Monday, May 25, 2009

On Maoism

From my Facebook post on Advocates of Communism, discussion on China: Admittedly, I have studied China's incursion into "socialism" little, but I have been trying to learn more lately. The first thing that is notable is how un-Marxist Mao was. According to James Gregor in "Marxism, China and Development" Mao discouraged reading and as a result had read very little Marx. "In his candor, he admitted that at the time of joining the Communist party he had read only parts of the Communist Manifesto, a book by Karl Kautsky, and another by Thomas Kirkup on the history of socialism" (Gregor 2000). Gergor continues to say that he improved on the basis of EXTREMELY limited knowledge of Marx only slightly, having passed over the Thesis on Fuerbach by the late 30s (ibid.) Richard Pfeffer (1977) appears to argue the same (I can't access the entire article on J-Store from my comp) it is Vol. 3, No. 4, 379-386. In regards to Deng Xiapeng, he should be seen not solely as a deviation from Maoism but also from Marxism. The central problem with Deng Xiapeng was not that he abandoned Maoism, which was certainly replete with serious problems, serious violations of human rights and Marxist principles. The problem with Deng Xiapeng is that he sought to glorify capitalism and sided with the most reactionary forces of the time, leading China to go so far as invade Vietnam and call for the US to invade Cuba. I think we can and must learn from both the good and bad of all of the socialist experiences.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An awakening

It is long past the time for us to recognize both the urgency and importance of Marx's words.  It is more than the fact that his writings are relevant today.  It is that Marx had put the emancipation of the working class center stage and all of the worlds exploited.  It is not only analysis that is necessary, but action.  What good to the world do we accomplish, if we do not advocate and fight to not only end a system which leads to the impoverishment of the majority of the world's population, the enslavement of the productive forces to feed an insatiable war machine, and glorifies selfishness- but also work to understand the methods to develop a true and profound socialism.  
This socialism must be supported by a profound awakening in the working classes around the globe, and to those who are firmly allied to this cause.  Capitalism's decadence is self-evident.  The myth of the worthy rich has been exposed as baseless and its time is expiring.  

We have a choice to stand with those who are downtrodden the world over- in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the un-liberated places remaining in Latin America.  We have the duty to deepen our knowledge and to transform the tools of society from servants of commodity fetichism to servants of all mankind.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


On Honorable Occupations and Irksome Labour; a Glimpse of Veblen

Isaac Christiansen

Veblen examines the motives of the drive for perpetual accumulation of capital, goods and power of the bourgeoisie to be rooted in envy, and that their prestige and honor are best emphasized by ostentatious displays of wealth, which reflect their power. Traditionally we may tend to assume, as have others, as if the purpose of the accumulation of fortunes was to improve the standard of living so that the enriched enjoy more fully their lives and the comforts that society produces and perhaps more importantly to provide economic security to themselves and their heirs. However, it becomes apparent that once an individual accumulates more than is necessary to do all of these things, (opulent lifestyles included) that something more is afoot.
Veblen indicates that it all started in the transition from indigenous communal societies noted for a higher degree of economic and social equality, to societies that survived and thrived on war- acquiring wealth through pillage and taking women as booty (Veblen 1899: pg 24-25). In the communal societies that were not based on the ownership of private property, a person’s social status would not be based on their ownership of things. Then as human groups passed through different social stages characterized by different kinds of social organization, often differing in terms of the division of labor, their emerged groups of people who did not have to spend their days toiling alongside their compatriots due to an additional surplus extracted that could now support occupations that did not have to deal with food production or other subsistence requirements. These groups enjoyed more relative comforts, and higher social status.
Veblen divides these two new “honorable” professions as warriors and priests (ibid.: p21). By honorable, Veblen is in no way referring to the traditional concept of the word as we may envision it. He does not mean that these people have offered a worthwhile contribution towards uplifting their fellow man nor that they have conducted themselves in exceptionally honest and ethical ways. The meaning of honor, and particularly that of an “honorable occupation” is one in which one exploits as opposed to one in which one is exploited. “Those employments which are to be classed as exploit are worthy, honorable, noble; other employments, which do not contain this element of exploit, and especially those which imply subservience or submission, are unworthy, debasing, ignoble” (ibid. pg 29).
The amount of leisure in which one was able to engage, the amount of wealth that one was able to display, reflected their prestige and social standing. It reflected the power that an individual exercised over others in society. As societies changed forms from those that had classes that survived from physical plunder to those who have acquired wealth through the extraction of relative and absolute surplus value, the concepts of honor manifested in competition have been retained (at least in part). It is also true that profit from the spoils of war is still very much alive in our society, particularly if one looks at the motives behind the war in Iraq and the companies that stood to gain. This does not even begin to discuss the military/industrial complex.
Nevertheless, among the very wealthy we see the insane competition over who can acquire the most. Society takes part in it to a degree as a spectator. So we see that an internet site comments that the wealthiest CEO (Warren Buffet) “bested” the second wealthiest person by over 16 billion dollars, even though there is no more use value that one has access to that the other does not (13above, 2009). The mere fact that a single human being can acquire that degree of personal private acquisitive power is a reflection of a perverse social order. An order that values conspicuous consumption as if it reflected honor instead of shame, it is one that reflects an ability to waste and flaunt wealth in a world still full of poverty, misery and needless suffering.
Marx and Engels indicated that a better world was possible provided that the system that utilized social production for private profit was overturned for one in which both the energies of production were directed for the benefit of society (through the proletariat: the class to end all classes) and the profits of production be also for the benefit of the whole (Engels 1892 p.702). It is clear that Veblen essentially saw and was incensed by much of the same phenomena but what irked him most was that those who had accumulated the lions share were rewarded for being able to flaunt their indolence as long as they also flaunted coercive power, and those that produced societies wealth not only had to inhabit the slums of the world, but were stripped of their “dignity” as well.


