Showing posts with label progressive capitalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label progressive capitalism. Show all posts

Sunday, April 04, 2010

*The Latest From The "Progressive Democrats Of America" Website

Click on the headline to link to the "Progressive Democrats Of America" Website.

Markin comment:

This internal "left" grouping within one of the two main imperial governing parties is a "bell weather" these days on the Obama presidency. Right now this recently passed, totally inadequate and, frankly, ugly heath care legislation has them back on the Obama team. The little "dust up " over the imperial war budget and Obama troop escalation in Afghanistan which had them screaming in the night a while back are on hold. Compare this slogan though to what passes for "progressive" health care legislation just enacted- Free, quality health care for all! Socialism, yes. Necessary, yes. Case closed.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

***What Made Capitalism Tick?


The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1985

In my youth I used to believe that Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was the very last word in understanding, sociologically, the driving force behind capitalism in its prime. His premise, at least his expressed narrowly- defined one, that out of the mishmash of feudalism a ‘new’ man and a ‘new’ woman were being created who could subordinate their temporal desires enough to begin the tedious process of primitive capitalist accumulation that got the whole mode started, hit home hard to my young mind. Of course, that was not my conscious take on it at the time, although parts of it certainly were. What interested me the most was that Weber was using some examples that were close to home, the Massachusetts Bay Colony experiment, and, being from Boston and steeped in Puritan history, that is why I was glad to get a copy of the work.

Strangely, in recently re-reading the work I found that I was drawn by those same examples. Additionally, I was drawn by the huge set of footnotes at the end that I did not remember going through in my youth but offer some very interesting insights into how Weber put his argument together and the sources that he had available at the time and that he used. The re-reading poses this question, though. How does the work itself hold up?

Of course today my class struggle perspective derived from a Marxist world view notes that Weber is clearly a political opponent. Not so much for his argument, which actually has a certain merit, but for his tenacious desire to use a quasi-Marxism materialist approach to sociology without drawing those requisite class struggle conclusions. I might add that the class struggle was fully raging in Germany at the time of the publication of this work as the Social Democratic Party was becoming the voice of the German working class. Weber, thus, really needed to keep his blinders on. Moreover, as a work of scholarship, which I will grant it certainly is, it is an early effort in the very long struggle to divorce sociological observations from any practical use. A militant today in order to benefit from reading this work has to do the equivalent of suspending disbelieve in the plot of a novel to realize that it is important to know what made capitalism tick in the old days and why we have to move on. Here, nevertheless is my very condensed take on the work today.

In some place in 16th and 17th century Europe, the scope of Weber’s study, individuals and small communities were breaking from the established churches, Roman Catholic and mainstream Protestant and creating, in some cases 'hit or miss', a culture that we today describe as secular but in the nature of those times had a religious connotation. That breakout, not without opposition and oppression by the constituted authorities, formed the nucleus of an ethic that made accumulation of wealth through hard work and thrift the norm-in short that private accumulation mentioned above. This, dear reader, was a historically progressive series of actions. In the year 2007 those traits have long since failed to be progressive. What is necessary, as Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and even someone like Che Guevara recognized is in the interest of social solidarity we need to create ‘the new socialist man and woman’ out of the muck and mire of capitalism. Hell, we need our own version of the Protestant ethic-and if current worldwide economic conditions are any judge- we need it pronto. Read this one at your leisure.What Made Capitalism Tick?

Monday, February 04, 2008

***At The Dawn of American Capitalism-Shopkeeper's Millenium

Book Review

Shopkeeper's Millenium, Paul E. Johnson, Hill and Wang, 1978

In any truly socialist understanding of history the role of the class struggle plays a central role. Any thoughtful socialist wants to, in fact needs to, know how the various classes in society were formed, and transformed, over time. A lot of useful work in this area has been done by socialist scholars. One thinks of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, for example. One does not, however, need to be a socialist to do such research in order to provide us with plenty of ammunition in our fight for a better world. Shopkeeper’s Millennium by Paul E. Johnson is such a work.

One can disagree with Professor Johnson’s conclusions, and perhaps aspects of his methodology that relies very heavily on the interpretation of governmental and church records. He has nevertheless written a very interesting case study of Rochester, New York as a prime example of how America in the 1820’s and 1830’s, that is at the infancy of American capitalism, turned from a wilderness into an important new center of capitalist development as the Eire Canal became a cog in the transnational transportation system. Johnson has also provided some useful insights into the role that religion, especially the ‘born again’ evangelical religion that we are familiar with today, helped form the prevailing capitalist ethos that drove this expansion forward.

Professor Johnson uses the well-known sources (city directories, tax assessments, censuses, Church registries) to flesh out his argument. One can take exception to some of his conclusions based on rather scanty data (and on the reliability of such data in a very mobile and transient environment). However the overall thrust of his work makes the important point that this period turned this part of America away from a sleepy agrarian/mercantile society to a rather dynamic capitalist one within a relatively short time. And, moreover, the social preconditions that fostered such growth were not merely accidental but represented the expansion of an already stable elite ready to take advantage of the new mode of production. In short, as we have seen at other previous nodal points of history (and today, as well) the rich and able have a leg up when the new riches are to be distributed.

Religious indoctrination, strict social mores, intense social pressure and flat out coercion are detailed here as ways in which the budding capitalist class dominated the society. Religious revivals, anti-Masonic struggles and various social reform campaigns, particularly the fight against 'demon' whiskey, play their part. As does plain old-fashioned politics that we are very familiar with. Perhaps not as familiar is how political sides were chosen in various local fights, like the closing of dram shops, despite common religious affiliation.

The key struggle in forming the capitalist mode of production was the effort to discipline a reluctant workforce to the tasks at hand. That was achieved in Rochester by many of the old tricks like coercion, ostracism and shunning that we have seen elsewhere at the rise of capitalism, particularly in England. In an interesting sidelight Professor Johnson details the change over, in a fairly short period of time , from workers being housed under the paternalistic supervision of their employers in their homes to the establishment of separate working class quarters. This is a big step in the forming of class-consciousness, both ways.
Such details are the stuff that makes this an interesting study.

Is this what today’s working class looks like in a ‘post-industrial’ American society? No. However many of the same techniques of domination still hold sway. Read this book about the days when American capitalism was a progressive force in the world. And begin to understand why it needs to be fought tooth and nail now.