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The Theory of Labour Aristocracy and its Discontents: a meta-review of Cope's "Divided World Divided Class"

Although the position Charlie Post takes in his thorough, and thoroughly backwards, review of Zak Cope's Divided World Divided Class was predictable, the review itself tells us more about the state of critical thought amongst marxist theorists at the centres of capitalism than anything else.  We could point out that the fact that Post begins by snidely claiming there is no empirical basis for the theory of the labour aristocracy is a rather humorous attempt at empty rhetoric: he knows that numerous revolutionary political economists such as Samir Amin have provided an empirical framework to apprehend a labour aristocracy because he argued with their frameworks in his own analysis (simply because your empirical framework is in disagreement with another doesn't mean that there is no empirical data, it just means that you are calling one set of empirical data into question with your own); he should also be aware that his own empirical data was called into question with another framework of competing empirical data.  We could also point out that his argument from authority where he claims that the theory of the labour aristocracy was disproved by a non-marxist (though anti-capitalist) political economist Anwar Shaikh is somewhat laughable.  The real point, however, and one that Post cannot help but miss, is that any attempt to prove or disprove the theory of the labour aristocracy through empiricism can only go so far: just us Cope can find the data to prove the theory, Post can mobilize opposing data to supposedly undermine this data, and Cope could probably reply with another pie chart or set of statistics, and Post would reply again… round and around it goes.

This is because crude empiricism is not materialism and political economy is not science.  If we were to believe that this was the case, then we would have to accept the pure economist "mathematical proofs" that communism is doomed to fail, or at least lose ourselves in the infinite back-and-forths between marxist and anti-marxist economists who are just as deft at conjuring numbers and tables to throw dust in the eyes of their opponents.  So where Post claims that Cope's arguments "do not withstand critical examination", the same can be said about Post's earlier claims to the contrary (as the aforelinked article demonstrates), and the point here is that this sort of positivism is not, as Post imagines, tantamount to "critical examination".  As historical materialists we have to understand that an empirical analysis does not simply break down to positivist exercises in empiricism; here the empirical goes beyond statistic citing and economistic sophistry––it is about examining the concrete historical processes of which statistics are an abstraction.  To allow oneself to be trapped on the level of abstraction is to abandon scientific core of historical materialism, replacing a materialist empirical analysis and become trapped on the level of appearance.

None of this is to say that Post's critique of Cope's book is completely without merit.  True to rhetorical form, he focuses on the weakest points of Cope's analysis––a weakness I mentioned in passing in my review of the book––where there is an attempt to find a one-to-one relationship between imperialist exploitation and super-profits.  Since Post himself understands the theory of the labour aristocracy according in this simplistic manner, and ignores the analysis that is even contained in Divided World Divided Class that is not about this one-to-one relationship, he is probably on safe ground to focus only on this aspect of the book.

Although I think this one-to-one relationship between super-exploitation and super-profits paid to workers can be found through the same methods used by Post (and was indeed found by Cope) I also think it can also be disproved according to the same epistemological apparatus, and so to avoid this endless back-and-forth debate of empiricism I have always been of the opinion that this approach to the theory is incorrect.  After all, a similar back-and-forth debate regarding the labour theory of value has been going on for almost a century and, in order to break this endless circle of political economic stat-citing, there needs to be a philosophical intervention to clarify the meaning of the theory, to compare approaches, and to find one theoretically wanting.

Indeed, the debates surrounding the labour theory of value are useful in understanding this debate surrounding the theory of the labour aristocracy.  While Marx mobilized numbers and statistics to imply that the price of a given commodity was, in the last instance, a reflection of the labour-time of the worker, this was not at all the strength of his theory.  After all, innumerable political economists have made much ado about the supposed impossibility of discovering that aspect of price that directly represents labour power, and have been able to reply to every marxist economist statistical attempt to claim otherwise––Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, for example, have written an entire book (Capital as Power) where the methods of crude empiricism are employed to supposedly demolish the labour theory of value and put in its place a rather silly and anti-materialist conception of value that is little more than a restating of Eugene Duhring's theories that were thoroughly crushed by Engels.  But what makes this theory scientific is not its ability/inability to explain the transformation problem through statistics and equations, but the very concrete fact that without labour there could be no value in a given commodity because without labour there would be no commodities that could be exchanged.  Price is clearly a reflection on some level of this fact, but only as an abstraction of the concrete.

Similarly, the strength of the theory of the labour aristocracy is not based on statistically proving where and when super-profits contribute to the wages of first world workers, but on the fact that workers at the centres of imperialism live in a social context that could only be possible because of imperialism, i.e. welfare capitalism where there could be that historic compromise between labour and capital.  And while it is true that this compromise happened partially because of working class struggles (the ruling class never concedes anything, even its super-profits, without a struggle), the only reason it could happen without threatening capitalism in toto is because of super-exploitation.  To assume otherwise is to ignore the inequality of nations produced by imperialism and that some nations oppress others––a rather ludicrous assumption that would require a rather manic level of historical amnesia and the pretence that contemporary imperialist interventions are done just for the hell of it without any economic justification.  In this context it makes sense to assume that the wages of workers at the centres, who live within a welfare capitalism where any reform is dependent on the fact of imperialism, are in some manner affected by the super-profits just as the price of a commodity is in some manner decided by labour power.  Attempting to prove this relationship, however, requires a level of abstraction that can always be called into question as long as it is torn from its concrete basis and treated as the theory in itself––and this is precisely what Post does in his review of Cope's book, just as he has done in all of his writings in this regard.