Engels, Friedrich. 1892. “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” pp683-717 in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd edition, edited by Robert C. Tucker New York W.W. Norton and Company.
Veblen, Thorstein. 1899. “The Theory of the Leisure Class” Macmillan Company New York, NY
13 Above, “Top 10 Worlds Most Wealthiest CEOs” Accessed April 7th 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Normal DOL

Analysis of the Division of Labor, the Development of Organic Solidarity in the Normal Form

Isaac Christiansen

Durkheim analyzes the division of labor from a different perspective to how most of us have come to conceptualize it. Instead of examining it from a purely economic perspective and of purely economic genesis based on people placed in positions that most fit their natural inherited abilities, he examines the division of labor through a social lens analogous to that of an organism that develops features to deal with the environment in which it finds itself. Durkheim encourages the reader to see past the economical components and functions of the division of labor, to examine its social and moral components. Similarly he does not see the genesis of society and the division of labor as arising through random individuals coming together and deciding to exchange goods and cooperate through their self-interest but rather through a series of adjustments and adaptations to increased social volume and density leading to organic solidarity. If the former argument were the case, Durkheim indicates that this would be, at best, ephemeral due to the capricious nature of self-interest (Durkheim 1933: p152).
Organic solidarity, or the combination of consciousness and conscience of the interdependence of a society’s members whose labor has become divided and specialized, arises to the extent that individuality is allowed to flourish due to the recession of the common consciousness of the mechanical type, which is eroded by augmentation of population density and social volume. Necessarily we must return to examine mechanical solidarity and the origin of its erosion. Durkheim examines the transitions from horde to clan, clan to tribe, tribe to village, village to small town, and small town to city as a progression of the division of labor.
The horde is the “ideal type” of an undifferentiated mass, in terms of the labor that each member performs. In this theoretical ideal type all members of the society perform the same functions as everyone else, and the absence of hierarchy (pp 126-127). Durkheim indicates that often many clans together may form the society, however each clan is like a segment and that all of the clans contain within themselves the entire division of labor, thus from any one “segment” the social organization could be reproduced. Within the Iroquois or the Haudenosaunee (the term that the Iroquois used to refer to themselves and to their confederacy), Durkheim makes reference to fictitious kin, and that all “treat one another as brothers or cousins” (p128). The key is that mechanical solidarity is based on all the members of the group sharing a similar (although not identical) consciousness- hence: solidarity based on similarities.
Mechanical solidarity, Durkheim maintains, is based on the preservation of this collective consciousness, characterized by a predominance of repressive law, with a lesser role given to restitutory and regulatory law. Another characteristic that goes hand in hand with this is the role played by elders as both an embodiment and guardian of tradition. Thus, there is a need for the preservation of tradition, to continue the common consciousness:

“What constitutes the strength of tradition is the character of those who hand it on and inculcate it, that is, the older generation. They are its living expression; they alone have witnessed what are predecessors are wont to do. They are the unique mediator between the past and the present. Moreover, they enjoy among the generations brought up under their supervision and control a prestige that nothing can supplant” (p.235).

