Cloacas Historicus

Cloacas Historicus will attempt to provide a channel for historical waste management. Historical waste is harder to identify than its biological counterpart and consequently Cloacas Historicus operates on the assumption that there is no inherent distinction between historical waste and the channels in which it flows. We are both the product and the producers of materials for Cloacas-Historicus.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

No death, No history

I was wondering what would be if death wasn't an issue with humans and found
it hard to conceptualize such a situation. I had drawn the conclusion, for reasons not totally clear to me, that history wouldn't exist. I thought of the Q on Star Trek, the boredom of the continuum, nothing ever new. Of course it is unthinkable from this frame . . . no individuals<=>no species but histories of species can be written without referring to how that history was experienced by the individual, the unit of reference an aggregate of individuals, a collective. It is at this level that the life of the species as its history exists. What's the relationship between my perception of the forces and laws governing the unfolding of history as something I'm part of, on one hand, and something I observe and describe on the other? what is it that's living in me as history and would it be at all important to me if death wasn't?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Not nostalgia

No, it's more like saying that back at that time (say the 70s) we made a wrong term. No we don't seek tro back in time, rather we seek to pick up a thread of action that was abandoned some time ago. We need to retake the idea of popular sovereignty and justice, wresting it back from the system of global corporate capitalism where the anonymous forces of the market grind all being, physical and spiritual into grist for the profit mill.

But so much has changed both for good and bad. It's not the failure of the movements that arose in the 60s but the earlier defeat of the socialist movement in the United States. All hisotry is the record of the past seen from the point of view of collective agents projecting themselves toward a common, collective goal -- conscious or unconsious. The ability to sustain and nourish those defining goals is destoryed or nearly totally subordinated; that history disappears, ceases to be told. To retake that history is to seriously retake those goals: the struggle for a society in which the collectively generated poroduct is distributed on the basis of social values and not considerations of profit veiled in ideological techno-babble in the best cases, simple accountant machinations in the worst.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

When a class is not a class

Today the NYT began a series on class in America (link below). The information is bound to be interesting but the analysis is bound to be useless. This is because they don't have a politically meaningful model of social class: that is of the system through which a society reflects and enacts the economic relationships that determine the distribution of wealth in the society. The Marxist model of classes does accomplish this and the NYT dismissal of Marx early in the article, not only revealed the author's absolute lack of familiarity with Marx's work, it presaged the meandering recounting of ongoing research that followed. In this post I simply want to clarify some significant aspects of a Marxist theory of social class and show how they account for patterns that the NYT article, working without a cogent theory of social class, could only report.

The dismissal was given in the following quote in which the author also recognizes that modern sociologists must result to ever smaller divisions to account for their phenomena in any meaningful way, just as the Ptolemaic astronomers were forced to produce ever greater numbers of epicycles to account for the movements of the planets before the correct heliocentric model of the solar system was adopted.

"When societies were simpler, the class landscape was easier to read. Marx divided 19th-century societies into just two classes; Max Weber added a few more. As societies grew increasingly complex, the old classes became more heterogeneous. As some sociologists and marketing consultants see it, the commonly accepted big three - the upper, middle and working classes - have broken down into dozens of microclasses, defined by occupations or lifestyles." (my italics)

(1) Marx understood perfectly well that there were many social classes in society. His historical analyses of the 1848-51 Revolutions in France are probably first examples fine-grained sociological analyses of historical processes since Ibn-Khaldun; histories that paid attention to the specific behavior of social groups identified on the basis of their economic activity – workers, peasants, small shop-owners, landlords, factory owners, etc. Marx defined economic classes on the basis of an individual’s relationship to the means of production – the land, the infrastructure, and all of the material factors that enter into the distribution of goods and services, including money a form capital must assume for goods and services to be exchanged and distributed in a capitalist economy. He also recognized that different historical epochs had different class structures and that in real time these class structures from different epochs overlapped. XIX European societies contained classes from feudal agricultural modes of production – peasants and landlords - as well as the classes of the emerging capitalist mode of production, workers and capitalists, of which factory workers and factory owners, (morphed into today’s “labor and management”) is only an early and very abstract stereotype.. Shop owners, traders, barbers, prostitutes, and many other occupations have existed across historical epochs; others exist only within a specific historical epoch or mode of production. The relationship between capital and labor is the dynamic of capitalist economy and drives the historical trajectories of the societies in which it develops.

(2) Marx’s division of society into two classes: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is an ideal sociological reflection of the relationship between labor and capital, the two economic categories Marx applied to the analysis of capitalist economy. In Marx’s theory the relationship between capital and labor is sufficient for determining the dynamic movement of the capitalist system in the abstract, its relationship to historically existing societies similar to the relationship between a physicist’s model of a dynamic system and the engineers realization of that abstract system in a specific concrete context where other factors need to be taken into account.

The NYT articles own listing of the relative status of the occupational categories hints at the correctness of the Marxist definition of class as the relationship to the means of production. Law, health, and computers stand at the top . . . It is not difficult to show how these function in the reproduction of capitalist circulation. Take the legal profession. The existence of private property is a precondition for capitalist production, in particular private property of the productive resources. The legal system is a huge edifice built to support and maintain the existence of private property. The vast majority of all laws in contemporary society concern property relations and these relations are implicated in all other branches of law not directly concerned with property. Little work is required to discover the intimate connection between property, the legal profession, and politics as the formulation of law which is the quintessential expression of society as well as control of State Power.. The “prestige” of the legal profession can be immediately accounted for from a Marxist perspective, using the same categories that are applied for understanding the other class criteria given in the NYT links.