Before proceeding any further, it is worth asking why authors such as Post are so invested in disproving the theory of the labour aristocracy.  In my meta-review regarding Sakai's Settlers I dealt with two other first world marxist reviewers (one of whom wrote for the same site that published Post's review, thus demonstrating that the organization behind this site is extremely interested in disproving the theory) who were similarly offended by the same theory; I was interested in why there seemed to be a desperation on their part to reject the only theory that is capable of explaining the default opportunism that is prevalent at the centres of capitalism.  And since I reject the circumstantial ad hominem as being fallacious, and even mentioned this rejection in my initial review of Cope's book, I would wager that this desire to reject the theory of the labour aristocracy that is common amongst marxists at the centres of capitalism is due to the very fact of the labour aristocracy.  That is, marxist theorists who live in the privileged centres of imperialism where welfare capitalism is only possible because of super-exploitation in the peripheries do not like being reminded of their privilege, or the general privilege of the working classes they claim to represent, and are desperate to prove that they are still part of the worldwide vanguard.

Social being does affect social consciousness, and the fact that Charlie Post is privileged to live at one of the global imperialist centres (like me, like many of my readers!) produces a default epistemology that, unless critically examined, will colour every theoretical engagement with the world at large.  And anyone invested in rejecting the theory of the labour aristocracy is just like everyone invested in rejecting the labour theory of value: the rejection of the latter is based on bourgeois consciousness, the desire to "disprove" that value is made, in the last instance, by the proletariat; the rejection of the former is based on an imperialist consciousness, the desire to disprove that the social reforms at the centre are only possible, in the last instance, because of imperialist exploitation.

Interestingly enough, Post's review touches upon the very thing that the theory of labour aristocracy explains and, in an attempt to provide a counter-explanation, ends up demonstrating the limitation of Post's thought.  It is worth quoting this passage at length:
"Clearly, the vast majority of workers in the global North––and in the global South––most of the time are not revolutionary, or even actively contesting the capitalist offensive. […] However, the roots of these phenomena are not found in the sharing of super-profits derived from imperialist investment, unequal exchange and monopoly.  Rather, they're found in the objective structure of capitalist social property relations that make possible varied forms of working class conscious praxis––working class conscious behaviour and action. […] While collective mass struggle against capital is the basis for working class political radicalization, the roots of reformism can be located in the separation of workers under capitalism from the means of production.  Working class collective organization and activity is necessarily episodic, for the simple reason that workers must sell their labour power in order to survive, and thus cannot continually engage in struggle.  The episodic character of the class struggle produces both a layer of full-time officials within the labour-movement and prolonged periods of working class passivity.  And it is this that constitutes the social foundations of both the unconditional reformism of the officialdom and the conditional reformism of most workers. […] The roots of working class conservatism are found in the constant competition among workers as individuals sellers of labour power.  In the absence of effective, collective class organisation, workers are pitted one against another on the basis of race, gender, nationality for jobs, promotions, education and housing.  This competition among workers provides the social environment for the development of racism, sexism, nativism and other conservative ideas among workers. […] [W]hich form of consciousness develops in which sections of the working class historically depends upon the presence, shape and strength of resistance and struggle.
Here is an attempt to explain precisely what only the theory of the labour aristocracy can explain with a set of philosophically confused ideas, a theoretical mess that is in itself haunted by the very theory it seeks to reject.  And it is here that I want to concentrate my critique of Post's review since it is the only worthwhile aspect of the review: the theory of the labour aristocracy is scientific because it can explain the phenomena of opportunism at the centres of capitalism––it possesses an explanatory power, and one that fits the confines of occam's razor––that other explanations (which are very minor) lack.  So here is Post's only real argument against the theory of the labour aristocracy; the rest is economic mystification.

First of all, Post begins this explanation by homogenizing the working class.  As if imperialism does not exist, the working classes of the centres and peripheries are identical and share similar concerns.  He claims that most of the time this working class is not revolutionary when, in point of fact, working class movements in "the global south" have been by-and-large far more revolutionary than their reformist counterparts at the centre.  He spirits away the fact that every significant revolution, including the two world historical socialist revolutions (Russia and China), happened at the margins of imperialism, at Lenin's "weakest links", in those places that some of us would say are "super-exploited".  These are movements that have and are indeed "actively contesting the capitalist offensive" and this needs to be explained––something that his analysis cannot do but what the theory of the labour aristocracy can do and has done.  It is somewhat despicable that a self-proclaimed marxist refuses to speak about communism's historical revolutionary experience, let alone contemporary people's wars that are erupting in the peripheries as we speak––but in this sense, Post is no different than many first world communists who like to pretend that revolutionary people's wars don't matter.

Secondly, Post's claim that the roots of revolutionary inaction can be found in "varied forms of working class conscious praxis" begs the question, and keeps on begging it throughout this entire passage.  We need to ask about the ultimate roots of this varied consciousness, just as we need to point out that this consciousness varies most significantly when we compare working class struggles in the periphery to working class struggles in the centre.  What is the consciousness of an activist at the centres of capitalism compared to the consciousness and praxis of an active Naxal at the periphery?  Let's go back further in history: what is the active consciousness of your average SPD member compared to the active consciousness of a Bolshevik?  Or let us place this variation at the very heart of world capitalism: what is the active consciousness of an active union worker compared to the active consciousness of a non-unionized migrant worker or an active member of an oppressed nation?

