Logic: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, September 2022

I was on a college track in high school getting mostly A’s and B’s. There wasn’t quite the feeding frenzy in 1970 to stack my academic CV and get into the very best institution of higher education I could. Besides, my parents were barely middle class and we’d agreed that, to save money I’d attend the local community college for two years before transferring to UC Santa Cruz.

One of my English teachers my senior year was Lynn Bjorkman who instructed us on how to write a proper nonfiction essay and academic paper in preparation for our college careers. His specialty was the “science of logic,” both the formal logic of propositions, proofs and inferences and the informal logic of natural language argumentation and logical fallacies. He was a singularly unappealing individual who gave milquetoast a bad name. In the days when Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was the fascinating poster boy for logic, we would pass around notes depicting Bjorkman as an addled cube-headed robot spewing logical nonsense.

I was into pro-Summerhill/Skool Abolition/student liberation politics, so I decided to write an academic-style term paper using Marshall McLuhan’s famous catchphrase “the medium is the message.” In education that meant the message (content) of freedom and democracy was being taught in educational institutions (forms) that were profoundly authoritarian and hierarchical. So I argued that the form/medium invariably prevailed over the content/message, using plenty of quotes, footnotes and a respectable bibliography that included AS Neill’s Summerhill, Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger. I got a C- on the paper. Bjorkman commented that my writing was bright and sparkling on the surface but deeply flawed logically. He also remarked that I was actually dangerous and unfortunately would make a persuasive propagandist. But aside from noting an occasional logical fallacy in the margins, he never engaged with my argument’s logic point-by-point nor did he try to refute my conclusions.

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Chalkboard #1: Defining Capitalism

The chalkboard series is where I think out loud.

Private property is a key concept under capitalism, meaning the personal ownership of productive property like land, means of production such as facilities, tools, and machinery, and of course capital in all forms. Individuals who own private property are called capitalists, and collectively they are known as the capitalist class. An individual who owns nothing except his or her labor and is forced to sell that labor—usually for a wage—in order to survive is a worker. Collectively, workers are a part of the working class. Capitalists and workers are continuously engaged in a class struggle for social power, during which the working class undergoes recurring processes of composition, decomposition, and recomposition in which class consciousness plays a crucial role in the “class in itself” becoming a “class for itself.” Commodities, markets, competition, and monopolies are also key concepts under capitalism, which requires that capitalist individuals and businesses return a profit in order to survive. Profit can be realized through simple commercial exchange, through a more complex exploitation of wage labor for surplus value which is valorized as capital, or through the forced appropriation of labor and resources via colonialism and imperialism. The entire system of commodity production and distribution is called the capitalist mode of production.

Capitalism as a world system of capital accumulation began in the Mediterranean with the Venetian/Genoese cycle from 1250 to 1510. It dovetailed into the Dutch (Antwerp/Amsterdam) accumulation cycle from 1500 to 1733, which fed into the British cycle from 1733 to 1896, and which in turn overlapped the American cycle from 1865 to 1973. Each cycle went through three interrelated phases in which profit was extracted first from commerce, then from production, and finally from finance. The capitalist world system became truly global during the Dutch cycle, and came into its own as a mode of production with the development of industrial capitalism during the British cycle. Finance capitalism is capitalism in decline, and the American cycle entered its finance phase in 1973.

Finally, crisis is crucial to understanding how capitalism functions, yet Karl Marx never worked out a completed theory of capitalist crisis. Of the contending crisis theories (underconsumption, profit squeeze, falling rate of profit, disproportionality), my money is on the falling rate of profit to account for why capitalism periodically experiences economic and social crises. No determination yet as to whether the crisis in the American cycle marks a geographic shift in the capitalist world system under a new cycle, or some final crisis of world capitalism.