorist and activist named Ernest Mandel popularizing it a half-century later. For Mandel, “late capitalism” denoted the economic period that started with the end of World War II and ended in the early 1970s, a time that saw the rise of multinational corporations, mass communication, and international finance. Roberts said that the term’s current usage departs somewhat from its original meaning. “It’s not this sense that things are getting so bad that the revolution is going to come,” he told me, “but rather that we see the ligaments of the international system that socialists will be able to seize and use.”
There is a lot of projection in that. Socialists are the ones who want there to be an international system. But this isn't any kind of socialism, it's boring old Marxism once again. We can see this in the assumption that capitalism suffers from internal contradictions that will cause it to become increasingly unstable such that socialists will be able to seize the day and foment revolution.

It has to be foment revolution rather than lead a revolution. In Marxist theory the socialists can never lead or cause revolution; they believe the revolution will come from the oppressed members of the working class suddenly seeing they have common interests and uniting to seize control. The most socialists can do is instigate but, they think, that's okay because they believe the working class is a powder keg ready to go off.

And yet it never seems to go off. Which leads us to this:
“Late capitalism” took on a darker connotation in the works of the 20th-century critical theorists, who borrowed from and critiqued and built on Marx and the Marxists. Members of the Frankfurt School, reeling from the horrors of World War II, saw in it excessive social control on the part of big government and big business. Theodor Adorno argued that “late capitalism” might lead not to socialism, but away from it, by blunting the proletariat’s potential for revolution. “The economic process continues to perpetuate domination over human beings,” he said in a speech on late capitalism in 1968. (If only he could have seen the Jenner-Pepsi ad.)
The question to ask here is whether "control" and "influence" are the same thing. Big business has certainly had a lot of influence on popular culture. If you read that as the same thing as control, then everything Adorno has to say follows.

If you take big slab of raw salmon and walk up to a black bear, that salmon will give you considerable influence on the bear. It won't give you much control, and this to the point that your death is a likely outcome of such an action. A skilled animal trainer working with a trained bear would likely have more luck. And yet, skilled animal trainers are killed from time to time.

Notice, however, the polar nature of the Marxist response. Sometimes their sympathies are with the bear, which is to say the working class, and other times they can barely conceal their contempt for the gullibility of the little people who are endlessly fooled by a culture propagated by big business.

And wasn't the Jenner-Pepsi ad supposed to be a failure?

Feudalism didn't collapse under its own contradictions. It was replaced by more efficient political and economic practices. It took centuries for that transition to take place. There are third-world countries that still run on patronage-based command and control systems, which is what feudalism is when you strip it of it's pomp and circumstance, today. It is an extremely resilient system, something that shouldn't surprise is given that it lasted centuries. Capitalism, likewise, is extremely resilient. Until someone comes up with a more efficient system, there is little danger of it tumbling. As of today, no one has.

Meanwhile, our socialist friends keep on repeating the same old clichés.

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