Thirdly, before attempting to explain this variation, Post speaks of the "episodic" nature of resistance and how it is based on the fact that workers need to sell their labour power to survive.  Obviously this is the case, but again there is a marked difference in the episodes at the centres of capitalism and the peripheries, and there is also the fact that social democratic reforms exist only at the centres and these reforms mitigate the problem of crude survival.  Moreover, according to this analysis of labour power sale and survival, it would seem that the more brute the sale the less time someone would have to engage in the business of revolution––and yet exploitation is demonstrably harsher at the peripheries (or does working in a sweat shop without health care/insurance, without welfare, in what is tantamount so slavery not count as greater exploitation?) and even still anti-capitalist movements are stronger in these regions.  I'm beginning to suspect, however, that Post does not believe that capitalism is more oppressive in the global peripheries and everyone is exploited in the same manner and his idea of this "episodic" struggle is based only on a myopic view of the first world.

Finally, Post attempts to ground his concept of variation in the theory that competition amongst workers is promoted by some bourgeois conspiracy of racist, sexist, nationalist ideology.  This is precisely the simple-minded analysis of oppression, where x oppression only exists because it is designed by a group of bourgeois conspirators to "divide the working" class, that I have already critiqued as ahistorical, idealist, and just plain lazy in a previous post.  And the point I made in this critique is that to simply explain away racism and sexism as some plot to divide the working class fails to answer the question; it does not explain why racism/sexism/etc. exists in the first place and why it possesses such a strong ideological cache amongst certain sectors of the working class.  Thus Post lapses into the same anti-materialist analysis of the phenomena of oppression, unable like so many others to provide anything approaching explanatory depth to what he seeks to describe.  Most importantly, however, he does not seem to grasp that the phenomena of racism can only be explained in a historical materialist manner according to the theory of the labour aristocracy.  Hence, the very theory he seeks to dismiss haunts the grounds of his dismissal.

All-in-all, Post and his ilk do not appear to think that imperialism exists, or if they believe it exists they do not appear to believe that it matters.  In their view, it does not contribute at all to the "variation" of the working class, which seems to happen all by itself without any logic––the phenomena of racism and sexism emerge in a vacuum, nothing more than the conspiratorial plot of an unvaried bourgeois class spreading divisions to variate the working class.  And yet, since I do not at all believe that Post is stupid (he did, after all, write a pretty significant book on the American bourgeois revolution that shifted this revolutionary impetus from the Washington era to the Civil War), I am convinced that he does believe that imperialism is a fact because to believe otherwise would be to dismiss reality and assume that phenomena such as the recent interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya, etc. did not happen.

But if imperialism is a fact then we need to ask, as historical materialists, whether it is more than spectacular moments of militarism.  According to Post's analysis, it seems as if imperialism doesn't really do anything, existing only as a banal fact.  After all, his division of the world into a "global north" and "global south" seems to admit that there is a worldwide imperialist division, but this division does not factor into the "varied forms" he discusses even though it is a rather significant variation.  Thus, according to his analysis, imperialism seems to be an eternal global fate that lacks historical contingency: the division of the world into wealthy and impoverished nations is a Platonic destiny, just the way things are, rather than something that emerged through concrete historical processes.  And if there was a reason for the emergence of imperialism, and the fact that some nations were able to become powerful at the expense of others, it makes sense to wonder whether this development also affected the development of class struggle.

We need to ask why the most powerful capitalist nations involve themselves in the business of subaltern nations and what they get out of this involvement.  We need to ask whether this involvement produces a fact of global exploitation, whether there is a reason for corporations to down-size and export capital, and what all of this means for working class struggles at the centre.  We need to make sense of the mainstream first world working class' identification with imperialism and why its consciousness is generally "variated" from the consciousness of their counterparts who are experiencing occupation, bombing, and sweat-shop exploitation.  These are all questions that can only be explained by a theory of labour aristocracy––by a theory that claims that workers at the global centres, by the very fact that they live in these global centres, currently benefit in some way through imperialist exploitation.  And this is the strength of the theory of labour aristocracy, a strength that is sorely lacking in Post's confused alternate account.


  1. Anwar Shaikh is most certainly a Marxist - otherwise this is a good counterpoint to Charlie's piece. I think in many ways this debate is productive - like Miliband/Poulantzas.

    1. I don't read Shaikh as a marxist, more as a critical political economist who agrees with some aspects of Marxism as well as aspects of other anti-capitalist traditions. But this could be a problem in the way I read him, so fair enough: I haven't read very much of Shaikh, and I wasn't entirely impressed by what I did read. Otherwise thanks for the kind words.