As social volume, or the totality of social interactions, within a community increases, due to an increase in density the elders are less and less able to monitor all of the social interactions allowing for the entrance of more and more variety of ideas that may differ from the common consciousness, leading to the erosion of mechanical solidarity, age based privileges and prestige as well as the erosion of the power of custom and tradition. As the society continues to grow and become more dense, in a large part through immigration and contact with the outside world, there is more exposure to different moral codes and they tend to reduce towards their common denominator. This is seen clearly in the transformations of villages to small towns (p.241). It is important to emphasize that although the two solidarities may exist simultaneously, they compete over the space of consciousness, and have an inverse relationship, although the collective consciousness never disappears as evidenced by the persistence of norms and morality reflected in retributive law that remains in organic societies.
Through the increase of population density the division of labor arises out of necessity. If all were to stay in the same profession, along with an increase in the total of un-met needs in society, there would be increased competition to the point where all are encroached upon, ultimately leading to a saturation of the market, and a redundancy of a particular function. Thus, as society grows larger the solidarity of similarities weakens, through redundancy it may even become like two magnets that repel one another. The segments must either separate or diversify. In the event that this leads to diversification, we witness the creation of more and more specialization and the development of mutual interdependence (pp.210-213). The division of labor is not thus born out of any conscious effort of man to maximize his happiness, but out of necessity for survival.

Durkheim, Emile. 1933. 1984. “The Division of Labor in Society” The Free Press. New York NY

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Some links loosely related to the previous entry

Due to the attention of my last two posts on the use of scientific racism by scholars credited with historical contributions to the discipline of sociology, it is good to note that sociologists were among those involved in UNESCO's statement on The Race Question in 1950 which showed the poverty of the pseudoscience of racism.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Salvaging Durkhiem

Durkheim, Mechanical and Organic Solidarity, and ‘Scientific’ Racism

Isaac Christiansen

Upon reading “The Division of Labor in Society” by Emile Durkheim, the incorporation of ‘scientific racism’ of the era in this work deserves to be analyzed if it takes away from the principals of mechanical and organic solidarity, along with if those principals are connected or if they form a fundamental place in Durkheim’s thought. First let us bring to light the particular sections in which the use of ‘scientific’ racism is present.
Durkheim quotes the notorious Dr. Lebon’s work on the sizes of craniums of different peoples and a supposed connection between their cranium size and their level of evolutionary development and connecting this to the principal that the more an organism evolves the more heterogeneous it becomes, thus indicating that the indigenous communities, (being noted for a less developed division of labour and dominance of mechanical solidarity) were less evolved than the European ones (p19 & p89-90). He also indicates that within these societies the individuals do not differ significantly from one another (either physiologically or in any other way) citing slave traders who cared to know only the ethnicity of the individual, for all other essential traits (for their line of ‘business’) were irrelevant- and significant differentiation non-existent (p89-90). He also claims that this is notable in women, that in advanced, industrial societies the women have been removed from the duties of war and political life and their “brain has developed differently”, and in the ‘primitive’ ‘savage’ societies there is little distinction between the sexes, thus less division of labor, and less advanced on the ladder of humanity a particular group finds themselves (pp.19-21). Currently, the social and physical sciences wholeheartedly reject the ideas of pseudo-scientific racism, like Dr. Lebon’s, to the point of not only stating that not only do we not have superior or inferior races, but races themselves do not exist amongst human beings, save as a social construct (Feagin and Feagin, 1996).
However, we find some discrepancy with the above racist postulations in Durkheim’s work itself (albeit not as much as we may like). First, these postulations assume the evolution of organisms and society in a strictly teleological and linear sense, always moving from ‘inferior’ to ‘superior’ development. However, Durkheim’s critique of anomie, and dislike of cities, shows that he had some reservations on the matter. Is it possible to separate Durkheim’s contribution, which was social and not biological in nature, from both the ethnocentricity and scientific racism of the world which surrounded him and which he drew from in this work?
If we do not separate the bulk of Durkheim’s work from the odious nature of social Darwinism, we run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is, however, a sign of progress that what once did not offend, now does, but we still may benefit from the main concepts of the division of labor, and mechanical and organic solidarity. We can understand, without being racists, that there are and have been smaller self-sustaining groups with less of a division of labour out of necessity that had everything to do with social and economic realities and nothing to do with supposed biological ones. While it was necessary to point out the error for it now offends our collective consciousness to some degree, the concepts provide such utility that they can be applied even in this instance.
So let us distinguish the idea that the function of retributive punishment of a crime is not to serve the offender, but the honest people by helping by reestablishing and defining their cohesion, and “healing the wounds of the collective sentiments” (p.63). The concept of organic solidarity and the further development of mutual interdependence in associational societies is perhaps his most interesting and significant contribution. The concept is important as well to socialists, who once involved in the construction of a new society, seek to affirm mans interdependence, for if one piece of the chain is missing it effects all other parts of those on the chain. The idea of solidarity based on difference as we as likeness is a valuable contribution to the social sciences that merits retention.
Although, not recognized within Durkheim’s work here, much of Europe’s development was due to entire sections of labour being forcibly imposed upon indigenous peoples, which freed a section of Europeans from those tasks, as well as enriching it in raw materials and value-added congealed labor. Thus, although not able to be fully developed here, the indigenous and colonized exploited as well as the exploitation of the European proletariats contributed invaluably to the division of labor analyzed here.
Whereas, I find his analysis of indigenous societies, which drew upon the anthropological sources of the time- perfunctory, it may be said that the perfunctory character of the analysis was due to the shallow and colonialist serving nature of the anthropological work of the era, from which this part of his analysis was based; his analysis of organic solidarity as well as the innovative method of analyzing both through respective legal systems remains a significant contribution. Thus, we must as social scientists develop a method of separating and retaining the ideas that are valuable from those that we might wish never existed.