One also can think about class in terms of how much command capital has over a person and how much command a person has over capital. This is measured by a person’s overall wealth. . Marx’s definition of a worker is anyone who has nothing to sell but his or her own labor, regardless of the occupational area in which they are employed. A capitalist, on the other hand, by virtue of access to capital, is in a position is in the position to command labor and thereby benefit in the surplus value, the profit, generated through the combination of labor and capital. Of course as an individual person, the capitalist still has his own labor power that he can sell but he or she doesn’t need to from necessity.

Marxist model of class is also sensitive to the technological dimensions of the economy’s leading productive activities, the activities that define the economy as a whole, as the energy and telecommunication/computer industries defines our own economy. This ability allows it to account for anomalies that the SES approach to class can only account for through the addition of new categories to its model. One such anomaly is given in the article’s description of “mobility at the top.”

Even as mobility seems to have stagnated, the ranks of the elite are opening. Today, anyone may have a shot at becoming a United States Supreme Court justice or a C.E.O., and there are more and more self-made billionaires. Only 37 members of last year's Forbes 400, a list of the richest Americans, inherited their wealth, down from almost 200 in the mid-1980's.

A Marxist analysis would immediately begin by pointing out that a major technological revolution had occurred during the period described. Although everyone remembers the burst of the 90s bubble, the fact is that many new new capitalists came on the scene with the first major technological revolution since the development of the aeronautics industry. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, is most clearly emblematic of this “new money:” Notice also that the occupational category "computers/math" has emerged, a category that did not exist 50 years ago, as such, but would be "math/engineers" if at all. An important dimension for the study of class would concern the relationship between a family's accumulated wealth and how it becomes invested in different technologies, at which stage of the technological cycle.

The other accoutrements of class, the refinement and tradition, are really inheritances from feudalism and become increasingly irrelevant as the last vestiges of non-capitalist agriculture are destroyed.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005


You can't go back to the past,
The past comes back to you.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

When Categories Fail Foolish Behavior Follows Posted by Hello

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A Northern California Apu: Apu Shasta Posted by Hello

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Farther Away for Sure Posted by Hello

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Flush of the day

I was inspired to write this on the basis of Kristoff's NYT editorial concerning the behavior of Catholics in Latin America, their position on current Catholic doctine from Rome, and the future of the Catholic Church as a whole. I recently returned from Venezuela, whose socialist revolution is inspiring a new hope for the victory of the forces that have struggled throughout history to build a just and humane society, a hope that is reverberating strongly throughout Latin America and Brazil, the focus of Kristoff's editorial. The Venezuelan Revolution embraces Jesus to the point of including him in a genealogy of champions of social justice that flows through Bolivar and Che Guevara to incarnate in Hugo Chavez. But this is hardly the Jesus who comes out of the Roman Catholic Church that Joseph Ratzinger, the Church's newest head, envisions

I'm wondering if there is a Catholic doctrine of papal transubstantiation similar to the doctrine of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine during the sacrament of communion. If not, as far as I can tell, Cardinal Ratzinger is still Cardinal Ratzinger and the name Benedict XVI is really an odd way that the Catholic Church, that vast meta-corporate enterprise claiming a 2,000 year history, has of allowing its CEOs to give themselves special names. The history of all this is probably quite interesting -- Jesus named one of his disciples, the putative first pope, Peter which is Latin for "rock", a name that gives us a clue to either his intelligence or physical strength but that's not the point. The point is that the Catholic Church as we know it -- that vast organized religion, largest with such a structure in the entire world -- has reached another major crisis. Cardinal Ratzinger -- this is his true surname I believe -- is the face of that crisis and unless (1) there is a doctrine of papal transubstatiation, (2) the doctrine(s) of transubstantiation are descriptive of real processes (spiritual or material), and (3) as part of that papal transubstantiation, Joseph Ratzinger comes to see the error of his ways, then I believe that the Catholic Church itself is one of the significant major flushes in the Cloacas Historicus during the present historical epoch.

Ratzinger is most noted for his attacks on Liberation Theology. In the NYT article Kristoff writes of the similarity between the current period where the Church's teachings are ignored by practicing Catholics and the period of the peasant wars in XVII century that broke the secular power of the Catholic Church in northern Europe . These wars were preceded by Luther's demands for reform sparked the division and weakening of the Roman Church. They heralded the demise of feudalism as the dominant mode of production in Europe. In today's Catholic church, the corresponding doctrine is Liberation Theology. Just as Luther was strongly called to task by the Roman authorities, so Ratzinger has persecuted liberation theologists in our times.

Luther readily softened his reforms so as to avoid alienating the regional powers that shielded themselves ideologically behind his teachings. Others, such as Thomas Munster who pressed for even more radical social restructuring, were simply executed. He called for the creation of the Christian Utopia, in which the social redistibution of wealth was potentially more radical than communism's "to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability", since Jesus' parable on the matter gave to each equally regardless of their contribution. Munster just one of hundreds of heretics who called for social justice as Jesus taught. Luther was happy to accomodate himself to the emerging independent principalities.

The church is more subtle when it comes to heretics nowadays but Ratzinger's inquisitions have taken their t0ll among the catholics inspired by liberation theology but the message has not died because the social realities of that the message addresses have not changed and now they are changing in the direction of the new social order, socialism, just as in the time of direction they were changing to the new social order of capitalism. The Church has lent its ideological services to secular power since Constantine came up with his politically brilliant idea of a christian state religion in the late days of the Roman Empire. But ideologies must ultimately reflect social realities, when they get too far out of whack, their manipulations of guilt and shame are no longer effective since other feelings, more powerful than those generated through the deep symbolic manipulations at which religions are so adept, assert their primacy.

Kristoff's editorial:

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Opening The Valve

A brief landing . . . a quick recon . . . out to check on the receptivity . . . just getting set up here . . . not yet hooked up to the domestic units . . . more to come .

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