    2. It's true that he uses some neoclassical and marginilist (EG bourgeois) frameworks but I wouldn't call him non-Marxist in the sense of Nitzan and Bischler

    3. Thanks for the clarification. I was thrown off I think by some of his theoretical eclecticism.

    4. BTW, there is an interesting paper about global divisions of labor based on Shaikhian approach to productive and non-productive labor that reaches quite similar conclusions to Cope's,%20productive,%20and%20unproductive%20labor.pdf

  2. Excellent piece, as usual. One (rare) point of disagreement: I’ve always felt that the work of Samir Amin is beset by serious difficulties, starting with his neo-Keynesian underconsumptionism (e.g., his anti-Marxist assertion that “the essential law of capitalist accumulation” is to be found in “the contradiction between the capacity to produce and the capacity to consume”). While his work in the 1960s and 1970s at least had the merit of being anti-imperialist, he is now little more than an opportunist. See, for example, this recent piece expressing support for France’s attack on its neo-colony of Mali (

    1. I wouldn't say that Amin is now "little more than an opportunist" but I do agree that his recent piece on Mali is definitely opportunist––and was planning to make my next post about this. Until this piece, though, he was still producing some excellent theoretical work and upholding People's Wars. I think you're misreading him about "underconsumption" and I would also argue that Amin has still produced some of the most important marxist theory on imperialism, the transition question, and other significant areas. In regards to this piece, I meant his recently re-released "Law of Worldwide Value" which pretty much demonstrates the existence of something that can be called the labour aristocracy.

      Now do we throw out all of this because of his recent work on Mali (and keep in mind he didn't have this position on Libya or Syria when other academic leftists lost themselves in pro-imperialist stupidity) or do we understand that he can't be correct in every instance and that many leftist academics, regardless of their work, often lapse into erroneous claims?

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. No doubt the harsh language I used in denouncing Amin in part reflects my profound surprise and disappointment in his position on Mali—as you point out, given his principled stands on Libya and Syria. And I do agree with you both that he has done some valuable work in the areas you cited, and that an opportunist turn does not invalidate contributions that predate the turn (e.g., Poulantzas’ later embrace of Eurocommunism does not undermine his excellent earlier writings on social classes and the state).

    But I do think that in the case of Amin, his body of work ultimately rests on a shaky, underconsumptionist foundation. To give a relatively recent example, consider this article on Baran and Sweezy, in which Amin writes—regarding their revisionist ‘theory’ of the “rising rate of surplus,” meant to replace Marx’s theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall—that he has “completely accepted this crucial contribution from Baran and Sweezy”: Baran and Sweezy’s claim is that there is an inherent tendency within monopoly capitalism for capacity to outstrip effective demand, so that insufficient demand serves as the key barrier to accumulation, rather than (Marx) accumulation itself. Among the problems with this giant ideological mystification is that it cannot explain what determines accumulation in the first place, and their subjectivist solution to that problem—that it is the ‘"profit motive" of the capitalist—is an ‘obvious’ (ideological) description, and for that reason explains precisely nothing.

    In any case, this disagreement is peripheral to the argument of your excellent piece. I look forward to reading what you have to say regarding Amin’s line on Mali.

    1. All I will say here is that, even though I think Amin has still written some important works in the past decade, his most significant work ends in the 1980s and everything after this is a footnote, and sometimes not a very good footnote. In Unequal Development and Class and Nation, his two greatest works, he upholds Marx's theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and did a good job demonstrating why this was correct.

      Now despite my problems with some of the revisions he has made in his earlier (and better) theory, I will say that the article you are citing is just a portion of a larger argument he makes in the republished "Law of Worldwide Value". What he is actually arguing is that Baran and Sweezy's theory of rising rate of surplus is actually a worked out theory in a global sense of Marx's theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In that book he doesn't replace one with the other, simply argues that the Baran and Sweezy account is an explanation of the rate of profit to fall in terms of global capitalism.... the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, he maintains, is inherent in the capitalist mode of production not the capitalist world system. This division is key in understanding Amin's work, though I do agree that his more recent discussions about these problematics have often become either: a) derivative of his early work; b) tangental and speculative.

      In any case, I understand that your disagreement here is peripheral to this article. At the same time, I think Amin's contributions to revolutionary theory are very important and, since I have done a lot of significant academic work on Amin, do uphold everything he wrote up to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Recently, though, I've found that a lot of his work just doesn't measure up.

  4. I mostly agree with the basis of this assessment, but I think Charlie Post is more rigorous than you give him credit - his work is quite solid not only empirically but theoretically, and represents some of the generally accepted frameworks in HM academia.

    I think that more than haunted by labor aristocracy theory, he basically sets up the basis of its definitive scientific proof, much more than Cope does.

    Its like Einstein trying to disprove Quantum Physics and then providing some of the basic pillars for it today.

    We would do well not to ignore this.

    However, I think Cope's has the same mistake as Post's work. Both are trying to justify previously arrived conclusions - rather than the other way around; studying reality and extracting conclusions from it.

    While this might be an exercise in the impossible, I think it should at least be tried.

    And that is the limitation of the theories - the political/sectarian implications are too thick for science itself. When you embrace a political tradition of labor aristocracy or of uneven and combined development, it is hard to break out of it to examine the world through some epistemological break with those theories.

    A break has to happen somewhere with this fog that paralyzes advancing a real theory of how class formation in deformed superstructuraly because of the basis of imperialist exploitation and superprofits - which is what labor aristocratic theory is actually about.

    Cope and Post are both part of this process. Now, we need something else.

    1. I think Post's work is rigorous only on the level of positivist empiricism. I have read everything he's written on the question of the labour aristocracy and I think the rigor is similar to the rigor of a pure economist: numbers without explanatory depth that fail to do anything significant but throw dust in the eyes of his opponents. In my review of Cope's book and here I pointed out that Cope's arguments rested on a similar level, though Post's data has been questioned by various other political economists (I linked to a response to Post that argues that he has misrepresented the data he uses).

      In any case, there is no depth to Post's work so, like you said, he almost sets up the basis of its definitive scientific proof by what he cannot explain––this is pretty much what I was getting at when I examined his alternative explanation.