Durkheim, Emile. 1933. 1984. “The Division of Labor in Society” The Free Press. New York NY
Feagin, Joe and Feagin, Clairece. 1996. “Racial and Ethnic Relations” Fifth Edition. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle, New Jersey.

Interesting info on Charles Darwin and social darwinism:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Spencer

On Spencer

Isaac Christiansen

First and foremost, before analyzing Spencer’s points on "The Boer War", his connection between the imperialism and slavery, and how empire enslaves the empire (by tying him to the ‘responsibilities’ of domination, or any other matter, it must be said that the attempt of the ‘survival of the fittest’ to justify disenfranchisement of racial groups and the use of social Darwinist theory as groundwork for scientific racism- remains a historical repugnancy. Spencer’s key adjustment to Darwin’s work on evolution, was that it had an endpoint, or a goal- and that those with more had more because they were more 'fit. This led the way- when applied to society, to saying that those on top deserved to be there because they were more fit and more evolved; the perfect defense for an execrable status quo (Wikipedia 2009).
A key part in Herbert Spencer’s analogy between society and biological organism, and one that deserves to be separated conceptually from the negatives inherent in social Darwinist intellectual poverty, relates to the concept of mutual dependence. “And when, in a society we see that the workers in iron stop if the miners do not supply the materials; the makers of clothes cannot carry on their business in the absence of those who spin and weave textile fabrics; that the manufacturing community will cease to act unless the food producing and food-distributing agencies are acting; that the controlling powers, governments, bureaux, judicial officers, police, must fail to keep order when the necessaries of life are not supplied to them by the parts kept in order; we are obliged to say that this mutual dependence of parts is similarly rigorous” (Spencer 1916).
This is all the more reason, for him to appreciate the essential character of the any forms of work carried out within a society, and thus the poverty of the idea, that a small section of the population deserves the majority of societies product. For if all parts of society are mutually dependent as in an organism, how can one view as functional, when one organ of the body, the bourgeoisie, over-consumes and becomes obese, while the very parts of the organism which provide it sustenance, are emaciated? This is only possible, in the mind of Spencer, because this principle, is subordinate to that of “survival of the fittest’ and apologetic stance towards an exploitative and disenfranchising status quo, in spite of his more noble (but contradictory) opposition to state violence (for through violence and coercion the status quo is maintained).
By far Spencer’s most onerous contribution to the protection of the status quo and anti-Black racism was the concept that “the subordinate position of Blacks, for instance, simply reflected the immutable laws of nature” (Banks, 1997). DuBois contested Spencer’s position successfully, but it is unfortunate that the “credibility of science” under Spencer's name was lent to such an impoverished idea. It is also unfortunate that the rest of Spencer’s thought, suffers from a ‘guilt by association’ and although may contain valuable nuggets (as in his condemnation of Empire), are stained by racism.


Banks, William. (1997). “Black intellectuals: Race and responsibility in American Life” W.W. Norton and Company. New York NY.
Spencer, Herbert (1916). “The Principles of Sociology, In Three Volumes” Vol 1. D. Appleton and Company New York and London.
Wikipedia. (2009) “Herbert Spencer” Accessed February 15, 2009