      Post's framework is not as "generally accepted" by academic historical materialists as you think. It is accepted by a certain group of academics––academics at the centre, euro-communists, etc.––but not by others. Marxist academics are a pretty disparate lot. It is accepted by a lot of people affiliated with the Historical Materialism journal, but not all of them.

    2. "Post's framework is not as "generally accepted" by academic historical materialists as you think. It is accepted by a certain group of academics––academics at the centre, euro-communists, etc.––but not by others. Marxist academics are a pretty disparate lot. It is accepted by a lot of people affiliated with the Historical Materialism journal, but not all of them."

      Well, I agree, which is why I said "represents some". My point being, that he is does represent a prevalent view, unlike Cope. In science, this does matter - it might be unfair, and in often leads to surprising reversals (See "plate tectonics") but is is true. Thus, Cope has to surmount hurdles Post doesn't have to, and he doesn't, while some of Post's issues are due to the inverse process - the need to not prove some basis as he expects the surrounding framework to provide it.

      I think Brennerian vs Althusserian (which in a sense is what we are dealing with) is interesting academically, but by now has become a mudpool stuck in its own self-contained continuum and become an encumberment to progress on these questions in terms of politics, in particular as it institutionalized. I see value in both politically - and surprisingly, I see Brenner giving more credence to LA/imperialism theories closer to my politics - albeit not prima facie.

      That is not a generally accepted view, but I think the territory is primed for a disruption. I am no academic. But I see it.

      And when I mean CP proves it, I do not mean "there is not depth". I disagree. I think it is deeper than Cope - empirical data problems aside.

    3. He does ignore - and this does robs depth - two glaring things:

      1) The settler-colonial wealth itself, while treated, is not treated beyond the settler perspective. There is archaeological and anthropological evidence of a much more liver trade than suggested - as well the potential wealth generated. One of first fortunes in the USA, that of the Astor family, was a result of direct settler-colonial exploitation and not slavery. While slavery cannot be understimated as a contribution to the process of original accumulation, it is focused upon to the detriment of the immense contribution that the direct exploitation of natives, and the alienation and capture of the resources previously under their control.

      As is the case with some defacto pro-Zionists in the left (like the AWL in Britain), not taking into account the existence of settler-colonialism and the way this affects the development of a political economy has a nasty consequence. I have discussed this with the smarter of the people in the AWL, and while agreeing to disagree, they do concede that the pivot of disagreement is not Zionism itself (after all, national self-determination is part of Marxism) but the issue of settler-colonialism. If you remove this from the equation, then seeing the Israeli working class as oppressed and a proletariat and even as a neo-colonial nation is inevitable if one uses a Marxist view. If you do the inverse, and take into account settlerism, the politics change radically. What a difference rigor makes.

      Put simply, Post doesn't examine settler-colonialism in depth. And while labor aristocracies can develop (and have developed) in countries that are not settler colonial, the emergence of a "global north" labor aristocracy is linked inextricably to settlerism and its dynamics. Frederick Cooper to name a foremost non-marxist colonial studies academic, pointed to this in his "gatekeeper" theory (Which in Maoism we call comprador). Clearly, if a strata emerges in the colony, a wholes inter-class strata of comprador/gatekeeper bourgeois, petty bourgeois, working class(which explains why in many colonies large sections of the working class support colonialism in a more compelling way than Fanon does), and even lumpen (criminals who work for international drug trade for example), in parallel with a non-comprador/gatekeeper equivalents, then the emergence of a labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries is not a strange jump, but a necessary one.

      How can class divide into two in the colonies but not in the colonizer? It makes no sense except by simply willing it so.

      So Post doesn't have to appeal to a "fringe" Maoism to deal with this. So the omission is shallow.

      2) You point directly to the other - the "episodic nature of resistance" and the contrast of this with the "global south". While his book - American Road To Capitalism - is centered in the USA, and thus this could be excused in this sense, it is indeed a shallow omission as the USA is a case study imperialist country. You provide a critique I unite with, thus I will not repeat it. However, this stands in contrast with Post's own abandonment of a view on Cuba that defined it in orthodox Trotskyist terms a workers state and adopting a more state cap/bureaucratic collectivism view informed by Sam Farber's own work on the Cuban political economy. Post ability to break orthodoxies is there, and yet he won't over this question - without addressing why.

      These are in my estimation the shallowest aspects.

    4. First of all, as I've said elsewhere, I think "American Road to Capitalism" is actually a good book. As you point out, while he breaks with orthodoxies in both this book and his assessment of Cuba, he still clings to what I feel is a generally unscientific rejection of the theory of the labour aristocracy. Perhaps this could also be seen as a rejection of orthodoxy (after all, as far as "orthodox" Marxism-Leninism is concerned, this was a significant theory), although amongst a certain [eurocentric] sector of marxist intellectuals rejecting this theory is itself an orthodoxy.

      Secondly, I will maintain that his theory lacks depth in the scientific sense. At no place does he provide a substantial rejection of the theory, which would mean producing a coherent material framework that can explain precisely what the theory of the labour aristocracy can (and only can) explain––this goes for all of his work on the question. None of this has to do with his ability to appeal to a "fringe" Maoism but simply to make sense of what imperialism does while at the same time why the working class at the centres of capitalism have generally lapsed into opportunism as a default state of praxis. His review of Cope's book provides a succinct summary of his attempt to provide explanatory depth to his abstractions, but all it does, as I pointed out, continue to beg the question and ignore what an actual empirical analysis beyond positivist empricism would provide. There is nothing in Post's work that provides any strong and substantial account of this kind, aside from what he summed up in this review; his rejection has always hinged on explaining away phenomena through statistics.

      Thirdly, yes it is a prevalent view in some sectors of marxist academia (specifically at the centres of imperialism), and yes Cope's book has to surmount certain obstacles, but there are already books pre-Cope that aren't at all seen as Cope's book is seen, a tradition into which it can be plugged into and that some of Post's earlier work misrepresents and/or side-steps (i.e. Amin's work on this issue that has not always used the term "labour aristocracy" but is still seen as quite significant). This review is not about upholding Cope, but pointing out how Post's review is performing the same surface level side-steps his earlier work has done (hence my link to that critique of Post's data).

      Fourthly, I generally agree with your comments about settler-colonialism. Indeed, much of my dissertation worked focused on linking imperialism in the neocolonial sense to the previous settler-colonial imperialism and the ongoing reality of settler-colonialism in some countries––specifically the most powerful imperialist countries. Your comment about Israel is very pertinent.

      Finally, I think Post's views are closer to the Brennerite position and flow from it, specifically in regards to the transition question. One of the significant problems with political marxism is that it cannot account for imperialism aside from being some sort of spontaneous quirk (indeed, Ellen Wood has called it such), so it often has no interest in examining labour aristocracies since it writes settler-colonialism's importance out of the picture of capitalist development. And Brenner was not specifically writing against Althusser, though he did write against some people who liked Althusser, but against a view on the transition that first appeared in Baran and Sweezy and then in the world systems theorists; many of these people were also against Althusserian categories. (Inversely, one of the main theoretical critics of Althusser, E.P. Thompson, was not necessarily in agreement with Brenner's assessment.) Henry Heller's recent book, *The Birth of Capitalism*, has a good summation of the transition debate and the theoretical complexity from Dobbs/Sweezy, to Brenner.

    5. Lest there be a brief touch on Political Marxism on this blog go without a brief comment.

      I am not here to defend one side or another in this debate, as I think, like SKS's reference to the dichotomy between Brennerian and Althusserian, it can become a distraction for the kind of united front, intellectually and institutionally that is sorely needed. Indeed, as a Political Marxist who started out strongly unfavorable (following the PM line) towards Althusser and Althusserians, I find much in that latter school that is worthwhile. And this shouldn't be surprising since both Brenner and Post in particular have roots at least partially related to it, and there are shared concepts. One of the reasons for the intellectual sectarianism between the two camps is, frankly, that they have so much in common.

      Now make no mistake, I am no Althusserian. And I'm not a supporter of the Labour Aristocracy thesis - I'm with Post. But I see a distinction between those who the thesis being held would lead towards vulgar third worldism, and those, like most people I know that hold it, don't allow it to stop them from being solid trade unionists. In turn, thre are those who deny the labor aristocracy thesis that do so because they're pork chopper bureaucrats and/or highly paid industrial workers (a shrinking lot) - and then there are those, like Post - or myself for that matter - who would in no way deny differentials within global class composition - but think that there are more complex factors at work (including a rigoruously theorized labour bureaucracy, among others) that explain worker conservatism.

      There is no denial of imperialism in Political Marxism. To clear up JMP's point in his final paragraph - in an interview I did with Ellen for Alternate Routes, she affirms that however appropriate Lenin's theory of imperialism may have been at its time, we need a new theory of imperialism, and she hints at the theories that are fleshed out by the likes of Hannes Lacher, Benno Teschke and her own magnificent Empire of Capital. She affirms that if we are to cite Lenin, we must do so in understanding that his analysis was valuable but historical specific.

      Brenner was not writing against Althusserians at all. The interlocutor closest to his position was also his toughest critic - Guy Bois - who coined the term "Political Marxist". The bone of contention with Bois is relatively minor compared to Bois and Brenner on one side, Hellr on the other. It should be noted that many of the Althusserians in the transition debate also held with Brenner's theory of capitalism originating in the English countryside in a contingent or in their term "Aleatory" sense. So if Ellen is to be accused of having a "quirk" theory of capitalism, so shoudld the Althusserians.

      Heller's book was quite good. Pity he had to be so sectarian about Political Marxism, as well as other traditions outside of its own.

    6. I should qualify the previous quote - I think its incorrect and reflects a lack of engagement with all but the school's "leading lights" to assert that Political Marxism writes settler colonialism's importance out of the development of modernity that cannot be reduced to or deduced from capitalist social property relations. IT merely makes hte point that these are holdovers from different sers of social relations that were themselves transformed by the transition.

    7. All I will say here is that we have had this debate before and gone into great detail about Political Marxism and settler-colonialism. I will maintain, as I have elsewhere, that it has no analysis of settler-colonialism, is incapable of explaining imperialism except as a quirk, and is all-in-all a eurocentric social chauvinist ideology. I do not see the need to repeat all of the comment arguments we have had on this in the past. Moreover, I think the denial of the theory of the labour aristocracy is anti-scientific for the reasons I've outline: it cannot account for what imperialism does, it cannot account for why revolutionary movements that have happened at the weakest link. To hold onto it is to exercise, at least implicitly, social chauvinism. I also feel that continuing to deny its existence is a form of denial.

      Heller was not at all sectarian, Jordachev, regardless of how you read it. Considering that Heller used to uphold the Brenner line and then realized its limitations, he provided a very clear analysis from a historical standpoint of why it is a problem. In fact, he's clear that he thinks there are important things about Brenner and doesn't himself really adhere to a specific tradition but tries to cull together an analysis from aspects of various traditions. Again, this is because he came out of PM tradition.

    8. Also, I should point out that my comment about the Althusser-PM bifurcation was meant to indicate precisely what you said: that some Althusserians have the same analysis of certain things as Political Marxists, etc. Also, to be fair, when I speak of the political marxist problem with settler-colonialism I am indeed speaking about the leading lights. It is unclear how, based on the fact that political marxism cohered into a supposed ideological "line" due to the position it takes on the transition question, how anyone operating within this tradition (and this tradition's understanding of class, class struggle, class composition, etc.) could have a different analysis of the importance of settler-colonialism, and hence modern imperialism, without significantly breaking from the tradition's ontic foundations. It's a bit like saying you're a Trotskyist but then saying that you reject the theory of Permanent Revolution... Or maybe this is some sort of post-PM like post-Trotskyism?

    9. Heller - There are like 70 index references to PM. He repeats his critique ad hominem. It's an intelligent critique but I find its repetition mars the quality of the work.

      RE PM - there is no ideological 'line' in using a specific set of analytical tools - . I suggest you take a look at this website and make up your own mind on the issue... ... If you are talking about engaging with the ideology of settler-colonialism, there is precious little ideological critique within what is at this point a mostly historical-sociological research project. As far as I know, I do agree that it has yet to adequately deal with settler colonialism on an empirical basis, but TK is using its analytical framework in developing a theory of non-capitalist social relations within indigenous communities. And given the importance it places to Marx's chapters on rent in Volume Three, people have found it incredibly useful on Turkey, where it has become the main academic Marxist current.

      But how we define our terms is key here, and I think taht no matter what I'd ponit out it would be insufficient. But one can claim fidelity, I would assume to Trotskyism but reject permanent revolution. I'm not sure. But Political Marxism is a research project, not a political tendency.

    10. First of all, your comment about Heller seems to me to be an utterly erroneous misreading. What "ad hominem" critiques does he ever make about political marxism? What do index references have to do with the matter––of course it is a significant amount of references because he is predominantly demonstrating its limits.

      All theoretical constellations in marxism represent a political line. What "specific set of analytical tools" beyond historical materialism does political marxism have that makes it political marxism? These are not "analytical tools" that exist in a void, but are politically charged and mean something. To suggest otherwise is to pretend that pm is some pure, ahistorical marxism––there is no such thing. Every theory, even sub-theories, necessarily has an ontological foundation in order to be recognizable as a coherent theory, to even have a coherent set of "analytical tools". And these foundations do represent a political line. As for settler-colonialism, in this context I am talking about how the "leading lights" of Political Marxism reject the height of settler-colonialism, and that period in history, as having a significant influence on the emergence of capitalism––for a political marxist to suggest otherwise is for a political marxist to be doing something outside of the epistemic framework of political marxism.

      If Political Marxism is just a "research project" then it has no theoretical core, and you might as well drop the title, and just assume that everyone doing research on marxism, even if they reject the "leading lights", can be classified as "political marxists"… The entire notion of it being so vague is patently absurd––this is what I'm getting at.

    11. Fair enough.

      Heller's ad hominem - I don't have the book handy, but his suggestion that capitalism appears spontaneously in the Brenner/Wodo thesis is a half truth, and a half truth he repeats. Other critics of the PM approach that have cause me and others to question its basic tenets and or respodn to challenges - like Jairus Banaji or Neil Davidson - have made similar critiques but in a far more comradely and respectful fashion.

      I'd argue that PM is a logical extension, a variant of historical materialism, as is Heller's Trotskyist influenced approach. The specific analytical tools of any given approach are not unlike those uffered by structuralist Marxism or other modes of inquiry (Trotskyist theories, Maoist etc.) I don't think there's an instrumental political link between the school/project and any given set of politics - as we know, the politics range from apolitical to Post-Trotskyist to leading members of Die Linke in Germany. (as you will say, Trot and Eurocommunist, fine)....

      And I'm sure Amin's recent shameful behaviour on Mali won't cause you to suddenly realize the Monopoly Capital school is inscribed with imperial apologia...

      But overall, you may be right. I didn't mean to get into this on this level and you don't suffer fools gladly. I don't mean to say its vague, I mean to say that while Post comes from a certain background, you can separate his use of PM tools in a book you find impressive (American Road) form his politics - I guess that is what I'm getting at. His rejection of labour aristocracy is not rooted in PM, it is rooted in Mandel, etc.

    12. And to be short, yes, in terms of the reading you have of settler colonialism, Political Marxists would have to reject that framework. That isn't tantamount to rejecting its role in the development of modernity. The point to remember and that is driven home, perhaps the best in Lacher's work, is that modernity is not reducible to capitalism and that other modes of production continue to - to use "structuralist" language, leave traces or articulate themselves within capitalism. The argument is not that settler colonialism did not exist, it is that the logic that led to it was not a capitalist logic in the first place. Or was Christopher Columbus a capitalist?

    13. First of all, the claim that settler-colonialism led to the development of capitalism, helped drive the break-up of feudal relations in central Europe, is quite the opposite of asserting that the Columbus era was a capitalist era: for if the period that contributed to the development of capitalism (partially through colonialism and not just through the enclosure, thus leading to a larger picture than the one admitted to by PM) is itself "capitalism" then this argument is non-sensical. Of course you do have people like Gunder Frank who, following the implications of the unqualified Baran and Sweezy arguments (which were important but as limited, in my opinion, as the PM analysis of the transition), would not only say, at points, that Colombus was a capitalist, but really weird shit like there was some kind of capitalism in antiquity.

      As for Post, my problems with him in regards to the theory of the labour aristocracy (as I thought I made clear in my initial reply to sks) were not concerned with his political marxism––I'm sure there are some political marxists who might admit to a theory of the labour aristocracy, it seems highly possible, just as there are people who have no connection to that tradition who reject it altogether. I also do not think that the framework of political marxism is on the whole bad but just, by itself, is limited. Thus, I don't separate Post's use of this framework from the American Road to Capitalism and, as much as I think that book is great in many ways, I also think the limitations of that framework lead to his inability to grasp what most political marxists refuse to grasp: the central role of colonialism in the development of actually existing capitalism. To be sure it is in that book in places, but not as a theoretical pivot which is somewhat disappointing. (Also, I should take this time to thank you for recommending that book, because i think it was you who recommended it in the first place.) So just to be clear, my problems with Post were not necessarily about his political marxism but about his rejection of the theory of the labour aristocracy––and as you pointed out, you don't have to be a political marxist to reject it.

      Finally, I will say I think you've seriously misread Heller here. I think his argument is far more complex than what you have suggested and that when speaks of capitalism appearing "spontaneously" in political marxism his argument here is that once you comb through their justifications and what class composition actually means, it reduces, ad absurdum, to this position. And even if he has simplified it, this is not an ad hominem argument because it does not attack the character or circumstances of the authors and focuses only on [Heller's analysis] of their arguments. It might be a straw-person, perhaps even a red herring, though I don't think so.

    14. I intended ad nauseaum when I typed ad hominem.

      I do think there's danger in conflating Brenner and Wood on this issue, as there are as many similarities as differences - as it is true that in Brenner there is no "prime mover" but in Wood there is.

      And to make the claim that settler-colonialism was one of the precipitants that broke down feudalism - for sure. But it was merchant adventurers who were distinctly non-capitalist that led the way on that, and they were only later forced to go capitalist post Cromwell.

  5. Solidarity, the organization which Charlie Post belongs to, is itself part of the AmeriKKKan Labor Aristocracy. Of course Post would deny the existence of it, just like Solidarity shits on the tradition of actual revolutionary socialism, while supporting Obama's murderous fascist puppets in Libya and Syria.

    The Post's organization is named after the Ronald Reagan funded CIA front Solidarnosc, for crying out loud!

    1. As much as I agree with your general complaints about Solidarity (i.e. that it is an organization that tails the US labour aristocracy while denying said labour aristocracy, that it generally rejects the tradition of actual revolutionary communism [or just plain ignores it], and that has a terrible line on Libya and Syria [not to mention elsewhere]), were they really named after Solidarnosc? I mean, the word "Solidarity" has been used for numerous groups amongst the left.

      It's also worth pointing out that these kinds of groups, as much as imagine a labour aristocracy (that they deny) is the proletariat, are composed primarily of people who aren't even part of this said labour aristocracy but who are instead academics and petty-bourgeois intellectuals. They general fetishize their version of the working class while doing nothing with this working class except tailing its movements and talking about it in academic circles. None of this is to say that there is anything wrong with being a leftist academic (after all, I'm one and so it would be hypocritical of me to suggest otherwise), but there is something wrong without realizing the limitations of an organization built primarily from academic talking groups––in this context it is no wonder that organizations such as Solidarity have such messed up lines.

    2. I'm past the point of believing groups have "messed up lines" because of anything other than their complete subservience to US imperialism. Solidarity generally has the largest amount of people within the unions, working mostly as paid staff. They know what they are doing.

      The serve the interests of US imperialism. That they even had one of their White Power goons attack this work shows they're very conscious of the nefarious role they play as watchdogs and corrupters of the labor movement.

      These scumbag "socialist" frauds know what they are doing. They are Social-Fascists. They serve White Power and AmeriKKKan imperialism.

    3. Does Solidarity really have the largest amount of people within the unions––and I'm not sure if staffers really count as workers but (due to the long history of staff being used to promote business unionism over social unionism), but still this is interesting––because as an outside observer they seem like they're barely more than a talk-shop. My assumption was probably due to the fact that one of the Canadian groups with which they are friendly, the New Socialists, is precisely that kind of talk shop.

      But I'm guessing, based on your comments, that you have some direct experience with them and are better equipped than me to provide a concrete analysis. Thus, I wouldn't have known anything about these "white power goons". Thanks for the information.

  6. First off Solidarity arent Social Fascists, or White Power Goons. As a result of their pessimism, I suppose they could be called the "woe is me socialists." Most of their union members are in unions that represent university faculty and white collar public sector workers. The one exception to this are their members in the Transit Workers Union in New York. Solidarity members tend to be older than the average member of most left groups in the US. Yes they were named after Polish Solidarnosc. We should try to keep our political differences on a political level and lay off the name calling.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. I was also hesitant to believe that Solidarity was a "white power" organization but the previous poster seemed convinced… still, that other poster seemed convinced and I didn't want to get into an argument that would probably just lead into semantic name calling.


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